About a month ago I was seeing a friend’s band (Mass Rejection) play a show at the Mr Boogie Man Bar on Hoddle street. It was a Saturday evening and I had never been to this joint before. I instantly fell in love with the bar’s décor and its set up, as well as the lovely and down-to-Earth owner, David.
I was speaking with a fellow Heartstrings Melbourne-ite at the bar about how well this venue would suit an Open Mic Night – already having a killer sound system installed along with a funky and inviting stage. Draped with Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and other rock memorabilia, this venue was perfect. Especially with the unfortunate closure of the Acoustic Café, the area needed a platform for local talents.
We managed to speak to the owner about this prospect and, while he was very keen, he wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it as he had never held an Open Mic Night before.
Being a seasoned Open Mic performer both in Melbourne and overseas, I’ve been meeting with the venue owner over the past couple weeks to help him establish his very own and very first Open Mic Night.
We are all excited to announce that the first one will be held on this Wednesday 7th May. Musicians can book anytime from now ’til the night itself by calling David on 0406 797 644.
“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!
“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.
“The more time you spend trying to be someone else is just time wasted.”
Chris has had a fruitful career in music with a highlight being a solo tour in Canada earlier in the millennium. It only takes the first few seconds of his set to realise why. His extremely smooth but powerful voice conveys the soul of a sincere and authentic musician.
He runs a recording studio on Hoddle street called Last Match Recordings and he plays atmospheric indie rock in a band (as well as pursuing a folk side-project).
He draws inspiration from his day-to-day interactions with people and in particular from the community work he is involved in – helping people overcome struggles in their own lives who come from underprivileged backgrounds.
Passionate about supporting the community, Chris’s studio is based in a Government housing complex where his facilities are open for use by the residents free of charge.
Being a producer and seeing so many musicians come into his studio for over 7 years, he stresses the fact the you have to find your own authentic story and sound:
“The more time you spend trying to be someone else is just time wasted. People respond to something that’s genuine.”
Check out www.christophersprake.com for more details on his fantastic career and be sure to drop into his studio whenever you need some recording work done!
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.
“I’ve been playing music all my life – I couldn’t live without it.”
A harp player… and now you’ve seen it all – only the wings and the halo are missing!
Playing contemporary folk music based around themes of war, Ann Poore is a psych nurse dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder patients (mainly war veterans but her patients also include staff from the emergency services).
Music is an escape for her. Working in the treatment of mental health sure can get under your skin at times.
“Music is a great healer and solace. It can change or express your mood. I’ve been playing music all my life – I couldn’t live without it.”
Not only does she enjoy playing music, she plays Open Mics specifically to get over her performance anxiety.
“It all started with me asking myself ‘Why am I so scared of doing something I enjoy?'”
She finds herself drawing much inspiration for her music from her work, whilst simultaneously using music as an outlet.
“I can have my work andmy music and I can use them both to enhance the other.”
Her work and therefore music revolves mainly around war themes and interestingly, she has put World War 1 poetry to music – think Wilfred Owen, Ivor Gurney, etc.
She also has a concept album in the pipeline due for release this year – “Bullets Like Rain” – Songs of war for harp and voice. She unveiled some of those tracks on the night I spoke to her and they really tug at the ‘heartstrings’… if you’ll pardon the pun! The release of the album is scheduled to coincide with the Centenary of Remembrance Day (1914-2014); make sure you pick it up and keep up-to-date with her musical escapades on her facebook page.
“The most famous, richest, most played pop stars and divas on the radio didn’t start out earning millions of dollars; they started in venues like this. They’ve paid their dues and they’re reaping the rewards of the hard work they did when they were younger.”
“You can’t practice connecting with an audience sitting in your bedroom; you’ve got to actually get out there and do it.”
Whilst Michael is more of an ‘established artist’, having played multiple festivals around Australia (eg: Selby Festival, Cygnet Folk Festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival, etc.), he maintains the heart and soul of a grassroots musician. A truly down-to-Earth and sincere singer/songwriter, Michael’s music is folk and country inspired; the storytelling songs.
Spending most of his 20s chasing a rock n roll dream, emulating pop songs with little success, Michael is now happily married and a full-time media studies and drama teacher.
“I don’t aspire to be a rockstar. I’m not trying to get somewhere or be something, I’m already there. Even if I’m playing in a place with two people in the room and one of them is listening and connects with the story, I’m already there.”
It wasn’t until he found his voice and began writing songs true to himself that he really began to connect with audiences. Check out his moving performance at the Port Fairy Folk Festival:
“You could see people wiping tears from their eyes. It was so powerful that I felt all of that coming back to us on stage. We all had that experience together.”
Is it any wonder why he has won multiple songwriter awards? I wanted to know about his creative process!
Michael writes a lot of his songs in-transit, but only writes down the ones that have stuck with him:
“If they’ve connected with me they’re likely to connect with somebody else […] I’ll write down the songs that make me tear up. The more specific the description of your experience, the more broadly it will apply to people.”
He certainly has not forgotten his Open Mic roots. They were a platform for him to hone his musical skills as well as practicing the craft of communicating with an audience.
“You can’t practice connecting with an audience sitting in your bedroom; you’ve got to actually get out there and do it.”
Open Mics are also about meeting people and developing a community; in fact Michael met both Kate Crowley (featured in the above clip), and his manager, Aaron Thomas, on the Open Mic scene.
“All it takes is someone to say, ‘I really enjoyed that, thank you’, and that means the world to that person who just walked off stage. Other people also see that and it creates a supportive culture.”
Check out his Heyfield Girl EP on iTunes – I remember “Heyfield Girl” from when I would see him play on the local scene back in 2012. A very touching song both then and now!
Grab a copy of his second EP by sending him an email at email@example.com.
The Acoustic Cafe saw its final Open Mic Night on Thursday 27th March and closes officially as of today. So it is with great sadness that I find myself writing the obituary for this fantastic live music venue and watering hole.
I made my way through the venue for the last time, a cold beer in my hand, squeezing past people occupying whatever space they could find – I had never seen the place so busy before. There was a strong sense of community – there are few venues that can generate this kind of atmosphere. Nodding acknowledgements to some fantastic performers I’d seen and met there in the past, the place was filled with good cheer and merry, though with a distinct tinge of sadness in the air.
Normally performers would have to book a week in advance to play at their Open Mic, however Thursday night’s finale was a free-for-all, ‘sign up and play’ arrangement. With a record 41 acts signed up to play on the Acoustic Cafe’s final Open Mic, the venue surely went out with a bang supporting Melbourne’s local live music one last time.
While it was easy to feel nostalgic and melancholy, the night was also a celebration and tribute to the fantastic music talent our city has to offer.
– The Future –
No one knows quite yet what’s on the cards for the owners Ian & Glenda going forward – staying in Melbourne and hosting other Open Mics in the short term seems likely. Beyond that, Ian & Glenda plan on moving out of the city and potentially hosting live music festivals down near Wilson’s Promontory.
Whatever their ambitions, we all wish them well and thank them for their unconditional love for local live music.
“Hopefully in over the four years I’ve given enough people enough starts.” – Ian Beer, Owner, The Acoustic Cafe
It’s Thursday night at The Balaclava Hotel and the room is filled with musicians and live music lovers. Sarlin’s magical voice and array of instruments, which make up her a one-man band, brings the room to utter silence.
Originally from Sale, Sarlin moved down to Melbourne to study Exercise Science and pursue music-related opportunities. Aside from focusing on her studies and music, she currently works at a café on Sydney Road.
“I really enjoy the contrast, I love it. Music is really taking over a lot though.”
Sarlin won The Balaclava Hotel Open Mic competition in 2013 and has been invited back to play as a featured act. She also played at the Moomba Festival this year.
Her pre-gig ritual is going for a run earlier in the day. She finds that even a brief run clears her head and warms up her body for the performance.
Drawing inspiration from folk and acoustic music, she’s still experimenting with sounds. Moments of significance and observations fuel her songwriting.
“It’s times when you step out of your body and look at situations; the feeling of hunger/drive and pure bliss – those types of moments.”
Her advice for musicians is to surround yourself with creativity and not to be afraid if you don’t fit the template. Be around like-minded people and get behind a microphone as much as you can.
Sarlin performs at various locations throughout Melbourne, but your best bet at finding her is up and down Sydney Road (Bar Oussou, The Cornish Arms, The Brunswick Hotel, etc).
“I’m definitely going to continue music, but I’m not going to rush.”