MANCHESTER Lesbian and Gay Chorus group (MLGC) are a unique musical act and have played gigs in Paris, Montreal and London. They tell Josh Garside about what makes them hit all the right notes and why Manchester is their true home.
Renowned for its vibrant gay scene, Manchester has drawn praise from all corners of the globe for its innovative clubs, pubs and bars.
The drinking scene did not however, appeal to all in Manchester’s gay community.
And so in September 2000 an advertisement was placed in Gay Times inviting anyone interested in choir signing to meet up and discuss the idea of forming a group.
At first, progress was slow, the group was tentative and informal, with members taking it in turns to teach each other songs.
But shortly after that, fourteen singers gave the group’s first performance on World AIDs Day around the Beacon of Hope in Sackville Gardens.
Michelle Hebborn, the group’s alto singer, recalls the reason why the group was formed: “The target was to enjoy singing in a gay-friendly environment and have a social group not just focused on drink and partying.”
Despite the obvious nerves during their debut show, the response to Manchester’s first official gay choir group was warm. Andrew McCall, from the bass section, remembers the reactions at the time: “The idea was generally welcomed from the start. Given the success of LGBT choruses elsewhere there seemed no reason why we should not succeed.
“The early stages were about the basics; what kind of music we wanted to sing, harnessing the skills within the group for conducting and coaching, then looking further ahead in terms of funding and establishing a admin structure.”
Soon after, the Chorus began to expand. Two local choral leaders, Faith Watson and Nadia Drews, were brought into the group to try and enhance the sound and give the choir a professional edge.
The Chorus went from strength to strength and began playing a number of high profile shows across Europe. Gigs in Paris, Copenhagen and London gave the choir the opportunity to showcase their talents to new and varied audiences. Michelle cites these performances, along with rigorous and regular training, as to why the choir became noticed:
“We are recognised because of being in competitions. We are a diverse choir as we have sung in theatre productions such as The Event, Beautiful Thing and Big Girls Blouse.
“We rehearse once a week but nearer gigs or trips we have sectional rehearsals and extra choir practices.
“Individually, members also practice on a regular basis to learn their words as well as the music.”
Being mainly a volunteer-led members’ group the growing numbers helped the group receive more local recognition, Manchester council support the group through reduced rates for rehearsal space, as well as providing funding for uniform and music costs.
As the choir continued to expand, many more ideas were thrown into the melting pot about which musical direction the group should take. Many suggestions were wrestled with and in the end MLGC felt they found the happy medium between maintaining high standards of work and still enjoying most important aspect, the singing.
For many, singing can be used as a compelling way to express oneself in a manner that might be challenging through other mediums such as the written word or speech. The choir acts as a backbone for gay people to find like-minded individuals with similar interests and offers them the opportunity to socialise and gain confidence with their sexuality.
Kath Fox, a co-Chair at MLGC, explains the importance that song has on the group: “Singing is such a powerful and unifying thing.
“It is a proven method for supporting mental health and working together in such a close-knit environment helps many of us combat loneliness and feel part of a strong and accepting group.
“It (singing) is also a very honest thing to do – you have to give something of yourself to sing in full voice.
“It is that sense of risk that we all take that forms the basis of trust we all have in each other, no matter the reason we are there.”
The Choir’s most resonant performance, according to former ITV producer Kath, was their Safe to Sing gig last November: “The Safe to Sing event was a wonderful creative protest when we all came together and joined in song on the Manchester trams to take an important stand against homophobia – following an attack on two young gay men.
“It was a uniting experience for many choirs who came to join us and also other members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community who also learned the songs and came to sing.”
This strong stance against homophobia is something the Choir actively promote. Despite experiencing no homophobic discrimination while performing, in part down to their ‘tough looking but teddy bear basses’ according to Michelle, the group feel that homophobia is still prevalent in the modern day world:
“Unfortunately homophobia will always exist. Politically inflamed intolerances around immigration also means a general backlash against all minority groups.
“That’s why Safe to Sing was so important, if we hadn’t have taken a stand, then we would have been complicit.
“It is very important for us to be able to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Despite their doubts over the eradication of homophobia as a whole, the Choir believe that Manchester is a markedly liberal city that gay people feel so comfortable in, they flock from all around the world to visit: “Manchester is a brilliant place for LGBT people to visit, it is somewhere they are welcomed and can thrive. It really is our home.
“LGBT people play such a big part in the city and the Gay Village is a place of cultural importance internationally.
“Manchester Pride is huge and attracts many visitors many year from all over the world.”
In the year of their fourteenth anniversary, MLGC take time to reflect at what they have managed to achieve, a very poignant moment: “Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus group is proud to be one of the UK’s largest LGBT choirs.
“The types of events we take part in we hope help to support, inspire and celebrate LGBT creativity in equal measure.
Looking ahead, MLGC are excited at what the future holds for the group, with many events already lined up for the year ahead:
“We are speaking and singing at the People’s History Museum about Safe to Sing, telling the tale of how we went from an idea to an international story in six days.
“Then in June we head down to Brighton for the Hand in Hand UK gay choirs’ festival, which should definitely be a weekend to remember!”
Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus are clearly a group that have a tangible passion for singing.
You get the feeling that whether it be a street corner in Manchester or a stage in Montreal, their dedication to perform at the highest standard would not alter.
The Chorus rehearse every Monday in the Town Hall, to find out how to get involved, follow @MLGCOnline on Twitter or visit www.mlgc.org.uk.
By: Joshua Garside