PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the songs I sing most often on my world travels is the now classic Tears for Fears song, “Mad World.” I really don’t know how this came to be a staple of my open mic stage repertoire. Well, except that I like playing it, everyone seems to know it, and it turns out to be one of the few songs that I feel really comfortable playing impromptu when I’ve got other musicians on stage, none of whom I have ever played with.
With the recent absolutely MAD events around the world – such things as the Donald Trump election, Brexit, Italy, who knows what in France, and goodness knows how many surprises to come in the future – I thought it was a good moment to make a video of as many of the “Mad World” videos that I could find of me playing in open mics and open jam sessions around the world. The idea was to join them all together at the lip, and use as the common thread the recording of “Mad World” that I have on my album, released this year, “Out of Jam.” (Which is available now on all the basic downloading sites, such as iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, and who knows how many others!)
I also decided to let slip into the video the occasional “live” sound from the actual recordings at the open mics, where it seems to fit O.K. without too much disruption.
Needless to say, this compilation of “Mad World” moments from early 2010 up until last month in 2016, is only a small sample of the hundreds of times, and dozens of countries in which I have sung the song solo or in a group, due to the fact that I’m usually not the subject of the videos for this blog, but the recorder of the videos. This video represent some of the few occasions in which someone actually did record me – and I have so many other musicians around the world to thank for the times they played “Mad World” or other songs with me, that it would take too long here – and be too boring – to name them all.
So check out the link above, to my “Mad World – Around the (mad) world.”
Belgium? Liège? My weekend across the border turned out to be my least interesting in recent years in Belgium. So I just want to post a few words before moving on to more fun times at the open mics in Paris in the coming days.
The whole trip from Thursday to Sunday in Liège might have taken another turn, but the new open mic/jam session that I seemed to notice on the Internet on Thursdays was impossible for me to attend, as I had an important meeting Thursday night for my job (which is why I’m sent there in the first place!)….
So I took the first opportunity to explore on Friday night, with the Surlet open mic and the Blues-Sphere open mic being the only ones left for the weekend, according to my research and knowledge. But when I showed up at the Surlet – on rue Surlet – I found it to have apparently transformed itself into a laid back chicha bar with no music “in sight.”
That was a disappointment, obviously, as the rare number of open mics in Liège seems to have been diminished even more – although I’ll have to confirm that before removing the Surlet from my open mic list for Liège. I then walked up the street to the Blues-Sphere bar, which has one of the city’s best known jam sessions, on Friday night.
But entering the bar for probably the fourth year in a row I was still recognized by no one, and when I asked for a beer and noticed that they practically only had Leffe on draught, I said I wanted any beer at all except Leffe. So the guy served me some kind of strawberry or raspberry flavored beer, which I felt was a reaction to what he took for a not-very-macho dislike of Leffe! I took it as an insult, but made no comment, and simply drank the beer, which was nevertheless tasty as a fruit juice.
As I drank it, I watched the jam go on, and at no point did any musician or organizer approach me to ask if I wanted to take part, although everyone saw my guitar bag. So listening to the jam, pure blues, pure electric, I said to myself finally, “I don’t need this. In the past, I’d have taken to the stage just to mark my territory in Liège. But this time, I have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all myself, and I just don’t see the point of invading the stage and doing a couple of songs that are not the blues….”
So I finished my beer when their set ended, and I left without anyone saying a word to me about whether I wanted to play or not. No problem. The Blues-Sphere is a very cool club, but not really for me this last weekend – despite having spent some cool nights playing there, maybe twice on stage as I had come too late last year, I think….
Still, I never give up on my open mic mission attending the Formula One races, and on Saturday night I went out to dine with some colleagues, and brought my guitar with me – just in case, and as I always do when checking out the terrain. We had a fabulous meal in an Italian restaurant, and then went bar-hopping in the Carré district, and on the way back to the hotel I suddenly felt the inspiration and need to whip out the guitar and play a few songs in a public square. I was then joined by a local North African guy who did a rap in French while I played the backing sound on the guitar – my Gibson J-200.
That moment in the square was more fun than anything I’d have done at either the Surlet or the Blues-Sphere, so I considered the musical part of the weekend to be a success of a kind after all…. But not the kind I really seek out at open mics. Liège seems to be dying, musically….
Here it is, my fifth year in a row of traveling the world to play in open mics and jam sessions. It starts tomorrow with my flight from Paris to Melbourne, then the following week I go to Kuala Lumpur. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been documenting my musical adventures around the world on this blog for the last three years, and for the year before that I began writing a book about it. This year I will again visit 20 countries in the next nine months, and play in a massive number of open mics and open jam sessions, and I will write about what I find here….
To recap a little, the first year was the book. The second year was the blog. The third year was the blog and a documentary film. The fourth year was the blog and me recording myself playing music with musicians in the open mics around the world, as well as a series of podcasts of people running the open mics and playing in them.
So where does this whole trans-media epic stand at the moment? Another recap: I take these worldwide trips as a journalist reporting on Formula One auto racing for my newspaper, and in my free time I seek out places to play, in these cities and countries where I would not otherwise expect to find open mics – in many cases. And each time I like to have a new project to work on to document it, or do something “else” with it. This year will be no exception. I again have projects in the works. What are they?
First, I want to say that my goal this year is perhaps more ambitious than in all the other year combined. Because my No. 1 goal will be to COMPLETELY finish all of the projects that have accumulated but never ceased to spin out. In other words, I’m still working on the book – it’s written, but I’m now editing it – and I want that finished finally by the end of the year, but hopefully within the next couple of months. I want to work with all the recordings I did and make some kind of CD – ie, the podcasts and some of the stuff of me playing with other people. And I want to finish the film, finally. To that end, I have made a number of very important steps in recent weeks, and I’m very, very excited about them, and I will write about that in the coming weeks.
For this year, I will not simply sit back on my laurels and be satisfied with finishing the other projects, but I will start one or two new ones. In addition to simply continuing to play at open mics and jam sessions everywhere I go, and recording it here on the blog, the first new project is that I will be adding a new page to the blog at every location I go to, which will be a Thumbnail Guide to the open mics and jam sessions, etc., that I know of in those cities. Having now had four years, and this will be the fifth, of accumulated and growing knowledge about each city’s open mics, I finally feel like it is time to put it all up on the blog in a usable form. Of course, my Paris guide to open mics will always be the most up-to-date, since that’s where I live and play the most. But the other pages will, I hope, serve their purpose well, and give a whole knew heft to this site.
The other project I plan to do, but this one may or may not be feasible, is that I plan to write a new song in each country and city I visit, and the song will in some way be inspired by the place. I have no idea how big a task that will prove to be, but I really want to face the challenge and try it. If it produces one good song, then that’s cool enough – the rest will just be a great exercise and discipline…. I will decide whether or not to make the songs heard on the site, but I expect that I will only manage to lay down the melodic idea and write the full text, but not perfect the song at each place – since I’m often not present in the countries long enough to do that…especially given all the work I have to do for my day job.
So that is it in a nutshell: 20 countries in 9 months; a new web of evergreen material for a worldwide open mic thumbnail guide of where to perform; 20 new songs inspired by the places I visit; and finally, all of my previous years’ projects finished and finalized to tie together the entire multimedia, trans-media, worldwide musical adventure. Sound like I’m a dreamer? I hope so!!!!
PS, here is the schedule of places I will visit, and when (although the date usually but not always represents the last day I am in the country – and while there are only 19 countries here, the 20th is France, where I will play in between times):
Mar. 17 Australian Grand Prix Melbourne
Mar. 24 Malaysian Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur
Apr. 14 Chinese Grand Prix Shanghai
Apr. 21 Bahrain Grand Prix Bahrain
May 12 Spanish Grand Prix Barcelona
May 26 Monaco Grand Prix Nice/Monaco
Jun 9 Canadian Grand Prix Montreal
Jun. 30 British Grand Prix Silverstone/Oxford
Jul. 7 German Grand Prix Nurburgring/Cologne
Jul. 28 Hungarian Grand Prix Budapest
Aug. 25 Belgian Grand Prix Spa-Francorchamps/Liege
Sep. 8 Italian Grand Prix Monza/Milan
Sep. 22 Singapore Grand Prix Singapore
Oct. 6 Korean Grand Prix South Korea/Seoul/Mokpo
Oct. 13 Japanese Grand Prix Suzuka/Nagoya/Osaka
Oct. 27 Indian Grand Prix Delhi
Nov. 3 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Abu Dhabi
Nov. 17 U.S. Grand Prix Austin
Nov. 24 Brazilian Grand Prix Sao Paolo
I had so many concerts, open mics, openings, things to do last night in Paris that I decided to play it all by ear – as I do my music – and see where it would lead and what I could do. It turned out a perfect evening, more or less, with a mixture of attending the opening and playing in a new open mic, taking part in a relatively new one, seeing a friend in concert and playing a song in the metro at the request of some adventurous people attracted by my guitar case….
I started it all off at the basement room open mic called Escargot Underground, which has the strange location of a travel agency on the ground floor and a concert room in the basement amongst the brick walls of the arched ceiling. I was invited by one of the organizers of the open mic at the Blanchisserie in Boulogne, to attend this new open mic, and I warned him that I might have to run out to attend the concert of a friend. “No problem,” was the basic response. But I was pleased to see that he also decided to let me go up and play before my turn in line. It was amazing playing in this little room with my Gibson J-200, as I elected not to use a mic or amplification for the guitar, and there was a small and attentive audience. Beautiful environment and feeling in this place, and I think it will be an interesting open mic to follow in future.
From there – by the way it is located at 7 rue de Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, 75002 Paris – I went on to the International venue where my friend Ben Ellis was performing with his band after a long break from music. Ben I first met at the Lizard Lounge four years ago in what was for me the early days of Earle Holmes’s open mic. But for Ben and many of the other young Paris rockers, it was the end of an era, almost, as they had all started out at the Shebeen in 2004/2005. Ben had this band called Brooklyn, which had some amazing songs, an album, and appeared on national television more than once in France. Then Ben disappeared off to live for a short period in…Brooklyn, and Brooklyn fell apart. And Ben returned with some folk-inspired music that did not, basically, make the best use of his talents as a singer songwriter rock & roller.
Now, two years later, I think, Ben has returned with a band that DOES make use of his full abilities and talents, and has a fabulous mixture of both melody and cool rhythms. So many bands hook into either melody or rhythm. But check out the videos and you will see Ben and band excelling at both. Also, by the way, have some patience for my videos, as there were so many people at the International that it was hard to move around and get a good angle. I DID get some great angles, though, even moving around from place to place in the same video… so watch ’em from beginning to end….
From there I took the metro over to the Mazet bar which, readers of this blog will know, has an open mic on Thursdays. But now, as of a few weeks, it has been taken over by Yaco, the MC and organizer of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, so it is a different vibe from what it was. I really wanted to check it out, and told Yaco that I might be late. He said come anyway. On the way to the Mazet from the International, these four or five people in the metro saw me with my guitar and asked me to play. So I played while we waited for a train, doing “What’s Up!” on the metro platform and really getting outside myself. I loved it -especially with my Gibson J-200!!! It turned out this group of people was heading over to the Caveau des Oubliettes for the jam session, and I persuaded them to go with me to the Mazet.
So we got to the Mazet just in time for me to play five or so songs, and then one of the group I came with, Damien, took my J-200 and played a couple of songs too – in Spanish.
Well, holy shit! What kind of night was that???? In fact it was so good that we all went off to the Caveau des Oubliettes afterwards and found it to be crap, so called it a night!
I made my way back from Budapest yesterday to Paris and then crossed town to the Batofar open mic, which happens so rarely that I decided I had to attend despite it being on the evening of the great Coolin open mic. Oh, and I must not forget to mention the last night in Budapest: Again I saw how open mics and open jams are such ephemeral things that from one year to the next you never know if they will still exist. The great and wonderful and extraordinary open jam session that ran on Sunday nights at Szimpla Kert in Budapest is no longer running. I went to Szimpla and met some musicians from Greece – one with an oud on his back – and they told me the jam no longer exists thanks to noise. They have to stop the music at 10 PM. These musicians, one of them said, had taken the jam slot for their group and they play there on Sunday nights. Anyway, back to Paris.
I was very happy that I made the most of my time at Becketts on Saturday, but I was really looking forward to playing again, having not played on Sunday. So I went to the Batofar, that great boat venue on the Seine, only to discover it was closed…but that the terrace of the Batofar located on the quay opposite the boat hosted the open mic. Or rather, it was the genial Vincent Lafleur on keyboards and vocals who hosted the evening.
The sound was clear and strong as I approached, and I found a nice duo of women singers with Vincent on piano. I bought a beer, then went up a few minutes later and played several songs, had a guy doing tambourine along with me, and one of the women singers joining in occasionally. Then I listened to a few more bits, including Vincent, and then I left for Coolin.
Oh, not far down the quay three clochards who had heard me playing and liked it, asked if I could sing them a song. So I sang, “Miles From Nowhere,” by Cat Stevens, which seemed appropriate, and then “Jealous Guy,” which was not appropriate, but they wanted a Beatles – and that was the closest I could come.
Took a cab to Coolin, listened to a few acts and then did my own. Just when I was certain Coolin would run out of steam and customers – it being right in the middle of the summer – I found the place just buzzing and jumping with customers and musicians. In fact, it got more and more raucous as the night went on, with people dancing all around the pub by the end. And for some reason, after they said the open mic was finished, someone then pumped up the house music and everyone continued singing and dancing to the recordings…. Another cool’un at the Coolin.
Thanks to an initiative by Tonio, the classical violin student I met on Thursday in Mannheim, I ended up having a great time in Mannheim on my last night there, and doing a mountain of recording of my songs and covers with him playing and beat boxing along. I had decided that I had done enough in Mannheim, musically, and I’d just have a quiet last night. But Tonio sent me an SMS suggesting we play. So we met in the central Paradeplatz at 8 PM – also his suggestion – and there we played for probably an hour or more, in public, sitting on a bench by the fountain, entertaining the public – and receiving a little money in appreciation.
As regular readers of the blog will know, my personal challenge this year is to record myself playing with local musicians in every country I go to for the Formula One season and my holidays. So far I have succeeded in the 10 or more countries I have visited, and I had recorded one song with Tonio on Thursday. I was foolishly satisfied with that. In fact, we went over so many of my songs – Lara, Lara; Borderline; Crazy Lady; Memories; Except Her Heart and maybe one or two others, plus cover songs like What’s Up and Mad World, plus some jamming based on chords Tonio suggested I play – that it was an enormously fun and learning experience.
Here is one of the recordings of the many we did, this one being a cover song:
And I recorded it all on my portable studio, my Roland R-26, complete with the sound of the water fountain and occasional applause. A huge, high moment, followed by a meal at the cool student pub we went to on Thursday. Really, I never expected such an amazing musical adventure in Mannheim when I set out, but it all happened because I saw Tonio with his violin – they are apparently inseparable, and that since the age of 4 or so – and asked him if he knew of a place to play.
I started out last night checking out a musical venue, a bar, in Barcelona called Foc You. That word “foc” means something in Spanish, but the bar obviously enjoyed using it to mean something else, adding that English touch. The open mic was not running last night, in fact, so I just went out for a quiet dinner. But after the meal I decided to take a look at the streets around the Cathedral because I had been told there were lots of places to play music, jam sessions and buskers. I ended up meeting a busker who did not like me taking a video of him and then leaving without paying any money and he ended my night with “Fuck You!” Let me clarify:
But first, before you consider me an ogre, let me note right away that I got a fabulous video out of it, the kind that could go viral perhaps – although no one can ever really figure out what works or doesn’t. So today I decided I would open up an AdSense account and action the video to make money. Any money I earn on the video of this busker whom I did not leave any money, will go 50-50 to him and to me. If, that is, I ever meet up with the guy again or he makes himself known to me…let’s say, in the next 1 year.
Now, back to the story: I had a wonderful meal, wandered over the cathedral, contemplating the meal, my next day of work and my imminent return to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. But as I went around to a back street behind the cathedral, I heard this fabulous violin music. The streets were beautifully lit, old Barcelona, ancient brick and just a medieval sort of feel to the whole thing. And with the music it was stunning.
The busker had a recording of a classic piece on the radio and he played along on his violin. I recorded for about two minutes, taking in the scene and appreciating his music. (I have cut the video to under a minute.) I realized that I had no coins of any kind left in my wallet as I had left the last coins in a tip in the restaurant. And in euro bills, the smallest I had was a 50. Way too big. So I knew that I could leave him no money.
But I thought that he could see I appreciated his music and that I was making a video out of respect. In fact, I had remembered seeing a video on YouTube about a star violinist from the Washington symphony (I think it was) playing in the subway in Washington and being ignored by almost all passersby. I thought of that and decided I would do the video of this guy and put it on my blog as an example of a great busker in Barcelona.
So I was quite surprised when the violinist, playing this beautiful classical music, saw me about to leave around the corner without leaving any money in his case, and he stopped playing, said, “Fuck you,” and gave me the finger. He then went on to tell me about how he only played for money, he had to pay his bills, etc. I was so surprised by the contrast of the classical music, the setting, the peace… and then this vicious verbal assault! Moreover, for me, despite all my own experience, this was tantamount to whoring. And, of course, while I am occasionally paid to play my music today in the gigs I perform, I am lucky enough to have a job to enable my music to be something I do to share with people for free since I love music.
I would never, ever, not in my most destitute days as a busker, have ever given the finger to anyone and sworn at them and told them they had to pay for my music. Having said that, I would never want to profit by this man’s reaction without giving him a share of the profits. So I have set up that advertising account mostly in order to see if I can earn a bit of money for him, but also to justify putting up the video. I considered whether I should give him ALL of the profits, until I said, “No, I have bills to pay, kids to feed, electricity and food for myself to pay, too!”
Still, I feel no animosity toward this busker. A little pity, yes. And a difference of opinion on the purpose of sharing music. But variety is what makes life so interesting….