11 Days Remaining

Tuesday 22nd
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Culture matters with James Walsh

AT THE start of the year I promised myself — and, weirdly, the readership of this paper — that I’d get up in front of some strangers and do some singing. This happened last Friday but not quite in the real-ale and folk-related context I was expecting.

I was invited to a piano bar for a friend’s birthday. In my head, the concept of a piano bar came with many negative connotations — a swanky hotel bar not for the likes of us, overpriced cocktails and bankers ignoring some naff soft jazz emanating from a bored pianist and session singer in the corner.

Instead, I found myself in a tiny and slightly tatty basement bar behind Leicester Square Tube station surrounded by members of London’s musical theatre community.

The night was compered by a heavily pregnant singer and a pianist who would happily play any song from any musical you care to think of, provided you had the score handy. To help, the room was festooned with well-thumbed songbooks from classic shows I never quite got around to seeing. That meant pretty much all of them.

While we waited for the singing to start, I asked a regular whether it was open to all and what the general level was. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m an amateur, and I’ll be singing off my tablet,” she reassured, referring to her electronic device, not the Catholic newspaper.

She then went into extreme technical detail about her top note and how she planned to hit it, which wasn’t particularly reassuring.

In the men’s bathroom, an older gent was doing vocal warm-up exercises.

“Ah well,” I thought. I put my name down for a song. What could go wrong?

Scrabbling around the room, I found the score to the Rocky Horror Show.

“Is the Rocky Horror Show allowed,” I wondered? “Am I committing some kind of hideous musical faux pas? Will I be banned from the basement bars of Charing Cross Road for ever more?”

The evening got underway. Our genial host fired off a couple of classics that everyone in the room, except me, knew. She was in beautiful voice and people sang along, perfectly.

I desperately started googling for the lyrics of Rocky Horror’s love letter to the terrible B-movies some of us grew up on. Fine. But would I remember the melody?

Next up stepped the woman who had given me tips. She sang I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. Less than perfectly, I was relieved to note.

My turn. The long — approximately 6ft — walk to the piano. The being told the pianist didn’t know it. The long walk back to pick up the music score and hand it to him on the correct page.

Sweaty hand grasping sweaty phone, I came in where I thought you were supposed to come in. The pianist kept going. I sang. The audience filled in the “Ooooh, oooh, oooh” backing vocals from the chorus. For the last few lines, I even had the confidence to look up from my phone.

Nailed it.

Never doing it again.