Entering the Arte Café last night I felt a little drop in my stomach. I had been invited to a new open mic there, and having missed the first one last week while in England, I could attend the second one, last night, but I had not been expecting to find a room like this. “Tiny” is not the word for this place. Minuscule fits the description much better. In fact, there is virtually no place to sit down, and the place fills up with about 15 people. Not sure whether it is an art gallery, bar, snack joint or clothes closet, I could never guess that I was about to attend one of the most fun open mics in recent memory.
What made it fun, and what proves a point better than ever, is the people who attended. I’ve often said there are a few essentials for the success of an open mic: Location in the city, the shape and vibe and size of the venue, the coolness of the staff and the people who run it, and finally the people who attend. Last night’s open mic at the Arte Café proved that the most important thing of all, a thing that can take over and trash all other factors – i.e., don’t matter where it is located – is the people who attend, and the people who run it.
The place just filled up slowly but surely, and it was a great mix of the crowd that attends the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic that I rave on about in Paris on Tuesday nights, and the Pop In crowd. Oh, there were other aliens too. And another element that made it fun for me personally, in addition to knowing several musicians and meeting other new ones, was this freaky thing that happened: Last week I was listening to a stack of CDs from a French independent record company called Volvox, and found this cool group I had heard of, but never heard, named “Kill the Young.”
I had been given the CDs by a friend who works with Volvox, just as a sampler of what they are up to, this label. I knew the label as far back as nearly three years ago when I met and discovered Anton Barbeau, the crazy cool American acid-y kind of rocker, who was signed to Volvox. So anyway, I listened intrigued to Kill the Young, and I liked what I heard. Coming from a town near Manchester, but mostly now a French-European-international group of three brothers, they had some success with their first album as far back as 2005.
When I listened to the music, I thought it was an interesting combination of Brit sound and the French take on the Brit pop sound. I don’t know if it is that or anything else, but some of the songs are very original, melodic and interesting – and it does not all sound alike. The lead singer, Tom Gorman, has a very cool and interesting gritty, emotional voice.
So, what was my surprise with the album fresh in my mind when about the fourth or so performer last night was announced as Tom from the band Kill the Young. And he played the first song from the album I had just listened to, “I don’t want to fight with you anymore.” It was Kill the Young’s third album, which came out in 2011, and is called, Thicker Than Water. So after he plays I go up and recount the coincidence… but I’m having a bit of a hard time because a young woman outside the bar had stopped and heard him and recognized him and introduced herself as a former student assistant at the label!
When I did introduce myself, Tom said to me, “Yes, my girlfriend over there told me that you had lent me your guitar once at the Pop In when I played there….”
Well crap! Talk about things coming together. So I ended up lending him my guitar again last night for his next song, later, and then at the end of the evening we played “Mad World” together, as a duo. Then we jammed together, as did almost everyone else who remained.
The evening was a fabulous mix of different styles, different duos, trios, the after show jam session where anything goes – and did. The confined quarters meant intimacy, meant speaking with lots of people, making new friends and acquaintances, and forgetting entirely how cramped it all was. There was a bookshelf with literary books in French and English, including a novel by Virginia Woolf and the autobiography of Keith Richards. (Nice combination….)
Talking of another coincidence, the wonderful open mic organizer, Amelie S. Bolt, had this most amazing guitar/amp kit for use by everyone: Like the name of the last place I travelled to (last weekend, Silverstone, England) it was called a Silvertone guitar. And it comes in a case that doubles as an amplifier. It is a rarity, an oddity, from the 1960s – vintage kitsch. But very, very cool.
The open mic runs again next week and then picks up again at the end of August, after a summer break. At least I HOPE it does. As I thought about the place, bit by bit it reminded me of an interesting thing. This was called l’Arte Café, and it served a great Belgian beer, called Delerium. Well, in Liege, readers of this blog may recall that I used to go to a now-defunct place called l’Art Café, where there was a great open mic and jam. Of course, I would drink Belgian beer there too, although I think I saved the Delerium for the Delerium pub in Brussels and ITS open mic on Sunday nights. What a small world full of connections and coincidences – when you put yourself out there….