Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Open Mic Story - Part One

Maybe it's because I've been teaching all day, but I've come home and decided to write a history blog. Don't worry, it's not the Tudors or Stewarts, and there won't be a test, but I just thought I'd take you on a little trip down memory lane and talk about how I first got into that staple of my gigging diet over the past four or five years, hosting open mic nights.

As I said above, I started about four and a half years ago. Truthfully, the only way I remember how long it's been is to try and count up the amount of Christmas Special open mic nights I've done at The Woodman. I think it's four.
Though The Woodman in Bilbrook is my longest running venture, and the first venue I had all to myself, it wasn't my first ever taste of hosting. That came at The Bird in Hand, Tettenhall, where I took over a fortnightly slot filling in for Andy Turner, who wouldn't commit to weekly events, after attending a few times and deciding it didn't look 'that' difficult. I can't take all the credit though, it was mainly my dad's idea. As we both played in bands at the time, and as such knew at least a small amount about buying and setting up a PA system, we at least had some insider knowledge, and so we both invested (half each, as I recall) in a simple Carlsbro vocal PA, costing around £400 for two powered 12" speakers, a four track desk and the cables to connect it all together. Over the years I have added to my collection of sound re-enforcement equipment, but I still use these speakers on a regular basis.
Not long after that I approached The Crown in Codsall, then named Butler's Bistro, about putting on a music night there. The first night on my own terms was a success, with friends and fellow musicians coming down to help me out and see what all the fuss was about. We didn't get chance to do many more before the manager left and the pub closed once more.
Not to be discouraged, I moved on to The Woodman in Bilbrook, a pub just 2 minutes walk from my house (though longer when carrying speakers, a fate I encountered only once after falling out with dad and him refusing to take me!). This has become a fixture of my open mic diary, and a relatively well supported night with a loyal local clientèle. I started off here playing for nothing more than a free meal and a stage to showcase my songs, as well as those of a growing list of friends and musicians. The Woodman has always been on the last Thursday of every month (except December, when we usually move the night to make it into a Christmas party) and I believe that this regularity has helped the night survive above other nights I have hosted.
I started back at The Crown when it was taken over by a new landlord, who turned it back into a pub. The first open mic back there was a roaring success, with many people coming to perform in the bar area. The night before I was attending a friend's gig at The Little Civic in Wolverhampton when I got a call about the open mic, asking if I was providing a drum kit. I don't own one, so obviously that was a no, but the gentleman asked if he could bring one. I agreed and the next night we had two local lads turn up and rock the place! It all finished with an impromptu performance of 'Summer of 69' with about eight people on stage, and me on lead vocals. The whole place was bouncing. I'll never forget it.
Thus started the most fruitful chapter of my open mic career. Hosting monthly nights at The Woodman (now paid), The Crown and The New Inns in Brewood, an ill-fated venture into a pub that didn't want to advertise the fact that an open mic was there in case someone came who wasn't very good, and a fortnightly open mic at The Bird in Hand, my calendar was filling with music events and as part time jobs go, it was the best I could possibly wish for. I;d only ever had a paper round before that!
I'll finish off this part of the open mic story by talking about one of my most successful nights to date, a night that is still talked about by music aficionados of the Codsall area. As the open mic at The Crown really started to take off, we moved the stage setup from the bar area into the main function room, which came complete with a stage. I would book a band to finish the night's entertainment, and had applicants from far and wide. On one occasion I had a message on MySpace (showing my age there!) from one Kev Fox, a solo singer/songwriter from Manchester who was looking for gigs to complete a touring circuit of the Midlands. I invited him down to The Crown after listening to and enjoying his haunting music.
The night came and so did the Manchester touring act, Kev Fox and his support. And to my delight so did the people of Codsall! For a mere open mic night we suddenly had acts from a different county and over 100 people crammed into the function room at the back of The Crown. I still keep in touch with Kev, now playing frequently in Poland and Germany, and he remembers the night fondly.
Thus ends the first part of my open mic story. Keep an eye out for part two, which includes new songs, venues, ventures and a list of some of my favourite acts from across the years.
See you in a day or two,
Sam.