Tim and I attended our first live music ‘do in Glasgow a couple of days ago. We’d found a once-a-month open mic at the Inn, a pub situated on Bearsden Station, and about a half-hour’s walk from the house. That’s as local as live venues get for us right now, so we were pretty eager.
The music was scheduled to start at 8:30 pm. We headed down a bit early, to check out the scene and share something from the menu. The PA system was being set up as we entered. Exciting!
Now first, The Inn. The Inn is really great if you like beige. I mean that literally: the place is tidy and neat; a little too neat for a pub, and decorated in that bland, bland, bland range of taupes that some designer somewhere inflicted upon the world, probably as a ‘safe’ option for those lacking in taste or the confidence to live with a little colour. It’s not unappealing, but it’s absent of personality.
I also mean ‘beige’ in a figurative sense. Every draft beer was a lager (or worse, a Budweiser). The two mid-range wines we tried (Australian Shiraz and a South African Cabernet Sauvignon) were thin and acidic. Honestly, if I’m springing £17 for a bottle, I’d like it to taste of higher quality than what I can purchase at for £3.49 at my local Tesco. We shared the nacho platter, expecting the menu description of, “Nachos…..£8,” to be self-explanatory, because everyone knows what nachos are. Wrong!! We were presented with a bowl of baked pita chips that were both herbed and spiced, with dollops of guacamole, salsa, and sour cream, and a generous smattering of jalapenos, atop. I don’t know. When the entire description of the dish is “nachos,” and there’s NO ACTUAL NACHO in it, that’s just false advertising. It’s probably moot to mention that they were served cold, and that the cheese hadn’t been properly melted.
These are first world problems, I realize, but my usually ironclad tummy was not a happy camper the next morning.
Never mind; we came for the music.
I recently wrote in my other blog about the musical legacy of Bearsden, and while I didn’t expect to encounter any major international music stars this night, I held out hope that the pub could be a hot spot for burgeoning local talent.
Let me first say that I appreciate the work that goes into hosting an open mic, which includes organizing the venue and performers, encouraging participation, schlepping gear, setting up, tearing down, engaging the crowd with performance and banter, marketing, and probably more. This particular open mic, the host told me, has run on the first Thursday of every month for a year now.
I look around the pub. The sight-lines to the stage are terrible from most of the seats in the room, owing to the little cubbies designed for groups to tuck into. A few of these were inhabited (much to our surprise) by younger people, who were indifferent to the music, while at the front sat 10 or so other people, generally older, who were specifically there for the open mic.
The organizer warmed up the crowd with a few songs, as is standard. He’s playing well-known covers, and the performer in me who has seen neither stage nor microphone in a few months now is dying to crash the set and add harmonies. I debate whether that would be seen as enthusiastic or arrogant, and resolve to speak to the host first.
Next up was an electric three-piece featuring two guitars, a tambourine, and a thoroughly unnecessary backing track. I’m not sure if they used it to fill out their sound or to keep time by, but the spareness of sound had they played without it would have had so much more impact; it would have sounded more alive and resonant. But hey, some people aren’t ready for the deep end that way, and that’s fine. That’s fine for, say, the three song set typical of an open mic. 45 minutes later it had lost its charm; it was nearly enough to make us leave, hanging on only because I’d agreed to sing later. There had to be other acts on, but it was annoying to have an open mic monopolized like that. Variety is king, folks!
Up next was blue-eyed blond girl, accompanied by the host on guitar, who picked a few huge songs (Amy Winehouse, Adele) that were beyond her ability to deliver. She had a pretty voice and could generally hit the notes, but she had no soul behind it, no impact. That said, I think that if someone taught her about singing from the diaphragm and getting off-book she could be very impressive. She was followed by a grey-haired gentleman who sang a few tragic songs while strumming his guitar. Tim was confounded as to why someone at an open mic in the UK would perform Waltzing Matilda, but he did.
Next it’s my turn. It can be tricky dropping into an open mic as a singer, because it requires strong communication with the rest of the band; you don’t have an instrument to assert control with, and are usually up front and looking out to the crowd. In this case, we were seated side-by-side, with lyrics in front of us, enough to establish the “what are we doing” and “how is this going” that live performance necessarily demands. Although I knew the songs (or at least I thought we’d do songs I knew), I didn’t know this person’s style at all. It’s thrilling and fun to come up with harmonies this way, listening and watching closely enough to figure out note-by-note where to land. “Love Hurts,” a la Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris was a standout, for me. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was going well, until some point mid-song where the host stopped singing so as to force me to take the lead. I have no problem singing lead, but I had asked to sing harmony that night; I know that that song, in that key, is too low for my register. That was frustrating, but being sat up there to sing a harmony to a song I’d never even heard before took the cake. It was a pretty inglorious finale.
On returning to the table, Tim and I resolved that we have to find a guitar, and prepare a three- or four-song set to do at next month’s open mic. Live performance is such a trust-based thing. To do it well requires strong communication and mutual respect, and perhaps a little bit of pre-show practice. And while it’s perhaps an unspectacular venue, it’s probably the least threatening place possible to start getting up on stage together.