I can’t tell when last I went to an open mic night, but having recently realised that most of the musicians that I’ve befriended are as a result of one, I think I’ll be making an effort to go to more of them in the future. You never know what you’re going to find, but it’s a beautiful thing when you make these connections, and not just for the sake of collaboration. As someone whose music is literally her life and career, it’s such a relief to know people like you who just get it. The creative process, the tussle with perfectionism, the independent hustle – all of it – and in that way, we are all able to encourage and inspire each other. Above all, the artists featured in this post are really nice people, which matters a smidgen more to me.
Where I can, I’m going to avoid attempting to define them by genre; you’ll just have to taste and see for yourself. In one way or another I have had the great pleasure of working with these music-makers, and so I think that you should know a little more about them too.
For some time, Saskia Maxwell has been a far more experienced performer than her young age would suggest. Having already racked up a gig count in the hundreds and opened for artists such as JP Cooper, Ralph McTell, Rae Morris and Rachel Sermanni, she is a very skilled guitarist, with clever, bewitching lyrics and the hauntingly ethereal voice of an angel.
We met at an open mic in Blagdon back in 2015, and since then we’ve done a few gigs together. Saskia is a genuine, good-hearted and unique person, and although she is originally from Cornwall, she did spend a couple of years in Bristol and to me is also basically one of us! She has released a number of EPs over the years, including Dancing With the Night (2016), and is currently working on her debut album Entertaining Possibilities.
While on a day trip from London to Bristol, Karin Fransson wandered into The Fringe for the open mic. I can’t remember what year this was (possibly 2013?), but what I do remember was that everyone was blown away from the moment she began her first song until the last – the room went so quiet. I was standing next to Henry Slim (we’ll talk about him later) and we were both like, “Wow”.
There isn’t a scale that can measure the warmth in Karin’s soulful and deft voice, and her songs are like sunshine-filled pieces of chocolate: heavenly and luxurious. I finally got around to doing a show in London in 2017, which she kindly agreed to do with me, and it was a blast (and hopefully not our last). In addition to working as a songwriter, backing singer and session musician, Karin released the album Private Behaviour in 2011.
The cool story here is that I was actually at this particular open mic night with my brother Ellis, accompanying him on guitar. We had planned to go to one open mic, but couldn’t find anywhere to park. So we kept driving and eventually ended up on Cheltenham Road, where there was a nice space, so we parked there and walked into Left Bank instead. Theoretically, seeing as I wasn’t actually performing myself, and we had intended to be at a completely different open mic, I shouldn’t have even met Salma. But I am so glad that I did.
Salma’s music, in German and English, ranges from soft and sweet, to raw and gritty, and her distinctive voice can soar powerfully, or calm you as if she were telling you a captivating bedtime story. We played a few gigs while she was in Bristol, one of which is (to date) my favourite gig ever – a bunch of her flatmates and many of my relatives were in attendance, so it was a very warm, jovial evening.
Do you know what else is weird? Salma had only just arrived from Germany a few days before that open mic, to study for a year, which was the same week that I decided to try and pick up German again (with little success I can now tell you, since I’ve put it down again…) She also – like me – plays an acoustic nylon-string guitar, which I don’t see as often. Anyway, Salma, who is bubbly, remarkably sweet and self-effacing, has released a couple of EPs, and now fronts her own band Salma mit Sahne (translated: Salma with Cream).
Someone else who knows all about mysterious coincidences in life, as confirmed by the title of her debut album, is my good friend Julia Turner. I officially met her in 2012 or 2013 at an open mic that my dad, Everton, ran at Doli (which used to be on Cheltenham Road), and years later I would find out that I’d already heard her voice prior to this meeting on a song that she had worked on with my dad years ago – I just didn’t know it was her.
Julia has one of the clearest tones that I have ever heard from a vocalist – it’s incredible – and she wields her instrument in a soothing, understated manner. We’ve done a lot of gigs together, whether it be opening for one another or providing backing vocals. She’s a very caring and attentive person, more interested in the wellbeing of others than her own, and we have many deep, therapeutic conversations over cups of tea that I appreciate a great deal.
Julia studied at Leeds College of Music, spent a year in Australia with her husband, where she wrote and recorded her first album City Synchronicity (2012), before returning to Bristol. In 2016 she released her second album Fifteen Times the Moon, and continues to sing as part of The Eko Trio, as well as work with choirs, such as her parent and child friendly BYOB Choir: Bring Your Own Baby Choir.
Very well-known on the blues scene in Bristol, Henry Slim is a tremendously talented harmonica player – certainly the best one I know. He is also one of the most self-deprecating people you can meet, which makes it quite a task to praise or compliment him, so I’ll just say this: he is extremely perceptive and he knows his stuff. We met at The Fringe open mic back in 2012, and he reminded me just the other day that apparently that night he was told off by comedian Simon Evans for having a harmonica jam outside, which could be heard inside while I was performing. So there’s that.
I can only vaguely recall some of these details, but evidently I didn’t hold him in contempt, as he played harmonica on a few tracks on my first album in 2014. Aside from the harp, Henry also sings, plays guitar and piano, which makes him well versed and equipped to be part of the many outfits he leads or lends his musicianship to, such as The Slimline Shufflers, Sayer ‘n’ Slim Trio, Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band, Bucucrasu and The King Dukes.
If you like any of what you’ve heard above, here’s where you can follow and find out more about the artists: