Performing in public is the stuff of nightmares for some. Me? I’ve kind of got used to it over the years, ever since I had a baby guitar thrust into my tiny infant hands by an enthusiastic father who’d already seen his first two offspring rebel against his musical patriarchy.
Being the newest member of the Time Out team, I’d been made to sign up to Tr!beca Kitchen + Bar’s jam night before my feet had even made their way under my desk in the early days of my tenure.
“You play guitar, right?” I was asked pretty much the moment I set foot in Time Out Towers, to which I could only really muster a nod. “Cool, you’re up for open mic night then!” Gulp.
A bunch of feelings bubble up – excitement, fear and jangling nerves. I also have to make sure I’m not totally rubbish, so I need practise.
Minor problem: I have no guitar. Having relocated to Dubai from London in March, my trusty instrument is still on a shipping vessel somewhere between Portsmouth and Oman. That is something of an imposition. Thankfully, I’m able to borrow one. The day before the big one, I manage to swot up on a few covers I have in the bag in case of emergency. However, having not performed live solo for the best part of a decade, the good ole pre-gig nerves come back with a vengeance.
I head down to Tr!beca at JA Ocean View Hotel in JBR ahead of my friends so there’s little else to do but sit there stewing in my apprehension. Thankfully, my torment is halted when the guy running the show, Abbo, comes over to explain how everything works. “It’s your first time here, mate, so we won’t be cruel enough to stick you on first – and we won’t stick you on right at the end either,” he says, with an empathetic yet slightly anxious tone. There’s no vetting here, he just knows someone from Time Out is coming, and he has no idea if I’m clued up or clueless.
Having been to some pretty woeful open mic nights back in the UK, it must be said the quality of musicianship on show at Tr!beca is excellent. And the variety is unprecedented – acoustic solo acts of an Ed Sheeran ilk, old swing singers crooning away, a four-piece pop punk band… and me.
While I’m fairly sure my performance is well received, it’s not for me to say how good or bad I am. It’s more helpful to convey what it’s like to get on stage and put yourself out there to be judged.
Firstly, you’re expected to entertain. People don’t want to hear original songs they’ve never heard before – unless they’re awesome. Ultimately, they just want to sing along.
Next, the lights go on. You’re partially blinded. You get hot. You do your best to remember what you’ve practised, but you’re pretty much beholden to fate. Your hands get a bit stiff. Then sweaty. It doesn’t feel the same as practising at home. But that’s entirely the point. It’s not the same.
And that’s what makes it exhilarating. It awakens memories and feelings you’d either totally forgotten about or never knew existed.
The crowd is hugely supportive and respectful. The other musicians rock it, and everyone there loves it. It’s a properly good night with some awesome music.
Before you start thinking this is some muso cliquey thing, it’s not. If you’ve ever enjoyed music, get down and get involved. By the end of the night, people are pouring onto the stage to sing along with the final couple of tunes. And that’s probably the perfect metaphor for what Abbo and his band of merry men are all about – maximum inclusion but, principally, fun.
Speaking to Abbo at the end of the night it becomes evident that this underground music scene is a project, a movement. People like Abbo, and bars like Tr!beca, want this to be a big deal. As a recent expat from London, where there’s a 60-year-old music scene, it’s clear that Dubai life is so busy that the things that give us the most enjoyment, or even become part of our identity, inadvertently get parked.
Dubai needs nights like this to awaken the dormant musician that lies inside so many of us.
To play at Tr!beca’s open mic night simply turn up with your instrument.
Sun, arrive at 8pm. Tr!beca Kitchen + Bar, JA Ocean View Hotel, JBR (04 814 5923).
Four more Open mic nights in Dubai
From stand-up comedy to acoustic music to spoken word, Blank Space is a seasonal open mic night that rolls into town once a month and gives every artist the opportunity to perform personal compositions live.
Free to play. Various locations. www.facebook.com/blankspaceopenmic. Follow on Facebook for regular event updates.
Freshly ground sounds
You don’t need to audition or showcase recordings from SoundCloud to sign up for Freshly Ground Sounds’ open mic nights. Events regularly move between venues and line-ups aim at giving new musicians a chance, as well as recurring artists.
Free to play. Sign up at www.freshlygroundsounds.com to take part.
Original Wings & Rings
Home to chicken wings, bold burgers and house salads, Tuesday nights at Original Wings & Rings is open mic night, where Abbo and his merry men take their musicianship to DIFC.
Free to play. Tue 8pm-2am. Liberty House, DIFC (04 359 6900).
Take the open mic night formula, crank it up a notch, elevate it 42 floors above ground and open it up to live bands and you’ve got ON42 Live. Full bands can sign up by going along every Wednesday, making the night open to every kind of musician.
Free to play. Wed from 7pm. Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City (04 427 1000).