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From the Where2sing.com stories:
The Great Karaoke Escape 2004/05

Day 23

It's the end of the week, and the end of my adventure - tonight being my very last karaoke. My start was in Sydney, and I'm ending here in Brisbane - the place that I called home for twenty or so years after coming to Australia.

Not that I went to karaoke for all those years, partly because I suppose I imagined that karaoke had modern songs that I wouldn't know. I have been to many Asian karaoke rooms through the last few years, and these had a wide variety of older songs that I did know; I just couldn't imagine that pubs would have average singers doing songs of all genres and ages, and I certainly didn't know of any pub that had karaoke regularly.

The very first time that I sang at karaoke was in a place in Kuala Lumpur, I think, when some friends at the same table chose a song that they were unable to master, and I found myself with the microphone and therefore sang. BUt even that wasn't the start of a regular karaoke habit, and neither were subsequent karaoke nights in seedy karaoke places wedged down the little lane beside the Firehouse in Ermita, Manila, Philippines, or even in some of the smarter karaoke lounges off Orchard Road in Singapore. I have found myself in a variety of karaoke places in a number of cities, but it was not until I had a need for company that I started to regularly visit karaoke. And that was in Brisbane, just a couple of years ago.

Having then moved to Sydney, I still had business in Brisbane and spent my weekdays - and therefore also my weeknights - there. I took a look into a few pubs in the city, but found either a noisy and very young crowd which soon became boring, or an older crowd sitting in groups around little tables that was boring from the very start. A more successful place turned out to be the hotel bars where conversation could be had, and sometimes a piano was being played. So, it was on one of those expeditions and this time to the Carlton Crest on the other side of King George Square near the centre of the city, that I passed by their side bar, and heard karaoke.

It was early in the evening, and as yet there seemed to be only a couple of singers plus the host, a lady who sang rather nicely, so I secured a beer and leant against the bar. I tried to exchange a word with the only other non-singer at the bar, but he didn't bat an eyelid and totally ignored me. Deciding that he must be dead or a decoration, I slowly moved along the bar, and passed a friendly remark with another guy who had just come in, but he turned his back on me, walked away and chatted to the bloke behind the bar. Bearing in mind that, many years ago and only a couple of weeks in Australia, I found my first Aussie girlfriend in this pub, I decided that I'd throw down a few beers and await some better company.

The night did improve, the crowd did build, and I did sing. I returned to the Redford's bar many times after that night, and the people they told me about other places. Soon I had a karaoke venue for every night from Monday to Thursday, and sometimes I went to a couple of places in the same night.

But Sydney was different. Firstly, I got lost, and secondly, the places I found by searching the Internet just didn't seem to exist. I tried to find three of those listed on various websites, and although I did find the pubs, I didn't find any karaoke.

However, driving down Oxford Street one day I saw a freshly-painted sign announcing karaoke, so I ventured there the very next weekend. In a small upstairs room I discovered a friendly crowd of all ages and genders (all four of them), and a host called Mary (female, surprisingly for Oxford Street) who really got everyone involved. There were also some fabulous singers, one called Paul who is now the host at the Tea Gardens at Bondi Junction, Brett who has a great ability to sing new songs extremely well, Big Bopper who has been a source of great fun ever since and who is now also a host - and I've spent many, many nights drinking, chatting and singing there at the Brighton Bar. And, in all those months, Mary has at last managed to remember the complete address of her homepage at www.where2sing.com/reflexions - albeit that she often announces 'where to sing dot com dot au' and the audience shouts back 'no dot a-u!'

It was after a few nights at the Brighton Bar that the W2S site started, initially just on the thought that others must be having the same difficulty in finding karaoke venues.

SO it was only fitting that my adventure should take me back from Sydney to my Brisbane starting point, and that I should drive 'the long way round.' But I have an admission to make, and it's that the adventure was slightly more planned than I might have led you to believe at the start of the journey, 23 days ago.

I asked you to imagine what it would be like to just go out to karaoke, and then to just to keep going. That's a bit of a dream, and the more rational person may decide to live that dream whilst doing something else, and in my case my mission was to take my car and some personal possessions back to Brisbane where I could store them with friends - for middle age has brought that wonderful number of '50' to my life, and my next year will be spent doing something different by living in another country. And so, my departure from Sydney was via the real estate office to hand back the key, and with a car packed high with things, I set off.

SO how was it? It was great. Was it an adventure? Yes, it was, because I had 23 days of hunting down karaoke, and without a set itinery. What was the hardest part? Having suficient time to drive to each new town and yet find sufficient hours in which to write the previous night's venue review plus the last day's story. Was it hard to find karaoke? Yes, out of the city areas and on weeknights, and I now realise how many venues there are missing from the W2S listings. Would I do it again? Yes, again and again and again.

Would I recommend it as a type of holiday? Yes, it would be a great 'Karaoke Holiday' as long as you sat down with a map and the W2S listings and confirmed all the venues in advance.

It's just past nine o'clock on a Friday, the final day of the Great Karaoke Escape, and I'm walking in the door of the Redford's bar, Carlton Crest Hotel in Brisbane. It's busy, and it already looks like a fairly long wait to sing, so I get a beer before going over to the small section beside the stage where the songbooks are located, and choose a song. This is not the best karaoke in town, but it's reliable, so you know it's going to be there when you want it. The crowd is a bit noisy, and despite having speakers seemingly all around the walls, the karaoke is not particularly loud, but there's a really wide standard of singing here, and you can be assured a good reception.

The layout of the place means you get regularly jostled by those struggling to get to the bar, and this means you tend to float around. Many here are businessmen, and here alone, so it's easy to pass a friendly comment and have a couple of minutes' conversation; others here are regulars, and although they all seem to want to poisin you with their cigarette smoke, they're a friendly and diverse bunch, and there's normally a conversation to be had. I stand within easy striking distance of the bar, and end up in conversation with a couple who come here from time to time.

This could be a night in any number of karaoke venues across Australia, a parade of singers of varying quality, the sound sometimes great and sometimes merely adequate, the conversation pleasant but absolutely forgettable, but all the while just a great way to spend an evening in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.

I'm here in Brisbane, and I'm thinking about how this must be the scene repeated in countless karaoke venues tonight, and I get to wondering what it would be like to just head out the door to another karaoke, and just keep going. For a moment I consider it. But my name is called, and I stay.


Many thanks for joining me on the Great Karaoke Escape

It was a great trip, even though there were many hours of driving and times when I struggled to keep up with all the typing. Spending every night at karaoke doesn't make for really early starts the next morning, and it's hard to get in a few hours driving, find somewhere for the night that is vaguely afordable, write up this diary and then also write up the review of last night's venue. It's probably a job for two people - one to drive and the other to write up the stories. And I guess it'd be better spending a couple of days in each place. But it was fun!


Read more singers' stories, and write your own karaoke story, on Where2sing.com . . .

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