Last week I received a text from a friend asking if I would like to do something outrageously gay at the weekend. Some days later, I found myself sitting in the Grand Opera House in Belfast awaiting the arrival of the London Gay Men's Chorus (LGMC).
I have to admit, as many Prides as I've walked and nights out at gay bingo as I've enjoyed – and despite agreeing to attend – I did not think I would enjoy it. Too camp, too flat, too Britain's Got Talent. Then the curtain went up, they started singing and all my fears were allayed.
Somewhere in the region of 80 chorus members, aged between 21 to 60 and beyond, gathered on stage. I was intrigued by the array of characters about to perform, a mix of ages and sizes. The range of voices undoubtedly add to the LGMC's remarkable harmonics, which are only enhanced by the Grand Opera House's wonderful acoustics.
In between every couple of songs – ranging from power ballads to Lady Gaga numbers – one of the chorus members would provide the assembled audience with a little background on the group. One particularly interesting aside concerned the LGMC's previous trip to Belfast, when the Waterfront Hall was picketed by anti-gay church groups.
With customary humour, the choir follow the story with a hilarious performance of a song entitled 'F**k You Very Much'. There is no shortage of campness on show and the song is sung with so much heart and energy that you can't help but fall in love with LGMC.
This concert is ostensibly to celebrate the choir's 21st anniversary. It is a great privilege that they have chosen Belfast as the venue to do so, but, as one of the guest speakers states, this is more than just a show: it is a statement of intent. It's the LGMC standing up and saying, 'We will not be moved.'
Considering the continued struggles that the LGBT community have to face in Northern Ireland, it is pleasing that this performance proceeds without any problems or demonstrations outside. Maybe it is a sign that we are moving forward? Or else the Christians are busy elsewhere? No matter. It is success enough that every seat is filled.
About halfway through the show, a young man from Northern Ireland appears on-stage to highlight the more serious issue of HIV and AIDS. He bravely reveals his own story of being diagnosed with HIV. It is really quite a moving moment, and a reminder that HIV and AIDS continue to affect people from all walks of life.
As the show goes on, the choir is joined by Northern Irish LGBT group Quire and award-winning LGBT Dublin group Gloria, who add to the soaring choruses, stamping their own identities on Motown classics and gay anthems.
The repertoire performed is diverse, with exquisite harmonies in 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square', 'You Are My Sister' and the fantastic 'I've Got The Music In Me', amongst many others. I'd have to say one of my favourite tunes, however, is the 'Trolley Song'. It is enhanced by the acting talents of the handsome Harry Earle-Mundil in his first big show, and he delivers a fine Northern Irish accent to boot.
As Europe's largest and best known gay choir, the London Gay Men's Chorus usually has around 190 singing members. With just half that number they manage to ellicit a standing ovation from this Belfast audience. Perhaps one of the festivals might push for the full line up?