Or NAG Open Mic for short.
Let me tell you a story. No wait. Let me show you these:
So. I first met Jack (that I remember) at a New Ash Green band night in 2001. March 2001 I think, but that might be wrong. I don’t really recall how much we saw of each other in between, but I received a phone call from him in January 2006 and he said he was starting an Open Mic night in New Ash Green, and as a local musician would I come along and play. They were hosted at the New Ash Green Rugby Club, or Sports Pavillion if you’re being proper. The first night was Thursday 19 January 2006.
Shortly after that (May 2006) he went travelling and asked if I would take over the night. I duly did and for reasons best known to myself called it “Jack’s Open Mic Night” in honour of my travelling friend. I had a lot of help from a friend, Gary, during the next couple of years, but by Autumn 2007 we were down to once a month, and I think around January 2008 we went on hiatus.
Jack returned (a year later than previously advertised!) in May 2008 and immediately set about reincarnating the night as NAG Open Mic with us both co-running it. Previous incarnations had run at various intervals (I think at one point we were every three weeks – I can’t think who thought this was a good idea) but we were every other week at this point, as evidenced by some truly, um, ‘edgy’ fliers I produced. Eventually we settled on every 2nd and 4th Thursday and that served us well to the end.
The aim with NAG Open Mic was always to encourage younger people to get up and have a go, to encourage new music, and to foster more music in New Ash Green. I think we succeeded to varying degrees with these aims. There are definitely musicians who attribute their start to NAG Open Mic, and even at the penultimate event we had someone who was around at the start play their first live set.
Running an Open Mic for ten years wasn’t without problems. For a while the club didn’t have a live music license and we had to apply for a temporary event notice every couple of weeks. Some weeks we played host to a very few people indeed and we took it in turns to play to each other all night, other times it was all we could do to squeeze everyone in (our record, for the record, was 23 acts in one night – no mean feat!). We saw bar staff and club managers come and go. We moved upstairs and downstairs and even outside on the odd occasion. We had a power cut which led to a very acoustic singalong. We broke stuff – most memorably a table during an encouraged stage invasion to sing Feed the world at a Christmas special. We had PA supply issues, PA storage issues, PA not being where it should be issues, PA being run through a guitar amp issues (wouldn’t recommend that one). We bought a Clavinova without a stand that required electrical engineering to allow it to work with a standard sustain pedal.
And it wasn’t without amazing memories either, naturally. We had two live hookups to Glastonbury (one was admittedly very patchy), live hookups to Switzerland. We went through a phase of themed evenings – 80s music, 90s music, songs with numbers or colours, the Michael Jackson tribute evening was particularly great (the news had broken about his death during a previous open mic). We had music (originals and covers), impromptu jams, poetry, comedy, beat-boxing didgeridoo, normal beat-boxing, rant debates, ghost recordings (ish), a local choir and even a mass game of pictionary. We had numerous local bands come and play. We had Christmas, Halloween, Valentines and Anniversary and Saturday Summer Daytime specials. We tried on multiple occasions to outnumber the audience with the number of people on stage. We gave free drinks away to performers for 10 years. We encouraged so many inexperienced performers to get up and perform. We enjoyed so many fantastic performances by experienced and inexperienced. We have been pleasantly surprised more times than I can count to discover a gem of a performer turn up on an otherwise run of the mill evening.
The biggest issue we faced arrived in 2012 when new directors at the club forced a stand-off. Trying to (misguidedly we believe) save money we were forced to concede more and more until they point-blank refused to allow us to give free drinks to performers. That had always been one of our hallmarks, and was non-negotiable. In November 2012 we moved to the Badger in the centre of New Ash Green. Jen, the landlady was incredibly good to us and continued to be until the end. We were eventually asked multiple times to return to the club, but we remained with The Badger until the end.
I’m sure if I sat and thought long and hard I could dredge up more memories. It was a fantastic thing to do with a fantastic co-host and a great investment of Thursday evenings for ten years. You can find a lot more photos, memories and even videos by scrolling through the Facebook page.
The final night on Thursday 26 May 2016 was a great night to go out on, despite the pressure of being the last night. I think Jack and I both felt strange about the whole thing. We managed 17/18 acts (depending how you count) including favourites No Limit Street Band. There were a fair few faces missing, as to be expected after over ten years time passing, but there were some old familiar friends as well as newer friends. The evening wrapped up with Jack and I joining Aid Lewis (with Nigel Lewis) and singing James’ Sit Down followed by Jack singing Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits accompanied by Nigel playing piano.
And so we end as we began. With photos. The last photos I have of NAG Open Mic. The first is from earlier in the evening during a jam session, but the second is the last photo – Jack singing Romeo and Juliet.
That was a fun game.