Mario Demiraj

untitled-0071Open Mic Night @ The Great Britain Hotel

“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.

Ibrahim Shiham

DSC01784Open Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“I had a dream to perform with the saxophone.”

And it was a dream come true for Ibrahim, having only played the Saxophone since June last year!

Originally from the Maldives, Ibrahim has been playing music for around 25 years drawing influences from Latin, Jazz, Reggae, and Rock, with guitar being his weapon of choice.

It’s always refreshing to come across performances that aren’t simply guitar & vocals, and the crowd at Bar Oussou was certainly intrigued by the uniqueness.

Whilst he was apprehensive about the performance, Ibrahim performed like a pro; we had no idea this was his first saxophone performance until he told us.

He plays Open Mic Nights to iron out the kinks and smooth out any musical mistakes.

“I feel very happy when I see people dancing – that’s when I know they like the stuff I’m playing.”

His advice for musicians starting out is to have balance:

“Most young musicians are very talented, but they have no concept of having a balanced sound when playing in a group.”

Playing live for so many years, Ibrahim says with a hint of resignation,

“Live music is dying.”

So make sure you help sustain the culture by swinging through Bar Oussou’s Open Mic night – you might just find Ibrahim’s catchy jazz-influenced tunes on the saxophone.

Ann Poore

_MG_6418Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

 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 and my 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.”

Monique Shelford

IMG_1226Open Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“Writing is a cathartic process for me. I’m always inspired by some sort of feeling or emotion that I need to express.”

Amidst the clinking of drink bottles and the waves of muffled conversation, a small acoustic guitar quietly begins to play. Mellow, familiar chords wash comfortingly over the room, complementing the warm atmosphere of Brunswick’s Bar Oussou.

Then, Monique Shelford begins to sing.

The background noises gradually fall silent and fifty smartphones plop forgotten into the laps and handbags of their stunned owners. Monique’s voice seems to emanate from some higher plane, as if imbued with some magnetic power to raise the hairs on the napes of necks.

She is most in her element when performing to smaller audiences in intimate settings such as this. Monique has that rare ability to effortlessly draw an audience into her world and hold their attention.

“It’s all about the exchange of energy, I think. I get a bigger buzz out of playing to an intimate room full of people … receiving and listening.”

As her performance progresses, she paints a montage of musical imagery expressing a broad range of emotions from anguish to hope. A quietly confident, yet humble performer without a hint of pretention, Monique Shelford is refreshing in her authenticity.

“I’m up there bearing my soul and I’m not ashamed of that.”

Although gifted with a unique, resonant vocal timbre, it is clear that Monique has been honing her talent from a very young age. Growing up in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, she commenced classical vocal training at the tender age of seven, but truly found her voice at a Catholic Maori girls’ high school. It was here she discovered the soul power of gospel music. These two huge musical influences have gelled beautifully with modern contemporary styles to form a very special and unique talent not to be missed.

An artist after our own hearts(trings), Monique actively promotes her fellow musicians, running regular acoustic sessions at the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg. She is an absolute gem! We urge you to look up one of Monique Shelford’s appearances and lose yourselves in her soulful tapestry.

Until Facebook creates an ‘Adore’ button, check out the links below and smash that ‘Like’ button.  |


0_16Open Mic Night @ The Balaclava Hotel

“Don’t be afraid to not fit the template.”

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.”

Sarlin cautions readers that she has not uploaded the recent material she’s been working on, but when she does you’ll be able to find it all at the following links:

Sarah-Rose McIvor

Sarah-Rose McIvorOpen Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“Whenever people ask me this question I always say depends on what day of the week.”

The one that almost got away – I missed out on interviewing her the first time I saw her playing at the Great Britain Hotel but luckily was able to catch her playing live another time. Well worth the wait, this charismatic and highly talented performer rocked the electric piano with some soul/folk/blues/ indie originals.

She’s a piano and singing teacher by day at several primary schools, does admin work for another school, finishing her Diploma of Education, writes all the songs for her band “Dash” and also writes songs for other bands!

Basically, a wonder-woman of the music world!



When it comes to writing songs, she draws inspiration from people and how they interact with each other, as well as the natural environment. In terms of style, she’s a big Feist fan – great stuff check them out. Some of her music is crafted around phrases or hooks:

“Someone said to me ‘the day the rain comes down’, and I thought that there was so much imagery in that one line.”

She’s trying to make a go of it with her band and their goal is to be financially secure. After only 18 months, they’re well on their way with some visionaries in the band, complemented by her left-brain logistical thinking:

“My brother would be like ‘in two years time we’re gonna go record in France’, while I’m freaking out figuring how we’re gonna get to France.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing – she recalls one of her most scarring experiences performing solo at her Grade 6 graduation with the whole school and parents watching. She steps to the microphone for her one line and unknowingly bursts out laughing the whole way through. Everyone stares and she thinks it’s because she just sucked – she didn’t sing for really long time after that!

Her tip for musicians big or small is to set a goal and achieve it!

“Even if that goal is to finish a song – you’ve got a million half songs, but finish one and perform it.”

Check out her band, Dash (I’ve been hooked on their music lately!): &

Sarah-Rose will also be playing with guitar accompaniment at The Thornbury Local on the 2nd of May!



Open Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“Every musician wants world domination!”

Bringing his own brand of psychedelic folk rock to Melbourne, Tomislav is a uniquely vibrant performer well worth keeping an eye on.

“Psychedelic folk rock?” I imagine you asking. “One must hear it and feel it to truly understand”, I respond aloud and mysteriously, drawing puzzled looks from other train commuters.

The term was coined by one of his friends during the recording his work-in-progress album, and it seems an appropriate description of Tomi’s eclectic style.

Psychedelic folk rock. I like that. People always ask me what kind of music I play – I don’t know – Music. Whatever feels right. Now I actually have a term for it.” 

Tomi is a seasoned and accomplished lead guitarist having spent many years playing with rock bands. His technical musicianship is obvious when you hear him play.

“You gotta put the hard work in. Practice, practice, practice. It’s a cliché, I know, but it bloody helps!”

However, it’s his big personality and charisma that makes him stand out from the crowd. Playing nothing but all original material, Tomi knows how to engage an audience from the moment he takes the stage.

“It’s not just about getting up there and playing the notes […] if you can put a show on, people are gonna dig it.”

Like a friendly Tom Waits, he oozes stage presence and showmanship. He’s a compelling storyteller whether backed by his bluesy, toe-tapping funk-rock grooves or more contemplative, Dylan-esque folk musings.

True to blues traditions, Tomislav’s lyrics are usually true stories, inspired by his life experiences. Growing up in former Yugoslavia, he has resided in the Brunswick area for around eight years playing in various bands, busking, and hitting Open Mic events.

While calculating his strategy for music world domination, he can currently be found most Tuesday nights at Bar Oussou.

Check out his Facebook Page

Robbie Phillips

0_6Open Mic Night @ The Balaclava Hotel

“I never thought I would ever get to play Spice Girls in a setting like that.”

In the comforts of the Balaclava Hotel, the dim lighting sets the scene amongst the warming audience and an old man dancing in the corner, the room is filled with eager listeners as Robbie Phillips hops up on stage and delivers a gracious performance.

“The whole set up here is just awesome. I reckon it’s one of the best Open Mic dynamics that I’ve played at. This one is so supportive and so natural.”

Originally from Western Australia, Robbie has been a bank relationship manager by day for the past 6 years. He loves his job because he brings colour and life to traditionally tense setting. After two years of playing live in the cosy spots of Melbourne, Robbie admits he’s still figuring things out when it comes to music and identifying the sort of musician he intends to be in the future.

“I like to travel to places that are scenic, just chasing that horizon. I think that’s evident in my songs.”

Robbie is inspired by Leonard Cohen and lyrical artists that represent the truth and storytelling in music. Growing up playing classical music, he became more intrigued by the lyrical aspect of music and how it can be a pursuit of self-discovery.

“My life can be very exhilarating – the stuff I do.”

Playing regularly at gigs just for the experience and for his passion for music, the commercial music scene isn’t high on the aspirations list – although he wouldn’t mind performing on the big stage if the time was right and the opportunities presented themselves.

“Music never fails; sort of spiritual I guess. It’s very therapeutic.”

Entertaining people with his music and capturing the attention of an audience is what encourages Robbie to keep doing what he loves when he’s not at his day job.

“Motivation for me is figuring out my voice and what this is about.”

One of his more memorable experiences playing live was at one of his first gigs at a gallery where he had no idea what to play for an hour and decided to light up the mood and get everyone moving to his version of ‘Stop Right Now’ by the Spice Girls.

“I never thought I would ever get to play Spice Girls in a setting like that.”

His advice to local musicians is to make sure you have stage presence and if music is your virtue then play to entertain.

Robbie performs at Open Mic nights once a month at The Balaclava Hotel and also at the Eugenius Café in Windsor (he’s playing there this Sunday, *hint hint*).

Check out Robbie’s latest music and adventures by heading to his Facebook page

Marcel Altena

Marcel Altena
Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

“I picked up the guitar because of a female I really liked…”

A candid and friendly musician, Marcel’s style has a distinct blues tinge to it, seasoned to perfection with some jazz elements (yes this is now a cookery blog). An interesting combination and complemented by a voice that brought the crowd in closer at this already intimate venue.

Playing guitar for 3 years and singing for just around 2 years, all self-taught, Marcel admits that:

“I picked up the guitar because of a female I really liked who was also playing the guitar and I wanted to learn with them. They fell off the radar, but I just kept going with it.”

Whatever the reason for taking it up, we were all glad that he continued with it!

He’s been busking for about a year now but he plays Open Mics to gauge how he sounds and get feedback from the audience.

“[I play music for] Self-expression; at the moment it’s just to play, but if people thought I was good enough, then may as well [take it further].”

Working a couple jobs in hospitality, Marcel is a bar man, barista and wait staff, spending his time outside of work playing music. Busking for about a year – hunt for him in the inner city suburb shopping centres and supermarkets.

As a local musician:

“Don’t be afraid of judgement. Do what feels right. That’s more complicated than it sounds; knowing what actually feels right.”

For (potential) live music fans:

“Don’t come just for the Open Mic. Come for a good time; the social atmosphere and meet like-minded people.”

Interview Bloopers:

Marcel, being of Dutch descent, has a very long name (shortened on this blog to Marcel Altena) which he jokingly says may inhibit his ability to attain fame:

“Famous musicians their names have an even number of syllables; you have like E-ric Clap-ton, Ji-mi Hen-drix.”

Lee Greens


Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

“I’ve gotta try and write some happy songs; it’s easier to write sad songs, isn’t it?”

No live music night is complete without a rendition of Wonderwall, Lee delivered! But not just with a classic cover, but with his ‘mellow melancholy’ originals which were unique and heartfelt.

“What I love the most in life is being on stage and playing music. I’ve had a few different jobs but I think [music] is the most fulfilling.”

Fronting a band for 7 years, Lee has performed across the UK and in Croatia (The band is called Orange Room and they’re well worth the look up!).

“The amount of times we got called The Orange Room, or Orange House…”

This being Lee’s first solo gig as an acoustic singer & guitarist, he was a bit nervous being up there by himself.

“When you got a band behind you you’re more confident. You have a couple beers together before you go on stage, it’s like a little army.”

“[As a solo performer] I can get my personality across more, whereas with a band it’s more of a formula; does the drums fit with the bass, etc. If it’s just acoustic you’re literally just telling a story with your guitar.”

By trade, Lee is a barista (“it’s a bit indie I know”) & a trained locksmith.

“I can pick your locks and also make your coffee.. I make a nice latte!”

For the local musicians:

“Don’t get disheartened if you feel that the crowd don’t get into it. As an audience people here are alot more self-conscious but they’ll probably go home and look you up on YouTube.”

Check Lee out at the Acoustic Cafe Thursdays or at The Evelyn in May – Details at