Days 8, 9, 10: Up, down and back

The topological efficiency of the open mic tour is further degraded on Tuesday when we head back up north to Huddersfield for the Acoustic Club – once described as the Catweazle of the North. Actually that was by me. As Lewis points out, the folks in Huddersfield may consider Catweazle to be the Acoustic Club of the South, if they make the trip down.

The more astute readers may have worked out that I’m actually back from the tour and writing this from Oxford. I apologise for not sending despatches directly from the frontline but things got a little hectic and technical difficulties (i.e. not having a proper computer and trying to update the site from my phone) made blogging quite cumbersome and time consuming.

Developing photos

Developing photos in Wakefield.

Anyway, back to Tuesday, or day 8 of the tour. We arrive in Wakefield – yes that’s right, to keep accomodation costs to the minimum we’re staying there rather than Huddersfield – at around 5.30pm. A newsagents next to the hotel has a stand outside proclaiming ‘Mystery of city’s strange smell investigated’. Welcome to Wakefield.

Fortunately, there’s no overpowering odour near the hotel. After a brief rest, an attempt at blogging with inadequate tools and some music practice we set off for Huddersfield. It’s a reasonably short journey, notable only for the unprecedented number of speed cameras on route.

Huddersfield is a bit like a ghost town. There’s barely a soul to be seen on the high street. All the more remarkable then, that the Acoustic Club at Bar 122 is able to sustain an impressive lineup plus a dozen or so audience members who’ve just come to watch, paying £1 for the privilege (performers get in free).

According to the highly entertaining compare and promoter, Stevo, there are 24 performers in total tonight, mainly solo acts but a few duos and one threesome. Each night also has a joke competition, with audience and participants encouraged to tell jokes on a particular theme. Tonight it’s animals.

There’s a fairly strong folk leaning at the Acoustic Club, at least tonight. Apparently, it’s really quiet because most of the students have gone home for the summer, Huddersfield University having a large campus in the town (it also has campuses in Oldham and Barnsley).

All the acts are of a high standard, except perhaps one – from the most Northern bloke (in stereotypcial fashion) you could imagine – that seems utterly disjointed and chaotic, but is all the more compelling for that.

Apart from him, I’m particularly taken by Adam Smith’s songs about a tortoise and the French notion, Jolie-Laide, and Josh and Noah’s Django Reinhart-esque instrumental guitar duos, which they claim to be ‘found’ works with bizarre titles by obscure Hungarian or Japanese composers.

Josh also delivers what’s probably the best joke of the evening, about a dispute over the eggs laid by a chicken in the garden next door to the owner’s.

Each act plays one song and this goes round again so those who don’t head off get to play another one. Acts that turn up late also get a slot. Despite getting going around 10pm there’s plenty of time to fit in the 24 performers, with the last act finishing around 1am.

However, the evening isn’t over yet as there’s a killer pool competition. This proves a good way to meet other performers and socialise after the music stops.

With my limited pool abilities I decline the invitation to participate but Lewis joins in and does pretty well, staying in the game until it’s down to three players. Josh wins, which perhaps says something about the regularity of his attendance at Bar 122, or maybe he’s just naturally good at pool.

Hepworth gallery

New outdoor open mic concept – the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.

Another game starts up and we’re asked to join in but it’s almost 2am and we’re pretty starving by this point, not having had time to get dinner before. Fortunately, despite appearances to the contrary, there’s other life pulsating in Huddersfield, even in the early hours of the morning, albeit hidden away. Aided by directions from one of the Bar 122 regulars we manage to find a fast food place that does freshly grilled shish kebabs wrapped in naan bread. It’s almost as good as Oxford.

We get back to Wakefield around 3.30. Lewis says there’s an odd smell, which I can’t detect, apparently a bit like gas. Mystery solved. Except gas has no smell. Well the methane that is burned in boilers and cookers doesn’t have a smell, but additional chemicals are added to provide the smell so people can tell if there’s a gas leak. So it could be gas. But that wouldn’t be a mystery. So what could the mystery be? I could just google the headline but I think Wakefield is a better place with a sense of mystery, if not the smell, lingering over it.

Less is less in Leicester


Shiny new building in the centre of Leicester.

The next day we spend a little time in Wakefield. We mainly look at the new Hepworth Gallery, an impressive new art gallery in a former industrial site in the city centre, with permanent exhibitions concentrating on the Yorkshire sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Then we head down to Leicester, the last stop on the tour and the penultimate open mic. It’s a good night – a couple of friends come along and we have a few drinks and a good chat but the open mic at The Donkey doesn’t seem up to much really. The compare/sound man plays a decent set but it’s very quiet and the rest of the performances are somewhat lacklustre. Okay, it’s in the university area and it’s out of term time so we definitely aren’t seeing it in its best light and it may be worth checking out in the Autumn when the students are back.

On day 10 we take a wander around the centre and have a look at the covered market, reportedly the largest in the UK. Then we take a stroll to Belgrave Road in search of a Gujurati restaurant. We find the famous Bobby’s but it seems quite pricey so instead we plump for South Indian at Chennai Dosai, a chain that does excellent dosais – pankcakes made from fermented black gram and rice flour.

After a rather longwinded journey we reach Oxford, barely in time to unload and get to Catweazle. It’s a particularly fine night tonight. There are lots of new performers, most of whom are very good, and all of whom are entertaining in some way. Although a lot of the regular poets are away, there’s still some excellent spoken word performances, which reminds us that we’ve encountered very little poetry on our tour. Well, none in fact, apart from John Marriot in Nottingham.

The open mic tour is officially at an end. We saw some interesting places, attended some fine open mics and met some great people. We’re fired up about further trips – Bath, Bristol and Brighton, The Mad Ferret in Preston, lots of London ones to check out, perhaps eventually playing in Heckmondwike. Tonight, though, it’s good to be back and Catweazle really feels like home.


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