I’m With The Band!


“It’s the thrilling new karaoke night where you get to sing with a live act”

I’m on stage, staring out at a sea of sweaty, excited faces. A band – guitarist, bass player and drummer – tunes up behind me. I grip the microphone as a booming voice announces my name to the crowd. So this is what it feels like to be a rock star. I’m Joan Jett, I’m Janis Joplin… I’m Avril Lavigne!

The first eardrum-perforating bars of “I Predict A Riot” fill the room, and suddenly I’m Ricky from the Kaiser Chiefs! Immediately infected by the atmosphere, I can’t help but jump about the stage like a lunatic, hands in the air, drunk on the roar from the crowd – and perhaps, but just a little bit, from the six vodkas it was necessary to down before my nerves were numb enough to take centre stage.

Sadly, it’s not Wembley… yet. I’m at the Zoo Bar in Leicester Square. More often it’s the home of half-cut tourists experiencing the capital’s nightlife. But tonight, and every thursday, it’s the setting for KARAOKE ROCK STAR, and my five glorious minutes of fame.

This is the newest karaoke night to hit London and offers, possibly, the most intense karaoke high yet.

Anyone who has felt the thrill of a three-hour session in a private room in Karaoke Box, and felt the deep disappointment when the microphone is switched off at the end of the night, will love it. Infact, they’ll crave the high for days afterwards. Take it from me.

The basement room at Zoo Bar, packed shoulder to shoulder with an enthusiastic post-work crowd, vibrates with energy. The front few metres of the dance floor turn into a grinning, pogo-ing mosh pit, and every singer that comes on stage is greeted with cheers and whistles and the kind of hysteria usually reserved for acts with at least one platinum record under their belt.

This is karaoke to the power 10; with none of the plinky-plonky rip-off backing tracks from cheap DVDs. The band – called ROCKAOKE – is the real deal, a group of bona fide session musicians more used to providing music for the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Def Leppard than for a bunch of gurning amateurs. Three years ago, the trio came up with the genius concept of revamping the karaoke scene, and set about learning note-perfect renditions of dozens of rock songs, from classics like “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, to Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” and Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”.

Now, following a successful stint at Manumission’s IBIZA ROCKS last year, when Ricky Wilson jumped on stage in his flip-flops to belt out his own (almost certainly inferior to mine) version of “I Predict a Riot”, ROCKAOKE has become huge.

The presence of the band certainly adds a whole new dimension. It eradicates almost all those cheesy connotations. There’s no S Club 7 reaching for the stars or Steps’ “Tragedy” because the 200 songs on the list have been chosen for their gnarly guitar riffs and intoxicating drum beats. There’s the requisite “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men” – they have got to get the girls in somehow – but they are given the rock treatment.

ROCKAOKE lures obsessed individuals out of windowless karaoke chambers and gives them the audience they secretly crave.

And the most reluctant performer would have to admit that the stage environment makes for a far more electrifying night. Unlike private karaoke, even watching others becomes a buzz, rather than an irritating obstacle between you and the microphone. A friend of mine ended up with girls throwing their undies at him – eat your heart out Tom Jones.

Sadly, the session only runs from 8.30pm until 12.30am, with a break for the band halfway through. So, with a crowd of hundreds and just 30-40 performance spots in a night, it’s wise to get your song requests in early rather than wait for Dutch courage to kick in.

The only real downside – aside from my addiction to “the crowd” and desperate need to do it all again – is the resident cameraman on hand to capture your caterwauling so that, should you feel narcissistic enough, you can watch it back on the KARAOKE ROCK STAR website. Me? I think I’ll stick with my hazy memory of my stellar performance, which is almost certainly a lot better than the real thing.

Deborah Arthurs – London Lite