“I can’t come tonight, I’ve got a bit of a head cold,” was the feeble excuse that Lana tried on Friday.
The truth was that she was fearful of the night that lay ahead. I could hear it in her voice, between the coughs and sneezes. It was my own fault.
In a moment of madness, I had booked what is probably the only private karaoke room in the county. I happened to watch Lost In Translation the week before and it was Scarlett Johansson singing Brass In Pocket that inspired me.
“Life is too short not to try karaoke at least once in your life,” I encouraged her, adding that that no-one was going to make her sing, we would be dining in a private room with friends and be entertained, (One Way or Another, All Night Long and With A Little Help From My Friends). One Lemsip later, she agreed to go, warning me that there was no way on earth that she’d be singing.
The Victoria House Asian restaurant in Kildare Town has been a favourite of mine for years. The children like the little terracotta army that lay buried under glass as you walk to the table, whilst we love the Pork Yuk Sung.
As we left one night before Christmas, I noticed a sign offering a twenty Euro two course meal and private Karaoke room for the night. There was no way that my husband or teenagers would come with me so it would be down to ten girlfriends to make my karaoke dream come true.
“I’m not a good singer,” I warned the waiter as I booked the room over the phone. “No problem” he replied. Karaoke is huge in Asia and I had read about violent reactions to bad singing in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Out-of-tune karaoke singers have been attacked for their crimes against music. Six separate karaoke singers in the Phillipines were murdered for wrecking the classic My Way, the press labelling the phenomenon ‘The My Way Killings’. The fear and paranoia around the sacred Sinatra song is such that many bars have even banned it.
Friday night and we arrived at 8.30pm and headed to our glamorous gold and black room, situated discreetly around the corner from the bar area.
In Japan, a place like this is called a ‘Karaoke Box’ and rented by the hour by die hard karaoke fans; in Kildare town this room was to be ours, total novices, till midnight. We tucked into a fine two course Chinese meal, accompanying it with plenty of dry white wine purely to lubricate the vocal chords. After a few hours of delicious food, catching up and laughter, “Are you ready?” our cheery waiter appeared from nowhere, holding two large microphones.
A white screen lowered down and projected upon it was a video of boats, tanks and a beach. Then the music started, “God Bless mother nature, she’s a single woman too”. Our night was to begin with the Weather Girls. What else for a bunch of women who had never done karaoke before? It was a guaranteed winner.
Lana, the women who hates attention of any kind, who had never sung in public before, took to the microphone like a duck to water. “This is GREAT! I LOVE IT” she shouted over, between verses in the next song, Hotel California.
I had my head in a folder that contained a thousand songs, trying to find something by The Smiths. Looking up briefly, I watched as the other girls sang along and danced beside her. It was at precisely this point that I understood the global appeal of karaoke.
This wasn’t like being on a stage with an audience staring up at you. Everyone’s eyes were on the words on the screen and it was impossible not to sing along with each song. No-one was being forced to take part, this was all about having fun with the girls and what was not to love? Especially when Abba came on.
I grabbed the mike and decided to give ‘Money Money Money’ my best shot though I’d have preferred ‘Waterloo’ (it’s the song that I had secretly been practising in the car all week, singing into a hairbrush).
One verse in and I glanced around to check that none of my pals were bleeding from the ears. At home my singing would be called ‘Caterwauling’ because I have a genuine difficulty reaching high notes, low notes and just about everything in between. But no-one seemed too bothered, not even the waiters. They were all too busy singing along with me. Forget X Factor, when the song finished, I was on such a high that I genuinely believed that, had I entered the Karaoke World Championships in Killarney two years ago, I might have won.
Next ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ followed by ‘Proud Mary’. We held lighters above our heads and swayed like zombies as another one of the girls belted out ‘Desparado’. Then ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ - it was all going so well. That was until Caroline grabbed the mike and just before midnight, the night suddenly took a deeply sinister turn.
I recognised the music immediately. I screamed out, “NOOOO!” but it was too late, she started to sing ‘My Way’. Not well, in fact very badly with a cockney accent like Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols. Everyone but me was totally oblivious to the danger that she was in. I ducked under a table, peeking out after a few minutes to see if she was still alive. She was and it was a miracle because she was totally murdering the song. Of course she was completely safe, because the one guarantee you do have if you sing Sinatra badly in a private room with friends in Kildare town, is that no-one will shoot you for it.
We’ll be booking the karaoke room again. With the World Championships in Cape Town this year we’ll need all the practice we can get.
Annie Morris writes the regular Chatty Woman column in the Leinster Leader