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21 Years into it, Catweazle Open Mic Still Going Strong in Oxford

July 4, 2015



OXFORD – It has become my main goal when I come to Oxford to not make a wrong move to miss a chance to attend and play at the Catweazle open mic in the East Oxford Community Centre on Thursday nights. I got ever so slightly lax on Thursday, my sixth time attending, as for once I had a hotel almost across the street from this Oxford institution that is celebrating its 21st year in existence, and in my final few minutes of preparation I decided I could take my time. My heart dropped to my toes as I entered the building at 7:20 PM to find nearly 20 performers already standing in a line up to sign up for a slot.

But I was underestimating the savvy, flexible, sensible approach of Matt Sage, who founded and has MCd this dynamic and unusual open mic all those years; he decided that he could get around 18 of us up on the stage area in the limited time available if we were all reduced to doing just one song – or poem or whatever it was we were doing – each. I felt a sudden relief that having arrived around 10 minutes later than last year I had not jeopardized my moment in front of the Catweazle audience. There were, unfortunately three or four performers behind me that did not make it this time. (But my suspicion is that they did not come from Paris, like I did, on my once-a-year visit!)

So off I was again on the adventure of Catweazle. And once I got up to the performance spot – it is not a stage, and there is no microphone – I suddenly wondered why it was that I so avidly seek out this thing every year! Catweazle ranks as one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking open mics I have ever done, and it does not become any easier.

Why? Because the audience is just so good, so quiet, so attentive, and always so full. There must be close to 100 people in the Catweazle performance space every week, all sitting on the floor or sofas or chairs in that room that is barely large enough for them all, and they are there for one thing only: To listen to the performer.

I reviewed all of my personal songs – my own songs – that I must have done over the years, and I thought about all sorts of possibilities in cover songs, but finally, I decided that perhaps the best way to give the audience something that they did not already have in spades last that night was to sing a song in French. I only know one song in French, so I did Raphael’s “Et Dans 150 Ans.” As it turned out, not even my decision to keep my eyes closed much of the song to concentrate on remembering the words was enough, and I realized instantly that I began singing the third verse after the first verse. But I soldiered on, and decided that three verses of French instead of four was probably enough, and I just excluded the second verse.

It went O.K. otherwise. But some of the talent throughout the rest of the night was fabulous, including a stand-out poet, named Rachel McCarthy, 30, who has been named one of the top young poets to watch – or read??? – in England at the moment.

So if ever you’re in Oxford and want to take part in a very cool, acoustic – no mic – performance space open mic for theater, poetry, music, or whatever you want, do, do, do show up at 7 PM to sign that list, you won’t regret it. It’s not for nothing that it is now celebrating 21 years of its existence.

Another Great Night at the Noctambules on the Place Pigalle in Paris

June 29, 2015



PARIS – I must still be recovering from Friday night’s open mic at the Noctambules on the Place Pigalle. It started off a little slowly, but then picked up speed and tempo every hour that the night advanced. The end result? Another great night at Raphaëlle’s open mic on the Place Pigalle.

There were some new musicians, some old musicians and some young musicians. The weather was obliging as well, and as long as the rain holds out, the Noctambules is at its best, as you get to sing and play with a view out on the Place Pigalle as the passersby pass by.

Oh, there was some weird moment of some guy in a panic running into the bar with the cops on his tail, but the owner/manager took care of that in a jiffy.

Raphaëlle’s open mic has been a success for four successive evenings now, and counting. I have not been able to be present at them all, but I’m hoping it continues on the same trajectory at least until the next time I get to go.

The big test will be the summer months: While so many of the so-called open mics of Paris close down for the summer, this one intends to stay open – in the true trooper spirit. So maybe it will rise to yet another level.

For the moment, I enjoyed playing two or three times, Raphaëlle played, a Leandro from Brazil was a feature attraction, along with Stephen Saxo, Trélys, Arnaud, and several others, including one of the surprising high moments of the night: Corinne singing Amy….

An Update to My Montreal Open Mic Guide – and a Reminder of Tonight’s Pigalle open mic

June 26, 2015



Just a note to say that I have updated my Montreal open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Montreal Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

I have added at least three open mics, and removed the one at the Bull, a pub that just closed down while I was in Montreal earlier this month. I’m so happy to have tasted of four different open mics on that last trip that I had not yet performed in – Mariposa, Medley Simple Malt, l’Escalier and Bar de Courcelle!



And just a reminder that tonight is another edition of Raphaëlle’s open mic at the Noctambules bar on the Place Pigalle in Paris; a fabulous new open mic in a fabulous old location, with a dream feeling to it since you play behind a mic facing out into the famous, legendary Place Pigalle. (Or you sit on the terrace as a member of the audience and listen to the music and look at the Place too….

The Crazy Mad Atmosphere of The Spot Open Mic in Graz, Austria

June 19, 2015

The Spot in Graz

The Spot in Graz

GRAZ, Austria – I discovered The Spot open mic in Graz last year up my return to Austria for the first time in more than a decade, and it was a fabulous evening of music in this university town of 300,000, the second biggest city in Austria. But last night, returning to The Spot, I hardly expected the open mic to be even better, wilder, more fun than last year. In short, it was a jam-packed even full of a vast cross-section of musicians, lots of duets, and some jamming.

It felt like I might have been in the middle of Paris, despite the much smaller surrounds of this beautiful ancient town with its well preserved old-town. It’s thanks to it being a university city, in fact, that it is so full of young people, many of whom are students, and so still playing music. There’s a jazz school, too, it turns out, which has produced some amazing jazz jams, but not in The Spot, rather in the adjoining bar that has in the past had some cool open jam sessions.

Not only is the pub a fabulous, small, and cozy setting perfect for an open mic, but the other two key factors I was discussing in my previous post for Raphaëlle’s open mic (which is happening tonight in Paris, by the way) are true at The Spot: The owner manager (a Canadian) is a musician himself, and loves the open mic format, and loves discovering musicians; and the MC does a great, free, friendly job of running the open mic – Steve, by the way, is a professor here too, so that all fits together….

Aside from the high quality and variety of the music last night, one of the things that really appealed to me was that although this has the feel of a expat pub and open mic, the musicians were an eclectic bunch: Canadians, Americans, an Estonian, Germans, British, and probably more. And that made it a truly international open mic of the kind I’m used to seeing in Paris.

What is different here, though, from most Paris open mics, is this went on until around 2 AM – although I had to leave before it ended! Because the pub has the advantage of not having any immediate residents living next to its walls and complaining about “noise.” It’s just such a fabulous environment and vibe that I suggest any readers of this blog heading to Austria to drop by at Graz every second Thursday when the open mic takes place (watch out, it closes in the summer), and try it for yourself.

Pigalle Rhymes with Raphaëlle: The Amazing New Open Mic on Place Pigalle in Paris

June 17, 2015



PARIS – I’ve always said – at least since I learned it – that the success of an open mic depends first on the attitude of the host, the attitude of the bar owner or manager, and the location and shape of the bar. If those things all pass the test – i.e., no negativity, a friendly open enthusiasm for music and people and noise – then the musicians and spectators will soon follow and the open mic will be a success.

So far, so good in the first two editions of the new open mic on the historic, legendary, lovely Place Pigalle in Paris at the Noctambules bar, in an open mic founded and run by Raphaëlle Pessoa. There have been two editions of this open mic now overlooking the place through the wide open front of the café/bar, and it was so successful that it has been launched into a weekly open mic as of now. Having first run on Sundays – last Sunday and two weeks ago – it will now feature in the open mic wasteland day of Friday. Paris has practically no open mics on Friday, now musicians will know where to go, starting this Friday, 19th June.

As a journalist I feel it important to note (disclosure!) that I was involved in the founding of this open mic with Raphaëlle, and that I will also be involved in the running of it when I’m not in some other country attending a Formula One race and an open mic. But the point of this post is not to say nice things about something that is not exceptional. Both the open mic, and Raphaëlle’s hosting and above all her singing, are exceptional.

In fact, this may be the only open mic in Paris where you are likely to hear the host break away from her guitar solo singer songwriter compositions – which are brilliant – into cabaret classics such as “Mein Herr,” or monumental pop songs like Dalida or Piaf. At least, Raphaëlle decided to leap into a few of those on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure she’ll do it again, if she feels the moment is right. For the spectators and fellow musicians, the moment will always be right, for those who know her singing and songwriting know that Raphaëlle is one of France’s great so-far undiscovered talents. Maybe the Place Pigalle exposure will change that!

In any case, Sunday was a day of great talent amongst many of the performers, with visits from Simon Ferrante, Wayne Standley, Stephen Saxo, Karina Kim, Igor of the Escargot Underground, Ivan of Ukulele fame (but without uke), Brislee Adams – who did an incredible Wings song on my guitar – and others. I will be sorry every time I’m out not able to attend…and assuming and hoping that the open mic will continue.

All Good Everywhere, Except Behind the Mic – at the Bar de Courcelle in Montreal

June 12, 2015

bar de courcelle montreal

bar de courcelle montreal

PARIS – OK, so it has taken me nearly a week to get this post up about my last night in Montreal. There’s a good reason for that. It was the craziest, maddest, most uproarious open mic of the week in Montreal, at the Bar de Courcelle venue in Montreal. I mean this was mean stuff.

So it turns out that I was advised that this would be crazier than the Brutopia open mic, that happens on the same night in Montreal. The difference being that Brutopia was within the central downtown area, within walking distance of my hotel, and this Bar de Courcelle was on a long metro ride right across on the other extreme end, the west end, of the city.

But did I go to Montreal to spend time only at open mics that I know like the back of my hand? No. And this place sounded interesting. It’s a neat, long, sizeable bar in a fairly residential area, with a large stage at the far end, and what sounded like a pretty decent sound system, until you actually got up on stage and found more sound coming from the chatter of the clients than the sound monitor.

But what did I find? Something pretty close to a “scene” at this open mic, that has been going around two or three years. Some really great and original musicians, ranging from a Johnny Cash sound-alike, to the MC of the show who has a fabulous voice and original material.

But again, the audience it turns out, is there with only half an ear to the music, and the rest of the reason is for socializing. I had a fabulous time socializing myself. And once behind the mic, I must say it was actually the most disagreeable experience of the whole week in Montreal. Had it not been for two or three people afterwards telling me they liked my set, I’d have had no idea that anyone in the place had listened!

But this is definitely, no question about it, a place to go if you want to check out the open mic scene in Montreal. Despite my depression behind the mic, I’ll return again myself, if I get a chance.

Sunshine Sketches of a Big Open Mic: Mariposa, in Montreal

June 5, 2015

Mariposa open mic line up

Mariposa open mic line up

MONTREAL – In Canada, the word “Mariposa,” has two main connotations: A folk music festival of that name that started in Orillia, Ontario in 1961 and is still happening there (after moving around a lot); and the name of a fictional small town featuring in the short stories of the Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock. Now there is a third: The Mariposa open mic in Montreal, which has existed as of today for five years, in a hippie-cool bar-restaurant-café in a residential area near the Villa Maria métro.

It was a bit of a trek from my hotel at Berri-UQAM, but I was delighted to find this place and take part in an open mic that was completely different from all the others I have so far done on this trip in Montreal. This is low key, quiet, music-oriented, in an environment that inspires creation: Laid back tables, good sound system, large window overlooking the neighbourhood, front porch with tables and chairs, photos on all the walls of rock and folk stars, guitars hanging up behind the stage area…. A blackboard where your name is chalked in on a time slot that is well organized with two songs, maximum 10 minutes, and if there is enough time, another round after the first round is done.

This was not the crazy, mad youth, rap, comedy and crazy oriented scene of the Escalier from the previous night, but this was very definitely a music-oriented open mic, where fine fingerpicking and piano playing and singing is the goal and the norm.

The atmosphere changed quite drastically as the evening – and the beer? – progressed, and the light from the large front windows faded, the curtains opened, and Mariposa took on its full sense.

It starts early, ends by around 11 PM, and there’s plenty of time to take the metro back downtown and reflect on an evening well spent.

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