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Irish Paris Part II: Au Quiet Man

September 16, 2012

Having ended up falling into this Irish night on Friday by accident in a bar near the Gare du Nord, it was only natural that I seek out an Irish place the following night. Only natural, really, mainly, because a), the band at the first place told me about the second place and that there was a jam on Saturday nights, and b), that I had actually already heard of this other mainstay bar of Irish traditional music, called Quiet Man.

I had first heard about the Quiet Man some time over the last two years from an adept of Medieval costume party dance nights, and I must say that I had a slight feeling of reticence regarding the Quiet Man, coming from a costume party man. I feared this may well be some kind of “Danny Boy” Irish charade. But having then on Friday heard these great French Irish trad musicians at the Bouquet du Nord and learning from them that the Quiet Man held an open jam for Irish music on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I said to myself that I could not decently call this blog a comprehensive overview of the Paris open mic scene without checking out all of the Irish jams and open mics.

So it was that I went with great excitement and pleasure to the Quiet Man, located near the Rambuteau metro. I walked in to find a nearly empty ground floor and I had a sudden recollection of having perhaps already showed up at this place to find the evening cancelled – and given all the cancelled open mics of late, I feared I had met with another. Then I heard the faint sound of Irish music that seemed to come not from a speaker, but from behind closed doors.

“The music is downstairs,” said the barman after I inquired.

I ordered a pint, went down the steep stairs, and found myself in another world. This felt completely like some Irish pub, in the small confines of the basement room with the rafters ringing with the reels and jigs – to quote a line from “Peter’s Song” by the Sands Family – and it also reminded me a little of a jam session I love in Sao Paulo, where all the musicians sit around a central table and join in and out of the jam all night long.

There were bodhrans, fiddles, guitars, whistles and flutes. There was a long necked mandolin or bouzouki and other mandolins as well. There was a concertina. There was just about everything you can imagine – except vocals. On this, my second foray into Irish music nights in Paris, I have found on each occasion that singing is not a part of the recipe. In a way I respect this, since while so many French people sing English pop and rock music and say to hell with their sharp accents, such a thing with traditional Irish music just won’t sit right.

But that left me in a quandary. I was importuned, invited, greeted by gesture and request, to join in the circle of musicians right from the start. They were all open arms, having seen my guitar case. But I knew immediately what my limitations are: I can play songs and sing them. But I cannot join in an Irish music jam of jigs and reels without someone showing me every chord, and more reasonably, giving me sheet music with the chords on them.

So I said I would not join in immediately, and I sat off to the side and watched and videoed. But where, I thought, where and how could I have anything to do with this? No one sang. No songs were done – just jigs and reels and all the other fast moving lilting Irish music stuff that I feel is the equivalent to the blues jam, which lends itself to multiple musicians joining in and dropping out as they please. But a song?

Finally, after a couple of hours – the jam goes on until closing time at 2 AM – I interrupted and asked if it was acceptable to sing a song and play and have people join in if they could? Irish songs, of course.

“Yes, of course!”

So I sat down and sang “Only Our Rivers,” then “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” and then I took my leave, sensing, nevertheless that I was taking away from the real purpose of the evening – a jam. But they played along with me and many seemed to enjoy, and one or two sang a little along with me for a few verses. Then at the end of the evening when there were only three musicians of the original dozen or so left, I was invited back to join them to play more.

I tried some other traditional songs – High Germany, and then Cunla, and then The Star of the County Down – and then I opted for a modern Irish song, and belted out Crazy Love by Van Morrison, to which they played fiddle, guitar and something else …. At the very end of the night when only the violin player and a couple of women spectators remained, I decided to shake up the status quo and sang, “What’s Up!” and promptly broke a guitar string for the first time in months…. there must have been a signal there somewhere. But this Quiet Man is definitely worth checking out. A wonderful atmosphere, a truly music loving pub.

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