Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Oakwood, Glossop (18.12.2010)

Not an open mic night, but I wanted to say a little about The Oakwood in Glossop because I’ve played there a couple of times with the band Old Man Pie, and on both occasions we were so well looked after, I just wish a lot more venues were like this.  The pub is situated on High Street West and has two rooms downstairs, and an upstairs area where the bands play.

Although it was slow to get going (because of the treacherous icy conditions outside) the people of Glossop eventually emerged from their homes and showed themselves to be a right fun loving crowd.  We played a relaxed first set with a few new songs (that still need work) and a few old songs off the first album.  After a thirty minute booze break we went into a more rocking set, including Beer Monster, Butcher of Banham, Leaky Old Roof and Mackerel Fishing.  People were dancing, heckling and there was general merriment, so you can’t ask for more than that.

For once I could hear my own vocals crystal clear in the mix and was able to emphasise some of the odd words and phrases of those pie songs.  The organisers provided us with free drinks and for some random reason, sunglasses.  Outside was the bleak mid winter and inside we was partying like the summer had returned.

They put on some wonderful music at The Oakwood most Saturday nights and concentrate on original bands and performers who write their own material.  This is in preference to the plethora of covers bands who dominate the live scene in many small towns.  I would thoroughly recommend you take a trip to The Oakwood anytime your near Glossop.

Also of interest:

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Every Man Has His Critics* - The Hop, Wakefield (13.12.10)

The Hop in Wakefield has a well established and lively open mic every Monday night.  I’d been to a couple earlier in the year and there were some fine performances going down, with a friendly audience too.  The night is usually run by local musician Ryan, but on this night his friend, Sebba Williams, another quality guitarist and singer has stepped in.

You have to get to The Hop early if you want to play because its usually a busy one.  But maybe I'm a bit too early this time round because there are only a couple of folks in the place.  No matter, you get a warm welcome here, so I peel off a few layers of winter clothing and settle down with a Pale Gold, courtesy of Ossett Brewery.

It’s not long before people start to drift into the place.  A few musicians carrying keyboards and guitars, some college kids here to support a friend of theirs and Seb too, who sets up the pa.

Two female vocalists practice a sweet song near where I’m sitting and it puts me in the mood for Christmas and what I hope will be a good finish to a tough year.  Some of their friends join in and its great to hear people just enjoying music in that way.

Seb kicks the night off with an excellent cover of I’m Yours by Jason Mraz.  It’s a current favourite at open mics and deservedly so.  He follows this with a song called Shine, which it turns out is written by a friend of his Chris Sharp, and this is the high point of the set for me.  A well written song about the one that makes him shine.  I love it when people cover each others songs.  I've included a video of Shine being performed by Chris and Seb (below).

A young singer called Lucy follows Seb and she is joined by her friend.  They have character and presence these women and the audience certainly appreciates them.  The pub is gradually filling up and the bar area is now busy with people listening to the music and talking with their mates.  It’s a good mix, if you can listen to the music and also have a bit of banter going on, people enjoying themselves is what its all about.

Then Lucy took the care free step of playing ‘I’ve got a brand new combine harvester’ by The Wurzels which was great fun.  The last time I heard this song at an open mic was at The Cider Rooms in Bristol, where they also (naturally) sang ‘I am a cider drinker’.  That was a night and a half and features in my book ‘Open Mic Travels'.

I was on after Lucy, taking beat poetry to the stage and wondering what people would make of it.  Some in the crowd were clapping along to Smells of London and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that.  A group of lads towards the back looked like they were enjoying it too, laughing at some of the lines in ‘Its been a good year for the spiders’ though I never intended them to be funny, but if that’s what you take from it then cool.  However, a tall and dowdy looking woman with her boyfriend frowned back at me for my entire set as if to say WTF!?  And it’s true that every man has his critics and if you worry about that you’ll never do anything or take any risks.

I enjoyed my set at The Hop, but I enjoyed the next singer even more.  A song writer by the name of Scott Wainright, and I stole that line at the top of this entry from his album title.  I’d seen Scott play here before and very much enjoyed his performances.  He’s got a great way with the audience that gets everyone involved.

“Do you know what I’m getting for Christmas?”  He asks us in his Barnsley accent. “No? Neither do I, I was just wondering if you knew!”

“I’ve got CDs with me if you like my music,” he suggests. “Guys you could buy your wives one and give her a surprise.  She might not like it, but she’ll get a surprise!”

Scott’s brought some slay bells with him to accompany his first song and during a harmonica burst also manages to introduce I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas into the mix.  He sits down and growls out the vocals, crashing his right leg up and down to the music.  He howls at the microphone and wails out his Gospel blues.

In his last song he musters up some audience participation and has us singing along to Blueberry Jam.  He shouts ‘Do you know what Mamma's making?’ and we shout back ‘Blueberry Jam’ and he asks do you know what Pappa's making? And we all shout Lemonade!  At least that’s what we're supposed to do, but I found myself forgetting the lemonade bit and just shouting blueberry jam all the time, which didn’t have the same effect.

After Scott’s set I buy a CD off him.  I usually buy CDs if they are on offer because if someone has gone to all that trouble (as a music lover) it would be rude not to!  I'm often disappointed and get a CD home from someone who is a good performer, only to find I now own another lack lustre album that will never be played again.  But Scott’s album is a good body of work, its well recorded and the songs are imaginatively presented with unusual instruments enhancing the songs.  I’ve included a link to Scott’s website (below) if your interested, give him a listen.  He may have his critics, but don’t we all?    

Scott is followed by the legendary Little Elvis, a one time Elvis impersonator now retired from the job.  His real name is John, but it’s proving difficult to kick that Little Elvis tag.  The last time I was at The Hop Little Elvis, sorry John, played a few covers and to be honest, they were bad.  But I reckon John’s been practising since then because his playing seems to have come on leaps and bounds, and although I don’t know the song he’s singing, he delivers it in a relaxed style which works for me.

I had to get off half way through John’s set because I’d made a promise to call in at The Hop in Leeds, a night which is run by the talented Leeds based song writer Matthew Belmont.  Matthew had asked me to bring over some of the beat poetry and (since I don’t get asked that often) was more than happy to oblige.  Unfortunately, by the time I negotiated my way out of Wakefield and over to Leeds (a route I don’t know too well), found a place to park (it was busy and hard to find parking) and walked through the dark arches (they really are called that) the performers were pretty much done.  So I’ll wait for another night to tell you about The Hop in Leeds, but what I will say is that it has the most awesome sound system.  A very expensive piece of kit perfectly arranged in an unusual space to give maximum acoustics.

* The title of this blog is taken from Scott Wainwright’s album of the same name which can be found here:

Sunday, 28 November 2010

HOLE IN T' WALL - Hebden Bridge (25.11.10)

Won't you take me to? Funky Town?

Bridge is situated between Halifax and Burnley on the Yorkshire side of the Pennine Hills.  It has its roots in the wool industry, but during the last decades has become known as a centre of creativity and artistic endeavour.  This month, Hebden won the ‘Great Town Award’ given by The Academy of Urbanism, and has also been crowned the fourth 'funkiest' town in the world (not sure how that works) so I thought I’d pay one of its open mic nights a visit and see for myself how funky it gets in Hebden.

The Hole in t’ Wall is on Hangingroyd Lane, next to the canal and the open mic night is run by Craig.  Craig is well known round these parts and does loads of work for local music, getting involved in festivals and different musical events, and also running a separate acoustic night.

When I arrive at the pub, Craig is having a dilemma - no-one wants to open the night.  After some persuasions a pianist, and a regular on these nights, Derek Elton, kicks off with a couple of Beatles numbers.  When I last saw Derek play he turned out some rock n roll circa Jerry Lee Lewis and a few numbers the likes of which you might see Jools Holland play.  The Beatles numbers are well played, but they are short songs, so all the people who didn't want to play first, don't want to play second either.

There’s a group of younger players in one of the warm side rooms and you can tell there’s no way they are going on next.  And there’s a group of guys at a nearby table who I hear have already told Craig, with some proper Yorkshire firmness, that they won’t play early.  Other singers have suddenly disappeared from the room, which means I am moving rapidly up the list.

I’m thinking what’s the deal with not playing early? But because no-one else wants to play it makes me not want to.  So I try not to catch Craig’s eye and chase the Copper Dragon that I’m nursing.  I look at the walls and make conversation with a stranger, but I can sense Craig has got me in his sights and I can’t avoid it any longer.  I’m on next.

Random things happen when you play live electronic music and for some reason half way through my set I found myself using the wrong loops for the wrong words.  In a lapse of concentration I’d spun the wrong dial and sent a pattern intended for later, back into the here and now.  So I went through ‘Disappeared Friend’, having created the music for 'It’s been a Good Year for the Spiders' – and only realising half way through when the setting was in the wrong key.  Not that anyone would have noticed.  These two separate pieces super imposed themselves on top of each other reasonably well.  And that’s what the kaoss is all about in my book, every time I play those tunes they are different.

There were a fair few people listening to my set and I later reflected that sometimes it pays to play early, because people leave as the evening wears on, or the crowd changes.  In fact some of the later players had less of an audience than me, just showing that you shouldn't fear the early set.
Lost Soul played after me, a punk rocker in a stylish hat, tattoos and ear piercings.  He dedicated a song to the two Christian ladies who told him God had not intended him to use his skin to draw all over.  What arrogance some believers have, to think that they know what God intended, and that they can speak for the God that they worship!  Doesn't the bible say 'never judge a book by its cover'?  Little wonder that one of the many stickers on Lost Souls heavily decorated guitar reads ‘No God, No State, No Lies’.

Lost Soul plays a strong set and one of the songs asks where are you now and did you find the answers?  It could be a lyric in my own Disappeared Friend.  He dedicates another song to the memory of Sophie Lancaster who was viciously beaten and murdered by a group of young thugs because of the clothes she wore.  She was different and therefore a target in their eyes, and ignorance reins supreme on the streets of England.  It was a tragic loss of a young life. 

Lost Soul also sings of other equally highly charged issues and I like that about his song writing.  That you can bring these issues to the fore are important.  On the last song he is joined by his mate ‘Zero’ and the songs are given a folk lift by some clever picking.

Bowfell Ribbon and the Band are up next, a trio of musicians who have come from all around Lancashire and Yorkshire to be here tonight.  Cleverly named after an area of outstanding beauty in the Lake District, they play some self penned number and some covers.  The rhythm is kept going by a guy playing a Cajon. Cajon's are becoming a major feature of open mic nights it seems, possibly because they are so portable and have a great sound.

A singer by the name of Bill Pringle played a Randy Newman song called Drop the Big One which is a sarcastic dig at American foreign policy.  At least I think it’s sarcastic, but you can’t quite tell with Randy, whether he might just have meant those words at the time.  It’s not a well covered song for that reason, because it speaks about America obliterating the rest of the world like that would solve all their problems.  Some things never change, as Bill rightly points out and wikileaks have all the facts.

Bill finishes with one of his own tunes and I always like to hear what people are writing for themselves.  It’s a song about that infamous statement ‘we can still be friends’ and how you don’t necessarily still want to be friends when you’ve been through so much together, maybe you just can’t.  It goes down well with the regulars singing along to the words like it’s a song they’d heard on the radio, and well it could have been.

Quite a few people had been telling me about how good the next band were but it was time to head back.  There were weather warnings in place and I needed to get over the Pennines.  Hebden is lucky to have a night like this and I hope the people appreciate it.  In my home town we had a similar event every month but it went by the way side through lack of support and it was a shame, everyone misses it now.  It’s a lot of work putting on these nights and they are to be cherished and enjoyed, even if the music isn’t always what you’d listen to and you never know what to expect.

Hebden Bridge the cultural centre of the universe?  I'm not sure about that, but its certainly well worth a visit and if you've nothing much on this Thursday night and your in the area you should get yourself down to The Hole in t’ Wall for some free music in funky town.

Beat poetry on Leeds charity album

Its an honor to have on of my tracks included on this compilation album, and its all for charity.  Check it out here:

Friday, 26 November 2010

Llandudno – The Cross Keys

Back in August I was passing through Llandudno in North Wales and called in on an open mic at The Cross Keys.  The night is run by charismatic live wire Rachel who also plays in a local band called Cyra Elia – check out some of their lovely tunes, particularly Painting By Numbers and Shadow of Doubt. 

I discovered heaps of originality in Llandudno and it pretty much makes up most of Chapter Twelve, including what happened to me on the Great Orme.  Anyway, here’s some quality footage (courtesy of of a man playing his didgeridoo – its completely random and very, very cool, I hope you’ll agree.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Druids Head – Brighton (17.11.2010)

It was a cold wet night in Brighton when I found myself lost in The Lanes looking for The Druids Head, a soggy google map in my hand.  The map marked a spot somewhere  in Brighton Place, but all I could find were up market jewellers, clothes and cake shops.  The down pour hurried people along in such a way it was hard to catch their attention so I could ask for directions.  Eventually a kindly fellow walked me back along one of the narrow paths I’d been down several times and pointed to the pub.  It was tucked away in a small square and a very welcome sight it was too through the murky murkiness.

Inside the pub there was a homely feel to the place and it was good to be out of the rain.  Seventies Bowie was playing and I’m a sucker for all those old Bowie albums; Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, in the time before the thin white duke.  It made me realise I needed to go back and have another listen to those wonderful songs.

I'd spent the afternoon walking miles, exploring the many different sites of Brighton, I was knackered and glad of a sit down.  There’s much more to Brighton than meets the eye, or the media, it’s a mix of all things and all people, and if you can’t enjoy yourself here you can’t enjoy yourself anywhere.  There is wealth and there is poverty, there is the seaside and there is the inner city, there are folk clubs and there are hip hop clubs, there are up market restaurants and places you can get a meal for less than a fiver, and then there are some great pubs, of which The Druids Head is one.  I got a pint of Doom Bar and sat near a big guy with piercings who was reading a paper.  He had a small anxious looking dog next to him, one of those dogs that always look sad in such a way you want to feed it your crisps.

A little later one of the bar staff introduces me to Paul who runs the open mic night.  Paul asked me what sort of music I play and I explained the beat poetry, he didn’t look too convinced, I mean who would be?  The very thought of poetry is enough to put most people off, and poetry mixed with electronica, how could that be?  But Paul still agreed to a slot and I was grateful to him for that.  I wouldn’t want to have been in Brighton that night and not played something.

A few guitarists drift into the place and they are clearly regulars here as they talk about the previous week, and a drunken night of revelry, laughing at how they didn’t remember much of the event.  The man with the anxious dog folds up his paper and leaves, and two cougars arrive, settling to watch the evenings entertainment.  A Father and Son who dress the same and look the same, apart from the difference of years, prop up the bar.  A bar fly in a skull cap is dipping in and out for a smoke.  Another table fills with some performers and despite the rain, the place is starting to feel busier, though its still a quiet night according to Paul.

Paul kicks off the night and he’s an accomplished musician.  He plays several songs, one of which is about a Café called Nia’s, which as a coincidence I visited earlier in the day for a coffee and to shelter from another burst of rain.  He sings another song about baby steps, not sure if that’s the title, but it’s a fine tune and silences the audience in such a way to hear a penny drop.

There are a more singer song writers after Paul and they are all top quality.  It makes me glad I didn’t bring my guitar and strum out a few protest songs because these guys can really play.  The picking is some of the best I’ve heard and my strumming is so very basic in comparison.  There are so many good guitarists around these days and they make it difficult for crap guitarists like me!

The diners look like they enjoy being serenaded by the free music and the sweet picking fits in neatly with the ambience of the place.  I start to wonder whether it’s an all guitar affair and then Sanity Valve take to the stage.

Sanity Valve are Mos Prob and MC Flurry and they should be called Insanity Valve or Insane in the Membrane.  This is comedy hip hop and Mos Rob is sporting one of those toy mobile phones on a toilet chain round his neck.  MC Flurry is hooded and trying to look dangerous, but when you’re named after a pudding it doesn’t quite work, which is the whole point.  They play a track called ‘Touch Your Fuckflaps’ which I’m half expecting politer members of the audience to get upset by, but no-one seems to mind.  This is anything goes Brighton after all.

The next day I check out Sanity Valve website and they put up some neat comic strips of their fictional (I hope they are fictional) escapades in gangsta town.  There is also footage of some of their other shows which look equally bizarre.  I’m glad I saw Sanity Valve play, I'm not being unkind when I say they were bad, but they were bad in a good way, and it’s always a bonus when something completely left of field turns up on these nights.

During Sanity Valve’s set I also got talking to Rob and Cath who were performing next.  Rob is ex services, ex prison and he now teaches.  When I was kid that was the worst sort of teacher you could get.  They usually teach sport and get you doing one hundred press ups on a muddy football pitch because it would 'do you good'.  It never did me any good.  But Rob seems a decent enough bloke, though he does say the kids he teaches are all evil, and that’s exactly what our PE teacher used to call us.

Rob and Cath play some covers and bring things back to down to earth after Sanity Valve’s eclectic attack.  They play Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, Just Looking by Stereophonics and All Out of Love by Air Supply.  All good songs in my book, though not something I would normally listen to.  I was going to tell them I enjoyed their songs but they left fairly sharpish after they'd finished and then it was my turn.

I’d had a good few Doom Bars when I got on the stage and being even a little drunk in charge of the kaoss is not a good idea.  The slightest touch in the wrong place and the pad will do something completely unexpected, a twist of the wrong settings or a turn of the wrong dial and it’s heading off over the hill with you running behind it trying to play catch up.  Kaoss plus poet.  Anyways, despite this I managed to get a decent beat going, though it wasn’t what I’d planned, I just went with it.  It was a messy session, but one which was made fun by a good audience.  I finished with The Return of the Bed Bugs and wished everyone a good night, and not to let the bed bugs bite.

Afterwards at the bar I was joined by the bar fly who had buzzed back in after another cigarette to discuss tape loops.  He told me how a friend of his had once used reel to reel tape recorders to create noise music.  We agreed those reel to reels were brilliant instruments in their own right and it made me remember the one I owned in the late 80’s and how we did all sorts of weird reverse music with it, songs like Don't Kill Yourself (Backwards).  I sold it for next to nothing at the time and wished I’d kept hold of it.

A guitarist and singer called Ollie Friend is playing Solid Air by John Martyn so I say farewell to the bar fly and find a seat so I can listen more intently.  I love John Martyn and this is a beauty of a song.  Ollie does it justice and also plays some neat songs of his own.  We find out he’s doing really well in a national open mic competition and if successful could win fifty thousand pounds.  Good on him.  I would imagine all of the guitarists who played on this night could do really well in that kind of competition, the talent has been brilliant and I would happily come back and do it all again.

Outside The Druids Head it had stopped raining and I found my way to the sea front.  The bed and breakfast where I’m staying is about half a mile West from here.  The waves are crashing against the beach and the neon lights of a fish and chip shop are flickering in a large puddle.  A giant lobster is watching me as I walk by.  There’s a drunken crowd formed outside a nightclub and they are shouting at each other.  Oh You Pretty Things! is going round my head.  I take a deep breath and look out across the black coast line that stretches out before me, it’s been another good night for me in open mic land and Brighton is many different things to many different people.  To me its a great place for music and song.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Speakeasy in Sheffield (September 2010)

Plugged In Switched On! at The Hobgoblin – London(18.11.2010)

Iain is amongst the hardest working and busiest open mic organisers I’ve come across.  He runs two nights a week in London, one at The Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, and another at The Hobgoblin, not far from Angel tube station.  For both these nights he sorts out the pa and the sound, books the performers, introduces the performers, rcords the performers, takes pictures (sometimes quite random ones), maintains a web site and sends out a weekly newsletter.  On top of this he always has a warm welcome for the musicians that come from far and wide for the opportunity to play in the heart of London.
I arrive at The Hobgoblin at about 8.00pm and the place is busy and cheerful.  There’s a group of blokes straight from the office getting well and truly wasted at one table.  A group of students on the next are doing their best to catch up.  And there’s an assortment of musicians and their friends gathered near the stage.  Iain is busily sorting the mixing desk but has time to have a chat about what he’s been up to, moving a canal barge from Liverpool to London in the space of 24 hours, and still managing to pull off these busy nights. 

It was a last minute thing me being in London tonight and even though Iain was fully booked he said he’d try and make space for some kaoss poetry.  A lot of open mics in London are pre booked, I’m not sure why that is, maybe because so many people want to play, and because London is brimming with musicians and performers looking for an audience. 

I was thinking, since it was so last minute, I’d be on at the end of the night, but with an early no show I found myself on stage pretty much straight away, sending beat poetry out to a surprised looking audience.  This night, the evil twin was on my shoulder telling me I'm shit at everything, but I played on regardless, if I listened to him I'd never do anything.  I ran through Testosterone and dedicated it to the guys from the office, and Smells of London, which I’ve only ever played once before in London, though I’ve played it in many other towns and cities.  It was all over too quick but it didn't matter none, tonight was mostly about listening to what London has to offer, taking a peak into its musical underbelly and seeing what turns up, the many different shapes and sizes of music.

I was followed onto the stage by an accomplished singer songwriter called Daina Ashmore.  She is a confident musician and it’s always good to see female artists at an open mic, because these events are often male dominated affairs.  She sang a sweet song about being brave and I thought yeah, you got to have some guts to get up and play at a busy venue like this.

I missed the next two musicians because I got talking to a guy from Essex who sounded Australian.  He’s a session drummer and also works in TV production.  He told me he’d been playing in a band and they got a record deal and success was looming.  Suddenly they were plunged into photo shoots and videos and having to promote themselves and they got to questioning whether that was what they wanted?  He told me it made them realise they formed a band to just enjoy playing music, not to become meat puppets for the industry.  The pleasure of playing was gone and it was all about planning meetings and contractual arrangements.  They decided it wasn’t for them and bailed out of a situation a lot of young bands would sell their right arms for.

Stories like that reinstate my faith in music and musicians.  Because so many performers have this deep seated desire for fame, they have forgotten why music is here in the first place.  For the enjoyment and excitement and the passion of the now.  That’s not to say ambition is a bad thing, but that you got to get the balance right.  And the next performer I listen to after talking to the Essex Australian (who was a proper Gent) is a guy called Luke Armitage, and I reckon has got the balance just right.

Luke plays some clear and honest pop songs some of which have a Latin American twist to them.  He is helped out tonight by a couple of other musicians as well, a bass player and an acoustic guitarist.  These guys market themselves by just playing some lively and enjoyable music, and the audience love it, judging by the reaction.

The performers just get better and better from here on in and the next singer is an amiable lad by the name of Rob Warman who is also a very skilled guitarist.  He sings a song about Portsmouth, his hometown, and dedicates it to anyone who’s ever had their car scratched, wing mirror punched off or been jumped walking home from parties.  That pretty much sounds like everyone’s home town, so everyone takes notice of what happened to Rob when he was growing up down South, and even join in with the chorus.

Rob’s next song is called ‘Me and My Guitar’ which he freely admits is a terrible title, inviting the audience to suggest a better name and offering a free pint in return.  After his set I suggest some equally bad song titles which I realise he won’t use, but he still buys me a drink for the effort, which was cool because I was running low on cash, not being used to these London prices. 

Next up is Black Vendetta, who is the one remaining member of the band of the same name.  His real name is Nathan and he plays some power chords and heavy riffs over strong backing tracks.  I’d met Nathan earlier and he’d described what he does as a wall of sound, and also mentioned a forthcoming guitar solo on one of the low coffee tables.  At the time he was knocking back a double vodka and coke, and was already looking like he’d had a few, so I reckoned if he tried that guitar solo it would be well worth a watch.  Nathan let rip some quality Rock’n’Roll, Death of an Angel being a high point for me.  You could tell he wanted musical fame and fortune and I for one hope he finds it.  In fact, I hope all the performers I’ve ever seen who are seeking those dizzy heights of success find what they are looking for, and are happy with it when they do.

The men in black play after Black Vendetta, a passionate song writer (and published poet) by the name of Gabriel Moreno, accompanied by his friend on acoustic guitar.  They wear black ties and shirts, black trousers and black shoes, and they sing black songs about Whisky and Women, Lies and Wishing for Impossible Things.  These guys are quality and a lot of thought has gone into the lyrics, which is always an assett for me as I love good lyrics.

At about 11.30 I have to make tracks and say farewell to some of the friendly folks I’d come across.  And I'd met some very friendly people on this night.  So from my own experience, I have to say, there is no such thing as the North South ‘friendliness’ divide.  There are friendly and unfriendly people in about the same measure up and down this great land of ours, and you can’t generalise about human beings and places that way. 

Stumbling out of The Hobgoblin I realise I’d spent every last penny of my thirty five quid and was going to have to walk back to where I was staying near Russell Square.  It had all been worth it, listening to some wonderful music, observing yet another night of transient moments in this musical landscape of ours, downing some beers, and hearing words of wisdom and naivety from a cross section of what is London at this time.  And London changes every day, transforms and modifies itself like a vast living breathing entity where dreams are seldom achieved and the wise man sees them for what they are and not what matters in the end.  Next week will be different.  London is what London is.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Deaf Institute – Manchester (6.11.2010)

The name alone of this venue is intriguing enough to make you want to check it out.  And when I read the flier “Anything goes, all artists welcome”, it sounded like my kind of night.  In fact it’s a relatively new event and run by Guy, with help from his mate Ash, who have set up this night for “the talented lost and found”.

I arrive early to find the venue rammed with diners and drinkers, and there’s a lively feel to the place.  When Guy starts setting up the pa, a queue of musicians and performers quickly assemble around him to get their names on the list.  You get three songs or quarter of an hour for the whole set, which is more than enough for an open mic.  I choose a slot around 9.15 and then get a pint in.

There are three floors to this impressive old building and the open mic takes place on the ground floor.  The décor matches the Victorian architecture and there are several antelope skulls watching over me as I text a friend in Manchester to ask him why he's not here yet?  I’m joined at a long dining table by two lads who are enjoying a Sunday dinner and we get talking.  Turns out one of them is an illustrator who goes by the name of ‘starvinartist’, and I reckon he is starving judging by the way he’s tucking into his Yorkshire pudding.  Starvinartist and his mate are good company and we end up talking about all sorts.

That’s what I like about these nights, you get to meet people you may never otherwise have come across, transitory moments when you have in depth conversations with individuals who you most likely won’t see again.  I also found myself chatting with an array of other miscellaneous individuals; students, poets and musicians.  This was cool because my mate had texted back me to say he wasn’t going to make it – yeah, some people you just can’t rely on (you know who you are ha ha).

Amongst the first of the performers is a poet called Ben and he has some wise words to say about what you do for living, arguing that you would find out more about a person if you asked them what type of music they liste to.  This would, he said, give a better feel for the person, than the work they are in.  I’m inclined to agree because you have to make a living somehow and the stuff we love doing, is not necessarily what we end up doing, unless you want to be a starving artist, which is always an option.

Ben is followed by a young singer called Jealous of Girls who belts out a few of his own songs, including a lively number called ‘Sunnyside up’.  He tells us he’s just brought his own album out and has a few copies with him.  I like the way solo artists are giving themselves band type names at the moment.
I’m on after Jealous of Girls and introduce the audience to the kaoss poetry.  This follows in a long tradition of mixing poetry with music, from the experiments of the beat poets in the 50’s, through to the punk and reggae poets of the 70’s and on into hip hop poets like Sage Francis.  The audience seem a little surprised and I think it’s a positive response.  I recount a story of my Disappeared Friend (which is not a happy tail) and half way through turn an 80bpm chant into a 120bpm dance piece, with some help from a monotron filter.  Guy works hard to get the balance right and I have to thank him for that because it can’t be easy dealing with all these separate samples and vocals.

After my set I take a break out the back on the beer terrace and to wind down some.  There’s guitarist on stage during that time and I feel bad about missing him because he sounds pretty good.  When I go back inside he’s gone and there’s another performer on stage who introduces himself as Mike (Like).  The like is on account he’s from Liverpool.

Mike has pre-recorded and arranged some backing tracks that he sings along to.  It’s a ska like rendition of his original songs, with a scouser twang.  Drifting into the karaoke territory like this is fine by me, and Mike does it exceedingly well.  You can tell he’s enjoying himself and it rubs off on the audience.  Well most of the audience anyway because the geezer sat near me is rolling his eyes and doesn’t applaud once.  You can’t please all the people all the time, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like what you do.

Judging by the long list of performers I spotted near the stage area there is still more good music to come, but near 12 I head out into the Manchester night.  I got work in the morning and some distance to cover.

The Deaf Institute was the first open mic night I’d been to in Manchester and it was a top, top night.  Poetry, music, song and all kinds of performers made for a diverse evenings free entertainment.

Monday, 8 November 2010

What's the book about?

Someone asked me last night, "what's the book about?" And I had to think for a moment because obviously its about open mic nights, but its also about more than that.  I explained it was like a travel log, except instead of visiting places like Mongolia and Peru, I'm going to Bridgend, Llandudno, Oxford and Leeds, and taking a look around.  The music is part of the picture, the amazing characters and performers I come across is another.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Open Mic Travels

During the past year I've been to a wide range of different open mic nights up and down the UK.  From Llandudno to Bridgend, Glasgow to Edinburgh, London to Leeds and many more.  The performers that I remember most of aren't always the best of musicians or the most brilliant singers, its the weird and wonderful stuff that stands out for me.  Like the guy with a mohican who used a lap top to recount a tale of a festival that took place on a burial ground, or the man with a very tall hat (it literally hit the ceiling) who played a twin neck guitar that he'd made using gaffer tape.  Or the human beat box in Bristol who emulated drum and bass and synth sounds in the manner of five grandes worth of electronic gear.  Or the young lad who sang 'These boots are made for walking' and played drums, it was a daring step to take but it worked.  Or the woman who played an assortment of pots and pans through a loop machine.  These eccentricities and sudden bursts of originality are what make these nights interesting for me.  The fact that anyone can get up and do anything they want even more so.  These are the sorts of spirits of adventure I have captured in my book 'Open Mic Travels' and which I think are worth sharing with the world.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Fox and Newt – Leeds (3.11.2010)

The Fox and Newt is situated on the outskirts of Leeds city centre on Burley Street, and the open mic here is hosted by friendly pub manager Becky.  The pub has its own brewery and a selection of real ales created by Burley St Brewery.  I choose a Monza Mild which I have to say is a lovely pint and only two quid.

I get talking to a guy called Rob who is wearing a retro country rock shirt.  You know the kind with the u shaped pockets and embroidered finish, I want one.  Turns out he’s a Gram Parsons fan and that’s good enough for me, because one of my all time favourite songs is Dark End of the Street, as sung by dear old Gram.

The stage area at the far end of the bar is decorated with throws and fairy lights.  There are two stools that have also been covered in fine fabrics.  It has that feminine touch which you don’t get at many open mic nights.  And the practicalities of the sound system are being sorted out by Joel, who it turns out also does the sound up at the Students Union, and clearly knows what he's doing.

Rob kicks off the evenings entertainment with three of his own songs that have a country rock feel to match the shirt he's wearing.  I want to say Americana, but I don't really know what that means, its in that kind of domain.  The last song grabs me and I wish I’d asked him what it was called.  It sounded familiar, even though it was an original, and I guess all of us song writers have experienced that particular dilemma.  But its still damn fine tune.
Rob is followed by Sam and Tom who announce they have never played together before, not even practised.  Listening in you wouln't have noticed, well only a bit, but this is what open mic nights are about, just having a go.  And a good open mic night will take all comers.  Its just about having a bit of fun with music.

The audience is a friendly bunch made up of students, locals and few executive types.  Some of them listen and some of them don’t, some of them dip into a song and then dip outside for a ciggy.  Its all good, people shouldn’t be forced to listen if their not interested.  They haven’t come here to study music, or to massage the egos of us musician types, or to see the next big thing, they’ve just come for a few beers, a bit of a chat and to enjoy some live music.

After Sam and Tom I take some beat poetry to the stage.  I’m interested in the work of the jazz poets of the 50s and 60s, writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski.  I can’t emulate their greatness in writing, but I’m working on combining electronic loops and beats with verse.  It’s not what people were expecting at an open mic but I think some of them enjoyed it, and you can’t ask for more than that.

To make the evenings entertainment additionally eclectic I was followed by Cosmic Charlie’s Jug Band.  Ok, I know I’ve got that name wrong and apologies to the group for that, but it was too long for me to remember.  The jug band features Becky on an assortment of old jugs and it works a treat, though I would have liked to have heard a jug solo, if such a thing is possible.  There were no hecklers shouting 'get your jugs out!' or worse - which came as a surprise.  They sang some sweet songs, including another of my all time favourites Shady Grove.

At around 10.15 my mate Leo Brazil arrived to shake things up.  He’d been on a whistle stop tour of all the open mic nights in Leeds having gone to The Grove, which hosts a famous acoustic night, and another at the Dry Dock which I don't know much about but plan to check it out some time.  Leo's got a flurry of gigs coming up to promote his new album and was out converting punters to his musical ways.  Leo is a shit hot guitarist and also plays loads of other instruments.  He recorded and mixed his album in his home studio with his band The Twitch and you should check them out.  He plays a great song called 'Down in Mexico' which takes me back to Gram Parsons again for didn't old Gram travel down there once?
Leeds has got so much good music going on at the moment and I had a great night at The Fox and Newt.  It was all that an open mic night should be, diverse, entertaining and friendly.  And on top of all that, the quality ales from the Burley Street Brewhouse go down a treat.