A Tale of Two Singers

In which The Author stays in the pub

I hadn’t intended to stay out last night. As things turned out, I called into the Lighthouse at lunchtime for ‘just the one’ (in the words of Jeffrey Bernard) and crawled home at closing time.
When I say ‘crawled’, that’s something of an understatement. I was helping to prop up the side of the Coliseum when a young couple came along and offered me considerable moral and physical support during the (normally short) journey as far as my front door. I might have known their names last night, but I have more recall of my codeine-fuelled dreams than I have of getting home.
Consider that only a couple of months ago I made sure my friend Neil J. got home safely after a fair scoop. I think the lad and his girlfriend who made sure I got home safely must subscribe to the ‘pay it forward’ school of thought. (Or, quite possibly, pay it backwards. I still haven’t decided.) If they’re reading this by some quirk of fate, I owe them a big one.
Anyway, I was in the Lighthouse when the first of the evening’s professional karaoke singers turned up. He was a large gentleman in his mid-thirties, wearing a scruffy T-shirt and a pair of jeans. To be frank, when he came in with a speaker on one shoulder, I assumed he was the singer’s roadie/minder/boyfriend/whatever. I was expecting a slender bleached Valleys sunbed clone to walk in behind him. No such luck – he was the singer.
I don’t know his name. Mark doesn’t put posters up, so the poor buggers who ‘entertain’ us at weekends don’t even merit free publicity. However, if you’ve seen The Big Bang Theory, you’ll probably be familiar with the minor character ‘Captain Sweatpants’. Now try and visualize him standing on a very slightly raised area at the back of a Valleys pub. Got it? Good – you’re with me.
I was expecting him to lug his gear in, then vanish into the gents’ and emerge wearing something a bit more audience-friendly. When Sam and I were travelling back on the ferry from Ireland in 1996 (and that’s a whole entry in itself), we were the unintended victims of a professional karaoke duo. After they’d set up their kit, they vanished for a while. I said (half-jokingly) that they must have gone to change into their stage outfits. As things turned out, I was right – on that occasion, at least. Captain Sweatpants was already wearing his stage outfit.
I decided to try and track his set, with half an eye to working on my Bar Band Bingo idea. That plan went out of the window from the start. I’ve transcribed my notes (as best I can) from last night. This process hasn’t been made any easier by a) my illegible handwriting, b) the fact that most of Captain Sweatpants’ set doesn’t feature on Ken Bruce’s playlist, Sounds of the Sixties and/or Late Junction, and c) the fact that I dropped my notes while cooling my fevered brow against the glass door of the Coliseum at stupid o’clock. Amazingly, they were still there when I walked past this afternoon. (They weren’t any easier to read, but they were still there.)
  • Soundcheck (?) No idea
  • 1 Still no idea
  • 2 ‘Keep on Loving You’ (Foreigner?)
  • 3 ‘Just Looking’ – bloody ‘Phonics
  • 4 Not ‘Drops of Jupiter’ – Train (‘Hey Soul Sister’)
  • 5 ‘Babylon’ – David Gray
  • 6 Pass
  • 7 ‘New Jeans’
  • 8 No idea
  • 9 REM (?)
  • 10 ‘I Believe’ – Australian Guy (actually Affirmation by the guy out of Savage Garden whose name I can’t be arsed to Google in case he thinks I’m a fan)
  • 11 ‘I Got a Feeling’ – Black Eyed Peas
  • 12 The song that goes Wooo!
  • 13 ‘Budapest’ – George Ezra (information courtesy of Lee M.)
  • 14 Some ska thing
  • 15 ‘Drops of Jupiter’ – Train
At which point my mate Rob J. and his wife came in, so I started chatting to them and lost whatever remaining interest I still had in Captain Sweatpants. (Les and Katie had come in earlier, but they escaped before he started. Wise move, both!)
You get the measure of the set, though. It was overwhelmingly modern stuff, with a token MOR ballad for good measure, and the obligatory Stereophonics number just because they’re almost from Aberdare. There was nothing you could dance to, assuming there was enough room in the pub to dance anyway. It was the sort of music which Paul Gambaccini once described as ‘the triumph of rhythm over melody’. I wouldn’t give any of it house room, personally.
No sooner had Captain Sweatpants departed than the second singer came in. He was tall, slim, dark of hair and complexion, and amazingly handsome. (If I were gay, I definitely would!) After he set up his gear he changed into a crisp white shirt, black tie, smart trousers, shiny shoes and a dark waistcoat. My friend Adrian T. sings professionally under the name Tony Royale, and wears a suit on stage. He sings the standards (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, that sort of material) and looks the part on stage. Singer Number Two looked the part, too.
Then he started his set.
He introduced himself to us, thanked us for coming, and launched straight into ‘Cry Me a River’. Not the Justin Timberlake song, but the beautiful power ballad made famous by Julie London. And he blew us away. He had the presence, the range, and the charisma to carry the song off. After that, he went into ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Head’.
He was firmly in Tony Royale territory. It’s the stuff I grew up listening to, between Dad’s and Mother’s (admittedly limited) record collections and daytime Radio 2 (before they discovered The Beatles). It’s timeless music. ‘Drops of Jupiter’ might be a staple of Radio 2 now, but will they still be playing it in 2065? Personally, I doubt it – but the superb pop songs and arrangements of the Rat Pack’s repertoire will be played as long as the music of Beethoven and Bach.
When he launched into ‘Beyond the Sea’ (the Bobby Darin version, of course) Gaz and Billy came in, so I stopped writing and chatted to them. All the while, the singer kept ploughing through a remarkably wide range of material, covering all bases from big band standards to fairly modern pop (Sting, Queen, The Beatles). In between songs he talked to us, telling us what he was going to sing next, and remarking on people in the crowd. Whereas Captain Sweatpants was about as interactive as a teenage girl singing into a hairbrush in her bedroom mirror, Mr Big Band actually realized that he had an audience. We’re all victims of technology, of course. One of his backing tracks misfired, and we got the first few seconds of a (fairly) early David Bowie song. (When a long and distinguished musical career stretches over fifty years, even ‘Ashes to Ashes’ probably counts as Early David Bowie, after all.)
I nipped across to him and said, ‘Oh, go on, sing it – you know you want to.’ He laughed and shook my hand.
‘Maybe next time,’ he grinned.
‘I’ll be here,’ I said.
And I will be. I don’t care if he thinks I’m a stalker. He was a welcome breath of fresh air in a stale and tired Valleys entertainment scene, and I hope he goes on to great things. He deserves to. So does Tony Royale, come to that – but when the ‘average’ punter would rather pay good money to watch some three-chord flash in the pan than take the time to appreciate decent music, I fear that they’ll be condemned to the pro karaoke circuit for the rest of their lives.
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