Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Open Mic: Just ridiculous

When running MI Pro magazine a few years ago, I interviewed a local musical instrument retailer who had just set up shop at the peak of the credit crunch, with the dark forebodings of recession on everybody’s lips – particularly the business media (I still wonder whether the resulting recession was just as much caused by Robert Peston and his ilk as it was by the greedy, robber barons of the financial world).

“Are you mad?” was the basic angle of my questioning. “Well, if we make it through this, then we’ve definitely done the right thing,” came the confident answer. (Three years later, by the way, Westmount Music in Marlow Bottom is thriving, I am very pleased to report.)

Scale down the annual turnover by several thousand pounds and the activity to creating a new open mic night at The Plough in Wexham (Stoke Poges if you are East End Bob, the landlord) and you have a very similar situation. Starting a new open mic night just as the London Olympics are about to begin, in the peak of summer with all and sundry off on their hols and one does have to ask one’s self whether, indeed, one is mad.

I guess I must be… a bit…

As I mentioned in the first of this series, there is still, decades after my first performances, this dreadful grating and churning of the stomach before a show. Will anybody show? Will I be playing to an empty house? It’s an unpleasant state of being, but one that has clearly resulted in good news rather than bad or I wouldn’t still be here telling you about it.

There has never been a time when no-one turned up… Never, that is, until two weeks ago. Sassy Lozza was away on business and Psycho Deano was on night shift. That was my two regulars gone.

Imagine my delight, then, when Andrew Williams turned up, guitar in hand. At least I would get a break, I thought. Diva Emelia also showed, but that meant I would still be playing.

As the organiser of an open mic night, I think, you need to be ‘on the shop floor’ as it were, as much as you need to be ready to support anyone who needs it. It is important to get to know people, to weed out the quiet types who would never approach you, to get the feedback of the general punters. Stuck at the mic all night is a performer’s dream, but not helpful for an open mic night.

So, after a half an hour of noodling through some well known tunes, I handed over, gratefully to Andrew and went over to Emelia to see what she wanted to do. As we discussed songs, suddenly everything went quiet. Andrew had stopped.

“Everything all right, mate?” I asked. “They’re talking,” came the odd reply. “Who is?” “These people.”

And indeed, there were a group of large and (let’s be fair here) not very intelligent men loudly indifferent to what was going on in front of them.

“Never mind,” I said. That’s what people do in pubs.”

“No, I don’t like that,” said Andrew and promptly unplugged, packed up his guitar and left.

Needless to say, I didn’t get away from the mic again that evening. It was a good show, I thought. Emelia sang, an old mate of mine from drama days turned up and did his idiosyncratic version of House of the Rising Sun, East End Bob did his regular couple of shouty numbers, but the rest of the evening it was just me.

As I said, as a guitarist and singer, it was lovely to have the stage to myself for the evening. As an open mic, it wasn’t quite what it said on the tin.

I must be mad.

Still, it’s September now. Autumn and the short days are upon us. I have survived the worst of times and now it is time for the best of times to arrive…