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Voices of Angel

31 October, 2018 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Angel-based LIPS Choir will perform at Kings Place on New Year’s Eve

A 100-strong all-female trans-inclusive feminist choir sounds soooo Islington.

So it is no surprise that runaway success LIPS Choir was founded in Angel and has been thriving there for nearly a decade. Now, with a waiting list of nearly 600, Lips is no longer a pub pipe-dream brought about by a group of Camden workmates over drunken karaoke nights out – it has grown into a credible performing troupe, a supportive network of friends and a consistent fundraising machine, supporting women refugees and asylum seekers.

The group is now preparing for a Club Classics retrospective at Clapham Grand on November 14 and 15 and will also be performing a selection of their club set at Kings Place on New Year’s Eve with the Aurora Orchestra.

Co-founder Sarah Wayman, who also sings in the choir, said: “Back in 2009 a group of us all worked at the National Union of Students in Camden together. We all really loved music and would spend a lot of time getting drunk, going out and doing karaoke. We’d tried a few times to find other choirs to do something more substantial, rather than singing till your throats bleed until 2am, and couldn’t find anything that felt like the right space for us.”

Other choirs were either “really serious or too chaotic and shambolic”, Sarah found, so they decided to set up their own choir – a group of women making music together, creating everything themselves.

They held their first rehearsal at Claremont Project in Angel and still rehearse there today.

“Eleven people turned up to our first rehearsal, and Lips, our trans-inclusive women’s pop choir, was born,” said Sarah. “We weren’t sure if it was just going to be a pet project but more and more people came along so it was clearly something people were looking for.

“I think it’s because there’s so much stuff about how being in a choir is good for your mental health, and also the pattern of doing something weekly with people. It’s not about you necessarily hanging out and having really intense conversations, you’re just doing something shared together.

“There’s also a lot of science about how, when people sing together, your hearts regulate. It’s incredibly therapeutic, like yoga – you’re breathing all at the same time, so all your heartbeats become in synch. It makes you feel brilliant.”

Nine years on, there are 95 people in Lips and nearly 600 on the waiting list. The choir has a very social element, and has grown into a supportive network.

Sarah said: “It feels like a bit of a family, it’s our community, we all know each other, people go on holiday with each other, if someone has a break-up or is looking for a new flat to move into we have a thing called the Lipsweb – you put something out to our community and people help each other. If you get too big it stops you being able to know each other in that way where people know each other enough to help out and we really wanted to retain that.”

The choir, which does not hold auditions, has a new wave of recruitment each year.

“We’re a pop choir, but luckily pop is a very broad church, so within that we’ve done all sorts – Madonna, Prince, Radiohead, the Andrews Sisters, Tina Turner,” said Sarah. “We have an annual survey where we ask members what songs they would like to do. Then our musical director will go away and think what would work with the choir sound and arrange them.”

The Clapham Grand show will cover four decades of dance music, from disco to house to garage and everything in between.

Sarah said: “We went to the choir and said ‘what’s your favourite song to dance to?’, and amassed a list of 500 songs, then we spent ages trying to break it down into different genres of dance, different decades, and worked out where the songs go. That’s how we built the set. We’ll do medleys, where we’ll get loads of songs from a different era and weave them all together, mash-ups where we find two songs that are different but have similar key/ chord progressions and put those together, and other times we’ll have a straight progression of a song, albeit it’ll sound quite different as sung by 80 women instead of one person.”

She added: “So much dance music was also about the communities of people that were part of those musical movements, especially things like disco, were often from communities of people that were experiencing quite a lot of oppression. Disco was pioneered by the LGBT people in New York, and black and Latino people in the east coast, and it’s just really celebrating that those people really pioneered that and created these spaces for communities that were really important and then people had loads of fun and danced all night.

“I suppose it’s a really nice parallel with what we think we’re about, which is creating brilliant music but also creating empowering communities and support.”

The choir has a very clear ethos.

“We have a feminist fundamental belief in everything we do,” said Sarah: “We believe in giving women and trans people the scope to say there are no limits to women’s skills and talents. We love the fact that we give women a platform to be creative but also we work with loads of women musicians to put together all women bands, we have women sound engineers, women lighting teams, we try and show that we can do all this stuff because so often these things can be completely dominated by men.

“We work really hard for that and like to create a space where women can support each other and champion each other.”

She added: “Really early on when we first started, we decided we wanted to fundraise for an organisation called Women Asylum Seekers Together, which is a group of refugee and asylum women that meet down the road from us. At all our concerts we donate proceeds to them.”



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