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Nottingham Castle


21 February 13 words: Alison Emm
photos: Al Greer

A hark-back to old-school sing-songs round the pub joanna, karaoke for cowards, or a genuine communal event?

There’s been a time in everyone’s life when they are utterly convinced of their ability to sing. Not just hold a tune, either, but be capable of taking over where Freddie left off in Queen. Alas, for the majority of people, there’s also that time when someone walks in on you performing the concert of a lifetime in your bedroom, lounge or bathroom and lets you know in no uncertain terms that your range is more dire than Mariah.

Because of the above, for most mere mortals the thought of doing karaoke - sober, in any case - fills them with dread. That’s where Bama Lama Sing Song comes in. Started in Notts in 2012 by Michael Wetherburn of Ulysses Storm and Notts promoters I'm Not From London, the concept of Bama Lama Sing Song is simple; the band play the hits, Michael keeps everyone in time, and everyone in the place goes mental to an assortment of songs from Radiohead to Bonnie Tyler to The Wildhearts to The Small Faces. Some call it karaoke for cowards, but we prefer to see it as a return to the good old pub singalong, where you don’t have to sit through three versions of Angels or be too scared to go to the toilet lest you miss your turn.

And amazingly, it works. You may enter the building convinced that you won’t sing a note but when you realise you’re among friends, you won’t be able to stop yourself blasting out hit after hit with everyone else. You’ll feel the breeze of scores of fists punching the air, crumple on the floor in anguish as the music moves you, crease your brow in confusion as you read the lyrics projected on the screen and realise you’ve been singing the wrong words to Purple Rain for the last twenty years, then go home beaming and exhausted from what has been a physical and emotional work out that has made you feel connected to each and every person you’ve not shared the stage with. As the old saying goes: dance like nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening.

We put some questions to BLSS’s Michael Wetherburn, on the trials and tribulations of being a walking jukebox:

What was it like doing this for the first time?
The lead-up to the first one was pretty intense. We decided to learn forty-odd songs, whittled down from an ever-expanding list. Our rehearsal time was pretty limited, and we went into quite a bit of detail in terms of replicating the songs accurately. I think we were more nervous about nobody turning up, actually. We’d discussed beforehand about having a ‘critical mass’ of participants; if you have enough people on your side and wanting it to work, then it will.

What was the first song you ever did?
I Want To Break Free. We chose this as the band stops before the first line. Luckily, everyone sang along unaided and it flowed nicely from there.

What makes a good Bama Lama tune? And what’s off-limits?
Anything that’s too wordy in the verses or anything where the chorus is far more familiar than the verse tends to be tricky. We soon learnt the difference between amazing, well-known songs and amazing singalong songs. Anything that’s too difficult to recreate sonically with a four-piece band; most disco tracks have crazy arrangements that wouldn’t sound right. From the outset we veered away from the ‘tainted karaoke favourites’ and tried to find a diverse set of songs that people wouldn’t immediately suspect, but have some knowledge of. Ultimately, we wanted to play ‘good songs’, not just songs that are known. We’ve avoided Amarillo and stuff like that.

Isn’t this just you and the band living out their Bono fantasies? Do you point your mic at the audience whilst making a show of cupping an ear?
I don’t think any of the Bama Lama band would aspire to be in a tribute or covers band, but there’s no denying the fun that playing really good songs can bring. The Damn You Christmas Covers is a prime example of that and, when given the opportunity, most people who can play an instrument enjoy cracking out Total Eclipse of the Heart. The band do have mics set up for vocals, but it’s more in a conducting capacity when necessary - bringing everyone in at the right time and keeping everything tight.

Actual karaoke: do you partake?
Bama Lama is more akin to the pub singalong round the piano rather than karaoke. Public karaoke is a terrible idea; it tends to demand attention where it’s not wanted. Our night allows people to sing and be heard if they want to; there isn’t any direct attention on any one individual, or even the band. It’s just good, unpretentious, communal fun.

Have you ever been to Chambers, Nottingham’s scariest karaoke place?
Yes, I recall performing Paint it Black. Didn’t they used to have karaoke on every night? How bizarre.

Bama Lama Sing Song, Saturday 23 February, Spanky Van Dykes, 17 Goldsmith Street, NG1 5JT. Tickets £4 

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