Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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An Evening at the Amazing Catweazle in Oxford

July 6, 2012



There is no place on earth like Catweazle at the East Oxford Community Center, I assure you. Oh, there may be a few other Catweazles around – in London, New York, etc. – but there is no way they can be as good as the original, here in Oxford. That is thanks to Oxford itself, the people in it, the room in which it takes place, and last but far from least, Matt Sage, the founder of the open mic and its extraordinarily smooth and witty MC for the past 18 years.

Brad Spurgeon interviews Matt Sage the MC of the Catweazle Club open mic in Oxford England:

Yes, yes, there are open mics and open stages all around the world, and I go to a lot of them and write about them here. But Catweazle has a unique vibe because of where it is located, the kind of people who perform, and the makeup of the show. And Matt’s delivery as an MC. Wanna hear amazing new song compositions by Oxford University student types, or an explanation of Higgs Boson…go to Catweazle Thursday nights in Oxford.

Last night was my fourth time at the open mic here, as I showed up once a year for the last three years, and yesterday. The first year, I arrived at 8 PM, found myself too late to sign up on the large list of performers, and so I defected to the open mic at the Half Moon pub, down the Cowley Road five minutes away. The second year, I got up and did a couple of songs. Last year I did another couple, and last night, one song.

However many songs I got to play or not play, the atmosphere at this community center open mic is very, very worth any time you get to spend there. It is very hippie, with spectators and performers sitting on couches and cushions spread around the room. There is no mic – it puts up a wall between audience and performer, according to Matt in the podcast I did with him (listen above) – and there are no boundaries as to the kind of performance. Mostly music, there is also spoken word – prose, poetry…and scientific educational lecturing….

As a performer you have to arrive at 7 PM for a 7:30, 7:45 sign-up if you want to get on the list. I arrived well before the announced 7:30 signup last night and I was almost last on a list of 20 performers. It is a very difficult venue to play because it is so great: There were around 150 people present at the peak last night listening in a relatively small room, in complete silence. And as there are so many performers, most have only one song to do. Stepping into that religiously quiet atmosphere with 300 ears listening and just as many eyes focusing on you is unnerving. But if you hook into that vibe, it is also a beautiful, unique moment of performance atmosphere.

There was also a longer set by a regular performer, Luke Keegan, and his band, as he has just put out an album.

Words do not quite suit for the atmosphere of Catweazle – check out the videos and podcast to get a better idea.

PS, as I was in Paris the night before, and it was Wednesday, I performed at the Highlander open mic. Thank goodness I ended up going on just before the star of the evening, instead of after him: I would have had no chance against this 12 year old kid, or whatever his age was…and I could not get his name down either, as I did not have my iPhone notepad….

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