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A Lucky Night Au Ptit Bonheur La Chance

June 2, 2010

On a day when I was feeling anything but lucky, I suddenly recalled that it being a Tuesday, I could go to one of my favorite open mics in Paris. I don’t know where to start in talking about Ollie’s open mic at the bar near the Panthéon in Paris called Au Ptit Bonjeur La Chance.

What was lucky about it last night was that I was not ready to go out very early, and this open mic starts at 9:30 PM and Ollie is very equitable and agreeable in the way he gets people up to play in good time. But the other thing that made it lucky last night was a sudden feeling of several different connections to this bar on Rue Laplace, which is also near one of my favorites streets in Paris, the Rue Mouffetard.

Ollie Fury has been running the open mic for several months, and it’s always nice to have a good guy like him running and open mic, and it was particularly cool that we met each other long before he started the open mic as performing musicians both of us. In other words, I met Ollie playing at other open mics as a musician himself, and we bumped into each other many times before he opened his own evening. (He starts each evening by playing himself, and he has a very cool voice, doing some amazing interpretations of classic folk rock and others, and many of his own compositions.)

But my introduction to this cool bar was not through Ollie, but rather it happened to be the first bar at which I played my own musical gig – as opposed to open mic. It was in December 2008, near Christmas, and Earle Holmes set up for me a set at the same bar, when it was called the Rhubarbe. This was only two months after I had returned to playing music in public, and I must say that my set was pretty bad. I didn’t know what to expect, or what to do – except sing and play, but I did it while reading the lyrics in a book and on papers in front of me, and with a little lamp over the words so I could see them. Needless to say, I was somewhat upstaged by the Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes, who played after me – and for whom, in any case, I was only really acting as a warm-up act.

I knew this before. But last night I discovered something else that ties me to this little bar: I learned that the man who has for several months – the time I’ve been attending the open mics – been very kind and convivial with me behind the bar went to high school (lycée) and was very good friends with the son of one of my Formula One reporter colleagues. The reporter is one of the regular F1 reporters for a French radio station, and as if to add to the coincidence, it turns out that he is a guy who has followed my musical adventures on the F1 road for a while and has been trying to link up to see me perform at a race. But my F1 music playing patterns are very difficult to follow, and so we have not yet been able to jibe on that. (He was supposed to go to the Hard Rock Café night in Malaysia, but I called him up to say not to come.)

Anyway, the Ptit Bonheur de la Chance open mic is a beauty for many reasons, and the above mentioned owner and bartender, whose name is Pierre Gonnet, has done a great job renovating it. The bar is fabulous because upstairs you can get away from the music and talk if you want, while in the open mic area proper, in the basement, people listen. It is very cosy, with a very low ceiling and circular tables and stools spotted all around the room. The sound system could be improved on, however, as the mic and amps kill the voice – sounds like the mic is covered with tissue paper or something – and, yes, the amps are as basic as you can get.

But Ollie does such a great, low-key, friendly and cool job of giving people a spot to play, and the crowd is almost always a nice one, there for the music and nothing else. And I don’t know how it happens, probably it’s Ollie’s efforts to promote the evening, but it has almost every week at least one standout performer, and often several. I particularly liked both the first and the last performers last night, both Americans. I’ll put up the videos I did – but I must apologize first, since the videos are almost entirely black. But the sound is great on this Zoom Q3. So that’s what it’s there for. And both of these performers were authentic. Check them out. (Oh, me? I told the story of how in Istanbul you can be asked to play everywhere on the streets, in the bars, etc., with just the sight of the guitar on your back – but then I played in that apartment and was stopped by a neighbor after one song, as in my previous post. So I said I was there at Ollie’s to finish “Just Like A Woman,” which I did. I then sang “Mad World,” and without Vanessa with me on that one I was totally lost. And then I did my song, “Since You Left Me,” and I left out a verse, but I also felt like I had repeated another verse. Ah well, that’s live performance for you.)


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