That open mic… (part 1)

You may know it already but here in the UK there is this wonderful cringe-oriented concept of hosting a night (usually in pubs) where a microphone is left open to whoever would like to make any use of it. Quite obviously, songwriters (80%), poets (luckily 15%) and comedians (5%!) cover 100% of the night. There are essentially no rules except that you can perform two or three songs or just no longer than ten-fifteen minutes. Some places even give a drink for free to the performer. In a night, you may have from ten to twenty acts.

OK, now you know what an open mic night is. You effectively just read the label on the box.

So we enter the place…

(the Facebook event said to be there by 7pm to sign up — yes, you have to sign up. There is a logic.)

When I arrive at 7pm, there is a queue of about ten people. The queue effectively has no head, unless you may consider an arbitrary table as the finishing line. I feel effectively like at the GP, in the waiting room, and based on some faces, some of them just left the GP and forgot to go to the pharmacy.

The host arrives, he greets everyone, he is a nice guy with a super jolly face. I don’t even want to try and imagine what he thinks every time he sees that queue.

He says, clearly and nicely, “Guys, 2 songs each, please have your guitar tuned.”

I noticed the “from another era” man, with his best flower-power shirt… he is going for a Dylan’s cover and a song he wrote about the time he met his wife. A total of 16 verses and no chorus — I’m dramatically sure about it.

So yeah, I’m number 9 on the list. You know how can you know how many acts are left on an open mic night? Just count how many people are left in the audience. I know it’s a bad joke but… hey.

So yeah, I’m alone, I’m at the pub, everyone is with a guitar in a soft-case and eyes stuck on the smartphone, so the only thing I can do is going to the bar and have a pint. I drink slowly, I have to.

First act: girl in her 20s, says it’s the first time she is performing live. Someone shouts “woo ooh!”

Second act: man in his 30s, says it’s first time he is performing live. Someone shouts “woo ooh!”

Third act: man in his 40s, says he is going to perform some Dylan’s tunes. Someone shouts “woo ooh!”

After the fourth act, the “woo ooh!” goes silent. Empirically, the fourth act was doing those woo ooh’s.

The man doing Dylan goes for the long ones. 34 verses. Unstoppable. He thinks this is Woodstock. I think I’m going to die.

A typical behaviour by open mic performers is to say they just wrote a new song so they apologise if they make any mistake with the lyrics. Now, tell me, how many points of failure are in such a concept?

Some others like to pretend they just woke up so may not really remember which song to play. That is very cool to say if you are Jimi Hendrix on acid. A bit less if your name is James Smith and you just arrived by bus.

So yeah, I had my second pint. I’m going to have three before my turn comes. This means that my two songs will sound more like a stand-up comedy than actual songs but hey, it’s an open mic. (can anyone say “woo ooh!”, please?)

Why 85% of songwriters with a guitar must start their song with an arpeggio? More on this, I promise, it’s a whole chapter of applied psychology.

There is a woman, early 30s, a very good looking woman sitting at a table, alone. She is drinking white wine, in glasses, two by two. After I finish my performance she smiles at me and says “you’re brilliant!” — I smile back and say thank you and quickly ask if she would like one more glass of wine — she says no. My American Dream is over.

But I have to verify. I pay attention. Two more acts. I can confirm she says “you’re brilliant!” to everyone. And she is a performer. She sings with backing tracks (some venues don’t like that — as it gives a desperate karaoke feeling). She sings two covers. Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston.

I’ve seen people singing Creep. I’ve seen people at the piano playing Imagine.

But the trick is: the best open mics are the worst ones. Where the unpredictable happens. Where people that should not touch a guitar go for a solo. Where poets should not not not write poems about the usual suspects: love, society (that don’t like them), the loss of a dear friend (highly chances… a real one).

But let me add this, too: open mic nights exist because people still have a lot to say, maybe not the most interesting things with the best skills ever but… OK, open mic nights exist so pubs can sell pints on Monday evening. I thought as a performer I was going to receive a pint, right? No, that was with the previous organizer, we cut that off with this one.

I’m done, I tend to stay for a few other acts then I thank and say bye to the organizer. He says “thank you, bye Tom!”

My name is not Tom.

… click here for the second part!




25% author, 25% composer, 20% musician, 10% IT manager, 20% imagination.

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Ivan Perilli

Ivan Perilli

25% author, 25% composer, 20% musician, 10% IT manager, 20% imagination.

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To sketch, to depict, to describe