Although Songbirds has taken part in L Fest (a UK Lesbian Music, Art and Comedy Festival) several times in previous years, this year was the first time for me. In a car full of Songbirds and camping gear, we set off across Wales, for a proper “road trip” just like “To Wong Fu Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar” (in spirit, if not glamour).
Camping with the choir was such good, wholesome fun. It is rare that we all get to just chat and enjoy each other’s company. Even when we have time to go to the pub (which is rare), everyone has only a short while to finish a drink and have a chin wag before rushing home to rest up for a busy tomorrow. Once we’d all pitched up, we had hours just to sit and natter, take part in L Fest events, or (my favourite) go for a swim at Llandudno’s famous beach (we found the water to be less cold, but more jellyfishy than we anticipated).
L Fest itself was cracking. It was very much an “L with the T Fest”, with an atmosphere welcoming not just Lesbians, but also Trans women trans men, nonbinary and bisexual peeps, families, and, most importantly, a lot of very cute dogs. There were lots of fun and varied things to do like a Drag King show, morning yoga, musical performances, and a dog show (did I mention there were a lot of cute dogs?).
Practicing in the open air in our little camp circle had such a spontaneous, informal feeling, and it was just lovely to hear the hush from neighbouring campsites as people wandered over or stopped their chatting to listen. I particularly enjoyed cramming all the second sopranos into a Volkswagon in order to practice together as a section; very cozy. And our performance itself was exhilarating; we’ve had enthusiastic audiences before, but there, as we sang “Calon Lan”, someone stood and waved the Rainbow Welsh flag. We might have been 150 miles from Cardiff, but we were very much at home at L Fest.
Waiting to go on at Chapter on Friday night gave me time for thoughts like, ‘I’ve forgotten all the songs!’ and ‘What if I blast out a high note all on my own in the wrong place?!’. It was reassuring standing between my first Soprano compatriots. Starting with You’ve Got Time was so cool: Clap Clap, Stamp! – like saying, ‘Shut up and listen everyone, the Songbirds are here!’ After that our voices rang out and if I hadn’t been so busy concentrating on Rosie’s conducting (and great facial expressions!) I reckon I’d have shed a tear for the beauty and strength of the sound we made together. Continue reading Feeling proud (with a small sprinkling of panic) at Pride→
This year Songbirds were asked to entertain the masses at the Wales Millenium Centre WOW Festival to help mark WEN Wales’ International women’s day celebrations. As a group of LBT women, we all understand how important and pertinent it is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world. Whilst there are some significant advances in these areas, we are also reminded that progress towards gender parity globally has slowed in many countries, and that there is a greater mountain to climb for women especially those being oppressed, raped, tortured, segragated, excluded from education work and politics, and those used in modern slavery.Continue reading International Women’s Day 2016: Songbirds on the Glanfa Stage→
I’m not going to lie to you, between supporting my wife through some pretty intense work stuff and starting a new job myself, January has been a pretty busy month for me. So when I arrived promptly at my usual 19:34 and joined in with Rosie’s warm up at the back of the church, it did take me a minute to clock the ginormous cake at the front of the church and realise what it must represent. Four years of Songbirds choir! Continue reading Happy 4th Birthday Songbirds!→
As we nestle in these last few peaceful moments before we thrust ourselves back into our usual routines and take on the bluster of January, I find myself reflecting on the many activities of the last month.
This Christmas it was our pleasure to make a return visit to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s (LGCM) Christmas Carol Service. It provided a lovely opportunity for us to share the stage with the boys at SWGMC and to support the good people of City United Reformed Church and The Gathering. City URC have been fantastic in supporting us on our journey thus far and we continue to be deeply grateful for the use of their beautiful church as the base for our weekly rehearsals. The service was lively yet thought provoking with a number of deft changes of pace between the celebratory boom of carols like the ’12 Days of Christmas’ and quieter reflections from guest speakers on what it means to truly stop and observe Christmas. Particularly poignant were the speeches made by representatives of Displaced People in Action (DPIA), a charity which works with refugees and asylum seekers and who are looking to set up a coffee morning for LGBT* refugees and asylum seekers who may be struggling to find community for many reasons.
On the 14th of December we played host to our own Christmas Concert ‘Sing Noel! With Songbirds Choir’. In spite of the enthusiastic attempts of this year’s triumphant cold virus to flatten our forces, we pulled through as a choir and managed to deliver a buoyant and joyful performance at Jolyons. It was fantastic to sing to a full room and I get the distinct impression that the audience enjoyed it as much as we did! There’s something about a pinch of adversity that brings this flock together and I think the light and strength of our bonds as a community (which doesn’t take itself too seriously…) shone through.
On the 19th we popped up to the second floor of John Lewis on the Hayes to entertain the milling masses with our own brand of festive fun. It was something of a departure from the focused beam of audience attention that we have experienced at our previous gigs as our listeners made their way around the shop to our dulcet chorus, but it was evident from the smiles (and from our own sofa-based family of impromptu supporters) that we were able to add something special to the atmosphere.
At the end of the month we paid a visit to De Courcey’s Manor to sing at our second wedding gig of the year. This was great fun despite the many and varied logistical challenges of getting ourselves back to Cardiff for the 27th. (Thank you to our pianist Rich for rescuing our Musical Director from Newport…). And yes, the bride looked beautiful.
In a way the season saw us come full circle – returning to Jolyons and ending the year by fulfilling the gig we booked in June (or maybe May?) after we were spotted singing at the wedding reception for two of our own ‘Birds. By my watch that makes it the perfect moment to heed the words of my beloved late mentor MG – ‘Respice Prospice’ (Look back, but also look forwards).
And so we launch into 2016 buoyed by the successes of the last year and lifted by the hope of all that is still to come for our community.
Our first stop – finding some more of us!
To this end – on Wednesday the 6thof January we will be holding a New Members session, and you are very welcome to join us.
7.30pm at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.
No auditions. Just community and choir fun.
– Jan 2016
Songbirds Choir is a Cardiff-based non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans* women.
Growing up in a small town in the Valleys in the 70s was not the most conducive environment to come out (think of the film ‘Pride’ but a few years earlier!). The only visible role models were comedic and the likes of Danny La Rue and Dick Emery with, what seemed to me, no discussion of context or the issues involved, just sniggers. So despite having strong feelings towards women and female friends, knowing in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t just crushes, I didn’t. I didn’t share my thoughts with anyone, my parents being fairly ‘old school’ and dealing with my brother’s mental health issues at the time, I think subconsciously I didn’t want to burden them further. I genuinely didn’t know what the consequences of coming out would be, and it was fairly terrifying, and something I took forward for years. This was allied to a fear of losing friends and being further alienated.
Being a tomboy and not having originally been from the area, I stood out and was bullied at school. I changed schools at 14 and boarded in an all-girls school, potentially the perfect environment to come out. Not. In hindsight, I think had in stayed at my old school I may have come out in my teens – already being a bit of an outsider I may eventually thought “sod it”. Although I was much happier in my new school I think that being at an all-girls school actually made it harder to come out, especially as a boarder. Although I had strong friendships, many still so to this day, there was still the fear of rejection and uncertainty and I would have felt uncomfortable for the other girls in my dorm had I come out. I continued to ‘blank out’ my feelings and was quite shy as a result.
After school came uni in London, a fantastic opportunity and I fell in love, fairly quickly…with a guy. My first serious relationship. It was love, but perhaps we were propelled together as we were both fairly shy and lost in the big city. So, in time we married and have two great kids, but all the while I harboured feelings for other women, although I repressed these, and was not a happy bunny, maybe hoping for some romantic encounter over tea and cake at the NCT coffee morning! I did have a few brief semi-platonic affairs with guys, which in hindsight was probably me trying to find myself. I actually came out to my (at the time of writing, soon to be not) husband about 10 years ago and to a good friend, but I guess we never properly discussed the implications or my feelings, or indeed his, and muddled along “for the good of the children”. As time crept on I became increasingly disenchanted with life and gave up my career as I felt that something needed to give, the choice, I felt, being career or marriage (der!) but things still weren’t right and I was growing increasing disenchanted and unhappy and realised I had to resolve things.
Then I had a brief affair with a woman and although we weren’t together very long it was enough for me to realise that I couldn’t ignore myself any more and I had to be honest with myself and others. She was very kind, and a catalyst for me, for which I thank her. At that point I decided to move out of the family home. A hard decision as I couldn’t afford to move anywhere where the children could be with me, but I felt I had to take visible action and a positive step. I wasn’t far and managed to see the kids regularly. However, financial constraints and other factors resulted in me moving back into the family home after two years, but living separately. That has been a little more long term than intended and awkward at times but will resolve shortly and life will become more relaxed for everyone.
My friends have been very accepting and supportive throughout, some saying they were not surprised, others not quite understanding how I can have been married, had kids and be gay. I think that this is a common thread for many people, and also has implications for how lesbians previously in a relationship with a guy are perceived, sometimes regarded as ‘’not proper lesbians’’. Pahh!!! Since coming out I have realised just how many older lesbians there are who have very similar stories to mine. Being completely honest means that I know who I am, no one can hold any power over me and I am so much more confident as a result. As far as I am aware only one friend has blanked me, but possibly because they were a friend of my husband’s initially, who knows, but it’s surprising how people who seem so generous and broad minded can close down. The upshot is that most don’t and many will surprise you.
To my shame I didn’t pluck up the courage to tell the kids the actual reason why I’d moved out for about a year afterwards. My son (now late teens), was and is pretty cool with it, though my daughter is a different kettle of fish. She’s becoming more accepting, but I guess because it’s her mum maybe she feels a little more uncertain about her own sexuality, which is in no way a criticism of her. Sometimes I do think her offhand attitude is just because she’s a 16 year old girl. I just hope that she learns to talk about her feelings a little more freely, not necessarily with me but someone, as talking about things and sharing how you feel, what you think, etc. really helps to crystalise your thoughts and provide insight and clarity, however difficult or painful that may be.
Coming out has been difficult, but overwhelmingly been a good and positive experience. To really accept myself for me, to know who I am, has made me a much more confident and happier person. It really was a weight off my shoulders. If anyone says ’how do you know’ you’re gay/straight/bi/trans/whatever, you just know. How do people ‘know’ they’re straight? For me, being in relationships with women has been so very different to any other relationship. It’s just ‘right’ and the emotional connection is definitely much, much stronger and can be overwhelming. I do feel that I am able to empathise with people (whoever they are) much more now because I have experienced emotions that previously were unknown to me or repressed.
There are still issues, not least untangling a 30 year relationship, finances, and supporting the kids emotionally but even my parent’s in law seem to accept it (enough) now. Being outed to them is a story for another time! If anyone ever has any doubts about coming out, the fear is debilitating, but the relief of coming out is empowering. There will inevitably be fall-out and consequences, but life is short and unless you know who you are you can’t live it to your full potential. You will always find people who’ve been through similar problems (whatever those problems are and whether they’re gay, straight, trans. etc.) and finding a supportive group is an enormous boost whatever stage of life or coming out you are at. That’s what I’ve found with the Songbirds. A strong family where everyone is welcomed, no one is judged, everyone and every contribution is valued, each with a different story to tell, as unique as the individual but equally valid and accepted.
Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at City United Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
Trigger Warning: mention of sexual violence towards women.
In a break from the usual menu of loud music and the sounds of celebration, the ears of the Cardiff nightlife last night were filled with the chants of feminists and pro-feminist allies.
The last week has seen three sexual attacks against women in their early twenties, coinciding with the arrival of large numbers of new students in Cardiff. All three attacks have taken place in the early hours of the morning and have been focussed around Cardiff University’s central buildings and the Cathays area of Cardiff which is largely populated by students.
In response to this spate of attacks against women in Cardiff, local feminists organised an emergency Reclaim The Night march to give visibility to the message that violence against women and the victim blaming which perpetuates rape culture are not and have never been acceptable.
Protesters gathered at the Aneurin Bevan statue on Queen Street before setting off to march through the streets of Cardiff. With dazzling irony the predominantly female group was then immediately herded by male police officers and funnelled along a ‘safe’ route which largely avoided the busy areas of town, focussing instead on King Edward VII Avenue and Park Place. Police officers then instructed the march that the agreed finish point for the ‘procession’ was Gorsedd gardens. In a display of unity, the group responded to the rallying cry of ‘Whose streets?’ with a decisive ‘OUR STREETS’, progressing the march back towards the centre of town along the seething Greyfriars Road. This was arguably the most effective section of the march as throngs of students and revellers queuing outside venues looked on, taking in the banners and vocal feminist presence.
While Reclaim The Night marches are unlikely to stop the perpetrators of rape, the hope is that displays of resistance like this one will demonstrate support for the opposition of rape culture. The hope is to raise the confidence of individuals to speak up against the misogynistic language and behaviour which normalises and perpetuates sexual violence against women.
However, as activist and founder of Harmony Campaign, Emily Cottrell explained to the march – ‘While Reclaim The Night is important, this is a reaction not a solution to the problem of sexual violence.’
A member of Songbirds Choir, Emily set up Harmony Campaign in order to work towards her vision – ‘a society in which everyone is taught the value of consent, so that all sexual encounters and relationships are equal, safe and consensual, and rape and sexual assault are eradicated at the source.’
Emily took the time to explain a bit about the origins of the project and where it is headed –
What motivated you to set up Harmony Campaign?
I was motivated to set up the Harmony Campaign after I had a slightly nasty experience whilst very drunk. I realised that so often in the consent debate, there seem to be grey areas but there absolutely shouldn’t be – people should know exactly what constitutes consent. But children aren’t taught in school about respecting each other’s boundaries. Consent is not on the curriculum in Wales. Too many people reach university age still not knowing what consent really is – it’s so much more than just ‘no means no’ – and by this point it is far too late.
What would you like to achieve with the project?
I envisage a world where, from a young age, children are taught about consent – not sexual consent to begin with, of course, but respecting bodily autonomy, asking permission, listening to others, etc. I also think that it’s incredibly important to inform young people of the laws surrounding consent, and what can happen to them (prison, the sex offender’s register, etc.) if they don’t comply. This really isn’t a simple thing to achieve. We need to undo the work of centuries, of a society where men are taught that they are entitled to women’s bodies and too much is seen as ‘blurred lines’.
How do you intend to take those aims forward?
Education is the most important factor, so my future plans currently include: Campaigning for changes in the curriculum, providing workshops and poster campaigns in schools, youth clubs and universities, teaching teachers how to deal with consent issues. Offering a source of information and advice through the website and a helpline I would also like to run more practical action on the ground, such as providing free transport for women at night.
What do you think our response should be to the latest spate of sexual attacks in Cardiff?
We need to react quickly and loudly to the recent spate of sexual attacks in Cardiff. The Reclaim the Night march was a perfect way to demonstrate that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It is very important that we promote personal safety without victim-blaming but reactive responses such as Dragon Taxis offering their deal with Cardiff University are important.
What would your advice to students be?
My response to students is this: look after each other. Girls, make sure you have all your friends’ phone numbers and never leave a venue without checking you have everyone with you. Check your phone regularly to see if anyone has called you. Look after your drunk friends and take them home if they’re too drunk. And boys, never forget that in the eyes of the law, any sex with a drunk girl is rape – for the sake of one night, don’t risk it.
In spite of our varied experiences and whether or not we identify as feminists on an individual level, as a choir of Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* women operating as a women only group we can only be support of Reclaim The Night organiser Kate Blower’s statement that, ‘Women shouldn’t have to live lives where their movements in public spaces are restricted.’ Songbirds Choir continues to rehease and perform unapologetically as members of the LGBT* community, but also as women.
– Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at United City Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
In the early 1990’s being gay was becoming more acceptable, but being gay with a child on the way was somewhat unheard of. Planning, energy, and time were of paramount importance and sharing these responsibilities with a small group of close friends was uplifting.
Having started a new job, the awkward conversations which ensued about having time off for my partner to give birth to our much wanted baby girl were hair-raising at best. My immediate (heterosexual) manager was extremely supportive. However the Head of the Service (also Gay and ‘semi out’) was less than supportive – disappointing to say the least. Parental leave, as it stood, was non-existent. For me anyway, I was reliant on Annual leave and fingers crossed that the big day came in a timely manner! (which it did).
Parenting was largely good. There was no manual on ‘how to do it the right way’, so we stumbled, laughed, faltered, and (I think) came up trumps over the next 18 years.
When Alex started school we researched the best schools to send her to, and moved to Gwaelod y Garth (a small village) 6 miles from the big city, where she started her education. The Headmaster assured us that he didn’t tolerate bullying (‘Ha!’ I thought, ‘such lip service!’). However, when she was 7, she did experience some throw away comments like – ‘How many Mums have you got?’, ‘you’re gay!’ Luckily her little band of 7 year old friends declared that – ‘Alex was in trouble, and needed our help!’. The Headmaster, along with the fearsome band of 7 year olds, swept into action and the problem was swiftly dealt with, never to occur again! This was heart-warming, and she still has these friends today.
We never really had any further problems (that we know of) and Alex has grown up to be a lovely, kind, intelligent, caring, well-balanced, beautiful 23 year old. So too does her 2 year old rowdy boy, appear to be following in her footsteps. Take heart all you struggling parents (and parents to be) out there!
AND: Now to my choir kids (you know who you are). Well what can I say? A beautiful, clever, thought-provoking bunch of girls, who often make me ask myself – was I that mature at 24? I think not! The love, friendship, kindness, cooking skills, and learning that I have gained from you kids is immense, and I thank you for this enriching experience, and my status. [NB. I think I’d like to be known as Mumma from now on. lol.]
In fact the whole of my choir bunch of pals, 20-50 somethings, have completely enriched my life…and I can only thank you all for this… Special thanks to Laura May, who said about my struggles with this piece – ‘Just write!’ Onwards and upwards to the Mighty band of SONGBIRDS!
– Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at United City Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.