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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea