• Creating opportunities for others to shine is something I like doing. And during my time as a London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies Volunteer Performer I met many people who should shine at every possible opportunity, so I created one:
    The first London Open Mic Ceremony.

    The Idea

    Just after the Olympic Ceremonies, I thought it would be great to hear what the creative people around me were doing outside of the Olympics.

    I had just finished my stint as a volunteer performer and was very aware that many of my fellow performers were indeed professional musicians, or ambitious amateurs.

    In October and November 2012, I chatted to a few key people to gauge their interest in performing at and/or organising an Open Mic night specially for London 2012 Volunteer Performers, and the feedback was positive in principle, depending on the date.

    In December 2012, I took the decision to organise an Open Mic night, provided I was able to find a suitable venue and to organise a PA system - the first step was taken.

    Size and Scope

    One of the first decisions to make was the approximate size of the event: Multiple options were on the cards, from a small pub to a large hall.

    I had offers from very exciting locations including atmospheric halls with a capacities from 500 to 1,000 people to a highly impressive industrial-looking event ship, however, those venues would have required a long planning phase, a proper business plan, and a dedicated team.

    I was not willing to take that risk at this stage and decided to go for a smaller event at the end of February, and organise everything on an extremely small budget: None.

    A few additional parameters quickly fell into place:
    • The event should be non-ticketed and free.
    • Instead, a collection should raise funds for a charity. 
    • Performers should have done something special in 2012, for example performed in the London 2012 Ceremonies.

    Photo by Vilma Laryea

    Venue

    December 2012 was spent researching music venues across London according to the following criteria:
    The venue should
    • be within TfL Zone 1;
    • have a PA (at least powered speakers);
    • not charge a hire fee on a Friday or Saturday night;
    • have no or a very low minimum spend;
    • accommodate at least 60 people;
    • have a reasonable amount of seating space;
    • serve food and drinks;
    • be available on 23rd February 2013.

    Finding a venue on a weekday or Sunday night was not a problem, whereas the options for a Friday or Saturday were severely limited - nevertheless, I came up with a long list of over 20 venues, narrowed done to a shortlist of about five, following a few visits.

    The final decision was taken just one month before the actual night: The William Blake near Old Street waived the hire charge for their back room, they agreed on a very reasonable deposit which would act as a bar tab, and the biggest plus was that the room capacity could be enhanced from 80 to 600 by removing the sliding back wall and relaying the sound.

    The venue also had a nice dancefloor/stage area and a projector with a large screen, which enabled another option: A live video screen.

    Equipment

    The PA in the pub consisted of powered speakers, so I had to provide a mixing desk and microphones as a bare minimum.

    While I had a small mixing desk, a keyboard, and a few other items including a wireless microphone, I felt a huge relief when Paul and Jaynie from Secret Mission, performers for the night, offered to provide additional equipment and help.

    Paul and Jaynie ultimately turned up with an impressive array of equipment, which is usually used on much bigger stages, and without which the night would have been much less professional than it turned out to be.

    Paul and Jaynie also represented the charity we collected for: The National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

    As we had a big screen available, I thought it would be nice to relay a live camera of the performers, to enhance the experience for the guests sitting or standing at the back.

    While I had a camera, my own laptop was not fast enough to handle the video effects of CamTwist Studio, an open source software package for producing live video broadcasts, so I was lucky enough to lend a laptop from a colleague.

    While I had some ambitious plans for the video screen with impressive effects and a live twitterfeed, I ran out of preparation time, so we could not quite realise the potential - but the screen was a highly useful feature, which again contributed to the professional touch of the night and made a big difference.

    My friend Anna acted as camera and live video system operator for the whole night, and she only received a single 1.5 hour induction to the system on the previous day.

    Design by Dan Spence

    Marketing

    Early on, after announcing the plan for an Open Mic night, the Pandemonium Drummers' house designer Dan offered his help in creating a logo, a flyer and other visual materials.

    I set up a blog and a Facebook event plus in the late stages also a Twitter account, which were effectively the only marketing channels.

    The blog was the main information hub with initial information published three weeks before the event, and then a daily countdown with further information about the performers five days in advance.

    The site received about 40-60 daily visits initially, ramping up to a rather constant daily count of 120 during the final five-day countdown period.

    Dan's logo was re-used during the night as a title slide on the video screen.

    Performer Signup

    After an initial check of interest on Facebook, the performers were asked to sign up via a web form, which collected staging requirements and useful information for the MC - although only a third of all performers filled it in.

    I had prior contact with all performers primarily via email, and out of 17 acts who initially declared an interest, 13 acts performed on the night, resulting in almost exactly three hours of playing time with only minimal breaks for a change of setup.

    Guest and Artist Relation

    At some point before the event, I was approached with a helpful offer by fellow ceremony volunteers to take over the Front of House (FOH) management, which initially led to some misunderstanding: As a sound engineer, I naturally interpreted FOH as the central sound and light control place in the audience, but I learned quickly that it can also mean guest services at the venue entrance.

    We ultimately had an independent FOH team consisting of Caroline, Jan, Mary and Vicky, who were very visible thanks to the Olympic Closing Ceremony lightbulb bowler hat outfits - they did a brilliant job, which I only realised in full when I saw a proper merchandising desk at the entrance!

    While two people put themselves forward as Masters of Ceremony to share the load, we ended up with one person - Dan, who also designed the logo.

    Due to the unfortunate lack of a floor manager, Dan also took over this role and helped keeping performers informed, based on a draft running order that I produced the night before.

    Photo by Vilma Laryea

    Event

    Thanks to the preparatory work, the Open Mic Ceremony itself went smoothly.

    The performances had a nice dramatic curve, with three singers plus playback at the beginning, then a gentle build-up with original songs, acoustic guitar and percussion to electric and electronic acts, followed by humour-filled re-edited lyrics including a singalong plus a jam session, and rounded off by a guitar/percussion duo, a piano/singer act and another humorous act.

    All acts performed to a really high standard and were well received by the audience, who left overwhelmingly positive comments such as "the best open mic night I've ever been to".

    The Twitter hashtag #LOMiC was introduced, and tweets with this hashtag were occasionally inserted into the image of the live screen, greatly facilitated by the availability of free, albeit temperamental, Wifi at the venue.

    The live video screen was, despite a lack of preparation, a highly useful element, and smooth transitions to title and Twitter screens during the short breaks gave the whole event a truly professional touch.

    The screen was also used for two videos, the second being a lyric backdrop for a singalong session, and the first being a specially cut and animated countdown sequence trailer that kicked off the night in a spectacular fashion; it was similar to the video sequence I prepared for the Games Maker Reunion.

    In summary, the following positions were needed to help make the night a success:
    • Executive Producer: myself
    • Venue: sourcing by myself, great service by the William Blake pub team
    • Equipment: myself, Paul & Jaynie
    • Sound engineering: Paul, myself
    • Live video unit: Anna, myself
    • Floor management: vacant - spontaneously filled by Dan & myself
    • MC: Dan
    • Front of House: Caroline, Jan, Mary, Vicky
    • Performers: Thelma, Danielle, Sarah, Gary, myself & Ute, Paul, Tony, Paul & Jaynie, Neil, Jules & Remi, Claudia, Denis

    While a lot of effort went into the preparation and I was extremely busy on the night itself, I am hugely thankful for the support of everybody involved, including the almost 100 guests, who raised about £240 for the charity!
  • After the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the volunteer performers from all four opening and closing ceremonies were so enthused that a range of activities ensued. One of them is the Vision project by Phil Scotton.

    A group of about 100 volunteer ceremony performers are currently rehearsing a new song, which is due to be released in support of the charity SportsAid.

    Based on lyrics from Phil and music from Mark Champion, both fellow ceremonies volunteers, the Vision group is made up of singers, dancers, Pandemonium Drummers and other instrumentalists: three guitars, one bass guitar, piano, two flutes, clarinet and cello.

    I wrote the arrangement for the flutes, clarinet and cello and am helping out with directing the instrumentalists in close collaboration with the composer, the drum captain and the choirmaster.

    The challenge in this production was to create an arrangement that supports the vocal lines, both solo and the choir, and that provides enough space for each instrument to feature prominently enough without dominating, all while contributing to the overall character of the song.

    For the orchestral instruments, this was achieved by combining minimalist elements with jazz-type voicings, and by filling gaps left by the choir with an occasionally bold harmonic structure.

    The orchestral ensemble therefore creates a romantic, slightly melancholic atmosphere to underline corresponding passages in the lyrics, and together with the r'n'b-esque choral arrangement, melodic guitar lines plus a driving drumbeat, the overall song harnesses emotion and power to convey gratitude with positive and optimistic thrust.

    More information to follow.

    Press release

  • Nothing embodies the success of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games more than the volunteers, such as the Games Makers, London Ambassadors and Ceremony Volunteers.

    As the largest group of volunteers by a considerable margin, the Games Makers formed a community of their own, and they were reuniting for their 1st anniversary on 2nd February 2013 at the Hilton London Metropole.

    A few tickets were allocated for purchase by the Pandemonium Drummers, the volunteer performers from the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, and of course the drummers were expected to perform.

    I took on the organisation of this event on the Pandemonium Drummers side and designed the choreography, which included editing the video of the Pandemonium segment of the Opening Ceremony.

    Towards a Choreography


    At a site visit two weeks before the performance, I saw the potential for an engaging performance by taking advantage of the size and shape of the Balmoral Suite at the Hilton London Metropole, which has an impressive podium with two ten-step stairs into the audience.

    Instead of doing a static performance on the stairs as originally envisaged, I designed a choreography that would see the drummers
    • start on the podium, 
    • populate the stairs, 
    • roam around the audience with four drummers remaining on the podium on strategic positions, 
    • return to the podium, and 
    • go back into the audience for a second scene.
    The second scene would see the drummers lined up to support a countdown with a driving beat and lead the audience into the main dining room next door, where the drummers would drum along to a song until all guests entered the room; upon my suggestion, David Bowie's Heroes was chosen in reference to the Team GB entrance at the Athlete's Parade at the Olympic and Paralympic Opening Ceremonies.

    Challenges


    A major challenge in all mass drumming events is the cueing of the drummers: 
    • At the London 2012 Ceremonies, every drummer was cued via in-ear monitors, but zero budget productions like this one do not have this option available.
    • Memorising the structure is difficult for a volunteer amateur cast, and moving drummers are exposed to an acoustically difficult situation, as the room position can change the sound dramatically, making it hard to hear the rhythm of the music, especially when drumming at the same time.
    • The quality of the sound system is crucial, and in this particular case, it was extremely hard to hear any detail of the music even when not drumming.
    I therefore decided to embed the cues into the video, which would be projected to the opposite wall of the podium, which was the main performance space.

    After editing, the video contained a constant visual click in the top corners and textual cues in the top centre of the video.

    The Event


    The visual cues were very effective at the performance, and went largely unnoticed by the audience, despite being rather prominent.

    The mass movement itself was very well received, in particular the two sequences when the drummers entered the audience area and marched through the crowd.

    Detailed notes briefed the drummers about a week in advance, and despite only a single 45-minute rehearsal just before the show with an opportunity for minor tweaks, all 19 drummers followed the plan and delivered a quality show to an enthusiastic audience.

    Have a look at the drummers' briefing below!