|This is not Alice - it is someone else|
On Wednesday I received a piece of spam email from Alice, from whom I have had no contact for some years (I am delighted to say). There seems to be a virus of some type going about which sends junk portal-scam mail to the entire contacts list on someone’s smartphone, and this is why I heard from Alice. Well, of course, I didn’t really hear from Alice at all, but I was reminded of her.
Alice is a singer, of sorts. Mostly I try to keep my musical activities out of this blog, because I don’t really expect them to be of much interest and they are almost certainly an irrelevance too far. However, as in all walks of life, I have met some colourful people there as well.
Alice represents that much-abused sub-class, the girl who fancied being the singer with a band, but didn’t have the talent for the job. She has the complete profile – pleasant, untutored voice, no grasp at all of musical theory or even of rhythm, and deplorable taste. Oh – and dreadful, unpredictable tantrums. She must have been encouraged over the years by proud parents, envious school friends, drunken workmates, heartless people in the pub on holiday; I doubt that she needed much encouragement - I am confident that she sings like a megastar in the shower. It’s just that she has, to use a technical musical term, not a bloody clue. Not a Scooby.
|This is how Alice sees herself, I believe...|
I am lucky enough to have met and played with some excellent female singers – Carol Kidd and Maggie Mercer and Melanie O’Reilly were class acts by any standard – but as a species girl singers seem to have more head-crashers and plate-throwers than you would expect. Working with one also involves the more immediate problem that songs you have known and played all your life in the written key of F are suddenly in A-flat (etc).
Alice used to talk about her love of “jazzy” music – which usually got about as far from the Radio 2 mainstream as Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Crystal Gayle. I asked her if she liked, or listened to, Billie Holiday or Ella, and she sort of glazed over and said she would like to sing Every Time We Say Goodbye. So we ran through it – disaster; she could sing the notes, but the phrasing of the first line is tricky – attempt to sing it from instinct and you can easily find you have lost a bit and are now a bar ahead of the band (especially if, like Alice, you are unable to hear the chord changes), with the inevitable traffic accident approaching. I commented that she couldn’t just sing a line of a song, take a breath and immediately start the next line – it was necessary to fit in with the structure, so sometimes she might have to count (silently, of course!) “two – three – four – one” or something and then come in. Glazing-over time once again – she had no idea what I was on about.
I first became associated with Alice because she was rehearsing with a pianist who is a friend of mine, and he asked me could I help out – apart from anything else, perhaps I could sort out some of the horrible arrangements in her book and also (let’s be honest here) I was friendly with a pro double bass player who would be even more of an asset than me if he wished to join in. I had some spare time available, so I got involved.
We did a couple of small jobs in local pubs which went OK – Alice was very unsure of herself, and had a fragile, lost quality which went down rather well. But she very quickly turned into a budding celebrity, a monster.
We did a biggish show in a hotel ballroom in a nearby town. She was terribly nervous – especially because her boyfriend’s parents had bought tickets. So she drank about three-quarters of a bottle of red wine before we went on. Horrifying – my bass-playing chum was making his first appearance with us, and he was so furious that he has not spoken to me since. We scraped through the show, largely on sympathy, I think. But Alice was convinced she was now on a rocket ship to stardom. We held a series of grinding rehearsals to sort out and strengthen her repertoire – in fact “rehearsals” is not quite the right term here. A rehearsal is, or should be, a polishing-up of material which you already know. These rehearsals consisted of tentative attempts at hopeless projects – often the same things we had screwed up the week before – and there was an increasing tension, plus numerous hissy fits. At one point the pianist and I were trying to correct the chords in her train-wreck arrangement of Autumn Leaves, and she suddenly started shouting that we should stop faffing about, and just get on with playing it. We protested gently, on the grounds that until we had a sensible version of the piece we had nothing to get on with, and on the more accessible grounds that the audience would know these songs well enough to realise that we were buffoons.
Next appearance was at an outdoor concert at a local seaside resort, in aid of a national charity. It was pouring with rain. I don’t know if Alice had been at the refreshment again, but she was unbelievable. She missed all her starting notes, sang verses in the wrong order, missed sections out - all our rehearsed endings and key modulations vanished without trace. She even introduced a couple of songs with drivel such as “we’ve only practised this song once, so it may not go very well!” – she was, of course, correct, as the forewarned listeners will have recognised. She was also a bit unfortunate in that the rain rendered some of her lyric sheets unreadable. I can clearly remember staring out at the audience, all with their anorak hoods up, sitting in the downpour looking as glum as I felt, and I was hoping like hell that no-one there knew me or recognised me. A paper bag for my head would have been welcome – the only saving grace was that a girl singer gets about 90% of the attention, so the sidemen are pretty much invisible. Even so, I have rarely spent an hour wishing more passionately that I were somewhere else entirely.
I left fairly abruptly at the end, and I phoned the pianist and said I was very sorry, but I really didn’t want to do this any more. Alice was very cross indeed, and was going to give me a piece of her mind for letting them down, but it came to nothing, and she probably didn’t have a piece to spare.
She is still around – she has a Facebook page which promotes her cabaret act, which she still insists is jazzy, and she seems to get work, so maybe she got better. I don’t really care. I hope her phone virus problem clears up OK.
In affectionate tribute to all the wannabe girl singers over the years who have struggled with the gulf between their dreams and their ability, here is the wonderful Jo Stafford, in the guise of the well-intentioned but awful Darlene Edwards, who provides a perfect demonstration of all the trademark clichés. Enjoy.