Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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The Arthouse Open Mic in Melbourne

March 30, 2010

I heard about the Arthouse open mic from a couple of different sources, and my curiosity was wetted and very high.  Monday night around the world tends to be one of the big nights for open mics, as it also tends to be one of the down nights for the bar business in general.

The Arthouse came recommended on one of the good sites I used to look up venues in Melbourne, a site called Skinhat.  But it also came up last Friday when I sent out an SOS on my Facebook page:  “Pissed off there’s no open mics in Melbourne on Friday from what I can see. Still, allows me to finally have the time to put new strings on my guitar in my hotel room.”

My friend Emma Wilson, who runs the River Bar open mic in London, put up a call for anyone on her Facebook to provide me with a place if they new of anything.  Someone came up with the suggestion for the Arthouse open mic on Monday.

So it was clear that here was an open mic that is well-known in Melbourne, and I resolved to go.  Located at 616 Elizabeth Street, the Arthouse turned out to be only about 35 minutes walk from my hotel, although I took a couple of trams to get there.  The area around it is pretty deserted and dreary, I found, but the bar itself is very cool.  And when I walked in to find this massive stage – for an open mic – with beautiful lighting and mics and amps all over the place, I felt very blissful.

What I liked less was that there were very few people there when I arrived at the ostensible starting time at 8 PM, as I read on another site.  In fact, it turned out that it started at more like 9 PM.  But that gave me a chance to put my name on the list and leave to find a place to eat – I ended up at a Korean BBQ place that was so good and authentic that I thought I was in Japan, or Korea rather….

When I returned to the Arthouse, I found a few more people, but it was still terribly deserted by comparison to the All Nations bar open mic I attended on Thursday.  In fact, it was a terrible letdown.  Fortunately, however, as the evening progressed I would find not only that the quality of the musicians who had signed up was high, but that the rest of the people present were fun and interesting, and above all, most importantly, a wonderful, appreciative audience.  In fact, I was massively delighted to receive an encore once I’d finished my three songs.

I first sang “Crazy Love,”  and then I sang “Father and Son,” and then I sang my own song, “Since You Left Me.”  Much to my surprise and delight, it was with my song that some people actually got up on the dance floor and started to slow dance and listen to me very closely and with smiles.  Wow.  When I finished my three songs and said goodbye, they said, “No!! Don’t leave!!”  And then they said, “Encore!”  I was taken by surprise and the best I could think of to do – after checking with Tim Chelow, the organizer, that it was O.K. to do another – was John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.”  I think it went over O.K., though.

I actually recorded myself for the first time with my Q3 Zoom recorder.  But unfortunately my whole set lasted 20 minutes – including setting up the guitar – and that is far too long to put on this site.  And I do not yet have adequate software to cut and splice the cool part out – ie, the encore….

I will put up a couple of snippets of a couple of other musicians though, because that’s what this blog is really meant to be all about – talking about the people who attend open mics all around the world.

All the tables were full in front of the stage, even though there were only around 20 people in the place at most, and I did not want to sit far back in the room, so I sat down at a table of a woman with a guitar.  It turned out that she would be probably the best musician and singer there, and her name was Bel Woods.  She came from a small town a few hours outside of Sydney, and she told me she had come to Melbourne two months ago to basically work on her music.

It was clear very quickly that she admired Tori Amos.  In fact, it was quite amazing that Bel not only looked a lot like Tori, but her voice sounded a lot like hers as well.  I did pick up a few touches of Joni Mitchell, too, however.  But Bel said she didn’t particularly listen to Joni.

The other musician I liked a lot was Tim Chelow, the guy who has run the open mic for the last two or three years, although it has existed for nearly 19 years.  He also took to the stage and played some interesting acoustic guitar, of which I’ll put up a little excerpt.  What was funny about this was that his music sounded very laid back and sort of classically folk-like.  But he said normally his greatest interest is heavy metal.  We would talk later on as many of the young people gathered on the terrace on the second floor after the open mic finished and there we talked for an hour or so about everything from religion, mysticism and heavy metal music to boyfriend/girlfriend relationships where the couples either couldn’t stand each other or were not apparently made for each other, but stayed together.

The heavy metal connection, it turned out, was also appropriate for the Arthouse.  I found out that the Arthouse has been a center for independent music for 19 years, and is mostly known for its heavy metal bands, as you can see in an article in The Age where it was called, “one of Melbourne’s stalwart homes of metal.”

Well, last night it was far from metal, and it never filled up.  But Bel told me that she was told that it had a tendency to be either full up and bursting with people, or rather dead, as it was last night.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty much like most open mics around the world.

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