Sunday, 27 October 2013

Words on Tap - The Chemic, Leeds (25.10.2013)

"A Canadian spoken word specialist, a Derbyshire 
Poet Laureate and an eccentric musical wordsmith
walk into a bar .."

I've been writing poetry for a long time, longer than I've been playing music, and I buy a lot of poetry too, my latest purchase being 'It comes with a bit of song' by David Grubb.  So when I started my open mic travels a few years back, attendance at spoken word nights was a must.  Unfortunately, the first events I tried were snobbish and clique affairs where outsiders, particularly outsiders who were doing something different, were not made very welcome.

I attended several events at that time and found many poets were strangely unfriendly and disinterested, almost sniffy with each other, and I couldn't get my head round what that was about.  Aren't poets the last people on earth you would expect to be snobbish and elitist?  Possibly not.

The last straw was an experience at a slam event where the competition was all sown up and the majority of attendees were left feeling deflated about themselves and their own ability as poets.  Those experiences put me off live poetry and I recoiled back to enjoying reading, rather than listening to, poetry and poets.  I concluded that whilst most music nights were open and welcoming affairs, poetry nights were the opposite, deeply cynical of everything that didn't fit within a particular way of doing things.

That was until I started to discover nights like Beatification in Manchester, The Shipping Forecast in Sheffield and Words on Tap in Leeds.  These nights were genuinely open to new ideas and also mixing things up a little, throwing in some experimental music as well as testing the boundaries of poetry itself through invited guests and open mic slots.

So I was delighted to be asked by Matthew Hedley Stoppard (pictured) to do a guest appearance at Words on Tap at The Chemic in Leeds recently, alongside the wonderful poets Jeff Cottril and Helen Mort (see picture below).  

I kicked off the night with a combination of improvised electronics and beat poetry, and ended with a gypsy tinged piece on guitar called The Vague Plague, which is an abstract narrative about life in a Northern Town.  It all went very well and I was even given a bottle of the specially created 'Odd Ale' for my efforts - inspired by my song 'I Was Odd'. 

I was followed by Canadian writer Jeff Cottrill, who performed a tongue firmly in cheek piece called 'How to win a slam poetry event' - which pretty much confirmed everything I loathe about those nights.  Jeff also did a very clever piece - a review of his own review, which collapsed in on itself in all sorts of interesting ways.

After the break, a line-up of high quality open-mic(ers) returned with too many great performances to list them all, but here's a few.  Steve Nash told the tale of a carnivorous pet rabbit that ate his Mum and Dad - well Halloween is nearly upon us.  Becky Cherriman read poems about Morley and working mills, here's an extract from In Bloom:

Daisy HIll before bungalows and new builds
a time of timed hides and working mills
when the snap of rhubarb resonated in rusted iron drums.  

I could almost hear the rhubarb snapping when she uttered those words.  And Jimmy Andrex combined ukulele and poetry to good effect with a piece called Hearth, also winning a bottle of MHS homebrew in the process.

Helen Mort followed the open mic performers with some excellent poems from her new book Division Street, named after a street in Sheffield and containing poems about the miners strike, conflicts and personal relationships.  Helen's poetry is very real and down to earth, and helped bring a superb evening to a superb finish.

This kind of night does so much to rescue poetry from the pomp and elitism that is apparent at other events I have had the misfortune to attend.  The academic world does not own poetry, the specialists in poetry do not own poetry, the published poets do not own poetry, the publishing industry does not own poetry, the literary agents do not own poetry, the poet laureates do not own poetry.  Poetry is not owned by anyone, it is owned by everyone.

Martin Christie (October 2013)

Every picture tells a story

Here's the picture that Matthew took of myself and the headliners Helen Mort and Jeff Cottril.  Jeff is kneeling down to stroke Helen Mort's whippet but the whippet is not in the picture.  I put my hand awkwardly on Jeff's shoulder as if we were the best of mates because I didn't know where else to put it.  Jeff, being a true gent, didn't take exception to this and later on we exchanged Chapbooks.  Helen Mort looks great and I look a little odd - hence the name of the beer ... and the song.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

How to Start an Open Mic by Carl Chamberlain

I lifted this from Carl Chamberlain's Facebook notes so that others could read its good advice.  It's from a man who knows pretty much everything there is to know about running a decent open mic.

"A friend asked me for info with regards starting an open mic night, this is what I sent him,
Research: Go to other open mics, if you perform, go as a performer, if not, talk to performers, find out what their favorite things are about the open mics they attend. Take notes, contact details, try and get a list of performers before you start.
Things I know:
The management have to want it and know that it is not a profit making enterprise, some nights will be full and profitable, some nights will be empty.
Even the best nights have quiet periods, sometimes for weeks.
Make sure you know what the management want: If they are expecting you to bring a crowd, maybe you should think about another venue.
They may want to hear fantastic music and many nights they will but the only way this can be guaranteed will cost them lots of money as you will be doing a showcase night.
Performers love reward, whether that is food or drink is up to the Management, lots of great open mics offer nothing though and this is not imperative, it is a choice.
It will give performers a sense of respect.
It will bring some people who are only there for the free stuff, they are called free-loaders. There are some who will only come because there is free stuff, these people are called musicians, poets, story-tellers and artistes.
Many will come because of the sound.
Sound is the most important thing to performers, a good sound will beat a good crowd…8 times out of 10, some will never return if the sound is bad.
Better to have a totally acoustic night than use shit pa/equipment.
Advertising your night: Use every avenue.
Make it clear the open mic is happening at the venue before you start.
The regulars need warning, even if they are positive about it, regulars don’t like change until after it has happened. Sudden change will get there backs up.
The regulars are the second most important thing after the management and staff.
For you, the host/compere, the most important thing is the comfort of the performers. The space, the sound, how long they get. Letting them know when they are due to perform, even if the list is visible, by keeping them informed is imperative, I find that telling the person who is due to perform, they are on ‘next’ before the person who is on has started means they can tune up, get a drink, go to the bathroom, have a ciggie, (remind them to tune up, they are nervous and might be used to doing it on stage, try to cut that out of your night if you can, it may not be possible due the venue) do all this by being proactive and positive.
If you have been an audience member and now a host, it is very different. You will rarely get the chance to fully enjoy the night because you are a part of it.
If you are a performer and now a host, don’t use it as a chance to showcase your talent, by all means play, perhaps begin the night, but remember it is an OPEN mic and your guests are more important than you.
When it is over, your joy will be overwhelming, there will be a smile in your heart.
If you are a sound engineer or have one your life will be a lot easier, however they can cost money, some will work for drink or food, some for the love of music or you.
Pay for one if you can, make sure they are willing to teach you so you can cover them if they are ill, having a fag, etc…
A lot of open mics have a continuous stream of performers on stage one after the other. This is cool, this is what open mics are about, the continuing supply of entertainment, music, poetry, comedy.
However, I always have a break between performers by playing recorded music: As a punter, I always want to chat with performers after they come off, to congratulate them, get their details, buy them a drink…as a respectful audience member I won’t talk while another act is on, sometimes missing out on the chance of a flirt, sorry fb/soundcloud/youtube detail.
Tell the audience that this is their chance to go to the bar, talk loudly, meet a stranger, get details from the performer coming off.
I find the chance for audience members to chat at normal levels means I can ask them to be quiet again/grab their attention without it being annoying.
Again, don’t get me wrong, the power of continuation means the vibe can reach a superb level of joy.
The host is the kingpin of the night, your management of the night, ability to make people feel at ease, being professional, honest and fair will allow forgiveness if things go awry.
The atmosphere will depend on you, the success will depend on you, if you are trusted, everyone will support you.
Introduce performers to each other, they are there to network, make it easy.
THE LIST: Decide early how the list will work: Can people book a slot? Is it first come/first served? Are you going to have a ‘showcase’ slot? How many songs/time are you allowing? (3 songs is my favourite)
Be professional, don’t drink until the list is full or the night has started, you will be nervous, things will go wrong. You may need to perform/fill time on stage.
If you’re drunk you may be too honest and diplomacy is one of the keywords.
Respect is another.
Some people will be beginners, encourage them.
Some people will be experienced, listen to them.
Some people will be shite, applaud their bravery.
Some people will be amazing, treat them the same as everyone else.
Successful open mics depend on regularity, sound, atmosphere, host, management support, regulars support, friendliness and luck.
To add to this, if you do have a pa, you may need 2 vocal mics 1 condenser mic that doesn’t need phantom power + 3 mic leads and stands, 2 guitar leads, 2 DI boxes, if possible a stage monitor.
To add to this, you will need to love music/performance and remember the hours/weeks/sometimes months/years of practice the performers have put in and show your respect for that."

Carl Chamberlain January 2013

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Green Room, Sheffield (every Monday night)

It's been a while, but I just wanted to give a shout out for this great little open mic at The Green Room in Sheffield.  It takes place every Monday night and is admirably run by Glenn and Chris.  It's an anything goes night - my favorite kind, but also with a friendly vibe and lovely audience.  You don't get that "in it for themselves" feeling here and last Monday was like a party, which cheered me up no end after a tough day at the machine.

Glenn and Chris work hard to bring an array of instruments into the fold, from electric guitar, acoustic, bass plus amps, and a rather beautiful Hammond keyboard .. oh and a drum kit.  All of this makes for a diverse range of possibilities from full bands through to singer writers and the occasional .. ahem .. beat poet.

I get the impression this night has had its quiet ones, but right here, right now, it is most definitely on the up.  On this night there were so many performers wanting to sign up, the allocated number of songs was reduced from 3 to 2.  Oh, and they also serve some decent real ales to nicely oil the wheels of the open mic shenanigans.  I salute thee Monday Club Open Mic!