The traditions of Open Mic nights around the UK has grown massively over the last decade or so, with many of today’s well-known popular music acts emerging through what is now a well-tried and tested route of playing mostly acoustic sets in small venues, often to small audiences, but at which they gradually hone and refine their acts. One such example is K T Tunstall, who only a few years ago was performing by herself in the corner of a Glasgow Coffee House, but who now has the world at her feet as a major performing and recording artist.
Last year Ali Webb and the Music Department decided to launch similar evenings at Shrewsbury. The setting is informal, with cabaret style seating and refreshments available, and usually about four acts appearing in about a one hour overall set. The miking is kept to a minimum, and performers are able to try out their own material and often also perform covers of songs by established artists.
Last Saturday saw the first of this term’s Open Mic nights in the Maidment, and it was a superb array of talent, from a wide age range of performers, with a small but very appreciative and supportive audience in attendance.
First up was Awen Blandford, who is in the Lower Sixth in EDH. She comes from a strong folk background, with musicians in the family, and her confidence as a performer and entertainer was obvious from the outset. She is a fine acoustic guitar player (as well as an outstanding cellist), and she performed three songs, a mixture of folk and by established cross over artists such as Kate Rusby. Engaging, soulful and always smiling, Awen held her audience captive and received a great reaction at the end of her set.
Next up was Alex Moore from Grove, who is in the Upper Sixth. Alex is a fantastic self-taught guitarist with a wonderful vocal delivery, heavily influenced by the great guitarist and singer, John Martyn, who sadly passed away only a couple of years ago, but who was held in the greatest esteem by generations of British musicians. As well his own well-crafted song, Alex performed material by Ben Howard and others, and demonstrated some fascinating guitar techniques in the course of his short set, which was entertaining, witty and heartfelt. He is a natural talent, and could go far if he decides to keep performing after Shrewsbury.
Onto the stage next strode Max Blance, still only in first year at Shrewsbury and in Churchill’s Hall. He may have been the youngest performer on the bill, but his ability to engage with an audience as a guitarist and singer was evident from the outset, as worked his way through a great set of songs, including numbers by Keane and Newton Faulkner. Max is learning a lot every time he performs, and is set to be a major presence in popular music at Shrewsbury over the next few years.
Finally Three Storey Boulevard took to the stage comprising the combined talents of Sam Ansloos on vocals and Tom Thornhill and James Ross on guitars. From the outset, with Sam’s relaxed, professional front man role, they engaged wholly with the audience, and gave a well-crafted, thoughtfully rehearsed set of great quality, with some fine touches of inspired arranging, and a balanced, crowd-pleasing programme. Tom Petty’s Free Falling started the set, followed by two excellent self-penned numbers, before closing their set with Mr Brightside by The Killers. Sam’s voice sits so well in this context, as well as in so man other styles, and Tom and James did an excellent job backing him.
All in all, a great evening, as ever well-managed and organized by Ali Webb, with excellent sound and lighting.
The next Open Mic night is this Sunday at 8.00 p.m. in the Maidment with Tom Lloyd, Joe Bell, Daisy McConnel and Wild Agenda on the bill. Refreshments available. If you have not been to an Open Mic yet, then make this one you attend. Duration about one hour.