KARAOKE: the lowest common denominator of creative expression as Steve Coogan’s underrated alter-ego Tommy Saxondale once said; the drinking man’s last desperate cry (or shout as it usually ends up) for help; an acceptable group practice beyond an undetermined tipping point of alcohol to blood ratio (at least in the UK).
And yet within that strange word of one too many vowels more than consonants lies a wonderfully carefree and communal bar spirit. As a condensed combination of two Japanese words; ‘Kara’ from Karappo meaning empty & ‘Oke’ short for Okesutura which unsurpisingly translates to Orchestra, hence ‘Empty Orchestra’. But from the sounds that ascend up the average participants’ diaphragm, their orchestras are usually rather too well-fed but probably all the wrong foods for a night of soul-searchingly emotive self-exposure. They sometimes seem to be exorcising demons in pint form. Or as the karoakekanta website summarises: “Singing takes your troubles away and is relaxing, that’s why so many people get addicted to it.”
I’ve recently become one such (empty orchestra) addict, a karaoke addict of which there could be many composite words; karaok-addict, kar-addict or shorter still but impossible to separate again; k-addict. This last label implies that what you’re addicted to is far worse than karaoke, like Ketamine (Special K for that slimmer horse-like figure), Karate or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Surely none of those things are as publicly & psychologically damaging to your profile as belting out Whitney’s finest Boy Meets Girl-penned anthem I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Houston we have a problem indeed). As with Tina’s Simply the Best* on previous occasions, I’d somewhat underestimated the full peak of melodic pitch after the mandatory key change. This unexpected shift forced me into something of a crunch-facing corner (not a Muller yoghurt) despite already being in a physical one where I reverted to falsetto aka false high tones – the last bastion escape route out the seasoned karaokist’s respective Colditz Castle.
*As a side note our band (Cosmic Funky Nuts better recognise fool) in which I am vocalist/keyboardist are now considering covering these 2 irrepressible karaoke classics along with Gloria Estefan’s Dr. Beat/Drop The Pressure as a femme ménage a trio medley and we’re not even trying to be a covers band anymore.
So why have I become so hooked on this harmonious drug? Hard to say ray but the injection (ok I’ll drop the drug metaphor references) of a fez-wearing Geordie DJ in his late 30s with the seemingly constant compulsion to heckle cod pop-ragga phraseology over all his own performances has got to be a contributing factor. ‘Shabba’, ‘Ere me now’, ‘One time’ & ‘Baybe gurl’ from Bubbler Ranx’s immortal intro to Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl (presumably written about a future Jordan who surely encapsulates the true enigma of modern womanhood).
The fact that there’s more than a whiff of group therapy to the whole proceedings with folk airing their ability to become famous for 15 minutes as Andy Warhol predicted – this translates as around 3 or 4 song performances. Everyone, from Occupy Nottingham protestors pogo-ing & salivating Tasmanian Devil-like to Friggin’ In The Riggin’ & I Fought The Law to the lone abandoned wailing of a fresher girlfriend publicly executing that Canadian manikin Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. Instead of showing aural pain or pity metalheads & pissheads alike recreated the ‘King of the World’ pose from Titanic as their equally ‘ahem’ unique and decidedly homoerotic interpretation.
No new twist of vocal dexterity is considered too bawdy in karaoke as with my dear chum Pete’s teary-arm pitted rendition of REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling delivered an octave lower half in the style of South Park’s Ned Gerblansky. Subsequently you’ll have to imagine the 2 videos below hybridised in all their heart-churningly monotonous yet sincere bastardised MOR drive time glory (lack of pitch still packs a proper punch y’know):
Ultimately as long as people hit the town together in groups or look to make friends to form larger groups, karaoke’s ice-breaking medium will continue to be one of the most sociable. The freedom of individual choice peppered by shared laughter is therapeutic & inclusive like all the best pub atmospheres. Despite the evening always being destined to descend into the same old clichéd favourites to group hugs, linked arms & unabated revelry (Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, Men At Work’s Down Under & Cheers theme as the final 4 in this case), it’s only ever a few miserabilists still sat at the bar by close stubbornly refusing to recognise that drinks best buddy of choice has always been song.
DJ Tony Leathers’ Good Times… Fun Times… KARAOKE @ The Old Angel, Nottingham; Every Thursday 8 until 1 All Pints £2 (with promo card)