On Thursday night, February 11, a gathering took place at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. It is a gathering that happens all too rarely, but is all the more wonderful by way of its rarity. It is quite possibly the most fun that can be had while listening to people singing who otherwise don’t sing.
Ward & White’s Karaoke Circus is no ordinary gig. For a start, you won’t find it in the music listings. This is intended as a comedy evening, and comedy it is. The premise is so simple. Martin and Danielle ask notable members of comedy, television and radio circles (and Garry Richardson) to come along and sing a song of their choice with a live band (Martin on keys, Danielle on bass, the almighty Foz on lead guitar and Dave on kit). If they choose their song well they get a small orchestra in the bargain. My first, and only previous, experience of this phenomenon was in July at the 100 Club on Oxford Street but that gig was nothing on Thursday night.
I arrived at about 5, as advised by Martin. As is par for the course with Martin’s gigs, there wasn’t the slightest hint of another musician arriving at any time remotely near to 5, so I went in search of a pint (though as the night’s bar was being unloaded off a white van when I arrived, I don’t see why I put myself to any effort).
I saw Martin before I saw a beer pump and having mucked in to get the stage set up (including creating the Bar of Tits), was able to take in my surroundings as rehearsals/sound checking got under way.
What struck me about the whole place is that it really is a Working Men’s Club. My expectations were such that I imagined somebody took over an old club and, in that Hoxton chic sort of way, that calling his new venue Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club lent it some sort of kitsch. The unmistakable aroma that hits you as soon as you enter leaves you in no doubt as to this place’s integrity. It is an unimpeachable stale beer musk, quite different to that of any pub. You know what I mean, don’t you? It was like popping back to my roots in the Welsh valleys for a night.
I won’t dwell on the pre-amble too much, as there isn’t much to speak of (apart from the heart-shaped balloons as shown in the picture above, which sadly were more evocative of Lolo Ferrari‘s breasts as they may have appeared today). However I found Warren, who runs the club (I suppose that makes him the Steward?), an interesting looking character. To look at, he reminded me of David Brent’s agent in the Christmas special of The Office, and looked like he’d have a similar portfolio of clients if he was an agent. He seemed perfectly helpful, and looked very much like he wanted to be elsewhere, overseeing an act he’d just signed up playing to 50 people in a bar somewhere near Tottenham Court Road. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo of Warren and can’t find one of the chap from The Office, so you’ll just have to believe me.
The show was opened by Foster & Gilvan, known as Foz & The Baron in KC circles, with their song Elephant In The Room, which worked beautifully in the intimacy of the venue, much like it does at The Luminaire, Kilburn, where I’ve seen them perform it previously.
A quick intro from Martin and bang!, we were into the karaoke. An anxious Josie Long opened up (she had to dash off straight away and we started a good 15 minutes late) with Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton. Good brass involvement in this, with Steve on trumpet getting the crowd involved immediately with that unmistakeable opening bar.
I love Josie; she’s always so good to be around and even when anxious to get on stage so she could get to Camden for what I think was gig, she was nothing but affable and polite. She’s also an extremely funny stand-up and not a bad singer at all. It was a wonderful way to start the evening.
Josie’s skit precipitated the first contributions of Dan Maier and The Baron. Now, for all the notes I took about the evening, I forgot to commit the highlights of the judges’ comments to paper (or, rather, to my iPhone’s Notes app). Suffice to say that Dan is very much the Simon Cowell of the operation (with an edge provided by Magner’s) and The Baron is similarly quite stringent, restricting his assessments to a mere two words. If nay of you committed any of the judges’ comments to memory, paper or video recorder, on the night and would like to share them, please get in touch!
Then came the first of four open slots for the evening. Steve Hewitt took to the stage to have a crack at The Power of Love, by Huey Lewis and The News with some awesome work on the synth by Martin. He did admirably, to be fair.
The audience participants are so keen and actually quite good. It really helps the whole audience get into the spirit of the occasion, I think. Steve was certainly game for it, and by the sounds of it he looked at this song on the list and snapped it up.
Andrew Collins was next up, with the “number one smash” That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings. An early highlight! A song totally unsuited to anything approaching karaoke was carried off with aplomb, and not only by Andrew. I have a feeling that the drum beat isn’t that easy to pull off, so kudos to David Reed for a startling bit of drumming.
Incidentally, Andrew and I were in the gents discussing his triumphant performance of the much-vaunted “number one smash” (which Martin hadn’t heard of before Andrew requested it!) when aforementioned Steve Hewitt contended that the song only got to number two. (A number two breakage?). While only using Wikipedia to vindicate our assertions, Andrew and I were definitely right.
Next up, Kevin Eldon and Liza Tarbuck sang Chas ‘n’ Dave! (now known, of course, as Chas)
I’m fond of Kevin Eldon because of Simon Quinlank and the Evil Hypnotist. I’m fond of Liza Tarbuck because she presented a version of Blockbusters on Sky One ten years ago, on which I was a contestant. And she was brought up by Jimmy Tarbuck and turned out fine. She’s also partial to drinking, smoking and laughing. Finally, anyone who takes to an East End stage and takes off Chas ‘n’ Dave deserves a tip of the cap.
Up stepped Laurence Howarth for a sensational rendition of Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is. Laurence really nailed it with this choice – the crowd went absolutely mad for it! Wonderful accompaniment by the house band too. A triumph all round. After all, who doesn’t love a power ballad? And who has the balls to go on stage in front of 250 people and sing one? Laurence Howarth has those balls.
Open slot number two. Step forward Will Howells. I think Will is a regular volunteer, and he carried off Blur’s To The End really well. It’s a tricky one to sing, this, as there all sorts of quick time changes, so that he knew the song already was a huge bonus, and the crowd got well involved too. Well done mate!
Garry Richardson sang Oom Pah Pah from Oliver! to round off the first half. I don’t really want to talk about it. Andy Murray was nowhere to be seen.
The interval came and went. Thom Tuck was first up, singing Two Princes by The Spin Doctors. I’m not going to say too much about this, as I’m not a massive fan of the song and I’m still not entirely sure of who Thom Tuck is. But he is now following me on Twitter, so by the next time KC swings round, I’ll be much better placed! Sorry Thom.
Another open slot followed. All that I wrote in my notes was that our performers were Dave and Kate, who took to the stage to really set the Valentines mood with the slushy Danger! High Voltage by Electric Six. To make up for not taking their full names down, here’s a photo of the two lovebirds in action. Mercifully, there is no photographic evidence of Kate shamelessly getting jiggy with Foz while on stage. The harlot.
Hattie Hayridge (or Holly from Red Dwarf to you and me) belted out Oh Darling by The Beatles to great acclaim before Robin Ince took to the stage and brought out Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Frankly, an astounding bit of song selection. The crowd totally went with it. If anybody is suited to singing a dour and miserable tune at a joyous occasion, it’s Robin (I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously).
Waen Shepherd then took on Bowie. Modern Love, to be precise. I’m a big fan of the song, as I was when Waen picked Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide for July’s show at the 100 club. Brass involved in this again. It’s fair to say my evening wasn’t too demanding, involving as it did generally playing riffs around the bottom of the chord. This suited me, as beer consumption was not such a determining factor in adequacy of performance.
The final open slot went to Nina Davis who sang Dream a Little Dream by The Mamas and The Papas. She did such a good job she was declared the winner at the end of the night! I won’t ruin things at all by claiming that it’s quite an easy song to sing well (it’s like the flute of the karaoke world)! Seriously, very nice show from Nina and what’s more, she did a little curtsy at the end to acknowledge the acclaim of the audience. That alone won me over.
At this point I noted that string players never look like they’re enjoying themselves. Why is this? I’m pretty sure that Dan, Robert, Deborah, Tom and Ben enjoyed themselves immensely, but why does this never come across? Does it mean that I look bored when I’m on stage? The horror! I love every minute of it! If you were there, would appreciate your thoughts.
Tony Gardner sang Teenage Dirtbag. It was unbelievable. That’s all I can say. Apart from to add that, thanks to Twitter and the video below, Wheatus thought so too.
Sean Purdy rounded things off with Careless Whisper by George Michael. I’m afraid I missed most of this as I’d quite a few beers and was talking to Liza Tarbuck. However, our sax player Arec did put in a sterling effort on the sax solo.
After Dan and The Baron announced the winner, Nina was invited to lead everyone in a rendition of Hey Jude. Everyone joined in and there was, again, much joy. I even managed to go up an octave or two and jazz things up.
Just like that, the whole gig was over. I had to have another beer. There was so much to treasure from this one and working with Martin always makes me feel brilliant. Nathan on French horn and Steve on trumpet, who sadly isn’t part of The League of Nathans, are great musicians to work with, too.
It occurs to me that all I’ve done is rattle off the set list and say a little bit about the singers. Yet I’m verging on 2000 words. Thanks for staying in there. And positively huge thanks to Paul Bailey for allowing me to use his snaps. Click his name to have a look at all of them, they really are super.