Many moons ago, when I first started to perform original songs in folk and acoustic music clubs in the North West of England, the deal was that you went along to play a tune or two at these fine places in order to get some stage experience and to develop your craft. Eventually, after a few months, and if you'd improved sufficiently, you might even be lucky enough to be asked back to do a paid gig - this, there can be no doubt, was the holy grail for all beginners.
The people who attended these clubs - musicians and general public alike - were generally very supportive but could also be fairly brutal, especially if newcomers were seen to be showing any signs of over-confidence.
I remember one particular evening in a club on the outskirts of Liverpool when I got up to play a song after having triumphed there the previous week when the crowd had been very generous with both their applause and their words of appreciation. This time, although the reaction was rather more subdued, I was still hopeful of getting the nod for a paid gig shortly and waited expectantly in the bar supping on a pint, anticipating more than just a few compliments.
After a while, a wizened old chap approached me, stroking his unkempt beard and sporting a largely toothless grin.
"Some beautiful notes in that song you just sang, son." His scouse accent was as thick as the cigarette smoke that engulfed us.
"Oh, that's very kind. Thank you v..."
"They were all sung in completely the wrong order, but they were beautiful notes all the same."
The three or four people within ear shot guffawed heartily at my expense and, to be honest, I had to laugh too - it was the perfectly weighted put-down. The thought of anyone getting ideas above their station in these parts was complete anathema. I soon came to realise the importance of lessons like these for young performers and, these days, at our open mic nights at The Shakespeare I try to introduce a bit of the same whenever appropriate.
I think it's paying off - many of the musicians don't seem to be taking themselves quite as seriously as they did.
It might even be time to offer some of them a paid gig - the holy grail.