Alexander’s: The story of Chester’s first ever open mic night

 

Chester’s first ever open mic night has been running for 15 years now and was set up by Mick Green and Graham Bellinger who are still playing in the host band.

When I came into the venue and asked to speak to someone for my interview, everyone in the room pointed to two guys at the back of the room, chatting to each other enthusiastically about the set-up. I went up to them and asked, if they could answer some of my questions and they very modestly said: “Of course, but we are not sure, if we can answer everything”.

They took me to a small room in which musicians leave their instruments and started talking about how they set up Alexander’s open mic night. Mick and Graham appear to not only be band mates, but also really good friends.

“It was the first one in Chester”, they claimed proudly. “We played here occasionally and we were asked, if we could play here regularly, but we did not think that this was a terribly good idea. Then, I read about open mic nights in America and I said we could try this. We said we would do it for six weeks. Here we are 15 years later.”

As we were talking, I could hear it getting louder in the room next to us where musicians started to set up their instruments and checked their microphones.

Proudly, the two musicians, Mick and Graham, told me how they saw some great talent play at the open mic night, some of which became very well known later. They specifically praised Welsh artist Duffy and pianist Phil Gregory who has played in Cathedrals all over Europe. “One of the ones who we are most proud of is a lad who came on the first open mic, called Phil Gregory. A few years ago he was one of the musical directors for Stings concerts in Durham cathedral and he then went to take it on tour to Cathedrals round Europe. It was an album of Winter songs.”

At the end of our chat the two asked me to publicise the interview and get people down to Alexander’s. They told me to speak to some of the other musicians after their slot and I decided to talk to a band called Portlights consisting of Matt Williams, David Schwarz and Chris Darbyshire who play a modern swing and are frequent players at the open mic night in Alexander’s.

“It is a great atmosphere and has a very high standard, we are sometimes still nervous when we play here. Although, we know that people applaud, even if you are not very good.” About Mick and Graham and their band they said: “They are a great inspiration, we come here quite often to meet other musicians and get some more gigs.”

When I went back into the venue, it had filled up with all sorts of different people. Some were dressy, while others had a relaxed drink with their friends. The atmosphere was romantic with candlelight and live music. Drinks were reasonably priced starting from £3.65 for a small glass of white house wine. The entry to this event which takes place every Tuesday at 8.30pm is £3 which seems good value for money.

The photos show contributors to the open mic night:

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by Lisa Meller

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