I have seen the future, and it's crooning "Some Enchanted Evening" over a Hammond organ with a dozen semi-strangers in a London living-room. You haven't been invited to join a glee club yet? Oh dear. I'm sorry to hear you're behind the loop. They are quite the thing now, among louche metropolitans.
Once there was a trend for the book group, in which 10 friends and neighbours met to drink wine and gossip and report on their responses to Northanger Abbey or Captain Corelli's Birdsong. These gatherings failed because (a) some attenders neglected to read beyond Chapter 3, or indeed page 3, of the chosen work; or (b) they found each other's judgements howlingly stupid ("I think we're agreed that Howards End is basically one great love story . . . ") Later there was a vogue for the music club, in which 10 chaps of similar age and background met to drink beer and play each other rock music tracks of which they were especially fond, hoping to be congratulated on the brilliance of their taste. These gatherings foundered on the participants' loathing of each other's choices; somebody always brought a justly forgotten work by Blodwyn Pig and, three minutes into it, someone else would stamp out of the room in protest or rip the CD from the hi-fi and try to snap it in half.
Now it's the glee club. Glees, let me remind you, are short, unaccompanied part-songs to which lots of people contribute. They were popular from the 1650s to the Victorian age, but died out in favour of the tenor or soprano, accompanied on piano and showing off in the parlour. In the US, glees mutated into barbershop quartets in which the harmonies of the voices mirrored the close friendship of the singers. In the club I've just joined, the emphasis is again on communal singing, but also "glee" in the sense of mirth and jollity.
There's no question, however, of it being merely a vulgar knees-up around an old pub joanna. This was a posh operation. The participants were 30- and 40-something professionals in PR, media, art and business. At the organ and piano was an internationally renowned, multilingual specialist in copyright law. The convener of the revels, Blanche, handed out lyric sheets of melodies from 1950s Broadway shows and the collected lyrics of Rogers & Hart, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, the Gershwins. It wasn't a singsong for riff-raff, thank you very much. Participants arrived bearing prosciutto and salami, manchega and Cashel Blue, crudités from Wholefoods and chutney from Ottolenghi. . . And then, after some awkward, throat-clearing conversation, we started singing.
The thing about glee-singing is that it soon becomes a thing of parts. Different people join in at odd moments. It's less a choir that a neurotic semi-chorus. One quavery soprano voice starts off, say, "The Man I Love" and, after a minute, five other (female) voices join in, almost in tune, while the chaps keep well out of it, for fear of being thought garçons de Nancy. Minutes later, the brassier ladies of the company were trying to match Deborah Kerr doing "Shall We Dance" from The King and I, and the gentlemen could only interpolate manly growls from the side.
I found myself singing "There is Nothing Like a Dame" solo, because my rendition –with lots of hearty matelot knee-slapping – was so heartfelt, no-one else felt able to join in. I owned that song, as Simon Cowell would probably have said. But then I've been singing it since I was four and convinced it was called "There Is Nothing Like Our James."
It became weirdly absorbing. As we sang bits of My Fair Lady and Guys & Dolls and South Pacific, the classic showtime stuff that preceded our childhoods, a curious delirium overtook the company. Blanche was visibly moved when she sang the bittersweet "Where or When". Hard-bitten corporate lawyers and feisty, seen-it-all lady artists sang "Younger Than Springtime" with a swoony rapture, as if they'd just fallen in love for the first time.
It was rejuvenating and silly, camp and foolish and tremendous fun. Of course, it went downhill later, and we sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" so shrilly the neighbours banged on the wall. But for a while, the potency of cheap music held us in its mysterious embrace, even as we sang it. If there aren't glee clubs all over town by Christmas, I'll be very surprised.Reuse content