Putting the quiet life on hold
Life on the road with Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Chorus By Chris Jessop
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In an increasingly rare moment of calm, I’ve got my feet up on the sofa and I’m struggling to find the sense in it! My life that is. You see I had no life changing expectations for 2011 and until recently I used to be a fairly private, often quiet, 45-year-old ex-teacher. The long term relationship, large gin and slimline type, where the kids have left home and I’ve moved to the coast for a quieter life. And that’s the part that doesn’t make sense, I was actively looking for a quieter life. So I’m reflecting back on recent months to see where my plans changed direction and it all went slightly crazy.
First port of call, 4pm, Saturday 13th of August and I’m stood there beaming, in fact not just beaming, it’s the type of smile where your jaw still aches when you stop and I’m not alone, there are thirty of us all doing the same, totally proud of what we’ve achieved to get to this point and full of anticipation. With the adrenaline pumping, I lean past the barriers, where the glimpse of a crowd in excess of 10,000 people looks amazing and I know that the next 15 minutes, will be amongst some of the most memorable of my life and that prospect feels good.
Quiet life this is not, but then I sing with the Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Chorus and life stopped being quiet for us some months back, when we signed an historic million pound recording deal with Universal Records, becoming the first gay chorus to ever sign a major deal of this kind. Since then I’ve come to expect the unexpected, the crazy and the bizarre, but still little prepares you for being backstage at Brighton Pride, ready to perform just ahead of Joe McElderry and Alexandra Burke.
This is a big deal though, for all of us, as this is the first time we will be performing tracks from our forthcoming album at a major public venue and feedback is everything!
Then with a few ill chosen words from Dave our manager, my once comfortable, quiet life, which is now disappearing from me at great speed, takes a stomach turning, gut wrenching turn for the worse!
“I want you all to get up onto that stage and move with the music, throw some shapes and just enjoy yourselves.”
Throw some shapes? Please don’t let this be happening to me.
My heart sinks, the grin disappears and the magic of the moment is potentially lost.
You see, not only do I not understand the terminology but I am also that gay man with no creative connection between brain and feet and with hands that are happy to hang in awkward inactivity. Don’t misunderstand me, I have no problem with my feet and hands as long as there is no expectation of expression and to make matters worse, I’m about to perform front row center, where inertia is now no longer an option.
Back to the present, I’ve still got my feet up on the sofa and on further reflection, this is starting to feel like a self therapy session. I’m beginning to get things off my chest and the time is right to be sharing secrets and man there’s been plenty of secrecy!
Imagine telling 30 gay men that they have a huge historic record deal and then in the same breath, that they are expected to keep it secret for the next six months, or risk jeopardising the whole project.
So we all lied!
We lied to our friends, to our families, our colleagues, in fact to everyone. I lied about why I was going to London every other weekend, when I really wanted to post on Facebook about how incredible the recording studios are and that yes they really do have boom microphones and people behind glass panels pushing dials and talking into your headphones. I cancelled holiday plans and weekends with friends claiming tightened purse strings. An increased frequency of rehearsals was put down to potentially more demanding performances later in the year. Regular sessions with my personal trainer, fortnightly haircuts, a previously unheard of moisturising routine and the purchase of a personal hair trimmer were put down to fighting the evils of age, nothing to do with 6am photo sessions, video shoots for a documentary and upcoming TV appearances.
Then I looked at the bigger picture and asked myself if I really was comfortable to be part of something as potentially huge and life changing as this. I’d always admired those friends who were totally out and proud but that wasn’t quite me. I wasn’t totally comfortable. I’d worked for years in a profession where being openly gay wasn’t encouraged and I have two sons, who although comfortable with my sexuality, will by association have to deal with their father’s potentially more public persona.
So I talked to my boys about the crazy lifestyle that their dad could be courting, the drugs sex and rock and roll and they backed me 100%. If I’m honest I think they’re more than a little jealous, but this is my time, theirs can wait a while yet.
With the assured backing of those most important in my life, when the day came for the huge media launch celebrating our record deal, I found myself to be as out and proud as any of my friends, I happily talked to the TV cameras and in the process outed myself to the hundreds of children I’ve ever taught and their families and it felt totally empowering.
But back at the main stage, the need to move with the music is still fixed firmly in my mind, I march onto the stage, to the beat of Bowie’s Heroes, waving and smiling at the crowd and they’re loving us and cheering back. I’m starting to believe that I can actually do this, that I could possibly kid 10,000 people and perform a total shape throwing bluff! From where I’m standing I can see Aaron, effortlessly dancing away next to me, as are Mark and Brian further on. So I throw caution to the wind, do what I’ve been told to, and really enjoy myself. Nobody laughed, nobody pointed me out, mission accomplished, nothing to it!
That was so I thought, until a YouTube clip of our performance, appeared on my Facebook wall. So I watched expectantly to see how I fared. Did I move with the music? Actually not much. Did I throw some shapes? Not at all. A bit of outer body random finger clicking was my sole contribution to the choreography. But did it feel right to be up there performing or should I have held out for a quieter life?
Put it this way, I’ve totally made sense of it all and I’ll be putting the quiet life on hold for a while!
Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Chorus, the debut album, is out 31 October but you can pre-order it here.