Something a little different this week. A guest post from Singer-Songwriter and author Colin Lever on his new book which is out now.
“Reluctantly, Reg stepped up to the microphone…..”
OPEN-MIC Tells the story of Reg, a retired geezer that has his roots in the folk clubs of the nineteen-seventies. Following his retirement, he decides to check out the local music scene. The book traces Reg’s hilarious and often hapless sojourn between musical covers. OPEN-MIC is a tribute to all those musicians, hot or not, that keep music live.
“Entombed among the gardening tools, covered in a mass of cobwebs and other detritus was his guitar case. Reg opened the casket. A sigh emanated from the case as the air rushed inside, breathing new life into its contents. There, lying in state, was his beloved guitar. How Reg adored her, as beautiful today as she had ever been.”
The concept of open-mic nights seem to have come out of the comedy club events in the nineteen-eighties. Many different genres, from poetry to striptease and, of course, music, copied the idea of offering a free slot for acts to get up and perform. They offered ‘serious’ musicians an alternative to karaoke and became a natural replacement for traditional folk clubs, whose music and clientele were on the wane. New kids on the block wanted something less austere, something more ‘fun’.
“Reg flitted from one tune to another. Faded words, forgotten melodies and absent chords upset his rhythm. In some cases, his muscle memory had degraded to the point where he convinced himself that dementia was rotting his brain.”
Whether it be folk clubs or open-mic nights, there is a structure and a dynamic that is common to them all. In one sense they are egalitarian, bringing together people from all sections of society, irrespective of their background. They have a strong sense of community about them. Often, they are an eclectic mix of old sages, discussing the merits of their latest instrumental acquisitions; young bucks trying to emulate the latest vocal sensations; with a gaggle of in-betweeners that have no reason to be there except to enjoy the vibe and have a few beers. They can be hierarchical affairs, where the perceived, least talented, are put on first (or after the raffle!), saving the (perceived) best until last. Clique driven, newcomers are summarily judged and placed in the pecking order, based on talent, empathy, or age but not necessarily in that order. Open-Mic exposes the hypocrisy endemic in these venues with hilarious consequences.
“From his lofty position he could see their faces, like crones, awaiting an execution, waiting for him to f**k-up to confirm their suspicions. Reg rolled his tongue around the inside of his mouth. It was dry and sticky. He made to speak into the mic, but his lips were glued together. When he eventually prized them apart, a tickle developed in his throat. The room closed in, the TV screens grew larger, the images blurring as his eyes lost their focus. Now he felt lightheaded and nauseous.”
Open-mic nights are used by contributors for many reasons. For some they are an opportunity to get out of the house and meet people. For others, they are a place to try out new material prior to gigging. Reg latches onto the latter, prepared to sell his soul for that most valued of achievements, a paid gig. For him it represents recognition, acceptance into the local music fraternity. But will he ever get one?
Songwriters beware, using open-mic nights to promote your material. These evenings are not for the faint-hearted. Like the old Country and Western adage, acts rarely stray from three chords and the truth. Add to that the necessity to use cover songs that are popular, sing-along, easy on the ear and you have a chance of taming the savage beast, one that generally gets up and goes for a smoke while you are performing if they do not like you. Turn up the volume to be heard and so do they. TV screens shine a light on proceedings, showing wall to wall sport as you perform.
“It all seemed to happen in slow motion. What the fuck was he doing? Reg had put his guitar down and was unbuckling his belt. Turning his back to the audience he eased his boxer shorts down below his bum. On display was the hairiest arse that you could imagine.
“F**k me, he’s a f**kin’ gorilla!” Someone shouted.
“He’s a Neanderthal!”
“Ape-man!” The crowd caught on and started to chant. “Ape-man, Ape-man!” The chant reached a crescendo. Reg absorbed the accolade in gladiatorial style. Having dressed himself, he picked up his guitar. “Ape-man, Ape-man, Ape man!” The collective craving was compelling. Reg allowed himself a wry smile. The opening bars sent the mass into raptures and when he reached the chorus, they raised the roof. Appearing from nowhere, Pisspot jumped up on stage, followed by a lumbering Dolores. Pisspot played his usual harmonica and Dolores plugged in her fretless base guitar. The crowd cavorted around in an ape-like fashion. “More, more, more, more!” They demanded.
But if, like Reg, you persist, what you will experience are evenings that will stay with you for a lifetime. You will meet new people, make new friends, share a love of live music with contemporaries. How does the story end? To find that out you will have to buy the book. It is available from Amazon. All my royalties from the book are going to Comic Relief.
Colin will be appearing on The Successful Singer-Songwriter Podcast next week. You can listen here.