I spent Saturday in London. Not the city, I skirted around that tremulous conurbation, safe in the knowledge that if something did go wrong, I could dip my toe in to the sprawling weekend traffic without having to pay the congestion charge. London (at least the outskirts) is a nice place, not the shabby rundown terraces or giant high-rise areas that we are used to seeing on the television. Of course, the stereotype does exist, how else would it have become a stereotype in the first place. But it is not the London that I know.
The morning was spent with an old friend of mine, Nick, who is a comedy writer, father of two and punster first class. We’ve written together before and we shall write together again in all likeliness. He’s doing very well for himself, working with an independent production company and generally doing things that he never thought he would to pay the bills. Not prostitution you understand. He wouldn’t stoop so low. Not after the knee surgery anyway.
After polishing off the majority of a roast dinner that his lovely wife had slaved over all morning we sat chatting over drinks. He had a cheeky little Italian Amarone Classico and I an impertinent Ribena in and cardboard box. I sucked it through a straw. Upon leaving, I was seized with the thought that my life could have gone down the same path as Nick’s. It might even have made me happy. But then I am fickle and realise that I will probably only truly be really happy when they release all of the Goodies on DVD.
The main reason for going down to London was actually to see another friend of mine who is actually from Cheltenham. Before someone points out the ridiculousness of traveling such a distance to see someone who lives only 15 miles away from me, I should point out that he was there for a reason. Way back in the mists of time (which is probably around July) Joe took part in a talent contest called Open Mic UK. The principal is simple. Musical acts from Open Mic nights all over the country compete in heats until there is only one left. Joe went in for it and it was no surprise to us when he announced he had got through to the second round. He’s good like that.
This then saw a group of us on the M5 one October Saturday, heading to Cardiff to support Joe in the regional finals. There were three acts from Gloucestershire. They were all awful apart from Joe but you could see that some of the competition was fierce and there were some really good acts who didn’t get through. Joe’s name was the first out of the hat when they announced who would be appearing at the area finals in Hayes, Middlesex. This is what brought me to London.
I arrived at the theatre to find the previous group coming out, an absolute mess of people huddled around the entrance and it took a minute or two to get inside. Actually, I had been listening to Derren Brown’s new book in the car. Part of me still wanted to be sitting in that same warm atmosphere, little happy bubbles of my vast lunch comforting me as I drove and a warm, friendly voice diverting my concentration from the rather important task of searing two tones of metal around. I do like driving, although it tires me. Once actually getting inside, however, things took a turn for the better and I met up with the J D Kelly party (that’s Joe’s public persona. Have a look, www.jdkelly.info, he’s a great performer).
It wasn’t long before the show began. The standard was much better this time although there were still a few duds that were obvious from the moment the music started. Tragedy struck when Joe came on to the stage, however, and the lead that was plugged in to his guitar failed. It happens to everyone at some point. It’s a shame it happened now. The crowed seemed quite supportive about it actually but at that point the damage could have been done. Joe went on to start his song again and I thought he did a good job, semi-grunge style lyrics blended with simple, yet articulate guitar playing. He got a good, solid round of applause at the end of the set and I actually thought there were some acts who he did much better than.
He didn’t get through to the next round. Sad to say, there were only 4 places open for the finals at the O2 arena. And, this is where my whole problem with the competition is brought to light. The four acts that got through on the night were all from Hayes in Middlesex. That’s right, the same Hayes in Middlesex where the competition was being held. Part of the decision was made through an audience vote. It occurs to me that perhaps those with a home audience (where traveling to the gig didn’t cost a fortune for example) might have had slightly better chances than those from ‘away’. I wonder if this was taken in to account when the judges were making there final decisions.
Now, I have to say, there were two acts who really should have got through, and they got through. And, I don’t really begrudge the other acts who made it through either. Or do I? Is it just a case of sour grapes (perhaps which were used to make an Amarone Classico that wound up in the home of a comedy writer the same day of the competition)? I do wonder. The thing is, I never really expected Joe to get any further than he did. This lies not with my thoughts about Joe’s ability but rather than my own experience with talent shows.
I’ve watched for years as in show after show the people who seem to have the real talent are passed over for the ones with the right look or the more commerciality and I always expect it to happen. My real beef with this prevailing attitude is that in doing so we have missed the real musicians. What happened to the next Billy Joel, Eric Clapton or Sting? Did they wind up in accountancy, only playing there instruments as hobbies. Did they give up all together. So, I expected what happened and the “Hayes audience effect” was part of that. It almost felt rigged. There were 18 acts from all over the south west. What makes Hayes a hotbed for talent? It just doesn’t make sense. If you were to impart a fare and partial judgement over all of the acts you would expect it to be a little more evenly spread, wouldn’t you?
This brings me on to another point. They were hardly Open Mic acts. I’ve been playing in open mic venues for the best part of fifteen years now and I have never seen acts like the ones that were on Saturday. We have a rapper called 2 Badda for a start. Honestly, I can’t remember anyone trying to rap whilst at an open mic night. They have generally been the purview of those who both sing and play a musical instrument. Yet, we heard from two of the ‘judges’ on the night who said that he was there favorite act. If that’s what they were looking for, perhaps they shouldn’t call it an open mic competition. Or have they just called it an open mic competition for the kudos of doing something like that?
Perhaps I am being too hard on the competition and what happened on Saturday. Maybe it is seeing a good friend of mine not get through in a competition where I thought he should have done much better. If it is, I can’t help that. I am only human after all. It still worries me, however, that we are less likely to support proper musicians than we are to push forward the next big singer who will release one single, perhaps an album, and disappear in to obscurity.
I think I really blame the music industry, but that is a rant for another time.
In the mean time, if you would like to see J D Kelly get a chance at playing at the O2 then you can text ‘Wildcard68’ (without the quote marks) to 84222. You will be helping to support a real musician get through in a competition which at first seemed to be designed especially to help people exactly like him.