High camp and perfect harmony

Love will be in the air when the London Gay Men's Chorus takes over the South Bank
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"It's fantastic standing on stage, knowing you are blowing an audience's socks off," says Steve Bustin, a member of the London Gay Men's Chorus, who are to perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, playing songs such as "Stand by Your Man". "Although the choice of repertoire reflects a gay sensibility, it is counterbalanced by songs that speak of a deeper experience and have meaning to us as a group of gay men. The camp songs are fun to sing, but there is so much more to us."

Tying the Knot, the show's title, is an evening of musical romance, from flirting and first love, to lifelong commitment or heartbreak, "with a bit of sex thrown in along the way", says Bustin. With more than 100 singers on stage, and full choir choreography, it's quite a sight to behold. One number, from the musical Chicago, comes with the entire choir wielding red feather fans.

The choir has come a long way since it started in 1991, when six guys got together and started singing in order to get away from the commercial gay scene. Their first gig was in the ticket hall of Angel Tube station. Now the largest and best-known gay choir in Europe, they have performed at the opening ceremony of the Millennium Dome in front of the Queen, and with Elton John at the Royal Albert Hall. They were even on Top of the Pops, as the backing choir for the Euro 2000 football-anthem version of "Jerusalem" by Fat Les, and then on Wembley football pitch.

"We have high musical standards, considering that some of the choir don't read music," says Bustin. He joined the choir seven years ago, mainly because he had broken up with his boyfriend and it seemed like a good place to meet new friends. "There is a huge social scene associated with the choir, and a waiting-list of 50 men." Many join as a first step to coming out of the closet. "We have even had people inviting their parents to the concert as a way of telling them. We have a role to play for our members, not just our audience. It's a great support."

The choir, which has been rehearsing since January for this show, is now polished. Intense love songs include "Seasons of Love" from Rent, and "Marry Me a Little" by Stephen Sondheim. "It's beautiful," says Bustin. "It brings a lump to my throat every time." There are also big disco numbers, such as "Lady Marmalade" mixed with obviously camp songs such as "Mein Herr" from Cabaret.

"What we are about is challenging stereotypes," says Bustin. Only the other week, in Belfast, the choir was greeted outside its show by the Ulster Against Sodomy campaign. "It was a big shock. It's easy to forget in London that other parts of the gay community face intense discrimination - which makes it all the more important for us to sing love songs."

The London Gay Men's Chorus, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (020-7960 4242), 18 July