by Jem Stuart


On the evening of Friday 31st of August, I attended an open mic night at 5 WAYS @ the Recovery Academy. It was the fourth such event and the second I have attended and performed at. The last was in February and I literally haven’t stopped going on about it since, so this time my wife came too. Not sure whether it was to see what all the fuss was about or just to shut me up, but we both had a wonderful time.

Your author, Jem. © Forward Leeds

There was a good mix of first-timers and more experienced performers, but once again the standard was uniformly high. The interesting thing was seeing the growth in people who I first met in February – both on and off stage. This mirrors my own experience, performing regularly means I write more, which improves my writing and makes me more confident when I next perform; a truly virtuous circle.

Hank © Forward Leeds

Anyway, the proceedings kicked off with the wonderful Hank – who I’m contractually obliged to refer to as Middleton’s answer to Stanley Holloway. He recited, from memory, three comic poems from the 1930’s; featuring costume changes and harmonica accompaniment. I’ve seen Hank perform many times now and he always makes me smile, thanks Hank!

Next up were the intriguingly named Jesus and the Aubergine – male and female singer/guitarists who performed their own original material and sounded fresh and interesting. I followed up with some whimsical words, including only my second ever attempt at singing in public. I think the audience enjoyed it, they didn’t throw anything anyway.

Jesus & The Aubergine. © Forward Leeds

Then came the lovely Sarah, who debuted in February and once again spoke her own words on her recovery over an ambient backing track; ethereal yet powerful. I know she’s a busy lady but I’d love to hear Sarah more often, so I hope she attends a few more open mics in the future. The first session closed with Jo on his guitar, who if I heard him correctly hadn’t played one of his songs since he was ten years old. It would be a crime if he left it that long again, witty and thought-provoking.

Sarah © Forward Leeds
Joe © Forward Leeds

At the halfway point we all enjoyed a couple of tasty veggie curries, accompanied by rice and a wrap. Many thanks to Helen and Carla for once again stepping up to the plate – see what I did there? The second half started with Delusional Daz, who managed to combine his own unique approach to standup with a PowerPoint presentation – looking forward to your TED talk, Daz! Dave then got us all thinking with his poetry, which was fresh and original with what I can only describe as a Zen perspective.

Delusional Daz. © Forward Leeds

I was blown away by the next poet, Megan. Another debutant, she clearly celebrated the importance of her faith in God to her recovery. Unflinchingly identifying as a “serial relapser” she nevertheless stated her desire for recovery in the clearest possible terms, Loved your words Megan, you’ve got this.

Another set by Jesus and the Aubergine – still not sure which is which – closed another wonderfully entertaining evening and it was time to go home. Which reminds me, I didn’t manage to catch Dean Wood, so big thanks to him for making it happen, not to mention the kind introduction!

Maitre D’, Dean Wood. © Forward Leeds

Driving home, I was struck by how people seemed to grow in confidence and stature when they were “on stage”. I also realised that of the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” – connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give – nights like these tick at least two, possibly three, boxes.

In counselling, the work of Carl Rogers is very influential; particularly concerning self actualisation. In explaining this, Rogers uses an analogy with a bag of seed potatoes – they WILL grow in a cellar without light or nourishment, but the shoots will be weak and spindly. However, if they are planted in a sunlit field and watered regularly, they will become strong plants and produce a healthy crop. Nights like Friday are water, sunshine and the best fertiliser possible for the human spirit.

David © Forward Leeds

In the year or so that I’ve been attending open mics, not only has my confidence increased, but I’ve made some wonderful friends and had some of the most entertaining nights out I can ever remember; all without a drop to drink!

So, if you play an instrument, write poetry or like to tell jokes; why not come along to the next one at the Recovery Academy, or just keep an eye on social media and get along to a spoken word night in your area? Whether or not you perform, a good time is virtually guaranteed, I look forward to seeing you.



Author: Jem Stuart
Images: © Forward Leeds