First published in The Financial Times
“Good morning Esher!” proclaims Paul Berryman, microphone in hand.
It’s 7.15am, and Berryman stands in sweat-top and camouflage-style pyjama trousers, in the living room of his cottage in Surrey.
Then he taps his left foot, rolls his hip, and starts to sing like Elvis.
This is Berryman’s morning routine: every day, to prepare for work – as a salesman – he takes a turn on his karaoke machine.
As soon as his neighbour leaves (promptly, at 7.00am) Berryman pops in a disk – one of many he has bought from Session Music, a specialist in Tooting – causing music to spill from his speakers, and lyrics to flash up on his widescreen TV.
With today’s first song, ”(I Just Wanna Be Your) Teddy Bear”, Berryman is impressively deep-throated and Elvis-like.
Next, also from the King, is “Suspicious Minds”, which originally whetted Berryman’s appetite for karaoke.
In a wild moment, on holiday in Cyprus with his mother, he ventured to sing this in a bar – coming gravely unstuck at the slow middle passage, and vowing never to rest till he’d cracked it.
Soon after that, he spent £140 on a machine of his own, and as much again on disks.
Since then, he’s conceived immense respect for singers. “Tom Jones is really difficult,” he reports. “You really have to belt it. And Motown stuff has key changes – and gets really high.”
Until recently, Berryman – a prizewinning racer of motorcycles – kept a cow-sized yellow 600cc bike parked on the carpet in front of his TV.
Sometimes, to entertain visitors, he would sit on top of this to sing – but never in the “racing crouch”, because that would impede breathing.
(Alas, he sold the bike last week.)
To give a better idea of karaoke’s appeal, Berryman invites the Financial Times to have a go, and kindly steps outside to buy some cigarettes during the first attempt (“Candle In The Wind”).
When he returns, the FT has started a new track, “Ev’rybody’s Talkin’”, and soon after – utterly gripped – begun a third while Berryman brushes his teeth.
But “Come On Eileen” proves ill-judged, the lyrics surprisingly unfamiliar. After less than a minute, the song grinds to a halt, and Berryman steps out of the bathroom:
“You just went into karaoke melt-down,” he smiles, sympathetic. “That could spoil your entire day.”