Common Karaoke

🎙️Common Karaoke 🎵
with Papa Sage & The Scarlet Mist🕺 🕺

First Thursday of the Month.
Free Entry
Happy Hour drinks prices for singers.
Free shots for crowd pleasers.

What’s the worst rendition of a song you’ve ever experienced at karaoke? I’ll start. It was the long, hot summer of 1999. People were living in fear of the millennium bug, there was a solar eclipse, and people tied onions to their belt (which was the style at the time). Your humble newsletter writer was just a child back then, spending the summer eating Soleros and watching a pirated VHS of Star Wars: Episode 1, all while on holiday in the sunny climes of Cyprus. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.

Around the corner from where we were staying was a bar that, every night, had karaoke on. A simple set up: one fairly bored local with a fairly rickety looking rig, and a limited selection of songs available to choose from in a leather bound book. As the kind of child that was easily peer pressured into these kind of things, my parents would often – presumably for their own enjoyment – force me and my brothers to go up and sing. My choice of song? Four Non Blondes – What’s Up. A stone cold banger, I’m sure you’ll agree, and perfectly suited to an 8 year old missing all the notes while singing:

And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath and I get real high

Sadly, this rendition of a 1990’s classic wasn’t the worst performance of the holiday. Neither were my versions of Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing, nor was – mercy me – mine and my brother’s version of Tom Jones’ You Can Leave Your Hat On, as popularised by Sheffield stripper movie The Full Monty. This was my full repertoire, and it was performed in it’s entirety every evening.

A lad, probably around 18 or so, and on his last ever trip with his parents, would often frequent the same bar. He’d rarely get up and sing but, on what was presumably his last night (we never saw him again after that), he’d had a few too many Bacardi Breezers, and got up to sing. His choice? Don MacLean’s classic, American Pie.

Now, he must’ve known the song – everyone does. And he started out admirably, if clumsily, tripping over words in many of the verses, falling out of time here and there but: that’s how it goes in the cut and thrust of Cypriot karaoke. You roll with the punches. However, around 3 minutes in, with the room staring back at him in almost pure silence, his face turns to panic. There must’ve been a reason when it clicked that the man running the karaoke, in all his wisdom, had not put on the version of American Pie that most people listen to: you know, 4 minutes, in and out, easy does it. No, the version that this particular bar had was the album version, totalling – get this – 8 minutes and 42 seconds.

He was struggling by this point, his drink already gone through nervous sips, people steadily leaving the bar, unable to deal with the catastrophe unfolding before them. In short, his head had completely gone. Someone, anyone, should’ve stepped in and taken whatever action was necessary. Six minutes in, and those good old boys were still singing whiskey and rye, but when this poor 18 year old sang This’ll be the day that I die, you felt he really, really meant it. Me and my two brothers all got up and tried to cheer him on, over the finish line, joining in with his sloppy, sheepish claims to have drove the Chevy to the levee, but there was no help to be had, none at all. He waved us away with resignation, seeming to say: you’ve got your whole lives ahead of you – you don’t need to come down with this ship with me.

Eventually, and mercifully, the music died. If memory serves, he got a single clap, which must’ve stung worse than none at all. Exhausted and crestfallen, he went to leave the stage, but not before a lone voice behind him called out his name (I wish I could remember what it was, if only to reach out to him as say: you did it man, you really did it. If you can survive that, you can survive anything). Hearing that familiar voice through the haze, the vanquished singer turned, and noticed he was being beckoned to the bar by the barkeep.

In moment of humanity not matched since, and without another word being said, the barkeep took out two shot glasses, poured them both a glug of some indeterminate clear liquid, and looked him dead in the eyes as they both drank them. Even more so than the singing, it is this moment that has stuck with me: the acknowledgement from one person to another that, hey, it might not have gone how you wanted to but, my god, we’re all so proud of you. On cold nights when there are no emails to write to this illustrious mailing list, this is the memory that keeps me warm – even if I’ll forever be unable to listen to any of Don MacLean’s oeuvre ever again. That bloke singing was absolute dreck.

Completely unrelated, but Common Karaoke is the first Thursday of every month, 8pm til late, with your hosts Papa Sage and The Scarlet Mist. Free entry, happy hour drinks prices for anyone who sings, free shot if you’re a crowd pleaser. No bookings, and please – no American Pie.

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