In a bid to develop my somewhat narrow list of extra-curricular activities, I participated in an open mic this week with my flatmate (yes, the very same flatmate who dabbles in parkour is quite the acoustic guitarist), and after a month of “yeah, we’ll definitely play next week”, we finally got our act together.
The bar was already filled with musicians when we arrived, toting instruments and chatting in a friendly yet slightly detached way. Both non-chalant and cool, I mentally noted.
It was clear there were some regulars. People knew each other and already, at this early stage in the night, there were obvious cliques dividing the room. On the far right there were the girls in denim shorts and tights, edgy headbands and studded jewellery. At the bar were the slightly worn-looking rockers, all faded Levis and thick facial hair. Then there was us. Sat in the corner looking over-fazed and poorly dressed, we silently observed as we got the feeling of being ever so slightly out of our depth.
Once the music started our confidence grew. Drawing inspiration from the other acts, we planned our performance reminding ourselves to “engage” and “don’t look down”, reassuring each other that no matter what happened we would carry on.
As the night wore on, the bar heaved. Friends of the predominantly international musicians turned up to pack out the small underground space and more than once I heard an over-excited English accent exclaim: “They serve cider here!”, a rarity in Paris. Our friends and flatmates arrived en masse to offer words of encouragement and enthusiastic smiles so that by the time our debut was imminent we were feeling confident, aided perhaps in part by the pints of beer said friends had been buying us as we waited.
And so we played. Our three rehearsed songs passed by in a blur and to be honest, I’m not sure how it went. Our previously inflated egos gave way to clumsy mistake-making as we stood under bright lights at the mercy of our mildly inebriated public. On at least two occasions I forgot the words, forcing me to awkwardly scan my just-in-case post-its on which I had scrawled lyrics just minutes before.
At the end of our set, we were reassured by an applause. The same applause that every musician before us had received. The same words of congratulations and encouragement from our friends and strangers that the others had graciously accepted.
It is perhaps this lack of differentiation between acts that makes a night such as this so special. For all our feigned competitiveness, by the end of the evening it didn’t matter who was best, and we didn’t care. It is amateur, it is non-competitive and everyone is treated the same. The diversity of the acts is celebrated with hearty applause no matter what happens. It is a veritable example of the taking part that counts. Something that, fortunately for us, means we’ll be playing again next week.