Open Mics (A guide)

I have been to lots of open Mics at various setting and locations and I thought it would be good to offer some advice to those considering going.

Finding the courage

The first thing I would say is that Open Mics are not as scary as you might think they are. Normally the scary part is the build up to an open mic but once you’re on stage you soon find the strength to perform. Open Mics are a forgiving environment, and you don’t have to be a pro to be on stage. The crowd will understand if you fluff up a bit or if nerves get the better of you! And let’s face it, what’s the worst that could happen? You make a tit of yourself for 5 minutes, who cares, you can always try again! I often say to myself that if I go up there and I completely fail then that is a good thing because it gives me something constructive to work on. Failing is much better than never trying, as never trying is the ultimate failure. Take a friend or family member who will support you and whatever you’re trying out just have fun with it!

Practice practice practice!

Before you go approach Open Mics be confident with your playing abilities. Practice your songs every day and try to imagine a setlist. Find friends or family to try out songs in front of. If you throw in some covers they might just sing along 😉

Looking at venues

I have played at folk clubs, cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants and creative music centres and they’re all different. I would say for sure first time a bar is good because it will be busy but you can get a little bit lost in the room. I know this sounds bad but if you fluff it’s not going to make you that embarrassed. In pubs the setting can be quite intimate, so a few sing along songs wouldn’t go amiss. In a creative music centre you normally have more freedom and they encourage fresh material. I would recommend going in to the place and checking it out if it’s your first time and making sure you like the vibe and if it’s good book yourself up!

Picking songs

Don’t pick anything that is too much of a challenge to begin with, you’ll thank yourself for some easy ones so you can just enjoy the atmosphere.  I try to pick songs that people know that aren’t so obvious, but people don’t mind wonder wall or Bob Dylan, so if that’s your thing knock yourself out! 🙂

Tips for the big night:

1. Get there on time – organisers really appreciate punctuality. If you show up early you also get a better chance of a slot!

2. Watch your food and drink – I usually not to eat any food 3 hours before a performance because some foods can interfere with your singing. I usually only drink water as this helps your throat! Don’t drink alcohol for your nerves it’s not worth it. I’ve seen people go up drunk and struggle through, they make asses of themselves, please don’t do this!

3. Tune your instrument – before you go on stage find a quiet place to tune your instrument so it’s ready to play. Tuning on stage is time wasting a bit but if you get up there and absolutely need to its not the end of the world.

4. Enjoy yourself – remember that not anyone can go up on stage, you’re very brave! Remember to smile and be courteous thanking those who listen.

5. Listen to others – when the show is over, don’t be a dick and just leave. Stick around and enjoy others perform. It’s respectful and you might make some new friends. I make a conscious effort to approach a performer I enjoy after their set and thank them for the performance, this means so much coming from a stranger.

A lot of opportunities come from Open Mics, so enjoy them and play your heart out.


Taking the long way home (a 20yr old guide)

It was the 20th May 2017 and after checking in to our hotel in Paddington after a long trip from the South West we had a freshen up and it was time to see Roger. This would have been the second year in a row seeing him, only this time we would be 6 rows from the front of the stage at the Royal Albert Hall!

We took a walk through Hyde Park on the way to the venue and it couldn’t have been more perfect. The sky was blue and there was enough sunshine to see the glory of the Albert memorial opposite. A sign outside with Roger on it confirmed tonight was the night!

Many people crowded at the entrance but then we realised we weren’t entering from Arena F, we needed to walk round to Arena A! The entrance was eerily quiet but we managed to go straight in, oh my gosh this was exciting.

We bought a quick drink and navigated to our seats. The stage was set. A large drum kit at the back accompanied by synths and in the middle a beautiful Yamaha Grand Piano. Rogers acoustic guitars all stood proudly in front of them alongside his keyboard. To the right side of the stage there was a table of numerous brass instruments and gadgets and gizmos. The stage was lit in a calming blue and green shrubbery had been brought in especially as if to create a relaxed feeling.

The Royal Albert Hall seated over 5000 people that night, and the atmosphere was wonderful. The excitement built until they all graced the stage kicking off with “Take the long way home”

All of my friends have no idea who Roger Hodgson is and I have to explain he is the mastermind behind the popular group ‘Supertramp’. Normally a few songs being played from the album ‘Breakfast in America’ confirms to them that they know the group! As much as people should know who Roger is we like the fact that we get it and others don’t. Being in our 20s makes the music more special and sentimental to us.

The night was full of staggering music and a quick glance round the room showed me that the audience was buzzing and having just as much fun as the group on stage. I believe that the group who play with Roger are just as incredible as the man himself and all deserve great admiration for their musical abilities. We found much amusement to learn that some of his Canadian colleagues tried hard to practice some of the lyrics which are required to be sung in a British accent.

I am 29 years old and my girlfriend who is 22 both love Roger and have adored all of his music (yes all! Every album back to back). We don’t just love him because of his music alone. When you see him live he confirms to you what a good hearted man he is. I don’t believe it is possible to create such heartfelt lyrics as Roger does without knowing how to connect with people and he does that with ease.

Roger played some great tracks from In the Eye of the Storm, Breakfast in America, Crime of the Century and an exquisite performance of Fools Overture from ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’ on Grand Piano. There were countless other tracks but he picked some lovely lesser known tracks, well, at least lesser known to most people.

By the moment ‘Dreamer’ kicked in we both immediately stood up from our seats and started clapping and dancing for Roger. The people around us weren’t as quick and for a moment Roger was in direct eye contact. Roger looked directly at us and delivered that wonderful smile and a wink. Having that briefest of connections with Roger was a wonderful moment.

The room was now anything but still. Everyone in the audience felt commanded to stand up and have a dance. Song after song it got better. The happiness was in the air around us and you could feel it right through your soul. Roger made us both intensely happy that night and he deserves great thanks.

A well deserved encore brought more fun including most of the audience taking out their umbrellas and dancing to “Its raining again”. I didn’t want it to end. The bittersweet thing about seeing Roger perform is that it feels very fleeting because he takes you on such a journey through his own life with his wonderful music.

I have learnt that Roger does take requests so if we are lucky enough to see him perform again next year I will request my favourite song “Poor Boy” from the album ‘Crisis what Crisis’. I can imagine his accompanying vocalist doing a superb job of those crazy sounds at the beginning.

The show was now over and we loved every second of it. We stepped outside of the Royal Albert Hall confirmed that Hyde Park was locked for the night. Being unable to find a taxi we decided to “take the long way home” which seemed fitting.

Thanks for the giving us young folks a wonderful night Roger, you move us with your music and for that we are all eternally grateful.

Am I the only one that likes Björk?

Björk is an acquired taste, and her music is very concept driven. I think that Björk has a perfect balance on how music is typically sold to us and how Art is presented to us. When you look at her album covers for example (which are a footnote compared to her overall achievements) every cover tells a story. Björk wanted her ‘debut album’ to personify her as a vulnerable girl coming into the dangerous industry of music, ‘Post’ was supposed to represent her break into fame with this girl being lost in the sea of fame where it is almost nauseating. Then you look at covers like ‘Homogenic’ where Björk no longer represents a person anymore but more a work of art herself almost as if to hint that her work and that fame she once craved is as John Updike once wrote “Like a mask that eats into the face”.

I was always aware of Björk when I was growing up but she was never a main focus for me because I was too young to be able to explore her art. Out of curiosity I bought her ‘Greatest hits’ which of course is actually more of a fan driven selection of must hear tracks. I was blown away by how much differing emotion there was! It was like an adventure not just of emotions, but the fun of trying to understand and deconstruct what Björk is trying to teach us. This album instantly inspired me to seek out the seperate albums which in their own right have so much to offer.

Björk is like no musician I have ever heard before, she has a style about her that has been widely borrowed from but has never been matched. You could make the assumption that Lady Gaga was inspired by Björk simply based on how she dresses up provocatively but musically the styles are very different. I also find Björk very unsettling and I think she played on this ideal at some points. 

Björk is not afraid to be sexual in her performances, she pokes fun at the concept in some works and lovingly uplifts it in others. Björk herself has a very childlike persona, Thom Yorke of radiohead loves Björk and when describimg her he said “her voice is very sexual but at the same time childish, she has a lot of power in her voice but you’re not afraid that it will do damage” her screeches are very much like a misbehaved child but she sometimes gets to points where she is just making noises and using her voice like an instrument, the sound she produces is beautiful.

Björk seems to be in control of her creative freedoms which is refreshing too. A notable point is that “Oh so quiet” has been one of her largest hits but this is a cover of a 50s song and the music video directed by Spike Jonze was a homage to old musicals. This song does stand out like a sore thumb on the album, but to me this feels like Björk showing us she can add something to any genre no matter how detached it is from her regular stomping grounds. Björk isn’t after fame, she is after creating something worthwhile, which is why this track felt more like an attention grabber!
Björk seems to breathe life into genres that she touches. Take the Sugarcubes for example, which were the band that she originally started in as a young adult, (if you don’t count when she was a child star producing traditional asian songs). The Sugarcubes were full of angst and punk style ‘fuck you’ lyrics. The band are very tongue in cheek and are great fun to explore but one song on that album “Birthday” became a gigantic hit in the UK when John Peel brought it to the radios as an imported track. Bjork shows off her incredibly vocal dynamics in this song and has impeccable accuracy when it comes to hitting ranges. Dance, electronica, hip hop, house, jazz, jungle, trip hop, they have all been inspired by her and she has dipped her toe into a variety of genres. Björk seems to forge new genres and blurs the lines between them, this is possibly down to the avant garte underground music in which she takes root. Björk is clearly not afraid to experiment, and this is what makes her music exciting.

Björk carries with her a great sense of humour and I particular love her appreciation of animator John K and particular 90s cartoon Ren and Stimpy. Björk had John K animate one of her music videos ‘I miss you’ which is very strange but great fun.

One of the rather sad things about Björk is that to date I have never met anyone who has listened to her music! I have tried to show her to people but they never have the urge to explore her music like I do. As much as it’s a shame it is a pleasure that I have had the chance to experience the beauty she brings to her work.
If you have any interesting points or would like to share favourite songs and what they mean to you please let me know.

Let music be your time machine

We are incredibly lucky to have at our disposal decades of music to explore. There are rocky cliff faces, gentle streams, hot desert sands and even frozen lakes of music. We can travel back in time hundreds of years before we were born, or go through history tuning into the music of many different generations. To say that older music isn’t important is just as stupid as saying that Classical literature isn’t important. Older music inspired new music, yes, it even inspired you lady gaga! I know you think you’re one of a kind but you were inspired too.

Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with liking new music, after all artists like Ed Sheeran and Calvin Harris for example have contributed a lot and many people love their music. But I would say it is healthy to put those on ice for a little bit and look back at some great lyricists from the past. When I was 16 my parents moved me out to the country and I was basically alone until I started college. I didn’t realise what I was doing at the time but I was self medicating through music. I started listening to artists I liked and then looking at who inspired them, and then who inspired them and kept going back. By doing this I have branched out and my CD collection is very large.

Music has a great way of tapping into your moods. You could listen to something upbeat such as “Build me up buttercup” by The Foundations when you’re upbeat, or listen to “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails when you’re feeling down. You could listen to “Hallowed Point” by Slayer when you’re feeling angry or listen to “Don’t be shy” by Cat Stevens when you’re feeling delicate. Whether you are willing to adapt to different genres is up to you. Music shouldn’t be written to impress you personally. The moment music has no artistic merit it stops being art and judt becomes a product to simply be bought. Don’t be tempted to make a snap judgements about a particular genre just based on one song either! You could listen to The Sex Pistols and say based on that band alone you don’t like punk. I totally get that I hate the Sex Pistols they seemed to be too much about angst and we’re incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Instead listen to later punk (90s Punk) such as The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX, Descendents, Blink 182. You might find an artist in the same genre you like but is much different.

You can enjoy music on many levels but for me I always feel as if I am hunting for that special lyric which resonates with me. A popular song to quote but in Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” one of the lyrics is the greatest thing about having nothing, is that you have nothing to lose. I always find this uplifting. Paul Simon wonderfully wrote the lyric my life seems unreal, my crime an illusion, a scene badly written in which I must play. Music of this kind blurs the lines between pop songs and poetry.
Not all music has to be focused on lyrics in fact most classical music has no lyrics. You are at the mercy of a musical ensemble. Much like the varying genes of popular contemporary music, classical has variety. I suggest if you are interested in Classical music you should read my other blog on the subject.

Every genre has something to offer you! Hip hop, Country, Acid, Folk, Rock, R&B. Why aren’t you exploring these? There might be a single track that helps answer  worry you’ve been struggling with for some time!

Some people make the mistake of only sticking to the past for music and make statements like “Music was so much better in the 60’s” well that’s not true! There was a lot of shit music in the 60’s too but we just don’t hear about it now because it wasn’t popular. Don’t stick to a certain era of music just because you have fallen in love with it. You owe it to yourself to branch out and try new things, you can always come back to the 60’s!

I have written up the below taster menu for you to try, but please comment your favourite songs and tell me what they mean to you!

  • Late in the evening – Paul Simon
  • Waiting on a friend – The Rolling Stones
  • Inside of me – Little Steven And The Disciples of soul
  • Calling it quits – Aimee Mann
  • Human Behaviour – Bjork
  • Totally nude – Talking Heads
  • Living on a thin line – The Kinks
  • Air Giant – Transglobal Underground
  • Miles from nowhere – Cat Stevens
  • 8 ball (Remix) – N.W.A
  • Juicy – Notorious BIG
  • Pity the dead – Bad Religion
  • Love letter – Nick Cave & The Bad seeds
  • High hopes – Pink Floyd

Why you should at least try it

I want to try and convince you that Classical music is worth trying out.In this blog I will give some examples of classical songs for you to try out, and what I feel when I listen to them. For a bit of fun I have prepared a menu of delicacies that you can listen to at specific times of the day.

I will try to explain my feelings towards the music and little things to look out for. I hope you will listen to the pieces and perhaps give your views on them in the comments!

Too often classical music is seen as a stuffy genre that is only listened to by older generations, and has a certain pomposity about it. I try to look past all of the culture of classical and just try to appreciate what the music brings me on a personal level. I love classical music because sometimes it helps me to relax or touches upon a mood that other music doesn’t manage to reach. 

Waking up

Horrible isn’t it! You’re deep within the land of slumber and when your alarm goes off it pierces through it like a pin to a balloon. Instead of setting a typical alarm tone built into your phone why not set the below piece to wake you up as it starts off gentle, and then lifts you up gradually acting like a bridge between sleeping and waking:

“Morning” Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Op. 23″

Getting ready for work

You are now starting to get ready for work and you might reach for the radio and in a zombie like fashion switch to radio one just like all the other cattle consumers that prefer to be fed over produced pop songs. Today though, you will listen to something different! This piece is probably one of the most recognisable cello performances and is a perfect accompaniment to your morning.

“Cello Suite no.1” by J.S Bach 

Commuting to work (A or B)

Here is where you are given an option! before you step out of the front door, you might already have a feeling whether it will be a good day or a bad day. Either way you will need a piece of classical that suits your mood so pick accordingly. For a good day pick A or a bad day pick B.

(A) Piano Sonata no.11 in A Major “Turkish March” by Amadeus Mozart

(B) “Romeo & Juliet” op.64 by Segei Prokofiev

Eating lunch in the park/sat by a river

Your are on your break at work so it’s time to unwind. I recommend that you go for a nice stroll somewhere pretty. I am privileged as the town I work in has a few parks dotted around, and a river running through it. Take out your packed lunch and find somewhere quiet to sit and listen. This French piece is very gentle and is from a romantic suite of music that will personify the gentle breeze and the sunlight which caresses your face. If you examine the complete suite further each separate movement is written about a different type of animal.

“The Swan” from Les Carnaval Des Animaux by Camille Saint-saëns

On your way home

You’re free as a bird! The day is finally over and it is now the longest time that you will have, between one work day ending and another beginning. This calls for something fun and uplifting. Nothing quite fills me with joviality than “Jupiter” by Holst. Gustav Holst is a well known composer who wrote different compositions for each of the planets known about at that time (this was the 19th century).

“Jupiter” (the bringer of jollity) taken from the planets suite by Gustav Holst

Washing the dishes

After you indulge yourself with some well deserved food there are always dishes to wash. If you are fortunate enough to not own a dish washer like I am, then you will have the pleasure of listening to this piece By Strauss. As you deal with your mundane task you can drift back in time to a golden age in European history where in Vienna, there was the elegance of the many waltzes held in those opulent dance halls. This song is one of the most played pieces of classical and is now an unofficial Austrian national anthem.

“The Blue Danube” or An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314  by Johann Strauss

Relaxing before bed

For something to listen to before bed, it needs to be gentle and to put you into a calming mood. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Goldberg variations to cure the insomnia of a Russian Diplomat at Dresden court. The pieces were composed with the utmost restraint. The pieces would be played by one of Bach’s pupils from an adjoining chamber as the count would try to sleep.

Aria no.1 from the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach

Classical music, like some art can still be enjoyed even if you don’t know the meaning of why it was written.  Famously British composer ‘Elgar’ wrote a piece titled ‘The Enigma varations’ which to this day still holds an unknown meaning and is left to the imagination of those listening, my piano teacher thought the music was inspired by the landscapes of his childhood home. As much as I like the poetry of lyrics in current pop songs, classical music works a little harder to get through to your soul. The reason why most motion pictures include a sweeping score at moments of intense drama, is because this type of music speaks to us on an emotional level. I will agree that Classical music requires your concentration and you need to be prepared to hear some things you might not like, but if you give it a chance it can be so rewarding. I often go to live classical performances with my father and there is nothing quite like hearing this music live. You get to enjoy the sound, but also to see professional musicians playing music with such relish. Normally when you go to live performances You will be played what was scheduled for the evening, but if there is an encore; that is where the real fun begins. When classical musicians are given creative licence they normally want to show off, and end up showcasing pieces of music you may have never discovered, had it not been for that night!

One piece I discovered on a night of classical was the following and it amused me how comical the violin sounds, and it almost makes it sound alien. The speed and intensity is truly astounding. In this piece the Violin reaches the pitch of a whistle or bird song. For those impatient skip to 3:50 on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean:

Niccolo Paganini – La Campanella

Don’t be afraid to let yourself go when listening to classical music. If it lifts you up then let it. If it pushes you down and makes you sad, then that is okay too. Any form of Art is intended to move us, and the more you expose yourself to different sensations and feelings the richer your life will become.

Why you lied about David Bowie

bowie_on_tourWhat a surprise, another ‘Icon’ dies and in comes the floods of comments on social media about how this person made their life complete and that now he has died there is no more happiness left in the world and we should all just bloody kill ourselves. Come on, you know what you are doing! Bowie is exactly where he has always been (in your music collection) and anyone who says that he could have accomplished so much more if he had lived on, is kidding themselves. David Bowie has a wealth of work behind him and is a respectable person in music history, and he doesn’t need lousy comments from some 16 year old girl who only owns the greatest hits of Bowie, andsearches the internet for some scrap of Bowie lyrics, trying to pass themselves off as a mega-fan. In my personal opinion the only people who can truly mourn David Bowie are those people who have met him personally, spent lots of personal time with the man and who were able to see behind the façade that is fame. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to feel upset that an artist has past away, but do not cheapen the moment by trying to win the competition of who was the biggest fan. Every time I see a status by someone who is showing their Bowie Vinyl collection or writing comments like “RIP Bowie – So glad I saw you live” I want them to be banned from ever using the internet again. Who is so rushed to pass on their condolences that they need to write “RIP” instead of “Rest In Peace”. Perhaps this need for speed comes from the very fabric of this current generation, who never truly appreciate the magic of music until the artist has died. I am quite comfortable with the fact that David Bowie is gone, as well as Kurt Cobain and even Michael Jackson because they have already spoken to me through their art, and that feeling will never go away. I do not understand the need to plaster your facebook wall with ramblings about David Bowie unless you are craving attention yourself, almost as if you want to be seen on some high pedestal as the only person who truly understood the man behind the work. When statuses are written like “RIP David, thank you for all the great tunes, is there life on mars?” It makes me wish that David Bowie could respond, and that his Status would read something like this:

“Sorry I am not sure who you are, but I am curious that now I am deceased you see fit to thank me? Where was my thanks over the course of my entire career? Also, If you thought I was dead did you really think I would be logging on to some sort of ‘afterlife twitter’, where I can massage my ego reading about your nonsense. I once wrote a song called “Life on Mars” which was released in 1970 as part of my Hunky Dory album, but I am not sure why you have tagged on the title of that song to the end of your status? Surely if you wanted even the illusion of profundity you would have used a lyric from ‘Changes’ as that would be more fitting?”

In most cases I do not think people intend on sending the wrong message about Bowie, but when you see people writing such awful statuses you realise how hard it is to use any sort of medium to express how we are feeling inside. Art has always been an outlet for people to express their inwards feelings (outwardly) even if those concepts are hard to stomach. The great Bertrand Russell wrote in his book the Conquest Of Happiness (1930) that “When the public cannot understand a picture or a poem they conclude that it is a bad picture or a bad poem. When they cannot understand the theory of relativity they conclude (rightly) that their education has been insufficient. Consequently Einstein is honoured whilst the best painters are (or at least were) left to starve in garrets, and Einstein is happy while the painters are unhappy”. Doesn’t this statement just sum up the inconsistency of how we appreciate achievement and the true values of great art. Hopefully in the future our culture will open our minds properly and show as much respect for many different types of complex art not just so we can use it as a shield, but so we can use it as a medicine.