(posted by noodle vagueness jr)
I was once, briefly, a Trainee Cabaret Singer.
It’s like this. Having left my first proper job in the Civil Service by mutual agreement (they wanted desperately to get rid of me, I wanted desperately to get out) I decided that me and steady employment were never destined for a loving, consensual relationship. As I trolled along Park Avenue beneath the trees in warm June sunshine, I realised that walking along in the sunshine with nowhere to go was somehow more satisfying than sitting in an office wearing a shirt and tie and trying to sound interested in the package holiday destination of the woman sat opposite. That was my damascene conversion, the blinding revelation muted to leaf-shadowy green and backed with sparrow twitter.
Of course, the eremitical life is pretty groovy in summer, but less so in November. Not that my resolve had weakened, but after signing on for nearly 6 months I knew I was going to be “encouraged” to start a training scheme very soon. Which was when I saw the card in the Job Centre: “Trainee Cabaret Singer.” 10 quid a week on top of your dole. Learn how to make a living on the Club Circuit. So I applied. The suit I handed the card to looked at me as if I was taking the puss. Which of course I was. But he arranged an interview.
Jimmy Pitt is the capo di tutti capi of the club scene in this city. His band, The Deuces, once legendarily supported The Beatles. Tanned, permed, shaded and sovved (and I have too much pride in my cliche-dodging for any of those adjectives to be inaccurate), Jimmy is the model of a Showbiz Survivor. Still performing in his own right, he now spends much of his time coaching and advising a new generation of talent. I ran through “Folsom Prison Blues” at my audition, and apparently it was good enough. Jimmy told me in future to keep me shirt tucked in and to take me jacket off. I was in.
I stuck the course out for a couple of months, during which time I got to perform at perhaps half a dozen charity gigs. I could see how intense and real the whole thing was to the would-be performers, to the extent where I felt guilty for playing at it. I played venues that reminded me of family weddings as a kid. I learned a warm affection for that whole scene – its sentimentality, its lack of pretensions, its beer-and-pie-and-peas-and-bingo-ness. I loved it. But I could never have been any good at it. Apart from being a mediocre singer at best, I lacked the sincerity.
Great pub and club singers are utterly attuned to their audience. There’s no knowing campness, no irony, just a pride in performing loved songs well. And a singer or group, no matter how technically poor (and most are very skilled, since they work far harder than a Star ever has to) humanises what they play. Take the sleekest, airbrushed, Hollywood-distant tearjerker from Celine or Mariah or Cherilyn, belt it out through a cheap P.A. in a small club, and watch it become the Best! Song!! EVAH!!!
Half of me lives in that world, can cry with the best of them at Dionne Warwick et al., and knows all the words to “Forever In Blue Jeans”. Half of me knows it’s a False Memory Syndrome though, the half that read too many books and realised that Mom and Dad were never quite comfortable at those family weddings. I’ve been educated to escape from me roots, either that or some weird gene in the Vague chromosomes means we’ll always lack roots, never quite fit in anywhere, always deconstruct the pleasure we’re having as we’re having it. Just slightly too sarcy and ambiguous to ever belong to anybody else’s Club Land.
This is dedicated to all the talented people I’ve known who mean it, man.