The Great Britain Hotel

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“It’s got the vibe where you don’t need to impress anybody; it takes such a long time to get to that point.”

The Great Britain Hotel (or The GB) is very special to me as it was where I played my first Open Mic Night. This was my first introduction to the local music scene, and I’ve been back time and time again. The best way I can explain the GB is it’s like your living room – if you had a full bar and beer on tap in your living room! Unfortunately, this venue’s lease expires in the end of June this year and no one quite knows what the future holds for this decades-old rock n’ roll venue.

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The GB has played host to the likes of Magic Dirt, Checkerboard Lounge, as well as the Cat Empire (who held a 2-year residency at this pub playing every weekend; the lead singer was even living in accommodations above the pub!).

Whilst having dabbled in Open Mic Nights earlier in the 90s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s when James Fitzpatrick (now veteran staff member & sound engineer at the GB) approached the venue and offered to host an ongoing Open Mic that it became what we know and love today – particularly borne out of the fact that there were plenty of students/musicians living in the area who simply wanted to play.

“My favourite thing about the live music at the GB would be the community – the people.”

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Of course the audience plays a significant role in the building of a community, but the musical talent talent is what’s most humbling for James.

“The ‘diamonds in the rough’ – it’s abit unrefined but you know there’s something in there that you find totally inspiring. It’s that moment when you realise you’ve been performing for years but you’re nowhere near as talented as they are.”

Being the sound engineer for many years at this fantastic venue, James recalls many occasions of coming across extremely talented musicians.

“A lot of the locals would come up to me afterwards and say – ‘who was that?’ ‘they were amazing!’ ‘can you get them back in?’”

At the same time, he has a wealth of advice for local live musicians:

“Remember who your audience is – try and cater to who is in front of you and engage with them. If you can get people to turn around from their conversation from your first song, you’ve got them.”

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And it doesn’t take much – eye contact, abit of banter, background to your songs/yourself, etc. Read our 7 habits of highly effective open mics for some tips.

It is unfortunate to see this venue go however for the short term after June 30, it is likely to remain open as a pub, though for how long and whether the new owners will continue the live music tradition remains to be seen.

“It’s not just the building – it’s the staff and the locals. It’s got the vibe where you don’t need to impress anybody; it takes such a long time to get to that point.”

Darius Pranckunas

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Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel
 

“I do it [music] as a serious hobby… but if anyone wants to pay me, they’re very welcome to do so!”

Full of energy, charisma and puns (and an impressively large repertoire of songs to suit all occasions), Darius is your piano man & he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke.

With an upbringing of primarily classical music – generously seasoned with the golden pop/rock tunes – Darius has been playing piano for 19 years and has attained his Certificate of Performance.

He has a Bachelor of Commerce degree under his belt and is currently working towards getting his CPA whilst job hunting.

“I do it [music] as a serious hobby; I feel I have got other talents I can make my money out of… but if anyone wants to pay me, they’re very welcome to do so!”

Having played Open Mics on and off for a couple of years now, Darius feels that they’re a great opportunity to express himself in a very understanding and inviting atmosphere where everyone’s in the same boat.

“Get on down to the Open Mics and the venues will be encouraged to keep them going! You get to have a good night out with friends, beer and free live music. “

He recalls one particular embarrassing experience when he performed at an interstate talent show and he had a complete mental blank on a jazz piece he had only just begun to play. He stopped, turned to the audience and said “I’ll start that again”. Thankfully the second time through he aced it!

“Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t be afraid to have a go. People are understanding when it comes to our musical abilities.”

You can catch Darius performing red-handed at the Great Britain Hotel or (for the Lithuanians in the audience) at the Melbourne Lithuanian Club. In the meantime, jump on his Facebook group – Daz’s Random Fact/Joke of the Day – guaranteed to have you raising your eyebrows or rolling your eyes.. or both!

Mario Demiraj

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“Being a frontman is an art on its own. It’s not as simple as just being a musician.”

Mario is far more than just a great musician. He can captivate an audience and bring them in on his set rather than having the usual divide between musician (playing) and audience (listening).

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand Mario’s music falls under the category of indie-pop.

Drawing inspiration for his lyrics primarily from life experiences, he usually writes the guitar (chords/riff) part first, followed by melody, followed by (honest) lyrics.

“A lot of the time I’ll just be jamming away, or another song will create an emotion/vibe in me and it inspires me to make a song that affects people in a similar way.”

He’s aiming to take music full time and believes the key to success in the music business is to play as much as you can and network compulsively.

Before a gig he would do some vocal and body warm-ups and boost his confidence using positive self-affirmations

“A lot of it comes down to your confidence in that moment and if you can raise your confidence, you’re going to play better.”

Mario also proposed several more bits of insightful advice:

“Think of every bad gig as a tick off the list. You have to do a certain amount of bad gigs to get good!”

But he also clarifies that a bad gig to you at the moment probably qualified as a good gig for you a year, or even a month ago.

“The overall standard of performance changes and improves drastically over time. Right now a good performance for you might be an 8/10. If you were to play 100 gigs, your current 8/10 would become a 3/10.”

Catch Mario playing at either Bar Oussou or The Snug Public House (both on Tuesdays) and stay up-to-date on his music here.

Tony Creedon

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“Whether they come or not, I’d still play.”

Tony is by far one of the most unique performers you’ll ever see. You could spend an entire evening at a pub with about 12 acts of live music and not remember anyone but Tony. His impressive and rugged appearance is surpassed only by his incredible voice; the most powerful I’ve heard. He is gentle by nature (though his appearance may suggest otherwise) but when he’s performing, his stage presence and songs completely dominate the room and beyond; especially when he gets to one of his infamous songs called “Shit in your eye”. There is nothing superficial about this man. He just puts himself completely out there and is always up for a friendly chin-wag afterwards.

“I got nowhere else to play and I get to meet people to put on my radio show.”

Tony is not only at Open Mics to perform, he’s also on the hunt for local talent to feature on his radio show, “Come on Come in” on 3CR (Thursdays at 3pm). He’s always on the lookout for new performers so if he reckons you’re good enough, he’ll come up to you and organise for you to play on-air! Having seen so many performers on the local scene and playing host to many more on his radio show, I asked him what makes a good musician. True to his own approach, there can’t be any superficiality about the performance,

“[The songs] have got to be heartfelt.”

Tony appreciates the importance of supporting and fostering grassroots live music. He’d love to see more people musicians and non-musicians coming down to support the local scene but regardless of whether or not there’s a crowd, he’ll still be strumming away up on stage.

“Whether they come or not, I’d still play.”

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Henry Ridgway Brooks

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Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel
 

“Commit to what you want and verbalise it with you actions.”

Passion & Intensity. These words spring to mind when I think of Henry’s performance. Playing mainly folk/pop/blues/rock originals Henry says:

“[Open Mics] are great practice to help work out the kinks in my originals.”

Working as a bartender whilst finishing his Arts degree at Monash University, he ultimately wants to take his music further, but for the moment he is just a casual performer.

Speaking to other local musicians:

“I think it was the Black Lips who said in an interview recently: ‘commit to what you want and verbalise it with your actions’. Basically, tell people about it and do it.”

Henry agrees that Open Mic nights generally don’t attract the huge crowds, but that this is not necessarily a bad thing as it keeps the atmosphere intimate.

Regardless, he encourages you to:

“Come on down and listen to some good tunes”

You can catch Henry playing at Club Voltaire on Thursdays.

Keep up-to-date on his music at https://soundcloud.com/henryridgwaybrooks

Cameron Lee-Brown

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Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel
 

“It’s sad to see live acoustic music dying off.”

With a harmonica around his neck and his guitar pumping out his folk/blues originals, Cameron (which incidentally looks abit like Jim Morrison) is a veteran on the local music scene. Having performed growing up at various venues, Cam has always loved playing one instrument or another.

“It makes me feel alive to perform.”

Cam is looking specifically to set up some regular gigs for himself and his music but for the moment:

“Open Mics are a way to get my confidence up and get my music out to audiences.”

For other local musicians on the scene:

“Keep doing it [playing music] so it doesn’t die off anymore than it already has. I used to play Open Mics growing up as well and those venues have started dropping off or stopped hosting live music altogether.”

To encourage more people to attend Open Mics to watch the performances, Cam says:

“You get to hear a range of music. Instead of just listening to the radio which has a bunch of dance music and international acts, search for what else is out there.”

“There’s so much talent [on the local scene] you wouldn’t even hear about.”

Cam will be playing at the Cornish Arms on Monday nights and Bar Oussou on Tuesday nights.

Keep up to date with his originals at www.soundcloud.com/cameronlee-brown

Andrew Thomson

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Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel
 

“[Music] is all I’ve known; it’s all I’ve done.”

I was amazed by Andrew’s playing style – a bit of lead, combined with percussive technique all on acoustic guitar. Very reminiscent of Tommy Emmanuel, which (no surprise) was an influence for him.

Andrew is new in Melbourne, after moving down from NSW and a short stint in Tasmania. He works 45-50 hours a week. Despite this, he has had a range of success in music in the past couple of years.

Back when myspace was a thing (before facebook) he was discovered and his music was played abroad. Nowadays he’s been out of the ‘gig game’ for the past 11 months or so, and tonight was his first night back into it officially!

“I don’t care about the money, I’m working 50 hours a week, I’m paying the bills. I just love to play and I really need to get back into it.”

On giving advice to other musicians on the local scene:

“Just do it. The only person to hold you back is yourself. Just f***ing do it. At the end of the day it’s up to you to determine what success means to you.”

On commenting about people who don’t check out live music at the grass roots level:

“Everything on the radio came from somewhere. At one point it was someone’s pride and joy at a local venue like this one.”

Andrew plays a range of music and a range of instruments and I was pleased to learn that he has an EP coming out in early March this year.

Keep up to date with it here and listen to his originals so far – truly great tracks! http://www.reverbnation.com/andrewthomsonband

Richard Batty

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“Give new talent a chance and be open-minded. Always be looking for new music and musicians.”

I was captivated by Richard’s charismatic performance and highly talented guitar playing and singing.

He plays originals which are in the folk/pop genre, with inspiration from the likes of Bob Dylan and Tim Hardin.

He is actually visiting from the UK where he is a self-employed musician. Music is literally his life with steady gig schedules 4 days a week.

“It seems you’re pretty well established in the music scene. Why do you play Open Mics?”

“To take it to the next level and forward my music career.”

It seems Open Mic nights cater to musicians at all levels in their careers. From hobby-musicians right up to the artists with EP’s recorded and tracks available commercially.

On giving advice to other musicians on the local scene:

“Have confidence! Play your own material as much as you can.”

On commenting about people who don’t check out live music at the grass roots level:

“Give new talent a chance and be open-minded. Always be looking for new music and musicians.”

Be sure to check out his talent on his website –  http://richardbattymusic.com/

Nick Evangelou

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Open Mic @ The Great Britain Hotel

“I’ve got a heap of originals that I’ve collated over the years and it’s about time… I wanna share them with people.”

I walked in to the sound of a brilliantly full bodied 12-string guitar singing out as Nick played his instrumental originals.

He plays finger style instrumental music, along with lap style slide and a bit of singing on the side (hey that rhymes.. next blog will be a poetry blog!).

Nick works as a landscaper by day and plays music on the street as often as he can, sometimes even after a full day at work.

I happened to catch him at his first ever Open Mic night.

“Since you’ve been playing the street so much, why haven’t you played an Open Mic before?”

“Just nerves. But I thought I’d bite the bullet.”

On giving advice to other musicians on the local scene:

“My biggest thing was nerves, so the first thing I’d say is that no one cares if you stuff up. No point second-guessing what you’re doing – Just do it. If it feels right it most likely is.”

“If you’re a creative person something like this is a god send. You can get up there and don’t have to compete for gigs.”

On commenting about people who don’t check out live music at the grass roots level:

“It’s a must do! They’re brilliant things to support creative people  in a creative city and it gives the city a sort of character. If this dies off any more than it already has, Melbourne would lose a massive asset.”

Nick will be playing at the Great Britain Hotel most Wednesdays, or busking in the city along Swanston St or Southbank. Be sure to see him in action!

Sabrina

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Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel

“The variety of acts on show is awesome.”

Everyone in the room was dead silent for this performance. All ears and hearts were captured by this enthusiastic and quirky performer, her electric piano and her sense of style.

Having recently started a degree in music, she hopes to one day go pro with her music. And from the swarm of people I saw buzzing around her after her set it’s no doubt she’ll go far. I was lucky to pull her aside to have a brief chat with her.

She loves the Open Mic/live music scene simply due to the variety of performances that you get.

On giving advice to other musicians on the local scene:

“Be confident – there’s not one type of good music”

On commenting about people who don’t check out live music at the grass roots level:

“You get to watch a bunch of free music, have a fun night out, it’s awesome!”

Sabrina will be playing at the Great Britain Hotel each Wednesday night. Be sure to check her out!