Below are the people that make up the current Steering Committee and Staff members for the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Underneath, you’ll also find details of our Chairmen and our past Steering Committee members, who have all helped make the Chorus what it is today.
Meet the Team
Meet the men and women who keep the Chorus moving
John D. CarrionChairman
Simon SharpArtistic Director
Michael CheethamGeneral Manager
Chris PethersAssistant Musical Director
Jason CarvalhoTrustee (Historian)
Alberto GonzalezTrustee (Membership)
Mark KemberTrustee (Fundraising)
Andrew LeveyTrustee (Marketing)
Steven McIntyreTrustee (Membership)
Donald MullisTrustee (Production)
John holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Public Administration degree from New York University. American-born and a naturalised dual citizen, John is the youngest member to have been elected Chairman of the London Gay Men’s Chorus.
John’s tenure as Chair has focused on cultivating local, national and international outreach along with a revitalized fundraising platform. The Chorus has delivered a large programme of activity over his period in post that largely centred around the Silver Jubilee in 2016. John spearheaded an expansion of the Chorus’s membership, concert venue and artistic profile while equipping the organisation for sustainable development and growth.
Local, National, and International Outreach and Collaboration
John ushered in a new wave of meaningful collaboration and outreach. In 2013, John led the Chorus at two demonstrations at the House of Lords in support of Marriage (Same Sex Couple) Bill. Once the bill passed, John represented the Chorus at 10 Downing Street in a celebration of the act where, during the event, John met both Prime Minster David Cameron and Chancellor Mark Oakley of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This chance meeting with Chancellor Oakley enabled the Chorus to perform on the prestigious steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2014. This landmark event as an openly gay group was a bold statement in collaboration with and support from the Cathedral.
With a strong desire to continue the collaboration with religious groups, John formed a strong relationship with the West London Synagogue – where the Chorus later performed in commemoration of World AIDS Day and in celebration of Hanukkah in both 2013 and 2015. This long-term collaboration welcomed Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger as one of the LGMC’s patrons.
John also initiated our relationships with Opening Doors London – a charity supporting older LGBT people. In 2015, a group from Opening Doors London came to the matinee performance of The Big Gay Swing followed by a talkback with John and Artistic Director Simon Sharp. John continued the relationship by speaking to the group at their local meeting in north London the following summer.
John also worked with Wotever World to stage a performance at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in collaboration with the trans* community in London. The unique project served as a fundraiser for an LGBT safehouse in Uganda. John continued the outreach profile as he initiated the Chorus’s work with Micro Rainbow International, a charity working for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
John has made community performance a central part of the LGMC’s activities. The LGMC was asked to perform as part of the London Streets Festival in 2016 thereby allowing for the LGMC to perform for the first time in Tooting and Ilford. In 2016, the Chorus performed in the wards of the Royal Free Hospital – providing a musical lift on the hospital wards for patients and their families. In summer 2016 the LGMC performed at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park and will do so again in 2017. These performances around London promote the LGMC’s message to a wider audience and are an important part of the LGMC’s fabric.
The LGMC has travelled extensively throughout the UK. During John’s Chairmanship, the LGMC travelled to Bexhill-on-Sea, Brighton, Leeds, Newcastle and Salisbury. International outreach has also formed a major tenant of John’s administration. The LGMC travelled to Dublin in 2014 for the Various Voices festival, Prague in 2015 for the 5th annual Prague Pride, and Amsterdam, New York, and Chicago in 2017. The Chorus has formed a strong bond with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, the Doodles of Prague, the Amsterdam Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. During the LGMC’s international activities, the Chorus was able to perform at Dublin’s City Hall, the British Embassy in Prague, the Nova Scena in Prague, De Duif in Amsterdam, NYU Skirball in New York City, the British Consulate in New York City, and TBC in Chicago.
Youth, Education and Outreach Programme
In 2011, John created the Youth, Education, and Outreach programme when he was serving the Board of Trustees as a ‘Member Without a Pre-Defined Portfolio’. The programme would eventually develop to allow the Chorus to conduct musical workshops in schools around London to help combat homophobia. In this role, John represented the Chorus on the Anti-Bullying Committee of the London Borough of Camden.
The programme has since collaborated with Stonewall, Diversity Role Models, and the Museum of London to provide different iterations of the programme and has worked with the following schools: Acland Burghley School, Dalmain Primary, Muschamp Primary School, Petchey Academy, Preston Manor School, Royal Russell School, Riverside School, Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form, Swanlea School, and the William Ellis School.
The LGMC’s Youth, Education, and Outreach programme was honoured by the Media Trust with the production of a documentary chronicling the programme. The documentary was eventually broadcast on the Community Channel and a short trailer can be seen viewed here.
In 2015 and 2016, the LGMC took on a new collaboration with the Mosaic Youth Centre to create the Sing Out Project. This programme saw the creation, performance and recording of new music by young people in the centre.
Revitalised Fundraising Platform and Business Development
The requirement for cultivation of fundraising and business development activities have become a major part of John’s contribution to the LGMC’s funding stream and activity. In 2015, John restarted the fundraising portfolio and created formal positions on the Board of Trustees for fundraising and business development. This strategic decision has allowed the LGMC to raise over £40,000 through new events, campaigns, relationships, partnerships, and cultivation of donors groups.
As part of the LGMC’s corporate support, the LGMC has worked with two key law firms; Baker and McKenzie and Taylor Wessing to provide bespoke support for the Chorus’s activities. Additionally, the Chorus has performed at numerous corporate events to raise both funds and the Chorus’s profile in the City. In 2016, the LGMC collaborated with Andaz Hotels to host a fundraising dinner and raised £8,000 in one evening and will do so again in 2017.
Celebration of the Silver Jubilee
In 2013, John created the Silver Jubilee committee and led the team to initiate the Silver Jubilee 25 goals for 25 years campaign. The campaign became the bedrock of the Silver Jubilee and allowed the LGMC to focus on 25 very specific goals to mark this special occasion. The Silver Jubilee celebration culminated in a performance at the Royal Festival Hall as the closing performance of the Being a Man Festival at the Southbank Centre and a reception in the Jubilee Room at the Houses of Parliament. These landmark events convey both the gravity of the occasion and the true testament to the work of Chorus members and LGBT+ activists past and present.
Expansion of Chorus membership, concert venue profile, and artistic profile
The Chorus has also made an effort to ensure that our music is both accessible and entertaining for all age groups. The music and production choices have focused on a unique blend of musical excellence, storytelling, activism, and messages of hope. As the LGMC has grown dramatically both in size and scope, the ambitions of our performances have also grown. While the Chorus has traditionally performed at Cadogan Hall, the Roundhouse, Camden, the Union Chapel, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Royal Festival Hall, John’s work has allowed for the Chorus to enjoy an expanded profile with invitations to perform at high profile events and venues including in the community has also allowed for performances at: the U.S. Embassy in London, the Tate Modern, the Hackney Empire, the Clore Ballroom, the Royal Automobile Club, Alexandra Palace for Channel 4’s Our Gay Wedding: The Musical, St. Paul’s Cathedral in support of Age UK, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and London Fashion Week with Anya Hindmarch. The Chorus has also been featured in the film Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? which chronicles the story of a former member of the LGMC.
The LGMC Ensemble has also enjoyed a more solidified role within the Chorus. As the “rapid-response” unit of LGMC, John has worked with the ensemble to access high profile events across Europe and allow for the Chorus to be represented when the full LGMC is too large to do so.
During John’s chairmanship, the LGMC welcomed two new patrons: Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger in 2014 and Richard Roberts of Geddye and Sons in 2015.
John served as Chairman for the following productions: Heroes, The Halloween Ball, Hotel Noel, You Say Tomato, We Are London, Calendar Boys, The Love Show, Screamers, The Big Gay Swing, History, UGotMale?, Homo Alone and Agit-Pop
A primary tenet of John’s Chairmanship was the development and support of the membership. The expansion of the Chorus has also seen a dramatic expansion of the waiting list. The LGMC is also in the scoping stages of creating an alumni group.
In 2014 and 2016, the Conditions of Membership were reviewed and re-ratified to provide a modernised outlook to the expectations of Chorus members. John’s administration also saw the revitalisation of the semitone group – now the largest group of the Chorus.
As the Chorus is operated mainly by volunteers, John’s team has focused heavily on encouraging all members to volunteer in the Chorus. This has seen a dramatic increase in member-led activities and fundraising events. Members were also given new ways of interacting with the Chorus in what has been colloquially termed the Chorus’s “extracurriculars”. These have included: the LGMC running group, the LGMC book club, LGMC+ (for HIV+ members), and the LGMC fitness fundraiser group. John also oversaw the revitalisation of a periodic dance troupe, internal choreographers, and the beginnings of the alumni group.
Administratively, John has focused on efficiency and digital technology. The LGMC website was updated to provide a fresher, cleaner feel, and the LGMC’s membership website has been updated to provide more utility and more accurate collection of data. We have transitioned from a primarily print-based marketing system to a streamline digital presence that has allowed us better insight into the audience. John has also been working to perform a full-scale corporate governance review
From 2013, John continued the LGMC’s upward trajectory into a world-class, leading arts organisation with a global reputation. The LGMC’s waiting list now sits between 1 to 2 years and demand for the Chorus is at an all-time high.
Alisdair joined the London Gay Men’s Choir as it was called back then, in 1994. He blames his then flat mate, Paul Hawley, who at the time was establishing his fashion design and clothes making business. Paul wanted to know what sort of clothing gay men wanted to have designed, and dragged Alisdair along as moral support to ‘survey’ this choir. After one evening with these chaps, Alisdair was hooked. Just 20 guys divided into 2 sections called ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ – singing simple harmonies and socialising.
After one of the concerts the Choir gave in 1994 in the basement of Finsbury library, the MD announced in the after show feedback he was off to pursue other ventures. He took all his music with him so there was little to sing that next week.
However Paul and Alisdair had both got a ‘vibe’ that the MD was about to throw in the towel and had decided that if he did they would be ready. Paul with his university background in music from would take over as MD and Alisdair would….well…..be bossy….like a Chairman, although the Choir didn’t have such organised elected positions back then.
Under Paul’s musical leadership and with the support of vocal singing teacher Richard Roberts, the group began to grow and perform at more high profile gigs. There was a name change to The London Gay Men’s Chorus. It was felt that the group did more than just sing. There was poetry, recitations, monologues in-between the songs making the group more than just a choir.
In 2010 when Alisdair was elected Chairman, he pretty much knew the ropes having been in the Chorus for many years watching it grow to around 200 men and achieve recognition as a respected arts organisation in London. As he had been Anthony Fordham’s Vice Chairman for 2 years prior to being elected Chairman, very little came as a surprise.
As Vice Chairman Alisdair had already worked with Elly Barnes from Educate and Celebrate, to found the Chorus’ Education and Outreach portfolio in the Chorus. He fundraised £7,500 to facilitate this. The Chorus first worked with Elly at her former school in Stoke Newington, culminating in an evening concert at the school celebrating LGBT+ diversity. Within a few months of being elected Chairman the Chorus produced “It Gets Better” a video aimed at young LGBT+ people coming to terms with their sexual identity.
This portfolio in the Chorus continued to flourish under the leadership of John D Carrion when he was elected to Alisdair’s Board of Trustees. In the finale of the Chorus’ Band of Brothers Concert students from the Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form and joined students from the Riverside School (a school for students with mild to severe disabilities) were invited to sing with on stage.
Alisdair was keen that the Chorus’ profile should rise further and began a project to enlist the support of Chorus Patrons. He believed they could add value musically to the Chorus and also add some further artistic credibility and perhaps, open doors. Hannah Waddingham proved to be an incredibly supportive patron inspiring the Chorus when she sang with the boys.
The Chorus began to work ever closer with the Southbank as Alisdair was keen that we should be performing in public spaces. Concerts in the Clore Ballroom became an annual occurrence.
With the increase in the Chorus’ performances in public spaces and the flourishing of the Chorus’ ensemble group, the main shows in summer and winter became sell-out successes. The Chorus’ finances grew as a direct result facilitating the hiring of more musical staff and the commissioning of new musical pieces such as Shadow Time. Artistically the Chorus explored innovative ways to perform. There were three shows that specifically exposed the Chorus to new styles, new staging, new and sometimes very challenging, choreography; Seven Deadly Sins, Sound and Band of Brothers.
Sound in particularly was quite exposing with little accompaniment, focusing on harmonies, and well …’sounds’ we can make together to make music. Singing with the London Bulgarian Choir in this concert explored a very different way of using sound to make music.
Taking the Chorus overseas had begun back in 2000 when the LGMC first visited the USA. Alisdair was keen to continue overseas trips but wanted the Chorus’ music to be heard in countries where we could learn and inspire and perhaps invigorate LGBT+ communities that were facing challenges. Warsaw Pride 2010 was one such challenge.
Warsaw was then and still is, not a particularly safe place to be LGBT+, so taking the Chorus on the LGBT+ Pride march there and giving a concert in the Stalin built Palace of Culture, was somewhat risky. Alisdair was aware that the trip to Warsaw involved taking the largest group of LGMC Chorines ever taken on a trip at that point.
On the day of the march it was quite shocking to see the enormous police presence and protestors being hurled to the ground by the police as they tried to insult Chorus members. Hordes of police held back angry protestors throwing rocks and holy water. Some of the LGMC chorines were assaulted on the march and some were threatened afterwards. When the Chorus turned up at the main, possibly the only, gay club, a smoke bomb had been thrown in by protesters. For the LGMC who had without fear put on concerts around London in public spaces and at the Palladium, the Southbank, and the Piccadilly Theatre, it enlightened the membership as the Chorus saw first-hand what Eastern European LGBT + people had to live with.
Warsaw didn’t then have a gay choir for fear of persecution and the long lens cameras that photographed the Chorus arriving to perform were not paparazzi. They were there to photograph LGBT+ people of the city and then publish their photos in right wing pamphlets, urging others to track them down.
On a lighter note Alisdair faced his own personal challenge having to give his main speech in Polish; two pages that at first sight made absolutely no sense to him! He remembers rather fondly that he had to describe the most recent LGMC concert in London – Seven Deadly Sins. If he did not get the pronunciation of the vowels correct it would sound as if the previous LGMC concert was called ‘The Seven Deadly Sh**s’. Thankfully he got it right.
The ensemble’s regular trips to the Edinburgh Fringe with No Place like Homo and Oklahoma furthered the Chorus’ aims of reaching out to other cities and ensuring that the Chorus were visible at major arts events in the UK.
Singing in Dublin with Gloria in 2012, the City’s LGBT+ Chorus and regular Christmas concerts at Worthing Pavilion continued the aim of reaching new audiences.
An unexpected highlight in 2011 was when 10 Downing Street asked a small representation from the Chorus to attend an event called “Kicking Homophobia out of Sport.” The Chorus’ performance at Number 10 was significant and all involved were thrilled with the opportunity to be in attendance and to network with the high profile guests.
On a personal level, the Chorus gave Alisdair opportunities to emcee shows, as himself at the London Palladium and also as his alter egos to whom the Chorus gave birth –Dame Vera Gussett and the rather coarse Linda Lovechunx.
It was quite fitting that Alisdair’s last concert at which he was Chair was Band of Brothers at the Southbank Centre’s Festival Hall. He had been part of an organisation that had grown from around 20 guys to over 200. Alisdair firmly believes that the LGMC has made a difference in people’s lives both in the Chorus and in the Chorus’ audience. Under his leadership with his team of trustees the Chorus became a more visible engaging organisation, reaching out beyond the usual audience. He hopes that one day we will see The London Gay Men’s Chorus perform in Russia….now that really would be an achievement.
Martin Brophy has taken an active role in the organisation and promotion of the Chorus since joining in 1997, being an active member of the leadership team, serving as Membership and Performance Chairs before being elected as Chair in 2001 and serving consecutive terms until 2005.
Martin established the Chorus as a company with charity status, engaged paid professional music and management personnel, established office premises, established the infrastructure and policies with member volunteering at the heart of the activity. Martin worked to achiever the first key chorus sponsorship deal and also appointed agents Gordon Poole to manage and negotiate the LGMC’s bookings for a period.
Martin provided the leadership to deliver landmark performances tours to Europe, USA and Australia, in Sydney Opera House as part of the Gay Games, Boston, Washington and Montreal as part of the Gala Choruses Festival tour as well as France for Various Voices Festival and Ireland North and South as part of the British Isles tour. He developed the chorus’s reputation through BBC Choir of the Year semi-finals, TV and press articles which included the BBC TV and ITV companies, BBC Radio, LBC, Classic FM, the Independent, Times, Financial Times, Evening Standard and other magazines and gay press. Martin encouraged creative collaborations with Art Angel on “Why I Sing” at the Roundhouse and joint performances with award winning choirs like Surrey Harmony. Martin’s leadership saw the productions three chorus albums, television appearances on Comic Relief and on Graham Norton’s shows twice. Martin worked on the 10th and 15thh anniversary concerts and creative projects like Eclecsis, You’ll Do for Now, Singing Apes, The Long Christmas Dinner and Showtime.
Martin was co-founding Director for Sing Out, the Association of UK and Ireland LGBT Choirs, organising a yearly workshops and conferences in York, Norwich and Dublin. Martin supported the AIDS vigil as part of Manchester Mardi Gras, Holocaust Memorial day at City Hall and helped set-up and was the event organiser for the NO to Hate Crime Vigils in London. Martin supported community events and activities like London pride and Europride with floats and concerts over the 4 years, built strong social ties with joint events with other choirs and groups like Stonewall, Pride and Stonewall FC. He worked with the chorus to created annual chorus retreats in Norwich and Benslow, to build friendships and musical competence and the Annual Awards ceremony, and the eventual establishment the Philp Dewdney Award in honour of the LGMC’s former member.
Developing key relationships with performances at Southbank Centre, Barbican and Royal Albert Hall, Selfridges, ENO and Trafalgar Square.
When Martin’s term concluded in 2005, he focussed his attention to the successful bid of the European Various Voices Festival 2009 for London, eventually directing the event working with all of London’s LGBT Choirs. Martin left a firm legacy for the LGMC, with a strong financial situation, many highly acclaimed artistic both major performances, an active outreach programme, and highly active volunteer base. Martin also created the non-singing Semitone member.
Martin has worked since 2005 as an Ambassador for the Chorus on a national and international level, including representing the Chorus at many events including the UK Prime Minister’s Annual Pride reception at 10 Downing Street, at Legato meetings across Europe and working with the London Pride Arts Festival and Parade and on the London Olympic Games – communities and cultural Olympiad.
Separate from the Chorus, Martin created the charity Fruitvox in 2006 that produced Europe Sings, Europride 2007; the highly successful festival Various Voices London at the Southbank Centre, London in 2009, Big Gay Sing, part of the Cultural Olympiad London 2012, Beyond the Rainbow Symposium 2013 and Global Queer and European Queer choir projects.
Since 2010 Martin has served as the first international Board Member for GALA Choruses and was influential in the planning and delivery of GALA Festival 2012. For the 2016 Festival Year Martin will be the first European based Co-President of Gala Choruses. The focus of his work has been on re-shaping the flagship GALA Festival and on International relations and reaching out to new and established choirs across the globe. He also Created the European Queer Choir for attendance at the 2016 GALA Festival.
Martin is a partner in the Integra Planner for the efficient and effective organisation of music groups and festivals as well as educational conferences and production companies, working with Gala Choruses, Unison and Various Voices on the successful delivery of their festivals and organisations. His is also a partner in the training company BKB Impact, that offers support, training and mentoring opportunities to LGBT groups mainly run by volunteers; delivering the Run, Talk, Raise weekend workshops.
Martin created and ran his highly successful catering company for 25 years which was sold in 2014.
Martin was awarded an MBE (Order of the British Empire) by HM The Queen Elizabeth II and invested at Buckingham Palace by HRH The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, in recognition by the UK Government of his contribution to Music and Community, citing Sing Out and Various Voices but recognising his considerable contribution to the LGBT and general Community and to Musical life of the Capitol and beyond.
Martin lives in London and Brighton with his husband Raphael. They keenly support Stonewall Football Club, enjoying travel, fine food, entertaining, as well as time out enjoying nature with family and friends.
Greg was chairman during a key transitional moment from the LGMC. Newly in charity status, the chorus was poised to make a bold step in solidifying its role as a landmark performance group.
The chorus developed the confidence and capacity to produce and deliver Christmas shows independently in first rate London venues to sell out audiences. This was an evolution from the hard work of Greg’s predecessor, Martin Brophy, who brokered the chorus’s relationship with producer Raymond Gubbay.
Greg believes that his opportunity to lead a group full of so much passion for singing and communication, and supporting each other and the wider community, was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
Greg was also chairman for the chorus on a trip to the Septemre Musica festival in Turin. This was led by, among others, the Turin raised Andrea DeTomas. The chorus was welcomed formally by the City Hall and warmly by the Turinese. The chorus performed in Italian and English to a new and exited audience and many chorus members still highlight this trip as a one of their fondest memories.
Greg also led the chorus to the Paris Various Voices Festival where we bid, led by Martin Brophy, to hold the next festival and won. This led to Various Voices Festival at The Royal festival hall with LGBTQ Choirs from all over Europe participating in 2009.
Greg offered some of his reflections:
“It is the nurturing culture of the LGMC, and the thrill of sharing music making, that continues to drive this brilliant group of men. I am so lucky to have been allowed the privilege of leading it, and being a member of it. It has changed my life so utterly and for the better. I am forever grateful.”
Steve Bustin was Chairman between 1998 and 2001, overseeing a period of huge growth in members from around 30 members to over 100. This period also saw milestones including the launch of the LGMC’s first CD, Hear the Difference; a major rebrand; our first corporate sponsor, Queercompany.com and our move to to a new home in Cecil Sharpe House from our original rehearsal venue in Finsbury Library near Old Street. In performance terms, this period saw highlights including our first overseas tour (to Boston, San Jose for GALA Choruses and to San Francisco); performing on Top of the Pops and at Wembley Stadium with Fat Les 2000; singing at the Opening Ceremony of the Millennium Dome and organising the vigil in Soho Square following the Admiral Duncan nail bombing.
Steve offered some reflection on this time as Chairman:
There’s a track on the LGMC’s first CD, “Hear the Difference” that to my mind changed the future of the chorus. ‘Add a Riff’ is a short, jazzy number with no real lyrics, just lots of ‘Bom, Bom Bom, Bom ba ba Bom’ and ‘Ba Doo Ba Doo Bah’. It’s a track that most people probably listen to and forget or skip over when it comes up on shuffle on their iPod. Yet that track was in many ways responsible for kick-starting the growth of the chorus by putting us on national TV.
When we released ‘Hear the Difference’ the internet was still in its infancy so we were dealing with hard copies, and we spent a few pounds on postage and sent copies to various journalists and radio stations in the hope that it would get picked up and played, really as a novelty item. At the time in 1998 the LGMC was only about 30 strong and still very much a community choir.
Very early one morning a choir member rang me in a state of high excitement to let me know that ‘they’re playing our song!’. Chris Evans, then host of the Virgin Radio Breakfast Show was indeed playing our CD – and had chosen Add a Riff. He’d picked up the opening ‘Bom, Bom, Bom’ as ‘Bum, Bum, Bum’ (and if you listen to it, he’s not wrong) and played it for several days, announcing it as ‘The London Gay Men’s Chorus singing the Bum song!’. Probably not politically correct, but at that point we’d take what we could get.
I rang Virgin Radio and ended up on air, talking to Chris about the chorus and the CD, and he invited us to go into studio to sing Add a Riff live. About 15 members did so in the Autumn of 1998 then in December we were invited back on the last Friday before Christmas to sing some carols live on air. As we rounded off a slightly risqué version of Jingle Bells, Chris Evans asked, live on air, ‘Do you want to come and sing that on TFI Friday this evening?’. Of course we did. We were bundled into taxis to go straight to the TV studio (some members ringing in ‘sick’ to get the day off, despite the fact they were going to appear, fit and healthy, on national TV later that day) where we were met by a rather stern producer.
“You’re not going to get on air, you know’, he announced. ‘We’ve got Robbie Williams on today and lots of other guests and the running order is overfull already. Wait here.’
We hung around for a couple of hours while Chris Evans and the producers went into a production meeting. When it ended, the producer reappeared with a look of incredulity on his face. ‘Chris REALLY likes you – he’s scrapped several other items to get you on air – three times during the programme’.
Sure enough, we appeared three times during that Christmas edition of TFI Friday, with Chris announcing us with the line ‘They’re men, they sing and they’re gay!’. We closed the programme singing in the ‘bar’ with guests including Robbie Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber, during the end credits. Fun and one hell of an experience.
The real impact of that appearance didn’t become clear until after Christmas, however. When we had a new intake night in early January (this was in the days when we struggled to recruit new members), our choir of 30 became, overnight, a choir of 75, with people pouring through the door saying they had never heard of The London Gay Men’s Chorus until they’d seen us on TV.
‘Add a Riff’ may be a little, insignificant song, but to me it’s one of the most important songs the LGMC has ever sung, because of the chain of events it set off. Yes that growth might have happened organically over time, but it kick-started the move from a community choir to the high-profile mega-choir it is today.
That story also rather sums up the three years when it was my honour to be Chairman. When I took over from David Batten, who had done a fantastic job of forming a proper organisation and steering committee from an informal group of singers, it was my stated aim to see the chorus grow in size, stature and profile. I could see huge potential and I knew we could really make a difference to individuals, to the gay community and in the wider world.
I was very lucky to take on the role at the same time as Jeremy Haneman took over as musical director. He and I shared a vision of what the choir could achieve, artistically as well as socially and even politically, and Jeremy remains a great friend – one of many from my ten years as a member, not just the three I was Chair.
There were lots of highlights in those three years. For instance, our visits to Manchester Mardi Gras to sing at the Town Hall and the AIDS vigil (where on one memorable occasion, Michael Cashman managed to announce a performance of ‘Something Inside So Strong’ as ‘And now here’s The London Gay Men’s Chorus with something deep inside…’).
Our first overseas trip saw us fly to the US in summer 2000, with our first stop in Boston where the (gay) Deputy Mayor officially declared it ‘London Gay Men’s Chorus Day in the City of Boston’. We then moved on to San Jose for the GALA Choruses Festival, where Jeremy, as conductor, turned to the audience after our first number and announced ‘We are the London Gay Men’s Chorus – Live and Uncut’ – to hoots from the gay men and gasps of disbelief from the lesbians in the audience. We finished our tour in San Francisco with a concert at Grace Cathedral where Chris Pethers conducted his first LGMC concert when Jeremy was taken ill.
That tour was also when we launched the LGMC Calendar (for 2001) which promptly sold out in the GALA Festival shop – those of us ‘lucky’ enough to be in it (I was Mr January) were being asked to autograph our respective pages, to the delight of our rampant egos.
Other highlights of my years in the hot seat have to include singing at the Opening Ceremony of the Millennium Dome on New Year’s Eve 1999/2000 in front of the Queen, the Prime Minister and a TV audience of a couple of billion! We then went on to organise the ‘Gay Day at The Dome’ which caused outrage in the media, with school parties pulling out of trips booked for that date and commentators condemning us for ‘hijacking’ the day. In the end the Dome wasn’t even particularly gay that day (unless you knew who to look for!) but it further helped to raise our profile as trailblazers in both the gay community and the media. My lasting memory? Walking away at the end of the day to see the Dome had been lit pink for the night!
Another ‘highlight’ (if you can call it that) has to be organising the vigil in Soho Square in the immediate aftermath of The Admiral Duncan bombing. We pulled it together in 24 hours, saying we were just going to sing some songs and give people a chance to come together to reflect and remember. It didn’t quite work out like that. It clearly struck a chord and met a need, and in the end Soho Square was packed to capacity and then some, with several thousand people and the world’s media. The event was carried live by CNN and BBC Radio London and contained many dramatic moments, including Stonewall’s Angela Mason declaring to huge cheers that ‘no one is going to bomb us back into the closet’; a close relative of some of the dead appearing on stage to speak on behalf of their family then one of the most senior officers from the Met Police arriving to announce from the stage that they had just arrested the perpetrator.
The choir sang with passion and anger and it was clearly an important and cathartic moment for both the chorus and the Soho community. There is still footage of the event on the BBC News website archive if you search for it.
I have incredibly happy and proud memories of my time not only as Chairman but as a member of The London Gay Men’s Chorus. It really WAS an honour to represent and lead the membership for three years and it taught me so much about myself and my own skills, many of which I still use in my career to this day. As the LGMC reaches it’s Silver Jubilee, I am proud to be able to say that I played a small part in its history and its continued success.
Behind every great chair is a great Steering Committee. We give massive thanks to all those who have given their time and skills to voluntarily help keep the Chorus running, and moving forward:
- Basi Akpabio (Feb 2011 – Jun 2015)
- Gregory Battle (Apr 2005 – Apr 2007)
- Nicholas Bowles (Apr 2005 – May 2008)
- Martin Brophy MBE (Mar 2002 – Apr 2005)
- Richard Broughton (Jul 2006 – May 2007)
- Steven Bustin (Apr 2005 – Jul 2006)
- Christopher Calvert (Jul 2012 – Jul 2014)
- Nicolas Chinardet (Apr 2005 – Jul 2006)
- Trevor Clarke (Jul 2012 – Jul 2014)
- Andrea De Tomas (Jul 2009 – Jul 2012)
- Robert Dufton (Jul 2009 – Apr 2010)
- Anthony Fordham (Apr 2005 – Apr 2010)
- Stephen Fusi (Jul 2012 – May 2013)
- Philip Giorgi (Mar 2002 – Apr 2004)
- Seán Green (Feb 2016 – Jun 2016)
- Neil Halpin (Jul 2006 – Apr 2007)
- Sean Harrington (Jul 2011 – Oct 2011)
- Scott Harrison (Jun 2015 – Oct 2016)
- Philip Hewson (Apr 2003 – Apr 2004)
- Stephen Horrocks (Jun 2009 – Jun 2011, Jun 2013 – Jul 2015)
- Warren Hoskins (Oct 2009 – Apr 2013)
- Iain Jessup (Apr 2003 – Apr 2004)
- Martin Kaufman (Mar 2002 – Dec 2002)
- Keith Kibirango (Sep 2014 – Jun 2015)
- Mark Killien (Jul 2011 – Sep 2012)
- Andrew Kingston (Jul 2013 – Feb 2016)
- Philip Lightowlers (Dec 2002 – Apr 2008)
- Alisdair Low (Jun 2007 – Jul 2012)
- Michael Mangion (Apr 2003 – Apr 2004, Apr 2005 – Jul 2006)
- Saar Maoz (Jul 2012 – Nov 2013)
- Brett McHargue (Apr 2005 – Jun 2007)
- Ciaran Molloy (2008 – 2010)
- Liam Myron (Jan 2010 – Jul 2012)
- Martin Newman (Jul 2006 – Apr 2007)
- Ciaran O’Meara (Jul 2009 – Jul 2012)
- Robert Offord (Apr 2005 – Jul 2006)
- Wijayaweera Pitumpe (Apr 2003 – Apr 2005)
- Peter Ptashko (Jun 2015 – Feb 2016)
- Graeme Roberts (May 2010 – Feb 2011)
- James Robertson (Jul 2009 – Apr 2013)
- Patrick Shorrock (Jul 2012 – Jul 2014)
- Steven Smith (Feb 2016 – Jun 2016)
- Bryan Sollenberger (Apr 2005 – Jul 2006
- Christopher Stone (Jun 2015 – Feb 2016)
- Michael Walby (Apr 2010 – Apr 2012)
- David Weitzmann (Jul 2006 – Aug 2009)
- Stephen Wilkie (May 2010 – Jul 2011, Oct 2011 – Jul 2012)
- Kevin Williams (Jun 2013 – Jun 2015)
- David Wilson (Jan 2014 – Nov 2015)