In which The Author devises a new game
On Saturday night, in the Lighthouse, I was talking to Tony A. when the singer arrived, with her boyfriend/roadie/minder in tow. At first glance she reminded me of my cousin Aimee. In fact, I had to look twice, just to make sure Aimee hadn’t decided to revive her career as a professional singer.
Professional singers are everywhere these days. Most of them are competent enough, but whether they’d inspire any of the panel on The Voice to turn their seats around is a moot point. It’s an easy line to get into, though. Good-quality backing tracks are readily available. The hardware is relatively portable, too; all you need is a decent laptop and an amplifier, and you’re up and running.
This means that just about every pub and club can host ‘artists’ (or ‘shows’, in the popular idiom), performing the solo equivalent of the Great Valleys Songbook
. Personally, I call it ‘professional karaoke’, as this sort of performance requires absolutely no ability to play a musical instrument.
There was a time, not too long ago, when pub singers would have to bring a guitar (or, less often, a keyboard) with them. Pete Morley, who used to play regularly around Aberdare nearly thirty years ago, was a good example. I remember he played a set in the Waynes Arms, halfway up the Gadlys hill, in June 1987. It was a Wednesday night. There was a small crowd present, and Pete’s first few numbers didn’t attract much applause. Then I had an idea.
That week, the UK music industry had been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It seemed like a good opportunity to mark the occasion ourselves.
I caught his eye in between songs and called across the room, ‘Play some Beatles, Pete.’
‘Good idea,’ he said. And, entirely from memory, unaccompanied by any backing tapes, with only a semi-acoustic guitar and some effects pedals, Pete played the whole Sergeant Pepper set from start to finish. If you’ve never heard one man and a guitar play ‘A Day in the Life’, I can assure you it’s a memorable experience.
In due course, the spread of digital technology made instruments redundant. Now, anyone who can carry a tune can set themselves up in the marketplace, and trouser a fair sum for a couple of hours’ professional karaoke singing on a weekend.
And that’s exactly what Saturday’s unknown bint did. Her set included that old warhorse ‘Black Velvet’, which every amateur and semi-pro female singer in the world has done at some time.
It also included ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’, which was almost completely unknown until it was included in the soundtrack to Reservoir Dogs. Now it’s bloody everywhere.
It included ‘Uptown Funk’, another song which pretty much nobody had heard until about six months ago, and which now gets played about seventeen times a night.
It included ‘Valerie’ (the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse version), last seen being murdered by Sam E. and your humble author in the Lighthouse in January this year.
It included a Katy Perry song, and some very up-to-date techno/hip-hop stuff which I wasn’t familiar with. But you get the general idea, I’m sure. There was nothing out of the ordinary; just the sort of jukebox standards which you’d hear any night of the week.
I didn’t bring the entire set list with me today, and I can’t reel off her whole repertoire from memory. But it gave me an idea.
It’s not a new idea, mind you. It’s a revised version of a game which I used to play online with the guys from Cripple Creek, while they were hosting their Sunday evening show on Dapper FM.
If you haven’t encountered Dapper FM, it’s an online radio station which broadcasts from the Cana Centre in Penywaun. Several friends of mine have been involved with it over the years, presenting regular shows (usually with a bias towards heavy rock, of course, which has been the staple musical diet of the Valleys since the genre came into existence).
Over a few months of watching live bands, I was able to compile a definitive list of ninety numbered songs. You were (and probably still are) guaranteed to hear a fair proportion of them during any Sunday evening gig. (I lost the original list ages ago, but it would have needed updating anyway. ‘Uptown Funk’ would undoubtedly have been added, for example, and I daresay Stereophonics have released a single recently.)
Anyway, armed with my list of ninety songs, I’d sit in the corner of the pub, announcing each song (and its number) on Facebook. Meanwhile, in the Dapper FM studio, Justin B. and Chris D. would read out the updated information and tease their listeners that, say, ‘Dai in Llwydcoed is sweating on a line.’
I even found a website where you can generate your own bingo cards and print them out. I suggested to the boys that people could make their own cards and play Bar Band Bingo for real. I don’t know whether anyone took me up on the suggestion, but the boys used to enjoy my acerbic comments, delivered in real time, while ‘Summer of ’69’ was blasted through the pub again.
Judging from Saturday night’s performance, I think the time has come to update the idea, and make some cash for the Anthony Nolan charity into the bargain. First of all, of course, I’d need to compile a revised definitive list. Once I’ve identified ninety songs which are almost certain to turn up at some point, we’re in business.
Using that handy website I can create a number of unique bingo cards (blue for a boy singer, pink for a girl), which players could buy for a quid each. Every week, the players would pay 50p for their cards to be validated for the Saturday night’s ‘draw’, and all the stake money would go into the prize fund.
On Saturday night, I’d mark off the singer’s set list against my definitive list, and publish the numbers online afterwards. I’d also print off a list of the numbers and display it on the wall in the pub. Players would check their cards against the latest results, and would be able to claim their winnings. If anyone had a full house, they’d scoop two-thirds of the prize pot. The remaining third, and the purchase price of the cards themselves, would be donated to Anthony Nolan.
In the event that nobody claimed a full house, the jackpot would roll over to the following week.
I’d need to keep revising the definitive list, of course, as new songs come into vogue. Songs which fall from favour would be dropped, and new ones would take their places. I’d issue an updated list online and in print every couple of months, so that all the players know what to listen out for. It would provide a competitive frisson to the humdrum Saturday night ‘entertainment’ in Aberdare.
I’d need to publish a full set of terms and conditions, of course. Most importantly I’d have to run it past, Mark, the guv’nor. But I outlined it to Gareth, the DJ, last night, and he thinks the idea’s got legs. (Legs, eleven, in fact!)
I think it would be an unusual and amusing way of raising money for a very worthy cause, as well as highlighting the criminal lack of imagination which goes into the ‘live music’ scene around Aberdare these days. If it does take off, I’ll let you know.