Bristol is a vibrant city full of amazing music festivals, street art and theatrical performances. It’s a hometown of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (one of the largest festivals of hot air balloons in Europe) and a place where Banksy first started created his amazing street artworks that are so famous around the world! If you enjoy busking, not only will you get a bit of spare change, but you will also receive acclaim and gratitude from the passers-by. Bristol is a little heaven for all the starting out artists who have outgrown their little towns but are not ready to conquer the enormously huge and sometimes quite intimidating London. If I’m being honest, before leaving Moscow, I had second thoughts about Bristol and kept wondering if I should have chosen to move to London instead. After all, there must have been a reason why at least 10% of my former classmates chose to relocate to London. Nevertheless, the choice was made, the documents were sent to the Bristol University, agonising awaiting of the visa was finally over, and here I was, packing my suitcase and embarking on the adventure of a lifetime!

Days later after moving into my little student apartment in the centre of Bristol, I found myself at the Lanes, a local bowling alley place that also hosted weekly open mics. I was nervously clutching someone else’s guitar and waiting for my slot at my very first performance in England! Even though it wasn’t my first public performance per se, I was absolutely terrified to go on stage because for the first time in my life I wasn’t playing at a pre-organised event with the audience who knew what to expect. All those people in the bar came to hang out with their friends, and even though they might have been aware that there would be some kind of music, all the performances were a complete mystery to them! It felt like in order to get the crowd’s attention, my performance needed to be really worthy and I needed to do my best to win people over! The thought of getting booed off stage was absolutely terrifying and the fact that all other acts were exceptionally good wasn’t helping my nerves either! Luckily, the performance went as well as it could for a debutante and the new ground was broken.

Open mics in England are extremely competitive! They are definitely not an alternative to karaoke and even though their main purpose is to provide entertainment for music lovers, they are so much more than that! If you are starting out in music, open mics are your best tool for securing gigs and establishing contact with local managers and promoters. Where else can you shamelessly mention all the links to your music pages and list all your upcoming show dates if you have any lined up?

I began doing more and more open mics, alternating between borrowed guitars and house pianos that were always placed somewhere in the corner, away from the actual stage, and more often than not faced away from the audience. I combined a whole open mic timetable with an open mic for each day of the week where I practised my public performance skills and battled my nerves trying to stop my hands from constant shaking. The fact that each borrowed guitar was different and required certain level of adjustments didn’t really help my confidence, so soon after I became a regular performer, I started a quest for a dream guitar that I could purchase on a not-so-dreamy budget. The moment I had my English bank account properly set up and running, I rushed to Park Street and purchased one of my most precious possessions to date – a beautiful Little Martin guitar!

Not long after that major event, I got my first gig at a very big but very empty venue called Be in Bristol. Regardless of the fact that only 8 friends came to support me with no new supporters at all, getting my own show felt huge! I played a 2-hour slot, which, I bet, must have felt like an eternity to my friends who courageously sat through the whole thing in absolute silence! Despite poor numbers, the manager of the venue seemed impressed with the show and even invited me to play another gig later that year. Unfortunately, the bar started facing some financial difficulties, and by the end of winter it closed down for good.

I will never forget my first few months in Bristol! They were incredibly fun and provided me with lots of new experiences and a whole new set of skills vital for a good performer! I got to meet a lot of amazing local artists and learnt a lot about Bristol’s art community! I made a lot of progress with my songwriting, focused on my music style more and discovered a lot of new tricks that I incorporated into my live sets to make them better! I went through a phase of having quite a few embarrassing moments on stage but continued showing up to open mics regardless of that until I found my footing and got confident and comfortable enough to actually enjoy myself on stage!

My first few months in Bristol were an absolute dream and I will always be grateful for those memories! Unfortunately, the novelty of open mics started gradually fading away and my euphoria was replaced with a harsh realisation that if I wanted more, I needed to do even better! Unlike many other fellow artists that I was meeting, I didn’t have a privilege of chasing my dream until I was old and grey! I was racing against the clock, and my race was due to end together with my graduation ceremony! I needed to find a way to make my music stand out if I wanted to progress further, so the second stage of my Secret Plan was set into motion.