How Herne Hill became a major incubator for youth music

Andy Gray –the main organiser for JOM youth music events interviews himself to find out why Herne Hill is such a great place for young people getting into music.

What is JOM? It’s a group of local parent volunteers who organise free youth music events - mainly Junior Open Mics

How long has it been operating? Three years this November. The JOM Junior Open Mics have grown to be the largest in the country.

Why is that?
Four reasons. First, the sound and ambience of the stage is superb so young performers feel pretty special when they get up there. Second, our organisational remit is to ensure every performer feels as special as possible. Third, 80% of performers return 3 times or more within 18 months. And last, there just aren’t that many Junior Open Mic’s in the country!

How many performers at a session? 15-30 acts, each act consisting of up to 5 performers.

That’s crazy! So how can those starting out feel special then? We have a session called ‘Beyond the Living Room’ where new starters can try out the stage (with full engineering) in private or with a family audience of their choosing. For singers, it’s like a really, really good karaoke. You can potentially sound as good as on X-Factor or The Voice.

So is JOM the incubator for the next generation of pop music? No just part of it. There are actually 5 separate Junior Open Mics within a 3 mile radius of Herne Hill. Brixton Ritzy Cinema BYOM, West Norwood Feast, Level Up @ Brixton POP and Longfield Hall at Myatt’s Field. That’s half of the UKs Junior Open Mics!

Why are they so popular? I think shows like The Voice and the sheer volume of free music tuition videos online are getting the next generation into performing.

What about school music? There are some amazing local schools for music but JOM junior open mics are a different thing from school musical performances. Performers choose to perform as individuals and are not chaperoned or coached. I believe there’s more of a sense of ownership and empowerment for those taking part at Junior Open Mics.

What are the performers like? Quiet. Focused. Amazing! It’s a brave thing to do and get up on stage. And when they do, they give of themselves in a very real, honest way. And it’s always a remarkably diverse range of styles. Some do covers, others original material. Because of the high return rate, we get to see progression, not just musically but in confidence and character. There are some great band names too.

Like what? Jammin’ on Toast is my current favourite. There’s also The Dischevelled Peaches – great name for an all girl band. R.I.P. which stands for Rock In Peace. Louisianna Eye Attack. Play Dead. Echo 101. H.E.R. Daisy Chains. Some of the soloists use stage names. There’s a five year old called Super Luca - who always performs in a mask. He’s London’s youngest DJ and writes his own material.

Can you just watch? Yes, there’s no pressure to perform. It’s actually a great show to watch – not because of the outright music skill. The effort and creativity make it a very visceral experience. We have people popping in by chance and deciding to stay for the entire session. I’ve uploaded clips of a fraction of the performances to instagram.com/jom_junior_open_mic

What about outcomes? At it’s very core this is play equals confidence. You couldn’t say for sure but I hope JOM has played a tiny part in the following. Over three years we’ve heard of performers winning musical scholarships at secondary schools. Performers have gone on to form bands. Young performers go on to directly organise gigs across London - Loud in London O2 Academy Islington, The Basement Door (Richmond), The Camden Assembly. Some are approaching venues collectively with a ready made line-up.

When and where is the next Junior Open Mic?  2pm-4pm Sunday 12th January 2020 on the main stage at Off The Cuff Music Bar, Railton Road, Herne Hill. ‘Beyond The Living Room’ beginner session is 1pm-2pm. Free to take part or watch. A free drink to all performers.

Might see you there. Hope so. Happy to provide further information to anyone interested – andyg.coms@gmail.com