I was hunting around for open mics on Friday night after finding that the one I really wanted to go to was cruelly cancelled by its slacker organizers – just kidding, I always like to hate them when they cancel an open mic – and I found a new list of open mics on a Facebook page devoted to jam sessions and open mics in Paris. So I showed up at the Bouquet du Nord, a café near the Gare du Nord, only to find that I had been massively led astray. There was no open mic.
Moreover, in approaching the café I had seen this brightly-lit, typical French café, and I thought, “Looks like there is no open mic, and even if there was one, what kind of trash would it be?” So I enter the place more than sceptically and start thinking about the next place on that list. And I find people at the bar who ignore me, and I see, nevertheless, a little stage-like area set up, a guitar, mic, amps, etc.
“No,” said a guy at the bar I queried. “There is no open mic here. It is just Irish music tonight.”
“We have gypsy jazz on one night, and we have Irish music on the second Friday of the month, and tonight it is Irish music,” he explained. “And it is not really an open mic.”
I said what a shame it was I came all the way over there on the information there was an open mic, and found nothing at all – except Irish music.
“Well, what kind of music do you play?”
“Pop rock folk blues.”
“Well, at the limit, if you know any Irish music….”
“Actually, I do know some,” I said.
“Well, you can ask the band members, maybe they will let you sing a song.”
I began warming to the place. And then, I saw that the musicians had flutes and, surprise, surprise, Uilleann Pipes. Hmm, I thought, this could be interesting. Well, came all this way, take a beer, sit and listen.
I first spoke to the band, and they reluctantly said that well, maybe I could play a song – on condition it be Irish. They, I must say here now, are French. Entirely French. Playing Irish music.
But there is Irish music, and there is Irish music. My kind of Irish music is not “Danny Boy.” My kind of Irish music is Planxty, the Sands Family, the Bothy Band, The Chieftains, even the Celtic traditional sounds further afield of Alain Stivell, the Boys of the Lough, Steeleye Span, Dick Gaughan, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, etc.
So I sat down with my beer – from a small French brewery – and I listened as the three musicians fired up and played. Holy fucking shit! First song they did came from a Planxty album!!! And man, these were mean Uilleann pipe players. Two together. Then the flute, guitar and more pipes. Jigs and reels and all the stuff I love, and beautifully performed.Then one of them said I could sing a song. So I whipped out my guitar and did the “Raggle Taggle Gypsies.” Complete silence as they listened. Then they did more of their stuff, then they asked me to do another. So I did, “Only Our Rivers Run Free.” Here, they played along. This was it, the high moment. For me, anyway. I was delighted that here I was at this completely freaky situation, having been led astray into thinking there was an open mic, but finding myself right at home in a kind of music that I love and that influenced my teenage years, and the rest of my life – as a pocket of musical education and a kind of private garden of musical culture. They knew my songs, one had a story to recount about Only Our Rivers, and I felt like I had discovered a world within Paris that I had never suspected. And I had.
Again, however, I had walked out of my home without my Zoom recorder. So we have good images, less good sound. Check it out, this unique music.