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 don’t generally consider meetings in my line of work as claims to fame, as I’m sure I’ve explained here previously. It’s something of a given, working in theatre, film, and television, that you are going to have minor brushes with celebrated faces and personalities. There are plenty of people out there who will regale you with tales of how they “worked with” some famous actor or comedian, when what they mean is that they positioned lights to shine on them, or rigged a PA so they could be heard, or some other far more mundane interaction which doesn’t merit the implied collaboration of that phrase “worked with.”
I’ve met a few blowhards too, who will drop the names of everybody they can think of, just for the sake of it and, I guess, to make themselves seem interesting. I’m not interesting, not in the slightest, but I do at least try and write up my experiences in a way that will hopefully be broadly entertaining to read. I can tell from the site stats that nobody reads any of it anyway, yet. So it doesn’t really matter what I write here.
I was working on a film called New Town Killers, which stars the actor Dougray Scott. I am fine with dropping his name, because – for all his international success – my greatest claim to fame regarding him is a family connection: my grandmother was his godmother, and she stayed close friends with his mum. It is very hard to be phased by a big-name Hollywood star and once widely-rumoured new James Bond when you know your aunt has long claimed (embarrasedly) to have accidentally dropped him on his head while babysitting him.
We were dressing a set in an empty office block and, if you’ve seen the film, it was for the squat – a dirty, graffitied mess of a flat. We piled in all manner of salvaged cupboards and units, a filthy mattress, couches and furniture, broken bits of bikes, traffic cones, and all kinds of other things that made the place look lived-in but not cared-for. A street artist came in and did some very big pieces on the walls, and we all added to it with tags (or “menchies” in local parlance) – if you look very closely, you can see my spraypainted initials in the back of several shots.
Under instruction, we scoured the disused building we were in, looking for any abandoned items we could dress into the set. I had already gone on a mission to get flyers and posters from local clubs and so on, and these were used to cover windows and provide further background detail. I had also found, while scouring the various floors, an unused Health And Safety sign, of the type required to be displayed in business premises by law. I added it on the wall beside the flyers, but I knew it couldn’t stay – it looked out of place, was too noticeable.
It was about this time that the director arrived on the set, to see for the first time how we had transformed the space. The film was being directed by Richard Jobson, and I was more excited about his involvement in the piece, on account of my teenage punk fixation and on account of his previous career singing for The Skids. He walked into the room and looked around, happy with what he saw. It was at this point I was putting up the H&S sign, and realising it couldn’t stay. I had an idea, though, that might help it blend in.
He took a call on his mobile, and sat down in a manky armchair in the middle of the room. While he was chatting, and unsure how it would be received, I got the biggest permanent marker I could find, and – in large black letters – wrote “BOLLOCKS” in block capitals diagonally across the poster. It was at this point he interrupted his conversation to say distractedly to the person on the other end “Sorry, I’m just watching someone write ‘bollocks’ on the wall, and I wish it was me.”
So that was the time my rebellious attitude to authority was approved by the guy who co-wrote and sang “Into The Valley.”