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).
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
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
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.