Monday, 19 November 2012
The transformation begins
By late autumn 1988, I started to go to the Hole in the Wall club in Norwich City Centre, a small members only club/pub that actually allowed anyone in at weekends if they had money. It really was a ‘Hole in the wall’, in that you entered through a steel barred gate, walked down an alleyway past a bouncer on the door and into a long room. A bar ran the length of the room down on one side, there were booths opposite the bar and pillars mid-room. There was a snooker table upstairs that saw more girls’ backsides than snooker balls. I had met up again with the girls I knew before I went Stateside and I was bumping into footballers who played for Norwich City football Club. Two in particular, Malcolm Allen and Robert Rosario became friends and Malcolm looked not unlike Andrew Ridgeley, the other member of WHAM! with George Michael. They loved the fact I resembled George and would invite me to join them for drinks and to go clubbing to Ricks Place; the club of choice for the discerning man about town in Norwich in 1988. Across the road was Hunters Squash Club and to monopolies on the drinkers heading towards Rick’s Place, Hunters started operating as a late drinks club with many a young couple enjoying the seclusion of the locker rooms and the courts for a squeaky, bum on varnished wood, pre-Rick’s screw.
Deciding that I would try and become a “proper” George Michael ‘Look-a-like’, (proper meaning I’d actually impersonate his voice and sing live, as opposed to mime along to his songs as some of the other look-a-likes did), I needed to record backing tracks to sing over at all the Gigs I was sure would land in my lap! Fortunately George Michael would put instrumental versions of some of his songs on the ‘B’ sides of his hits and I used these. But with only CD instrumentals of “Father Figure” and “Faith” in my collection I needed another couple of songs or so to build a short set list. Back at the Hole in the Wall, Robert and Malcolm had introduced me to Dave Bennett who had been a winger with Manchester City and Norwich City Football Clubs. Dave attracted a coterie of friends and hangers-on who would listen and laugh along to his stories and tales about the players and celebrities he had met. To give Dave his due, he was a very funny, likeable man and was always up for whatever was happening and if nothing were happening, he’d create something. Among Dave’s entourage’ were Neil Riley and Glenn Neave, Neil was also an ex-professional footballer and in a steady relationship with Jocelyn, and Glenn? Glenn was an out and out "chancer", an accomplished drinker and was slightly affected in his mannerisms, (e.g. shaking hands with the left hand only for some unknown reason).
Having decided upon another three George Michael songs to use in my set list (Kissing a Fool, A Different Corner and I’m Your Man), I found a recording studio in Norwich and they agreed to record the music from the records onto 8-track tape. The engineer would take the tracks, clean up any distortion, remove the original vocals and I'd sing over them to produce a demo tape. They studio engineer would also produce a “blank” backing tape for me to use at gigs. Neil Riley fancied coming along to the studio for the experience and to save costs the studio and I agreed to an after-hours recording session. In the meantime I'd found a marvelous singing instructor who worked from her home in Judges Walk, just off Newmarket Road in Norwich. She had a grand piano in her bay fronted living room and with her sitting at the Piano giving instruction, I would sing “A Different Corner”, it was the only sheet music song I could find of George Michaels. The singing lessons were worth every penny as she taught me to sing using my diaphragm, to breath correctly and to project my voice. She was very pleased as I had some vibrato appearing as if from nowhere in my singing voice, which she said was a “very good thing to have”.
On the evening of the recording session, Neil and I pitched up at the studio which was located in a cellar below the main studios, consisting of the mixing desk, a single microphone in a small sectioned of area behind Perspex and sound proofing (egg boxes to the untrained eye) stuck on the walls and ceiling. The sound engineer played back all the tracks he had recorded and once I was happy with the quality, I went into the booth to sing the first song, 'A Different Corner', the song I was most familiar with. I had a few run-throughs and then we recorded all five one after another. After recording the songs, whilst completing the mix, the engineer said he was pleasantly surprised at my voice given that he had been doing this for sometime and had heard quite a few horror vocals from people who thought they could sing, but quite simply couldn’t. Neil said that he was blown away! Recording complete, I took a copy away and played it to anyone who would listen. But what I really needed was a gig where I could attract some media interest in my act and so I decided that what I needed was to trick the National press!
Written and Posted by Jonathan Weaver