It’s awful to think of people having fun without you, but it’s a lot easier to come to terms with if you’ve never met them before.
London may be homogenising rapidly but still there thousands of overlapping scenes, clubs, cliques, and other loose groups of similar minded people. Every single one exists in direct defiance of the man, who would rather we were sat at home alone reading social media feeds and panic-buying marmite while waiting for the end times.
On Friday I went to Bingo Master’s Breakout, London’s premier poetry, karaoke and bingo night. The use of “premier” harks back to a golden age when you couldn’t move for competing poetry, karaoke and bingo nights, or else is a beautiful alternative to “only”.
Either way. I’m amazed and delighted that it exists, and saddened that it has somehow escaped by attention until now – particularly as it has apparently been going since 2003; as have I.
Run by Kevin, a heroic figure hailing from the edge of my awareness thanks to his dapper style brightening up a thousand toilet indie venues, the premise is simple and glorious: a band or artist is picked as the theme, our host spends hours painstakingly transcribing said artist’s often lesser-known tunes to YouTube videos, people volunteer to sing the songs in question.
I’ve karaoked plenty, from the art form’s traditional English* roots as a means to win the respect of Roy Orbison-loving old drunks in tired seaside pubs to the current Japanese-style trend for booths and hen dos. So no problems there.
But to sing, you have to poe(m). Recite? My unfamiliarity with the lingo reveals my ignorance. I last recited a “poem” in 1991, and it was from Calvin and Hobbes. So this aspect was more worrying to me than the karaoke.
Back in 2017, things were underwaying. There were poems available if you hadn’t brought any with you, but most had, mainly because they were poets.
And they were great. Funny, intense, odd, silly, sexy, sad, heartbroken – sometimes all of the above. Presumably these people were clever enough to do this intentionally, but they were perfect accompaniments to the magnetic fields songs – particularly when the poems were by Merritt himself, as during Sean Ghostparty Clothier’s brilliant set.
Also, particularly winningly, there was a set by Deerful, who sang karaoke covers of HER OWN TUNES.
Meanwhile, back to my own personal psychodrama: I hadn’t had to sing yet and I was getting nervous. It had been hours and I could never figure out whether the night was coming to an end. By the time the bingo was underway, I felt the bullet had been dodged. Surely?
I got that intense mixture of relief and disappointment, because putting myself in an embarrassing situation is embarrassing, but also a good way to burn memories into my brain, because going to the shops and riding the commuter train just doesn’t cut it any more.
Three or so hours after arriving, it was time. Up I went, and performed a poem I got from “over there”. It was called something like 52 reasons not to have sex, and seemed appropriate, because 69 Love Songs.
It was a weird poem. The reasons listed were surreal but not that surreal; funny but not that funny. I read it out as intensely as I could, in the East Midlands accent that reemerges when I sing and also, it emerges, when I poem.
Let’s slip into the present tense.
I reach the end. Applause. I shuffle back so I can see the screen without turning my back to the audience. The music to “all my little words” starts up. I start singing… an octave too low. I jump up suddenly after the first couple of lines, like going through puberty in reverse.
Not for all the tea in China
Not if I could sing like a bird
Not for all North Carolina
Not for all my little words
I stand awkwardly during the brief instrumental break. When the song finishes, i walk off and get a handshake from Kevin that turns into a hug.
Later, there is a performance of Californian Girls, but that is someone else’s story.
At the end, everyone mounts the stage for a singalong of Papa was a Rodeo.
Next up: a Pulp special.