The popularity of karaoke in the Falkirk area has shot up in the last year to stay in tune with the times.
While the popularity of television singing contests can be said to be waning, the pulling power of karaoke looks to be growing stronger.
This could be down to the economy and its well publicised troubles over the past five years, as pubs just cannot afford to book live bands as much as they used to and karaoke has always been a readily available cheap option to provide a great night for regulars.
Whatever the reason, the surge in karaoke locally recently led The Falkirk Herald to create a separate section in the What’s On column devoted entirely to the DIY sing along nights.
Some local venues, like Falkirk’s Callendar Arms, have become synonymous with karaoke.
Owner Mark Heirs said: “We started doing the karaoke nights back in 1996 and have put one on every single weekend since. We currently have our karaoke diva Lindsay Brown as hostess. She’s a great singer who sings a lot, maybe more than she should sometimes.”
Just how entertaining can a night featuring amateur singing talent be?
“It varies from night to night,” said Mark. “We’ve had lots of bad singers, lots of atrocious ones and lots of very good ones over the years who have gone on to sing on the pub and club circuit.
“Karaoke is a serious business at the Callendar Arms. Some singers even bring along their very own backing tracks. I’m the world’s worst singer and would never have a go myself, but that doesn’t stop others getting up.
“I think the people who get the biggest applause are the ones who stand up there and you think, they’re not going to be very good. Then they surprise you by totally blowing you away.”
Ah, the Susan Boyle factor. Proof the old saying “looks can be deceiving” is true.
“The ones who are really good and know it, well, they take it a bit too seriously for me,” added Mark.
Like Jools Holland’s ‘Later’ programme, sometimes the sheer variety of what is on offer can make up for a lack of quality.
Philip Barnes, owner of The Stables in Stenhousemuir, said: “We’ve been doing it for about 15 years. You hear such a wide variety of songs on our karaoke night. The older singers will come up and sing some Sinatra or Dean Martin and then you have the young ones up doing songs by The Killers.
“Some people like to watch a live act perform, but there are other people who want to get up and give it a go themselves.”
The response to ordinary folk getting up and belting out their favourite songs can be as mixed as the material being covered.
Karen Finlay, manager of Cheerz in Falkirk High Street, said: “You usually find the worst singers are the ones who get the most applause. I think the regulars at Cheerz don’t like anyone to be too good, but they do like to a have a wee laugh with the people who get up and give it a good try.
“We sometimes have live acts on once a month and, although they are popular, everyone seems to be looking for a karaoke in Falkirk. Some pubs are so loud you sometimes can’t even hear the singer, but we’ve got a good balance here at Cheerz and people will have their singing heard, no matter how bad it is.
“We have two girls who run our karaoke nights, Yvonne and Bernie. Both have very different styles. Yvonne is more of a singer, while Bernie is more of an entertainer, going round the pub talking to people.”
While many prefer listening to live bands plug in and play away, pub owners would be daft to kill off karaoke.
Linda Field, owner of Bainsford’s Bluebell Inn, said: “We’ve had karaoke at the Bluebell for the last eight years. If we didn’t have karaoke our customers would definitely complain.
“I think it would have the same effect as stopping selling pints at the pub, if we pulled the plug on the karaoke there would be a barney.”
Linda says Meatloaf and Elvis are two of the most covered artists at the Bluebell, if hostess Hazel allows it.
“Hazel, who runs our nights, is great. A really good singer who knows all the regulars and what they like to sing or hear. She also makes newcomers feel welcome and part of the night.
“We do have some very good singers every week and some, like me, who are not so good and just like to have a bit of a laugh.”
Falkirk Herald editorial staff are no strangers to the lonely walk to mic and monitor.
When pushed they will reveal their favourite karaoke numbers, the songs they always turn to if circumstance and, in some cases mild alcohol abuse, ever bring the spotlight their way.
Chief reporter Jill Buchanan goes all rock chick on Cher’s ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’, sports editor David Oliver comes over all nutty with ‘Our House’ by Madness, chief photographer Michael Gillen focuses on the Fine Young Cannibals’ version of ‘Caught in a Trap’ and veteran newshound Stuart Barber channels the spirit of the “Big O” himself for ‘Pretty Woman’.
Manly reporter Scott McAngus prefers a bit of Cash with ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, while James Trimble keeps it country with Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and Chris McCall shakes it to Elvis classic ‘Suspicious Minds’.
FH2 femme Deborah Punshon will give ‘All Night Long’ by Lionel Ritchie a bash, Jennifer Marjoribanks will blast through ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua or croon ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease if she has husband Brian on hand and Kirsty Galloway rocks through ‘Thorn in My Side’ by The Eurythmics.