The whole trip from Thursday to Sunday in Liège might have taken another turn, but the new open mic/jam session that I seemed to notice on the Internet on Thursdays was impossible for me to attend, as I had an important meeting Thursday night for my job (which is why I’m sent there in the first place!)….
So I took the first opportunity to explore on Friday night, with the Surlet open mic and the Blues-Sphere open mic being the only ones left for the weekend, according to my research and knowledge. But when I showed up at the Surlet – on rue Surlet – I found it to have apparently transformed itself into a laid back chicha bar with no music “in sight.”
That was a disappointment, obviously, as the rare number of open mics in Liège seems to have been diminished even more – although I’ll have to confirm that before removing the Surlet from my open mic list for Liège. I then walked up the street to the Blues-Sphere bar, which has one of the city’s best known jam sessions, on Friday night.
— f1traveller (@f1_traveller) August 23, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>A moment of me playing in the public square in Liège, caught and tweeted by one of my colleagues.
But entering the bar for probably the fourth year in a row I was still recognized by no one, and when I asked for a beer and noticed that they practically only had Leffe on draught, I said I wanted any beer at all except Leffe. So the guy served me some kind of strawberry or raspberry flavored beer, which I felt was a reaction to what he took for a not-very-macho dislike of Leffe! I took it as an insult, but made no comment, and simply drank the beer, which was nevertheless tasty as a fruit juice.
As I drank it, I watched the jam go on, and at no point did any musician or organizer approach me to ask if I wanted to take part, although everyone saw my guitar bag. So listening to the jam, pure blues, pure electric, I said to myself finally, “I don’t need this. In the past, I’d have taken to the stage just to mark my territory in Liège. But this time, I have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all myself, and I just don’t see the point of invading the stage and doing a couple of songs that are not the blues….”
So I finished my beer when their set ended, and I left without anyone saying a word to me about whether I wanted to play or not. No problem. The Blues-Sphere is a very cool club, but not really for me this last weekend – despite having spent some cool nights playing there, maybe twice on stage as I had come too late last year, I think….
Still, I never give up on my open mic mission attending the Formula One races, and on Saturday night I went out to dine with some colleagues, and brought my guitar with me – just in case, and as I always do when checking out the terrain. We had a fabulous meal in an Italian restaurant, and then went bar-hopping in the Carré district, and on the way back to the hotel I suddenly felt the inspiration and need to whip out the guitar and play a few songs in a public square. I was then joined by a local North African guy who did a rap in French while I played the backing sound on the guitar – my Gibson J-200.
That moment in the square was more fun than anything I’d have done at either the Surlet or the Blues-Sphere, so I considered the musical part of the weekend to be a success of a kind after all…. But not the kind I really seek out at open mics. Liège seems to be dying, musically….
I was keenly looking forward to attending Belushi’s last night, having taken the first opportunity available to go since I learned last week that the open mic still existed for sure. I had put it on, and then taken it off and then put it back on my Thumbnail Guide of Paris open mics and jam sessions over the years, ever since my first attendance four or five years ago, as it came and went. But I was not 100 percent sure it was still happening until last week.
So last night I took the 15-minute walk from my place to the open mic and got there at 21:45. The first thing I saw was that it had moved from the basement room to the main ground floor, and that this was its true natural place: The open mic was just going mad. With two or three musicians running the open mic, a bass player and guitarist there to accompany singers in live karaoke style, or the sound system given over to guitar player singers like me, it was just a riotous affair, with the massive crowd of youth hostel people in attendance, as well as musicians and spectators from all over.
I recognized several musicians whom I have seen at various other open mics around the city, and I realized immediately that Belushi’s had become a big magnet for an open mic over the years. This was not doubt largely due to the crew running it, what looks to me like an “outsourced” trio of musicians who apparently operate both Belushi’s Crimée and Belushi’s Gare du Nord.
Anyway, I sought out the presenters of the open mic, and told them I’d like to play if I could. They said, “Absolutely, you have to sign up on the list.” I was immediately taken for a foreigner – with my English accent – and spoken to in English and asked where I came from, and what I’d do – i.e., guitar and singing.
So I gave my name, and went and bought a pint of beer for 6 euros and waited. Another musician I know told me I’d probably get to play around midnight, as there was apparently a long long list. Later, though, around 22:30, while speaking to another musician I know, he had come at around 21:30 and signed up then, and had played there several times in the past, he told me that I’d probably play within the next 15 or 20 minutes.
I watched the crazy night unfold, and I must say, this is a place where you should not go and expect to be listened to. It is mostly about people talking at full volume, carousing, laughing, dancing, and singing along only when there is a raucous well known pop song crowd pleaser – or some sort of visually cool or weird performer.
But the musicians who ran the show clearly worked like hell to do everything they could for the performers, and to keep the show moving. They also continued announcing throughout the evening that it was an open mic and that anyone who wanted to sing should come and speak to them to sign up on the list.
Or rather, they did that spiel until 23:30, at which time they suddenly announced that because the open mic had to be finished at precisely midnight – this was the first time that fact was announced, and it is not written on the posters I saw – each singer would now only be able to do one song, and not two as usual. Still, I kept seeing certain singers – doing backing and accompanying – who had gone up several times each, and I also thought that if they are reducing it to one song, they know what they are doing, and although there was only half an hour left, I’d still get up to sing a single song.
I was a bit pissed off at that, but I accepted it as a fairly common thing to happen at open mics. Still, I had had a big debate with myself before going out on the Sunday night, because I’ve got a huge amount of work to do starting now for my day job – despite being on vacation – and I knew that if I stayed at home I’d get a lot done. The guy I know who came in at 21:30 told me that he had to get up early the next morning to go to his job, and he really hoped that he had not wasted his whole night.
But as the time creeped up on us, that midnight bell, it became more and more clear that there would be no room for me or the several others who had been fished into signing our names on the list, fished into buying beers – I bought two pints (12 euros) plus left at 1 euro tip on one of them = 13 euros – all on the promise of playing. I had long since given up the idea that I would drink the free beer they would give me for playing.
So when at nearly the strike of midnight – perhaps 23:57 – the two musician presenters of the show announced that no one else would go up to sing a song, that the show had come to an end, and perhaps we’d have better luck the next time we came, and – here’s a clincher – they would themselves just sing one more song to close the show, well, you can imagine that I went through the ceiling.
I was upset at having been used, misled, and cheated. But I was also actually very upset for all the other musicians who had signed up and could not play. Imagine? The guy I knew was there for 2 and a half hours and during all that time they kept asking people to sign up on the list!?!? I had been there for 2 hours and 15 minutes, and waiting, and drinking.
In all of my travels around the world attending open mics for six years, I have never ever ever encountered this kind of manipulation or simply bad organization. My feeling is that it was complete manipulation, and that it was intended to keep as big a crowd in the pub as possible for as long as possible. It does not take any higher level of humanity to understand that the way musicians SHOULD be treated is the way I find it in open mics all over the world: If you arrive too late to have a realistic chance of performing, the organizers tell you immediately “I’m not sure you can get on tonight, the list is too long.” Or: “I’ll put you on the list, but I really think there is no chance, but I’ll keep you informed as soon as I can as to whether there is a chance.” Or: “Sorry, but there are too many people on the list, please come earlier next time.” Or they start giving each person just one song instead of two early enough that everyone can play. Or they limit the list to a number they know can play.
I was so outraged, as I said, that I took the microphone just when there was a break in their presentation of their final song, and I said to the public that I had never seen such bad treatment of musicians in any open mic anywhere in the world, and that I travel the world attending open mics. There were some angry shouts from the audience, and one of the organisers said to me, in defence of the poor MC musicians: “They’re only doing their job!” Well, no, I responded, they are NOT doing their job.
Or if their job consists of manipulating their fellow struggling musicians into staying in the pub and making up numbers even when they know they will never get behind the mic, then they deserve the middle-finger treatment I gave to them before I left.
I was certainly taken for a lunatic by many in the room – especially the majority who did not speak the French I used – and certainly many would say, “Hey, are you that desperate to play? It’s just an open mic!” But my response is, this blog is “just” about open mics too, and I “just” have to be true to what I hear and see when writing about them. I hardly ever say anything at all negative about open mics on this site, because in general I don’t find any reason to do so. But I want my readers to know that I don’t feel one thing and write another; so I had to write this rant.
I’ll not return to Belushi’s as long as that unfair, incompetent and manipulative system remains in place. But if you do get to go early enough to get on stage, I can assure you, there appears to be much fun going on behind the mic! And much of that is thanks to the hard working, but misguided, musicians running the show….
PS, although I spent part of the evening taking videos of the performances as I always do, I have no desire to put them up on the blog this time, both to not promote the open mic, as well as to not show who the organizers are.
In a reflection of the previous weeks, it was again a hugely eclectic evening, with even one woman who did a song a cappella in Russian. A musician with an electric guitar did a medley, another did the most amazing little act I’ve ever seen on a mouth harp – think electro – and there were some very welcome new participants from around the other Paris open mics, people who had not yet tried the Noctambules.
Woman singing song in a cappella in Russian.
And, of course, Raphaëlle’s MCing seems to be getting better every week, and it was already great to start with. And her cabaret interlude, and personal songs at the beginning and end of the night, just make the whole thing a fabulous treat for the musicians, spectators and passersby – many of whom become spectators….
Pierre singing at Noctambules.
Of course, I will not be able to say something new about the Noctambules open mic every week, I’m pretty sure of that, so even now I think I should stop and let the videos do the talking….
Les Spleens doing a Beatles song.
On Wednesday, it was a trip back to the Oasis 244, where our friend Trelys had been holding a weekly open mic on Wednesdays for a while – until she wasn’t. Now, that slot has been taken over by Julien, whom I had met before at Belushi’s bar. The location and style of room of any bar will have an effect on its open mic. The rest will come from the bar owner or manager and from the open mic MC.
Looping at the Oasis 244.
Because the first two bits at the Oasis have not changed, I was keen to see what Julien could do with the bar in his version of the open mic. From my single visit on Wednesday, it looks like pretty much a winner. The sound was OK, the organization was perfect, the crowd was great, and Julien’s MCing was smooth. He has attracted a different crowd to the bar as well, and the whole looks very neat and cool. Definitely worth checking out on a Wednesday evening – a difficult day, what with the Highlander’s hold on the city’s Wednesday nights in most other senses….
Cool-voiced woman singing at the Oasis 244 open mic in Paris.
Last night, it was a new venue, tucked away in the cellar of the Baryton bar in an off-the-beaten path of the fifth arrondissement on the Rue des Bernardins, between place Maubert Mutalité and Notre Dame. I thought I was entering a high-class nightclub at first, with a bouncer expected to appear to frisk my guitar. But it turned out to be totally laid back, and the room in the basement is very comfortable.
Julien opens the open mic at Oasis 244.
Most of the evening is designed to be like a live karaoke, with Vincent Lafleur playing the keyboards, and participants singing into the mic. But it’s open, and Vincent let me play my guitar and sing. I classify this as a “sort of” new open mic, too, because readers of this blog will know that I ran into basically the same open mic as this in at least two prior bars, both hosted by Vincent. One was the Orphée, in Pigalle….
Third act at the Oasis 244 open mic in Paris.
Oh, Pigalle! And that brings me the next step of the three-step Paris open mic journey: Tonight’s Noctambules bar open mic on the Place Pigalle, hosted by Raphaëlle! This addition to the Paris scene enters its third month of action, and as regular readers on this blog will know, it has been a wild, fabulous three months so far. Hoping that the month of August does not subdue attendance at what has otherwise been a fabulously well attended open mic so far, both from spectators and musicians….
Unusual second act at the Oasis 244 open mic.
The earlier part of the looping at the Oasis 244 open mic.
First singer at the Baryton open mic.
Second singer at the Baryton open mic in Paris.