Aidan 'Taco' Jones is a comedian and writer based in Melbourne Australia, he likes most types of cheese and often throws tantrums. To read his blog and find him doing comedy hit up ajtaco.blogspot.com
The Great Britain Hotel is a mainstay of the Richmond bar scene and has been around for a long time, it is known for its intimate beer garden and host of colourful regulars, and on Wednesdays the stage in the band room, surrounded by comfy couches and only a few dim spotlights, is opened up to all comers. The room is intimate, and the audiences are usually very warm. If you're feeling impatient and want a quick summary now, I'll save you some time: the GBH is my favourite open mic room in Melbourne.
This stage is so welcoming they've even put a reading lamp up there
When you walk in you'll probably come through the second door after missing the main entrance on the corner because it's fairly inconspicuous, or maybe you're an idiot (?!). The bar stands right in front of you and you have the choice to either walk left or right, but the room seems to flow counter-clockwise, and so you'll go right, past the bar and into the dark room littered with old couches and low tables. Past the late-middle-age drunks, there's usually a family of them – I use the word family here not to denote a blood relation, but to refer to a group of what I can tell are like-minded people who share a love of drinking late on a Wednesday. They're there more often than not, and their presence is always felt, approving or otherwise.
If you want to go to the toilet or beer garden then you'll have to walk in front of the stage here, but you'll do it anyway because you can't be bothered walking all the way back around the way you came in, and you'll realise that I was right, the room really does flow counter-clockwise. There's a lonely pinball machine tucked away in the corner as you walk down the few steps to restroom relief or the small snippet of outside and the world that has been furnished with tables and ashtrays for your enjoyment. Why would you want to sit out there though, when lovely though the beer garden is, the show is happening inside. The band room. The stage. The best seats are at the front... well, pretty much all of the seats are at the front – it's not a big room.
Yeah look it's fine, but really you should put out your cigarette and go inside
As a comedian perpetually desperate for stage time, open mics like this are a god-send and the perfect opportunity to learn the brutal crafts of audience interaction while performing to crowds that are usually up for a bit of chit-chat. I normally book spots around 11pm or midnight-ish (to book, call up at or just after 4pm on the day) but the night runs from 9pm, I just love the late night spots for the dingy dive-bar tingling that performing at that time of night gives me. Most of the musicians play down-beat ballad-y tunes, maybe a few funkier bits but nothing too loud, pretty much all acoustic. On Wednesdays, the room feels like it would start to crumble if someone dared to muck around with any distortion, although okay, okay, I'm sure it could be done, I don't want anyone taking that as a challenge please.
My fondest memories of Wednesday Open Mic Nights at the GBH though, are when the crowd has gotten rowdy – the older family of revellers I mentioned earlier, they really love to get involved. I've heard some of the best heckler put-downs ever in that room, comedian Blake Freeman telling a man wearing football shorts he looked like "a jogger's uncool dad" stands out as a highlight. Then the music starts again, someone brings a guitar out, or plugs their lead into a keyboard, and everyone forgets their petty quarrels. Calm always descends from the madness.
I honestly love the Great Britain Hotel, which is why it makes me so mad with resignation to know that in only a few short months it will be gone – demolished to make way for shiny new box-apartments to store Richmond's newest residents. And I mean, that's fine, I guess, the wheels have to keep turning and with every death comes new life – someone, somewhere will open up another open mic night and the show continues. Before that though, do yourself a favour, whether you're an aspiring performer, seasoned vet, or just a curious punter willing to sit through someone figuring out their latest expressive creation just to maybe see that first glimpse of brilliance on stage... whoever you are, go down to the Great Britain Hotel for open mic night on Wednesdays. Go now, before it's gone, because if you leave it too late, you'll have to talk to a builder.