Monday 23 January 2023

Party! London's LGBT+ community choir, the Pink Singers celebrate 40 years at the Cadogan Hall

The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023
The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023 (Photo Jessica Rowbottom)
In July 1983 I allowed myself to have my arm twisted and take over as temporary music director of a new gay choir that had been formed in London in May, of that year. Inspired by a visit from the New York City Gay Men's Choir, the Pink Singers was an attempt to create something similar, a London-based gay community choir. Initially, we were small and quirky, and the London gay scene of the 1980s did not quite know what to make of us, but we persisted and developed. When I stopped being music director in 1988, we had already a coherent musical ensemble. Now, 40 years later the Pink Singers is going strong and the 100 something members took to the stage at the Cadogan Hall on Saturday 21 January 2023 under music director Murray Hipkin, to celebrate 40 years.

The programme for the concert mixed show tunes, with the Spice Girls, Witney Houston, Lizzo, Miley Cyrus, Queen and more, in imaginative arrangements often accompanied by a seven-piece band. There was choreography too, some from small groups and at other times the whole ensemble got up to boogie. It was a wonderfully exuberant and engaging evening and might give the wrong idea of the ensemble's ethos. There is a lot more to the Pink Singers, and a series of short introductions from choir members gave us a feel for the other aspects of the ensemble. 

This is an LGBT+ community choir, and the ensemble reaches all those areas. Two different trans people talked about what it was like to be taken in by an inclusive community, and don't forget that for trans people the question of singing voice and pitch is an important one. And there was other politics too, last year the choir went to Warsaw and marched. And whilst many of the choir are young, the age ranges are wide, and Saturday night's performance included at least three people who were part of the group way back in the 1980s!

The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023
The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023 (Photo Jessica Rowbottom)

The show on Saturday was entirely the creating of a group of people who come together in their spare time to rehearse, and that isn't just the singing, there was a substantial team of people responsible for putting the show together, from artistic director Francesco Gallio and producer Nicola Swann to choreographers Jerome De Henau, Karin Read and Andy Lingfield. Not to mention the various solo voices who stood out from the crowd at various points. All accompanied by John Flinders, piano, Naomi Anderson, bass guitar, John Clark, drums and a string quartet, the London Novello Ensemble (Gavin Diavies, Karen Anstee, George White, David Robinson), plus two BSL Signers, Sarah Meeks and Bernadette Travers.

There was classical music too, Eriks Esenvalds' Stars sung by the sopranos and altos (with tenors and basses joining in with waving their phone lights at a key moment), whilst the tenors and basses got to shine in 'In taberna' from Orff's Carmina Burana, and the whole choir gave us The Song Goes On, Murray Hipkin's new version of music from Strauss' Die Fledermaus. There was also a hilarious classical-style a cappella arrangement of the Spice Girls' Wannabe.

Here, I must confess that many of the songs struck chords with the audience that entirely passed me by. Numbers popularised by Lizzo and Miley Cyrus only vaguely impact my musical consciousness, but it didn't matter, the musical arrangements were all excellent, and some numbers such as Head and Heart (a 2020 hit for Joel Correy and MNEK) and Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball were satisfying for their musical values as well as the impact of the words.

There was full-scale staging too, the first half ended with 'Sposalizio' from Frank Loesser's Most Happy Fella, which received a hilariously elaborate staging featuring a large table and wearable pizzas (shades of Bloolips there).  Part two opened simply, with Ali Goodman and Simon Harrison sitting on stage and holding us in the palm of their hands as they gave a spot-on rendition of Coward's I went to a marvellous party. Other solo turns included a stunning Freddie Mercury clone in Queen's Don't stop me know with a solo voice that could really do justice to the wide range of Mercury's original vocal line, whilst in 'You know how to love me' from the musical When Midnight Strikes, soloist LJ displayed a terrific belt voice.

There was plenty of dance too, from Elvis' Jailhouse Rock to London Queer Tango dancing to Astor Piazzolla's Libertango and Jazmine Sullivan and Salaam Remi's Bust your windows (not the most obvious tango number, from a powerhouse American R&B singer-songwriter, but it certainly worked).

The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023
The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall, January 2023 (Photo Jessica Rowbottom)

We ended with Mika's Happy Ending, and then a dance hits medley including One Night Only from the musical Dreamgirls, and No More Tears (Enough is Enough) which was recorded as a duet by Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand. All were given with theatrical pizazz which left everyone wanting more.

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