BUSAN, South Korea — Mike Edmunds, the singer, songwriter and guitarist of Busan band The Positions, arrived in Korea in May 2006. Within weeks, he turned what was then a small quiet cavern club called Ol’55, into a breeding ground of musical activity that’s helped birth bands such as Cuttlefish, Klikitat, Millstone Grit, Hermit Kings and Poko Lambro.
He did all this by starting an open mic every Wednesday in the popular Kyungsung area where anyone who wanted to could play – including himself.
“In Canada I performed every single week, and I felt that I needed to continue to sing and play music to an audience,” Edmunds said. “After setting up the open mic, it became a huge part of my life for a long time. Of the six years that I have hosted it, I’ve only ever missed about seven sessions.”
Edmunds recalls that the open mic really started to gain momentum after its first 10 sessions. “I’ve never said ‘no’ to anybody when they have asked to perform,” he said. “The last two years has publicized the highest quality of music Busan has seen so far.
“Ol’55 is the womb of Busan’s open mics. It is the first venue that comes to mind when people talk about open mics. It is the centre of originality which has branched out throughout the entire city.”
The open mic officially starts at 10:30 p.m. and usually wraps up between 2 and 3 a.m., although it has continued until sunrise more times than anyone could count. The small venue, with its informal setting, creates a very friendly atmosphere where any musician, regardless of their ability and genre, can gain their confidence to perform. This is in contrast to venues such as The Vinyl Underground up the road, which is designed for larger shows.
While Edmunds was a driving force behind creating Busan’s first English-language open mic, he was not alone. He credits singer-songwriter Jen Sotham, producer Mike Laveck, drummer Jim Batcho and guitarist Gino Brann for helping organize, host and cover for himself when wasn’t able to attend.
The walls of Ol’55 are surrounded by artworks illustrating iconic musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and The Beatles. But it also includes paintings by Busan local Jarod Timmerman which give the bar a more Western feel than other spots in the bar-heavy area of Kyungsung, where it seems half the city’s university students turn up on Friday and Saturday nights.
Over the years, Edmunds his seen it all at open mic – even someone playing bagpipes. And while musicians of all stripes come and go, a lot of what makes the night special is the audience.
“What really matters, in the end, is that the audience will listen to people’s performances until they cannot hold up their heads anymore,” Edmunds said. “People’s love of music is what you really notice most at open mic, and that’s what it is all about.”
Anyone is welcome to attend and perform at Ol’55 open mic. For more info on how to get there check out their Haps page here.