Couldn’t get on X Factor? Nor me. Don’t worry, there’s an open mic near you. Open mics are the antidote to TV talent shows. They’re democratic, honest, and it doesn’t matter if you’re rubbish. In fact open mic audiences prefer it if you’re rubbish – if you forget the words or swallow your plectrum. It makes them think: I could do better than that.
There are hundreds of open mics all over the country. I went on a tour of them with my ukulele last summer. I played at 30 different venues on a six week trip from Brighton to Cape Wrath. Here are 8 of the best I came across
1) Winchester. The Railway. It’s upstairs away from the main bar which gives it a club feel. There are stage lights, and someone on the mixing desk who knows how to make you sound a lot better than you are. A good local crowd, plenty of musicians on a range of instruments. There was a group of Americans there when I visited. They loved everything. I played a Neil Innes song and they went crazy. But I think I could have read the county cricket scores out and got the same reaction.
2) Bath. Curfew Inn. There’s a thriving open mic scene in Bath. I just pitched up at The Curfew and had such a good time. There were only about ten people in the audience but they were all up for it. I played Chuck Berry songs and they were jiving away right in front of me. Had to stop when someone crashed into the amp. Someone actually asked me if I had a CD.
3) Great Malvern. The Great Malvern Hotel. Lots of places to play in this area too. “Sod all else to do,” said a local. Mike the host plays good blues piano and there’s a good standard here. Place was packed. A couple of guys at the bar had a loud conversation about scaffolding throughout my set. A good folk band played at the end – maybe a bit too good for an open mic.
4) Chester. Telford’s Warehouse. On a wet, miserable Sunday I turned up at this canal-side venue thinking no-one would be out on such a night. But it was heaving. A woman called Kai Lei was the host and it was like a variety show. A guy played the accordion and sang in French. There was some chamber music and some jazz. My ukulele rhythm and blues fitted right in. A great audience, and video screens all around. It was like being on the pyramid stage at Glasto.
5) Bangor. The Greek. A Greek restaurant in Bangor where Clwb Cabaret have a weekly open mic. Very friendly. Table cloths and candles. Some good Welsh folk music and a belly dancer. I remember I played Tiger feet and everyone went for a drink. Then the host got us to write a song which he performed. It was awful.
6) York. The Habit. Wednesday night in York is like an open mic festival there are so many to choose from. The Habit was just right: busy, cosy and varied. One young man turned up with his fan club who screamed when he sang. I soon put a stop to that.
7) SOAP. Saltburn Open Acoustic Platform. Every town should have a SOAP. Friday night and all ages, all abilities get together at the Saltburn Con Club and do their own thing. They even video all performers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJoLpOL1WOY
I left Saltburn thinking open mics could repair fractured communities, improve mental health, stop wars. They should have an open mic at the UN.
8) Ullapool. Argyll Hotel. In the summer this fishing village on the Scottish west coast is a truly international place. Its CalMac link to the Outer Hebrides attracts travellers from all over the world. The Argyll Hotel was like a bar in some border town, full of French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Japanese. There’s a weekly session here where musicians sit round a table and take it in turns, and the audience applaud like crazy. An American played bluegrass. A German sang a folk song. A Scotsman sang in Gaelic. One local sang a song he’d written about his dog who was sitting on a cushion next to him. The evening ended with Scotland the Brave. Not many people knew the words.
I should add there were just as many dreadful evenings on this trip. You can read the whole story in The Uke of Wallington, published May 1st, AA Books