A Magic Weekend Away – Part 2

So where was I…
Welcome back to the latest blog – Part 2.

When you left us we had just become ‘Internationally Acclaimed and Multi-Award-Winning Choristers’ – a phrase we’ve been using with a smug level of regularity ever since. But I digress… After the fun of competition Saturday came the rest of the weekend…

Sunday was rather a bump back to earth. We had all been terribly looking forward to playing the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’, which is a beautiful venue bursting with plants and wildlife. Unfortunately, the only things that were bursting when WE arrived, were thunderclouds overhead, and the café and award winning gift shop (at the seams) with people jamming themselves in to find cover from the biblical rainfall. The beautifully picturesque botanical backdrop stage so lovingly set up for our performances had to be abandoned, and we couldn’t move indoors for suitability and health and safety reasons.

So, given ten minutes notice and a wild panic we arrived to an (as yet unfinished) outdoor picnic area, and a piano stool on a slope partly leaning into the rain with a bin bag over it. We are game for anything though, and we were on tour, so we happily set to work on wowing a crowd of slicked faces and umbrellas, with our competition repertoire, and a few other crowd pleasers thrown in. Over the Rainbow drew a rather ironic laugh from several crowd members (couldn’t have picked better if we tried!), and we then stuck around for the other performers, and watched a lovely concert from our friends, the Bristol Male Voice Choir. After another concert in Camborne in the evening, we then retired back to the hotel for one of the finest moments of the tour… The unofficial afterparty.

The lovely Fiona had kindly granted us an extension and promised to serve us until midnight, but she ended up having such a laugh with us (while joining in a number of dubiously tuned alcohol-fuelled ditties), that she was still pouring the drinks as we approached 3 am. Needless to say some of the less sensible among my charges were feeling rather the worse for wear early Monday AM, as the coach readied itself with some people still not even awake yet!
I knew nothing of these things of course, having retired to my bed as soon as we arrived back at the hotel with a Horlicks and the latest Jackie Collins.

If you hear any differently then I assure you; you are being duped by scurrilous lies. For instance I vigorously dispute the following:
– I certainly did not stay up until at least 2 am
– There is absolutely not a bizarre video of me on a sofa singing refrains from ‘Hello Dolly’ while attempting yoga          poses.
– And I absolutely and positively did not need to pack my case with the coach waiting for me while still inebriated,    and forget to take several items of personal value which the wonderful and kind Fiona then had to post back to me.

Not a word of truth there…

We stopped in at the Tate in St Ives on the beginning of our homeward bound journey. A lovely performance space and possibly our best non-competition performance of the tour passed by miraculously (who knew if you just added a lot of alcohol and very little sleep, vocal magic would ensue). We headed back to South Wales having sung ourselves hoarse, but with an absolute bagful of memories to cherish. For me at least, I think all these memories, these little moments, are the good stuff, the bits that make a life worthwhile. There’s a lot of white noise and business as usual day to day, but now and again if we are lucky, we all have these moments. Moments where you feel completely overwhelmed with love, pride or excitment.

My weekend was full of this good stuff. Full of absolute pride in being a part of this group and everyone in it. Full of pride in myself for finally coming along and joining. It was full of pride for how hard these boys worked, not to win, but to do themselves and the gay community justice and fit in as equals. Full of pride that we put ourselves out there as the only gay choir attending the festival, but joined in, made friends, integrated, yet carved ourselves out a space amongst all these other amazing singers, and won so many admirers in the process for just being our best selves (at least at the right times – I was certainly not my best self on Monday morning).

I was particularly proud of our MD Andy. Everyone desperately wanted to win for him to validate how hard he works, and justify how hard he also works these boys. I’m so glad his partner Leon (or Chief WAG as I’ve now affectionately named him) came along and joined us, and got to see how proud we are of him too. I was exceptionally proud of Chris. We are an extremely private couple, who are our own harshest critics, but we always support and push each other to be better. I cried like a baby when he won his prize, because he regularly feels that in a crowded marketplace of exceptionally talented people he isn’t quite good enough. He realised that Saturday that he is, insanely talented, and loved by all the boys, however much they might wish him harm when they see each new and more fiendishly difficult arrangement he puts in front of them.

I was so proud of my fellow Tenor 2s for how hard we had all worked to blend so well together, and how much like a family we have become. I talked to everyone in the choir over the course of the weekend. Everyone. I liaised the hell out of them. And I enjoyed every second of it. It’s like a great big glorious family of eccentric 40% ABV fabulousness, and I love each and every one of them for the way being a part of this group has changed my life for the better. When you reach a certain age, and, particularly when you form a couple with someone, it tends to have a very specific effect on your social life. It becomes about you and them. Couples do ‘couply’ things; they stop seeing their friends. Their circle diminishes, and before they know it; there is nothing but the two of them, and their world has become very small.

If I can recommend one thing above anything else, it would be this. Regardless of your situation, if you fancy becoming a part of any social group, do it. Take up a hobby, get out and about, widen your social circle and make new connections. Humans are a wonderfully diverse lot, but they are all social creatures, and it takes all kinds to make a world. So if you like what you heard here, come and join us. We’d love to have you and we don’t care who you are. If you are straight or bi we’d love to hear from you, and will always be welcome. This should be, and is, a safe space for everyone.

I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite moments from the tour. Not my words now but our fundraising chief Tim’s. He was sat in the audience with a lady who he made a particularly lovely connection with that sums it all up for me. He says:

“I know we all have our special memories from the weekend and hope we keep sharing them on here. I just wanted to share this one:
After we had sung in the competition, a couple of us went back in to hear the last choir. We just sat where we could find space and were sitting next to an elderly couple (who looked pretty much like the majority of the audience). The woman turned to us and said “well done, that was great”. I thought at first she was just being polite, but then she went on to say that her 18 year old grandson is just ‘discovering who he is’ and is having a hard time. She said “and when I saw you all up there I was thinking of him and I thought “THATS what you need!” So I guess there is a young lad somewhere who has a lot to thank us for. His Gran now knows it can all work out ok, even if he can’t see it yet.”

One of our other most bubbly of Baritones (the lovely Nigel) then managed to accost this woman again on Monday, when she came to see us at the Tate in St Ives. They got chatting about the same grandson and he told me he asked her why he was having such a hard time, and she said it was because he was a naturally effeminate guy. He sympathised with her and advised our chorus was welcoming of everyone. She said that was so nice to know, and she would be sharing her happy experience of meeting us and our comments with her grandson”.

So, what better way to end than to pop out that welcoming hand. If you feel lonely or like you don’t fit in somehow. If you don’t enjoy the scene and want to meet people somewhere a bit less intense. If you love music and want to share it with others, then please get in touch. And if you have a friend or family member that you think meets the description above, please send them this blog to read and ask them to check us out. We’d love to make your acquaintance.

Until next time!

The South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus welcomes new members whenever they want to join.
Please drop us a line at gaychorus@gmail.com if you’d like to come along, or just want more info.

SWGMC 2015: A Bass Note

SWGMC are back from our summer break and already gearing up for our next concert (17 October, since you ask), but rather than spending all of our time looking forwards we thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at how the choir have spent 2015 so far. So here our bass section leader, Stephen Whitehead, talks us through his highlights of SWGMC 2015:

Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.
Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.

I’ve been asked to write about what it’s like to sing with SWGMC, in particular in those performances which are not principally ours but where we are invited to perform by others, sometimes for the first time. And events in 2015 have provided the ideal opportunity to do just that. Here goes.

By January 2015, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus’ programme for the year was set, and included dates for our own Cardiff concerts in June and October, plus a visit to Cornwall in May. The first music for our June ‘Brotherhood’ themed concert had been sent, downloaded and printed ready for learning. Then three invitations, out of the blue and hot off the e-mail press, meant that our public performances would begin earlier than planned. Each would be a ‘first’ and would, in its own way, prove to be truly memorable.

SWGMC at the premier of "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage"; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys
SWGMC at the premier of “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage”; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys

In February we were approached by National Theatre Wales. Would we be able to sing in the Sherman Theatre at the press night of Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, a new play which told the story of the career and ‘coming-out’, and resulting media sensation, of Welsh International Rugby player Gareth Thomas. Since he came-out Gareth has become an active campaigner against homophobia in sport, working especially with young people.
A couple of years ago the media reported a number of suicides amongst young people in Bridgend which had a devastating effect on the community, and through a thought-provoking balance of humour, drama and sport, the play skilfully interwove Gareth’s story with that of Bridgend and those suicides.
It showed not only how far we have come as society with regards to LGBT equality as a whole but also, in some respects, how far we have yet to go. It’s a sobering thought that for some in our audiences, these performances may be the only time they knowingly come into contact with openly gay people. The choir foregathered in the bar post curtain where, with a suitably chosen programme and against a percussive accompaniment of tinkling glasses, we entertained an appreciative audience. At times music becomes the way by which we can build bridges.

Pride Film
Pride (2014) highlighted the struggle the Miners and LGBT community faced back in the 1980’s under the Thatcher Government. Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners formed in 1984 and a year later they were joined in solidarity by the Welsh Mining Communities to march in London Pride of 1985.

In March we received another invitation, this time from Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre. Would we be able to sing at a special screening of ‘PRIDE’ at the Big Pit Mining Museum? The award-winning film charts the events of 1984/85 when a group from London, LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), spearheaded a nationwide campaign to financially support striking miners through voluntary collections. Initially they focussed on Onllwyn in South Wales, and thanks to their efforts the two disparate communities became united in a way that was unprecedented. As most of us had seen the film, some more than once, and knowing how moving, inspiring and uplifting it is we also knew this performance would be extra special. Thankfully we sang our twenty five minute programme prior to the film’s screening, as it would have been difficult singing afterwards. As one of our members commented, ‘Will there ever be a time when we don’t cry at this film?’ The question was not necessarily rhetorical.

London Pride
Subsequently we had the honour to join LGSM and Tredegar Town Band on June 27th at London Pride to commemorate this historic event in the campaign for LGBT equality.

Question: how do you squeeze eighteen choristers, a conductor, vocal coach, accompanist, keyboards, a presenter and all the usual studio equipment into one small BBC radio studio? The secret is to take it in turns to breathe, as we discovered when were asked by BBC Radio 2 to sing ‘live’ on the Jeremy Vine Show from BBC Llandaff in March.

SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff
SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff

Two numbers leading up to the main news on the hours of the programme? No problem. Would we be able to do something ‘extra’; how about a jingle for the programme? Certainly. You have one? Ah, you want us to invent one!? No problem! Three minutes to go, improvisation kicks in and with moments to spare we have a jingle, it is rehearsed, the BBC like it, and three minutes in we sing it ‘live’; to an anticipated audience of 7 million people. We have sung in concert halls, theatres, churches, even a bio dome at the Eden Project, but to an unseen audience of 7 million people! No pressure!
Those of you who were listening in may have recalled that rather challenging question Jeremy posed from his audience of “Why a gay choir?” – Mark Anderson told us all at the time very much “Why a gay choir?” in his blog.

Fast forward to July now (but not forgetting our Brotherhood concert in June, see previous blog post here). In 1471 there was some hostility in Tewkesbury when the Houses of Lancaster and York fought it out in the Wars of the Roses. Thankfully, when we arrived in 2015 all thoughts of hostility had abated, although the fact that the town was in the middle of a Medieval Festival was a vivid reminder of its past. As a choir we seem to thrive on challenges, and in this case this involved singing a selection of West End and Broadway Musical songs in a new venue (Tewkesbury Methodist Church), with a new orchestra (the brilliant Tewkesbury Camerata, who we’d never even met before) and under the baton of a new conductor, the accomplished maestro Mark Aitchison (who we had met before but not been regularly conducted by).

Shows-Songs-Final-Social-MediaTewkesbury Camerata are an orchestra who meet for the first time on the day of their concerts, rehearse in the afternoon and perform in the evening. We did exactly the same (after, it must be admitted, a piano rehearsal with Mark in Cardiff the Thursday before). Our previous experiences in Cornwall have proved that singing in Methodist Churches (Camborne, St Austell and now Tewkesbury) has a positive effect and this was no exception, as the capacity audience which was packed into the venue that night proved when, two and half hours later, they gave everyone participating that night a standing ovation. All performances are important – they are where we build bridges, establish new connections and invite audiences to share our world and love of music – but they are equally important in how we can raise awareness and funds to support our chosen charity. Of which, this year is Mind Cymru – our boys are running the Cardiff 10K Run in an effort to fundraise for Mind Cymru – Please help us reach our target of £800 for Team SWGMC

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So far in 2015 we have received four invitations which have led to ‘firsts’ for us (and there are more to come at the time of writing, watch this space) and, as always, we have risen to the occasions. Singing is hard work, the ‘trick’ is to make it look, and sound, as if it’s not. It uses muscles you never knew you had, or had forgotten about. It involves intensive rehearsals, and any ‘deer in the headlight’ moments are combatted by an adrenalin rush. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun and with this choir it pays dividends on so many levels.

Oct 5th 2013 - RWCMD - SWGMC 5th Anniversary
Oct 5th 2013 – RWCMD – SWGMC 5th Anniversary

I’ve been singing for over fifty years, starting as a boy soprano, graduating through male alto and baritone to bass (by-passing tenor but not sure how), and over the years I’ve sung with some fantastic choirs, operatic societies and opera groups. I had the pleasure of joining South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus in 2009 and was invited to become bass section leader in 2012. From the moment we step out on stage to when we take our final bows, no matter what the venue or programme, singing with these guys is really special and there’s nowhere else, at that time, I’d rather be.

*** SWGMC says a huge thanks to Steven Whitehead on the blog he’s given us, recounting a very fruitful and enjoyable year we’ve all had! ***

Wales and London, a glorious Brotherhood

11425219_786979201417093_4758403475791285004_oSo after months of preparation, another concert date is proudly ticked off on the SWGMC calendar. This time it was a particularly manly affair (although isn’t it always!?) as the boys of South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus took to a stage bedecked with power tools and sports gear for ‘Brotherhood – a Celebration of Masculinity’.

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If you came to see us we hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as we did, and I’m sure you’ll agree that a huge level of credit is due to all involved, especially Andy Bulleyment and the SWGMC music team for their amazing work once again in putting together a fun, engaging and enjoyable concert.

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But enough about us. We were also thrilled to welcome to the Gate our guest choir for the evening, the amazing Barberfellas, for their debut performance in Wales. Affectionately known as the Barbies, they are an off-shoot of our London-based friends the Pink Singers (who, if you’ve ever seen them in concert, you’ll know are utterly fabulous!). As well as their stellar performances both the Pink Singers and the Barberfellas run a few websites and blogs of their own, and so – not content with just hearing them sing – we’ve also persuaded them to do a guest blog for us giving their experience of last weekend, as well as a brief history of the Barberfellas and their place in the barbershop tradition. Enjoy!

“The Glory of Wales – London’s Barberfellas join SWGMC for “a Celebration of Masculinity”
By Mark Winter

Barbershop singing with a twist! – that’s what we gave the good folk of Cardiff at the Gate Arts and Community Centre on 6 June 2015. We’d braved the M4 in our canary-yellow minibus as guests of our friends at the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus for a celebration of all things manly.

Performing in both halves of the show, we shared our unique take on traditional barbershop singing with some classic a capella, close harmony pieces – Under the Boardwalk, The Glory of Love and Over the Rainbow.

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Barbershop singing is one of the oldest macho singing pursuits and sprung up in last half of the 19th century where American barbershops often served as community centres, where most men would gather; they would harmonise while waiting their turn, vocalising in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs.

Things have moved on since then and female as well as mixed barbershop singing is gaining popularity, although in national and international competitions male, female and mixed groups don’t compete against each other.

The Barberfellas are here to challenge those stereotypes by presenting the barbershop sound and look, but with a twist. We are probably the only LGBT mixed group that exists anywhere in the world. And we’re certainly the only one in heels!

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Our second set of the evening brought a touch of masculine glamour to the proceedings as we donned our stilettos and popped our corks to the sassy strip-tease sounds of Big Spender, U2’s pensive lullaby MLK (written to honour Martin Luther King) and an exclusive arrangement, written just for the Barberfellas, as a homage to every boy’s favourite – the diminutive Miss Minogue.

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Thank you to everyone who came to the show and enjoyed our performance and we hope to be singing again for you soon!

Barberfellas: making heels manly again.

So, SWGMC say a huge thank you to Mark for his lovely contribution to our blog, and thank you again to all of the Barberfellas for joining us on stage! It was a pleasure to sing with you and we’re already looking forward to the next time we can share a stage – even though most of us will never be able to pull off heels as well as you did!

Return trip to Cornwall

551748_10150921851953622_946004477_nI always look forward to each and every one of our performances, no matter how large or small. The next one is no exception! Today we will be making a return trip to Cornwall to take part in the bi-annual International Male Voice Choir Festival.

Check out their Facebook page and this video introducing what it’s all about!
At around 2:00 minutes you can catch SWGMC in their pink tie splendour.

This will be our second visit to this amazing event and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the last time we were there.

In 2013 we decided to take the plunge and get involved in what was to be our first male voice choir festival AND singing competition. Needless to say the pressure was on a little bit, but it didn’t curb our enthusiasm at all; in fact, the organisers were very excited about the fact that we were to be their first openly gay male voice choir!

As a late entry into the event we had limited time to prepare, but in true SWGMC fashion we pulled out all the stops and got cracking with some challenging music choices along with a few of our less serious pieces (in particular the Star Wars song based on popular movie themes by John Williams – sung on May the 4th – accompanied on stage by our very own Wookie – the force really was with us!).

947110_10151580041379329_1398164076_nOne great part about the festival is the opportunity to sing at some fairly iconic Cornwall venues. My particular favourite was the amazing Eden Project where we sang to a massed crowd in one of the domes; our voices filled that huge space and seemed to pull in a large crowd of people who thoroughly enjoyed our performance! It was also a brilliant opportunity for us to bond as a choir. It was one of the first real opportunities for us to do so as a group as it was the first time we had spent a whole weekend together! We had a really fun time and probably way too many post performance drinks back at the hotel!

It was also a great opportunity to mingle with other male voice choirs, one of which was staying at the same hotel as us. (Hopefully we didn’t keep them awake too much with our late night singing in the hotel bar!). They were very keen to talk to us about our wide selection of music choices and it was very touching when one of them suggested that we were ‘the future of male voice singing’ (*blush*).

As for the singing competition… well I won’t dwell on it, but needless to say it was an interesting experience and gave us lots of food for thought in terms of our performance and cohesion as a singing group. And of course, I couldn’t let it go without mentioning Tony Bevan’s spectacular debut in the choir and equally spectacular entrance onto the competition stage with a virtual triple salco over one of the floor speakers! (sorry Tony, couldn’t resist).

All in all, our last trip to Cornwall was a resounding success on so many levels. It was above all a fantastic bonding opportunity for us all, away from the rehearsal zone we usually find ourselves in. As we make the final preparations on our coach journey down for the May Bank Holiday this year I’m hoping we have a similar, if not better, experience and I’m sure a future blog will fill you in on all the details!

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A ‘Gay’ Chorus – To be, or not to be?

Since we were founded in 2008, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus has grown significantly in ability, repertoire and ambition. We’ve been challenged – and improved – time and time again thanks to the continued efforts of our incredible musical team, and these days we regularly entertain audiences across Wales and the UK, and last year we even went to Ireland to sing at Various Voices festival in Dublin. In that time we’ve seen members come and go, and out of the ones who’ve stayed it’s fair to say that there are many different reasons for them sticking around. Some would say it’s the music, some would say it’s the company and the friends we’ve made, some would say it’s the great opportunities we get – like being invited to sing at London Pride in June 2015 (watch this space for more details!). And for some, what resonates most is the fact that we are a gay choir.

11075135_10153174743058622_5071767908282377816_oA few weeks ago you may have heard us on BBC Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show. We were invited along as part of a Welsh special, recorded here in Cardiff, and during this inaugural Radio 2 appearance we were confronted with a question about who we are. Jeremy’s audience were confused (particularly on Twitter) as to why we would chose to identify as a “gay” choir, and Jeremy relayed this question to us during the interview.

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked “why do you need to be a ‘gay’ choir”. Despite the fact that, yes, most of us are gay, the reason we come together to sing as a “gay choir” is not because we’re afraid of standing out in a non-gay choir, nor is it because we don’t want to sing with straight men (or with women). Instead the reason many of us joined is because we share a common interest (singing) as well as a common identity and set of experiences (our sexuality), and joining a group like SWGMC was a way of combining these aspects of our lives and meeting similarly minded people. All of us have different experiences of growing up gay – in particular there is a massive difference between the experiences of older members of the choir, who grew up when homosexuality was still illegal, and those of us still in our early 20s – but being a part of this group allows us to share these experiences, and in doing so we can learn from and support each other and help to build our collective confidence. This is a great thing for any group, but especially one where mutual support and a sense of community are so important. The news is constantly peppered with stories of LGBT people around the world facing disadvantage and even hatred and abuse because of their sexuality, so providing a safe space for our members to be themselves and do something they love, and do it proudly, is something that’s very important to us.

pic5That may be the reason we joined. As for why many of us have stayed, this is partly because we enjoy each other’s company and the sense of community we get out of singing together, but also because being part of South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus is really rather fun. When asked “Why a gay choir?” one of our members jokingly replied “… to make our straight friends jealous!” He went on to explain that so many of his friends wished they were part of a group that were as close as we are – something that’s evident from our performances that they’ve seen as well as the fun we have in our frequently brilliant after-parties and social events (check out a past blog here about the social aspect of SWGMC if you want to know more about the fun we have when we’re not performing (well, not publically anyway!))

Of course the truth is that the “gay” aspect of our identity varies in importance among our members. For some it’s a fairly minor detail, whilst for others it plays an important role in shaping who we are. When we were founded, our gay identity combined with our musical ambition helped to mark us out as an alternative way for like-minded gay men to meet each other, away from the alcohol-fuelled stereotypes that gay men often have to resort to if they want to meet and socialise with other gay men. For some members this has been a fundamental reason behind them joining in the first place. Add to this the draw of an impressive and challenging musical repertoire and an increasingly impressive performance history and it’s little surprise that the group has become as popular as it is, for both members and audiences. Thanks to our focus on great music and on providing a safe space for all, we have continued to surprise people both within and outside the gay community by helping to dispel stereotypes, highlight a different aspects of the gay ‘scene’ and help create a proudly positive and visible gay presence, all the while putting on a bloody good show.

The countdown to the start of the night was a mass of ghastly preparations and lashings of fake cobweb and we were very excited by all the tweeting and support, especially from Stonewall Cymru, our charity for the year who we were raising funds for on the night.

We are greater than the sum of the words that make up our name – South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus – and if you delve beneath the surface of SWGMC you’ll find that our boys represent a diverse community of men of different ages, backgrounds, faiths, skills, career paths, opinions and of course different pitches of voice! And just as a choir wouldn’t be a choir without the different voices within it, SWGMC wouldn’t be so either without our diversity of members. It’s when our differences come together in harmony that we can truly make some beautiful music.

We are proud to be a strong and hardworking chorus who can perform proudly and confidently alongside any other choir – gay or otherwise. We have sung with other LGBT groups including London’s Pink Singers and Cardiff’s own LBT ladies’ choir, the Songbirds, and we will shortly be making our second appearance at the Cornwall International Male Voice Choral Festival to show that “gay” isn’t all that we’re about. Any prejudices that we encounter we face head on, with a smile and a non-confrontational approach. We demonstrate to society at large that the gay community is not built from stereotypes but from people, and that apart from one small detail we’re just the same as the rest of you. One thing that’s particularly great about being in SWGMC is the fact that we can be out there singing, having fun, making friends and being ourselves, and all the while we’re promoting positive images of gay men and providing role models for others in the LGBT community to look to when they are struggling – something that we know groups like Stonewall Cymru really appreciate and which helps them in the brilliant work that they do.

We’re not very evangelical or political about our gay identity (but all pride to those who are about theirs!) – instead what we do is sing great music to entertain our audiences – a positive ambition that we are proud to carry forwards! Through the challenges of learning new music together we find that we are able to make a sound that is bigger and better than any of us could make on our own, and we hope that through doing so we can show the positive power of coming together to do something you love. As well as having fun, through our music we blast old wounds out of the water and help each other exorcise common and personal demons we’ve each faced in our lives. Sometimes we’ve even seen members of the audience cry when we’ve sung and have wondered what old wounds we are helping them to heal as well. What a marvellous thing to help people feel something!

But being gay, at its core, is about little other than who you fall in love with – that’s it. Not that much of a difference when you think about it. And despite our differences, we hope to show that finding a common ground can make us strong, be it sexuality, a love of music, a favourite sport, anything. The fact is, if we were the Splott Community Choir, or the South Wales Police choir – a group who only had their neighbourhood or their job in common as opposed to their sexuality – I doubt anyone would argue that their name was exclusive or inappropriate.

Having “Gay” at the heart of “South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus” isn’t about showing what makes us different, it’s about showing what makes us the same, and using our name as a beacon of pride, community and collective strength.

The bottom line is, we are the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus.
Loud and Proud!
Why on earth would we want to hide any aspect of that?
“Gay” is only one word out of five after all! 😉

RWCMD Dora Stoutzker - 5th Anniversary Concert
Oct 5th 2013 – RWCMD – SWGMC 5th Anniversary

*** written by Mark Anderson, edited and further contributions by Nick de Figueiredo – with feedback and comments from all at SWGMC

SWGMC Cabaret Evening 2015

Nick
Liaison Officer 2014-2016 – Nick de Figueiredo

Hi everyone

I’m Nick, the Chorus Liaison Officer for South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus’. One of my roles is to organise social events for the Chorus.

We’re quite a social bunch in SWGMC and like to get together for a few drinks now and then. We’re also quite a talented bunch (if we do say so ourselves), but some of our talents can be difficult to showcase in our regular concerts. So we thought about what we could do to combine our social side with our affinity for showing off (oops, sorry, that should have been “performing”!), and we came up with an idea.

This idea culminated in our inaugural SWGMC Cabaret Evening, held in Koko Gorillaz bar in Cardiff in November 2013. This event – a combined social and talent showcase, by members, for members – gave our guys a safe environment to try some new things, be a little bit different, and have a laugh together. That stage saw all sorts of things from singing to mock game shows, and from comedy to clowns playing trombones (as you do). If you came to our Love Concert in May 2014 you will probably remember young Michael’s excellent “Stalker” song, which he first performed at the Cabaret evening and it went down so well that we decided to put it in a show.

SWGMC Caberet
The stage was set…

Such was the success of the first Cabaret event that we decided to do it all again. Fast-forward to last night (21 February 2015) and we took over the upstairs room of Buffalo Bar in Cardiff for a second round of SWGMC Cabaret fun. If you follow our twitter account (@SWGMC) you may have already seen my incessant tweeting about this, but here’s a recap in case you missed it.

I hosted the evening alongside our illustrious chairman Nick McNeill, and resplendent in our tuxedos we ushered the Chorus through an evening absolutely dripping with talent, creativity and fun. I tell you what, last year was good but this year our guys definitely raised the bar – so much so that even the bar staff were telling us how much fun they were having!

Once Nick and my opening number was out of the way (a duet of Me And My Shadow, since you ask) the Bass section took to the stage for a storming performance of Cell Block Tango with an SWGMC twist. Michael followed with a sequel to the now legendary Stalker, a not-at-all bitter ditty entitled “Let’s Be Friends”. Continuing on this theme (should we be worried!?), Tony B accompanied Mark A as he serenaded us about keeping his love (although apparently none of his exes) alive. The prop knife was the icing on this particular cake of a performance!

Dr Churchill was next at the piano and treated us to some extracts from his previously unperformed composition repertoire (complete with the odd sing-along verse). Then Scott and Dan took to the stage for a pop-mashup extravaganza before Nick McNeill slowed things down a little with an excellent rendition of one of his favourites, “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Rounding off Act One were the Lost Barrinitos (i.e. the Baritone section) performing a mashup of La Bamba and Twist and Shout bedecked in ponchos, sombreros and moustaches (the sombreros in particular spent the rest of the evening being nicked by the other members for photo opportunities but I made sure I kept hold of mine!).

The Lost Barrinitos
The Lost Barrinitos

After a 20 minute break (and a well earned drink for Nick and me!) the Second Tenor section opened Act Two with a lovely performance of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”.

10996164_10153126966994329_75321648598710875_nFollowing the Second Tenors was Owen with a beautifully touching ballad, his own Ode to our Nigel (long standing Chorus member and star of the Baritone front row), and to Nigel’s laugh. Chris – our resident pianist and arranger of a significant proportion of our repertoire – was next up and treated us to a stunning performance adorned with a rather fetching feather boa.

Nick O was next up to host a very special edition of This Is Your Life, based around the long and distinguished life of his friend Gareth. They were joined on stage by a caveman, a delightful lady from the Valleys and leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband (which was unexpected), all of whom delighted and entertained the crowd (and Gareth) with their tall tales and on-stage antics. Although this was certainly a tough act to follow, the next performer – Missy Jackie Lation – showed no signs of nerves as she took to the stage, cocktail in had, to perform the very appropriate and hilarious “I’ll Drink To That”.

10363749_10153046420383555_8836083740546966284_nThe penultimate act of the evening were Jonny and Mark T (the “Tenor Ladies”), who did a sterling job of representing the First Tenor section with their rendition of “Like A Virgin”, which had the crowd singing along with gusto. Finally, the music team – consisting of accompanist Chris Fossey, musical director Andy Bulleyment and special guest star David H – rounded off the evening with a special performance in their own unique style. Then we all went and got drunk (after I’d changed out of my tux and safely stowed my sombrero, obviously).

The evening was certainly a resounding success and the level of quality in the acts was astonishing. I was so proud of everyone who performed (I’m a soppy git like that) and it was an honour to introduce each and every one of them and see the brilliant reaction from the rest of the boys. I thoroughly enjoyed hosting it and I’ve already got a few ideas for when we do it all again next year (there have been calls to do it every month but I think having to organise that every month would give me a heart attack!).

1512415_10153126901489329_3050116695876270117_nAlthough the reason many of us joined SWGMC in the first place was for the music, it’s the social element of the Chorus and the friends we’ve made here that keep us coming back. Although the Cabaret evening has been a particular highlight for me, and will hopefully be something that we can do every year, all of the other socials are important too. Whether it’s a bowling trip followed by a meal out together or a speedboat ride around Cardiff Bay, a fund-raising walk-and-sing up a local mountain or simply our weekly visits to the pub after rehearsal, every social contributes to the Chorus and makes being a member of SWGMC something really special.

If you like the sound of life as a member of SWGMC and have any questions about joining then please get in touch with us at , @SWGMC on twitter or find us on Facebook. If you’re interested then it would be great to hear from you – who knows, maybe next year you’ll be up on that Cabaret stage too!

AGM – SWGMC 2015-16

So 2015 seems to have flown by already, Jan has been and gone and we’ve already had our AGM.

Thursday 5th February @ St Anne’s Church saw the annual reports presented and the 2014 committee dissolved; with a heartfelt thanks [Nick McNeill – Chariman] to the committee for all the hard work over the past year. He regaled us with his own personal highlights and accomplishments we’ve all faced together and how excited we should be for the planned year ahead.

Following the reports and chairman’s speech, the first order of business was to make a slight alteration to the constitution. The change passed and saw our dedicated and supportive musical team [the ladies] moving forward gaining a vote in the AGM.

The re-election of the committee saw a mirror of its dissolving as last year’s committee got re-elected.

So a congratulations to the committee of 2015!

  • Chair – Nick McNeill
  • Musical Director and Conductor – Andy Bulleyment
  • Treasurer – Mark Anderson
  • Secretary – Mark Achurch
  • Chorus Liaison Officer – Nick de Figueiredo
  • Creative Lead – Phil Truman

Finally, we had to choose the charity of the year from our nominations of Mind Cymru and Prostate Cymru.
Mark Anderson and Phil Truman both put forth their reasons to vote and the question was put for any questions.
An unexpected conversation ensued about how we manage being involved in charities in future, but it was put to a vote and Mind Cymru was voted our charity of the year.

Mind Cymru is the leading mental health charity in Wales; Mental Health is something which affects us all in life, whether through personal experience, friends or family. Sadly, Mental Health isn’t given enough respect or acknowledgement in the UK and sadly we’ve been reminded all too often in recent news of the devastating affects it has on young gay teens. Amongst other ideas for fundraising and awareness his year, it’s a great opportunity in our upcoming concert: Brotherhood: A Celebration of Masculinity, to highlight there are many ways to be a man in this world and we should all take care of bodies as well of our minds.

The AGM was then brought to a close and discussions and plans for Cornwall and our next concert are already under way.
So like to start the year as we mean to go on – in song:

SWGMC 2015 Showcase Video
Featuring our performance of “All I Need is the Girl”
from our 2013 RWCMD 5th Anniversary Concert

Our Halloween Spook-tacular

Halloween NickSo the dust has finally settled on what I must admit was one of our best concerts yet! Halloween’s ‘A Nightmare on Keppoch Street’ may have come and gone, but the warm fuzzy afterglow from an amazing night is still gently burning on…

What can I say really to describe how it all went? Well, this has to be one of the most enthusiastically prepared concerts we’ve had in a long time. We had great fun setting up the stage and carving some marvellous pumpkins (even if I do say so myself). Halloween Pumpkins
The countdown to the start of the night was a mass of ghastly preparations and lashings of fake cobweb and we were very excited by all the tweeting and support, especially from Stonewall Cymru, our charity for the year who we were raising funds for on the night.

We had the most amazing audience who completely engaged with the night and the sounds of our amazing orchestra as soon as we took to the stage. We were even treated to an array of be-costumed supporters dressed as spooks, ghouls and… dare I say it…clowns (*shiver*).

Halloween ClownsThe music shocked, surprised and delighted the audiences – the gasps and shrieks in ‘Hearse Song’ were especially funny to listen to – and we thoroughly enjoyed treating them to our spooky repertoire.

Halloween on Stage

The Committee and myself were very proud of all the boys who really got into the ‘spirit’ of the concert, working so hard to produce a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all. We were also honoured of course to be joined by our ‘sister’ choir, the Songbirds, who joined the guys for a couple of songs and entertained the audience with a few pieces in their inimitable style. I’m glad we finally got to sing together and I really look forward to doing so again in the not so distant future.

I often find the period immediately following a performance a very odd time as we suddenly find ourselves with an abundance of free time after the intensity of rehearsals in the run up to a show. However, things haven’t quite ground to a halt for us just yet as the festive season is rapidly approaching (I really must start thinking about starting my Christmas shopping (*double shiver!*)). Before a couple of Christmas-related appearances in early December (keep an eye on our events pages for more on these in the coming weeks) we will be marking the annual World Aids Day commemoration with a performance at the Kings Bar on Churchill Way on Sunday November 30th, and we’d love to see you all there.
Halloween - Xmas Advert

Before I finish I’d just like to extend my thanks to a few people for making the concert the amazing event it turned out to be. I am constantly impressed and humbled by the time and effort a lot of people put into making our shows so entertaining and professional. Firstly our music team, who arrange a large amount of the music we sing and help us and the orchestra to achieve our best performances on the night. Also our creative team, who help to stage the performance and organise all the publicity and design elements that go into our shows. And finally, the Committee who help ensure all the myriad bits and pieces fit together….no mean feat I can assure you! To all of you, I thank you!

We’d also like to say a special thanks to Gordon and all the staff at the Kings for the fabulous afterparty and the great support they continue to show us.

Right – onwards and upwards – 2015 looks to be another exciting year for us – more on that to follow I’m sure!

All dressed up in Pride…

© Pride Cymru 2014 - Parade Balloons
© Pride Cymru 2014 – Parade Balloons

Cardiff Mardi Gras, Cardiff Pride or Pride Cymru – whatever you call it, the 2014 incarnation has been and gone and the boys at SWGMC certainly celebrated the weekend in style! We captured some amazing moments on camera so come join us on a visual journey through our time at the biggest LGBT+ event that Cardiff – and indeed Wales – has to offer.

This is the 3rd year SWGMC have taken part in the Pride Cymru Parade through the streets of Cardiff. This year we kicked off the weekend on Churchill Way at a starting line bedecked with ballooned banners in all six colours of the Pride rainbow. Pride means many things to many people and the atmosphere was full of it that morning. As well as being an expression of how you feel about yourself, these days Pride is a bastion of hope, happiness and community in a world often too full of hate. SWGMC are proud that Cardiff has its own parade and we love being part of the huge trek through Queen Street and beyond!

SWGMC Start of Pride Cymru Parade

We assembled at 11.30am all dressed up in pride and pink and ready to march our way through town. Plenty of sunshine and rainbow flags greeted us from up and down the high street as the shops got thoroughly involved in the spirit of the day. The fellow marchers brought a loud and proud festival of sound and the drummers had the parade and the crowd dancing along to the rainbow beat, although some of the boys were too busy following a certain mascot – a Nando’s cockerel! You can imagine the captions on those photos (!).

Nando's Mascot with SWGMC Walking through the streets of Cardiff alongside us were the usual Pride participants, drag queens and the Eagle crew among them, but also delegations from companies including Asda and Nando’s, troupes of incredible street dancers and musicians, some amazing fancy dress costumes and a whole host of fantastic organisations like THT, Stonewall Cymru and LGCM, all walking in pride with families, friends and the like.

 

 

 

 

A fabulous and happy time was had by all and we think the below picture sums it up wonderfully!
stonewall family pride photo

We R family! #balchder #pride @StonewallCymru @PrideCymru pic.twitter.com/X8WnRe92O0

— Andrew White (@AndrewGwyn) August 16, 2014
© Twitter – Andrew Gwyn – Stonewall

 

 

 

 

 

As the parade drew to a close some of our boys went for a food stop, while others dashed for a selfie with the MINION (“it’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”)!
SWGMC after parade lunchMinion Mascot in Pride Parade

With the first half of the day now over and the great response from the crowd still ringing in our ears we were primed and ready to sing out for the crowds of Cooper’s Field. Before we took to the Cabaret Stage for our main event we visited some of the stalls and shopped around the pride goods area, which included checking out the new sports area in the middle of the field, the Gaydar silent disco tent and even new stall additions such as the Cardiff Gay Men’s Book Club (where our very own Rev. John Webber was getting thoroughly involved!).

With a few drinks for ‘dutch courage’ under our belts we were ready to perform at our best, and our wonderful conductress Vicky Guise and supremely talented Pianist Christopher Fossey led us in a rousing show which the crowd seemed to enjoy! Hopefully we’ll have inspired some of them to join as well!

The end of our set drew the chorus’ day at Cooper’s Field to a close, but the boys weren’t done yet and we all continued to enjoy a great Pride with our friends and families, including some cracking late-night dancing with some of the other acts including the wonderful La Voix (the ladies loved her!).

As Saturday ended and the people of Cardiff crawled into bed, the boys of the SWGMC – being the professionals that we are – were all very reserved and weren’t in any danger of facing Sunday with a hangover (!). Even so, it was lucky we weren’t due to sing until late on Sunday evening, so by the time we’d nursed our sore heads (ahem) and enjoyed a long lie-in we donned our glad rags once again in preparation for singing at the Kings for a mini Stonewall Cymru Fundraiser, singing in the line-up alongside the fabulous La Voix and a host of other talented performers.
Cooper's Field Pride Cymru Performance
Pride Cymru - Cardiff 2014It was something of a tight space inside the Kings following a last minute stage switch (it decided to rain on our parade minutes before we were due to sing outside. – classic Welsh weather at its finest) but we didn’t let that dampen out spirits and to our delight the audience were amazing. We sang for the crowds as volunteers shook their buckets and raised money for Stonewall Cymru, and after our performance and a few more drinks we left the Kings and bid adieu to a great Pride Weekend!
 
Onwards and upwards, we now enter our next season of 2014 and are busy preparing for our Halloween Spectacular – “A Nightmare on Keppoch Street!” We hope to see you all there!

SWGMC First Official Blog

Nick McNeill - 2014/15 Chair of SWGMC
Nick McNeil – 2014/15 Chair of SWGMC

2014 – the story so far…

Hi there, I’m Nick McNeill and I’m the current Chairman of the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus. I’d like to welcome you to our first official Chorus blog, a new feature of our renewed website, which I hope you will enjoy and come back to on a regular basis.

Since this is our first blog I thought it would be a good idea to tell you a bit about who we are and what we’ve been up to so far this year.

SWGMC formed in 2008 and has rapidly grown, both in membership and support. We’ve entertained a huge number of people in all sorts of places across south Wales (and beyond!). We ended 2013, our fifth anniversary year, on a bit of a high after celebrating that particular milestone, and 2014 has already offered us a new set of challenges and exciting experiences.

5th Anniversary - Rehearsal
5th Anniversary Concert at RWCMD – A final rehearsal on the big day – Oct 5th 2013

We kicked off with preparations for our May concert, Brief Encounters, which let us loose on our more emotional side as we mapped the development and demise of a relationship through music. We challenged ourselves and set the bar high with the choice of music, including a piece written especially for us by our composer friend Gareth Churchill. We were also honoured to welcome to Cardiff Scottish singer Terry Neason, who entertained the audience with her mix of music and poetry.

An after performance get together - Various Voices Dublin June 2014
An after performance get together
– Various Voices Dublin June 2014

Moving onto June, a delegation from the Chorus headed for Dublin and the amazing Various Voices LGBT choral festival. A long weekend ensued filled with stunning music, an array of LGBT people from across the globe (gotta love those crazy German choirs!), a little bit (!) of partying and the fantastic hospitality of our Irish hosts. We are most definitely preparing for the next festival which is scheduled to take place in Munich in 2018.

The summer is usually a time to rest and recuperate, but the Chorus has been as busy as ever! We’ve sung at a couple of weddings (we’re available for bookings if you’re interested!) and we supported our good friends the Pink Singers at the illustrious Hackney Empire for their British themed concert, Notes from a Small Island, where we treated the audience to a few of our Welsh favourites. We’ve also been busily preparing for this year’s Pride event in Cardiff (more of that in our next Blog).

Pink Singers Hackney Empire Concert - July 2014
Pink Singers Hackney Empire Concert – July 2014

As a community choir, SWGMC is proud to do our bit to support local charities. Last year we were privileged to support the Forget Me Nots, a choir for people with dementia and their carers. This year we have come a little closer to ‘home’ as we are partnered with Stonewall Cymru who do amazing work to promote LGBT issues across Wales and beyond. We look forward to working with them at Pride and onwards through the year!

So that’s the first part of 2014 over, but we’re far from done! Our next big venture is our Halloween themed concert on 31st October which we’re all very excited about. Put the date in your diary and we hope to see you for an evening of spooky antics at the Gate Arts Centre in Roath!

Bye for now!