A Halloween Open Mic in a Cellar

With assorted images kindly nicked from:

Alan Jones, Richard Benham and Deborah Barnett

open6Felt a tap on my shoulder in the Cellar Bar of the Bear Hotel last night, an eerie witch called Tess taciturnly offered sweets from a variety Halloween basket. If it was just a kind gesture, I also saw it symbolic of the evening; variety is the tenet of these regular open mic events.

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Secured on the Devizes circuit as the last Thursday of each month, I wobbled down the steps to witness no end of participants willing to step up. Preconceived judgements of a drunken karaoke, a Saga Britain’s Got Talent or a host begging for acts immediately dismissed. The scene is bustling for a week night, the quality varied but not in any manner amateurish.

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Treated to a great unity and quick turnaround of tens of performances, from either upcoming or matured musicians, there for the love of it really is inspiring, communal and fun.

I swear there were more guitars than people down there, and there was a sound amount of people. Take it as red, a majority were acoustic singers, most with a cover song. Yet some originals were noted, some bought a band, others perhaps jamming via a makeshift group for the evening.

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Variety moulded though, particularly through Neil & his Ukeladies, bringing a taste of the Southgate uptown! Admitted and uncaringly, they trashed Monster Mash and the Addams Family theme in a satirical and seasonal show so drunkenly fun it was nothing short of hilarious. But not without the following poignant, then viciously witty Halloween and rugby themed poems from Gail Foster. While these two acts stick in the mind, through their diversity, or insanity, the standard of all acts was simply superb.

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From Dereck Wood to a pale-face-painted Terry Couchman, and through an Eric Clapton aficionado, to a gorgeous acoustic adaption of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, the evening was exceedingly entertaining and gregarious. Had to ponder if I was the only attendee not planning a blast under the spotlight, though the offer was there, some kind of stand-up routine suggested; yeah, no really!

With little alternative options, it wouldn’t have mattered if Oasis was planning a one-off in the Corn Exchange, it’d still be the best thing to do on a Thursday night in the Vizes, and it was also free entry too.

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Any dubiousness of open mic nights I once may have had were quashed last night. I ponder the necessity of venturing to a different one, in a different town, to compare, if only for an accurate review. But when did I give a toss about accuracy? Considering I was thoroughly entertained, that’s enough, and all you need to know to do a lot worse for an evening then bookmark the next one of these gatherings in your diary.

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Top marks Richard Benham, the organiser and compere, who, with a witty slant on introductions, banded the heavy flow of hopeful performers. We stopped for a short natter, enthusiastically informing how for some it’s a gateway, for others a solace, but all played an important part in this, what essentially felt more like a family gathering. Top marks too, to the Bear; Luke, for a pause in tending the bar to fetch drumsticks, and a welcomed event. After a tough afternoon trick or treating, this was no trick, the highlight of which, amidst all these performers, in my humble opinion, was undoubtedly Laurie Couchman’s spellbinding and apt performance of Eva Cassidy’s Autumn Leaves.

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