Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Changes at the Great Britain Hotel Open Mic in Melbourne

March 17, 2016

great britain open mic joint in Melbourne

great britain open mic joint in Melbourne

MELBOURNE – The Great Britain Hotel open mic in Melbourne is one of my favorites, and always has been. I’m not quite sure why, except to say that I have always felt comfortable there. Otherwise, it is hardly the best attended open mic, either in the numbers of musicians or in the numbers of spectators. I had not been there for a year or two, but it was the first place I decided to go on this trip to Australia, after arriving yesterday, jet-lagged out of my brain. And it turned out to be a fabulous evening, despite one of the best features of the venue having been done away with….

I’m talking about the absolutely fabulous stage in the back room that this place used to have, and which was one of the main features of performing at this open mic. They got rid of it. Imagine getting rid of a large stage with a kind of proscenium arch effect and everything, and putting in its place … a kitchen! The slightly open kitchen. How could they? And they replaced the stage with a kitty-cornered stage in the front part of the pub. A very small, kitty-cornered stage.

Having said that, this also fixed one of the main problems with the Great Britain Hotel open mic as I had noticed it in previous years: It was the kind of place where the audience would assemble in the back room when friends of the spectators were there, and then they would clear out of the room entirely when an unknown musician went up. You could not play to the whole hotels space and might often find yourself playing to no one!

The new setup means that you can reach not only people in that back room – and kitchen – but also in the middle room, on which the stage also plays out to, and the front room (where the bar is, in front of the stage), AND to the people outside on the street. This is highly, highly preferable. In fact, it gives unknowns a chance they never had to attract listeners.

On top of that, they also changed the format of the open mic, and now it is broken down into half-hour sets for each performer. That’s fabulous! And if you happen to be a spectator and don’t like the performer, you can still seek refuge in the pool room off the other side of the bar, or in the back terrace outside, far from the stage.

So all in all, I kind of like the Great Britain Hotel open mic even more than I did before, despite the death of its fabulous stage. Oh, and I think I know why I like it; I’ve always just felt comfortable in this place. And that’s important – especially when you’re performing.

I’ll be back! (If I still keep coming to Melbourne.)

Boogieing at Mr. Boogie Man Bar in Melbourne

March 12, 2015

Mr Boogie Man Bar

Mr Boogie Man Bar

MELBOURNE – Oh, the jet-setting life! So I got to Melbourne yesterday by way of Dubai, and during my brief stop-over in the UAE airport, I get this email message from an Australian fellow traveller who happened to be passing through Melbourne and who remembered meeting me at an open mic last year at the Great Britain hotel. He so kindly told me that the open mic at the aforesaid joint no longer exists, but that he knew of a great new one that also took place on Wednesday nights, would I like to go? If so, I should write the guy who runs the open mic, and who also runs the bar, and ask for a slot. So I did, and I went, and it was great. But that’s not all….

So I get to this new venue that has been open for a year now, called Mr. Boogie Man Bar, and I find Fender Stratocasters papering the walls, and I find stuff like a poster for a Bob Dylan concert in Greenwich Village in 1960, and Rolling Stones photos, and Hendrix photos, and signed guitars, signed albums, all sorts of memorabilia, and a big stage at the end of the bar and a mic and a woman singing. And David, the guy who runs the place.

Mr Boogie Man Dylan gig poster

Mr Boogie Man Dylan gig poster

So I find I’m signed up for 22:40, and I have plenty of time to listen to the music – including by my considerate acquaintance from last year, another man named David – and I ask David – the one behind the bar – where I can go to eat. He had pizza, but as I ate pizza on the flight that day, and then a panzerotti in Melbourne (in the only shop that sells them in Melbourne), I was not so keen on pizza. So David directs me to a fish and chips joint down the street. And as I make my way down to the fish and chips joint, and I’m remembering how last year I had attended an open mic on the Thursday night – the Acoustic Café – and went to a fish and chips joint, and so wasn’t life similar so often?, I find myself approaching this fish and chips joint and saying, “My God, it’s the SAME fish and chips joint as last year!” but I’m approaching from another direction.

So then it is that I realize that I am indeed in the same neighbourhood as last year’s Thursday night open mic – which no longer exists, and is not to be confused with the Wednesday night open mic that no longer exists – and here I am going to the fish and chip joint where I had such terrible fish and chips last year. So I go around the corner and get a plate of duck meat rigatoni to go from Rita’s, a hip restaurant.

Mr Boogie Man Dylan scrapbook

Mr Boogie Man Dylan scrapbook

I return to Mr. Boogie Man’s bar, order another Shiraz – under the Mr. Boogie Man label – and I sit and listen to David – my friend who invited me. And boy am I glad he invited me. This is a very cool open mic, more than enough to replace the Great Britain hotel, and much of its greatness comes from David – the owner behind the bar. A well organized open mic, great sound system, funky bar, great feelings.

My only criticism? Most of the musicians booked their slot, came, played their three or four or five songs, and then left, without listening to the other musicians. That’s a bit impersonal. But for those who did stay, it was a fun, warm and celebratory night. I’ll definitely return – as long as Mr. Boogie Man does not go the way of the Great Britain hotel and the Acoustic Café come next year!

Great Australian Experience at the Great Britain Hotel Pub or Whatever….

March 13, 2014

great britain open mic joint in Melbourne

great britain open mic joint in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia – So here I am at the nighttime of the second day of my time in Melbourne, on a clock time of I don’t know what, since there is a 10-hour difference to my homeland of Paris. But I do know that I have now actually taken part in TWO open mics. And I do know that both experiences were astounding. OK, that’s hyperbole. Wait until I write a bit about tonight’s experience tomorrow. For the moment, I’m writing about yesterday’s experience today. If you find that confusing, imagine how I feel going through all the time differences….

Anyway… last night it was another visit to the mainstay Melbourne open mic of the Great Britain Hotel and/or pub. I say and/or because as far as I can see this place is not a hotel but only a pub. Still, there may well be a hotel upstairs – but if there is, I wouldn’t want to go there. Having said that, the open mic is well worth it.

It’s a well organized one with a great little stage, a nice sound system, excellent lighting, and an all together cool experience. And it has been going for years. I think this was my third or fourth year playing here, and each time I have actually had different experience. So anything I say about it today, will probably be out of date tomorrow….

But after last year I thought it had taken a little turn for the less crowded and interesting, this year suddenly there was a nice sized audience and a number of very cool and interesting musicians. There were also about four or five comics, which I don’t think I had ever seen even one of before.

So expect anything at the Great Britain open mic in Great Melbourne!

And stay tuned for tomorrow at the open mic I attended tonight, because it was a real winner…. (As you can probably guess by the inebriated state of my prose….)

From Bad to Good at the Great Britain Pub in Melbourne

March 14, 2013

Last year in Melbourne I had a great time at the open mic of the Great Britain pub on Church Street, at Swan.  So last night on my first night in Melbourne when I searched around for places to play, I immediately decided to head for the Great Britain again.  This time, it started off by clashing with my memory, entirely.

Oh, I found the place buzzing with life and activity as usual, with the bar in the front having a few clients, another few playing pool on the table off to the side, and a steady stream of conversation coming from the outdoor terrace in the back.

It was the middle area of this pub where things seemed desolate and deserted, to start with.  I got there at almost precisely 8:30 and found myself lucky to be able to sign my name on the second to last available slot for the open mic.  The evening is divided into 15 minute slots for each performer from 8:30 to 11:30.

So I had avoided one of my worst open mic nightmares on this worldwide adventure – ie, travelling to the other side of the world and arriving on the very same day jet-lagged out and finding myself unable to participate in the open mic because the list is full!  Having got my spot, I went off to eat in a Greek restaurant on Swan, where I had an excellent glass of red wine – Shiraz from Adelaide – with a less than excellent kebab.

I got back to the open mic by 9:30, thinking that with a completely full list like that I would find the place just buzzing with energy and activity.  What I found upon arrival, was once again the bar itself and the rear outdoor terrace bubbling with life.  But the room in the middle, where the open mic takes place, was dreary, dreary, deserted, lifeless, unmanned, all except for the duo on stage and maximum three or four spectators.

The room itself, is wonderful:  sofas, chairs, tables, and best of all, a great sound system and an actual stage.  I mean, a real stage with curtains and lighting, the whole deal.  Very beautiful, if worn at the edges.

But what was missing was one of the most important aspects of an open mic:  And Audience.  And so proceeded the open mic.  Act after act went up and took to the mic, and as they did so, segments of audience entered the room to listen to their friends while other corresponding segments left the room once their friends had played.  I mean, this was grave….

As I was the last one on the list, I was pretty sure I would be playing to an empty house.  I mean, this was dreary!!  I know from experience that open mics are better some weeks than other weeks.  But I wondered if I had had a faulty memory on this one.

Then things changed a little, even a lot.  What happened, at least concerning me, was that when I heard one of the performers, named Aarti Jadu, singing her songs, I loved her voice and songs, and I decided I had to tell her that.  For me she was the stand-out performer of the night.  So it was just natural….

Well, it turned out that she was there with friends and family, and so she very kindly said that they would wait to listen to my set.  Hey, I had spectators!  But I also ended up talking to her a little more, partaking a little of the ambience that existed, and then finding myself once on stage, actually feeling committed to singing to expectant ears.

That changed the dreary situation into something quite fun, and made the open mic worth it.  Then during my songs, a few other people came in to listen, notably two or three guys, one of whom asked me afterwards if he could use my guitar to sing and play.  So he and his friend made up the last act.

All of which meant, human exchange, taking part in the evening, not feeling so cut off, and ultimately “meaning” had been given to the open mic – at least for me, the jet-lagged foreigner who had suddenly parachuted in from nowhere.

But I hope that the Great Britain open mic – a mainstay open mic of Melbourne – has a little more atmosphere than this on most other weeks.  The idea of having people go in and out of the music room depending only on whether their friend is playing, is one that while I can understand it, is not the greatest in open mic styles….

Launching My New World Tour of Open Mics in Melbourne, and Introducing the Open MIc Podcasts

March 15, 2012

Last night I played at the old and venerable open mic at the Great Britain Hotel in Melbourne (Richmond), and launched the first of my latest tour of the world’s open mics. This is the fourth year that I travel the world with my guitar as I report on the Formula One races for my newspaper, but moonlight in the bars and other shady places of the world where open mics take place. Every year I have launched a new project in conjunction with the trip, and this year I have a couple in mind, although I will mention only the one you will see on this blog.

Podcast interview of James Fitzpatrick, MC of open mic at Great Britain Hotel in Melbourne, by Brad Spurgeon:

That is my decision to do podcasts with the MCs – and sometimes musicians and spectators – of all the open mics around the world that I visit. I will try to keep the podcasts as close to 3 minutes long as possible, in order to not try your ears, patience and download bandwidth. Last night I failed at that, having my inaugural interview podcast with James Fitzpatrick, the MC of the Great Britain open mic for the last 10 years, go on for seven minutes. Still, it was fun and he had some interesting things to say.

The first year of my adventure I began writing a book about the journey – which is almost finished – and the second year I began the blog. Last year I worked on doing a film, which I am now editing. This year, I have an idea I do not yet want to mention as I’m unsure it is reasonable (!) and I will introduce the podcasts.

I will also continue to put up videos of the open mic performances, as I travel the world – this year I will do open mics in 22 countries – including my home of France – and all the continents except Africa and Antarctica, in what will be a record year of travel for me.

The Great Britain was a very cool, English pub type of place, with a back room with a lovely stage. And James is by profession a sound engineer, so he was hard at work on the vast sound controls at the back of the room, and the result was very good, clear, excellent sound for the spectators. It was very laid back, and at the same time, well-run, with a variety of musicians. I will definitely return – if I get to continue this quest and adventure for a fifth year!

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