A month or so ago, I was at the Torbay Poetry Festival, than which festivals don’t come more polite and friendly (how many festivals put you up at a hotel, and give you a room about as large as your house?). It was a Friday night, and it was a good audience, and I wasn’t sleepy. So I wandered into the bar, at the end of the evening, and there he was, the entertainer the hotel had hired for its guests (as against the festival for its punters). There were five people in the bar, tucked in a far corner, bantering good-humouredly. The barman was benign. His shift was surely due to end soon, and his space behind the counter was ship-shape (and Bristol-fashion, let me off on a tangent here: the reason objects are ship-shape and Bristol-fashion is because a ship entering Bristol harbour, when it was active as one, had to make extra-sure that its cargo was evenly distributed, because the tidal drop in Bristol was the largest in the world, and an unevenly-packed hold would cause a ship, stuck in low water and silt, to keel over; where was I?). He was beaming.
The cause of all this good will was the nature of the entertainer. He was singing (he had a good voice) a series of songs which took his fancy, or which the group in the corner called out, in a spirit of extreme good-will. He was balding a little, had some extra weight around his middle, some grey in his hair – yes, he was about my age. It always takes a moment for the penny to drop that I am now a few years shy of 60. I still think of myself, deep down, as 30 (deeper down, I am about 10). He was singing ‘It’s Now Or Never’, the Elvis hit, the one which is based on ‘O Sole Mio’, and which has in turn spawned an equally singable advert, ‘Just One Cornetto’. Don’t you hate that about adverts? The way they steal your favourite songs, and put them to work flogging this, that and the other? From the AA (‘You’ve Got A Friend’) to Zip Firelighters (‘Light My Fire’, get it?), they’re all at it, plundering the soundtrack of my teens.
Anyway. It’s not that I don’t get out much, although I don’t: it’s that I am rarely if ever somewhere where karaoke is going on. I’m not much of a pub-drinker, and if I ever am, I’m never in the kind of pubs where karaoke is the evening’s entertainment. I hadn’t cottoned on until that evening, either, that people with a decent voice are actually going out, equipped with all the clobber and the computerised backing tracks, and making a bit of a living out of it. And I saw the appeal. You don’t need a backing band any more, you just need a powerful sound system, and you can be backed by anyone from The Dakotas to Nelson Riddle, from the Philharmonic to the Funk Brothers.
And I also realised that there was a possibility for part of my act, which involves singing spoofs of popular songs, including one mocking Boris Johnson, and called ‘Born To Rule’, to the tune of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. Perhaps I could get the backing track? Can I? Yes I can: I was idling in Exeter yesterday, trying to keep away from the second-hand record shop (failed), and came across a shop which downloaded (obviously for a fee) any backing track, pretty much, that you wanted. So now I have the E-Street Band option available for my next performance. On the other hand, perhaps what makes people laugh is that (a) I can’t sing that well, and (b) I lose the tune. Obviously, they’re laughing with me, not at me. That is obvious, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
It is a bit late in life to discover karaoke.
It’s now or never.