I knew I wanted to attend immediately, since I had met Bagley at another open mic a while back – and wrote about him on this blog – and I knew he is an exceptional performer and would no doubt make a great MC and run a fabulous open mic. Oh, I had my fears and doubts for my own performance, of course, since Bagley specializes in song and dance, even working with the great Jerome Savary in France, and as a burlesque dancer, a former contestant in American Idol, and as a graduate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But when I learned that the Soirée Buzz was open to music and cabaret acts of just about any kind, I realized that I could take to the mic without embarrassment.
As it turned out, I would find myself in a much warmer environment than I expected. The moment I walked into the Très Honoré – which is also très cher by comparison to most of the venues I write about, by the way – I found myself not only in a fabulous warm room in the basement of the restaurant, with couches and armchairs, dark lit, large, two upright pianos placed in different spots, but I also found myself listening to lots of cool music on the sound system – from Johnny Cash to Yiddish music – while eating canapés and drinking wine as I waited for the show to begin. But most importantly, I also immediately recognized a friend from the Coolin open mic, Henry, who sings and plays keyboards and it turns out he is part of Bagley’s house band. Soon, another familiar face arrived, and that was Vincent Lafleur, who plays the piano and sings and was also a member of the house band.
So there it was, three people in the house band – if you include Bagley – were faces and friends I already knew. Still, with such talent present, with a full band – including sax, drums and bass in addition to the two keyboard players playing at once – I was worried I might find myself out of my league. But I decided to sit back and take in the evening for my own entertainment. And boy did it turn out to be entertaining. What an open mic! There were dancers, burlesque, singers, an accordionist who also tap danced, there were complete beginners mixed with old hands and even stars.
And Then There Were the Secret Stars at the Soirée Buzz
This high class open mic, it turns out, in its short existence has attracted stars and other personalities – at least in the audience – such as Yannick Noah, Ségolène Royal and John Malkovich, and Le Figaro newspaper has written about it too. So part of me had wondered before going who might pop in….
One of the last group of performers was a couple sitting beside me, who I had barely noticed there. When they got up to take to the stage and do a couple of numbers with the guy on piano and singing and the woman singing, it was the end of the evening and there had been several amazing performances in the second part of the show backed by the full band, etc., and I sort of expected something uninteresting for some reason. But from the first notes on the piano and then the guy’s voice, and then the woman’s, suddenly I was saying, “Wow, this is really interesting sounding pop music.” It was inventive and catchy, and there was something really original to the voices. So after this couple played I approached them to ask if they had a web site, and it turned out they were friends, not really a group, and had nothing to show. I told them I had a blog and would put something up and asked if I could have their names. When the guy gave me his, I thought I had heard of it before, but I wasn’t sure and I said exactly that to him. He didn’t say anything to suggest I should have heard of it – except something about Stringfellow bars or restaurants being in Paris, as if perhaps it had rung a bell for that reason – and so I just left it at that. (And by then, anyway, the final stupendous singer had kicked in and I turned my camera on her….) So today, at home while preparing to write this post, I looked up that familiar sounding name and discovered that this guy Ken Stringfellow was a founding member of the band The Posies, and that he had also frequently collaborated and toured with the band R.E.M., among many other projects, including solo albums. So it all fell into place! The woman he was with was Mimi Schell, who is a singer from Hamburg, Germany, and who has worked as a back up singer and also released a solo album. She got the audience at the Très Honoré buzzing on their second song, so much so that Bagley asked for a short encore of the chorus….
I was also massively pleased to discover on stage this time another aspect of Raphaëlle’s talent. I have written about Raphaëlle in the past on this blog, particularly when I first heard her at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance last year and I felt like I was hearing someone singing in the Olympia, like some Greco or Barbara or someone. For the last year, Raphaëlle has been focusing exclusively on performing her own compositions – for which she writes the lyrics and sings while playing guitar – but last night in addition to playing two of her songs on the guitar she then blew everyone away with her interpretation of “I am a Stranger Here Myself,” by Kurt Weill from “One Touch of Venus.” Amazing.
My only criticism of the whole evening was that they must do something about that microphone; not only was there no reverb or other effect of any kind, but for half of the singers you could not hear their voices as much as you might like, since the system seemed to cut out whenever the voice reached a certain peak….
Although most people who took part decided to use the house band for their singing, this open mic is indeed open to solo artists as well. In the end, I was absolutely delighted to be able to play with the band with my guitar and try my song “Borderline” with another kind of sound – two keyboards, drums, and above all the amazing sax player, Olivier Ikeda. Raphaëlle kindly recorded my performance with her iPhone. It was not an easy song to pick up on, with three different chord shifts, but starting around the middle of the song it all began to fall together. I loved it. The first song we did was much easier, the simple three-chord “Wicked Game.”
And the whole evening was especially so incredibly well MC’d by Brian Scott Bagley. A simply unforgettable Wednesday night. I’ll be returning!