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Crazy Mad Night at 3 Open Mics in Paris

January 31, 2012

coolin irish pub paris

coolin irish pub paris

I had no idea what I was getting into last night after three days away from performing in open mics in Paris. I thought I’d take in a bit of the Tennessee Bar and the Galway, as usual, with the focus being entirely on the latter, in its first evening with the new MC, Romain of All the Roads. But I ended up having someone slip me a calling card and telling me there was a new open mic in Paris on Mondays as well, and I could not resist the visit. Thank goodness I did not resist!

First, the Tennessee Bar was as crowded as ever, and thanks to my usual effort to get there on time with a metro system that always works against me – just one change, but a 7-minute wait for both trains – I arrived far to late to have an early playing time. So I took a beer and watched a few acts and then went to the Galway. There were some cool acts at the Tennessee, by the way, with the Swiss named Mathieu, who had been at the Mazet on Thursday, and some other new guy who had a very interesting, high pitched, melodious voice and some nice lyrics and good guitar playing.

There was absolutely no way that I was going to miss the first open mic at the Galway without Stephen Danger Prescott running it, as he moved off to some other country and Romain took over the show. Romain did a fine job last night, and there were some musicians new and old – I don’t mean old like me, I mean ones who had been there before.

I played my set, but I was getting a little tired and decided to go home. But I had this calling card I was given for a place called Coolin Irish Pub, just off the Boulevard St. Germain, not far at all from either of these venues. And so I thought I’d just take a glance inside before catching a cab back home.

Coolin is this large, wide open pub in the building where there used to be the St. Germain market. It has apparently been there for 15 years, and I have never set foot in it. That will now change. The atmosphere was immense: Free, free-wheeling, young, vibrant, fun, loud – no nasty neighbors to complain – and the sound system was even not bad at all, although they plan to improve it.

Run by Henry, one of the bar tenders, the open mic was on about its fifth night. And it, like Henry, was full of insouciance and good nature. In fact, the moment I entered the bar and someone spotted my guitar, I was invited up to the mic to play. Didn’t even get a chance to order a Kilkenny. Nor did i care. This was too cool to be able to enter and get up behind the mic instantly.

And I loved the fact that I found myself in front of this new audience after I’d already warmed up at the Galway, and none of these people had heard any of my songs before. So I just belted into a few of them with abandon, doing some covers and my own “Borderline.” Had ’em singing along, and it was just generally a visit to the high reaches of the joy that an open mic, and singing in public can provide.

I then got out from behind the mic and took my beer and sat and listened to the others. There wer a number of cool musicians, including Henry, and the Irishwoman, Eithne O Connor – and don’t bother asking me how to pronounce her first name, but think something close to Anne – as well as another Irishman and some of the people in the audience.

In fact, I learned that this open mic begins around a table at 10 PM – sounds like the Bar Varal jam in Sao Paulo, right? – and then it goes on to become the traditional thing behind the mic. And then sometime after midnight, it transfers back to a jam session at the table. You can see in my videos just how amazing and free the atmosphere is.

This place has big, big, big potential. In fact, it’s already 100 percent there. It has a little bit of everything, including lyrics and song books with chords, just in case! It just needs more people, and a little history – and then it will be a Paris classic.

James Iansiti and His Band at the Tennessee Bar

January 28, 2012

I have noticed all over the world that the MCs of open mics have a thankless job. They are most often musicians themselves, and they are most often professional musicians who do the open mics as an off-shoot of their regular jobs as musicians. They are very often much better musicians than most of the musicians who take part in their open mics. And they most often receive not only no thanks from the people taking part in their open mics, but they actually receive people complaining about when their slot is to play, and questioning without stop when their slot is, and just generally giving the MCs a hard time.

Most often this is also without intending to bother the MC, but when you get 20 musicians wanting to play and those MCs have to answer the same question several times a night, that can be hard. Perhaps the worst part is that most of the people who come to play at an open mic don’t really treat the MC as a fellow musician, and one who in fact is more often than not, a better musician than the musicians coming to play….

So when James Iansiti, the MC of the Tennessee Bar open mic, mentioned to me that he had this band he was really happy with playing on Friday nights at the Tennessee Bar – where he hosts the open mic on Monday nights – I thought I just HAVE to get there and listen to James and his band. I went last night, and I did not regret it. James has some very cool songs, lots of artistry, and a very, very well-oiled stage presence. Loved the acoustic bass player too, oh, and the drummer, and the guitarist, and James did a very well balanced show, varying styles and songs throughout. Lots of talk in the audience as usual there, of course. The place is just too comfortable not to talk – but it was also clear the audience enjoyed the music….

Vintage Mazet, from Open Mic to Open Jam

January 27, 2012

It is becoming the blueprint for a great night at the Mazet pub on Rue St. Andre des Arts in Paris’s Latin Quarter: It starts out as a packed and loud open mic surviving almost in the background of this central meeting place near the Place de l’Odeon. Then as the evening progresses and performers all go up and play their first slot, the evening in the latter half turns into a jam session, or at least a free-for-all as the performers mix on the stage and play together anything that comes to mind, but usually famous cover songs, in English and in French.

Last night that’s the way it went again, and this time with yet again, as with most of the other evenings, there were some new faces, new voices, new musicians playing different instruments…. There was Mathieu from Switzerland, for instance, or Jul, from France who seems and sounds and looks for all the world like an American folk musician, the classic singer songwriter from Greenwich Village. And he composes in English too, and sings it well. (That, of course, is pretty common around here, but Jul seemed to have practically no accent at all.)

I almost feel like I should not be writing these reports about the Mazet, since at the moment there are always enough musicians to have a fun night, often more than four songs per person and then the jam afterwards. If this place gets too well known, it could turn into one of those waiting list places like so many of the best, most popular, open mics.

The Upper Levels of the Highlander Open Mic

January 26, 2012

A few months ago the Highlander shifted its 5-year-old open mic from the ground floor to the basement. I thought it was a bad move as I thought there was something warmer about the ground floor, but after the open mic had to return to the ground floor just for one night last night to make way for the Robert Burns celebration in the basement, I have revised my opinion.

The ground floor is too packed, too suffocating, not as good acoustically and more difficult to order from the bar! There’s also a way for most of the chattering classes to move into the back of the basement room, where as on the ground floor they are mostly much closer to the performance area.

Having said that, when an exceptional performer gets up and sings the right thing, the chattering cuts out a lot, or at least gets replaced with a sense of community, warmth, great vibe and fun. That happened last night occasionally, especially early in the evening when, sorry to repeat this name once again, Conn Bux took to the mic.

Conn is the Irish musician I keep talking about. But last night was a particularly poignant moment because he announced with his second song that he wanted to dedicate it to an old friend of his, a woman named Emma, who died of breast cancer last weekend at the age of 35. It was wrenchingly emotional, in fact. And it did not stop with the dedicated song, it continued when Conn went on to continue with his next song called “Last Time,” about seeing someone for the last time. Afterwards he told me the first song was a favorite of Emma, and that he had sung Last Time with her in his mind too. Of course.

I enjoyed my own moment as a lot of the audience members sang along with me on three of the cover songs I chose do, “What’s Up!,” “Father and Son,” and “Just Like a Woman.” Of course, I chose them with that hope in mind, thinking the audience needing some drawing together and personal interactivity at that point – which was well past midnight. Still, I was so delighted with the singing along on the Dylan song that they actually threw me off a couple of times as I kind of waited to hear THEM sing the lines instead of me…. A huge, greatly needed, pleasure.

Last Time: Stephen at Galway, and Reflection on Hit Songs and Big Bux

January 24, 2012

Last night was Stephen Danger Prescott’s last time presenting the open mic at the Galway Pub in Paris after three or four years on that job. He will be hugely missed, but he has decided to go as far away as Berlin in order to avoid being lured into the job again.

It was a good night there, and also at the Tennessee Bar open mic a few minutes walk away, under the aegis of James Iansiti. I only stayed a short time at the Tennessee, though, and did not sing there since I arrived too late to do that AND the Galway, and I had to attend Stephen’s last time.

And speaking of “Last Time,” that is the second theme of this post. Readers will have noticed that I have buddied around over the last week in Paris at the open mics with an Irish singer named Conn Bux. Last night as the two of us attended both open mics there was one singer who went up and I told Conn how much I liked the singer’s voice but that I felt all the songs sounded the same.

“All you need is one,” he said. He meant, of course, that all any group or singer really needs to break out of the lowest levels of the music business is one hit song. Of course, a load more of them than that would also be welcome.

But his words reminded me that over the two previous days I had been saying to myself that this was precisely Conn Bux’s own situation. I did not tell him that last night, but he had given me his three CDs last Friday – made over the last decade – and I had been listening to them in the mornings during my morning exercise.

One of things I thought as I heard Conn sing in the various open mics over the last week, and as I listened to his superb CDs, was that this Irishman is so good he just needs one hit song and he’ll break out. He’s got his own voice, a strong voice, musical talent and skill, and he plays well in cool bands.

This morning as I listened to Conn’s third – most recent CD-, called The Old Reliable, as I did my morning exercise, suddenly, it seemed to me that Conn’s hit song had just popped out of the laser and into my head. It was a song that I had listened to several times over the last week, and he sang it again last night at both the Tennessee Bar and the Highlander. It is called Last Time, and it has been ringing in my head all day. The version with the band brings yet another level to it, but this song is for me clearly a hit. It has memorable words, theme, melody – it rocks, it rolls, it souls….

So why is it NOT a hit? That then got me to thinking that NOTHING in the music business actually makes sense and that there are probably a lot of hit songs in existence that are NOT hits because of totally obscure reasons, and things like simple luck. Things like being in the right place at the right time, etc. Cliches.

Having said that, Conn is only around 35 years old, and I can see through his three CDs that he is developing as a musician too, and that no music careers follow any precise plans or routes. Some careers have exploded several decades in and suddenly the singer gets noticed, has a hit and starts earning the big bux.

So check out the Last Time performance at the Galway by Conn Bux, so appropriate on the last time Stephen acted as MC.

Cabaret Culture Rapide Revisited

January 21, 2012

To my knowledge there are not many open mics or open jam sessions in Paris on Fridays or Saturdays. So last night, in the company of Conn Bux, the cool Irish singer songwriter I have shown videos of several times this week as he makes a brief visit to Paris, I ended up last night going to the only venue I know of in Paris that has an open mic on Friday nights. That was the genial Cabaret Culture Rapide, near the Belleville metro station.

This is a completely acoustic open mic, and it is open to music, song and dance, comedy, rap, slam, crap, anything you want, really. I have seen it go through two previous MCs, and therefore two previous incarnations. Last night, it had yet a third MC, and so a third incarnation. The format remained basically the same: You do a number, you go off and watch others do theirs, then once the complete round of performers has happened, you go up and do another number.

The new MC, who calls himself Paparenda, called on Conn and I to sing a couple of things that we had not planned to do, like…singing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” with him. Well, anyway…. moving right along…. Here are some videos from the evening, including the cool one of Conn Bux doing the U2 song Paparenda, which as it turned out, was also not planned in advance, but went down pretty well indeed….

Mazet True to Itself

January 20, 2012

I attended my first open mic at the Mazet since it took a brief break for the festive holidays, and found that it was back to its regular ways. That means that it tends to start out fairly slow and discrete, and then it wakes up and becomes more intense, and often turns into a jam session at the end of the evening.

I met up with Conn Bux again, and he played some of his great songs, cutting through the chatter to have plenty of the many spectators applaud even during the middle of his songs. The Irishman was well received, to say the least.

I was pleased – if a little intimidated – that this time Conn’s friend, Saray, from Spain, asked if she could film me with my Zoom Q3HD recorder. I happily accepted. So I have more recordings here than usual of me….

During my set suddenly as I was singing “Mad World,” my upright bass player from the night before at the Highlander suddenly arrived, parked in front of the stage, and added another dimension to the song – injecting me with an instant fix of added energy as well. He then played with me on “Runaway Train” as well, and that was the end of my set.

Rimed showed up and played some of his sensational tapping, and there were a few other regulars who also played some lively and fun stuff.

I ended up cutting out at midnight, however, to go to Stephen Danger Prescott’s final Thursday night gig at the Galway before he heads off next week for Berlin. He will have one more open mic at the Galway, on Monday, though.

So all in all, it was a good evening at the open mic….

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