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….