Day 6: From Dusk till dawn

The open mic at Dusk in York starts off somewhat shambolically at around 11pm but rapidly gains momentum. The organisers, Mark Wynn and GT Turbo (of York Americana outfit Boss Caine) each play several numbers in a bluesy vane. Mark has an intricate yet lackadaisical fingerpicking style, while GT has a gravelly voice that slips its way smoothly through some carefully crafted, ear-catching lyrics.

The evening is run in a laid back manner, with each performer doing four or five songs. I’m up next. The room seems to have thinned out a little and although there seems to be a handful paying attention I’m not sure I’ve made much of an impact.

I’m folllowed by Drew Stephenson who plays folky songs with intruiging themes such as air traffic control and aliens, and about how all government research facilities have names comprised of three syllables like Menwith Hill, Porton Down or Jodrell Bank – which is slightly inaccurate if you consider, for instance, Harwell and Aldermaston, but let’s not quibble.

Then Lewis is on. His first song, Drowning My Sorrows, receives rapturous applause. The crowd, which has grown from when I played, is further reinforced by some punters from downstairs.

I don’t catch the end of his set, though, because I’ve been passed a carefully decorated note saying, in short, that the author liked the fact I’d referenced the Mandlebrot set. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been passed a note in a bar. I’d hoped that when this moment came it would include an offer of champagne from a mysterious lady (or gentleman, I’m not that fussy when it comes to Champagne). But it’s still nice.

I chat to the author of the note and their friends for a bit and later, when the open mic is winding down, nip off to sort out some CDs for them. When I return Lewis is talking to a very pretty girl in a homemade dress that looks like it’s been made from a curtain. That’s an observation rather than a criticism – it’s a fine dress, although the cut could be a little more figure-hugging in my opinion.

As it’s after 2 and Dusk is closing she suggests we go to a bar next door where we’re just in time to get another drink. It turns out her parents live in Hebden Bridge and she gives us a detailed account of how that town came to be like it is now from the days it was colonised by hippies buying up condemned houses for a pound, giving rise to the nickname for the area, Cannabis Canyon.

We’re in need of yet another beer so our new guide takes us to The Willow on Coney Street. We get another detailed history, this time about the Willow’s origins as a Chinese Restaurant, which had its licence to serve food revoked pretty much indefinitely after a number of serious environmental health infringements. The owners used to run a disco on the premises that was more profitable than the restaurant so they just kept running that.

Overheads at the Willow are clearly kept to the bare minimum. I quite like the total lack of pretension, from the canned lager to the abandoned restaurant-cum-community hall decor. The music’s not bad either but even the Willow has to shut at some point so the music stops mid-song and we’re ushered onto the street.

Dawn has clearly preceded us and gagggles of geese have invaded the town centre and are preceding to tear it up around us. Cue another story about how the seagulls of York originally mated with the bats to create the pigeons.

Then the girl in the homemade dress becomes solemn and expresses her concern that Lewis and I don’t seem excited enough about our tour, and life in general. She exhorts us to make more effort to find happiness in the small things in life.

It’s starting to get a bit surreal and I conclude that she’s not actually corporreal. Her dress isn’t made from curtain material, it’s immaterial. She’s the friendly ghost of York open mics, condemned to guide weary travelling performers to the city’s night spots and ensure they have a memorable experience.

We bid each other farewell and slink off to our resting places, hidden from the light, nocturnal creatures that we are.


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