I spent last Monday night in what used to be a public toilet. The nearest I’d come to such an experience in the past happened at high school. In an attempt to discourage students from meandering off-site to either of the two terrific nearby chip shops at lunchtime, the school decided to set up a baguette bar which would sell bought-in, thickly buttered, white baguettes, containing heavily oil-based fillings (coronation chicken, chicken tikka, more oily chicken etc.) and a trivial offering of salad, all of which cost twice as much as a bag of chips. The kids could also get their sweet fix from the chocolate, crisp and can machines on the other side of the room.
But of course, there was barely any space to teach maths, so it was never going to be easy to find space on site to hawk mass-produced sandwiches filled with oily goodness (OK, I did have a weakness for the tikka….). The most sensible option was obviously to convert the girls’ toilets (which I believe were relocated, though the pervasive aroma of the whole place made it difficult to be sure). Along came the apocryphal tales of the wide range of carnal activity that had taken place within this sacred chamber. Now, I chose not to believe these tales, because that kind of thing tended to happen in the park on a Friday night. The worst thing that went on in there was probably a bit of vomiting, a stray sanitary towel and lots and lots of smoking.
The conversion was successful, and they even managed to incorporate a seating area. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much with original brickwork (or whatever it was) so it still very much felt like one was eating lunch in the same place Kelly in year 10 first realised what she’d have to endure for being a woman.
No such problems at Ginglik in Shepherd’s Bush. After all, you’d hope that a public toilet isn’t the place where anybody would make such a discovery. Ginglik is situated under Shepherd’s Bush Green, and I think it incorporates a conversion of both the male and female conveniences that once sat there.
The venue is extremely intimate and cosy yet the bar area is very spacious and provided welcome sanctuary from the hotbed of excitement taking place in the ‘auditorium’ for the ninth instalment of Martin White’s and Danielle Ward’s Karaoke Circus. There was even a very comfortable-looking lounge, and an appealing aroma of food that made me wonder they kept the tagines (they didn’t have any).
If you don’t know the form of KC, you can read my post about Karaoke Circus 8 here. However, let’s not mess about, you’re all reading this because you were there or wish that you had been.
Just before the (delayed) commencement of proceedings, I ventured to the bar in search of dehydrating hydration. Fullers Honeydew! Excellent! Bottle of that please. It cost £4.80. Nearly a sodding fiver for less than a pint of beer. I commented to Steve, resident trumpeter for the evening, that such extortion left a bad taste in the mouth, though this is actually entirely untrue. Honeydew is a bloody lovely beer.
As they did in Bethnal Green in February, the irrepressible Foster & Gilvan opened the evening with Elephant In The Room. Straight away, I got a sense of how well the venue would work for the evening. A low ceiling can work for you or against you, but this one really helped the sound around the room rather than confining it to a small area around the stage. This is particularly impressive considering the venue’s former life as a bathroom.
Martin stepped up to introduce the evening and the judges, with Gilvan taking up his customary role as ‘The Baron’. Stepping in for the indisposed Dan Maier on the night was Dan Tetsell, presumably so Martin could stay on auto-pilot (“Over to Dan and The Baron…”) when handing over to the judges. Dan made a quip about mimicking Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s “disappointing sex face” while judging the acts, and we were off.
As is KC tradition, the main event opened with an open slot, and the honour fell to Tim E who dazzled us all with a rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. I saw Tim as a proper have-a-go hero. He knew he couldn’t really sing but he was damn well going to enjoy himself, and provided us not only with, in Dan’s words, a vision of “what Kurt would have looked like had he lived” but an insight into how the song would have sounded if Frank Sidebottom had covered it. The tone was set.
Thom Tuck was up next, stepping in gamely as a late replacement for Tim Vine, who was still stranded in Australia as a result of the ash produced by that volcano you can’t pronounce. Thom sang Do You Remember The First Time? by Pulp. He’ll certainly remember the first time he saw the words to the song, as I think it was right then, on stage. Thom’s a popular guy and the crowd lapped up his enthusiasm in adversity. And I enjoyed knowing who he is, at last (see previous KC post).
Next up was the second open spot and up stepped a very keen-looking Graham to sing Kiss by Prince. Or Tom Jones, if you prefer. Graham achieved neither the piercing countertenor of The Artist Formerly Known As That Funny-Looking Symbol Who Was Formerly Known As Prince And Is Now Known As Prince Again nor did he quite have the almost-erotic-but-ultimately-gravelly tenor of Tom Jones. In fact, it sounded a bit like a lazy Mick Jagger, which I found quite impressive. I very much enjoyed it, and Graham was to go on entertaining throughout the evening by getting gleefully drunk and telling all the star turns how well they did and how much he loved them all.
Howard Read was next up, though unfortunately Little Howard hadn’t come along (the Ginglik operates a strict over-21s policy, after all). Howard sang Delilah, which is very much a Tom Jones-only song. The great thing about Delilah is that almost everyone knows all the words, so will end up singing along, so it doesn’t really matter what you’re like. It’s just one of those sing-along songs. This was good fun, notable to my eyes for just how close Howard’s head was to the ceiling.
The next open spot was taken by Nathaniel who took on I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor by the Arctic Monkeys. Nathaniel was pretty cocksure when he got on stage and delivered the words almost derisively. Mr Tetsell mentioned that it wasn’t so much karaoke as “reading out the lyrics til the music finished.” Which seemed fair enough.
Laurence and Gus (link) duetted on the next number, which for me provided one of the evening’s outstanding highlights. After announcing that their choice “almost certainly isn’t racist” they launched into a rehearsed and impeccably executed rendition of 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry. I don’t know if I can really explain this fully. Laurence Howarth sounded remarkably like Neneh Cherry, which I think says a lot for Neneh Cherry. This was brilliant. While the charm of the evening is its unrehearsed, hope-the-celebs-turn-up-at-all, nature, something like this just sets it off. Fantastic.
Another open spot followed: Matt took on Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads, which Dan Tetsell said was “a difficult number to do in such a light-hearted shirt”. This song choice epitomises why I love Karaoke Circus – some songs are so anti-karaoke you wonder why they haven’t been done before. In similar fashion, the first half was then brought to a rousing conclusion by the arrival on stage of not only Robin Ince but also Dan Maier, KC’s resident judge – not so much jet-lagged as jet-stopped, making the mistake of being the judged rather than the judge! Apparently It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) wasn’t Robin’s first choice but I think it suited his joyously ranty style of delivery, and it wouldn’t do to have him singing a song with an optimistic title. The crowd absolutely loved this, and rightly so. Kudos to the band here for a) keeping up and b) for stopping dead on cue for “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!”. Lovely stuff.
The second half rather flew by for me, but I think I managed to hang in there enough to do it justice. Humphrey Ker completed a full house of Penny Dreadfuls participants (thanks to Thom’s earlier croon and the perpetual presence of Dave Reed at the drum kit) with a lively stutter through My Generation by The Who. This was followed by probably the high point of the evening.
The ‘blind date’ duet is a staple of Karaoke Circus and on Monday it brought together Victoria and Andy Riley. To start with, Martin co-ordinated the audience participation – a car crash sound effect. I think some people sussed the song straight away, but I certainly hadn’t, and I don’t recall it being announced before they started. You will never, EVER hear Stan by Eminem being performed at any other karaoke event than this. Victoria, obviously, had the easy gig of mimicking the ever-solipsistic Dido and did so with aplomb but Andy was a tour-de-force playing Stan, even being sure to get more irate with each verse. No better was this wonder of Home Counties hip-hop better celebrate than by a suited white man bellowing a perfectly-articulated “That’s pretty shitty, man!”. The audience nailed the car crash and Andy guaranteed himself long-standing renown by making Eminem sound like Peter Dickson doing an X-Factor voiceover. This was top class entertainment. (There’s a video of this marvel on Andy’s website – click the link from his name above)
Next up was Dan Antopolski singing Bossa Nova Baby by Elvis Presley. I’m assured that pretty much no-one else in the room knew this song, either, so I have no idea how well he did. A politely rapturous reception ensued. Dan was followed by Jenny for the next open spot, and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 went down an absolute treat.
Also going down an absolute treat were the very salty chips that I shared with Tim Minchin (apologies for the filthy name drop) by the bar just before he went on and sang The You And Me Song by The Wannadies, an absolute classic that I’d almost forgotten had existed. Let’s forget that Tim Minchin can actually sing and that that rails against the Karaoke Circus norm, this was a triumph. He’s very much the man of the moment – the Twitter vibe after the show was lauding his mere presence.
The last open spot went to Seb Patrick who sang National Express by The Divine Comedy. He did well, though I say it through gritted teeth because I wimped out of asking Martin if I could sing it myself. Is it old hat to say that everyone in the room loved this? They loved absolutely everything, and rightly so. Seb was acutely aware of his place in the running order afterwards, telling everyone who’d listen that Tim Minchin warmed up the crowd for him. That’s the kind of night Karaoke Circus is.
Chris Addison rounded off proceedings mere minutes after arriving from TV Centre having recorded You Have Been Watching with Charlie Brooker. Chris sang Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello. It was a crazy speedpunk version (his words, not mine) and was absolutely storming.
I do, however, owe Chris an apology. I didn’t actually note the song in my list at the time, and my choice of music on the tube was hundreds of years older and distinctly more death-ridden than Oliver’s Army. By Finsbury Park I’d completely forgotten what Chris had sung and had to tweet him for a reminder. Telling an entertainer that they were forgettable isn’t a very good idea. And I didn’t even mean it to come across like that. Chris, I’m sorry.
And that was it. Another great KC. Robin Ince and I were chatting towards the end about the atmosphere at Ginglik. It was absolutely buzzing in the auditorium but otherwise there was somehow more of a ‘joie de vivre’ about the Bethnal Green Working Mens’ Club. I put this down to the bar being separate from the main event at Ginglik. BGWMC worked because the bar was in the room, so there was always a full house and there was nowhere for anyone to spill out into. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, of course, and it’s not as if this detracted from the success of the evening.
The next one is at the 100 Club on Oxford Street on June 30. It’ll be nice to be there as a performer again – I got withdrawal symptoms being moored in the audience.
Thanks to Paul Bailey for the photographs. All of his photos from the night are available here. Additionally, the lovely Rose has compiled a Spotify playlist based on all the songs featured last Monday. It’s here.