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Très Honoré to Play at the Très Honoré Soirée Buzz, With Bagley and Gang

January 9, 2014

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The moment Brian Scott Bagley told me he was hosting a new open mic in Paris at the Très Honoré bar off the place du Marché St Honoré, I knew instantly what I was going to do on Wednesday night. It turns out that I have been missing a fabulous open mic now for some four months or so, as that is how long Bagley’s open mic, which he calls, Soirée Buzz, has been going on. And is it ever going on!

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!

Burlesque, Post III – Conclusion (or Not), and a Brad Spurgeon Burlesque Curmudgeon FAQ

April 25, 2013



Last night as I prepared to go to the Vieux Léon open mic and then the Highlander open mic and then maybe the Cavern open vocal jam, I received an SMS from a friend inviting me to go see a burlesque show at the Manufacture Bar Rock in Paris near Pigalle. Starring the inimitable American, Paris expat, Louise de ville, who calls herself a feminist, and puts a sarcastic and humorous edge on her patter, it would actually be the third time that I join my friend to see a Louise de ville burlesque (and this time her crew of various other burlesque acts). And the third time I write about it here. I suspect it will be the last time.

That conclusion has nothing to do with the quality of the show, Louise’s talents (she’s very smart, works an audience well, and she’s provocative), or the friendliness of my friend. It has everything to do with my lack of understanding of what today’s Burlesque is all about. I withheld coming to any conclusions on the first two times I saw Louise’s show, and actually, I will not really conclude anything today, since I don’t feel I can conclude anything. Nor, in fact, does it call for or require or need any concluding. Either you appreciate it, get it, and like it – this burlesque thing – or you don’t. And I am in the latter category!

I think Louise could see that herself when during the break between the first part of the evening and the second part she came up to me in my corner nursing my beer while looking at all the women (the spectators) – including Louise – jumping around on the dance floor in a moment of relaxation, and she said: “You look like a dad!” “Huh?” She said it was the way a father would look with a kind of judgmental air over the actions of the young people partying…. Well, all I could say to her was that, yes, actually, “I AM a dad….” She left with no comment!

If that made me feel like I was over-the-hill, old and a stick-in-the-mud, I took no offense to the comment at all – I kind of liked it. But it did make me reflect on my own reactions to the rest of the evening’s show, my reactions to which DID make me uneasy over just how much of a “dad” I might be. I just do not “get” what this modern Burlesque movement is all about. It doesn’t do anything for me. I mean, here, in a nutshell, are my observations, the way this stick-in-the-mud dad sees the thing:

    – So first of all, Burlesque for me was always the old fashioned, naive step before hard-core stripping of the kind you have all over North America and in a few other parts of the world was allowed after a change in mores: IE, burlesque was naive, and really limited by the old fashioned mores of society: So the women had pasties on their nipples and their shows were really watered down until society changed and they went completely naked. Today, the new mores, changed mores are still accepted and “hardcore” strip clubs and strippers still exist. Those places make these burlesque shows look coy, naive, and like strange games-playing. As far as the sexy element goes, really, you see more of a woman’s body on a beach in the south of France than on the burlesque stage in Paris….

    – Right, so if it is not about the woman’s body… but wait… one of the burlesque women last night wore panties that when she turned around, it was written: “Haze Me.” Louise pointed out to the audience – and whether this was tongue-in-cheek or whether it was real, I cannot fathom, that such a statement was actually a kind of reverse feminism, and that it was not the statement that it apparently said – IE, my body is yours, and I’m hot for you – but rather it was a way of putting men off the idea of hazing a woman in first year college. Listen, I do not buy this at all. Before she kindly explained that, the only thought going through my mind was, “Holy crap, this woman is asking for it???” It almost made the hazing seem desirable. (I have the same opinion of all these women who have been stripping down around the world to bare their breasts for women’s rights…. No, no. I don’t believe in that reverse psychology.)

    – It seemed to me that this super naive approach to burlesque was of more fun, enjoyment and hip-coolness to the women in the crowd than to the men. Of course, there appeared to be quite a few lesbians, so perhaps that was normal. But like one of the other shows I saw, it seems designed almost more for the women than for the men.

    – I really did feel like a dad when I found a large percentage of the audience clapping, cheering, shouting approval and making other manifestations of pleasure and encouragement at the same time – when I really didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I mean, again, in terms of the nudity, we ARE living in the age of YouPorn.

    – So if this is NOT about the nudity, what IS it about? Sketches that did not wring my emotions dry in the way a good song at an open mic by a talented singer does. Again, naive stuff – or faux naive. Sarcastic, etc.

    – Whereas I genuinely have a great time attending open mics and listening to musicians and playing music myself, and I genuinely understand and accept the good cheer and encouragement and praise – or looks of disbelief at something bad – of my fellow open mic spectators, I really felt as if much of the audience reaction in the burlesque show was disingenuous. What was all the fuss about!!!???

Conclusion in the form of a Brad Spurgeon and Burlesque FAQ:

Was it a fun night? Well, yes, I enjoyed myself. It was diverting. Distracting. Made me think.

Should there have been more to it than that? Well, yes. More emotion, and more understanding. More self-identification, perhaps – or rather, fantasizing.

So was it a success? I would say it was a great success, as the room was cramped tight with people, all apparently having a great time and buying beer.

Will I go again? No, I see no reason why I would go again. I probably would not write this post if I intended to go again, since I’ll have myself strung up and whipped with a leather horse whip no doubt, if I show up again.

What will I do instead? Continue doing what I love doing, which is going to open mics – even if I seem to have lived every kind of open mic on earth – but also keep on going out to try to discover other forms of entertainment and community get together…. (Any suggestions are welcome.)

Do I think burlesque is morally depraved? No way. I just DON’T get it!!!!

Do I understand how modern burlesque is supposed to empower women, whereas stripping is supposed to debase them? Not at all. Please help explain it to me.

Am I really a dad? Absolutely!

Am I really an old geezer who just doesn’t get it? Well, at least as regards burlesque, yes, I guess I am….

Am I politically incorrect? I hope so….

While all of this may sound like ultra-conservative curmudgeon stuff, do I consider myself a conservative?
Absolutely not!

Do I apologize to my friend who invited me and to Louise? Absolutely.

Should readers go to see Louise de ville and her gang in their show on Wednesdays at the Manufacture in Paris?
Darn right!

Do I want readers to enlighten me as to what it is that I miss in the point of today’s burlesque? Please do!!!!

PS: The women were beautiful, but the other problem with this thing for me is that since I like making videos so much for my blog…I was frustrated in that I did not feel like it was right for me to make videos of this show! 🙁

Wonderful Discoveries at the Orphee Open Mic in Pigalle – Including the Male Josephine Baker

September 14, 2012

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

I think I said that it had to be uphill from here yesterday. And yet, wow, was I surprised last night to find myself in an open mic I had never heard of, never played in, never knew of, and found it to be a unique experience with different people. I’m talking about the Orphée club in Pigalle, where I had to ask a neighboring boutique – a karaoké bar – where the Orphée was. “I’ll show you, come this way,” said the woman; and she led me to the door of what looked like an apartment building right next to the karaoke, to show me the buzzer into the Orphee.

There, I found myself as if in someone’s living room – and for all I know, I was – and on the piano was my friend Vincent Lafleur, who had sent the invitation by Facebook. No wait, not quite. Someone else was on the piano at that moment, because it was indeed an open mic. And Vincent was off somewhere else as the other man played. Then Vincent returned and named the next act.

It was an open mic like none other, because it really was like someone’s living room. A long venue room, with a bar near the front, the piano along a wall, a separate smoking room, and darkness so dark that I looked ten years younger. And felt even younger than that. LOVED IT. This was a real feeling of a private club, a jam and open mic night in an almost 1930s Berlin kind of environment.

The music was mostly soul, though, so my own brand of stuff had a little bit of a hard time fitting in – but I didn’t care; there was a mic and I had my guitar, and there was an audience.

Thank goodness, though, that I got to do my songs before the mic and “stage” area were taken over by two American men with similar sounding names. One was Brian and the other Bryant. First Bryant took to the mic with piano and then guitar, and I heard this velvety smooth soul thing. Then the two suddenly stormed the floor and exploded the joint with a kind of gospel American hallelujah stuff and strutting and dancing that just drove the crowd of cocktail sniffers wild.

Bryant was from LA, and Brian was from Baltimore. I learned this after being impressed with their stuff and saying basically, “Where the hell are you guys from?!?” And I was very keen to figure out exactly what they were doing in Paris. But I did not get quite all the information before Brian, the rest of his name being Scott Bagley – ie, Brian Scott Bagley – took to the mic to perform his solo song, with Vincent on the musical side of things. This too exploded into a massive bit of choreography, an abandoning of the mic all together, and a finale with the splits.

No, no, wait. No. There’s something going on here, I thought. This is not just your regular open mic kind of performer. So I went to talk to Mr. Bagley, and what did I learn? Well, simply, that I had PART III to my tales of meeting at open mics the former famous candidates of television reality music competition programs. In this case, American Idol. Mr. Bagley, it turned out, was a star graduate of American Idol – after my meeting with those French twins named Twem, and that amazing woman at the Cavern, Sarah Manesse, of X-Factor.

But just like happened in the case of Sarah, I actually never learned from Brian that he had done American Idol. That’s something I learned when coming home afterwards and checking him out on the Internet. What I learned at the Orphee open mic was that Brian had moved to Paris seven years ago, that he had come working in a revue about the 1920s performer Josephine Baker, and that he had actually played the role of Josephine Baker himself. I recalled that the New York Times and International Herald Tribune had written a story about the play, and I learned that he was involved with plenty of jobs as a choreographer, dancer and singer, and he loves the “old school” stuff for what it has to say to us today.

I could go on and on, but the best thing to do would be to check out the links I’ve put in here. And to go off to see his one-man musical spectacle every Sunday at the Theatre la Cible in Pigalle, called “Cabaret Me – I’m Famous.” The guy is an enormous talent. I was soooo happy that I had not heard and seen him and Bryant perform BEFORE I went up to do my number.

But my huge, huge regret was that I had walked out of my apartment without my Zoom Q3HD recorder and so I had to depend on my iPhone for the videos – and both the image and the sound is crap. How can I keep doing that!?!

Louise de Ville, Beauty-With-Brains One-Woman-Show and a Brainless Kararocké

May 6, 2012

Betty Speaks - Louise de Ville

Betty Speaks – Louise de Ville

It was a huge contrast last night as I visited two great venues in Pigalle to see two completely different kinds of shows. I ended up feeling that my expectations of each had been reversed: The burlesque woman’s monologue was the brainy thing, and the Kararocké was the brainless thing. Both had their place and made for a great evening, since brainlessness is a great counter reaction to braininess.

What had given me my advance notions about what I might find was that I had seen Louise de Ville’s burlesque act not long ago – and written about it here – and it was part of her stock show, of a kind of burlesque, fun, brainlessness, well, not really. But anyway, the last thing I expected to see at Les Trois Baudets last night after I was invited by a friend of Louise’s to see her one-woman show called “Betty Speaks” was a fabulous and inventive monologue written by Louise in French – she is American – and acted out and spoken in great French – with a strong American accent – with all sorts of playing on words, and fun, psychological insights into womanhood.

josephine baker

josephine baker

Having said that, the thing that also surprised me was that here I was watching a one-woman-show that has a burlesque element to it – she is sexy as hell and has some moments of strip tease – but most of the laughter I heard around me came from the women in the audience. This was a one-woman comedy, burlesque that has sex as one of the main themes, but which is speaking very directly to women. Oh, it is also very camp, and can clearly please men who like camp, too. Having said that, Louise can transfix men who don’t like camp as well, just by being there.

As an American in Paris entertaining the French in their language with witty playfulness and issues that women think about, but at the same time appearing like a sexy burlesque, I had to think where Louise could fit into any kind of tradition. Could we call her a white Josephine Baker? Probably best just to call her Louise de Ville.

Oh, as it turns out, that entire mixture of things I just spoke about with Louise are very clearly fixed in her knowledge of herself and her approach. Here are words I just found on Louise de Ville’s web site today about herself:

“I may look like it, but I’m not your average burlesque girl,” she writes. “I love glitter and feathers as much as the next girl, but I love feminism even more! I’ m a beauty with brains and I’m not afraid of showing off either.”

So after that show I saw I still had time to go to the monthly Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. It was more densely populated than at any time I have seen it in the last six months. A massive success, and a wild, wild time. I rinsed out my brain with the music and then took a nice brisk 5.5 kilometer walk back home through the rain and rinsed off my body.

Derailed by a Burlesque, Enchanted by….

March 3, 2012

I was just about to do my nearly daily post last night when a friend sent me an SMS asking if I wanted to join him to see a friend of his do her Burlesque show at the Alcazar in Paris, near the place de l’Odeon. I have my priorities, so I dropped everything to go and see Louise de Ville. I would write about my evening at the Mazet open mic later, like now.

I had heard about the Alcazar for years, but never went. I did not regret it. It was a vast, two-floor restaurant with a stage in the middle where both floors could see the performance. Louise’s performance was memorable, and just totally spell-binding – as she says, “people pay more attention to you when you are in your underwear.” We met afterwards, and spoke along with my friend, and I learned she is from, Kentucky, has lived in Paris for a few years, and works in Burlesque in several venues around the city. She loves the Crazy Horse, but is less hot about the other well-known venues for exotic dancing in this city that does not exactly specialize in the genre.

Anyway… not much to say that will not sound like my tongue was hanging out….

So, to back step a little, I must say that I was in enraptured on Thursday night as well. Again with a woman – no, actually two of them. It was the open mic at the Mazet and soon into the evening two women took to the stage, both on guitars, one on vocals. It was Vanessa and Emilie, and the latter played cool lead while the former sang. They looked not only like sisters, they looked like twins. They were not related. It turned out that one was the sister of David Oxxo, the MC of the evening.

I learned that after I had decided which one to propose marriage to, but it turned out to be the wrong one. I did that with Emilie – well, okay, I did not quite propose marriage, but close – after she played lead with me for several songs, “Crazy Love,” “I Shall Be Released” and “Just Like a Woman.” A Bob Dylan medley, almost. And she was wonderful: Check out her site. It was soooo cool to have a woman lead guitar player, and especially one who with the other woman – Vanessa – looked like Kate and Anna McGarrigle, or maybe the Patti Smith twins.

Speaking of medleys, it was also a treat to see and hear Mary Catherine and then her father, who did a medley of some pop rock standards.

Then, later, James Iansiti had a couple of members of one of his bands there, and they did a great rendition of Stairway to Heaven, and James pointed out it was the 40th year anniversary of that song.

And to top it all off, I got given a copy of David Oxxo’s recently released album. There is some good stuff on this beautifully produced and recorded album in French and English, but I especially loved the song “Corps en laisse,” which felt like Jacques Brel in some ways.

Can you ask for a better two days?!

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