Saturday, 17 December 2011

Open Mic Travels 'Synopsis'

Chapter One - Coventry

My journey begins in Coventry and the city I grew up in. A meeting with a difficult bunch of NHS Managers is followed by a trip down memory lane, and an open mic at a pub just off the ring road. Here is where I meet Derek with whom I share a smoke and watch an alcoholic Shirley Bassey sing Gold Finger.

Chapter Two – London

My first trip to a London open mic ends in disaster. The organiser of the event at a Ladbrooke Grove venue has vetted and chosen all the acts, and it’s not as open as it appears. Most of the acts display that unfortunate characteristic of those with the stars in their eyes and are made dull as a result. An Australian song writer called Booker rages at a complacent and self absorbed audience across an empty dance floor.

Chapter Three – Bridgend

The South Wales event is a revelation and a night to remember. This time I am accompanied by a work colleague and we share moments of fear and then elation as a place we had been warned not to go, turns into a place that I would happily go to every week. I sang Mackerel Fishing by Old Man Pie and tracked down a hangover cure the following morning.

Chapter Four – Wakefield

The chill wind starts to bite and the cold climate arrives. Work trips and meetings have to be cancelled because of travel chaos and the frozen conditions. I find there is an open mic not far from where I live at a legendary music venue called The Hop. A proper comedian sings a song about digging to the centre of the world with a spoon. A band fresh from the School of Rock gesticulate and strut around the stage in a stereotypical fashion. My work with the difficult group of NHS Managers comes to a sticky end.

Chapter Five – Glasgow

I leave the relative comfort of a high rise hotel in the centre of Glasgow and find myself amongst folk singers and musicians. We occupy a circle of tables and each one of us offers a song or a reel to the group. A man with a permanent smile plays a banjo with fingers of fire and a Mother and daughter scowl at the ceiling whenever the Englishman sings a song. At the end of the night I walk through the pouring rain and discover the truth about music.

Chapter Six – Leeds

I see the writing on the wall as a contract slips through my fingers at the cutting of a budget. And I rediscover the wisdom of the pub landlord somewhere North of Leeds city centre where I also meet Robo and Vic, and play songs to an audience of five happy rvellers. A long haired man in his sixties sings about a soldier returning from Afghanistan – in an American accent, his voice is gruff and I am told this is how I should sing.

Chapter Seven – Edinburgh

I have an encounter with a man who makes fudge and walk a wobbly path to Scotland’s best open mic – allegedly. Later on, I find myself in a bar the size of a living room where Haggard from Harry Potter is chewing the fat. The Project Board learn they may not have a job to go to in 6 months time and naturally have little interest in the main purpose of the meeting..

Chapter Eight – Bristol

I go head to head with the norovirus and the virus wins during a round trip to the Llyn Peninsula and Bristol. I play electronic beats and spoken word between bouts of illness and hallucination. I meet a friendly bunch of drinkers who are high on fermented apples. Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver, computes a song about a festival that took place on a burial ground. I go to Payback Records in Bristol market and see the history of music being forgotten before my very eyes.

Chapter Nine – Halifax

In Halifax a tired man plays a guitar through an echo chamber and tells the story of a whale that is dying. Later he tells me of his lost dreams and how he'd once hoped to become famous for his whale song. Then another singer with the tallest hat in the world plays a home-made twin necked guitar that is held together with gaffer tape. Hey Weirdo! I get punched in the face for the poetry.

Chapter Ten – London

I have unfinished business in London and am determined to play a tune somewhere in the capital. It’s Fathers Day, so I spend a weekend with two of my sons and find the music in Brick Lane. Finally I get to perform Smells of London (in London) and meet one of the busiest guys in the open mic game who gives us a warm welcome (there are some great places to play in London - they just take a bit of finding).

Chapter Eleven – Manchester

To the centre of the city at night!  The city that produced some of my favourite bands and artists. I find The Noise Upstairs and explore improvised and abstract walls of sound with a group of high brow players. Clarinet is mixed with amplified paper rips, boxes of printed circuits are mixed with toy drums. Then I head to The Deaf Institute for more random musicality. Sadly, I learn that an ex-colleague whose business had gone under has had a breakdown.

Chapter Twelve – Llandudno

The jewel of North Wales and the blue rinse brigade shuffle between the burly seagulls on the promenade. But there is also great music to be found at The Cross Keys, where a talented singer called Rachel presides over the evening’s entertainment and comperes the proceedings in a very unique way. I find I can see history in the rocks of the Great Orme and leave Llandudno with the taste of a spider in my mouth.  It's been a good year for the spiders.

Chapter Thirteen – Sheffield

The Steel City gives me a cold reception and I am stopped in my tracks by drunks and a teapot of death.  Poets and writers at a spoken word event don't have much time for music and noddy hats can't listen, they can only play with phones.   I find an alliance with a comedy duo that die a death at the hands of a skateboarding heckler.  I love Sheffield.

Chapter Fourteen – Brighton

It seems like Brighton is the open mic capital of England and there are so many good nights to choose from. But I lose my way on the train and head for the hills when I completely screw up a job application. In the end I find myself in the Druids Head and play electronic beats to a bar fly, two cougars and a man with a nervous dog.

Chapter Fifteen – Birmingham NEC, Britain’s Got Talent

Quite by chance I enter the belly of the beast and the arch enemy of everything I believe and have explained. I get an insight into televised wealth creation and the fame game explains everything to me. Now I know why the caged bird sings. I still meet some wonderful individuals who make me question the journey and the fact it is nearing an end. Daydream Nation is playing on my ipod.

Chapter Sixteen - Huddersfield

Work has gone quiet and it provides me with the opportunity to finish this book. Every cloud has a silver lining. There is no reason to travel around the UK anymore because the contract work has been hit by the cuts - I'm forced to think about my future. So I take to attending a nearby open mic and enjoying what’s on offer. I play ‘Life is for Living’ and it pretty much sums up my journey. That to take part and enjoy the things that we are lucky to be offered, or have created for ourselves, is enough.