Forget rock'n'roll, the Myspace generation are having an acoustic boom

Stars such as KT Tunstall and Kate Nash are products of a burgeoning countrywide open-mic scene, says Simon Hardeman

In the darkened back room of a north London pub, a blond-haired woman and her guitar hold a good-natured audience of 30 or so rapt. Sadie Jemmett is headlining Head Music, one of the swath of acoustic nights bubbling up in the capital. It is part of a trend across the capital which has provided a platform for the chorus of singer-songwriters who are now chart regulars, including K T Tunstall, Jamie T, Kate Nash, and many more.

Jemmett, who has played with Tunstall, says that there's an acoustic bandwagon rolling. "It's a very interesting time. The record labels are struggling, so the whole 'big, famous, and taking lots of drugs' thing is over. It's all going back to singer-songwriters, and taking control through the internet."

The 2005 Mercury Prize nominee and acoustic star Seth Lakeman agrees. "I think the growth in acoustic music really is to do with the MySpace thing where people can advertise themselves online. Once they've done that, they want somewhere to play. Sandi Thom was one of the first to do that."

Lakeman won two Radio 2 folk awards this year, but accepts that the current boom is a much broader thing. "It isn't just traditional folk, it's about people wanting to write a song and woo a girlfriend."

The new acoustic boom is a ground-up phenomenon, and "open mic" nights are at its base. These are where anyone who turns up can have a short stint – it's like the early stand-up clubs where Ben Elton, French and Saunders, Eddie Izzard and others played at the start of the alternative comedy explosion. Even someone as successful as Lakeman still plays them: "There are loads of them now. I play an open mic regularly in Glasgow, and the young people there really enjoy live acoustic music."

But Lakeman is also a classic example of how the groundswell in acoustic music, perhaps for the first time since the 1960s heyday of Bob Dylan, Donovan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, is producing a cadre of singer-songwriters who are as at home on the big stage as on the small. "I had a really good example of that recently," says Lakeman. "At the V Festival I was on just before McFly!"

If anyone can claim to be a pioneer of the current open-mic scene, it is Tony Moore. In 1996, this former keyboard player with Iron Maiden and Cutting Crew was plying his trade as a singer/songwriter but was frustrated by the lack of venues.

"The market was all indie, dance, and Manc music," he explains. "I wanted a place for me and all the people I knew who had nowhere to play. So I found a venue in the West End and I put on a night called the Kashmir Club, and within a month we were doing two nights a week. Everyone you now know came through there – Damien Rice, K T Tunstall, Imogen Heap, The Feeling... It was a little moment of zeitgeist. I don't think I created the scene, but I allowed people to flourish and network. I think it inspired other people to play."

Moore's contribution to live music was recognised when, in 2004, he was the sole inductee into the Music Managers Forum roll of honour for outstanding contribution to the British music industry. Since the Kashmir's venue closed he has been at the Bedford Arms, in south London.

But he warns that that legislation threatens the growth in open-mic nights. "Many that wish to put on live music face conditions from local councils like curfews, security on the doors, noise levels, and so on. So although you see more live music, it is against the grain."

The Troubadour Café, in Earls Court, west London, was a Sixties venue where Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon played. Now expanded, it has played host to today's successors including Jamie T, Jack Peñate, and Paolo Nutini. Alex Martin's company, Curious Generation, runs gigs there.

"This time a year ago we weren't doing that many acoustic nights," he tells me. "It was a lot of indie and spiky post-punk. But now, in venues where I would have been doing band-led nights I'm now doing acoustic-led. And acoustic nights used to be about men whining about how their girlfriend left them. Now it's much more varied, and there are many more types of music. There's more soul, for instance."

Back in east London, two miles north of the stage at the Scolt Head, where Sadie Jemmett is finishing her set, is Biddle Bros, an old hardware store that is now a small bar on the Lower Clapton Road – once dubbed "murder mile". Here, Nev Hawkins runs a free night he advertises as "MySpace or Yours". He says that MySpace is crucial to his success. "It means people are able to network with musicians much quicker and connect more easily," he tells me. "My MySpace network, called Songwriters Anonymous, has 1,800 musicians. It has taken me a year to build up. Ten years ago it would have taken me 10 years to do."

Back the couple of miles to the Scolt Head, Jemmett is bringing the Head Music night to a warmly applauded end with her song "Beautiful People", from her forthcoming album Ghosts. "I want to come back and play here again," she says, "it's a lovely atmosphere."

That, perhaps, is the secret. Gone are the bland but aggressive beats of the DJ bar, and in their place are generous, warm spaces for both acts and audience, coming together in human terms thanks to the internet networking that – hang on – was going to keep us apart, wasn't it? Even better, they're the perfect places to spot the next Tunstall, Kate Nash, or James Blunt. Well, two out of three isn't bad...

www.thebedford.co.uk;
http://www.troubadour.co.uk
www.myspace.com/songwritersanon

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine