Sunday, 26 February 2012

The worlds best open mic!

Twelve steps to create the perfect open mic (a personal view)

Having travelled to over one hundred different open mics in different venues around the UK - I came to the conclusion it was time to write up my top tips for what makes a great night for everyone involved (audience, performers, organisers and venue).

1. Find the right venue! If the place is already a known music venue this is good, but not essential. The right venue and the right management should make musicians, performers and their friends welcome - and not dictate what can and can't be heard.

2. Agree a night and keep it simple.  The third tuesday of every second month of the year is not easy to remember for those of us with damaged memories!  Whether its once a week, or once a month, get the night fixed and get the word out.
3. Make sure it is truly an 'OPEN' open mic.  Good nights are when anything goes (as long as it doesn't involve shitting on the stage - see previous blog) and all styles of performers are received with equal enthusiasm.

4. Following on from the above, actively encourage a diverse range of musicianship and performance.  Non stop singer-songwriters with guitars (all night long) can become a tad boring, its good to have a range of musicality going on.

5. Publicise the night and keep the information up-to-date whether through a facebook page or e-mailed newsletter etc.  There's nothing worse than arriving at an open mic and finding its been cancelled and no-one could be arsed to tell you. 

6. Make sure you've got a decent PA and several mics (plus functioning mic stands).  I'm not talking top notch gear, but it should work and preferably be operated by someone who knows the kit.

7. Do it for LOVE, not for FAME!  Obsession with being succesful in the music industry clouds judgement.  It can also make a hostile environment in which only those deemed suitable for the stage, or a part of some musical clique, are accepted to the stage.

8. Give performers something back.  A recording or film of their performance is a nice touch, a free drink is also appreciated.  It needn't cost much but again, makes for a friendly atmosphere in which musicians are appreciated for their endeavours.

9. One song is not enough!  Give performers time to play two or three numbers so they can reveal something of themselves (I'm not talking body parts here).

10. Set up a booking system that is fair to everyone.  I would recommend: first come, first served, ideally at the venue, on the night.  In this way even if people don't get to play if they like the night will come back and make sure they get  to play next time.

11. Become a compere!  I've been to many nights where the performers set up, do their bit and pack away without so much as a take it or leave it.  It doesn't take much to introduce the acts and also to thank them when they've finished.

12. And finally, get paid for your hard work. If you're the organiser of one of these nights you'll know it takes a lot of work and the venue is taking the cash at the bar on what would otherwise be a quiet night.  Your hard work should be repaid at a fair rate.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Open Mic Travels - OUT NOW!

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Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

The Royal Oak, Edinburgh - Part 2 (16.2.2012)

The Royal Oak is on Infirmary Street and has been home to traditional folk music since the 1960’s.  It is housed within a complex of buildings that date back hundreds of years to when the people of Edinburgh feared leaving the enclaves of the city for being attacked by the English.  Its said that the situation led to the building of the first high rise flats, as space was at a premium within the walls of Edinburgh.  Read more about it by enlarging the next photo.

As per my last visit the musicians were assembled in a corner to the right of the entrance.  This time they included a mandolin player, a violinist and a guitarist who were running through a cover of Walking After Midnight by Patsy Cline.  There was a small crowd of Japanese and European tourists assembled near the bar and they looked as if they were getting quietly hammered on the many whiskies and real ales that were on offer.  There were also some locals out enjoying the music, and a woman listening in as she created golden chains of jewellery for sale.  The atmosphere was a friendly one and perfect for the non-amplified folk music, for which the place has clearly become worldwide famous.

I supped on a quiet pint listening to my favourite singer of the entire night, a guy that I later discovered is called Bobby Nicholson (see viddy below) and also plays in Rantum Scantum (recommended to me by Misk Hills Mountain Rambler).  Bobby had the perfect amount of dry humour in his music which I think I’m right in saying was a mix of traditional and home spun songs.  His vocal style employed an effective rush of words that fit between neat sequences of guitar playing. 

I didn’t get to play in Edinburgh this time round, mostly because there wasn’t a night suitable for my own style of music making, but I still had a good evening soaking up some sounds I wouldn’t normally listen to and enjoying the layers upon layers of musical history and currency that Edinburgh has to offer.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh - Part 1 (16.2.2012)

Edinburgh is built on Edinburgh. You may think you’re at level zero, but there’s always another level right beneath where you’re standing. You don’t have to spend too long in the place to discover some of its layers, but there are always more layers to be found.

My night out begins at the Voodoo Rooms, a gem of a place in the heart of Edinburgh and not far from Waverley Station.  The Voodoo Rooms boast wonderful interiors and its own glittering ballroom set up for all kinds of live music and performance.  On this night it's hosting a rhythm and blues jam organised by Ash Gupta.  I’ll admit I’ve not been to many ‘jam nights’ to date as my preference is for the eclectic and wide ranging open mic, but there’s always a first time and besides, there were no open mics to be found in Edinburgh on this particular evening.

A solo guitarist called Roger kicks off the proceedings with songs he has penned himself, adding that the riffs are mostly stolen as there’s not much more you can do that hasn’t already been done with 12 bar blues.  And this is one of the reasons why I’ve avoided these kinds of nights to date, because the few jam nights I've attended have always taken the easy route into what I can only describe as formula blues.  But Roger’s second song is a strongly emotional piece called Photograph, recalling various pictures of friends, relatives and loved ones in each verse.  It’s a powerful bit of song writing and nicely supported by some harmonica playing.  I’m working on my harmonica playing at this time so I listen intently to how he handles the 'diatonic scale'.

The house band are on after Roger and I miss a good deal of their set as I’m waiting to get served at the bar for what seems like forever.  There aren’t many people waiting with me, but the bar staff are making fiddly cocktails that take ages to prepare - half alcohol half biscuit beverages (with carefully placed coffee beans on top) that cost a small fortune.  I never knew there was so much in it and felt quite boring when I asked for a pint of Guinness.  By the time I got back to the house band they had worked their way through the 50’s and 60’s, to arrive at some 70s rock, overlayed with some highly skilled and enjoyable lead saxophone.

The compere reminds us that this is a jam night and anything can happen, because anyone can turn up and play and you never know who is going to walk in.  However, as the context of the evening is very much rhythm and blues it feels like anything that does happen has to remain grounded in those musical rules.  I don’t think an impromptu piece of live electronica or spoken word would go down well with the audience!   

But it’s a friendly spot and a relaxed atmosphere, as two more musicians turn back the hands of time once again with a Rolling Stones version of Route 66.  You can tell these guys love what they’re doing so it rubs off on you whether you’re a (Rolling) Stones fan or not.  A blues band from Glasgow follow the house band and they include another excellent saxophonist.  If you love your rhythm and blues you’ll love it here.

I enjoyed my few hours at The Voodoo Rooms, but as the night was still young (for Edinburgh nights are always young) I also had time to go back to one of the venues featured in Chapter Seven of my book, and listen to another genre of music that comes with its own set of rules and candid expectations - folk music.