The joy of Open Mic Nights and why I can't wait to see them again - Ian McMillan

Perhaps one of the very few good things to come out of the wreckage the pandemic has caused is that maybe, just maybe, a few of those empty shops that litter our high streets can be repurposed as spaces where creativity can happen.

Open Mic Nights are where a lot of poets and musicians start out.
Open Mic Nights are where a lot of poets and musicians start out.

After all, one thing that quite a few people are agreed on is that we will need new ways of thinking to help shoehorn us out of the old world and lever us into the new world and it seems to me that making music and art and dance and theatre and poetry is one way of redefining who we are and who we can become.

Poetry is my thing, of course, and I’m always trying to think of new ways of putting new writing in front of people and one of the most delightful and democratic kinds of performance is the Open Mic Night, an evening where somebody stands on stage clutching a list and reads out a name and a person comes out of the crowd and reads a poem or two, then that person sits down and another person is called up and they read theirs.

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I’ve got to admit that I love the concept of the truly open mic, where anybody can read a poem and there’s a sense of celebration.

Some of the poems rhyme, some don’t; some are read with confidence and some are mumbled and the poet finishes halfway through and sits down tomato-faced but the applause is always warm and friendly. Imagine empty spaces filled with that kind of activity; imagine how some kind of cultural transformation could begin there.

I’m excited by open mic nights in repurposed spaces because those kinds of events are where my career, sorry my ‘‘career’’, began.

Back at the Dawn of Recorded Time or the early 1970s, the equivalent of the Open Mic was the Singer’s Night at a local folk club. At the Singer’s Night people could turn up and do what they liked.

Some people sang sea-shanties that seemed to go on longer than the voyage itself; some people sang Bob Dylan numbers, trying to imitate the great man’s voice with a South Yorkshire patina and me and my mate Martyn read our poems out.

The compere would always say something like ‘Well, now it’s time for something a bit different, here’s a couple of lads who write their own poems.’

You might expect that this would be the signal for an exodus to the bar but I can honestly say that never happened.

They would listen and then there would be applause and sometimes the odd whoop, and I can’t tell you how welcome a whoop is when you’re a nervous chap learning how to present your work in public.

So let’s have a literary renaissance When All This Is Over, and let’s see it begin in grassroots spaces where people are welcome to be poets and artists and musicians.

Whooping will be allowed, of course, if not downright encouraged. Whoop!