Mondays are for Singing with the Seldom Seen Kid or You’ve been Dowsed!
I haven’t got out much for the last few years. Last 25 years probably. It’s not that I’m agoraphobic or socio-phobic, I just got out of the habit. The gradual loosening of input required by my three wonderful children led to more opportunity to... well, as it turned out, to fall further down into the bottomless pit of work/career/that which pays the bills.
Surely there must be more to life? And anyway, what happens when I’m replaced by a newer cleverer more energetic young thing – what then for a fifty something year old bloke with no particular place to hang out and feel useful?
So, how about singing? I did, after all sing the first verse solo for Away in a Manger in our Methodist Church Christmas Carol service (1968). The audience adored me – though that could have been because they were entirely made up of relatives and people who’d known me all my life.
My musical career then sank well beneath the surface only to re-emerge with a much darker hue when I realised that, at least for me, punk rock was going to change everything. I was a very angry young man with serious destructive urges who also wanted to make music. Unfortunately the audience for my music was tiny and when it came to singing, my fellow band members were brutally honest every time I suggested I have a go. Words of one syllable, like ‘no’, would be readily expressed or, if I persisted, they would just as readily move on to or other short words but with four letters in them.
There’s been a long (forty year-ish) fallow period since then - punctuated with the odd burst of what I like to think of as creativity but which really amounts to me befriending/latching on to any similarly balding middle-aged bloke who admits to having a bit of an interest in making music. This tends to fizzle out fairly soon as other things get in the way. You know - the usual excuses.
So anyway, I happened across Dowsing for Sound whilst searching in a half hearted way for something a bit more likely to become a regular musical event with which I could involve myself. On the face of it, Dowsing was not at all what I wanted. It seemed to be properly organised, slick - professional even - and, worst of all, fun. Bearing in mind I’m from deepest greyest Lancashire with a culture steeped in remarkably resilient miserable-ness in the face of any possible (admittedly rare) ray of sunshine, this was a frivolous concept to be avoided at all costs.
Nonetheless, I tiptoed in... and here are notes from the diary I sometimes intended to keep but never did:
Well, what an odd collection of people! And I’m one of them! Thank heavens we didn’t all have to go round the room, give our names and say a bit about ourselves or what we like for breakfast or somesuch malarkey. Instead we got on with the business of singing and A, who is undoubtedly the boss, seemed to know what she was doing. She said we were brilliant! She’s right! We were so good I think we should just get on and do a gig now! I don’t see why we need any more practice or rehearsals! Also, A has this special way of giving me a ‘look’. I’m sure it means she’s singled me out as being truly exceptional but she doesn’t want to embarrass the others by saying so out loud. Wow!
This is the first time we’ve sung with the ‘Tuesday nighters’. Of course, before we ‘Monday nighters’ came along, ‘Tuesday nighters’ weren’t any kind of ‘nighter’, they were just ‘Dowsers’ so I could forgive them for being a bit non-plussed about us joining them – especially since we were obviously going to be so much more brilliant than them.
Woe is me! Turns out ‘Tuesday nighters’ are actually a lot more brilliant at singing the right notes at the right time than most ‘Monday nighters’. Also, they’re really friendly and welcoming so I can’t even fault them for that.
But much, much worse than that, I’ve had to face up to the awful truth: it turns out that A’s ‘special looks’ are actually reserved for when somebody gets it wrong. And it’s almost always me. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get kicked out unless I keep a very low profile and do a lot of convincing miming.
Hurrah! Monday nighters are going to be allowed to do a gig! I can see why A wouldn’t want us to be associated with the real Dowsers and also the gig is only for people who have the misfortune to live on something called ‘the fen Edge’ – sounds excruciating! Still, she’s taking a chance on us. The miming seems to be going well most of the time because I don’t get ‘the look’ quite as often and if I smile and pretend to enjoy myself at rehearsals I don’t get in much trouble at all. Once or twice I think I might have sung, smiled, got away with it and enjoyed myself for real - all at the same time! Scary!
But now I have a new worry. I am a tenor (well, possibly though there were several different videos on YouTube with conflicting opinions on that...). Anyway, when we started in January there were quite a lot of tenors. Possibly double figures. A’s not actually blaming me to my face, but I know she thinks it’s my fault – we are dwindling and are in danger of becoming extinct. In my heart of hearts, I know she’s right – it is my fault. I have no social skills, I only pretend to enjoy myself and can I sing the right notes at the right time? – no, I can’t.
Looks like I’m going to have to leave Dowsing for Sound or else Monday nighter tenors will become a thing of the past. Better jump now rather than face the ignominy of being the first person ever to be kicked out....
Somehow Monday nighter tenors are still hanging on and I haven’t been sacked yet. We’ve had a dress rehearsal for our impending Ely cathedral gig which revealed that A hasn’t realised just how bad I am yet. She said, in her very nice way when telling people off, that the Monday nighter tenors weren’t getting ‘Extreme Ways’ right because they haven’t been to enough rehearsals.
Aaaagh! I’ve not only been to all the rehearsals, I’ve also gate-crashed an extra Tuesday nighter one too to see if I can improve! Oh, the shame!
Final rehearsal for Ely Cathedral gig.
I think understand why they call it ‘the ship of the fens’ now. Apart from the fact that its clearly ‘over the edge’ (see week 15) and is in what used to be the sea, they’ve installed a beautiful old carving of a sexy woman off the prow of a ship (like they have in all the best swash-my-buckle films) - and it’s in this big chapel thing where we’re having our rehearsal. She’s got a blue dress on, so you can see how they’ve cleverly managed to forge a link between Mary ( à la New Testament) and the ships from the old days.
OK, it’s really kitsch but you’ve got to hand it to those CofE-ers – it’s also pretty cool. A thinks it’s hilarious, so of course we all do too. For a moment it even takes my mind off the blind terror of performing in front of 800 people who for some reason have paid good money to watch us sing.
Thank goodness for the band! I know they’re just professionals who turn up and get paid to make us look brilliant - but they manage to act like they’re enjoying themselves (a bit like me, these days, I suppose).
Except of course that is when they get ‘the look’ and believe me, not even they are immune to that!
Well, this is it! Unless it’s a collective dream, just about everything A said is coming true. There are lights, sound engineers, a stage, the band of course – and we get to sing in front of hundreds of people!
I have another big worry now though. A hired this scary Scottish bloke called B who looks like he might be grateful if he were dead. B has somehow borrowed these magical gizmo things to stick into one of our ears to stop us singing wrong for the concert. Of course, A was very nice about it and spun some yarn about it being a big old building to sing in but nobody’s falling for that... Honestly – you can’t blame her for trying and apparently they cost £1,000 each. If they can save me from singing wrong they’re worth every single penny! Anyway, turns out I’m not going to be able to sing in the concert after all because I’m deaf in one ear. This means I can either have the gizmo in my good ear and not hear what I’m singing or I can have the gizmo in my deaf ear and not hear the stuff that stops me singing wrong. I can’t explain it, but this means I can barely stand up straight without going wrong, never mind singing without going wrong. Also my legs have started to feel very wobbly.
But wait! It’s too late now and we have to go on stage. N (that’s A’s number one hit woman who you definitely wouldn’t mess with...) says so. More than that, we have to look ‘purposeful’. Here goes!
Day after Ely gig
Well, we did it! Our audience clapped at the end like they really meant it and we even did an encore!
Perhaps what it is, is, it’s that I’ve been ‘dowsed’. I have got some singing buried deep inside me and A has these magical divining rods made out of old coat hangers or whatever they use and my apparently aimless search for something to get me out of the house on a Monday night was actually the other way round: A inhabits an enlightened surface or heavenly plateau where making beautiful music is a reality. Instead of being content with that, she is also moved to find a way of helping others enjoy the same thing. She felt a slight (very slight) twitch through the ether(net) and she made a connection with me. The signal is very weak still – even with the gizmo thingy to stop you singing wrong – and my singing does not come up to the surface easily. Those notes on the page still dance before my eyes and have little relevance to the sounds we’re supposed to make. The synapses in my brain which need to open up for this to happen seem to be locked down, overgrown and seized up... In fact to create an inexcusable motorway pile-up of mixed metaphors, it really is like getting blood out of a stone.
And yet, A does not give up.
This is a matter of crazy blind faith on her part and is a truly marvellous thing and I feel very, very grateful to be part of it.
Also, much against my better judgement, I’m really, really enjoying myself!
Will Monday nights ever be the same again? I hope not!!!