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KARAOKE

rocking the mic YOU’LL HEAR A WHOLE RANGE OF RENDITIONS AT CANAVAN’S LEGENDARY SUNDAY KARAOKE, FROM DOLLY PARTON TO JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE. But as Denisha Anderson discovered while making a film about the night, for some it’s a weekly ritual that goes far beyond just singing WORDS EMMA FINAMORE PHOTO LIMA CHARLIE

We’re heading off Rye Lane and down a narrow corridor familiar to many Peckham residents, young and old, with an impassioned (if ever so slightly out of tune) rendition of a 90s powerballad ringing in our ears. This is the opening shot from The Ballad of Rye Lane – a short film that documents and celebrates the weird and wonderful world of karaoke; specifically the regular Sunday night slot at Canavan’s. The mini-doc is the work of filmmaker Denisha Anderson, 26, and Camberwell College of Arts graduate Amy Garcia-Brooks, 25, who met while working at the Bussey Building just down the road. One night they went to Canavan’s to celebrate a friend’s birthday and chanced upon the Sunday night karaoke evening. “We just looked at each other and thought, ‘This is it!’” remembers Denisha. Something about the ceremony and ritual of people coming together every week, to lose their inhibitions and express themselves through song, caught their imaginations, and so began a series of visits to the karaoke night. Every Sunday, for months, Denisha and Amy would work at the Bussey Building until seven or 8am, head home to steal some sleep, and then get up in the dark to go to Canavan’s. At first these recces were camera-less, to get a feel of what they wanted to film and meet the regulars. Denisha says they came across “a few tough cookies”, but that they soon became part of the furniture. “It was like Cheers, where everybody knows your name,” she says. Mike and Linda, who run the karaoke sessions, are “literally royalty in the karaoke circuit”, says 26 / THE PECKHAM PECULIAR

Denisha. The pair go out of their way to treat every singer with the same enthusiasm and respect as the next, and this democratic approach is one that comes across strongly in the film. “Mike makes everybody feel like a star,” says Amy. Singing in front of an audience is also seemingly a great tonic for the soul. “The thing about karaoke is you’ve already bared it all, you’re already open and honest,” says Amy. Denisha agrees. “There’s no judgement – people are just there for the craic.” In the film, Mike and Linda reflect on how coming to karaoke has had a real impact on some of the regulars. “You can see the change in people,” says Mike. One man, called Dave, has apparently come out of his shell since starting to sing. “I’m a romantic. Well, it’s to do with love isn’t it?” he tells the camera, after crooning away to Love is in the Air. Another regular, Blakey, performs All Saints’ Pure Shores. “It’s great, it’s a good feeling, you know? Good energy. People hearing what I have to say or sing,” he says. Blakey has obviously been through a rough patch, but has been helped by the Sunday night slot at Canavan’s. “For about five months after I came out of hospital I was a bit shaky at first, I was really nervous,” he says. “The old Blakey ain’t back yet, probably about 60 per cent back. It [singing] kind of helps get rid of all the stress… I can just let it all out on the mic.” Georgia, a young woman, enjoys the feel-good factor of karaoke. “Last time I came here was the first time I sang, and I met loads of lovely people,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether somebody’s good or bad, there’s always dancing.”

Another singer says: “It’s a friendly atmosphere, and I don’t think anyone takes it particularly seriously here. Um, no, that’s not true. A great deal of people do take it seriously but it’s not so serious an environment: if you literally just want to get up and have a go, you don’t feel judged or mocked.” Julie, who comes to Canavan’s with her daughter – a serial Boyzone crooner – in tow, also sings at church. “Sunday’s the best night of my life, we have a lovely time hearing all the lovely voices,” she says. “Singing is my pride and joy.” Julie’s clearly a firm favourite with everyone. “She signs up for five songs a night, and she actually gets to do them; I don’t think anyone gets that treatment,” laughs Denisha. One of the messages that comes across loud and clear while watching the film is the way that Canavan’s karaoke nights bring together a diverse group of people from the area. Denisha tells me: “We wanted to get across the community of it all. Connecting, people genuinely asking how you are… it’s a little hub. There aren’t many places like that in London.” As one regular tells the camera: “I absolutely love how there’s no discrimination against age, you know? We’ve got people from four years old to 90. You go to a nightclub and people either feel too young or too old. You don’t get that with karaoke.” A friend interrupts her: “There’s no discrimination, against anybody.” Footage seems to back up this claim: shots of the crowd show a mix of people who would rarely be seen together at the same clubs – or anywhere, to be honest. Karaoke fans of all ages and demographics

laugh, dance, and drink together, while in one shot an elderly looking (but energetic) woman and a young guy clutching a pint take a group selfie. It provides a rare chance for people to get to know others they wouldn’t normally spend time with. Alex, who tells us, “I’m 72 you know!” used to hang out at Ronnie Scott’s: “No one takes any notice of me at this age, except when I’m singing – the best feeling in the world. I’m elated.” He loves the young people and the energy they bring to the club. When the documentary was finally cut, edited and complete, Denisha and Amy held a premier at Canavan’s. They admit they were a little nervous, as they’d become friends with so many of their subjects. But they needn’t have worried: “Everyone was so chuffed,” says Denisha. When we meet, both women are about to head off out of the country on separate projects, but there are plans to collaborate again. Denisha is also working on a follow-up to another film she made four years ago. She’s keeping the subject under wraps for now, but tells me it’s about “an element of British society that’s rapidly disappearing”. At least karaoke looks like it’s safe from extinction, and in south-east London, Canavan’s – along with the people of Peckham – is one place that’s keeping it very much alive. Watch The Ballad of Rye Lane at tiny.cc/canavans. Denisha (pictured above) is currently looking for filmmakers, poets and bands to take part in her Forum London event on September 9, 6.30-11pm, at Rye Wax in the Bussey Building basement. To get involved, visit facebook.com/TheForumLDN August/September 2015


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