Saturday night at the Birdcage. It is a typical small London bar, completely packed with a mix of East End hipsters, middle aged men, and your typical London crowd. All there for one reason; Karaoke. At a first glance, it’s all fun and games. The middle aged men are the only ones brave enough to climb the stage and sing a cheesy tune to the audience. And they sure love it. Joel and I watch with a hint of disbelief, a hidden laugh and some admiration. It quite quickly become clear to us that to the group of 10-20 middle aged men, this is no joke. They take to the stage one after the other, and give it all they have. Most of them dress the part too, in shiny suits and unbuttoned shirts.
And then there is Cliff. Cliff is one of the group. As he patiently awaits his turn in the bar, he tells us that he comes here almost every Saturday to sing Karaoke. On most nights his wife will accompany him and make videos of him, which he will then go home and watch afterwards, and see where he can improve. He watches the other performers, and applauds them. But despite the friendly atmosphere, it is clear that all Cliff really wants to do is get up there and show them all how it’s done. Just like the rest of the middle age men (and one or two ladies).
He tells us that he is managing a YouTube channel of his own, and is more than happy to write it down on a napkin for us, along with his twitter account and Facebook fan page. It is clear that Cliff takes this very seriously. For him, Karaoke is not just a late night drunken activity, it is a hobby, and a very serious one too. Finally it is Cliff’s turn, and he takes to the stage with a not often seen confidence, and sings Coldplay’s ‘Paradise‘ to an exstatic audience. He never once glances at the screen, oh no, he knows the lyrics by heart as the true performer he is.
As the night progresses, and the young hipsters reach a certain drunken level, the karaoke takes a turn towards what one would expect karaoke to be; Bad, laughable and silly. As two young men are trying their best to perform Aqua‘s ‘Barbie girl‘ on stage, Cliff turns to us with a smile and says “Karaoke can be such a drag sometimes”. And there I was, thinking that drunken people making a fool out of themselves was the very essence of karaoke. Apparently I was wrong. Karaoke is a very serious and competitive business, even spreading into the world of social media. Who would have known?