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Sundance on a Bunker in Sicily with Compagnia Ordinesparso – or Physical Theater at 4:40 AM

August 15, 2022

Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily.  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba /

Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba /

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – There are few things I dislike more in life than getting out of bed for the day at 4:40 AM. Especially after going to bed at 1:40 AM (due to the birthday party of a 1-year-old). But the offer to join up with an Italian theater company to put on a ritual performance along with the rising of the sun above the Mediterranean Sea on the top of a World War II bunker overlooking some craggy cliffs at the Fossa Dello Stinco near Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily was just too great to resist. It was the same for Ornella Bonventre, and so it was that we joined Giovanni Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso at sunrise and integrated his troupe for a 40-minute or so piece of physical theater, with a live soundtrack of drums and baritone saxophone. And while I may still be “jet-lagged” from the experience a day later as I write these words, I feel blessed to have been able to take part.
Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso.  Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba

Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba

The whole thing did not happen just overnight, of course. (No pun intended.) Rather, Ornella, as the director of TAC Teatro, and a native of Castellammare del Golfo, had learned from her friend, a local filmmaker and photographer, Claudio Colomba, that Berretta was in town and doing a theater lab and a few performances. Ornella had also crossed paths with Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso a few times in the past, so last week we went to watch one of their street performances, in one of the main boulevards of Castellammare. That took place during the heat of the night, with a couple of actors on a balcony above the boulevard, and the others in the street below, and it was quite impressive to see and hear.

Preparing at the Apollo theater in Castellammare del Golfo with Giovanni Berretta

We spoke to Berretta afterwards, and he invited us to take part in this performance on the morning of the day leading to the midnight celebration of Ferragosto, the Assumption of Mary religious holiday. If we accepted, we would have to go to one day of the workshop, the day before, the write a score to integrate the performance. This we did with great pleasure on Saturday evening, and it was my first time on the small, but fabulous stage of the main local theater, the Apollo, which is located in the center of Castellammare.

Ferragosto Bunker Show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba /

Ferragosto Bunker Show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba /

There, much to my great fear of failure due to a horrendous tendonitis in my left arm, Giovanni simply ignored my plea that I was entirely incapable of any kind of physical stuff and would be better off just playing my guitar and singing. But with the help of my hugely gifted partner, Ornella Bonventre, taking the heavier load of responsibility for the movements – despite doctor’s orders against straining her recuperating knee injury – we managed, through Giovanni’s gentle and precise direction, to come up with a score and integrate the group.

The group was made up of actors part of Compagnia Ordinesparso, as well as a few local amateurs who joined in as a theater activity, upon invitation by the event, which has some support from the local mayor’s office. Giovanni provided both the direction, as well as being the anchor of the performance, reciting texts to the sound of the musicians’ soundtrack. It was very impressive hearing the baritone sax, played by Tommaso Miranda, and drums, played by Domenico Sabella, at dawn; and the sound reminded me of a cross between the mix of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as a duo, and some of the later work of Tom Waits!

another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba

another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba

There was a third major partner here that I have not mentioned yet, but they came in during the final stage, which was the performance itself at just after 6 AM. This was the group of about 50 hikers who were led by the local exploring association called, CAI Castellammare del Golfo. (The letters stand for: Club Alpino Italiano. They explore local mountains, caves, seashore, forests etc.) Ornella and I and TAC Teatro had put on a performance last year with and for this same hiking organization, but then it was to celebrate the setting sun! (Which is much more naturally to my taste, as a late riser.)

So it was that arising at 4:40 AM, we prepared ourselves and met the other actors and musicians at 5:15 close to the staging point, before heading on in several cars through the scrub vegetation at the seaside, and arrived at about 5:45 at the World War II bunker at the Fossa Dello Stinco. There the musicians set up the drums, took out the sax, warmed up; and so did the actors and Giovanni. We found our points of reference, spent some time figuring out how to mount the bunker – no easy thing, and in the end Giovanni himself lifted most of us up there – and we all warmed up too.

Ornella Bonventre on stage at the Apollo theater preparing for the show in Castellammare

We took our positions and waited until close to 6:15 or so – the sunrise was set for 6:20, according to my phone – the spectators began to arrive and placed themselves on the stones, rocks and vegetation around the performance area. And then began Giovanni’s recitations, the other actors’ movements, dance and contortions, and finally Ornella and I mounted the top of the bunker and did our part.

Giovanni Berretta

Giovanni Berretta

musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba /

musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba /

The patient and talented director Giovanni had instructed me that my movements were to be a kind of action that reacted to Ornella’s movements, and her movements were that of the wind. Standing atop the bunker with the real wind gently blowing all around me, with a camera equipped drone hovering above, and with Claudio moving about in his various positions filming and photographing, with the saxophone and drums beating, and the sun rising mostly over my left shoulder as I looked at the rising hills and cliffs around me, the whole thing was a little bit like a natural religious experience and I had entirely forgotten the tendonitis in my left arm and shoulder!

Only once it was finished did I realise that I knew several people in the audience both from last year’s event with TAC Teatro and from the organizers of the hike. It was a gentle and warm descent. (Although suddenly feared my shoulder pain as Giovanni had to lift me down the bunker back to hard earth!)

the sea and sun perspective of the show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba /

the sea and sun perspective of the show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba /

My only regret during the experience was my inability to really be seeing all the details of how Ornella’s spectacular dance, as well as that of the other actors, must have appeared to the audience. I was part of the show, but with Ornella as my solid underpinning guide, it was a shoe-in there too…. Oh, and I am hoping that I will be able to see what Claudio eventually does with the film of the event, and I hope I will be able to put up a link to that on the blog soon!

Happy Ferragosto!

Panoramic of the performance area upon arrival

Unloading the drums upon arrival to the bunker area

Winding down moments after the sunrise performance ended

Time Past and Time Present are Both Perhaps Present in Castellammarre del Golfo – from an Old Time Parade to Dolce & Gabbana

August 12, 2020

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – “That’s not Italy!” Such was the idea behind a message a Facebook friend wrote when six days ago I posted a brief dream moment that I captured in a video when Ornella and I found ourselves in the back streets of this Sicilian town, hearing loud Italian music coming from a window while church bells rang simultaneously. Not Italy, perhaps. But not Sicily? A few days later, we encountered a traditional parade through the marina area of the town, and Ornella told me that it was the kind of thing she had so many fond memories of in her childhood here. So, was that not Sicily?

I know what my Facebook friend meant: It’s a little like those American novels set in Paris in which the French are all about wearing beret hats and eating baguettes and they are “oh so quaint, oh so silly.” But sometimes the clichés and real life come together.
Castellammare del Golfo, Yesterday & Today

I took a lot of video footage of the parade in Castellammare del Golfo with my telephone camera and then we decided to make an edited video of the footage along with the reading of a poem of a local poet, now dead, named Castrenze Navarra. That was Ornella’s idea – to read the poem – after we had found a wine bar in the town that was not only named after the poet’s first published collection, Timpesti e Carmarii, but it was located in the groundfloor building area where the poet also had his photographic studio, as he was also a photographer.

There was an exhibit of his handwritten manuscripts and letters on the walls, and his old camera is still there, and the owner of the bar decided during the lockdown this year to publish a new edition of his collected poems called, Timpesti e Carmarii, which first appeared in print in 1938, when the poet was 46 years old.

The parade that I show in the video, by the way, was part of a huge celebration of an evening in the presence of the famous Italian fashion designers, Dolce & Gabbana, who were in the town to show the film about them called, “Devotion.” (Dolce was born outside nearby Palermo.) The film was made by Giuseppe Tornatore, who is a famous Italian director, who filmed, notably, “Nuoco Cinema Paradiso,” and as he also has had a long association with Ennio Morricone – who died recently – Morricone composed the music for the film.

Tornatore’s was a fabulous film, by the way, although it was also clearly designed as an advertisement for the fashion house. For me, best of all, it was a great excuse to bring the past back to the presence in the form of the parade. There was a fabulous moment during the parade – which I put in the video – in which the performers sing a popular song from here, called, “Si maritau Rosa.” This will strike home very strongly with the actors of TAC Teatro (of whom I am one) as it is a song that we are singing in the new show, and which none of us knew anything about. It was, of course, Ornella’s idea.

But in any case, there it was, the past in the present. The folklore moment of ritual, bright colours, dance and music that may not be Sicily in many peoples’ minds, but it certainly was Sicily last weekend! I’ve edited part of the video in old looking black and white to show that the images we see of the town and the parade look like something we imagine having seen in the past, no more relevant to today…but then the color comes and it looks very much like today…as the past would have no doubt to our eyes had we been there…!

Spoken Word Craziness and More, in Paris at a Couple of Open Mics

January 17, 2018

Paris Spoken Word

Paris Spoken Word

PARIS – It was time on Sunday night and Monday to visit the spoken word places in Paris again with Ornella Bonventre and our TAC Théâtre monologue routine. The only problem was that we could not find a spoken word event on Sunday night…until we realized that Paddy Sherlock’s fabulous new Paris Songwriters Club evening is also open to poetry and spoken word, as long as it is – like the music – original material. So we performed there with great pleasure, before trying out the Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for the first time….

At Paddy Sherlock’s event, we found a perfect stage and audience for spoken word, but I was a little disappointed that there were not more musicians, poets, spoken word artists or spectators present. Oh, it was a wonderful evening, and at maximum there might have been a dozen or more people. But Paddy himself put out a word on Facebook afterwards, trying to encourage more people to come for the next edition, or he risks losing the evening.
First at Paris Songwriters Club

My feeling at both of the evenings I have attended at the Tennessee Bar with Paddy was that this has the potential to be one of the best open mics in Paris, so I hope people discover it fast!

Ornella and Brad woman question

Ornella and Brad woman question

From the Tennessee to the Chat Noir and Spoken Word Paris

Although a few years ago I did try to sing a song at the Chat Noir bar’s Spoken Word Paris event on Monday night, there’s nothing like trying to do actual Spoken Word at this event, which is no doubt Paris’s most popular English-language spoken word event. So it was a natural place to try out Ornella’s monologue, with me providing the soundtrack on my guitar (and occasional vocals, and a few spoken asides).
Wayne at Paris Songwriters Club

It also proved to be as much fun as a spectator as it was as a performer. And in honor of this being a Spoken Word event, I decided (thanks also to forgetting to bring my phone or other camera) to paste together several excerpts from the evening in a 5-minute podcast. So listen to the patched together medley here and above of a few moments from Monday evening’s Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for a taste of the far out kind of thing you can expect to hear….

This new bit of activity in the spoken word open mics has given me a real feeling of refreshing the blog with something slightly new, but right in line with what it is all about. I hope you agree….

Backing Poetry Beauty, Open Mic Playing and Gig, Part II of the Whirlwind Adventures

April 8, 2016

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The adventures continue now in Paris, after the weekend in Bahrain and that last night of craziness mentioned in the previous post. Well, no sooner did I return home than I received a message from an old friend whom I had met at open mics a few years ago, and who recites poetry. She wondered if I could accompany her on my guitar while she recited her poetry, in French and in English. If you ever saw and heard this woman recite her poetry, then you know that I would never refuse such an offer….

So off I went on Tuesday late afternoon to practice with her and see if we could come up with some chords and rhythm for her poems in English and in French. We got it down in an hour, then trundled off to the Café Oz open mic, where Lisa Marie – the poet – wowed the crowd and I felt for the first time in my life comfortable accompanying someone on my guitar. Unfortunately, I could not make a video of her incredible performance, her outrageous poetry, which sometimes has themes that shock, surprise or titillate – like comparing a certain part of the male anatomy to the leaning tower of Pisa in the final lines of the suggestive poem….
Brad Spurgeon doing Except Her Heart at Soirée Buzz

From there it was off to the Pigalle Country Club, the scene of the crime of a couple weeks earlier, where a woman used my Seagull as a dance floor. I was not going to allow anyone to discourage me from attending my favorite Paris haunts, especially when I knew there was nothing personal to that attack on the poor Seagull. And my feelings were confirmed when within half an hour of attending this raucous open mic I barely missed being struck by someone else’s nice new acoustic guitar being hurtled across the room by a frustrated guitarist. Somehow the guitar resisted snapping to pieces upon landing at the foot of the microphone. (I swear I am not making this up!!!)
Brad Spurgeon doing Mad World at the Tres Honoré

This was no environment for poetry of ANY kind, so I simply took to the mic and jammed away with some old friends and other musicians at the Pigalle Country Club, playing for maybe half an hour and feeling triumphant to be doing so with my Seagull – which accompanied me wherever I happened to move in the bar throughout the evening.
Brian Scott Bagley performing at his Soirée Buzz

Late Wednesday afternoon – we’re in the next day already – I suddenly recalled that I had received a telephone message from a musician friend. I called him back to find that he was offering me a gig that very night at the crazy mad Soirée Buzz open mic at the very chic Très Honoré cocktail lounge on the Place du Marché St. Honoré. It was to start at 9 PM, and I would play until 10 PM, and be paid with a free meal and drinks! This I liked, and despite still recovering from the excitement of the previous days, I accepted.
Another bit of jamming at Soiree Buzz green room

No sooner did I accept than I invited the poetess to the evening as well, since after my feature act performance the evening turns into that crazy mad open mic, hosted and organized by the inimitable Brian Scott Bagley, American male cabaret and burlesque artist. And I KNEW that my poetess’s poetry would go down well at the Très Honoré.
Another act at the Soirée Buzz

So I arrived, showed the house band a few chords of the songs I thought I’d play – my own songs as well as some covers – and off we went to playing on this chic stage in this basement room, darkly lit and feeling like some purposeful high class contrast to the Pigalle Country Club. It would turn out to be what is the longest period of time I’ve spent playing with a band that has never played my songs before, as we did about four of my originals and four cover songs, and somehow it all felt just great. It got me to thinking about what it really means to play with really great musicians who can follow anything! Having now seen it on video, well, I could have done a lot better! But I include a couple of videos taken by my friend, Mr. Lafleur, who invited me to the soirée, and whose new album I will write about later….
Fun in the green room of the Soirée Buzz

Of course, it was all helped by the fact that I had my faithful lead-playing fiddle player, Joe Cady, who agreed to come and provide the necessary color between the drums and bass and my rhythm guitar playing. But somehow, it all felt like it held together, and it was a personal moment of satisfaction of doing something I never thought possible: IE, playing a series of my own songs respectfully with a band who had never even heard them before, let alone play them.
Second at Café Oz Open Mic

I also spent some fun moments in the artist’s “Green Room,” which actually has a green theme of wallpaper, and listened to and jammed with some of them. And there discussed the idea of doing our act again with Lisa Marie. She was all ready, we went on stage, and if the night before it had been my first challenge to accompany the poetess, well, it then grew into another challenge for both of us, as we were also joined by the drummer, bass player and Joe on the fiddle! And as predicted, her poetry was more than well received in this crazy mad, chic environment – to say nothing of her appropriate personal beauty.
Syd and Co at Pigalle Country Club

And so it went, from unpredictable to unpredictable, a series of musical adventures that I had never imagined Sunday morning as I awoke in the heat of Bahrain…. Tonight, another one awaits….

Cabaret Culture Rapide Lit Up With New Cool Open Mic

April 7, 2015

cabaret culture rapide in the snow

cabaret culture rapide in the snow

PARIS – I have written quite often about the Cabaret Culture Rapide open mic night over the years, specifically the Friday night one that has changed MCs quite a bit, and also the Thursday night jam session. Now, the Thursday night jam has long ended and it has been replaced fairly recently by a new, wild, very open kind of open mic – and very English – that calls itself “Paris Lit Up.” It is run by the genial Jason Francis Mc Gimsey, and is open to music, spoken word, poetry, just about anything.

I do warn again that it is very English expat oriented, but it is also open to everything. Like all the other open mics at the Cabaret Culture Rapide, there is no microphone. Unlike the other open mics there in my experience, people at this one sit and listen religiously! There is complete silence during each person’s moment behind the mic, and that is wildly appreciated. It makes the need for a mic much less pressing….

The atmosphere is really one that reminds me a lot of one of the world’s best open mics, the Catweazle Club in Oxford, that I attend annually in June or July or whenever there’s a British Grand Prix. Very cool, with lively MCing, intelligence, anything goes.

Paris Lit Up is also part of a whole little group of writing, and a small press of the same name, which is why this is so cool and intelligent and laid back. I highly recommend checking it out at least once – and you’ll probably end up returning, as I know I will!

A Sage Saves Me From a Night of Destitution – and Provides Another Unique Night of Entertainment at Catweazle, Oxford

June 28, 2013



OXFORD – When Matt Sage began his unique, usually witty and sharp spiel in opening up the night of festivities at the Catweazle Club in Oxford last night, he talked about how he had met several interesting people just beforehand and how he had this feeling that swamped him about how human nature, when you got right down to it, was really sympathetic and nice. This, naturally, drew some nay-saying comments from the nearly 100 or more spectators and musicians in the hippie-like environment of the East Oxford Community Centre where this iconic open mic has taken place for more than two decades.

But what Matt did not refer to was his own sympathetic nature and the act of kindness he performed the moment I arrived after a nearly 1 hour 30 minute drive through thick traffic from the Silverstone racetrack to the Catweazle Club, also known as Catweazle Performance Space. I took my guitar out of my rental car and decided to put my computer bag in the trunk, and I suddenly started searching for my wallet and instantly realized I had left it in a locker at the racetrack. That meant that I was 1 hour and 30 minutes’ drive away from my cash, credit cards, every bit of my lifeline for the night, and with an empty, growling stomach after the trip from Paris to Oxford via Eurostar, walk, rental car, etc. And there was no way I wanted to drive back through the pouring rain AND miss my one chance per year to attend and play in the Catweazle Club.

So I entered the room where the gathering takes place, and I said, “Matt, hi, it’s Brad Spurgeon….” He immediately recognized me from past years, and I said, “I’m really sorry and embarrassed, but I have just discovered I have no money or credit cards or anything, having left my wallet at the racetrack.” My immediate thought was not my dinner, but how could I take part in the evening. I forget that as a performer I do not pay an entrance fee, but I would need to buy a drink, certainly. The entrance fee for the public – well worth it – is something like 5 or 6 pounds.

“We’ll sort you out,” said Matt without hesitating. He then pulled out an envelope from his pocket and from the envelope he removed 40 pounds and said, “Is that enough?”

I could not believe his kindness. He only knows me as a guy who has showed up annually once per year for the last four or five years, and even during that time he was absent on one occasion – replaced by someone else. So it was a risk he would not get the money back – but his empathy overruled any doubts.

Thanks to the loan – I ended up returning 20 pounds later in the night and will return the rest today or tomorrow by mail or special delivery – I was able to have a meal and a beer and to spend yet another absolutely fantastic evening at this amazing open mic “happening.”

Catweazle, in fact, has such an enviable ambience and approach to the open mic format that it has been imitated in several different places, including London, New York, and lately even in my home town of Toronto. (Last night there was a Catweazle happening in Oxford, New York and Toronto, in fact.)

What makes it different and cool is just subtle stuff, and personally, I think most of what makes it different and cool has to be Matt’s presentation and MCing – he comes up with the funniest lines between acts. It is also the hippie lilke vibe: Everyone sits on mattresses, pillows, cushions, chairs and couches, right up to the foot of the performers on the performance space. Behind the performers is a curtain – like a stage curtain – with Catweazle written in large freaky letters above. There is no microphone and no amplifier, and the audience knows that it is expected to be religiously silent for every performer – and the audience IS.

Furthermore, just about any kind of performance is allowed. Although I have posted only videos of music, there were several spoken word performers and poets. And this being Oxford, I assure you that they were good.

This being Oxford, the performers were also very cool. There were a surprising number of Americans and Canadians, too, as it turned out. And two Germans. I don’t know about the other nationalities, but it was clearly a cosmopolitan mix.

I must apologize for one thing, which is that because I did not want to be too obtrusive with my video camera in this silent, respectful space where few people make videos and none took photos, I chose to sit at the back of the room, and that unfortunately meant that not only the focus of the camera was not what it should be – since I used the zoom of the Zoom Q3HD recorder – but also the sound was often pretty low, and WORSE: I had to hold the camera high over my head and my hands were shaking through most of the filming. So bear with me on that.

Oh, by the way, I also did manage to do my song “Crazy Lady,” and as usual at Catweazle, I felt bizarrely more nervous than I do at most other places. It’s that respectful silence and the 100 or so faces at your feet…. it’s at once fabulous and frightening! But I will definitely return whenever I can.

So, yes, human nature can be incredibly positive and wonderful – especially at Catweazle Club, Oxford.

The Adrian Henri Poems I Did Not Read at the Open Mic That Did Not Really Happen, for the End of the World That Never Came

December 22, 2012

penguin poets 10

penguin poets 10

I was fantastically excited last night because one of my favorite Paris open mics fell on the day to end all days in the history of the world. So it was that the Arte Cafe decided to have a little theme of the end of the world for what was also its final open mic of 2012. I was so excited because although I was going to bring my guitar with me and perhaps sing some songs in the jam afterwards, my main plan was to read a couple of poems by one of the favorite poets of my youth: Adrian Henri.

Henri was one of the Liverpool poets from the 1960s – and after – whose volume of Penguin Poets No. 10, The Mersey Sound, was a famous moment in such anthologies when it came out in 1967. The other two poets in the group were Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Henri was an artist, performance artist, musician, poet and friends with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg and others.

I met him briefly at a Toronto Harbourfront Reading series night on 25 October 1980. I remember the date because it is inscribed in my book of his poetry that I bought that night called “From the Loveless Motel.” I also recall the moment because I was so young and gauche and although I admired him greatly, I insulted him without intending to. I went up to him excitedly to buy the book and talk, and I told him that I had traveled a good part of the world in my life and as a fan of his writing I had looked all over the place for his volumes and never found any of them outside England. Or something to that effect.

My intention, of course, had been to show what a devoted reader I was and not how obscure he was as a writer. But naturally, his face dropped and he said, “Well, you’ve got plenty of them here….”

Anyway… the point of all this is to say that when I learned that the end of the world was about to come, it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Adrian Henri poems, and I decided that I would read it at the open mic last night. I thought that as an introduction to Henri for the listeners, I would also read another of my favorite poems by him after the end of the world poem.

As it happened, a friend was also holding his annual end-of-the-year party, so I decided I would attend that first before going to the open mic. During the party I learned that the open mic at the Arte Café was, exceptionally, closing down early, for lack of its usual unfailingly loyal crowds of attendees. (Due no doubt to the Christmas holiday.) That meant my big moment as a reader – as opposed to singer – would never come. Neither, of course, did the end of the world.

But I did get to play my guitar and sing songs at the home of my friend, and that was loads of fun. And because I have this blog, I’ve decided that I can STILL read those two poems, and put them here on the blog for everyone to listen to – and then to go out and find Adrian Henri books and buy them wherever you may be. Henri, by the way, was born in 1932 and he died in 2000…on 20 December – IE, it would have been his 80th birthday two days ago, the day before the end of the world that never came.

The first poem, called, “Death in the Suburbs,” – and contained in “from the loveless motel” describes the end of the world…. which, as Henri says: “will surely come in Bromley South or Orpington.” Listen right to the end where suddenly I finish reading the poem only to have the sound of a siren emerge from outside my apartment like the end of the world has really begun after all:

The second poem, called, “Me,” is contained in Penguin Poets No. 10, and is a clever rhythmic thing which consists only of the names of people Henri would like to be, as you will hear if you listen:

A Village Voice, a Bloomsday and a Bit of Music

June 17, 2012

village voice bookshop

village voice bookshop

Hugely mixed emotions yesterday night as I had a couple of literary evenings mixed with music to attend. The first was not mixed with music, in fact, but was the most bittersweet. That was a visit to The Village Voice Bookshop, for a party to “celebrate” the closure of this Paris institution of the last 30 years. The store is closing as it can no longer survive as an independent bookshop in our Internet and ebook world. The second event was a celebration of Bloomsday, at the Swan Bar, where I was invited to play music and to listen to readings of James Joyce prose and other Irish things.

The Village Voice was one of my first Paris hangouts, and I went there in the second year of its existence, starting in 1983. I had seen many readings there, met many people, and got to know Odile Hellier, the woman who started the shop and has run it all these years. She is a fascinating woman who loves American literature, and decided to open a store with the true feel of the American literary expat bookshop in Paris – I guess she is a mixture of both Sylvia Beach AND Adrienne Monnier, who ran their stores only a few blocks away a few decades ago….

When I arrived for the closing celebration, I found that not even my personal invitation to the thing would save me from the impossibility of getting through the doors, so full was the two-floor shop of admirers and book lovers. In fact, they were bursting out into the street. All I could manage to do was glimpse inside and see Odile reading something from the staircase to the throngs below. I made a video of this, to give an idea.

I went off and ate a wonderful pizza dinner at a nearby pizzeria, where I also devoured the London Review of Books that I had bought in Montreal last week. Then I returned, sweating from that hot and spicy pizza, and found that I could now penetrate into the Village Voice. There I found the place now had enough room available for a visitor to wander around, and meet old friends. I started by saying hello to Odile outside the shop, where she was talking with someone and no doubt getting some fresh air after her various readings.

Inside, I found some old friends, including Jim Haynes, the American Paris expat supreme, whom, I recalled, I had met for the first time at the Village Voice in the back room cafe it used to have, in 1984, while I was reading Jim’s very own autobiography, “Thanks For Coming.” Jim and I kept contact over the years, I have been to his famous Sunday dinners at his atelier in the 15th arrondissement, and our lives have criss-crossed occasionally.

I also saw David Applefield, whom I had met at Shakespeare and Company in 1983 in the writer’s room, but whom I had probably seen more often in those early days at the Village Voice. David, at the time I met him, was working on the first Paris issue of his literary review called “Frank,” which would go on to have many more issues and a long life in Paris. Last night he passed on to me a book he has just published, right off the press, in a new imprint, and which was written by another Paris literary alumnus, John Strand.

Strand had started another Paris literary review in the early 1980s, called Exile, or Paris Exile, can’t remember quite. But I do remember him celebrating one of the issues at some kind of evening at the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Strand has gone on to become a multiple prize-winning playwright based in Washington D.C., and his novel is called, “Commieland.” I’m looking forward to reading it, and seeing where Applefield’s imprint, called, Kiwai Media, goes.

Unfortunately, I could stay long at the Village Voice as I had agreed so sing Irish songs at the Bloomsday evening at the Swan Bar, a newer American-culture hangout in Paris. In a brisk walk from the rue Princesse to Montparnasse, I managed to digest that pepperoni pizza and all the desert items – macarons – that I ate at the Village Voice. I arrived to find Sheldon Forrest hard at work accompanying a singer, and the Swan Bar was just brimming full of people.

This bode well, and as I waited to perform my first song, it occurred to me that I had a nice little story to tell about James Joyce, and I could connect it to the build up of my song. It was a story about how the journalist and novelist Eugene Jolas had spoken to Joyce one day and asked him what he accomplished that day, and Joyce responded that he had worked all day and managed to complete a sentence. “Only one sentence??!!!” “Well, yes,” said Joyce. “I knew what the seven words were, but I could not figure out what order I wanted to put them in.” I then told the audience that I had several songs, but did not know what order to sing them in. The one that went down the best, and which I did sing the best, was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” by Mickey MacConnell.

There were lots of other musicians, lots of readers, and the evening was in general a bigger success – I felt – than last year’s such celebration at the Swan Bar.

I returned home, had a good sleep, got up today and finally, finally, after nearly four years finished the book I have been working on about my first year of musical adventures around the world. I also came up with a new, final, working title: “OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Story of Healing and Rebirth through Music” In the end, I must say, that it felt appropriate to complete the book on such a literary weekend….

Hot as Hell at Marianne BP’s Concert at the Cariatides; Cooling off at Coolin’s

February 7, 2012

Marianne BP

Marianne BP

I braved the continued freezing temperatures in Paris last night to go first to the Cariatides bar/venue to see Marianne BP do her concert before the jam session organized by Doréa SisDee, which is called “We Jam.” The thing is, I knew that no matter how freezing cold I was, Marianne’s performance would heat up my body and spirit. And I was NOT let down. It was a fabulously inventive, creative and sexy show that Marianne BP put on singing and speaking and chanting her texts to the sounds created by Thomas Kpade on the cello and bass and computer….

In fact, Marianne BP – whom I once backed on a song playing guitar to her singing at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance – was sooooo hot, that I knew I had to escape the Cariatides as quickly as possible after her performance to go and cool myself off not in the freezing air of Paris, but in the new open mic and jam over at Coolin Irish Pub, that I discovered last week. I was not let down there either.

Back to Marianne BP. It’s kind of difficult to define what she does or how she does it. I think about that a lot as I watch and listen. And I must apologize for a lot of the jerky camera work, but it’s difficult to control the handheld camera when one’s eyes are partly looking at its screen and partly drawn to the perform “en direct.” Marianne has great presence, an amazingly sexy voice and delivery and some very clever and interesting lyrics. She even tells stories a lot of the time, and has this cool approach about “transforming” herself into things like a woman in a poster in the metro, or a GPS, or a man.

And her idea of taking some classic jazz lyrics and chanting them to different melodies is very cool too, as it is usually the opposite to what happens with classic jazz. And the accompaniment by Thomas Kpade was so entertaining and intellectually pleasing as well, the two of them just did a sensational one-hour show, never losing their audience. ANYWAY…. more another time no doubt!

Coolin was great too, although it got off to a late start due to the horrible habit that so many sports bars have of leaving soccer – or football, if you prefer – matches to play out until the end even if no one is watching them! But there were a few new faces this time around, like Mary Catherine and Maddie Speed. And the late night jam went so long that it went pretty much beyond closing time, much to the chagrin of at least one bartender wanting out of that joint. I’ll be back.

Monday Night Jam at the Nilaja, Near the Bastille

September 13, 2011

Last night I decided it was finally time to step out of my habit of attending the two usual Paris open mics – the Tennessee Bar and the Galway – in order to try a jam session I had been hearing about, at the Nilaja restaurant, which specializes in African food. Actually, I intended to check out the Nilaja jam and then go to the Galway, but that soon proved impossible as I got sucked up by the atmosphere and other things at the jam.

I had heard about the jam through Facebook where I recently discovered a Paris jam session and open mic information page run by Doréa SisDee, a singer who runs an organization for musicians called La Factory Afropéenne. It’s a collective of musicians and Doréa organizes jams, plays in them, does all sorts of different events for musicians around Paris. Doréa had discovered my Thumbnail Guide to open mics in Paris on this blog and had been really praiseful and encouraging and enthusiastic.

So it was no surprise that she was the same in person as online. What WAS a surprise was when I arrived in the middle of one of her songs and the stage was beside the entry to the restaurant and as I closed the door the door handle fell to the floor with a loud metallic ring. She stopped, I picked up the door handle and apologized for doing that as a replacement for a triangle…. She then recognized me, asked my name, and then introduced me to everyone, the whole audience of 20 or so people who were there at that moment. She was effusive in her praise for my world travel to jams and open mics and my blog.

I was thankful, but suddenly felt enormous pressure about playing in the jam – more so when I realized that it was a real classic jam session kind of thing where musicians all go up together and play jamming music while someone sings. I am still at the very early stages of my development in that area, as I usually just play my own memorized material rather than improvise with a group. Of course, that is fabulous exercise and essential for any musician. But I was scared as hell, and felt very inadequate, given that I felt the audience rightfully had great expectations of the world traveller.

Having said that, the jam was very warm, wonderful, laid-back, and there were some interesting musicians – very interesting ones. My personal favorites were Isiah Shaka, Doréa and Marianne BP, who more than anything recited a text she wrote – and reminded me of Patti Smith, and of course, the genial Hervé Samb, who organizes these jams every Monday night.

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