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Karaoke Circus is the best thing ever Oct 29

I might be overstating the case, but only slightly. Ward & White’s Karaoke Circus wasn’t world peace, winning the lottery or swimming with dolphins (I have no desire to swim with dolphins), but it was pretty damn good and I’m still smiling. (Or at least I was when I started writing this post on Friday. Had some links to track down before publishing it so it’s, erm, a bit late.)

OK, from the beginning. Karaoke Circus is so called, host Martin White explained, because it features amateurs singing songs with a clown on stage. There are, though, some key differences from your average karaoke night. Most of the singers are professional comedians, there’s a live band rather than a recorded backing track and the lyrics are on paper. (This is taking karaoke back to its roots in ancient Greece, of course, when they didn’t have TVs.)

The house band comprise Martin on keyboards, David Reed from The Penny Dreadfuls on drums, Danielle Ward on bass and “Foz” Foster on guitar. Foz was the guitarist with David Devant & His Spirit Wife, a band I saw live four times back in my youth. At one point, Foz casually played the intro to Ballroom – one of many highlights of the evening.

As well as the comedians, there are six open mic spots for members of the audience to compete for a “good” prize and the performers are judged by Daniel Maier and The Baron (pictured here).

On Thursday night, Karaoke Circus returned – after shows at the 100 Club, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Latitude Festival – to its home at The Albany. It opened with a song from Foz (on uke) and The Baron, before getting under way with one of the open mic spots – a guy called Nick, winner of the very first Karaoke Circus, who performed Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer.

The first of the comedians to take the stage was Josie Long who carried off a very respectable cover of Sinead O’Connor Nothing Compares 2 U. Despite my responsibility as a geek to document every aspect of the night, I’m going to stop myself listing every singer and song, but highlights included:

  • Richard Herring’s Orgasm Addict (watch on YouTube) – not a song I’d heard before but a rather annoying earworm today
  • Jeremy Hardy’s Don’t You Want Me – he even brought along backing singers to help
  • Robin Ince’s There She Goes, My Beautiful World, a Nick Cave song I’d again never heard of and really rather like – here’s the Spotify link
  • Dave Gorman’s post-Song 2 stage dive – once all necessary safety precautions had been put in place, of course. I imagine this is the only time that I’ll find Dave Gorman on the floor at my feet.

Two performances rightly won standing ovations. Surprise guest of the evening was Jessica Hynes, off of Spaced and Doctor Who. The crowd (including me) went wild as soon as she was announced and she proceeded to sing Ain’t Now Way brilliantly – as Richard Herring put it, she cheated by “using talent”.

The other brilliant act was Chris Addison’s rendition of Common People – and I mean rendition in the good, singing way: he didn’t beat it over the head and transport it against its will to a secret prison in Eastern Europe. It was a deserved headline for the night, the crowd singing along and Chris passing the time in the instrumental by throwing packets of Super Noodles to the common people of the audience.

And if all that wasn’t enough to make the evening fantastic (from my perspective at least), I also got to sing. I was being indecisive in trying to pick a song to sign up for before the show so Martin told me to put my name down for all of them – because at least then he knew every song would be taken. I was rewarded with the last open slot and Take That’s Back for Good, complete with string section.

Me singingOnce on stage, I was sufficiently nervous that my hand holding the lyric sheet was visibly shaking. Looking over the first line of the song, I realised couldn’t remember how it started. But I got it roughly right, I think, and once we reached the middle of the song, I was really enjoying myself, clambering around for the notes I couldn’t quite reach (in a touch of Gary Barlow-like authenticity, I’ll claim) and belting out a bit more the ones I could. The audience provided the backing vocals during the chorus and were supportive to all the acts, which helped a lot. It was great singing with a live band for the first time ever – and cool to have some of my favourite comics forced to listen. A fantastic experience and a privilege.

And as if that wasn’t enough, it was also lovely to see Anna and Simone again, and to meet for the first time twitter followees Paul and Kate. Congratulations to fellow audience member Tim, who deservedly won the good prize for his performance of It Must Be Love (the Madness version).

Paul took lots of photos (including the one above), which you can see on Flickr. There are more photos from the night from Flickr users Isabelle Adam and Lyndsey Brown, and other write-ups of the evening from Richard Herring, Andrew Collins and Martin White, who put together such a stonking night.

The Christmas Karaoke Circus is on December 3rd in Bethnal Green – at the time of writing, some tickets are available online. I’ve already got mine.

Finally, here’s a tiny clip of Chris Addison’s tour de force: