I’ve been tipping up at a few open mic night sessions over the last year or so, inflicting myself on a blameless public and generally being a nuisance.
Playing semi-pro since I was in my late teens, I’d forgotten all about this world – reminiscent of the old folk clubs – where people get up and sing for free. It’s as mixed a bag as it always was, old hands, young guns, the ever hopeful and the forever hopeless. Here you’ll find seasoned players maybe road-testing a couple of numbers before taking them out to the bigger clubs, the one-trick ponies who’ll play the same song every week to ironic applause, the earnest self-penned songsters whose appearance usually indicates a swift trip to the bar. But you also get the occasional gem, some young girl who gets up and sings unaccompanied, awkward and shy, not knowing how to stand or where to put herself...and goes on to rip your heart out.
There are usually at least as many performers as listeners, but all do listen, which can be both gratifying and intimidating. Other musicians watch you with critical eye, sympathetic should you stumble, appreciative of any flash-gittery successfully pulled off, curious afterwards to learn whatever you might have to show.
And nothing goes on for too long. As a player you don’t have the normal gig pressure of trying to hold down a whole evening, and as a listener you don’t have to endure some interminable toss that makes you wonder where you can lay your hands on a pint of diazepam. Variety is what you get, and I suppose that this is where the great British tradition of Variety stems from. The roots of it remain, though leaf and branch have long died away.
The photos were taken by my friend Mark Kelly, last St. Patrick’s day. Suitably grizzled and grainy. It looks as though I've startled a leprechaun.