Somewhere out there in cyberspace my alter ego, Jack Sparkle, drifts aimlessly.
He’s a construct from a writing job from years ago which was most definitely not the worst writing job I’ve ever had. It might have resulted in me being labelled with a dodgy sounding moniker, but the job itself was fun, interesting, and the writing was satisfyingly diverse.
No, the worst writing job involved phoning around live music bars located in the south of Tenerife to glean information about their acts, and then write a short blurb for a travel website. I became narky in the days immediately before ring-round time each month because I positively hated having to do it. This was mainly because dragging information from bar owners was like trying to get a straight answer from a Tory politician – IM-possible.
Whenever we had to phone restaurants outside of the main southern resort areas of Tenerife we could end up speaking to confused Canarian abuelas, but when it came to the southern resorts it was invariably more like we were phoning Bolton, which was initially a bit disconcerting for folk who lived in the north of the island where most conversations were in Spanish. This is how just about every single conversation with bar owners with broad, regional English accents would unravel each month.
Me: “So, what sort of songs does Jed Burnley/Elton Vaughn/Rod Hackney – place unimaginative cabaret singer name of choice here – sing?”
Bar owner: “Jed sings bloody everything, you name it. He’s bloody brilliant. Don’t forget to mention that.”
Me: “Like what?”
Bar owner: “Everything … the lot.”
Me: “Give me an example, so I can add some detail … you know, let people have an idea of the kind of music they’ll hear in your bar.”
Bar owner: “Oh, right … well … the lot, he sings everything … all the favourites … everything.”
Me: “Brilliant, sounds great, but if you could give me a couple of actual examples of songs or singers whose material he uses that would be very useful.”
Bar owner: “Err … let me think … my mind’s gone blank,” the voice on the phone fades as bar owner turns away from the mouthpiece, then I hear him shout. “DORIS, what sort of stuff does Jed sing?” A faint voice in the background barks something in reply, then barkeep returns to the phone. “Ah, that’s right, he sings songs from all the shows, as well as the charts.”
Me: “For example? It would really, really help to have a bit more detail. You know, so that potential punters can read that the music in your bar is different from the bar next door.”
Bar owner: “DORIS,” bar owner bellows off phone again. “The Irish bloke on the phone wants some examples.” Again an indistinct muffled voice shouts something back. “Ah, that’s it. He sings everything – songs from Les Mis to Neil Diamond hits … you name it, everything. Bloody brilliant he is.”
Les Mis to Neil Diamond – a dizzyingly impressive range … NOT. In Tenerife’s cabaret capital in 2010 the likes of Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner still ruled supreme; they probably still do. That’s why I’d push them for examples; I knew the songs Jed, Elton, and Rod sang wouldn’t really cover ‘everything’.
I’d have to do a variation of this verbal dance with about twelve different bar owners once a month. Bar owners who couldn’t remember from one calendar month to the next what their acts actually sang. It was soul destroying. I did it for three months before I had to concede defeat and tell the guy who’d commissioned the job I simply couldn’t do it any more, not if I wanted to hold on to my sanity.
Still, writing gigs like this have been part of a career path which has twisted and turned like an agitated cobra in a trap. It’s all grist to the mill.