Appalling, beautiful, liberating – it’s time to reclaim freestyle singing

The year is 1997, I’m 14 and sweeping metal shavings at the now defunct toolmaking factory where my dad works on a grim industrial estate in Sittingbourne in the UK.

The Saturday job, my first, is almost grimmer than the downtrodden location.

I look like an effeminate spotty kid with immaculate ginger curtains who has dressed up as one of the tradies he secretly, shamefully fancies. I make endless cups of terrible tea the toolmakers choke down out of politeness. The tool machines are so loud, I can barely hear my own groans. Things are that grim.

One man, Steve, alleviates all this grimness among the din. He’s about 5 ft tall, but he has a pair of lungs on him.

Freed From Desire by Gala is high in the charts. Steve belts the song to the wrong lyrics over and over.

“My love ain’t got no money, his God is trumbaleese!"

“My love ain’t got no money NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH!"

He sounds joyous; free just like the song’s actual lyrics. I still hear his off-key voice when I think of real freedom.

As of this week, that real freedom has been returned, with Covid restrictions easing in both Sydney and the UK.

Since Monday, Sydneysiders and Brits can sing in public once again. In Sydney, after a brief hiatus, group singing indoors is again permitted. En el Reino Unido, concerts and theatres can open to limited audiences. British spectators are discouraged from singing along but – for the first time since their long lockdown – the performers can sing.

It’s music to my ears – even if that music is as off-key and lyrically challenged as Steve.

Singing got me through the really bad days during lockdown. It can transform my mood when I’ve committed to a night out which I, frustratingly, decide I no longer fancy attending an hour before.

I’m not talking choir singing or karaoke singing or onstage performing.

I’m talking about the unique glory of freestyle singing: tuneless; word-imperfect; utterly liberating.

What was it that made Steve sound so unrestrained and free?

No choirmaster telling him he’s off-key. No musical director correcting his lyrics. No office colleagues shushing him.

Also – the background noise of the factory stripped him of the self-consciousness of the spotlight. It was sound in paradox: appalling yet beautiful. The same principle, I reckon, accounts for why we love shower singing: the water’s cascade erases the self-cringe of hearing yourself a bit también clearly.

The only way of telling if I’m in a De Verdad dark mood is if my daily rambunctious shower singing ceases (rare). Then my flatmate and family should start getting really worried.

Relaxed restrictions may restore singing but, even pre-Covid I’d lose the joy of freestyle singing the minute my morning shower ended.

Why couldn’t I be more like Steve, and punctuate my day by belting out lyrically inaccurate ditties?

Two words: office etiquette. Unlike Steve, I went on to work in a place where the water cooler is the only area non work-related verbal activities were deemed appropriate. The office is conservatism personified, a dozen times over, from payroll to marketing. Social conditioning dictates I must prize conformity or perfection. After my shower, I can’t sing unrestrained like this again in my day.

The office would think I was annoyingly distracting. Pedestrians would think I was deranged. Choir leaders would think I was a renegade.

But as more of us than ever will work from home during the Covid normal era, we have an opportunity to reclaim freestyle singing as a means of expression, release and mental health lift. The coffee break can become a belting break within the social safety of our own homes.

Freestyle singing has its own unique charm – desde Redfern’s Sea Shanty club to the showtunes singalong night, Sing Out Louise, which I ran annually for four years in Sydney and Melbourne until Covid. Eso reimagined the piano bar: no mics, no spotlight, no stage, no setlist – just everyone in a room singing musicals together.

Whether the background noise is the cascading, replenishing water of your shower, the raucous whir of Steve’s toolmaking machine, or the comfort of the musically untrained crowd surrounding you, freestyle singing will make you feel alive in a way that’s both nonchalant and energising.

Now the privilege has been restored, it’s time to do what those trite-yet-true inspirational memes have long implored us to: sing like nobody’s listening.

los comentarios están cerrados.