ARTS, TOP STORY

Europe’s biggest gay men’s choir sings in Hoxton

5 Mar , 2012  

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The stage is filled with men wiggling their hips and blowing kisses while loudly singing “I feel pretty” from the musical West Side Story.

The crowd claps and a man dressed in a feathery headdress shouts “champagne!”

These men are part of London Gay Men’s Chorus, which, with over 230 singers is Europe’s largest gay choir.

London Gay Men's Chorus

The London Gay Men’s Chorus performed at Hoxton’s Courtyard Theatre on Sunday 4 March. Photo: London Gay Men’s Chorus.

Country music star Dolly Parton said the choir’s rendition of Jolene was the best she had ever heard.

Tonight, the singers are putting on “a fabulous night of glittering glamour” to raise money for East London HIV charity Positive East.

The chorus members all have full-time jobs; among them are teachers, policemen, doctors and lawyers. They are aged between 17 and 75 and all have beautiful voices.

Their a capella rendition of the Flying Picket’s “Only you” showcases the huge range of vocal talent, from sweet sopranos to rich booming tenors.

Stephen Wilkie, the choir’s manager, says: “It’s great to meet other gay people not in a bar or club. We’ve all got a lot in common and it’s nice to get together and have a sing.”

“We love a bit of innuendo,” says Stephen. This is evident, especially in “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair” and “I love your baby face.” There are a lot of knowing glances to the audience.

The choreography is wonderful but it’s not all camp dancing and jazz hands.

Silence falls and the choir sings their anthem, “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent, in which four of the lead characters are HIV positive.

Funds from ticket sales will support Positive East’s HIV-testing service. East London has some of the highest rates of HIV infection in the UK, with a study by the Health Protection Agency showing there are over 5,600 people accessing HIV-related care in East London.

The chairman of the chorus, Alisdair Low, said: “We are delighted to be performing in support of Positive East. Our missions align perfectly. We both challenge social preconceptions and contribute to an enriched society.”

One in four people tests late for HIV, when the virus is more advanced and harder to treat. The government has highlighted late diagnosis as a problem in its Public Health Outcomes framework for areas to focus on. The sooner HIV is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

“Early diagnosis can save your life; you are 10-13 per cent more likely to survive,” said Mark Santos, director of Positive East.

Alisdair is aiming to raise enough money to test 200 people and follow this up with appropriate support.

The grinning singers look like they are having a great time and their enthusiasm is infectious.

“Wow,” says Daisy Wyndham, a 32-year-old audience member as she dances out of the door humming “Let’s fall in love”. “It made me want to join a choir.”

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