Five years that the Highlander open mic has been running in Paris. That is a very long time for open mics, even if there are some around the world that have been going for several decades. But this is clearly the work of a good venue and the presenter, Thomas Brun, who does a great job of organizing and hosting the open mic. Last night’s birthday celebration of the fifth year was an example of that, as Brun took the trouble to celebrate, put up balloons, have a birthday cake, a free drink for musicians, and someone donated a guitar as a gift!
It was almost a perfect open mic evening, too, with interesting musicians regular and new. And an audience that was typical for the Highlander, celebrating the music when they liked it, talking when they felt it didn’t fit their mood. Whatever, I enjoyed it immensely. And I had the honor of playing my three songs just before Thomas brought out the birthday cake. Unfortunately I just missed the blowing out of the candles with my video camera.
Even so, I felt the need to go on to the Cavern Club vocal jam open mic thingy up the street on the rue Dauphine with a couple of friends. Unfortunately I did not sing there, as the list of songs contains nothing I feel competent at. But there was some great stuff.
It hurts so bad, just trying to keep to myself all the material I want to use in my documentary of the open mics around the world. But I caught a very cool, laid back little jam at the bar last night after the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic had formally ended in the basement room, the “cave.” Here it was Thomas Arlo playing Chardes Bourdon’s Epiphone at the guitar with Vincent Barriquand of the band Black Butterfly, sitting at the bar and jamming – and Ollie’s dog coming up at the end. And this just topped off a beautiful night with the final songs of Ollie closing off the show eliciting the remaining spectators to their feet to dance. Another beautiful moment of a beautiful evening.
It was summertime at Ollie’s open mic, which meant as with the previous week, a different crowd. But some of the regulars nevertheless. And the fact there were so many different people in the audience made me relax and feel I could repeat myself a little, so I did “Borderline,” I did “What’s Up!” and then I took the big risk with “A Change is Gonna Come.” I still did not feel I had done a good job of that song, that I seem to perfect only in my living room. But I recieved some good responses on it and was told that I should do it more.
I had, in fact, faced a big challenge on what to play since immediately before I went up there was this guy Elian Dalmasso, who was extremely interesting. He is a Parisian who lives in London and has a band there called “The Burnetts.” It was his birthday or something, and he had a little group of people with him, and he gave us all a very good little concert – so good that I thought I should put up here three of his songs. But that meant that I had to really search for the right thing to follow him with. I chose my songs for both the contrast to his, and what I thought might engage the audience. It worked.
But what a Saturday and Sunday! Saturday I attended a jam/open mic that I had discovered existed one day as my eye was attracted to a bar on Rue St. Maur – the street where I got my head kicked in on New Year’s Eve – with the name in French of L’Echiquier. That means chessboard in French. So that, as deep readers of this blog will know, would be of interest to me since I love chess. But then I saw a sign on the window about an open mic. And that, well…
It turns out that the bar has a theme of chess, with matches played there occasionally, with chessboard tiling in the toilets, and drinks named after chess themes, etc. And this is because Djamel Grine, who owns the place, likes chess too. But he told me his original idea was that he wanted the bar to be public place open to everyone: the King, the Queen, the bishop (which in French is called a “fou” and also means “crazy person.”)
It was a very warm open mic, and I was pleased that although it started like a typical bluesy sort of jam session with full band, it was also possible and welcome for an individual musician to go up and sing and play guitar, cover songs or originals. I played with the band, since I like that challenge and it is more fun and “big.” We played “Crazy Love,” because it was easy, “Father and Son,” because it was more difficult but well known, and my song “Borderline,” just because. I finished off with “I Shall Be Released,” since it is three chords and really well known.
Having had that magnificent Saturday evening, I worried that my own brunch would never match it. I was wrong. It must have been the Sunday of all my brunches where I had the largest number of other performers who wanted to play – and who did play. There were seven of us in all. I played a lot less in order to allow for the others, and that was great, because it meant I could talk to the others and listen to them.
The two highlights of Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar last night were for me the three Swedish women (actually there was a fourth in the audience) and the fiddle playing of the Englishwoman, Georgia.
But even Georgia’s participation was with one of the Swedes, Sister Fay (who should not be confused with Sister Ray). It turned out that the two groups of Swedish women were not even connected, it was just happenstance that they both showed up.
In any case, Georgia played a jig to start with. Then she played with Sister Fay, who sang and played guitar, on a song from the 1930s – Dream a Little Dream of Me – that was also famous in the 1960s when sung by the Mamas and the Papas, one of whom knew the co-writer of the original song…. They also performed a song that I immediately recognized the music to, which was Shady Grove. But I knew it as Matty Grove, primarily through the Fairport Convention version (and recently the version sung by Zara Sophia at my Mecano brunch. I spoke to Georgia about it, and she said the two were similar. She has classical training on the violin, but has had much experience in folk and bluegrass bands.
The next highlight was when Sister Fay and her Swedish friend – whose name I do not remember – got up to sing a Swedish song. It was very beautiful, and another case of great music not really having to be understood literally to be appreciated.
I almost forgot, there really was another highlight to the evening, and that was Vincent Barriquand from the band Black Butterfly, who played solo with a guitar and no microphone. His strong voice carried with no problem through the small room, and without the mic we got to appreciate all its qualities. He too sang at my brunch, just a week and a half ago.
It feels somehow not right to make such judgments, and in many ways it is difficult to do anyway: But yesterday’s musical brunch at the Mecano, my first of the new year, really felt like the best one I’ve ever had since starting them last fall.
I had more musicians dropping by and playing than ever before, and a great level of quality, and I also had a large audience of intent listeners, coming from all over the place, including a couple of women visiting from Belgium.
Amongst the surprises were picking up for the show the wonderful Vessna Scheff from San Francisco. Vessna had intended to go to the Pop In open mic, but she said the Pop In was closed and there was no open mic there last night. So she ended up finding my brunch, and she ended up entertaining us with her lyrical and melodious music and voice. Rym also played some of her songs with her ukelele, and then gave the instrument to Vessna for her last song.
Two members of the band Black Butterfly played several songs, and Vincent Barriquand, the singer of the group, also did some solo stuff with the guitar and his voice. He also played with Sven Cosnuau, who came to play and sing on his own.
A young Frenchman who lives down the street from the Mecano also discovered the brunch yesterday and rushed off to bring his guitar to play and sing some songs. So all together, the vibe, the crowd, the musicians, it was all fabulous and a great beginning to 2011. In fact, Vessna may not like me to quote her here, but she said it was the best Sunday open mic she has ever done. Of course, it is not entirely an open mic as such – but as it turns out, the mic is always open….
Because the brunch was the closest thing in my memory, I started writing about that. But I did not blog for the last couple of days, so I want to move backwards and continue telling the musical adventure: On Saturday night I went to the Baroc and heard The Romantic Black Shirts, the band of my friend Joe Cady. As a special guest they also had Chris Kenna do a set. I first met Chris in 2009 at the Biz’Art open jam. He is a wild Australian with the voice of a Tom Waits. He played on Saturday with Melissa Cox on violin. A big moment, with both of these bands. I loved the Daniel Lanois cover that the Romantic Black Shirts did, and Chris’s voice and the violin were mesmerizing.
Friday night I went to a party hosted by Sister Fay, who is from Sweden and sings a lot at the open mics in Paris these days. There I met both Stephen Prescott and Ollie Fury, both of whom host open mics. And there was also Pierre Doucet, who plays violin with Stephen at the Galway Pub and elsewhere. I got Pierre on video with a bit of fiddle music in the middle of the party, though no one was really listening. It was a nice moment – but too dark for the video.
I then went off to the Planete Mars bar and listened to some DJ music mostly and spoke with a friend. A high moment with the DJ music was when he played a song from the last – or second last? – T. Rex album, Dandy in the Underworld, that I had bought at the time. Hadn’t heard anything from that for along time.
I absolutely hate to admit writing yet again about the Paris open mics of the Tennesse Bar and the Galway Pub, my usual Monday night haunts when not in an airplane or another country. But last night, yet again, the two venues did not let me down, especially at the Tennessee bar where I met up with a group I know and love, and with a singer from a group I do not know, but who knows someone I know…. Let me just try to untangle that:
Got to the Tennessee early and waited hours to get up. Got to play FIVE songs! Loved it.
But the real fun would come later. First, a group from Philadelphia, led by the Philadelphia singer songwriter Mia Johnson. I enjoyed their stuff, with Mia singing and playing guitar, a guy on piano and another woman on guitar. They played cover songs, but then Mia came back later to do her own songs, and they were very strong. It was an interesting mixture of country and folk, and when I spoke to Mia afterwards I was not at all surprised to hear that she also played in a Johnny Cash cover band and that she sang the parts and played the role of June Carter.
But as soon as I heard her music and that she was from Philadelphia, I immediately said to myself, “She MUST know EJ, Pierce and Maggie,” or whatever order those names are supposed to be in. I met the brothers from Philadelphia last year in Oxford when I played several open mics, and found them at both the Half Moon pub and at Bookbinder’s Pub. This year again I met up with one of the brothers at Bookbinders.
So I went to speak to Mia and told her I had met some musicians from Philadelphia, EJ… and she finished the phrase. She has known them since 1995, she said.
No surprise, small world, cool meeting.
I did my five songs later and then went over to the Galway and did another four songs, listened to Bernard steal one I planned to do, “A Change is Gonna Come,” and then I went back to the Tennessee. There I found one of my favorite young groups in Paris, Black Butterfly. I had not heard them for several months in an open mic, and they told me they were mostly in the studio working on some recordings. Can’t wait till they come out. Also, Kareem played some very cool stuff on the guitar as usual…..