Aside from my traditional blogging duties, I enjoy a number of other activities during my free time. And nothing, I mean nothing, has more of a thrill for me than going into a jazz café and freestyling up some hefty middleweight jams for the good patrons around. Typically, I walk up onto the stage and ask the crowd to shout out a topic for choral discussion, and on occasion this has meant working some devious rhymes about the Cheryl Tweedy, gardening, Harrogate, and the ongoing unease in Britain regarding the credit crunch:
“Britain’s feeling the financial drag/But man, that ain’t my bag/I don’t think about the crunch/I go out and get some lunch/so serve it up barbeque-style/make it worth my while”
It’s a way of giving back to the community without having to touch members of the community or even speak directly at them. Instead I can concentrate on tightly focusing my melodies so that the full impact burns the crowd away. Burning a crowd away, incidentally, is a more politically correct way of blowing a crowd away, unless you are talking to the Vietnamese of anyone from Hiroshima. In which case, you wash them away. In turn, you must never talk of washing away to anyone from New Orleans. These are the rules of euphemism. I never fail to feel a tinge of happiness when I burn a crowd, and I hope they feel the same way about me burning them up bigtime.
But imagine my surprise when I went up to Batley last week to thrill the crowd with some long-term ideas about Northern Ireland, only to be met with a terrible sight. John Legend, the Grammy-winning American singer who possesses both dreamy eyes and bizarre facial hair was onstage, dancing around to a small-scale funk display. He cavorted with the local residents, and smiled seductively at a row of septuagenarian women who were on an outing organised by Gala Bingo. He was on my turf. I made a hasty line of retreat towards the bar, where I ordered a bag of salt and vinegar crisps and turned back to get a better look at Legend’s show. He was singing one of his soul-tinged pop hits now, with all the charm of a mountain goat stealthily sidling up on a patch of delicious bracken.
“Claudia, what’s going on?” I asked Claudia Winkleman, who never misses a show.
“I don’t know how to stop him,” she replied. “He jumped up on stage half an hour ago and nobody’s been able to topple his marriage of harmonious voice and smooth lyricism. It’s been a wild evening.”
“Here, take my crisps,” I told her, and stood up. In doing so, I caught the eye of Legend, and his mouth slowly formed a treacherous smile as he realised what was about to go down. I marched on over to the stage and jumped up, landing with both feet at the same time and stamping so hard the musical conductor snapped out of his jazz trance and stopped the music.
“We meet at last, Legend.”
“So we do, Serese…Sereseros?”
“A hard name to spell,” he admitted.
“Yes. A lot of people have trouble with it. It’s a difficult name to spell and pronounce because it has three letter E in close succession, you see.”
He nodded, tilting his head to show all the teeth in his face. There were a lot of teeth in his face. “And a whole buttload of S, too.”
“You bet your ass it does,” I hissed.
While we were trading off whiplash dialogue with each other we circled, hands in clawlike positions in case the other pounced. The air with thicker than an electric eel who had been fed much krill in a short space of time. And like that stuffed eel, the air crackled with electricity. This was going to be one for the generations.
“Seresecros/You think you’re the boss/But when you mess with John/You’d better go go gone”
Gah! He had drawn first blood. Not only were his lyrics outstanding, but he’d managed to throw out a reference to a song by Estelle. I had to retaliate quickly, before the pensioners defected to Legend’s camp.
“Oh, you’re using Estelle/To ring my bell/Well I can tell/You’d better listen well/I’m taking you to…”
“Musical hell?” he interrupted.
Oh noes. This was looking bad for me. Not only was John Legend now 2-0 up on me, but he had all the momentum on his side. I had shot for the stars by putting two rhymes into one section of my rhyme, but he’d erected a study iron-mesh net in front of my aspirational cannon and caught me mid-flight. I was sent reeling backwards into the brass section, who made assorted squeals as I landed.
A pumping beat suddenly erupted from the back of the room, and Kanye West walked in, flanked on all sides by a tasty entourage. Without a word he sat down in one of the prime seats next to the stage and watched on. I crawled out of the trombones just in time to hear John Legend’s next freestyle.
“Well I’m here in Batley/I’m on a song-spree/Makin’ the people happ-ee/Like I’s in ‘Born Free’.” He sang whilst sat at the piano. It was at this moment that I knew this was a battle I could never win, and I turned to Plan B. The heaviness of his film knowledge broke one of my ribs, but I threw myself across the stage and slammed down the lid of the piano, smashing all of his fingers. He screamed in pain as I dove into my pocket and pulled out a vibraphone.
“Oh Johnnie Boy you got it wrong/Cos I don’t need to fight in song/Sure, I can drop a beat and I can rock it/But twenty second ago I put a grenade in your blazer pocket.”
I jumped to one side just as the grenade exploded, and the force threw me into a flautist. Getting up, though, I saw that there was no sign of Legend apart from a tuft of curly black hair and a ringing noise not dissimilar to the breakdown in ‘Ordinary People’. All around me, everyone else was fine, and they got back up and arranged the chairs back in order. Back at the bar, Claudia took a thoughtful bite out of a crisp.
“Can you sing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ for me, Seresecros?” asked Frank, one of my biggest supporters.
“Sure, Frank,” I told him, as I picked up the mike. “Anything for a fan.”