MILAN – TAC Teatro has a very cool theater room with spotlight and pulpit and seats for the spectators that had been set up to host the company’s first Open Reading on Thursday. But as the guess piled in bit by bit they gravitated towards a room at the back of the theater with a couch, tables, chairs. And bit by bit that gravitated group took the form of a circle. So when it came time for the first Open Reading to commence, Ornella Bonventre, the brains behind TAC, decided that it would be worse than a sin to break up the magical circle. She started the reading in the round. I realized it was very much like the traditional bluegrass jam in the round, round a microphone – but at TAC there was no need for a mic, either.
And so began, and so continued for at least four hours, the intimate reading in the round, featuring a fabulous cross-section of writers, poets, musicians, and just plain “normal people” with something to read or say – including a local representative from a refugee squat who had something to say about his peoples’ rights.
The most illustrious guest was certainly Maddalena Capalbi, a well-known, award-winning Milan-based writer. She did not read her own text, however, but left that to a fabulous, dramatic reading by Cisky.
All in all, it was a great evening of warmth in the circle – I just wish I could understand more Italian! But it was a fabulous event that shows once again the vast spectrum of shows that TAC hosts with success, whether that be a serious play like Edipo Rap – in which Cisky appears, by the way – a clown show – in which I have appeared in a kind of George Plimpton moment – a piano show, acting or writing lessons, or a group to defend against violence against women.
COPENHAGEN – Rather than trying to look hip, cool and with it, I will admit here that before I stepped into the world premiere of Christine Franz’s film at the Empire Bio at the CPH:DOX festival last night I had no idea who the Sleaford Mods were. Then, as the film began, I quickly concluded that they were just a couple of kunst. As the film rolled on, the couple of kunst reminded me less of Derek and Clive, and more and more of the reason Britain voted for Brexit. And more and more, I grew to feel sympathetic and warm to the two stars of Bunch of Kunst, coming out feeling finally that I may not – as Iggy Pop says toward the end of the film – understand much of what they are saying (thanks to that strong British accent) but I can understand the reason they exist. And though I always thought the Brexit vote was an illness, I can now understand a little better through this film the nature of that illness.
Having said that, I don’t think the word Brexit was mentioned a single time in the film. And in a talk in the cinema at CPH:DOX after the film, Franz said she specifically did not want to make an overt political statement in the film. It turns out there has already been another documentary about the Sleaford Mods, called Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, and that one was very political. So no doubt Franz wanted to avoid what had already been done.
So who the fowk are the Sleaford Mods anyway??? Well, a couple of guys who had musical ambitions, one of whom played in several bands without success, the other of whom was a DJ doing his own thing. They met one night at a show, and the guy who speaks the rap and writes the lyrics, Jason Williamson, got together with the man who does the DJ thing, Andrew Fearn, and they began to do some shows in bars, raging against the machine that is working class life in middle England. At their home in Nottingham, they decided to set up a little studio and record some albums. Bunch of Kunst Sleaford Mods trailer
This was in the late 2000s, and they stuck things out in bars for years, through failed album after failed album. Eventually, the chicken-factory worker – Williamson – (well, seems that job lasted six weeks) and the unemployed man, Fearn, met up with a guy who had a solid job, driving a bus for 14 years, and he became a fan and had a vision. These two modern day punk rappers, he thought, could get their act together and do something relevant and cool.
To draw the story short, they ended up doing bigger and bigger venues, finally playing in Glastonbury, and then, as the film shows, ultimately signed a record deal with the legendary Rough Trade label. (There is a shot at one moment that shows the first Rough Trade album, Métal Urbain, a French punk band of perhaps equally unlikely people in the 1970s, famous for a song called “Creve Salope,” (“Die Bitch” among others.) And, as I mentioned, the Sleaford Mods also ended up garnering the attention of Iggy Pop and many others. Sleaford Mods video
The film was shot over two crucial years, from 2014 to 2016, and takes us from their lives in the pub performances to Glastonbury to the signing at Rough Trade.
What made these performers a success is clear: The nasty, angry, bad, expletive-full lyrics that speak the anger of the English working class in a language and emotion that they understand. “They speak for me,” says one of the gig-goers, a man who also appears to be in his 40s, like the two members of the “band.” But the language is so strongly couched in English argot that it is, as I said, nearly incomprehensible to an outsider – and that is also one of the main factors that makes it popular to its tribe.
And yet this deep-rooted cultural whatever did not stop the duo from gaining at first a slightly greater following in Germany before they developed one in England! (Which partly answers for the German director – although Franz also pointed out that she had attended Birmingham University, and so was steeped in a little bit of this culture herself.) We are also taken on a trip to see the German fans celebrate and react to the Sleaford Mods, and to sing along with their lyrics – which was as surprising to the Sleaford Mods as it was to anyone.
They are now about to embark on a visit to perform in the United States, and it will be interesting to see how they are received. While my first impressions were entirely softened by my “getting to know” these guys through the film, I still have to add that had I seen them in an open mic somewhere, anywhere, around the world, even in middle England, I am sure that I would have still had the impression that they were just a couple of kunst. Had I seen them in front of one of their raging audiences in England, on the other hand, I might have wondered what world I had stepped into … just the way I did when I saw my first ever performance by a punk band, the Viletones, in Toronto in early 1977. In fact, the ambience was very, very similar…and as I write these words, I realize it was exactly 40 years ago that I had that strange experience of seeing the Viletones in the Colonial Underground, and wrote about it the moment I returned home, as I did last night this post….
So if you want an experience like seeing the first punk bands in the 1970s, take a look at this film.
But I did do a considerable amount of housekeeping on the page, and added links of stories and items that were not there before, and I updated information as my knowledge and understanding of certain open mics grows….
PARIS – Just a quick one today. Because in fact there’s not much new, but just a bit worth noting. I ended up doing just one open mic on Monday this week because I decided to check out the spoken word open mic at the Chat Noir on rue Jean Pierre Timbaud before heading off – or not – to the Bastille area to try out the same three open mics I did last week.
I had heard about, and been curious about, the Paris spoken word scene for a few years, and I knew about the Chat Noir bar’s basement meeting each week. So I finally, finally managed to get there. I thought I was early, but the room was full of a religiously silent and highly diverse audience listening to someone read her poetry when I arrived sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 PM. So I took an unobtrusive stance in a doorway against the back wall and listened. First at Some Girls open mic
A couple of poems from this woman followed by a stand-up comic, followed by a musician with guitar, mic and song. A bit of a talk from the MC, and I don’t know what else. Suffice it to say that in 15 minutes there, I started itchy really strongly for a return to what feels to me like the more relaxed, and casual and cool feel of the music open mic world I’m used to. I felt at once that although I was delighted with the vast cross-section of spectators – from old and retired to young and not yet active (in the working world) – I just felt like anything I could contribute would still be better in the music open mic scene.
So I left the Chat Noir spoken word evening and headed on over to the Bastille – stopping briefly for a 7 euro-meal of two lamb chops and frites at a North African restaurant at Menilmontant – and I poked my head into the Yellow Mad Monkey open mic on the rue de Lappe to find it looking quite active and full. I said to myself that I would first more casually check out the Some Girls open mic up the street, where I felt I could speak to at least the MC, and have a casual beer, maybe play a song or two and then return to the Yellow Mad Monkey. Second at Some Girls open mic
Turned out that I was in for a surprise at the Some Girls because not only was the open mic in full swing – and with a different MC than last week – but that I met a couple of women I used to talk to regularly at open mics more than three years ago and whom I had not seen since. Then, surprise, surprise, a musician I had not seen for more than four years turned up and we had a great talk about what had happened in the intervening years.
This was a guy who I had met in Paris at open mics, and then one day met again at the open mic of the Ruby Room in Tokyo!!! So we again spoke about the global village of open mics and their denizens, and we spoke about many other musical things.
A fabulous evening, but it meant not taking part in either the Yellow Mad Monkey open mic or the one at Madame Louis on the Ile St. Louis. To say nothing of the Galway or the Tennessee…. Did I miss any?