ALCAMO MARINA, Sicily – The last thing I imagined finding myself doing yesterday evening as the sun set on the Mediterranean was to be standing on the vast sandy beach of the Alcamo Marina playing songs to save the lives of unborn Loggerhead sea turtles. But that is precisely what happened, thanks to an invitation from TrinArt, an association based in Castellammare del Golfo, that in turn had been invited by the association – called Thalia – that was interested in protecting the turtles after a recent attack by vandals of the beach site where the turtle eggs are buried.
I will likely be speaking more in the coming days about TrinArt and its artist founder, Simona Nasta, but for the moment back to the event on the beach to save Claretta’s eggs! Claretta is the name of the turtle – no doubt for its scientific name of Caretta caretta – that laid the eggs on the beach. The site was cordoned off with the help of various associations, including the World Wildlife Fund, but when some idiot man went and allowed his dog to go in and tear apart the nest, destroying some of the eggs, it was time to draw attention to the fact that the eggs needed protection.
So TrinArt set up an event to invite artists to the nest yesterday to perform and attract attention to the turtles. These sea turtles are in a precarious situation in the area – in fact, it is an endangered species – so it has been celebrated whenever they have been laying eggs anywhere. The beach that Claretta chose, however, is a very popular one for vacationers, and is, in fact, lined with vacation homes. But only a very small fraction of the turtles that will be hatched from the eggs is ever expected to make it to adulthood, once it leaves the nest and goes into the sea. So any disruption to the already perilous process is highly to be discouraged.
Nasta had invited Ornella and me, and so it became a TAC Teatro experience, and I brought along my guitar to play music with the other artists. Strangely, the first musician who played stole two of the songs I had planned to play, which I considered on theme: “Stand By Me,” and “What’s Up!” with its strong and appropriate line: “What’s goin’ on?!?!?”
So I decided when it was my turn, at the prodding of Ornella, to do “Mad World,” and “You Ain’t Going’ Nowhere,” finishing off with my own song, “Borderline.”
Nasta led a blindfolded ritual painting with the public, and I have decided to show the result of that work here – done by her, and several members of the public, who led her blindfolded to the canvas in front of the turtle egg nest.
For TAC Teatro, it was a nice moment tying together with the company’s past, as Ornella has led theater research projects along with the World Wildlife Fund in the past, and this reminded her of those great moments. For me personally, as we drove back to Castellammare del Golfo, I suddenly remembered the last time that I had taken part in an artistic event to save a species. Unfortunately it dates back to what is now more than 40 years! I was living in Nairobi, Kenya, and I was invited to perform an act with my ventriloquist’s dummy, Peter McCabe at a “Save the Rhino” event. I guess that worked out pretty well for the Rhino, even though they still have big problems. I only hope this event yesterday will save the sea turtle – or at least Claretta’s eggs….
Save the Rhino interview with Peter and me from 1970s
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – How many times during lockdown in Paris from March to May this year did Ornella and I say to each other that if we managed somehow to get to our favorite summer retreat again this year we would feel blessed? No doubt too often to count. In any case, we have now been here for three weeks, and we still feel blessed every day. After the confinement of lockdown we find ourselves in an average of 30 degree temperatures, cloudless skies and warm, smooth Mediterranean waters. Still, it might be the calm after the storm, but I am reading the Italian press daily to keep an eye on the possibility of rough waters to come, and a storm after the calm. Needless to say, it is a holiday like none before….
But this small former fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo – the castle on the sea – on the north coast of Sicily, less than an hour’s drive from Palermo, is about as good – and for the moment safe – as holiday locations can come. Sicily was not as badly hit as the rest of Italy with the virus, suffering still to date fewer than 300 deaths, and around 3000 infected (that’s a pretty high percentage of deaths per infections, though, isn’t it?) Since we came here, though, the town of 15,000 people is filling up rapidly with tourists from the rest of Europe, and we hold our breaths and wear our masks in an effort to believe that things will not this summer get out of hand here as they have in some other vacation spots in Europe, such as southern Spain.
We chose to give ourselves a quick escape method should things go wrong, by having driven here from Paris in my old Ford Focus, taking the ferry boat from Genova to Palermo, with the car aboard. It was a peaceful, fun, in fact magnificent journey, topped off on the boat by a fabulous seafood pasta in a restaurant that only we and an English couple, and perhaps another one or two people, decided to use. So there was little worry about the virus spreading there! The point was that if the pandemic grew back into the danger zone, as it has in Spain, we could just jump in the car and drive back to Paris or some other country. (Plus the flights were getting really expensive.) A Free Music Performance in Castellammare del Golfo
We feel so blessed to have had this summer in Sicily, in fact, that this year we decided that we would live it a little differently than in past years: This year is devoted to staying as much at home and at the beach as possible, while avoiding the center of the town as much as possible on the weekends. The reason for that is that if you are currently aware that there is a virus out there, you would be entirely unaware were you to venture out into the nightlife of Castellammare del Golfo this summer: It is difficult to find any bars or restaurants not bursting with clients wearing no masks as if there were no cases of the virus at all on this island. (And, yes, that is actually almost true: the known daily cases are rising in single digits at the moment…but….)
In years past we had decided that every year we would discover a new part of this historical jewell of ancient Mediterranean civilisation. But this year, as I said, we are staying put and feeling blessed. Personally, I decided that I would use my experiences of learning about the island in the past years as a base for a new project: Reading the daily Giornale di Sicilia not only for the coronavirus statistics, but also in order to practice my Italian, and make a real, strong effort to finally learn the language as well as another way of exploring the local culture and getting to know the place of Ornella’s birth and childhood upbringing much better.
And what an education it is turning out to be. In addition to reading stories all about the places I have visited in the last few years with Ornella each summer – Marsala, Palermo, Trapani, among other cities, and such ancient archaelogical sites as Segesta or the Valley of the Temples outside Agrigento (which is also the home of Pirandello, Camilleri and Sciascia), as well as Scopello and Erice, the medieval town on the hill – I have found the second most comprehensible stories for my limited Italian to be those about all the local crime. Yes, like any such local newspapers, the Giornale di Sicilia – preferably my local Trapani edition – brings me daily news of mafia arrests and crimes.
This is particularly interesting to follow as it turns out that this beautiful small town of Castellammare was itself the birthplace of many of the figures of the legendary New York City mafia in the 1920s and 1930s, including Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno, Salvatore Maranzano, Vito Bonventre, and was the base in Sicily of Don Vito Ferro who decided to try to take over control of the New York mafia from Giuseppe “Joe The Boss” Masseria – who had the famous future boss “Lucky Luciano” on his side – and they all got into a battle that became known as the Castellammarese War – named after this town, yes – that lasted from February 1930 to Apr. 15, 1931. The faction from this town won that war, by the way, but then the whole crime syndicate would change form, leading to the so-called sharing arrangement set up by Luciano and called “The Commission.”
Ornella Bonventre at the Greek Theater in Segesta, Sicily
Falcone and Borsellino
I see this beautiful little seaside town more like a future Monaco, however, and I hope it takes as long as possible before any such transformation happens. But the nightlife grows every year, the real estate value grows, and the boats keep getting bigger. For Ornella and I, as I say, we are enjoying the calm, the sun and the sea. And it turns out that there are numerous free concerts and other events – notably, and partly on the theme of this blog item, we saw a theatrical production the other day about a fictional interview with famous Palermo anti-mafia judge Paolo Borsellino, who was assassinated by the mafia in 1992 (weeks after his fellow Palermo anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was also assassinated)….
So, after the storm, a break. Let’s hope it continues. I’ll check back in as soon as possible with more news about virus life from here or elsewhere….
Borsellino Theatre Piece in Castellammare del Golfo
PARIS – Eric Dufaure is something of a maverick: He was the boss of EMI music publishing in France at the turn of the current century; he was a top director of the Sacem music rights organisation in France; he founded a record label (Cachalot Records); he has produced albums by some of France’s top recording artists, including Lio and Bernard Lavilliers, among many others. He was raised in a bicultural family, with an Irish-American mother, and his education was about the same eclectic mix: Science Po and a history degree in France, along with an MBA from Harvard Business School. If that isn’t enough, he is also a musician himself, playing primarily keyboards, guitar and singing, and directing a band called Private Pepper.
Until last November, I had only vaguely heard about Dufaure thanks to his Private Pepper band’s musical bashes at the Paris food, music and dance hall called, Le Reservoir. Then I attended one as a spectator, then last Tuesday, I ended up performing onstage at one – and having the time of my life playing Bob Dylan’s “Lay lady lay,” as each event marks the 50th anniversary of a year’s pop and rock music, and now, of course, we are 50 years on from 1969, when the Dylan song came out on his “Nashville Skyline” album.
Having now had experience on both sides of the proscenium arch at Eric’s musical evenings, I can write this post with a perfect knowledge of the fun and extraordinary organization that constitutes Eric’s series of concerts at Le Reservoir, all called “Back in…” and then whatever the year happens to be (i.e., Tuesday it was “Back in 1969.”). It is clear that his business background sets the tone for a perfect package of organisation for both the audience and the musicians: Each show presents a two-part string of the hits of the chosen year, played mostly with the backing of the Private Pepper band – which included on Tuesday a bassist, Nicolas Chelly, lead guitar player, Laurent Pradeau, drummer, Seb de Laleu and Eric on keyboards – with each special guest singing one of the hits from the period.
Here is a small compilation of some of the acts from Tuesday that I filmed with my new Huawei telephone, and which I think I will never use again unless I can improve the sound and image!:
But it is not ONLY the “house band” that puts on the show, as the band is often joined by special guest musicians, and sometimes the entire stage is full of all of the performers of the evening at once, or occasionally someone will take over keyboards or guitar or go solo. In any case, I felt incredibly honoured to be part of this, and saw that for the musicians, everything is also done behind the scenes to prepare the best possible outcome: A day of rehearsals precedes the event, and then a soundcheck the night of the event is followed by a meal at Le Reservoir before the show starts.
An impeccable organization, and a huge opportunity for so many of us who do not often perform on this kind of stage in what seems to be invariably a packed house of diners and drinkers and dancers for each show. To say nothing of the mix between Eric’s musician friends and major stars of the French pop music world. The whole is a deliciously slick production for the paying spectators – dinner is optional, but great – as well as for the performers.
Last Tuesday they included Lio, who has had several hits in her long career going back to 1979; and Laura Mayne, whose duet “Native,” also had hits, among her other many successes, including doing the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Walt Disney film. On Tuesday, Lio showed why she rose to the top of her show business profession when she fractured her ankle after the rehearsal on Monday, but showed up on crutches Tuesday night to perform in the show anyway. A real trooper, as they say.
For myself, finding there were none of the songs available that I sometimes do from 1969 – “Something” (done by Dom Hutton) and “Space Oddity,” (done by Emmanuel Tellier) – I decided to learn “Lay lady lady,” as I have always fooled around with what I imagined the chords of the song to be, without ever learning it. In the end, I was up as the third act of the night, and did it solo, with my Gibson J-200, the same model that Dylan holds on his album cover.
It was a fabulous feeling to play in front of this packed house of what felt like between 200 and 400 people, and I was thankful to be so early on the bill so that I could enjoy the rest of the night without pressure listening to all the other artists. Incidentally, I was not the only journalist-cum-musician playing there, as there was also the American journalist Mark Lee Hunter, and the aforementioned Emmanuel Tellier.
PARIS – I had some more really bad news for Paris open mics and jam sessions the other day when I learned that the fabulous Cave Café jam is no longer happening due, it seems, to another move by Paris police to enforce certain regulations. I don’t know exactly which regulations these are, but there have been several articles in the French press talking all about the endless closing down of live music joints in Paris due to the police enforcing sound regulations, safety regulations, and other regulations that are designed to destroy the musical culture and nightlife of an increasingly gentrifying city. It was so depressing to hear that one of my latest favourite places for a jam was no longer in action. I hope it starts up again soon. But immediately follow that news came an invitation for me to do an opening set for a young Paris rock band at a place that I know very well, but have not been to in years. And going last night to play, I was not just relieved, but absolutely ecstatic to find that this bar/venue, Le Truskel, is not just alive and kicking, but it is almost exactly the same as it was when I first played there 10 years ago!
Le Truskel is the place where Earle Holmes’s open mic moved to after it started at the Shebeen and then went briefly to the Lizard Lounge. So it was that in exactly this same period of time a decade ago I began playing every Monday night at the fabulous open mic Earle ran at the Truskel, until he basically quit the open mic business (except for a brief period when he got me to host a Sunday afternoon open mic at the Mecano Bar in Oberkampf, where he was working at the time).
There is a magic at the Truskel, with its fabulous stage space, DJ area, dance floor/audience space, horseshoe-shaped bar and now also for many years, the incredible labyrinthine basement room. That room, smokers will delight in, has now been fitted with the necessary apparatus to make it a smoking room. Last night I just loved that while the gig was going on upstairs, downstairs there was a group of 25 or so soccer fans watching a local match and going crazy with chants and whatever else they go crazy with, and nothing upstairs was being affected by this mayhem.
The bar has a big following of regulars, mostly people in their twenties, but it also has plenty of older regular clients, and a long, long tradition of nurturing young bands. The band that invited me to open for them last night was called Britches, and it is an international mix of performers, the lead singer of which – Nadeem Hakemi – is a Canadian from British Columbia, with Afghan heritage.
I felt very much at home onstage doing just an acoustic set with my Gibson an no accompaniment. It really, truly, felt as if time had stopped from the 10 intervening years and that I was there again on stage at another open mic run by Earle. Well, ok, it was not utterly bursting at the seams with all the regulars that had shown up week after week for those insane open mics, but the Truskel had not changed one single bit. And that is hugely great news for the Paris live music scene. Especially for the young up-and-coming groups like Britches.
In fact, Le Truskel is not just great for young up-and-coming bands: It has hosted such established acts as Pete Doherty, Baxter Dury, Metronomy and incarnations of bands of Johnny Borrell of Razorlight fame…. In fact, it was also a funny, fitting thing that Borrell and Razorlight are performing at the Bataclan tonight.
Back in 1969
By the way, it was also a great opportunity for me to have a chance to try out my “Lay, Lady Lay,” cover of the Dylan song for the first time in public in preparation for the fabulous gig I will take part in on 19 February at that other famous music venue in Paris, Le Reservoir. That is a show called “Back in 1969,” which will, as its name indicates, celebrate the music of 1969 – ie, 50 years ago – with a diverse collection of very interesting musicians, including the French/Portuguese star, Lio, and Laura Mayne, who was part of the duo called “Native.” There will also be my faithful sax player friend and sometime accompanist, Stephen Cat Saxo – so I’m hoping to feel as at home at Le Reservoir as I did last night at Le Truskel!
P.S. Oh, yes, of course, I had to do my Mad World cover! Thanks to Ornella for filming – and also starring in one of these videos…I wonder which one….
PARIS – I grew up with jazz. My father was an aficionado who not only built his own hi-fi equipment and had a sizeable collection of 78s and 33s of jazz from the beginning of time, but he also made sure to take me to concerts to see some of the masters. So it was that I saw Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Keith Jarrett, and I heard play and then met at the age of seven, Gene Krupa, the great jazz drummer, in a small club in downtown Toronto in the mid-1960s. The aural wallpaper of my childhood included voices like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. So it was that my jazz sensibilities, whether good or not, were accustomed to hearing the highest quality. Perhaps it was for this that I have never much cared for listening to amateur jazz singers, and I go extremely rarely to jazz jams. I just mention all of this as background to saying that I was bowled over last week attending a concert at the Cercle Suédois in Paris and hearing the astounding voice of Sharón Clark.
It was all about her phrasing, her control, her range, her nuances. It was all about authenticity. About hearing so many of the songs she sang – lots of Sarah Vaughan, as she is a specialist on that one – in a way that sounded both familiar and new.
So who the hell is Sharón Clark, and what was she doing at the Cercle Suédois of Paris? And what brought ME there?!?!
It turns out that Sharón, who is from Washington D.C., is on a tour of Europe – and Taiwan!! – accompanied by a fabulous, versatile young pianist named Mattias Nilsson, who is Swedish. He is the boyfriend of an acquaintance of mine, and I was told he’d be doing this gig in Paris, maybe I’d like to go.
I really did not expect much of anything – Mattias, Sharón OR the Cercle Suédois. It turned out to be discoveries in every area, and proved once again how if you just get off your butt and check something out – outside of your regular stomping grounds – then you might find something really revitalising.
First back to Sharón. Her story is fabulous. Although she has sung all her life, starting out in church, as has often happened with American jazz and gospel singers (and she sings some gospel too), she only really emerged in recent years after she was fired from a full-time job – that she had as the mother of a now 15-year-old girl – and decided it was time to dive into the world of her passion and see if she could make a career out of her singing. This answers the question that some media have asked, “Where has she been hiding???”
No sooner did she fix her mind to it, than she scored a tour in Russia, and she has now made many contacts in Europe, with, in this case, Mattias Nilsson working hard with her – last week selling out the famous Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen. And to quote her web site bio, “Ms. Clark appears regularly in DC at Blues Alley and Loews Madison Hotel. A featured soloist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, and the Baltimore Symphony, Clark has headlined the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, the Cape May Jazz Festival and the Savannah Music Festival. Both the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and The Ludacris Foundation chose Ms. Clark to perform for their separate tributes to Quincy Jones.
As to Nilsson, I am no more aware of his age than I am of Clark’s, but he looks around 35 and has already had a 15-year long career as a pianist, playing all around the world, and from jazz to classical and everything in between, including Swedish folk music. In fact, while it has taken me a while to write about this Cercle Suédois evening, that also gave me time to listen to his CD, “Dreams of Belonging.”
As I told him myself in a message after listening to it, it’s real mix of different styles, even some touches of Satie sound, jazz, everything. Moments Keith Jarrett, Scott Joplin, hints of all this, but then the main thrust which is his Swedish sound.
At the Cercle Suédois, the two were accompanied by a French bassist they had never played with before, but he added a fabulous layer of sound behind the piano and Clark’s voice. It was a wonderful relaxed evening in this place I had never even known existed, but which has been in Paris in the same building since the 1930s, and prior to that, in another place since it was founded in the 1890s!
The current place is in one of the iconic looking buildings lining the Rue de Rivoli, near the Place de la Concorde – which is the last place I ever expected to find a jazz concert. It is above all a private club for Swedish people, but it offers these concerts every Wednesday, and even if you are not a member you can attend, paying 15 euros for the music. You can also order drinks, or even a meal. (Ornella and I had the salads, hers a salmon salad, mine the haddock salad.)
As you can see from the photo and my short video excerpt, that the place is a beautiful ornate classic mansion inside – but as I said, the atmosphere is relaxed, and it also gave me naturally a taste of Sweden, including being able to touch the desk that I was told was the one that Alfred Nobel used to sign the decree launching the Nobel Prizes.
Now that is class! Like Clark, Nilsson and the place itself.
PARIS – Just a quick note to note the notes noted at The Harp on Saturday night in honor of the return after a year to Paris of Romain Bretoneiche, also known as “All the Roads,” also known as the longtime MC of the open mic at the Galway Pub open mic in Paris. Romain and his girlfriend took a year out of the daily slog to live a little by travelling all the roads of the world in an around-the-world voyage. Romain and his sister at the harp
On Saturday, at The Harp pub which is located halfway between the Place Clichy and the Place Blanche, Romain and his friends and family organized a party celebrating his return. This is kind of a personal sort of blog item, but I feel that since I must have reported at least 50 times on my visits over the years to the Galway Pub open mic (which is happening tonight, by the way), it was appropriate to report Romain’s return…. Ludow at the Harp
Brad Spurgeon at The Harp (Photo by: Ludow Forget)
Why it was not celebrated at the Galway, I have no idea. But the evening of music and imbibing at The Harp was perfect. I had never been in this pub, and it lives up to its name. jamming at the harp
A great night, and lots of fun playing on the small stage at the back of the room, despite the general atmosphere of talk, welcoming Romain back in town. Let us see what this fine musician does next…. jake at the harp
COPENHAGEN – I arrived yesterday afternoon in Copenhagen for a weeklong experience of attending the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival – CPH:DOX – and found myself in a world I was made for. The first good omen was to discover that my hotel is planted right beside the winter circus building near the central station (which my previous post gives some sense to as a statement) as well as being within a few minutes’ walking distance from most of the festival venues. Then, the first two films and events I attended foreshadow a week of fabulous experiences. It’s hard to say which of the two films I liked better: The Mumford & Sonsin South Africa one, or the story of Mick Rock, the rock photographer! But let me backtrack….
I decided to come to the festival partly as an educational experience as I finish up my own documentary – Out of a Jam: the worldwide open mic adventure – since, as it turns out, CPH:DOX has a vast, fabulous section called “Sound & Vision,” which is all about music documentaries.
Aside from that, CPH:DOX is one of the top documentary film festivals in the world. Founded in 2003, it quickly became a major event in the documentary film industry, showing more than 200 films each year. This year, in addition to the Sound & Vision part of the festival, there are some very interesting filmmakers and films that are being presented, showcased and premiered. And it is not just films, of course, but panels, workshops, seminars, and happenings. There are many personalities present from within or outside the documentary film industry world, like even Bernard-Henri Levy, the French writer and philosopher, here to talk about his film The Battle of Mosul, which is making its world premiere at the festival. There is Kirsten Johnson, the camerawoman who is here to talk and present her film, Cameraperson.
Mumford and Sons
And there are bands, bands, bands, and music films, music films, music films. So it was that I saw the fabulously interesting film called, Mumford & Sons: We Wrote This Yesterday, that documents a tour in South Africa by the band Mumford & Sons. But what makes the film most interesting, and gives it its title, is the middle section, where they write and record an album in two days in Johannesburg with some African musicians, in a freaky weird looking, claustrophobic recording and practice studio. It is full of insight into the creative process.
I found it interesting how the film had very few actual musical performance of the band, as it consisted mostly of voiceovers of the musicians seen in action creating their music, or touring or living life on tour. I had expected it to be a concert film. But it is anything but. I suspect that the point of that was that the producers, director – it was directed by Sam Wrench – figure that most of the people who will want to see the film already know Mumford & Sons music, or can play the albums. So the film serves a different purpose. And, by the way, the absolutely breathtaking views of some of the cities – Cape Town comes to mind – also make the film an excellent introduction to a visual idea of what South Africa can be, for people who have no idea….
And then there was…Mick Rock and the evening of rock photos, music legends, another rock photographer and a Danish band
The beauty of this festival is that you can run from one cinema to another within a few minutes – practically. Having said that, my Samsung Galaxy has been on zero battery (thanks to having to use GPS all the time) almost since I arrived in Kierkegaard’s city, and I have been in a state of existential madness trying to find places to charge between my various moments of this gruelling, grinding schedule on Day 1….
But, with the Mumford & Sons film being a theoretical 6-minute walk away from the venue of the next place I had on my schedule, I was nevertheless delighted to be able to race through the brisk air – I went from summer in Paris to winter in Copenhagen – over to the Bremen Teater to have three-part night: A talk by a Danish rock music photographer followed by a film by the No. 1 rock music photographer, followed by a performance by a Danish rock band.
To focus on the film Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock: Mick Rock was no doubt rock music’s most famous photographer. If you think of the iconic images of David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, and many more, then you will have to turn your attention toward Mick Rock to find out how they were made. Rock (whose real name is Rock, and clearly works well in the title of the film) kind of fell into the photography game, after a classic British education that culminated in attending Cambridge University. Then all the rest of his life went entirely haywire.
This film, SHOT! works on so many different levels. It is a joy to watch to see the various rare, intimate moments of many of the subjects – and they go from Bowie and those others mentioned above all the way up to Father John Misty – but also to the engaging contact with the “narrator” who is Rock himself. His narration of his own dissolute life in both the sense of his understanding his life, and the way he looks from the outside, may not be entirely something that the spectator agrees with – although he himself says that at the worst moment of his life he felt a complete failure. It is engaging because we have an educated man observing the world of rock & roll of the last nearly 50 years with that intelligent and cultivated mind. But at the same time, he shows himself to be a “victim” of the period – the excessive drug use, not sleeping for seven days once, excess again….
And the film combines both directorial devices, a kind of fictional story-telling as it tries to recreated and use as the pivotal moment of Rock’s life his three heart attacks and quadruple bypass surgery in 1996 while only in his early 40s along with some exceptional recordings that Rock apparently made on cassette tapes of conversations he had in the 1970s with his friends David Bowie and Lou Reed.
It proved also to be exceptionally interesting and almost troubling, to have had before the film started the talk given by the Danish rock music photographer Søren Solkær – who has photographed people like Damon Albarn, Amy Winehouse, Bjork amongst many others, (i.e., the Arctic Monkeys from their beginnings) – but who seemed to want to kill his predecessor in the classic way of the mentors’ pupil needing to come into his own…. In his talk beforehand, he talks about when he met Mick Rock, in a somewhat disdainful description: He said Rock went about yelling that his subject was about to be photographed by the great, legendary Mick Rock, etc. And he described how comic it appeared to see Rock doing various Yoga exercises before a shoot – a ritual later confirmed in the film itself.
In any case, it was a fine talk – all in English! – and made for a good critical backdrop before the film so that we are not, as an audience, too sucked into the legend that Rock himself wishes to portray in the film. Shiny Darkly at CPH:DOX
After the film I wandered up into the room outside the auditorium, the entrance bar to the cinema – a grand old cinema complex, by the way – to listen to some of the music of the Danish band – a band that Soren has photographed – called Shiny Darkly. I did some videos of that with my Zoom, as my telephone as I previously mentioned, was without battery most of the afternoon and evening, and so I could not record with my new Osmo, which I really wanted to do, since it depends on the use of the Samsung for both the vision and software.
In any case, speaking of “vision,” I think this festival is going to be full of some fabulous days ahead, which I will try to document daily on this blog….
PARIS – It is only now after a trip to Milan and back in Paris that I have finally had the time to sit at the blog again and dream about the past…without any jealousy, but many warm memories. I’m talking about yet another night at the Joy bar jam that I have not been able to note; about a fabulous visit to an annual variety show in a very neat theater; and about actually taking part a couple of nights later in another such annual show in a bigger theater and event space. All of which has continued to allow me to dismantle, bit by bit, my feeling that Milan is as boring a city as its mostly boring outer appearance of the streets and cityscape would have us believe.
There IS a mountain of “underground” activities in Milan, you just have to know where to look for them. And how strange and in some ways ironic can it be that it is in this city that I used to classify as “boring” that I would find myself performing for the first time since my early 20s in the area of my life in which I started: In the circus arts!
Yes, it may have been the last of these events, but it stands out first in my mind not just for its proximity in my memory, but especially because I got to dress up as a clown and clown around with a fabulous little troupe of clowns and actors, to ride a unicycle through the event, and even do a little bit of juggling. And, now that I think of it, I managed at one point to gate-crash a musicians’ group and take their acoustic guitar and perform a song – along with them singing along with me.
Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro
I’m referring to the annual “Irreality Show,” which took place at the fabulous associative theater and event space known as, Arci Ohibo. I was invited to join the troupe of actors and clowns of the TAC Teatro – which I have written about before on this blog – by Ornella Bonventre to clown around during this fabulous event. Naturally, having not done such a thing since my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little bit worried. A little bit reticent. A little depressed at the prospect of looking lack a fool – in the bad sense. Especially next to the fabulous talent of the TAC Teatro troupe.
But I decided that part of my new life approach over the last decade with its philosophy to do “everything” (except destructive things), I really ought to give this a try and hope that I could have a George Plimpton moment again, of the kind that I had the first time I dared go on stage with a band at the Jazz-Si open mic in Barcelona of 2009. And man, was I right to try.
more of the TAC Teatro clowns
It only took entering into the Ohibo space to see that I loved it immediately and would feel at home. The Irreality show consists of multiple little shows and events spread throughout the space, and performing at the same time. Spectators pay 5 euros and get to walk around all night from room to room, stage to stage, space to space, and take in the various acts and activities. The TAC clown troupe were just about the only ones who had the luxury of being itinerant within the space, an free to roam all over the place. What better way to see everything and take part than to be part of that roaming troupe.
Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show
So it was that I could see it all, and take part in what I wanted, riding my unicycle, clowning, juggling and playing music while also remaining a spectator of the amazing collection of acts: An Irish harp player, a mermaid, three or four actors and actresses doing one-person shows, a band of traditional musicians, a folk music trio, a body painter, a marionette act, a cross-dresser, a musician playing a saw, painters, photographers, and performance artists like the depressed man who sat in the same spot all night looking depressed, or the other itinerant one, the Andy Warhol with his head in a picture frame.
There may have been other acts, but the point is, this strange evening of drinking, socialising, and watching the acts through the very hip and cool, sprawling Ohibo, did as I say, renew my faith in the coolness of Milan – once you find it. And while I felt somewhat rusty and ever so inhibited at times as a clown, I also felt amazingly liberated in returning to my own personal roots for an evening. I’m hoping to do much more of it in future, too….
And then there was the skit show at the Scighera Teatro
A few days before that, I found myself the envious spectator at the other space I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Scighera Teatro, where the stage and space was given over to an annual kind of clowning competition show. This is a fabulous space with a bar in the front part of the building, and the stage in a vast room off the back, which includes the performers’ dressing room/off-stage in a kind of bird’s nest above and next to the stage.
The show consisted of several clowning skits, a Mexican trapeze artist, musicians and a storyteller. And it was entertaining almost start to finish. My two favorite acts were, first, the pizza dough chefs with their battle with the dough – this was so Italian and yet so universal, it was crazy. It could be understood in every country in the world, since I think every country has its pizza chefs! And yet here we were in Italy.
And the other act I loved was the incredibly skilled, mind-boggling one of the man who threw and caught paper airplanes in a kind of paper airplane ballet. Hidden behind the dance was a skill of a kind I could not even imagine existed. Unfortunately I had problems with my camera throughout, and particularly during this act – but I did manage to get a little bit of video of the paper airplane guy, as well as the pizza chefs. So check out the videos.
And then finally back to the Joy Bar jam…and then a return to Ligera….
Finally, I’m a little late on getting it up on the blog, but I’ve got a video or two or three of the latest Joy Bar open mic/open jam that I attended. In one of the videos I show the atmosphere as you approach the bar, with the music blaring inside, and the outside, dull, dead, depressing Milan environment from which springs this…joy….
And now suddenly, I remember there was another night of a fabulous, interesting discovery. This was at the great Spazio Ligera, which I have also written about several times on this blog. I was attracted this time to go to a concert in the large and cozy vaulted cellar room with its magnificent stage and regular music concerts, thanks to the appearance of an interesting story in the form of Julith Ryan, of Australia. This is an Australian musician who by complete freak happenstance ended up recording a CD with a bunch of Italian musicians in Italy, after a career in local Melbourne bands.
Julith was on a mini tour of Italy with the release of the album. When I heard the recordings on youtube and soundcloud, I was very intrigued to see her live. I didn’t put it all together until I did see her at Ligera, but that is when the parallel finally came to me: There’s something of the Marianne Faithful to Julith.
But it was the open act soloist on acoustic guitar and vocals who really blew my mind: That was the intriguingly named Jennifer V Blossom. A very powerful mix of strong rock vocals and nifty rhythmic guitar with a mesmerising delivery. And the sudden, surprising rendition of Edith Piaf’s song about regretting nothing. I sure did not regret this discovery….
PARIS – It was 1973, in Ottawa, and I had recently discovered Jimi Hendrix and was looking for another guitarist of equal genius. Perhaps it had to do with Hendrix being dead, perhaps it was because Hendrix was so good that I could not accept that one man alone have that level of talent. In any case, it was through a neighbour who was a little older than me, who passed on a few records of potential Hendrixes, that I found another guitar genius of a completely different kind. Among those records were Santana, which I liked but did not fall in love with, and this other guitarist with his album of the amazingly strange, almost psychedelic cover; this was no Hendrix, but in his own way, with something stricter, more ordered, and yet chaotically, bizarrely ordered, I discovered John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the album “Birds of Fire.”
Having been raised with jazz – from my father’s vast record collection – and having actually attended concerts by bands called The Duke Ellington Orchestra, or The Count Basie Orchestra, the idea of an “orchestra” that had nothing to do with symphonies was not foreign to me, despite my chest-length hair and hippie sensibilities. In fact, the clearly Eastern sound to the name of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was as intriguing as Hendrix’s hallucinogenic covers.
Then, as soon as I heard the first notes of the first piece – “Birds of Fire” – I knew I would go right out and buy that album. It was probably the only one of those that my friend lent me that I did buy. The Santana was far too soft for me, but while John McLaughlin was not at all like Jimi Hendrix, and could never “replace” the reality – or rather, irreality – that Hendrix offered me, this was clearly one of the coolest guitarists I had ever heard. His style was unmistakably his. The frenetic, manic, super fast playing was a wonder to listen to, but the songs also made up a world of their own to which I felt like some kind of initiate allowed to step in to a world that sounded to me like my own generation’s Bach. John McLaughlin at New Morning fourth
In a time, now, when all of the heroes of my generation – and in fact, the heroes of all the popular music of the second half of the 20th century – are dying what seems like almost at a daily rate over the last couple of years, that a hero like John McLaughlin, is not just still alive, but playing as if he was still 30, at the age of 75, is not just an incredible gift, it is a wonder and an inspiration. It took me 44 years before I ever got to see McLaughlin in concert, but seeing him Wednesday night in Paris in the intimate New Morning venue, was like being invited into one of the local practice studios neighbouring this legendary music venue, and hearing and seeing this hero of my youth. John McLaughlin at New Morning seventh
And it was fitting that almost immediately, McLaughlin and his latest band, the 4th Dimension, played “Miles Beyond,” from that very album, “Birds of Fire.” Unlike at so many concerts by heroes of the past, though, I found myself equally mesmerised and carried away by songs that I did not even know of, some of them from the most recent recordings of this amazing guitarist. McLaughlin is a treasure, and if you get a chance to go and see him on his upcoming tour in Europe, or his later tour this year in the U.S., which will be his first there in something like a decade or so, just don’t miss it. And take music lovers from the current generation, since McLaughlin is not just a jazzman, he is a rocker. drummer scat stuff with John Mclaughlin at new morning eighth
He may have come of age with his jazz rock fusion, but the fabulous thing about McLaughlin is that anyone who studies much about the history of rock music will find that he came out of the same England that produced so many of the rock stars of the 60s, playing at one point with Alexis Koerner’s band, actually giving lessons to Jimmy Page at one point, and performing as a session musician for a vast swathe of other musicians- John McLaughlin at the New Morning first
And then, of course, he played with Miles Davis and others, including segues into projects like his Band of Doom with Jaco Pastorius.
And then there was John McLaughlin’s Incredible 4th Dimension band
Not only is it worth seeing and hearing him now because he is in more than full control of his instrument at age 75, and still looking like a supercool dude from the rock generation rather than any kind of sit-down old fart bluesman – he stood up for the whole show while playing, and took just one minute break on a stool to take a drink, in a more than 2 hour show – but he also has accompanying him three outstanding musicians who all look like they are enjoying themselves as much as McLaughlin is. John McLaughlin at the New Morning third
On bass was the fabulous Étienne M’Bappé, originally from Cameroon, who has a bass playing style equally aggressive as McLaughlin’s inimitable guitar playing. M’Bappé is the first bass player I have seen play with gloves, by the way. But his playing is so percussive that I’m not surprised he wants to protect those fingers – I just can’t figure out how he does it! John McLaughlin at the New Morning again
On drums was Ranjit Barot, and Indian drummer who grew up in the tradition of Indian classical music, but has vast CV playing in numerous styles, and also has scored films, composed, arranges, everything. And he sings fabulously well too, and loved his sort of scat stuff. John McLaughlin at the New Morning second
And on keyboards, and occasionally also on drums, was the incredible Gary Husband, who to my ears sounded equally as good on drums as on keyboards. Husband has played with Mike Stern, Jack Bruce, Robin Trower, Billy Cobham, Spectrum 40, Level 42, Andy Summers and Quincey Jones, among many others.
Some of the most touching moments of the evening were his pieces that Mclaughlin wrote for moments that clearly filled him with great emotion, like the song he wrote during the bombing of Gaza, or the song for his friend Paco de Lucia. The duelling drum moments between Husband and Barot were also a hugely entertaining bit that gave spectators a little of everything through the night in the intimate room for a band that could fill Paris’s biggest theatres.
Birds of Fire
What was really most inspiring about this show, aside from just listening to great music, was to think of a man of 75 playing as if he was 30, no impediments from age. He spoke in French most of the evening, too, by the way, as he lives in Monaco since the late 80s, and he said at one point that he had a broken collarbone on the mend. Having had my collarbone break on three different occasions as a slightly perturbed child, I know just how painful that is. And for a guitarist of 75 to stand up and move around and play with his guitar strapped over his shoulder with an injury like that, there’s nothing to say but that McLaughlin, in addition to everything else, is a real trouper.
MILAN – I don’t know if there is some kind of interesting statistical reason behind this, but two of the most interesting professional musicians that I have met in all of my world travels going to open mics – well, and Grand Prix races – have come through taking the same flight as those exceptional musicians. That said, in each case the meeting was due to me carrying my guitar on my back onto the flight, and that was the connection point that led to conversation. The first meeting was that of Pierre Bensusan, the virtuoso French guitarist – whom I have written about on this blog – and funny enough, I met Bensusan in the airport in Milan as we were about to board the same flight to Paris. The other meeting was with the remarkable Milan-based jazz pianist, Paolo Alderighi. But Paolo and I met not in Milan, but oddly enough, on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris. I have maintained relations with each of these musicians over the years, so when I found out that Paolo was performing in a concert in Milan last night, I jumped at the opportunity of attending. And it was all the more special because I knew it would be with his wife, Stephanie Trick, with whom he performs around the world in four-handed piano. What I did not know until I was seated in the concert hall room of the Humaniter Foundation, was that Paolo had also invited for his first public performance his father, Giorgio, who played banjo and harmonica on several numbers…. Trick and Alderighi doing the St. Blues (not in Milan!)
So it was a tremendous family affair at the Humaniter, in this grand hall with its fresco ceilings of religious something or other, and what looked like a crowd of at least 300 spectators. I had seen and heard Paolo and Stephanie’s music in both YouTube videos, and on one of their CDs. But seeing and hearing them perform in public was – like attending a Pierre Bensusan concert – a whole other affair. Stephanie is from the United States, originally from San Francisco, but not a longtime resident of St. Louis, which is one of the cultural homes of the kind of music of which she is a world recognized specialist: stride piano. Paolo Alderighi and his father Giorgio at the Humaniter in Milan
As it turns out, Paolo is also a specialist in stride piano, and so it was perhaps natural – even though the two of them had their own successful careers as soloists – that together Paolo and Stephanie should meet on the level playing field of the four-handed piano. And boy, do they ever meet there. As a husband and wife team, I cannot imagine there have been many other similar acts. And what is absolutely fabulous is not JUST the virtuoso piano playing, but also the fun that they seem to have playing the music. They dart around the piano bench exchanging positions, throwing in different parts to each performance, being playful, appreciative, and expressing their profound delight in the “recreation” with the audience in a way that just cheers the heart of the audience. Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick at the Humaniter in Milan
And that’s to say nothing of the broad cross-section of music, from Gershwin and Cole Porter to The Beatles – with a truly remarkable rendition of “Penny Lane” that enters into a zone close to modern jazz at some point near the end – the music is truly emotional and interesting throughout. The numbers they performed with Paolo’s father, Giorgio, were emotionally touching not only because we knew that it was a family affair, but especially due to his father’s brilliant, melodious and emotional harmonica playing, and his fun banjo strumming. Giorgio was never a professional musician, but if you were in the audience last night you would not have known that – I was wondering if I had had memories of being told that his father played harmonica in sumphony orchestras, film soundtracks, or whatever. But no.
But research shows me that he has lots of experience performing in bands, lots of jazz, and it certainly seemed also that Paolo’s father is something of an expert on American popular music of all kinds. So now I see where at least part of Paolo’s inspiration came from. In any case, the four-handed team of Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi is an unforgettable one, and in music terms, a perfect marriage. No wonder they tour the world – they’re playing in Berne, Switzerland tonight, by the way, if you happen to be there and still have the time to find them….
My apologies for the poor quality of the video image of my Zoom, and I have also discovered that half of the recordings I made have a strange percussive sound that seems to be someone banging on the Zoom. I can only imagine that while I was filming, I was still tapping my foot and sending the beat through my body into the hand on the Zoom. In any case, it is a missed opportunity for some great footage on the new Osmo camera, but that would have been much less subtle than with the Zoom, especially as I sat within the first three rows of the room…. I’m adding another video, that I did not take, to this page to give a better idea of the performance without the bad Zoom image quality and the crackle of the device!