Links to useful open mic guides to Oxford:
Open Mic Finder. This is an excellent site that is basically up-to-date from what I can see, and seems to be part of a multiple-city site.
Virtually Acoustic – Gig & Venue Guide. This is one of the world’s most amazing open mic guides for a single country. It covers all of the UK, including London, and of course Oxford. It gives lots of good descriptions of venues and is basically accurate. The layout is easy to use, also, as you just skim down the city-by-city links to your city and open mic links.
Brad Spurgeon’s findings on Open Mics in Oxford:
Oxford is an amazing city for open mics because it is obviously one of the most important university towns in the world and therefore has lots of young musicians from all over the world – as students are often in the midst of their man musical creativity as well as being students. But in addition to the students are the crazy mad professors, and some of these open mics are spoken word meetings too, and so you frequently have university professor poets reciting their latest works. It is easy to walk from open mic to open mic, or take a bus, as Oxford is not all that large either. So there is a high density of open mics in a small area. My only problem regarding this list is that I am never in Oxford outside Thursday to Monday morning – still, there’s a good number during that time:
Thursday – Catweazle Club, East Oxford Social Club, Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1HU, £5/£6 Performers Free (sign up by 7.30). Performers should arrive at 7:00 PM to be safe to get on the list, as this is very much in demand. The sign up starts at 7:30, so bring a book or magazine – although you may end up talking to fellow musicians in the line. The show starts between 8:00 and 8:30. This is one of the greatest open mics in the world. It has a concept, and the concept has worked so well that other people have opened a Catweazle in other cities – London, New York, Toronto (although some of those may no longer exist!). The concept of Catweazle is that there is no mic, no sound system, all performances of any kind – music, spoken word, mime if you want – and the audience remains religiously quiet. The audience sits on cushions, couches, chairs, pillows, carpets, in a very hippie-like communion. A stage backdrop with the name Catweazle hangs behind the performance space. Musicians get one or two songs. The evening is animated by Matt Sage, who has clever patter between the slots, and who decides who goes when and for how long. Not to be missed.
– Half Moon Pub, 17-18 St Clement’s Street, Oxford, OX4 1AB, Phone 01865 247 808, 8:00-midnight. This is a very charming pub just up the street from the location of the Catweazle Club, so if you don’t make the list at the latter and you are desperate to play, just walk up the street and play here. The evenings may vary quite a bit, from very anonymous and bad, to quite fun and ending in a jam. In my experience it is best when the MC, Sparky, is present to run the Half Moon open mic. There is sometimes no mic (in my experience, again, when Sparky is not there), and the clients of the pub are there more to talk and socialize than to hear the music. So it can be demoralizing playing here with a very vibrant loud evening of talk going on right under your guitar. But the pub itself is a very charming old English pub, and oh, there is a piano available as well…. There is usually no problem getting a slot.
Friday – Oxford Folk Club, The White House, 38 Abingdon Rd Oxford, OX1 4PD, Phone: 01865 790106<. Every Friday at 8:30 above this English country pub on the edge of Oxford – still within walking distance of the center – the Oxford Folk Club holds its evenings of folk music for purists. The open night of the Oxford Folk Club tends to alternate between a concert night with a special guest and an open night, which is an open mic. So check the web site to see what is happening on any particular Friday. Still, in my experience, even if it is not an open night but a guest concert night – and these guests are often very high profile in the folk world, like the (now recently deceased) Dave Swarbrick – they start the evening with a few slots for other musicians. (Ask.) The accent is on folk, and it can be very traditional Celtic, English, etc. But personal compositions are more than welcome, as are pop songs that come out sounding like folk….
Sunday – Harcourt Arms, Cranham Terrace, Jericho, Oxford OX2 6DG Tel. 01865 429462. Starts at 8 PM. Another typical English pub, with a garden, in the hip Jericho area of Oxford. This is a classic open mic, in a great pub, with a fabulous MC in Nigel Brown. Nigel used to run his open mic around the corner at The Old Book Binders pub, until it had to cease briefly and the Harcourt Arms had the foresight to ask him to continue the open mic for them. It was a good thing for the musicians too, since it is more comfortable and laid back at the Harcourt and the playing and listening conditions are better.
– Old Bookbinders Ale House, 17-18 Victor Street, Jericho, Oxford. Tel. 01865 553549 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Starts at 8:30 PM. A competing open mic to the Harcourt Arms, it is located about a three minute walk away. The vibe is completely different, so if you are feeling restless at one or the other, you can easily change locations. This is a classic family-run pub with low ceilings and one part of the pub is good for being quiet and listening to the music, while the other part is easier for talking and not interfering with the listeners (or musicians), but still being able to hear the music. I had not been able to go for years, and finally tried it out in 2018 July. The sound system was great, the public excellent, and there were lots of cool musicians. I had actually performed at the open mic here a decade earlier when it was run by Nigel Brown of the current Harcourt Arms Open mic, and I’m so delighted to see that this is a great alternative and hasn’t lost its charm. All kinds of music, and even spoken word, allowed.
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August 14, 2016 at 11:03 am
Hi Brad, Great detailed post here! Just wanted to mention the link to Open Mic Finder on the first line is wrong. It should go to openmicfinder.com/UK/England/Oxfordshire/ Cheers,
August 14, 2016 at 1:24 pm
Thanks for that. The link I put actually worked, but the link you have given seems more up-to-date. Not sure what that means, but I’ve now put the link you gave me, thanks.
January 14, 2017 at 11:01 pm
Hi there, you seem pretty knowledgeable about minor musicians in Oxford so I was wondering whether you can help me find someone I saw jamming in Oxford centre today? He used to be part of a band called ‘The Jam T—-‘ i’m pretty sure, and is now solo, but I didn’t hear him very well and im quite keen to seek him out. He was playing acoustic guitar and singing in English and French. Would you by a stroke of luck have any idea who I’m talking about? The chances are very low but it’s worth a shot.
January 14, 2017 at 11:28 pm
Thank you for this message! In fact, I don’t know who this might be. But I’ve forwarded your message to someone in Oxford who is about 10 times more in-the-know about the actual local musicians than I am. I’ve sent your email address to him, along with your query. I guess he’ll answer either you or me – and if it is me, I’ll forward you the response.