So, I’m sure there are few of you out there who know me that do not realize that I love karaoke. Been suckling on the karaoke teat for more years than I care to consider. I’ve even been known to host a karaoke gig or three. Karaoke is what I like to think of as a victim less crime, perpetrated by and for people who have been bitten by the bug. I have a number of very dear friends that I know exclusively because of karaoke.
My karaoke experience started many years before I realized that I really loved it. It was while playing with a pickup baseball team called The Kats. Following games on Tuesday nights we would retire to the local watering hole, Mark and Larry’s, where it just so happened that karaoke had become resident. The really cool thing was the pair of guys who hosted the show also had access to short, five minute per side, cassette tapes. So, when you sang, they recorded.
At the end of the night they would give you your tape(s), all depending upon how often you had sung. While I tried any number of songs, usually after a goodly number of beverages, my party piece was Thank God I’m a Country Boy by John Denver.
From there, karaoke kind of faded into the background for a number of years. That is until I made the acquaintance of a co-worker of Rhonda’s named Stefan. Now, Stefan and I discovered this mutual interest in karaoke fairly early on in our friendship. Since neither of us knew of any kind of regular karaoke nights anywhere we did the next best thing; we rented a karaoke box. Karaoke boxes are small rooms available for rent in a larger facility. You rent the room for a set rate per hour, bring you requests to the “host” up front who would then cue up a laser disc to the stipulated track while you went back to your room and sang. We did this once, maybe twice and realized it was an unmanageable situation. If we invited enough people along to make it financially viable, there were far to many people crammed in to small a space. If we tried to go for comfort over cost then we would be required to cough up a lung each in order to afford an hour or two’s entertainment.
Stymied by that situation we then discovered a place, upstairs at some Chinese restaurant or another along Dundas Street that had karaoke every night of the week. It was good and all, a place to cut our teeth, but considering the fact that Stef, his date, my wife Rhonda and I were the only natural born English speaking people there everyone else in the place was of a decidedly oriental persuasion. Let me just say, right here and now, that part of the fun of karaoke, when not up to sing, is singing along with songs from your seat. Kind of hard to do when everyone else in the place was singing in a language other than our native tongue.
Around the time that this was growing old Billy, a friend and former co-owner of The Wolf and Firkin pub in downtown Toronto happened to mention to me in passing that they were going to try karaoke, downstairs in the Wolf’s Lair, on a Wednesday night. I mentioned this to Stef who thought that it was a wonderful idea; and so we started attending karaoke nights at the good ole W&F on a weekly basis. Our first host was a great guy named John. John, along with his lovely and sadly recently departed wife April taught Stef and I all there was to know about karaoke etiquette. As happens in any service job, John did not last forever. He was let go, more due to a personality conflict betwixt him and Billy.
By this point in time Stef had more or less stopped coming out on any kind of regular basis, what with him having recently been married and moved out to the hinterland of Mississauga, Ontario. Yet, we had managed to accumulate a number of friends before his departure. Stefan and I were the original “regulars”. Imre was our first “recruit”. She lived nearby and was coming out on a regular basis with a friend, who eventually moved north of the city and stopped coming out. Imre persisted and it wasn’t long before I went over to her table and asked her to join Stefan and I, which she did. She didn’t get up to sing right away, but rather sang from her seat. One evening when it was particularly slow, and after much prodding, she asked me if I would get up and sing a song with her. Of course I agreed. We got up and sang what must have been a somewhat ragged version of the old Meatloaf saw Paradise By The Dashboard Light, a tune which is more or less universally reviled because, when a guy and a gal want to get up and sing and they don’t know what to sing, they will, more often than not, pick this tune. So, regulars hear this song a disproportionate number of times. I will post a list of karaoke no-no’s here at some point. The song that Imre and I sang together on that long ago Wednesday night has less to do with my story than when we finished and were walking back to our seats.
Imre looked at me, smiling ear to ear and stated “That was fun.”
Unless otherwise indisposed, she hasn’t missed a rotation since.
There have been many others over the years and I found myself heading down to the Wolf & Firkin every Wednesday night to a cadre of friends that I would never have known otherwise. Sadly, it stopped hosting karaoke some time in the second quarter of 2013 and has since closed it’s doors permanently. Coincidence? I think not. Since that sad day we have become a band of karaoke nomads, casting about for a place as intimate as The Wolfs & Den which also starts at 8:00 PM as opposed to the customary 10:00 PM starters gun of most karaoke joints.
Imre is still a card carrying member of the Karaoke Cognoscenti. Stefan hasn’t been for the better part of, oh, a shitload of years. But there is Lisa, Renee, Scotty, Vanessa and Kyle. Francis makes it out very rarely. It’s a fun bunch. Before the Wolf & Firkin went tits up Charlie succeeded John who then succeeded Charlie once Charlie’s time had come and gone.
Our last host was Niko who, like John and Charlie before him, is a musician in his own right. One thing that Niko had on either John or Charlie was the ability and desire to record his singers. Thing is, these recorded tunes would basically have disappeared into the ether once they were loaded onto a memory stick, never to be heard or heard of again by anyone other than the owner of said memory stick. I want this page to remedy that.