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Two days to go – Why protest songs?

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Mon, May 15, 2017 14:01:00

Two days to go – Why protest songs?

In two days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

Our show in New York is called I See Fire. When we bring the show to the Cadogan Hall in London in June, we’ll be singing many of the same songs. The London concert is called AgitPop. The Cadogan Hall describes it as “the music of liberation and protest”.

Why protest?

After all, there’s much to celebrate. It’s fifty years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. It’s nearly four years since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act received royal assent in the United Kingdom.

So, why protest?

In the words of one of the songs we’ll sing: “The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?”

According to Galop’s Hate Crime Report of 2016:

More than seven thousand hate crimes against LGBT people were recorded by UK police in one year

In that period, over a thousand prosecutions were made for homophobic acts in England and Wales

Over a thousand charges for LGBT hate crimes were made in Scotland and Wales.

So the law isn’t quite enough.

Personally, I know of several people who have experienced either verbal or actual, physical abuse as a result of homophobic attacks in the last eight months.

A friend of mine in the Chorus was subjected to sustained, verbal abuse as he walked down the street in central London, simply because he was holding hands with his partner.

The boyfriend of a friend of mine was badly beaten up in Sheffield, because “he looked too gay.”

It’s not good enough if gay and lesbian couples can legally get married and have children, but can’t walk safely hand in hand down the road.

That’s why Pride marches are still so important. That’s why we in the London Gay Men’s Chorus sing protest songs at our concerts.

But don’t worry, we’ll be singing lots of songs of celebration too!



Three Days to Go – The Ess-a-Bagel Deli

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Sun, May 14, 2017 16:09:12

Three Days to Go – The Ess-a-Bagel Deli

In three days I’m flying to America with the London Gay
Men’s Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

As always happens in America, I’m spoilt for choice.

During a brief lull in our hectic tour, we’re going to be
eating at the legendary Ess-a-Bagel Deli on 3rd Avenue, New York. Apparently,
it’s been around for over thirty-five years, which they say is 150 years in New
York restaurant years.

Because there are around a hundred of us on the tour, all
pitching up at this deli one lunchtime, we’ve got to order in advance.

So we’ve been sent the menu. Which is like a small book.

Apart from the bagel (standard bagel? mini-bagel or sliced
bagel?) should I go for the matzo ball soup, or just a salad?

Or what about a salad sandwich? That’s a new one on me.

Or maybe a conventional spread sandwich? If so, do I want
peanut butter or jelly? Or maybe apple cinnamon cream cheese, banana nut cream cheese,
berry berry cream cheese, chocolate chip cream cheese, lox cream cheese, oreo,
pumpkin, scallion, strawberry, sun-dried tomato, vegetable, or just plain cream
cheese?

And if I want a cheese sandwich instead, do I want American, Swiss,
Gouda, Jarlsberg, Pepper Jack, Fontina, Havarti, or just plain cheddar?

And should I order the potato knish to go with?

I haven’t even started on the choices for dessert…

According to this article I’m reading on the internet, the Ess-a-Bagel Deli also known as His Hole-y-ness the Doughy Lama. Oh yeah..

Next: Why protest songs?



Four Days to Go – So Good They Named it Twice

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Sat, May 13, 2017 16:15:15

Four Days to Go – So Good They Named it Twice

In four days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s
Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in Chicago and New York.

New York.

I’m flicking through internet pages, deciding what to do during the few days rest we’ll have in New York.

I’m like a kid in a sweet shop.

There’s so much to see. So much to do. I don’t want to make
a wrong choice.

I’ve been to New York many times in my life. I was first
there in 1975 on a school trip. That’s when I first fell in love with this
loud, brash, grimy, beautiful city.

I returned years later on my honeymoon. My wife and I saw the show 42nd
Street on 42nd Street. At the end of the show, we ran to
the Port Authority building to catch the last train out to New Jersey, where we were staying.

When I was with the BBC, I filmed there many times. It’s
really easy to film in New York. Far easier than London. Everyone in New York
likes a film crew. Everyone wants to be on camera.

The last time I was there was in 1997 with my wife and four year old son. The twin towers were
still standing then, and we stayed at the magnificently retro Mayflower Hotel on Central Park.

A lot’s changed.

I’ll be staying with my host, also called David, from the New York Gay Men’s
Chorus. He lives in Chelsea, just a few blocks from Greenwich Village. He’s lending me a Citibike
pass so I can ride around Manhatten on a bicycle.

That will be interesting. I’d better go and check out my insurance.

Next: The Ess-a-Bagel Deli



Five Days to Go – Choreography Panic

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Fri, May 12, 2017 17:50:43

Five Days to Go – Choreography Panic

In five days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s
Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago. And
dancing.

That last word terrifies me. I am the definition of dad
dancing.

And yet.

Five years ago I joined a gay men’s chorus (“Europe’s
largest boy band”) that not only sings – but dances.

Choral-ography they call it. Two hundred gay men in perfect
synchronisation.

Well, one hundred and ninety-nine – plus me. Usually a beat
behind everyone else. The Corporal Jones of the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

In the show we’re taking on tour we’re going to be dancing
to…

…but I can’t tell you. It’s got to be a surprise.

So I’ll tell you about just over two years ago. On the stage
of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank.

We were performing a very action packed version of Jai-Ho –
the fabulous song performed at the end of Danny Boyle’s seminal film Slumdog
Millionaire.

Week after week in rehearsals I failed miserably to get the
movements in the right sequence.

The rest of the chorus would be raising their arms to the
left.

I raised right.

Then one day, I got it. I was in perfect synchronisation
with everyone else.

I was ecstatic. But there was one problem.

We were performing the song jointly with our visitors. The
New York Gay Men’s Chorus. Fabulous, friendly, fit, masters of the dance.

And there were a lot of them. Our chorus was nearly one
hundred and seventy. There seemed to be hundreds of the hunky New York guys.

And we were all squeezed onto the modest stage of the Queen
Elizabeth Hall.

So when it came to the combined choral-ography, all my
confident, expressive, expansive, and above all, accurate dance moves were
totally invisible.

I’m relying on that happening this time too…

Next: So Good They Named it Twice



Six days to go – My Kind of Town

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Thu, May 11, 2017 16:17:17

Six days to go – My Kind of Town

In six days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s
Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

I’ve spoken to four people from Chicago in the last few
days. Now I can’t wait to get there. They all seem so – friendly.

There’s my work colleague Jim, who lives in San Francisco
but is from Chicago. As soon as he found out I was going to his hometown, he
sent me a list of recommended restaurants and details about the best art deco
sights to see in the city.

Then there’s the lovely Scott. He sings Tenor in the Chicago
Gay Men’s Chorus. He took time to write a detailed email about how to apply for
a Ventra card. It’s like London’s Oyster card, but works on the Chicago Transit
system.

Scott not only emailed all the details, but also arranged
with the New York Gay Men’s Chorus for us to be able to have the cards sent to
their offices. Then we could pick them up when we arrive next week.

Simple. Except…

The Ventra website is very fussy about addresses. It didn’t
like my very British postcode, which it needed to confirm my credit card
details. It demanded a zip code.

In the end I typed in the zip code for the New York Chorus
and hoped for the best.

First I got an email saying all was well. Two days later, I
got an email from someone called Toye in the Ventra Customer Contact Center. I
had to ring them. I could see the money I was planning to save with the card being
eaten up by my transatlantic phone bill.

But it was worth a try…

It was an automated phone system. “Listen to the following
menu. Press one for…” You know the sort of thing.

Twice it sent me round in a full circle. On the third
attempt, I got through to a really helpful man called Dustin. I thought there
was only ever one man called Dustin in the world…

He fixed it for me. And wished me a great stay in Chicago. I
emailed Toye to say it was all fixed, and to thank her/his colleague for being
so helpful. S/he emailed back to wish me a great stay in Chicago.

So thank you Jim and Scott and Toye and Dustin, for being from
Chicago and being so friendly. It definitely sounds like my kind of town.

Next: Choreography panic



7 days to go: What to Pack?

Chorus tour of the US Posted on Wed, May 10, 2017 16:41:54

Seven Days to Go – What to Pack?
In seven days I’m flying to New York with the London Gay Men’s
Chorus
for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago. The
highlight for me will be singing in Central Park, early on Sunday morning. OK.
The “early on Sunday morning” bit doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Perhaps we
simply won’t go to bed the night before…

This is the earliest I’ve ever started planning for an
overseas trip. I’m usually very last minute. But with one hundred gay men as my
travel companions, I’m getting plenty of advice. They’ve all got opinions.
Strong opinions.

For some of my fellow travellers, it seems the generous
luggage allowance of forty-six kilos plus multiple cabin bags is not enough.

I’ve only got one suitcase and a rucksack. I’m feeling
inadequate.

We’ve been given two special t-shirts for the tour, plus we’ll
wear our Silver Jubilee t-shirts from last year. I don’t need much more do I? A
pair of trousers, a pair of trainers, a couple of changes of socks and
underwear. That’s enough isn’t it?

I’ve just received an email from a member of the New York
Gay Men’s Chorus. They’ll be hosting us. “Social evening at the Eagle NYC on
Thursday night. The theme is sports gear. Bring a wrestling singlet, or a pair
of speedos!”

I’m beginning to feel my small wardrobe is very inadequate.

Next: My Kind of Town?



Election

Some things Posted on Fri, January 20, 2017 08:48:16

Election

Elsie
Simpkins had defrauded the voting slips in the constituency of South Shindle
for the last eighteen years. This was to be the fifth general election result
she had fixed. From the very start, it had been so easy. As an unmarried school-teacher,
chair of the W.I. and more recently, the first woman lay-preacher at St James
the Less, she was beyond reproach.

Elsie
volunteered to be a polling clerk shortly after her fortieth birthday. Her
application to replace the retiring head of the small Church of England school,
where she had taught for nineteen years, was rejected by the governors. They
chose to appoint a dynamic, younger man called Eric Buttles. As Elsie’s only
route to a headship would have been to move to another school in another town,
she continued to teach in the infants’ class. She busied herself with minor
roles of responsibility in the community. Her application to be a polling clerk
was successful, and it was not long before she became the Presiding Officer, in
charge of counting the ballot papers for the constituency of South
Shindle. The small fees she got for both
council and general elections, paid for her annual holiday to Felixstowe.

That
was where she met John Markham. He was a young man with brilliant blue eyes,
and a missionary zeal to change the world. They had collided trays in the Cosy
Teapot one wet afternoon, and he gallantly offered to reserve a seat for her,
while she went to the ladies’ to soak the tea stain on her coat. As the rain
poured down outside, he talked about his life and his ambitions. He had grown
up in Norfolk. When he was eight, his parents told him he was adopted. That his
biological mother had abandoned him as a baby. He spoke warmly about his
adoptive parents. Liberal thinkers who had been environmentalists long before
it was fashionable. He went to study at Downing College Cambridge, where he
became politically active in the Labour Party. Now, at the age of twenty-six,
he was to be the party’s youngest candidate in the forthcoming General
Election, standing for the constituency
of South Shindle.

Elsie
and John talked long after the rain had stopped. When they came to say goodbye,
Elsie wished him well, and John asked to see her again.

Four
weeks’ later, his resounding victory was a surprise for the pollsters, South
Shindle was a Conservative stronghold. They were no less surprised when he won
the following three elections with similar, substantial majorities.

Elsie
sat regarding herself in the mirror, thinking about what dress to wear for her
fifth General Election. She opened the middle drawer of the dressing table, and
pulled out a rosary box. It was the only surviving remnant of her hated
Catholic upbringing. At fourteen, she had been raped by a boy from the Jesuit
school. She was forbidden an abortion, and when she gave birth to a healthy boy,
he was immediately taken into care. She opened the rosary box and took out a
hospital nametag. A kindly nurse had kept it for her. The letters were faded,
but the name John Simpkins was still clearly visible.



Internalised

Some things Posted on Wed, January 18, 2017 15:52:57

Internalised

I know it’s an
addiction. But it’s not like a real drug. I could give it up, anytime. Easy.
But why should I? It’s a buzz, it’s a high. Sets me up for the week.

It’s my escape. From
this shitty life. I need it, I deserve it. I work hard. I pay the bills,
working that crap job every day. Then all the shit at home. Especially after
the boy was born.

I sometimes think,
what’s wrong with it anyway? If it makes me feel good, if it’s not hurting
anyone. Then I remember what they say, what they’ve always said. The way they
look at the rest of them. What they say about them. Papa would kill me. Mama
would be heartbroken.

The barman always stops
me after a while. Usual six or seven. He knows. He’s watching. I always have
this rum cocktail. It’s called a Mojito, fresh mint, lots of ice.

I remember the first
time I had one. It was the first time I came here. I was shitting myself. I
felt so, out of it. So, dirty. I ordered a beer, and the barman looks at me as
if I’d grown two heads. Then I realised, they weren’t drinking beers. They all
looked so cool, drinking these cocktails. Faggot drinks.

And the barman makes
some kind of joke about my beer, which I didn’t get. Thought he was messing
with me. But he told me to chill. Offers me a Mojito – on the house. Can’t
refuse that. And hey, it’s pretty good. So I throw it back real quick, and get
another.

The barman’s real
friendly, wants to talk. But I don’t want to talk. I just want to watch. See
what they do.

A lot of them are real
disgusting. Like, they’ve got no shame. I just sit there. And watch. And get
another drink. They’re kissing, many of them are stripped to the waist, and
dancing, and their bodies are everywhere, folding into each other. Some of them
are so young, real young guys. They look so – in ecstasy – and it’s disgusting.

And I want it so bad. I
get hard, and I wish I didn’t. I know I should just go, get out of here. Papa’s
face comes into my head. I feel guilty, and I try to shake him out. Then I look
around me again. And it’s just – good. I drink it all in. And I keep it in my
head, so when Sitora wants me to fuck her, I close my eyes, and remember this.
Then I can stay hard, even though I hate it.

Shit, why am I like
this? What did I do that was so bad? God is punishing me for something. He must
hate me so much, to make me feel this way. I want to give it up, I really do,
but I can’t.

I tell the barman to
get me another drink, and he says, maybe it’s time to call it a night. Fuck
him.

I think he knows I’ve
got a wife and kid back home. Or at least he suspects, even if I’ve taken the
ring off. He says he’ll get me a cab.

It’s not like I’m one
of them. I’ll go home, leave them, but I’ll come back.

Written after the murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on 12th June 2016



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