I left the theatre group to
make a living, but it left a hole in my life. I had a need to perform,
so I signed up as a soldier of the Acoustic Revolution.
Guys, girls and guitars meet in rooms above pubs to sing their
latest songs at each other. Poets do well in this milieu, once they
master the microphone, and there's usually an opera singer in a
wedding dress or a bagpiper in a kilt to provide some variation.
I used to travel all over town for it. I've sat in bars from Highgate
to Harlesden, from Chiswick to Bow, spilling my pint and trying
to remember my lines. Nowadays, I can't be tempted out of N16 (well,
I suppose money might do it) because two of the very best open mic
nights happen here on Church Street.
Tim McLeish, who runs Wednesdays at the Lion, says Stoke Newington
is awash with untapped talent. 'Throw a stone down Church Street
and you're bound to hit someone with a guitar on their back’,
he laughs. Tim directs the evening with a light but steady touch.
A Master of Ceremonies has to keep an eye on the time, and a lot
of people want to play, but if you get there before 8 he'll get
you on the list. He runs his own band, and a year in Lisbon has
given a funky latin feel to his guitarwork. He's given up teaching
English as a foreign language and is now a compiler for a Dictionary
of Synonyms. 'It's all words to do with air at the moment: gas,
atmosphere, winds of change...’
'From the point of view of a performer, nothing hones your skills
like bringing them before the public. However good that song may
sound within your bedroom walls, an audience will help it grow.
It's then that you notice the one toe-curling line in an otherwise
excellent verse. The open mic ambience – is that another air
word, do you think? – allows you the space to develop, and
to exchange ideas. The fact that it's open to anyone who dares to
get up there means that the quality is variable. But it does seem
to bring out the best in people. In the past year, along with the
guitarist-singer-songwriters, we've people playing piano, ukelele,
banjo, violin, flute, saxophone, double bass, drums... we've had
acapella singers, poets, storytellers, stand-ups and freestyle rappers.
A lot of these people may never make the big time but that's not
the point; they're brimming over with imagination, enthusiasm and
creative energy. I'd rather be part of something that's actually
happening here and now, that we all have a hand in, than be watching
MTV at home.’
Open mic every Wednesday upstairs at the Lion. Sign-up 8pm. www.contourbuzz.co.uk.
Phone 07904 509882. Also Acoustic Jukebox every Monday downstairs