My aversion to karaoke as a form of entertainment is such that, if I am in a pub and it becomes apparent that there will be karaoke, I leave. I am willing to accept most types of music as background noise to whatever conversation I may be having, but I refuse to accept the dominance that is afforded a procession of tuneless drunks.
There are a handful of exceptions – I’ve tolerated it at a few places-of-works’ nights out, a stag night, and – well, that’s it to the best of my memory. As a general rule, if there is no occasion and I am just out for a drink, I’ll go elsewhere.
I have been coerced into participating only twice in my life. This is, in part, due to my complete and very noticeable inability to sing. The other factors involved were alcohol (lots of it) and peer pressure.
The first occasion was in “My Father’s Moustache”, a pub in East Kilbride, where I then worked. I worked for the catalogue shop Index, and our entire staff (numbering about twenty or thirty) were in the pub for some reason or other, besides the obvious. The drinks were flowing freely, and it was the night that Darius was kicked off Pop Idol. I remember this clearly, because at the time I was being told on a regular basis that I looked like him.
As a succession of regulars crooned their ways through all the usual hits – Mustang Sally, Brown-Eyed Girl, Wonderwall, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), New York New York – our party got progressively drunker. We were loud, rowdy, good-humoured, and having great fun. Somehow, I got roped into going up.
My song of choice was “My Way” as sung by Sid Vicious. This was probably towards the end of the period I spent listening to Punk, and I recall that I was wearing my Slayer tour shirt that evening. My name was called, along with the observation “As a special treat, here comes Darius, straight off Pop Idol,” and I ventured forth amidst gentle laughter, to take the mic.
The punters would look to the screen as each singer stepped up, to see what song they would be assailed with, and so up came “My Way.” People went back to their conversations, absolutely not expecting the off-key and piss-taking intro to that version of Sinatra’s classic. You know that scene in the western film, when the guy walks into the bar and the music stops and the place falls silent? I achieved that. My “singing” of that verse, in that vocal manner, briefly shut up an entire pub.
As the song kicked in, and I sneered my way through the second verse as Vicious had done, I was joined on the stage area by a stranger who – judging from his age and enthusiasm – was part of the original musical and social movement that produced it. He grabbed a second mic from its stand, and tried to join in as the host took it from him and reprimanded him with the rules – one singer, one song. No backing vocalists. So, instead, he began vigorously pogoing around the floor, clapping his hands, headbanging, and trying to cajole everyone sitting near the front of the stage area into sharing his energy and appreciation.
That was the first time I ever attempted karaoke, and I still remember it vividly eleven years later.
The second time, it was an aftershow party in very early 2008. I had been working on a pantomime, and all of the cast, crew, and ushers were enjoying private use of a hired nightclub. There was karaoke, and by about half-two in the morning I was drunk enough to agree to a pal’s suggestion to participate.
As one of the cast belted through his own unique, and trademark, rendition of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” (“Balls and Tits!” he cried gleefully), we decided upon the song for us. The obvious selection was Falco’s “Amadeus” – renowned, fondly remembered, and suitably ridiculous. Up it came on the screen.
Revealing himself to be surprisingly astute, given his aptitude at work, my friend immediately spotted the flaw in our plan and helpfully announced “Fucksakeman, it’s aw in German.”
It was, indeed, in German. We hadn’t thought beyond the famous chorus.
I rapidly descended into drunkenly listing all of the German words I could think of, rather than attempting to read aloud those on-screen. For a start, I’ve never studied the language, and I wasn’t helped by how fast Falco was rattling through lyrics I was struggling to comprehend let alone pronounce.
In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that most of my German comes from war films, Spike Milligan sketches (“Schweinhund!”), and five years of schooling in the achievements and failures of Bismarck, the unification of Germany, the first world war, and Hitler’s rise to power. It is probably just as well that it was a private party, I think in a pub I would have achieved silence a second time…
There are no plans for a third attempt.
I started this blog relatively recently, but I have anecdotes and stories going back a few years. I hope to eventually add everything I remember to this site, because so much of life has amused, bemused, or confused me.
A few years back, I went to an aftershow club night with a friend. We were waiting outside for other friends to join us, and to our chagrin the bouncer started making small talk. The conversation was memorable for being both banal and stupid, and related to my choice of footwear. When this incident came back into my mind yesterday, another friend asked about the infamous “No Trainers” rule that so many bouncers employ – “Do they think we’re going to come in and start playing football??” she asked. Well, it amused me – I would like to see that.
This particular bouncer was checking out my army boots, that I wear as a matter of course for being comfortable and hard-wearing.
“They’re not steelies, are they?” he asked.
“Can I check?”
“How,” I said, “Do you not believe me?”
“I just don’t want to find out that they’re steelies later on, when you’re kicking me in the head.”
I do have a reasonably eloquent way with words, as well as the Glaswegian sensibility to pick people up when they say exceptionally stupid things.
“It’s okay,” I reassured him. “I’m not in the habit of ending my evenings by kicking people in the head.”
He brushed this off, casually remarking “I need to get a new pair of steelies, actually.”
“Why, so you can kick people in the head?”
He just looked at me. We moved away and waited for our friends elsewhere.
Doormen: unlikely to discover the cure for cancer any time soon.
This has happened to me twice now, once a few years ago at Glasgow’s “Bedlam” nightclub, and again in a pub last week. The latter incident annoyed me much more than the first, and since it has now occurred more than once I’m going to document it.
I wear band t-shirts every single day, t-shirts that I used to buy at every gig I attended (or bootlegs picked up outside afterwards). Since 1998, I have accumulated something close to a hundred and fifty t-shirts. Some fit better than others, some are bands that I have since lost interest in – hell, some are bands I wasn’t even that interested in when I picked up a cheap piece of clothing. I have drawers full of ripped and long- faded shirts I keep for work, newer shirts that haven’t lost their pristine black colouring which I wear if I’m going out, and then numerous ones that lie between those states. I’ve got shirts I have literally never worn, and shirts that are almost see-through on account of fourteen years of wear. As it happens, I usually wear a dozen or so in rotation, for months at a time.
This means that, given the diversity of music I have listened to over the years, and the sheer number of shirts available to me, I am very rarely aware which band’s logo I am sporting emblazoned across my chest on any given day.
Band shirts have long been the accepted way for metallers and their ilk to recognise like-minded fans. It is unacceptable to wear the shirt of a band you haven’t heard, because you will be found out and thought a dick of when some long-term fan addresses you in the pub. This is the simple and long-standing rule, because sooner or later you WILL be addressed by a fellow fan. Or more likely by dozens, over the years. Here are the two most memorable to me.
Firstly, at Bedlam a few years ago, I was wearing a KMFDM t-shirt. I am not a huge fan of them, but have amassed ten or so of their shirts and at least as many CDs. I only saw them once, in 2005 if memory serves, and I now remember very little of the gig. In the club, some guy approached me to ask me about the band. There was a brief exchange, and he told me he had met them and drank with them in Poland on some previous tour. I think they were due to play Glasgow again imminently, and he gave me some message to pass on to their guitarist – something forgettable, and more designed to make me believe his story than to actually hold relevance for the band.
As though I was going to hang around to meet the band post-show and say “Hey, some stranger I met once and had a really slight conversation with says [‘don’t eat the honey’, or some equally-banal reference to an experience they once shared, one day in the band’s thirty-year history.]”
I shrugged it off that time, because I work in film, TV, theatre, and live music. I can take your meeting with some band or other and match it with half a dozen encounters of my own. I just choose not to, because I often meet these people in a professional capacity and it seems inappropriate – dickish, even – to boast. If you do want to read about some of the “celebrities” that I’ve happened to meet in an everyday capacity, then read the blogs on here tagged “fame.”
Last week, I was in the pub having a quiet drink. It was a very quiet drink, as I was alone at the table – one friend was playing a game of pool with his pal, and the other had nipped over the road to get food.
I was sitting in silent contemplation, my mind elsewhere and occupied by a couple of personal things that have been or were weighing on me. My peace was suddenly disturbed by an unknown wanker ambling towards me and demanding “What tour’s that from?”
It took me a second to break from my thoughts, and I had to glance down to see whose name I was displaying that day. Iron Maiden.
I was a diehard Maiden fan from the ages of 12 until 24, and no other band defined my teenage years so wholly. I’ve moved away from them now, but still have the sizeable collection of rare memorabilia I hunted down when I had the taste for it. This means that I can hold my own in any conversation about them, something I used to relish and which I latterly concede to – provided I am in the mood. I wasn’t in the mood.
As I was asked again which tour I had picked this top up on, I gauged from the artwork that it was probably the 2003 UK tour. He asked me if I had ever met the band.
The truth is, I have met all three of their lead singers at one time or another, in different circumstances, and all three have signed items for me: this was back when I cared about such things. I could tell from his demeanour that he wasn’t interested in my experiences, and was only asking as a means to share his own. I let him.
He had met all of them outside the SECC in Glasgow on the last tour, and what lovely blokes they are, apart from Bruce Dickinson. They put him on the guestlist for the Aberdeen show the next night, and – blah, blah, blah. It was apparent he had only approached me so that he could give me this information – he didn’t ask or say anything else about the band, and as soon as he had told me this he made to leave, offering his hand for me to shake. I had already ignored this advance when he interrupted me, but with it now thrust towards me it was easier and less hassle to shake his hand than not.
“That’s the hand that shook hands with all of Iron Maiden,” he told me triumphantly. If I wasn’t already resentful of the intrusion into my personal space, that sealed it. Fucking wanker.
Seriously, what kind of arsehole stoats up to people just to brag about how great they personally are? I could do it, I could go up to anyone wearing an Alice Cooper or Combichrist tee and impart, apropos of nothing, tales of meeting them and what we spoke about. I just don’t. If it happens to come up in general chat, that’s one thing, but I don’t engineer it and it certainly isn’t my opening gambit.
When this guy left the pub at last orders, he shouted across to me to say goodbye. My friend had returned and was sitting across from me, and when I shouted a goodbye so did my friend. “Not you!” the guy yelled at my pal.
So yeah. Nothing to say, but he made a purpose of telling me.
I lived in ten flats in the space of three years – where I define “living in” as “staying there at least a month or more, during which time I paid rent”. I do not recommend it, it was hellish, and the result of a quite unprecedented run of bad luck, bad decisions, bad flatmates, and owners selling up.
I took a room in Maryhill for a few months, a room too small for unpacking in, and more just a base from which to find somewhere else. I was living with two other guys, one a student from Ireland and the other owned the property as well as having a room in it. He was studying property development or something similar, and since this job entails being a reprehensible cunt he was getting some practice in. At the time, though, he seemed like a decent guy, and I have no doubt he mostly meant well. I left that flat after he impulsively bought another, realised he’d better sell the one he was in, and gave us ten days to get out. Maybe that’s not cuntish, but it was certainly inconsiderate and inconvenient. Here’s another example, and you can form your own opinion.
I had just gone to bed at 3am one night, when the front door opened and a few people came into the flat. There was a knock on my door, and I got up to answer it. Adam was standing there, and explained the situation – he had been at a nightclub, and outside in the taxi queue he’d met two girls. He had convinced them to come back to his flat where, he told them, he was having a party. The problem was, now they were here it was pretty fucking obvious there was no party. I was invited through to join them, as he confided that he really like the dark-haired one, and that I should “take the blonde.” I was naturally sceptical, but threw some clothes on and joined them in the living room.
The girls were good company, and remarkably good-humoured given the false pretences under which they’d been lured. We sat and drank for a couple of hours, the first and only time Adam and I socialised, and it became quickly apparent to everyone except him that 75% of the people in the room thought he was an idiot. The only part of the conversation I remember was his loud assertion that Oasis pissed all over Blur (in 2007, this was hardly relevant anyway), which the three of us disagreed with – Blur were far more musically diverse, for a start. He continued with further dull observations, while it came out that the dark-haired girl had been in a few theatre groups that I’d had a passing acquaintance with. So we spoke about that, and had a really good night despite the numpty in the corner.
Eventually, it came time for them to leave. They decided to phone a taxi, but Adam insisted on calling it for them. He took their mobile phone, dialled, and requested one, giving his address. After forty-five minutes or so, while looking at her phone, the girl he liked announced that the taxi was outside. They got up, and we walked them to the door. He tried to give each of them a goodnight kiss, but they were having none of it. I exchanged nice-to-meet-yous with them, and they left. Returning to the living room, Adam beckoned me to the window – where we watched them walk down the street and turn the corner, gone forever, and with no taxi in sight. He started laughing, and I was confused. So he explained.
He hadn’t phoned them a taxi, just gone through the motions and pretended. She’d obviously looked at the last number dialled, and – being already demonstrably smarter than him – deduced this, then claimed the taxi that they both knew wasn’t coming had arrived. I laughed too, big bellylaughs, at how casually and brilliantly she had played him at his own game. It was also funny that he’d thought his ruse would work. And that’s my abiding memory of Maryhill, that evening.
About a week later, I was in the living room with the door shut. Adam was down the hallway at his bedroom, having a conversation on the phone. I could hear it clearly, and that’s when it dawned on me that, when Adam had knocked my door and told me which one he fancied and which one I should “take”, they must have heard every word. Which makes it all the more incredible that they stayed as long as they did, unless you consider that they were just humouring him for their own amusement. Well played, girls, well played.
I go to Camden Town with some regularity, and have done since I was first introduced to the market there in 2001. A crowd of us had gone down on a chartered coach overnight, in order to see a five-band bill headlined by Dimmu Borgir, and – having previously been to London only once, three months earlier and on my own – I followed the crowd. So that was my introduction to Camden.
Since then, Camden has been my main stopping point during any trip down. Since 2005, I have made the trip annually to see my favourite band (Combichrist) play in London, and as often as not it is a venue in that town that they play. I used to crash with friends or family, until I made two discoveries: Euston Station is a fifteen minute walk from the venue, and; the cheapest train of the day leaves there for Glasgow at 5.30am. So now, on the past few trips, I’ve gone to the gig, then to any aftershow party, and then slowly made my way to sit outside the station for a few hours before getting the train back home. It means I don’t have to hassle anyone for crashing space, don’t have the added expense of a hotel or hostel, and don’t need to fork out the best part of a tenner to get a travel card. I never have to research and run for the last tubes anymore either.
Pulling an all-nighter on the streets of London might be risky, and the first time I did it I was in the vicinity far in advance owing to the train I’d elected to get down. I wandered from the station to the market, looking for anywhere that might be open in the small hours – a 24-hour coffee shop or fast food establishment – and was surprised to see none. On the previous trip, I’d sat in a McDonalds all night, next to a different station from which I was departing. In Camden I decided, in true British style, to ask a policeman.
The first one I saw was on the street behind the Electric Ballroom, and as I approached he was hailed from a side street by a very drunk and cheerful native of the city. “Heh!” he cried, in a manner designed to attract the attention of anyone he chose to address, “Here!” The policeman stopped, looking, and by this time I was in earshot – both of us curious as to where this was headed. “What do you get hanging from trees?” the drunk asked, the answer being “Sore arms!” He then told another joke, which I forget, bid the policeman good day, and disappeared off down the street. I never knew until that point that anyone in London was in possession of a sense of humour. Or that there was a polis out there who could take a joke.
I walked up, as intended, and asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could kill the small hours. It still surprises me that there is nowhere in Camden – a vibrant and bustling town all day long – that stays open 24-hours to serve up a combination of grease, coffee, or internet access. The thought of having to walk or get buses miles out of my way to find somewhere didn’t appeal, and I’ve sat in train stations or at bus stops overnight in Glasgow plenty of times through the years when I stayed at home. I asked him what the area was like, and specifically if I was likely to get jumped. He stood, and looked me up and down – all six-foot-two of my mohawk-sporting, broad-shouldered, seventeen-stone. Scottish frame – and said “You’ll be alright.”
It’s little exchanges like that which keep me going to London every year. Well, aside from the band I love and the friends I’ve made.