The time I served up the full Mccart­ney on a rainy night in Ise

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - ALIS­TAIR JONES

IT is a rainy night in Ise. I’m not ex­actly hov­er­ing by my suit­case — that was stashed some hours ago at a ram­shackle ryokan — but I’m cer­tainly try­ing to find a warm place to spend the evening in this Ja­panese coun­try town.

The lo­cal mall is de­serted and only the clang of rail­way bells stirs the air. I’m get­ting that lone­some me feel­ing; an out­sider in need of a beer.

There’s a light on down a cross street where I slip through some slat­ted doors. In­side, two women of a cer­tain age are prep­ping in­gre­di­ents. They’re star­tled that a gai­jin has ap­peared from nowhere, but since I’m their only cus­tomer they can’t claim there’s no room, an oc­ca­sional strat­egy for fob­bing off for­eign­ers.

I mind my man­ners and am on my third drink when the kindlier of the two brings some spe­cial pick­les. ‘‘Story,’’ she says abruptly. We es­tab­lish that I’m from Aus­tralia (‘‘ Ah, koala!’’) and be­fore long she trans­forms into an aunty and is whip­ping up com­fort food.

Feel­ing the code has been cracked, I track down the source of some singing in an ad­ja­cent al­ley. A high, tremu­lous voice is mak­ing a meal out of a bal­lad. There’s a door ajar and I slide into a tiny bar. It would strug­gle to ac­com­mo­date six peo­ple with two of them stand­ing. The only other pa­tron is a bloke sport­ing a cap and polyester leisurewear. He’s mak­ing mean­ing­ful eye con­tact with the woman be­hind the bar as he wrings the emo­tion from a song. He’s also half­way through a bot­tle of soju, the Korean dis­tilled spirit that’s more like ethanol than vodka.

There’s some truth to the na­tional j oke that Ja­pan plus al­co­hol equals karaoke.

The woman fixes me a drink be­fore hav­ing a turn at the mi­cro­phone. She’s slightly more re­strained than her male ad­mirer but equally en­thu­si­as­tic about melisma, a kind of pitch os­cil­la­tion on key syl­la­bles. It can be tricky for am­a­teurs.

What’s al­ways been strik­ing about karaoke since it emerged from Kobe in the early 1970s is how gra­ciously the Ja­panese will ap­plaud lousy singers. The worse the bet­ter, it seems.

I would gen­er­ally pre­fer to poke my eye out with a chop­stick than have any­thing to do with karaoke but I can feel my turn is com­ing.

I dodge for an­other cou­ple of rounds. Then, sure enough, a cat­a­logue as thick as a phone book comes out and at the back are the in­evitable Bea­tles se­lec­tions.

May I not rot in hell for choos­ing Yes­ter­day.

The back­ing track is quite con­vinc­ing. Who­ever knocked it off did a good job. As I be­gin to sing, all the years I mis­spent play­ing in piano bars come flood­ing back. I’m on a roll and glide down the first day-e-yay-e-yay-e-yay like a trick­ling stream.

In my pe­riph­eral vi­sion I no­tice my new friends turn­ing pale.

But it’s too late to turn back and I serve up the full McCart­ney. The song ends and there’s deathly si­lence. Our gang has clammed up. Per­haps they think I ac­tu­ally am a Bea­tle. Ei­ther way there’ll be no more singing while I’m around. I don’t want to spoil the party so I leave.

At least the taxi driver is pleased to see me.

This is our third ride to­gether so we’re al­most old friends. Best not to re­veal that his pas­sen­ger is the dreaded Karaoke Killer, a toxic force at sin­ga­longs. All it takes is enough booze and an old Bea­tles song. Of­fice par­ties beware.

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