The Market House Inn in Glastonbury is an odd place.
If you put the atmosphere of a bustling, traditional British pub, the comfort and familiarity of your favourite coffee house, and the relaxed geniality of the local pool hall into a giant metaphorical blender and hit the switch, you'd have something akin to the Market House.
It has a unique feeling to it that draws people from all ages and walks of life through the doors. It's certainly unlike any place I've ever been before, and I'm made welcome almost instantly.
Before I've even ordered my drink, I already feel like a regular, and suffer none of the furtive glances one so often encounters when entering a new bar or pub.
In fact, I'm ID'd for the first time in... well, a long time.
As I bask in what is blatantly the obvious misinterpretation of my youthful good looks, my friend points out the notice to staff that Trading Standards are in the area and everyone has to be ID'd. Rats. Bang goes my inflated ego.
|Shay Herbert of Shaico|
Seamus Herbert and Trish Kumar, two members of local acoustic folk/jazz band Shaico and our hosts for the evening, are busy setting up when I grab them for a quick chat.
Seamus, or Shay, is a quiet, unassuming chap with an intense passion for live music that comes through in his exuberance about the open mic night.
Trish is the band's cellist, and one of those people who are far too chirpy and infinitely likeable for their own good.
"The open mic is basically a chance for anyone to come up and play whatever they like," explains Shay.
"We get a lot of grassroots musicians coming in, and we promote a lot of local talent. The Market House landlord and landlady are huge fans of local music, and as a result a lot of bands and artists get their big breaks here."
He's not kidding either. Folk sensation KT Tunstall used to run an open mic night in Edinburgh, before she hit the big time.
Music at its best
Open mic nights have been huge successes in the States, but, sadly, not so much over here.
|Jake at the Market House Open Mic|
The general perception of them brings up painful mental images of Phoebe from Friends and her interminable renditions of that true piece of musical butchery, Smelly Cat.
I will confess to harbouring those same kinds of preconceptions before the gig. However, any images of Lisa Kudrow and a hideously out-of-tune guitar are dispelled by the sheer professionalism Shaico approach their first slot with.
A blend of soft acoustics, smooth vocals and gentle ambience float throughout the pub, not loud enough to disrupt conversation but with sufficient volume to start the foot-tapping and head-nodding.
Next up was local guitarist Jack Bird, playing a bizarre blend of country-folk-jazz on an acoustic guitar. Another of those blends that REALLY shouldn't work but... well... did.
Following swiftly on was Jake, another Market House open mic regular, who played a three-song set, including a fantastic cover of Elton John's Rocket Man.
Another three songs from Shaico (incidentally, if they sound this good with just TWO of them, can you imagine what they're like when they all get together?) reinforced the relaxed mood of the night, leaving everyone sufficiently chilled out for what was to come.
|Jack Bird at the Market House Open Mic|
My personal highlight of the evening was the final act, who sadly didn't give their names.
A three-person jamming collective set up for some quality improvised strumming, raw and uncut.
And that, to me, summed up what the night was all about. Commercial pressure? None of it. What was happening here was a group of people playing together for the sheer joy of it. No reward, no personal material gain, just music at its best.
Try open mic - you know you want to!
Chatting with Shay after the gig, it struck me just how visionary he really is - he has embraced the power of MySpace.com (check the band's site in the links to the right) and recognises the resurgence of independent live music.
|Market House Inn's Jamming Collective|
"The internet gives everyone a chance to get their stuff heard," he muses. "Bands can become huge overnight, and what with the first chart-topping download and all that, the independent labels are finally getting a look-in."
In conclusion, if you like bare-bones music, local talent, and a great friendly atmosphere, get yourself, and anyone within dragging distance, along to an open mic.
If you don't like one act, another will be along 15 minutes later that may well blow your mind. In my opinion, everyone should go to at least one. Try it. You know you want to.
The Market House Inn holds open mic acoustic nights hosted by Shaico on most Thursday nights. Check the links to the right for further details.