On Wednesday I had a sudden invitation to go and hear a friend perform at a bar in Pigalle, and she invited me to play a few of my songs. Because I had to get up very early on Thursday to travel to Belgium – where I write these words – I thought this a much better thing to do than the Highlander open mic, where I would be tempted to stay until nearly 2 AM.
I also had plenty of trip preparation to do – packing – but decided to go to this gig in Pigalle. I arrived at 10 PM to find that my friend had been playing for an hour and the bar owner had suddenly discovered that the gig was taking place on a day that it was not supposed to happen, and he asked that it stop immediately (this was done through the booking agent). So the moment I arrived with my guitar and eager ears, I was told the show was over.
I would have considered that very bad luck, had it not been for my need to get to bed early to travel the next day. But it was also good luck because it showed me just how nasty bar owners and their booking agents can be sometimes, as the singer was absolutely crushed that her gig had been called off – in the middle of the gig! And there was no suggestion she would be paid. This, I thought, was really crappy luck, but a bit of a good thing for me to see, and a subject, nevertheless, to write about on this blog. AND a warning to be very careful about who you book a gig with.
So I got home, got to bed early and took off for Belgium, where I am spending the weekend reporting on the Formula One race. Driving my Ford Focus along the highway nearly two hours outside Paris and about 15 minutes from the Belgian border, the car suddenly shut itself off. The engine died. I pulled off to the side of the road and could not start the engine. There I was in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the highway, with my Focus – which had just had a 900 euro check up – dead.
It turned out that I was not completely in the middle of nowhere. I was 23 kilometers from the town of Cambrai, which had been a home of many fine music composers in the middle ages. It had also been the scene of the first successful tank battle in World War I, among other things. The car, it turned out, had also broken down at lunchtime, and Cambrai not only has many restaurants, but four of them happen to be right near the Ford garage to which the highway rescue service took my car to have it fixed. There was also a Europcar rental place, from which I was obliged later to rent a car as my car could NOT be fixed immediately.
I was feeling particularly bad about the situation as I was giving a lift to the race to my friend Joe Saward, a fellow Formula One journalist. So we went looking at the restaurants for lunch, and I decided I did not like the one closest to the Ford place. Joe went along with that. But then I did not like the next closest one after that, and we spied one a little way down the road and went to it. It was called the Jolly Sailor, and it seemed the best of the three. Or at least the most appealing.
Now, can you imagine my surprise when I entered the Jolly Sailor and found it had two rooms, two pianos, a 12-string guitar and what looked like an electric guitar in a case, and British flags all over the walls. I sat and ordered my meal and I eventually asked one of the managers – turned out to be the owner – why there were so many instruments around.
His name was David, and he turned out to be British – English, in fact. He told me that he played the piano and sang for the guests, and that the restaurant also invited some of his friends and other diners to play and sing, when they can, and that it was essential an open stage, or open mic. Now how could that possibly have happened to me, I wondered. My blog has as its theme primarily the open mic adventures I live, and here I was breaking down in my car in the middle of nowhere in northern France, and finding myself landing in an open mic run by a Brit.
David later performed, and it was even more interesting to find out in the middle of nowhere, this kind of Noel Coward of the French countryside, and I could not quite believe the situation into which I had fallen. But I thought that whatever might have been my third bit of bad luck in as many days, I definitely had some cool material for my blog! I also felt better that Joe had been entertained too – oh, dear, and Joe has written about it on HIS blog.