Thirty years with the Pink Singers

Michael DerrickLast month, Pinkie veteran Michael Derrick celebrated his third decade in the choir. Whilst an active singing (and dancing) member, he has also been the Musical Director (1988 – 1992), accompanist and one of our favourite arrangers. Here, he describes how the choir has (or hasn’t) changed over the last thirty years and what being in the choir means to him.

My first rehearsal was on the last Sunday of October, 1986. It was on a Sunday afternoon because that was the only time the whole choir was free: before the liberalisation of opening hours, pubs closed after lunchtime drinking and didn’t open again until the evening. What else was there to do? Join a choir, obviously.

The rehearsal was in the basement of the London Lesbian and Gay Centre: a dingy space with a low ceiling, out-of-tune piano, no natural light, and the smell of cigarettes and beer from the previous night’s disco. We ‘suffered for our art’. There were about 15 regular singers; all men. The repertoire consisted of show tunes, protest songs, and earnest post-war German cabaret lieder. The other choirs in Europe were into pop songs and classical music but they tolerated our seriousness because we had Margaret Thatcher, Section 28 and an age of consent of 21. They knew that we were “Pink” because that was the colour of the triangle that homosexuals were forced to wear by the Nazis.

“Every rehearsal was part of a build-up to a concert: a performance and then a new set of repertoire and so on. And at every rehearsal there was the aim of putting on the next concert. So there was a very well defined set of objectives for each rehearsal. That was the choir that I joined and it’s more or less the structure that has survived to this day”.

As well as celebrating his 30th anniversary with the choir, Michael also turned 70 this year!
As well as celebrating his 30th anniversary with the choir, Michael also turned 70 this year!

Thirty years later we are still Pink, still protesting, and still rehearsing on Sunday afternoons; but a lot has changed. Most notably we are a mixed choir. “Mixed” usually means Men and Women. I am proud to say that we are much more mixed than that!

We are bigger, of course, and the repertoire is wider. Early photos show us using music – now everything we perform is off copy; early video shows us standing still or walking about on stage making simple gestures – now we have full choreography. When I go for a health check-up I always tell the nurse that I do a four hour singing and dancing rehearsal each week. This always convinces the nurse that I am keeping fit…

A strength of the choir is the large number of members who write arrangements. In the early days, arrangements had to be written because that was the only way we could perform the songs we wanted to sing. When women started to join the choir, songs were regularly re-arranged to give the increasing numbers of higher voices something to sing. We continue this tradition and it makes us very special – not many choirs do it.

“The first concert I conducted was the first concert the Pink Singers gave with women and men performing. Before that, there were women and men together on the marches, but it was the first concert. And for every single concert since then there has been a range of voices and genders in the choir. And that’s something I’m extremely proud of.”

There have been many other changes over the years but one thing has stayed exactly the same: after my first rehearsal we all went to the pub. The social side of the choir is very strong. It has often been described as a family. Friendships have been made and relationships forged. It has been a complete delight to have been a Pinkie for thirty years.

National Coming Out Day – A Pinkie Perspective

Zoe COur stories and experiences about coming out can change perceptions, create new advocates for equality  and perhaps most importantly, allow someone who’s thinking about coming out to take that step. Today, 11 October, is the 28th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. We’re marking it with a story from one of our altos, Zoe, as well as a short video which highlights some Pinkie perspectives on coming out. 

[youtube width=”800″ height=”500″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_EMVCEg-oU[/youtube]

Zoe’s story:

“I don’t remember how old I was when I first knew I was attracted to people of my own gender. Truth be told, I don’t think I ever did have that epiphany – what happened was a slow-dawning realisation that not everyone around me felt the way I did.

Of course, I never said anything to anyone. I lived in a small, conservative-with-a-small-c town in Yorkshire in the 1980s and 90s; Queer as Folk and Graham Norton hosting prime-time television were a long way off yet, and it wasn’t smart to talk about ‘being different’.  Instead, I listened to rumours about teachers and other community figures that were ‘like that’, read books by E.M.Forster, and avidly watched for queer subplots on Soldier Soldier and Casualty.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d pretty much accepted myself. When my gran told people “Zoe’s too busy to have a boyfriend”, I pretended I didn’t see the knowing looks and just smiled and laughed along. Then I did find a boyfriend – a sweet gay boy, every bit as closeted as I was – and we pretended together that we didn’t notice the surprise and relief from our respective families.
…the relationship, unsurprisingly, didn’t last. Nor did the tumultuous lesbian affair three years later, although both taught me some important life lessons. The first was that I wasn’t prepared to lie about who I was – to myself, or to anyone else – and the second was that I needed to get away from my small town. Being known but not known by everyone there was destroying me, and at that time, getting out was the only way I could think of to fix it.
I went away to university the September of the year I turned 18. I’d cautiously come out to a select few friends and family members over the preceding months, and the reactions had been mixed to say the least, so I couldn’t wait to start afresh. First thing I did was join the then-LGB society (it feels strange to type that now), and found myself surrounded by people like me for the first time in my life. It was a heady feeling, liberating and startling and overwhelming and reassuring all at once.  I met the woman who would go on to become my partner to this day, met friends whose struggles and victories became interwoven with mine, and finally reached a place where I felt strong enough to be honest with my parents.
That Christmas break, I went home.  It was the 90s, and no-one really had mobile phones, so I spent two weeks sneaking furtive phone calls to my girlfriend, and wishing I was back at uni. The whole holiday was filled with tension on my part – I wanted to tell them, needed to tell them, but something kept stopping me. Fear of rejection? Maybe. Whatever it was, I eventually took a deep breath, sat down and told them.
I wish I could say they reacted well. I wish I could say they wrapped me up in a hug and reassured me they still loved me – but they didn’t.  They cried and yelled, I cried and yelled, then we all retreated to our metaphorical corners to lick our wounds.  I called a couple from the LGB society who were visiting family a couple of towns away, and shakily asked when they were driving back to uni – could I cadge a lift, please, and by the way, did they want to go out and get drunk tonight?
12802919_993115184071145_1232791109091909532_nWe drove home the next day. By this point my concept of home had already shifted to university, to my girlfriend and friends who accepted me, rather than the place I’d been born and lived the first 18 years of my life.  I sincerely thought that I was leaving and never coming back, but some part of my brain wasn’t willing to give up that easily.  I loved my parents, even if they couldn’t give me the unconditional acceptance I’d hoped for, and when I got back to uni I called to let them know I was okay.  The conversation was stilted and careful, over quickly – as all our conversations would be for the next six months or so – and made no mention of what I’d said or what had happened afterwards.
Time moved on, as it does, and the raw hurt of rejection settled into a dull ache of disappointment. My parents weren’t bigots, I knew that – so why couldn’t they accept me as I knew they had neighbours and colleagues and friends over the years? Gradually, I started to think about it from their point of view, and how my coming out must have seemed from their side. I’d known I was a lesbian (or at least known I wasn’t straight) for at least six or seven years before telling them. Was it reasonable of me to expect them to readjust their perception of me, every dream they’d ever had for me, without any prior warning other than Nanna’s digs about boyfriends?
Telephone calls were going nowhere, so I sat down and wrote a letter (wow, so quaint and old-fashioned sounding!). I asked them to imagine how it felt to be rejected, not for something you’d done, but for who you are. Who you love. I told them I didn’t want to hurt them, but they’d raised me to be honest, and I didn’t want to keep lying to them over something so important.
A couple of days later, my mum called me. I remember her voice breaking as she told me she hadn’t meant to make me feel rejected, that I was still her baby and nothing would change that, and that she’d been to the doctor to talk to him about what it all meant. He’d reassured her that there was nothing she’d done wrong, that I wasn’t broken (thank you, Doc), and that I’d be okay. I swallowed all my defensiveness and incredulity that she’d gone to the doctor about me, took a deep breath and – we all moved on.
So that’s it, I guess. My coming out story for National Coming Out Day – except it isn’t. It’s one coming out story of the hundreds of times I’ve had to come out during my life so far. Some people have surprised me along the way; some reactions have been better than I’d hoped; some worse than I’d feared. The thing those reactions have in common is that every single one of them has been about the individual, about their prejudices, beliefs and experiences, and not about me. Through them, I’ve learned that there isn’t ever a perfect time to tell people your truth, but that the simple act of getting out there what you’ve known about yourself for years is a release, even when people don’t immediately embrace it.
13932739_10153593660221574_7961524586207633052_nAnd the thing is, it really does get easier. That first time – telling your parents, your friends, whoever the big, important ‘first’ is to you – is huge no matter how they react, but you never stop having to come out after that. There will always be a new neighbour, some relatives you haven’t seen for ages, new colleagues or classmates, some random customer service person or healthcare professional… These people will make assumptions about you, and sometimes, you’ll have to correct those assumptions. Don’t try and take responsibility for other people’s feelings: if they’re disgusted or upset or otherwise negative, that’s all on them, not on you. I’m not saying you should be hard-hearted, but you do need to learn what is and isn’t worth worrying about, and trust me, someone else’s opinions on how you should live your life falls firmly into the ‘not worth it’ category.
The main thing to remember is, you’re not alone. Maybe it feels like it in your small town, or your ultra-conservative high school, or your mega-religious family – but you’re not. There’s so, so many of us out here, and we’re (mostly) doing okay. You’ll be okay. It will be okay. I can’t promise you’ll never get a bad reaction for being truthful, but I can promise that in the long run, you’ll feel better about yourself. And that, for me, is the biggest reason to do it”.
For more information, please visit HRC’s ‘Coming Out’ page.

Pink rockabilly at Pride

Pride 2015Newbie alto and already-our-new-section-leader (yay!) Jeremy tells us about his first Pride experience as a Pinkie…
It was 1972, the 1st of July, when the first official UK Gay Pride was held in London.  Marches had taken place from 1970, traversing parts of North London, but it was on this day, chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, that around 2,000 people converged on London. They came to march, protest and fight for the rights which are fast becoming our 21st century reality.
Some of my fellow Pinkies were there, and I bet they could hardly have imagined what Pride would be like a little over 40 years later.  We were certainly extremely happy and indeed proud that they were still there, and with us! Marching side-by-side with the giants whose shoulders we stand upon, was a special experience that I’m sure we’ll keep forever. The theme for Pride this year was ‘Pride Heroes’, with various ‘everyday people’ being rightly lauded for their work, visibility and stoicism in the moves toward equality.
Pride 2015I realise not everyone likes the way Pride goes now, but I guess it was ever thus, the day I see an entire community agreeing on one thing is a day I shan’t hold my breath for! For what it’s worth, it seems to me that a day where people seem to be smiling a lot more, where there is a greater diversity of gender expression and identity, and where couples of all sexualities feel able to do something as simple as holding hands without fear of violence , still has a huge amount of positive worth in it.
The day dawned bright and warm, and most importantly dry. Many of us had been caught in the downpour of Pride 2014, memories of soggy socks and drooping fairy wings had made us extra-happy to see the sun put in a strong appearance from start to finish. We marched together in the parade, banner billowing in the breeze and helium balloons with minds of their own causing scenes of general hilarity. We sang songs from seasons past and present, and the crowds obliged us beautifully by joining in. A notable favourite was the timeless classic ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which has been quite brilliantly rearranged by our very own Chris Chambers, for our Summer concert on the 11th July.
Pride 2015I had chosen the day to try out my new 1950s-style pink rockabilly skirt, and could be seen twirling and dancing a little ahead of the main body of Pinkies with a few others, handing out flyers and stickers to the friendly (and at times vaguely bemused) crowds. The optimism of the crowd was tangible. Only a day after the US Supreme Courts ruling on same-sex marriage, with Ireland’s joyful referendum outcome still ringing in our ears, it seems we are in a great position to be actually  brimming with pride, whilst also mindful that we can’t hang up our marching boots just yet…
Pride 2015So, we danced, we sang, we acquired a parade gatecrasher with a lovely alto range, in short, it was a blast. At the march’s end, we received goodie bags containing gratuitous amounts of officially named (by our very own Kate Nichols and Chris Viveash) ‘Fancy Gay Coffee’, we headed straight to the crypt of St. Martins in the Fields to rehearse for our big moment. We appeared on the main stage in Trafalgar Square in the early evening. At 6.40pm, we were waiting backstage as I was changing into my red stilettos, as you do. I am now known as ‘Dorothy’ to many choir members…  Anyway, there I was, with the shock of having just spent a penny in a portaloo still leaving my system, when the glorious Sandi Toksvig started practising her speech not three feet away from me. I had met her once before, when I was wearing pink glitter dress shoes, which Ms. Toksvig and I named my ‘Vagina Shoes’…but that’s another story.
Pride 2015Sandi was on just before us, giving the most rousing and heart warming speech I’ve heard in a long time, naming everyone there as her ‘Pride Heroes’. We completely agreed, they were the most exuberant and welcoming crowd we could have hoped for. The performance was over in a flash, good things always are, but we sang our hearts out and they seemed to enjoy it. Our classic rendition of ‘Vogue’ went down a storm (i’ve a sneaking suspicion there might have a been a few Madonna fans in the audience, but I may be wrong), and we rounded it off with a song thats coming up in our Summer Concert ‘Key Changes:  Songs that Shaped the World’ at St. John’s Smith Square in London on Saturday the 11th July.  If you want to know what song, you’ll have to come to the concert…
This is my first season as a ‘Pinkie’, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.  When I first marched at Pride a few years a go with another (brilliant) organisation, all I could think about were the many people I had met in my life who had done everything they could to stop me from being there at all. In 2015, all I could think of, and all I could see, were thousands of people who were happy to see us.  Thank You Pinkies…I cannot wait until next time!
See more of our photos from the day here!

Tales of the Pinkie – Tim C

Tim C
Tim C

‘Tales of the Pinkie’ is our irregular series of articles looking back our history through the eyes of our members. This year we’re presenting a range of great events to celebrate our 30 years of singing together. Find out more about our history and the LGBT rights movement in our brilliant exhibition ‘Singing the Changes’ that runs 13th June – 18th August.
Former Pink Singer Tim C chats to our current member Hsien about his memories of singing with the choir, taking part in our European trips and appearing on the set of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. Continue reading “Tales of the Pinkie – Tim C”

Why I will be at the London Vigil Against Hate Crime

Jo
Jo

I’ve lived a fairly sheltered life as a lesbian. No overt homophobia, I wasn’t bullied at school but then I didn’t know about gays and lesbians until I was in my 20’s and at drama school and it wasn’t until a little later that I realised that lesbianism explained my feelings towards women and not towards men. I never felt there was something wrong with me and have always lived my life as an “out” lesbian and been accepted as such by colleagues and family. Clearly this is not the case with many of my friends and last year I was brought face to face with a monstrous hate crime when various news reports told us of the death of Ian Baynham who was attacked in Trafalgar Square whilst out celebrating.
Even if I’d not been a member of the Pink Singers I’d have attended the vigil that night but being able to be an active participant gave me a huge sense of community and a feeling that I was helping to make a stand to say enough is enough. Singers came from many of the lesbian and gay communities around the country, not just London and we all joined together with one voice to sing for Ian and all our brothers and sisters who have experienced hatred and persecution around the world. Continue reading “Why I will be at the London Vigil Against Hate Crime”