COPENHAGEN – I came to Copenhagen for a film festival, because the film festival has a very strong music category to it called Sound & Vision. But I also, naturally, wanted to piss on another territory in my worldwide open mic adventure. But I was very worried I would not find any open mics in Copenhagen, after many internet searches seemed not to entirely guarantee anything. I should have realized that any city that can have as strong and cool of a music side to it film festival is also going to have a strong musical culture, and open mics. Not only did I attend the most amazing open mic Sunday night – between films (!) – but I have now heard that the city is apparently swarming with open mics and jams.
As he said, the open mic is also of a style that follows the name of the venue: People come to listen. You can hear a beer placed on a table during any particular act, so quiet and attentive are the listeners. Also as Martin said, this is a listening room with a bar in it, rather than the usual open mic venue that is a bar with a listening angle to it. Located in a cool, loft-like building in a kind of community center not too far behind the main train station, the ambience of the room itself is fantastic. Bjorn feature act
The stage is beautifully lit, the sound system is excellent, and there are a couple of videographers on either side of the stage there to immortalize every performance.
I was also absolutely delighted to hear several musicians playing songs they had written in Danish. Yes, it may have an Englishman running it, and there may be a lot of musicians singing in English, but this is a Danish open mic all right. And one of the best song writers of the night was the feature act, who is Danish, but whose songs – the three I heard before I had to go to the next film – are written in more than impeccable English. Fifth at CPH Listening Room open mic
That was Bjørn Stig Møller, but there were other interesting writers and as I say, the Danish side made this like a gold mine for me on my international open mic travels. And I am looking forward to finding and playing in other places on this trip. Oh, my only criticism? We only got to play two songs each, and I was just starting to feel better and better up on that stage, and would have loved to stay all night! First at CPH Listening Room
It’s no surprise that there is also a Copenhagen Songwriters’ Festival that takes place in the CPH Listening Room and a neighbouring building. Fourth at CPH Listening Room
Oh, by the way, I decided to try out my Osmo camera again, and did a walk around of the venue so readers can see it all. I also decided to test for the first time my new mic method of the Osmo. After finding that my old Sony voice mic was not very good for recording music with the Osmo, I set out to find a better method before coming to Copenhagen. In the end, I decided to use a Zoom recording device as a mic, and feed it directly into the Osmo. I was too uncomfortable with the idea of recording the acts at the CPH Listening Room with my bulky and impressive looking Osmo, but the small test I did with the Zoom as mic is more than promising. Compare the sound on the brief test to the sound of the Osmo’s built-in mic during my walk around. The difference it mind boggling. Second at CPH Listening Room
COPENHAGEN – My second day at CPH:DOX started off just great: Wet eyes throughout the documentary “Joe Cocker : Mad Dog With Soul” by John Edginton. And did it help that Mr. Edginton was in the audience and spoke to us before and after the film? Well, yes, actually it did: I learned what might seem very obvious, but that is that with a small budget, and huge constraints on the copyrighted clips of other people, without any interviews by the director of his subject, it is still possible with a strong enough story and subject matter to create a film that fills our eyes with tears for 90 minutes.
A few times during the film – this was its international premiere – I made the comparison to “Amy” by Asif Kapadia, since he too used clips made by other people and never interviewed Amy Winehouse. But Amy was done, according to Edginton (who also directed “Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here” and “Genesis: Together and Apart”), with a much bigger budget. So it was possible for Kapadia to procure all of the material he needed, or that was available. I assume – he might say differently. Whereas Edginton explained that with Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul there were many interviews he could not do, many clips he could not buy, that he would have liked to have. And one that he DID have – a hugely touching moment between Ray Charles and Cocker – that he said would have cost half the budget of the whole film had he said “yes” to the first asking price!
Anyway, let’s forget those negatives: This film is a fairly traditionally assembled documentary about Cocker, with interviews with his brother, former early band members, managers and his wife Pam. The very few times we actually do see Cocker talking, are enough, though, to understand the many, many times we hear from other people – including Glyn Johns – about what a sweet, kind and gentle man Cocker was. Oh, he also had a very nasty streak, ending friendships or business relationships – out of the blue – and never speaking to the people again. Joe Cocker in Woodstock
But in some ways, I am reminded of Amy Winehouse, another drug addict and doomed personality, who is washed along through life by the forces outside of them – other people – without the strength to stand up for themselves. And you just want to reach out and help them. And in both cases, they nevertheless had their exceptional careers thanks entirely to the ethereal talent they possessed. Cocker, on the other hand, did find a kind of happiness and equilibrium that Amy never did.
And it is precisely that talent, and that personality of Cocker that made this film hold me from the beginning to the end, and kept those tears in my eyes. From a horrendous-looking neighborhood of row houses in Sheffield where he was a plump little gas-fitter – like a plumber but for fitting up gas – to an icon of the 1960s singing “A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock” and through to his huge hit songs of the 1980s while in his 40s, rising up from addiction and failure and breakdowns time and again, it was just such a touching story. And all the more so, no doubt, in that I could not really see Edginton’s craft at work – he was not, as far as I could tell, employing techniques to grab the viewer’s emotion. He didn’t need to. Cocker did all that.
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….
What can I say? The last night in Baku, Azerbaijan I had been invited to play again at Pancho’s Mexican joint by the house band, the previous night. I was feeling wickedly tired – sleeping in the fleabag hotel was a bit of a trial the whole trip – and I thought I would probably just have a quiet meal and go back to the fleabag. But on the way to a meal I passed by Finnegan’s pub, popped my head in to see if the band played on a Sunday night, and who should I see sitting at a table but the whole band…that then greeted me with open arms, a beer and an invitation to play again!
I could not refuse such a warm hearted invitation from a fabulous band. And the crowd was a little thinner on Sunday night than on Saturday night, so I thought, this seems like a great way to pass the evening. and an acoustic one at Finnegan’s in Baku
And boy, was it ever. I played maybe seven or more songs, including a couple entirely “acoustic” with the vintage copy Telecaster. But if you look at the videos, you can see that the band was playing more for itself on Monday night, too, and NOT just to please the crowd. something pink in Baku
A fabulous night at Finnegan’s, and I hope I get back again next year – or even sooner, why not??? cool lead breaks in Baku
Oh, I should mention that my return flight to Paris was at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning, which entirely preluded sleep on Monday night, which meant that arriving back in Paris on Tuesday morning I had almost zero inclination to go and partake of the annual Fête de la Musique. I say “almost” because I did actually want to go out. But fatigue from deathly efforts to sleep on the flight and my afternoon nap and a few other things made me decide against it…. the lady gets fever in Baku
AUSTIN, Texas – It was a deadly combination of life and death in the streets of Austin last night, that brought the city – particularly 6th Street – back to death with a bursting forth of action in the deadzone that is this Texan city on Halloween night. The Halloween festival is always a big one, but with the added 100,000 or so Formula One fans taking to the street for the F1 Fan Festival for its first night, it was a celebration like none before.
I was half asleep by the time I arrived on 6th Street with a friend, and then I was immediately swept up into the riotous affair of the local population going crazy with Halloween costumes and filling the street from side to side – with only the central part cordoned off from the revellers, where the cops watched over the action.
Austin is particularly respectful of Halloween since there is a large Mexican population as well, with its deadly equivalent of the dastardly festival. The F1 Fan Fest runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the U.S. Grand Prix that is taking place in Austin this weekend. The festival has four stages for music running throughout the weekend, and there are also little entertainment fairground-type activities for those who attend. The concerts include Joan Jett, and a few other bands better known locally than around the world. But all in all it’s a fabulous line up and an amazing atmosphere.
I had been thinking about trying to find a place to play music, but I had been advised against it. Then I discovered that in fact, on the Austin360 stage there was a daylong live band karaoke yesterday, and it is happening today too. But I am too busy working my job to think about doing that.
In any case, I have never seen such a Halloween occasion, and some of the effort put into the costume defies belief. You’ve got to see them in the little video I assembled of footage I took last night. My favorite wa the man who played the role of a gorilla and of a captive human in a cage carried by the gorilla. Check that one out on the video, I put in a few freeze frames on it, as I had a very small window of opportunity to grab the image….
PARIS – Menilmontant is a funky cool quarter of Paris, and this weekend it celebrated a funky cool arts festival on the boulevard, with artists and artisans displaying their wares in the middle of the boulevard, and musicians playing on two different stages at either end. I was invited to play in the festival by a musician I met at the open mics, who calls himself She-Me, and who was organizing the talent on the stages.
I leapt at the opportunity of playing outside on this open-air, middle of Paris, middle of Menilmontant stage, and as it turned out, the day would be one of the sunniest and hottest of recent weeks, and probably the real end of summer too. In any case, it seemed like the sun had come and the clouds had parted in order to create the absolute perfect weather for a street festival in Paris. And that ensured a large number of people talking part, passing by, and generally giving an atmosphere of a country fair to the center of Paris.
I made discoveries amongst the artisans, the musicians and the local businesses all afternoon long. The festival is just winding down as I write these words, and it had started Friday evening. I was a little jealous when I saw the big stage, but once I got to performing on the smaller stage, I realized that I had perhaps got the better deal. It was much more intimate, the passersby could stop if they wanted to – without making the commitment of standing in front of the big stage, but just sort of stopping at the edge of the small stage and checking it out, and I had better eye contact with the audience.
The small stage was also set up in a spot where I could look off at the facing cafes and the place where the Métro exit sits, and feel really as if I was kind of floating around in Paris playing my music to all who cared to listen, and even those who did not. Helping me out on that was my friend Joe Cady, backing me up with fiddle and lead guitar, just as he has done in Paris open mics for several years now, and at the F1 FanZone concert that we did at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London in July. Joe’s fabulous accompaniment was just what I needed to feel completely at ease in providing the passersby with a full musical experience.
Of course, that was helped by the good sound system also, that ensured a crisp and clear sound to my vocals and some adequate mixing on the rest. The festival was organized by an association called ArtMachine, that has as a goal to help artists, artisans and musicians show off their creations.
Now, if only every quarter in Paris could come up with one of these. The free meal ticket providing food at a local North African restaurant was absolutely insanely good, as I found all the main dishes cost the price of the ticket of a measly 7 euros, and the food was amazing! My lamb chops and french fries beat just about any I’ve eaten recently in other French restaurants for twice the price. Menilmontant really feels like a village within the bigger Paris, and I would live there at the drop of an equally cheap apartment!
CHATEAU-THIERRY, France – Last weekend Pierre Bensusan held a fabulous two-day event outside his adopted home town of Chateau-Thierry, located about an hour’s drive east of Paris, where he has lived for the last 21 years. They called it the 1st Salon International de Lutherie, and it consisted of an exhibition of guitars, mandolins and violins built by luthiers from around Europe, all of whom are friends of Pierre. For his part, in addition to speaking to and meeting the public in the exhibition, Pierre put on a concert on Saturday night in the wonderful concert hall in the same building where the salon took place.
In addition to luthiers from around France and Germany (see my list of those present below), there was, of course, the presence of the Lowden Guitar company of Northern Ireland, showing off the latest prototype for the second Pierre Bensusan signature model guitar. Aaron Lowden, the son of George Lowden, who is the company founder, was there to talk about the guitar, which is a modern copy of the original 1978 Lowden that Pierre used for 25 years. It was made to honor the 40th anniversary of Bensusan’s career as a professional musician, which also happens to be the 40th anniversary for Lowden Guitars, by the way.
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If you have a problem hearing the podcast on Mixcloud, here is a connection to the same podcast but on the WordPress server:
I’m hoping to write more about this craft of lutherie in some future article somewhere, but my main goal for this post was to put up on my blog the wonderful interview that I had with Pierre during the salon, which I have recorded and dressed up a little – with sounds I recorded of Pierre playing from the concert the night before, and other surprises – in the form of a podcast.
The interview was a broad, wide-ranging talk about his life and music to mark that 40th anniversary of his career as a professional musician. He started out at age 16 at the American Center hootenanny in Paris, and today, at 56, he is roaming the world and earning honours and fans everywhere. He will be performing a monthlong, 50-date series of concerts in the United States starting next week, and is just finishing up a 21-date tour of France, his first here in 25 years.
I’m also hoping to make this podcast the first in a series that I intend to do throughout the year as I embark on my sixth worldwide musical adventure around the world, starting with Melbourne, Australia, next week. So I’m not going to write more about the concert or the festival of lutherie. Just listen to the podcast – Pierre was a fabulous interview subject!
Here, though, is a list of some of the luthiers who were present at the salon. I highly recommend you check out some of these instruments. It was a real dream to play some of them – and frustrating, too, if you happen to be a poor musician!:
There is a kind of fad amongst many musicians in France to say that they hate the Fête de la Musique, that night on the 21 June where music is allowed in the streets, bars and everywhere and anywhere else and goes on all night long, celebrating music (and the first day of summer, usually). It started in France in 1982, and it has spread to other countries, but I think there is probably no other country and city, especially, than Paris that celebrates this musical festival with as much fervor. But a lot of musicians like to say they are not going to play or celebrate the music, and they hate the festival. I can understand that in some ways, but my own attitude now is that I play music every day of the year – or if I don’t, I don’t feel good – and so why would I be so contrarian as to say the only day I’m not going to play is during the day that music has its official celebration?
Still, in recent years I have been much less enthusiastic about going out on the Fête de la Musique in Paris quite simply because it can be an absolute mad house in the streets of Paris, and even violent and loud and disagreeable. And if the metros run all night and are free, well, they’re also full of rowdy people pissed out of their minds and carrying a guitar on your back – as I always do – makes you stand out even more, oddly enough, than you usually do.
Anyway, all of this build up is in order to say that I ended up finding the most wonderful alternative to the madhouse of Paris during the Fête de la Musique after I was invited by the young and up-and-coming French singer songwriter Melody Says – with whom I had shared the bill last fall on a boat on the Seine – to play in the first part of her show at a bar in her native Levallois, just outside Paris. In fact, she had invited me without telling me where it was, and I immediately accepted, and then found out afterwards that it was a 23-minute walk from my home. That, of course, meant that I would perform during the Fête de la Musique without having to fight through the hell and noise of the Paris streets.
It also meant that the gig itself would take place in a nice, calm, cool neighborhood pub, where, as it turned out, there were lots of locals and lots of guests and fans of Melody Says. And no wonder: Melody’s music is fresh with nice melodies, lively with moving rhythms and captivating with her lovely vocals. There is one wonderful song, “I Wish I Was Born in 1952,” that I particularly like, and I think it’s one of her most popular ones. But I kept wanting to interrupt her act and say, “Melody, listen, I’m sorry to have to break the news, but if you had been born in 1952 you would be hitting 61 years old about now, and I’m not so sure your future would be looking quite the same….” But then, who am I to say? Maybe it will – if she keeps up the melodies.
She had some interesting musicians with her too, by the way, with on bass a former bassist for Le Spark, and on guitar her producer Kenny Paterson, who it turns out – although I did not realize it last night – was a legendary engineer and producer from Scotland who has worked with bands like Texas, and INXS and John Martyn, and who today recorded Melody’s EP (in London), and worked recently as Pete Doherty’s sound engineer on his gigs. (Melody Says has, by the way, also toured a little with Doherty recently.)
I myself had a completely new experience as a musician working on the Fête de la Musique. When Melody Says asked me to play, as I said, I immediately agreed to do so. The idea was I’d play with my band. But here’s what happened: It being the Fête de la Musique, and me not really having any kind of permanent band (I play with several other musicians occasionally), I discovered that every one of the five or six or more musicians that I have played with were already performing in gigs around Paris in their own regular bands! I almost got one in the end, but he had a very non-understanding employer who would not let him finish work early for his music passion, even on this international music festival day.
So it was that I had to perform solo and act as the warm-up man before the real treat of the evening – Melody Says. Fortunately there was a kind of neighborhood feel to the pub, which, by the way, is called, The Last Drop, and so I found that starting the evening’s music with just my guitar was actually a great way to do things. I did shift from my original desire to play mostly only my owns songs into a decision to play some of the crowd pleasers too, some of the songs, like “Father and Son,” that everyone knows or can sing along with. And as it turned out, both Melody and her bass player joined me for several songs by playing on the drum set behind me. So I chose some very moving, thrusting rhythm songs for those ones and that got the audience warmed up a bit, and it was great fun to play with them.
So all in all it was actually a fabulous evening, and we finished it off by going to Melody Says’ place and doing a little rooftop jamming within sight of the Eiffel Tower and with my Gibson J-200 facing of with Melody’s Epiphone EJ-200, which is the Gibson clone and a fabulous guitar of its own…. Could it have been a better celebration of music in Paris – or rather, Levallois – than that?
One thing leads to another and that is how we weave our lives together; I’d never have ended up at this interesting little festival in Mannheim had it not been for meeting and playing music with Tonio the day before. Tonio and his friends invited me to see their improv show at a theater on Friday night, and I got stuck in so much traffic leaving the race track that I missed the improv show … but found Tonio and his friends attending this very cool little festival in the same locale: It was a student-run festival that has been going for around a decade and is meant to fight against racism and neo-Nazis.
I found it very inspiring, and in fitting with most of the stuff on this blog, there was lots of music – in fact, most of the festival revolves around the music, an evening of four concerts by local up-and-coming rock bands. There were also tables full of merchandize and printed material, books and tracts against racism, T-shirts and other objects as well.
Brad Spurgeon interviews Antonia Hauth about the anti-racism, anti-neo-Nazi festival in Mannheim:
It was refreshing to find all these young people getting together to fight the scourge of hate and hate crimes. I decided to interview one of the organizers of the festival, Antonia Hauth, a young woman who has just passed the equivalent of her high school diploma, or A-Levels. I made it part of my series of podcasts that I have been doing with open mic and jam session organizers.
This may not have been an open stage, but I felt I might have been able to ask to play a song. Ultimately, however, I saw no real point in intruding. I was happy to attend and to make this felicitous discovery that I would never have known about had it not been for stopping Tonio in the street the day before because of his violin case!!!! But this was a real, true, interesting cultural experience. Listen to the interview and look at the videos to get the feel for it, and the intelligent response to hatred by a portion of today’s German youth. Or if you understand German, check out the organizing group’s web site about their activities against racism and neo-nazis in Germany.