Monday, 29 November 2010

In the spotlight

I was reminded the other day of an episode in my life which I think deserves a much, much wider audience than it has had to date.  Much. 

Dan wrote a post about things how he wished would happen in his life, and one of them involved becoming a karaoke god. 

Readers, I have been that karaoke god.  Goddess.  Whatever.  It happened like this:

(Cue wibbly wobbly lines and flashback music)

Picture the scene...

It was the early 1990s, and I was on a training course in glorious Bournemouth.  Two weeks in a dodgy run-down seafront hotel, along with about 25 other members of the Civil Service, all there to improve our Interpersonal Skills, like it or not. 

Some people, it transpired, had been compelled to attend by their management, as they were borderline psychopaths.  The majority of us, however, were there to learn how to deal with Difficult People and Awkward Situations, and to Improve Our Promotion Prospects By Not Punching People Even When They Really Deserve It.

Day 1 passed uneventfully, with lots of  embarrassing "ice-breaking" exercises, and stilted conversation between the course delegates.  I knew one of the lecturers from a previous training course, and he had already talked to the group about me.  I had a reputation, it seemed.  A good reputation, I mean.  I was being described as a team player, someone who was good fun, and would chip in to keep discussions moving along. 

Yes, I was famous for being someone who has an opinion on everything and an inappropriate sense of humour. 

Can't imagine why.

Day 2 began, and was a bit slow.  The group discussions were lagging, and some of the breakout sessions were painfully silent.  I had stopped chipping in quite so much, as even the dulcet sound of my own voice was grating in the flat dead pall cast by some of the other group members.  Come lunchtime, the lecturers collared me for a chat.

They were worried that the course was stalling, and it needed to be livened up.  What did I suggest?  I suggested going out and getting a few drinks down us one night.  They agreed that an off-site social event was a good idea, and then one of them said,  "There's that karaoke bar down the road.  What about that?"

Hell yes.

So, come the afternoon tea break, the lecturers announced that those who wanted to were invited out that night for a few drinks and possibly some karaoke.  Remember, this was the early 90s...karaoke was still comparatively new.  At least in Bournemouth, anyway.  There was a ripple of excitement, and the mood lifted.  We were going out.  A night on the town. 

After dinner those of us who were up for the Big Night Out assembled in the hotel foyer, and we wandered down the road to the karaoke bar. 

It was dead.  There were a lot of staff working there, but other than our group - maybe 18 people - the place was almost empty.  A group decision was made to stay and see what happened later; we got the drinks in, and sat round a big table.  Both the lecturers had come along with the majority of the course delegates, so it was nice to have a bit of a chat outside of the hotel. 

After a little while, one of the bar staff came over and handed us a big book, a ring binder really, with many laminated pages.  It was the Song List for the karaoke, which she told us was due to start "about 9.30-ish."  By now, we'd all had at least one drink, and several of us were eagerly scanning the list of titles for songs we knew. 

I was determined to get up and sing something.

I was equally determined not to do it on my own.

Eventually, after a prolonged and shouty discussion about how crap everyones musical taste was, I announced that I was going to put my name down for a shot onstage, but that someone had to come with me.  The good-natured bellowing stopped, and there was a bit of an awkward pause.

"Aw, come on, guys," I said.  "Somebody else come up with me?"

They all looked fixedly at their drinks, the temperature dropped perceptibly.  Tumbleweed drifted across the table.  Eventually, I caught someone's eye.

"Dave, you'll come up with me, won't you?"  I asked.  He nodded, too shy to say no.

"Great!  Let's pick a song and I'll go and put our names down!" 

I was quite excited.  We flicked through the book again, and settled on the Chrissy Hynde/UB40 version of "I got you, babe."  A classic duet.  I scampered over to the karaoke DJ, handed in the slip of paper with our names and the song title, and rejoined the group, all miraculously chatty and cheerful again. 

I had another drink.  Dave had another drink.  Dave got progressively more and more anxious, his hands shaking as he held his drink.  I sidled up and said "You don't have to come and sing if you don't want to - I'll go on my own."  He shook his head and insisted that he was coming too.  He'd agreed to sing "I got you, babe" onstage with me, and that was all there was to be said.

After what felt like a very long time, our names were called by the karaoke DJ.  Dave and I headed through the crowd - an influx of people had taken place and the bar was suddenly packed - to the stage.  The rest of our group followed, till everyone was stood right up in front of the stage, waiting expectantly.  The DJ handed Dave and I a microphone each, grinned and started the music.  I was very nervous, and I could see Dave standing like a rabbit in the headlights to my left, staring fixedly into the distance. 

The intro played, and I launched into the first line of the song.  It was ok, I knew I was in tune at least. 

Dave's turn came.  Dave missed his cue.  Dave didn't sing at all.  Dave didn't open his mouth.  Dave stood there motionless, staring at the sea of faces, the microphone held tight in both hands in front of his face. 

Oh fuck.

I looked at the crowd, at the group of people from our training course, at all the many others who were dancing and smiling, and I just thought "Hell's bells, here we go..."

I sang the entire verse on my own.  Both parts.  After the first chorus Dave started to jig up and down a bit, bobbing along in time to the music.  Encouraged, I took his hand and danced with him as I sang the next verse.  He looked at me, and then, miracle, started to join in with the next chorus.  He was behind the beat, and almost inaudible, but he was doing it.

By the end of the song he was giving it all he had, singing and jigging up and down on the spot, a huge HUGE grin on his face.  We finished to rapturous applause, bowing and waving to the audience, showboating.  We were swept offstage by our coursemates, and were making our way back to the table in triumph.  A large man in a smart suit barred our path.

"Scuse me," he said.  We all stopped in our tracks.  Well, you do when a big scary bloke is stood in front of you.

He looked at Dave and I, both grinning and a bit sweaty, and then handed us a bottle of champagne.

"Compliments of the management,"  he said.  "You were bloody brilliant."

On the way back to the hotel one of the lecturers took me to one side.

"We were a bit worried when you got Dave to get up and sing," he told me. 

"Why?"  I asked.  "He was a bit nervous, but he was fine when he got going."

"Yes.  But he's actually on this course as part of his therapy - he had a nervous breakdown recently and is trying to get his confidence levels back up."


I'd dragged that poor man onstage in front of about a hundred people and made him sing "I got you, babe." 

The next day we opened our prize at coffee time and had a glass or two. 

"More champagne, Dave?" 

"Don't mind if I do, Lucy.  Any more biscuits to dunk?"

By the end of the course we were all much more relaxed with each other, even the psychopaths.  Dave gave me a huge emotional hug and told me I'd changed his life.  He did that himself, but it was a lovely thing to say.

Everyone exchanged phone numbers, work numbers, anyway, and promised to keep in touch.  Some of us did.  Dave told me he was going to buy some karaoke tapes for his car to help him get into a positive frame of mind when he drove to work in the mornings. 

For about 5 years after that, every now and again my office phone would ring.  I'd answer it to hear Dave's excited voice "Lucy!  They're playing our song!"  Sure enough, "I got you, babe" by Chrissy Hynde and UB40 would be on the radio in the background. 

And to this day, every time I hear it, I think of that night in Bournemouth, and Dave, and I smile.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post.

The closest I ever got to karaoke was doing the 'ooooh ooooh' bit of Sympathy for the Devil with a local band (I was drunk, persuaded to do it and have never felt more awkward in my life. I hung onto that bottle of Becks like it was a life support machine).

Doll said...

That was wonderful !!
It made me realize that I have lost my confidence somewhere and I need it back..... To Win Again ! :)

badgerdaddy said...

Best. Story. Ever.

Isabella Golightly said...

This is a great story. Talk about the classic deer in the headlights moment. Go, Dave. Also, the word verification for this post is 'coloins'. Which is what is affected when you have to stand up in front of 300 other people and sing.

Mr Farty said...

Aw, bless! That is a lovely story. *sheds a wee tear*

livesbythewoods said...

Cynical scribble - doing an "ooooh oooooh" properly isn't easy. Kudos.

Doll, I can recommend singing as a way to either restore confidence or make yourself realise that some things in life are really not as scary as you thought. Not compared to singing, anyway.

Badgerdaddy, thank you. It was a great night.

Isabella, I think you ought to patent "coloins" - it's a great term.

Mr Farty, there there...but thank you.