Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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The Human Open Mic of the Harcourt Arms

July 1, 2013

LONDON – I have a few minutes in a Starbucks in St. Pancras station on my trip back from Oxford to Paris to write a few words about last night’s open mic at the Harcourt Arms in Oxford, where I played after the F1 race.

It was a bit of a race to get there and when I did I found a very human feel to the Harcourt Arms pub, its staff, spectators and musicians. I had to eat, ran out and got the world’s worst french fries with a passable fish, from a fish and chips joint that calls itself something like “posh.” And I returned to the Harcourt, having found that Nigel Brown had already put my name on the list, knowing I was attending.

I have attended Nigel’s open mics every year since I started staying in Oxford, but the first time it was located down the street from the Harcourt, at a place called Book Binder’s Pub. Book Binders still exists, but it changed management and closed down for a while and during that period, Nigel moved his open mic to the Harcourt. Last night the musicians of the open mic expressed their gratitude to Nigel by presenting him with a bottle of bubbly wine – I don’t think it was French, so I cannot legally call it champagne. It was a celebration of the two-year anniversary of the open mic at the Harcourt.

I decided to run down the street after the Harcourt open mic because I had heard that the Book Binder’s had started up a new open mic and was running it on Sundays too. I was not at all surprised to look into the windows at just after 11 PM and find the pub deserted and the manager putting chairs on the tables to close up for the night. I ran back to the Harcourt and continued to take part in the festivities of speaking with musicians and spectators, and to finish my beer.

Needless to say, I think probably Nigel has won the battle of popularity between the two open mics, if there is such a battle, and I’m not surprised if that’s the case: His MCing is warm and unassuming and enthusiastic, and the musicians range from complete beginners to very good groups of what sound like pros. Unlike the Catweazle club that I wrote about the other day, the Harcourt allows talk in the pub, but nevertheless the audience is receptive to every musician, pretty much.

It’s a great environment, and I will continue to return whenever I’m in Oxford. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, with my own turn behind the mic I had an incredible moment where I could not remember even a single verse of my song, “Crazy Lady,” which I had sung only days earlier at Catweazle, as well as in my hotel. I have no idea where that blank came from as it never happened with that song before – but I decided simply to do my song “Borderline” and then “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” of Dylan. It worked out fine.

Coming next on this blog, a little late, as I will be in Paris, my Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics in Oxford. Also, I will post the videos from Oxford, since I think I will not get any up here in St. Pancras on the train station wifi.

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