My father was an entertainer.
Not a famous entertainer, you’d never have heard of him unless you haunted the pubs and clubs of Leeds, or Benidorm, but an entertainer he was and needed to be entertained in any pub or club, I lost count of the number of times that he’d ask me or Ned as teenagers what the pub was like that we’d visited the night before, “It was OK” we’d say for pubs in the 1970s tended to be, well, just OK, “Who was on” he’d ask meaning what was the entertainment and he’d sit there astonished as we told him that most pubs don’t actually encourage idiots to get up and sing.
What he desired on a night out was a pub with a piano player who couldn’t sing, a microphone and a singer who hadn’t turned up for as soon as the piano player started his “I’m sorry folks the singer hasn’t turned up” speech then our dad would be there, microphone in hand, asking “Do you know Lady Is A Tramp ?”
He lived his last eight years in Benidorm where he could sing every night of the week in sing-along-bars that seemed to have been specifically built just to accommodate him, Benidorm was like his own personal nirvana and he toured the bars with his portfolio of Sinatra songs and patiently waited while a succession of his also retired singing friends did their turn – including one who’s repertoire was limited to an impression of James Cagney singing “I’m a Yankee-Doodle-Dandy” which he performed without missing a single night for six years in the same bar – and when they were all done they moved on to another bar, and repeat…
He did that every night for eight years and when I say every night I mean literally every night, drink beer, sing, drive home, repeat the following night – when I tell you that he eventually died from the Benidorm disease of a perished liver you will not be surprised really will you, but his last eight years were spent in an ecstasy of singing and entertaining and if you get to spend that long doing what you love then who has the right to deny that ?
Having a father who was known on the Benidorm circuit as an ever-willing singer had its drawbacks though, I was once there on holiday with Suzanne’s extended family (we block booked a very large hotel and still didn’t get them all in) when one night we found ourselves in “Sandra’s Bar”, a regular haunt of my father. One of Suzanne’s uncles was talking to the bar owner when I walked over and he introduced me as “Franks lad”, instantly I found myself with a microphone in hand and the bar owner announcing to the assembled audience that I was “Son of Frank” and I was going to give them a song or two – a mumbled “I’m sorry but I don’t sing” led to my eviction from the bar amid boo’s and catcalls and the partons questioning my heritage for how could I be Son of Frank if I wasn’t prepared to give them a rousing chorus of Lady Is A Tramp ?
A friend of mine had a similar handicap with his father and uncle too for every Friday night we would assemble in a club local to us to play dominoes, take snuff and drink lots of beer, yes we were just eighteen at the time and it was what old fogeys did but those nights were good fun and have you ever taken snuff before – brown cocaine is what it is, and its legal.
So this night we’re all drunk and leaving the establishment after another bloody good night out and we’re stood in the entrance hall leaning on each other telling ourselves what a bloody good night we’ve all had when we hear through the door of the concert room that they are winding up the evening with a members sing-along and the keyboard player is inviting people on stage to sing a song.
My friends dad and uncle needed no further inviting, still wearing their camel-haired overcoats and trilby’s they dashed into the concert room, climbed the stage and stood there like a pair of very inebriated Sid James’s clutching a microphone each and grinning like idiots at the keyboard player.
“Wise Men Say” is all they said, swaying slightly in front of the keyboard player
“Pardon ?” he said
“Wise Men Say, we’ll sing Wise Men Say”
“I’ve never heard of Wise Men Say”
“Don’t be bloody stupid, Jack, he’s never heard of Wise Men Say”
“Don’t be bloody stupid, he must have heard of Wise Men Say”
“No gentlemen, I’ve never heard of Wise Men Say”
and so they sang the first line for him, drunkenly
“Wise Men Say-yah”
“H-only fools rush in-ah”
“No sorry, I’ve never heard of that song”
“How long have you been playing that bloody organ ?”
“Call yourself an organist, you’re bloody rubbish, H-Wise Men Say-yah, come on, keep up”
At that point the club secretary decided to wrap up the night and draw the curtains across the stage, but the microphones remained switched on and the audience could still hear the arguments…
“Call yourself a bloody organist, you’re bloody rubbish”
“Doesn’t know Wise Men Say, I’ve never heard such nonsense”
“OK gentlemen, its time to go home, just give me the microphones now”
“We haven’t sung our song yet, come on Jack, H-Wise Men Say-ah”
“Who’s drawn the bloody curtains ?”
“Just give me the microphones now gentlemen”
“H-Wise Men Say-ah, ‘ere, gerr-off me, Jack, he’s pinching me mic, hit him”
“H-Wise Men – wha ? Gerrof, I’ll bloody ‘ave you, young as you are…”
…and suddenly the stage curtain parted and two Sid James look-alikes came flying down the steps, slightly disheveled and with trilby’s askew to a round of applause from the audience at which they bowed then put their arms round each other and started again, without the music this time,
“H-Wise Men Say-ah”
“H-only foo-ools rush in-ah”
We all got thrown out.
It was shortly after that, that we chose a different pub for our Friday night sessions, in fact it was the week after.