Arts during COVID

What’s happened to the arts during COVID?

Entering an open mic night, it’s as if the exigencies of the day fall away and you’re left with an evening filled with the weird, the hopeful, and, often, the downright sensational in terms of performance.

I’m a stand-up comic, and I think I might fall more into the weird and hopeful category. It doesn’t, however, mean that in my time I haven’t encountered some brilliant people at open mic nights. It’s been a privilege to perform alongside some of the names I will mention here and it’s been a dire blow to the arts that nights such as these came to be cancelled during the COVID pandemic.

Arts and COVID

It was a necessary measure to save lives. I do appreciate that. However, it’s put me and many other performers I know seemingly back to square one. The arts will only truly recover once COVID and the restrictions finally recede. In the meantime, I feel I’d like to spend a few paragraphs reminiscing on the glories of former times, before the pandemic, when music, comedy, poetry, and the rest of it, lived so palpably for us, and gave off such a warm and brilliant light. It was the best of times.

Performing at The Bell, in Bath, the open mic night I most often frequented, I encountered a jocular coterie of local artists and musicians. During COVID, I felt at times I’d never be able to perform again. I was wrong. Fortunately.

The NEW INN poster before COVID pandemic

Recently, I again had the pleasure of encountering the musician Simon Legg, a man who really ought to be on the radio. His sound is a provocative blend of synth-rock and folk music. He sings deeply and melodiously on subjects such as weird scientists engaging in (presumably) fringe research down in their laboratory.

I met him again recently at the New Inn, also in Bath, where Lawrie Duckworth’s open mic The Smoking Duck Playgroup has recently relocated. He seems in good spirits as ever. His verve and musical competence is every bit as sharp as they used to be and it somewhat puts my own attempts at performance to shame. He has some tracks on SoundCloud under the username Simon Legg 3, I’d urge anyone reading this to check him out; a very talented man and a treat to listen to.

Lawrie Duckworth himself has a more prolific musical output. He’s a singer-songwriter in his own right and has fronted the band The Duckworths. During COVID, he seemed to be stranded in the United States, though this didn’t prevent him (admirably) releasing a track about COVID soon after the pandemic first hit.

I’m in his debt for having given me plenty of stage time over the years at an open mic, he’s a true gent and a brilliant performer. His music often encompasses the darkly humorous, and one of my favourite tracks of his tells the story of Captain Cook on his ill-fated voyage to Hawaii. Not many people can derive mirth and enjoyment from the story of a man getting cooked and eaten on a Hawaiian island, but Lawrie can. As I understand it, he currently has a new radio show airing on Bath Radio, and his latest album Wonderful Terrible Things is available on his personal website

Then, of course, you have Jim Blackmann. An incredibly talented singer-songwriter whose beautiful, sonorous vocals are matched with incredibly potent, moving lyrics. Seeing him perform is, again, a joyous and resonant experience, one which I was sadly robbed of during the pandemic. Gladly, recently, I’ve been able to see him perform again alongside this usual cadre of bohemians live at The Bell in Bath.

Sadly, Jim has only a single track available to listen to on SoundCloud. The rest of his oeuvre seems to be available on his personal website If you like soulful folk music, you’re bound to like Jim. An incredible talent with a voice and ability to charm, stun, delight and, occasionally, bring a tear to your eye. Fantastic stuff.

Jim Blackmann performing

I’ve missed a great deal from the open mic nights in Bath. I’ve missed my own chance to perform and refine my comedy sets, though more than anything I’ve missed observing the musical talents of the people I’ve mentioned. There are more I could mention, and a great deal of talent that passes through open mic nights such as the one I’ve attended. Open mic nights are where the arts come alive.

The internet and COVID, and everything else; notwithstanding the fact that we live in an increasingly isolated world; seems to have shut down these evanescent hubs of artistic flourishing. It would be a sad day indeed if musical talents like this were to be extinguished from the world.

It would be a shame to be trapped forever with the same three or four songs we hear played ad nauseum on the radio. If there’s any take-home message from this article it would be this: get out there and support your local open mics!