Friday, August 13, 2010

Sing like you mean it

You're either a singsong person or you're not. Most Irish people are singsong merchants. At any given gathering of my extended family, you can't clink a spoon against a glass for fear someone takes it as their cue to tune up.

This ditty diarrhoea is the one cultural presumption that I don't mind people making about the Irish. Failte Ireland should make a merit of it and get the Yanks back in by hinting that we're as likely to burst into a spot of Spancil Hill as look at them.

Who wouldn't come to Ireland on their holidays if they thought it gave them a walk-on part on the set of some real, live Celtic Glee? Clee, if you will.

I even have my suspicions that the Russian spy who was passing himself off as a Murphy in America until recently might have some Irish blood in him after all. Who would have pegged Vladimir Putin as a singsong fan? But he was, in a tightly controlled fashion and for one night only. And when did it happen? When he met up with the 10 Russian spies who were expelled from the States, our man Murphy among them.

Putin later reported that they sang the unofficial KGB anthem What Motherland Begins With "and other songs of that character". I'd bet anything Murphy was at the bottom of this patriotic little concert. What did he sing? Dearg Doom? The Boys Are Back In Town? Rat Trap (And You've Been Caught)?

I can't talk. I spent last Saturday night blowing the earholes off some unfortunate taxi driver duetting on I Know Him So Well with a woman I had met just two hours earlier. I have decided that she is my singsong soulmate. We like the same 80s power ballads. When she started singing Hazel O'Connor, she went high, I went low. We were harmony in motion. We were annoying as hell.

It had began in someone else's kitchen -- where else? -- earlier that evening. There is always one person in any given social group who spends the night itching to start a singsong. You can see them, fidgeting with frustration when people go outside to smoke because their potential audience is dwindling and distracted.

Then the snatches of song start to appear. It's a bit like Hyacinth Bucket singing the shopping list at her neighbours, pining for everyone to just shut the frig up and LISTEN! Eventually they just go for broke and burst into an ABBA medley. I appreciate these people because I'm not brave enough to be one. It's like dancing -- I'd never be first on an empty dancefloor, but as soon as it fills up, I'm out there throwing all sorts of shapes.

Our Saturday night singsong was truncated by some howling dogs. I can't say I blame them. So we never did establish who would take on the traditional sing-a-long roles.

There is always the one who has been breastfed on a diet of X Factor, Pop Idol and Everyone's Got Talent. They will warble their way through some excruciating version of I Will Always Love You because they have been taught that anything is possible if you only Believe In Yourself. Never mind that not even Whitney Houston can hit a Whitney Houston high note these days.

I like listening out for the dark horses. The hairy-knuckled hobbit in the corner who gives a sweet and unaffected rendition of Hallelujah before going back to frowning into his can of Bulmers. The quiet girl who breaks into a rocked-out version of Common People and then runs away in embarrassment.

They just about make up for the ballad purists who insist on all 12 verses of The Raggy Boy, and the armchair republicans -- there's always one where I come from -- who can't get to the chorus of One Flew Over The Wall without breaking down into tears.

If there is a kingdom of heaven, though, blessed are the instrumentalists. Unless you are willing to play until your fingers bleed, don't ever volunteer guitar skills at a party. At first everyone is in awe that you know all the chords to Ride On, all three of them, and the introduction to Blackbird. An hour later and you're nothing but an accompaniment monkey. The minute someone asks for Stairway to Heaven, do the right thing. Go home.


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