A couple of months ago I wrote about the importance of Open Mic nights for the development of your writing and performing skills.
I’ve been writing and performing locally for the past year, but recently the Open Mic management has changed, and with it their policy. Now we have ‘featured acts’ who are pre-booked into double slots. Other performers turn up on the assumption that it’s still an Open Mic night and get slotted in between or after the ‘features’. And then there’s me.
For the last two months I’ve turned up, put my name on the list, nursed a pint or three and then gone home again un-performed because the evening overran and there was no time left.
After a few weeks of this, I asked for a ‘featured’ slot instead, only to be told that the featured slots were all booked up for the forseeable future. To be honest, I began to wonder if this was personal. Is the ageing rock god persona non grata now? And for a couple of weeks I found better things to do. But talent must out, and I determined a new and cunning plan.
A new and cunning plan
I’d turn up early and book into the very first slot! The plan was immediately put into action. Although I’m developing a set around Loopy HD on iPad, a Bluetooth footswitch and a funky little rechargeable pedalboard, I decided to roll up on Monday with acoustic guitar and trusty BeatRoot stompbox for speed and simplicity.
The plan was flawless. I got in as the loudspeakers and mics were being set up. I settled down for a pint and watched like a hawk for the appearance of the performer list to add my name (why a hawk would watch for a list is beyond the scope of this article). For long, aching minutes I made casual conversation at the bar, glancing sideways- and suddenly there! The list was being compiled! And like a bird of prey I was hovering over the list, silent in the updraft and then swooping down, out of the sun, claws extended- and the list was already full! Three featured slots and a couple of other performers. One gap at the end with a young visitor just written in. If we didn’t mind cutting down to two songs each we could both fit in?
The pub has a strict curfew - no noise after 11 - and I’d just been handed the 10.50pm slot on an Open Mic night now notorious for overruns. Fat chance, frankly.
(Hmmm... reckon there’s a nickname in there for someone.)
Still, I went home (the pub really is just round the corner) and spent a couple of hours working on web sites. A couple of run-throughs of the love-song I’ve been waiting to play for Ruth since Valentine’s and then it’s 10.30pm and time to go. Except Ruth won’t come out because she's had enough of this and is just a little worried she’ll punch someone.
And so, at 10.55pm, after two months, I’m back on Open Mic, introduced as the “infamous James Bisset” straight after the young lad who’s so good he “must come back for a featured slot”. And I don’t play the love song for Ruth which I've rehearsed (what’s the point, she’s not there). Instead I rush and stumble through I’m Back, stop short and panic into Fire It Up just as the bar staff ring the closing bell.
You’re only as good as your last gig
And mine was shite.
No, it was shite.
Just 24 hours captain
There being no accessible drains for me to slither down and disappear, I had to pack up and run the gauntlet of embarrassed smiles and encouraging nods as I left (encouraging nods are great when you’re 15, slightly awkward when you’re over 60). Straight home to Ruth, a truncated summary (“Yes, you were absolutely right”), a couple of cans of beer and the safe haven of Bullseye on Challenge, where you can always be sure of a worse performance than your own. Deep breaths, Jim.
The next morning, I walked the dogs, shouted at BBC Radio 4 Today (British Bropaganda Corporation), washed the breakfast dishes, hung up the laundry, checked the email and picked up a guitar. I strummed, stamped, sang and shouted my way through Keep On. Jeez that's compelling! Then a quick blast through the revitalised Dog’s Life - so freakin’ relevant and what a hook! And then a quick tear through the newest song ideas which dance and sway teasingly, half-realised on the edge of my consciousness.
There is so much good stuff here! This is good! I'm good at this!
That didn’t take long Jim.
Ain’t no stopping us now
Let’s face it, I've been failing at this business for most of my adult life. I’ve spent years not finding an audience through a dog’s dinner of sycophants and liggers, managers and agents, bookers and entrepreneurs, and most of them with ideas about how I could be less like me (some of them astonishingly cheesy).
I know that I can find an audience. I just haven’t done it yet. Here’s what’s on offer:
- original material about current issues
- grounded personality
- confident, relaxed performance
- doesn’t use a capo
- not quite soulful enough
- not quite rootsy enough
- not quite serious enough
- too political
- old enough to be your grandpa
- doesn’t use a capo
Frankly, I can’t understand why South Manchester pubs aren't eating out of my hand.