PARIS – Eric Dufaure is something of a maverick: He was the boss of EMI music publishing in France at the turn of the current century; he was a top director of the Sacem music rights organisation in France; he founded a record label (Cachalot Records); he has produced albums by some of France’s top recording artists, including Lio and Bernard Lavilliers, among many others. He was raised in a bicultural family, with an Irish-American mother, and his education was about the same eclectic mix: Science Po and a history degree in France, along with an MBA from Harvard Business School. If that isn’t enough, he is also a musician himself, playing primarily keyboards, guitar and singing, and directing a band called Private Pepper.
Until last November, I had only vaguely heard about Dufaure thanks to his Private Pepper band’s musical bashes at the Paris food, music and dance hall called, Le Reservoir. Then I attended one as a spectator, then last Tuesday, I ended up performing onstage at one – and having the time of my life playing Bob Dylan’s “Lay lady lay,” as each event marks the 50th anniversary of a year’s pop and rock music, and now, of course, we are 50 years on from 1969, when the Dylan song came out on his “Nashville Skyline” album.
Having now had experience on both sides of the proscenium arch at Eric’s musical evenings, I can write this post with a perfect knowledge of the fun and extraordinary organization that constitutes Eric’s series of concerts at Le Reservoir, all called “Back in…” and then whatever the year happens to be (i.e., Tuesday it was “Back in 1969.”). It is clear that his business background sets the tone for a perfect package of organisation for both the audience and the musicians: Each show presents a two-part string of the hits of the chosen year, played mostly with the backing of the Private Pepper band – which included on Tuesday a bassist, Nicolas Chelly, lead guitar player, Laurent Pradeau, drummer, Seb de Laleu and Eric on keyboards – with each special guest singing one of the hits from the period.
Here is a small compilation of some of the acts from Tuesday that I filmed with my new Huawei telephone, and which I think I will never use again unless I can improve the sound and image!:
But it is not ONLY the “house band” that puts on the show, as the band is often joined by special guest musicians, and sometimes the entire stage is full of all of the performers of the evening at once, or occasionally someone will take over keyboards or guitar or go solo. In any case, I felt incredibly honoured to be part of this, and saw that for the musicians, everything is also done behind the scenes to prepare the best possible outcome: A day of rehearsals precedes the event, and then a soundcheck the night of the event is followed by a meal at Le Reservoir before the show starts.
An impeccable organization, and a huge opportunity for so many of us who do not often perform on this kind of stage in what seems to be invariably a packed house of diners and drinkers and dancers for each show. To say nothing of the mix between Eric’s musician friends and major stars of the French pop music world. The whole is a deliciously slick production for the paying spectators – dinner is optional, but great – as well as for the performers.
Last Tuesday they included Lio, who has had several hits in her long career going back to 1979; and Laura Mayne, whose duet “Native,” also had hits, among her other many successes, including doing the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Walt Disney film. On Tuesday, Lio showed why she rose to the top of her show business profession when she fractured her ankle after the rehearsal on Monday, but showed up on crutches Tuesday night to perform in the show anyway. A real trooper, as they say.
For myself, finding there were none of the songs available that I sometimes do from 1969 – “Something” (done by Dom Hutton) and “Space Oddity,” (done by Emmanuel Tellier) – I decided to learn “Lay lady lady,” as I have always fooled around with what I imagined the chords of the song to be, without ever learning it. In the end, I was up as the third act of the night, and did it solo, with my Gibson J-200, the same model that Dylan holds on his album cover.
It was a fabulous feeling to play in front of this packed house of what felt like between 200 and 400 people, and I was thankful to be so early on the bill so that I could enjoy the rest of the night without pressure listening to all the other artists. Incidentally, I was not the only journalist-cum-musician playing there, as there was also the American journalist Mark Lee Hunter, and the aforementioned Emmanuel Tellier.
Two of the CDs came from my new source: As mentioned in my first post, the Lotus Formula One team is giving out CDs quite often now to journalists and any other takers and interested people in the paddock, as they have some kind of a sponsorship deal with Columbia Records. So at the Bahrain Grand Prix, in the 36-degree heat of the paddock, they set out for the taking a CD by Calvin Harris, the Scottish DJ, singer songwriter and record producer. Entitled “18 Months,” it is mix of dance music from beginning to end, and as such, its beats and rhythms and vacuous vocals make it perfect as morning exercise music. And nothing else for home consumption. In a club, yes, that’s the stuff. My only other “pertinent” observation is the strange and perhaps “telling” fact that in the 15 tracks almost every credit is attributed to someone with an “i” in their name, or an “i” vowel sound: “Kelis” “Rihanna” “Nicky Romero” “Ellie Goulding” “Tinie Tempah” “Dillon Francis” “Dizzee Rascal” “Ne-Yo” and “Ayah Marar” It turns out that almost every track title also goes through the “i”-sound ringer. Well, so much for my structuralist analysis of Calvin Harris’s dance music – wish I had more to say…but I was in the throes of sit-ups and side-bends and toes touching, so what do I know.
Bob Dylan’s album Tempest
The big, big bad CD, the one I was happiest to receive, and least happy to talk about, is “Tempest”, the latest Bob Dylan album. This is hardly a timely review, since the album came out last year and has been massively written about in the media, and massively listed as one of the top albums of the year in the music magazines around the world. And as a Bob Dylan fan for most of my life, I had, naturally, already listened to several of the album’s tracks over the Internet. Having said that, as proof that the CD, the album, the physical collection of a musical oeuvre still carries weight and counts for something, I was very happy to take this physical CD object and put it in my Marantz CD player and listen to it over my Bose speakers, and not just on my computer’s iTunes.
Until I did, actually. Then I was struck with the biggest existential problem I have yet faced with my morning exercise music talk. How can I write about Bob Dylan’s latest album when I love Bob Dylan, when almost all of the reviews have been great, when as I say, it has made it to the top, or near the top, of the lists of the year’s best albums? And I just don’t get it? Yes, yes, yes. This album has one, maybe two or three tracks that have something really great – and the only one that really, really stands out for me is the first one, “Duquesne Whistle.” Using this old time music, singing this folksy up-tempo song, I really feel as if Dylan has written some kind of a classic here. Not, I feel, a classic Dylan song, but some kind of American classic. It was very hard for me to accept his voice on this, until I decided to pretend that it was not Bob Dylan, but Satchmo himself. I never complained about Satchmo’s gutteral, destroyed voice – why should I complain about Dylan’s? No doubt because Dylan once had a few other voices, and I liked several of those better – the original one from the early 60s, the one from Lay Lady Lay in the Late Sixities, the one from Blood on the Tracks in the mid-70s, the one from Desire at the same time, the one from some of the songs in the 80s, even…. But this Satchmo voice has never worked for me. In fact, for much of the album, I thought I was not hearing Dylan, but Tom Waits….
Another song that cannot be thrown away is the last one, “Roll on John,” about John Lennon. Come on, with subject matter like that, and you know the two knew each other…!
If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?
But the problem with this CD, and maybe with why the critics give it so high marks, is that this IS Dylan. And I kept trying to figure out how some of these songs would sound when sung by other musicians…but then I wondered how many actually WOULD be sung by them. I love the fact that Dylan keeps making music, keeps touring almost every day, keeps creating. But even he said, in his fabulous book, Chronicles, that he can no longer write the kinds of songs he did in the 60s. That was in the chapter about when Daniel Lanois produced an album of his and wanted him to write the old stuff again. And that made me think of a funny line that I just kind of made up and found plopping into my brain as a guy who writes some songs too – without the success of a Dylan: If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?
Of course, I step back from that and say, it’s got nothing to do with anything like that – we all reach our own creative peak in our own way in our own time. And ultimately, as T.S. Eliot said: “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”
Well, let’s hope Dylan keeps on trying – but I can’t really see how this CD got to the top of so many “year’s best” lists. There is a repetitiveness to the rhymes and melodies in a lot of these songs – that have also appeared in many of the Dylan albums of the last 30 years – that was not there in his classic work. The new Bowie album, by contrast, I could see if if it gets there at the end of the year….
In Bahrain I also got given a CD from a fellow Canadian musician, Félix Fréchette, who was the guitarist at the Dublin Club jam session on the Saturday night where I played – along with him and his band. The CD is a 10-track album of songs written and sung by Nelle Thomas, who is also Canadian – she is English-speaking,from Montreal, whereas Fréchette is a French speaking Quebecer – the music of which was written mostly by Fréchette. He also plays his lead guitar on most of the tracks.
The two, as I say, were part of the house band at the Dublin Club in the Ramee Palace hotel, but this CD – called Noise Rises – they made in Canada in 2012. It is a highly professional, eclectic mix of songs, starting off with a kind of soul music and heading into some soft rock and finishing off with a song on acoustic guitar that is almost – but not quite – folk.
While there were a number of songs that just sort of passed me by – although they were beautifully played and produced – there were three that really stood out for me. “Tell a Sad Story,” has a good catchy melody and lyrics, and really hits the spot. “Never Been Accused,” with its sort of 1970 rock sound, and its ripping lead guitar by Félix Fréchette is another – oh, and there is another nice guitar solo on “One Day at a Time.” And I really love the last song on the album, “Eleven Dollars,” with the great lyrics, vocals and acoustic guitar – reminds me very much of Tuck & Patti. Certainly the best song of the album – but maybe my liking of vocals, acoustic, folky stuff. Still, NO! I love Hendrix, King Crimson, Zappa, Talking Heads, Joy Division, so what the hell – I just think this one works.
It was interesting, once again, to compare an album by a completely unknown young couple to that of Dylan, and to say, well, yeah!!!
Peace In Love
I also got a vinyl album by the British indie band, Peace, – their first album, “In Love,” which has been getting great reviews (9 out of 10 at NME) – but I am very old fashioned, and have no turntable, so I could not listen to this. Wait. That seems odd. Old fashioned? I grew up with vinyl. I had a large collection, then got rid of my turntable because CDs were better…. Right, that’s where the old fashioned bit comes in…. I don’t know ANYTHING, vinyl is better…. well, not for morning exercises – too much work putting the cartridge arm and diamond down the vinyl – and, actually, according to my research, vinyl is NOT better than digital…. but let’s leave that one alone, lest I become even more unpopular than I will be after these morning exercise “reviews” turn me into an evil “critic.”
I arrived back in Paris from two weeks absence just in time to go directly from the airport to the Coolin open mic and a bacon and cheese burger at this great Irish pub in Paris. It was also time to catch up on my reading, and I opened my June edition of Acoustic Guitar magazine after fishing it out of a huge pile of unread magazines from the past several months. And I suddenly had a sign facing me as to which song I was destined to sign at Coolin: There was a page devoted to Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” It is a song I have been singing almost since the album came out in 1974. The album being, “Blood on the Tracks.” One of my favorite albums. And then….
There was this amazing quote in the preamble to the music chart they suggested for the song. It was from Bob Dylan about the album: “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s kind of hard for me to relate to that…people enjoying that type of pain.” I couldn’t believe how beautiful and true that quote was. So much did it strike a chord with me – more so than the chords they suggested for the song, which were not what I use – that I decided to try to break through the talk of the Coolin when it was my turn to play, by reading the quote aloud to the spectators before I played the song.
That, unfortunately, kind of unnerved me, and when I actually played the song, I forgot two or three verses and cut the song off before the end. Unbelievable to for a song I have sung so often. On the other hand, it was the first time I had sung even for myself, since I had lost my voice in Abu Dhabi last Thursday to a crappy cold. So I was a bit out of shape, nervous, and low. And I thought of another quote, from some famous violin player that I had noted at around age 17 when I began daily practice of various things: “When I do not practice for one day, I notice it. When I do not practice for two days, my family notices it. When I do not practice for three days, my audience notices it.”
I’m not up to that level – but I get nervous about it anyway.
Coolin was as cool as ever, although I was also dead tired from the two-week trip away to India and Abu Dhabi. But I enjoyed filming the other musicians, especially the stuff from behind them. Check it out!
Don’t bother trying to figure out the real order of the words of the headline I put on this post. Just go to 2 Spencer Street in Melbourne, Australia, on a Thursday night. There you will find one of the coolest open mics down under, I’m sure of that. I am the happiest man alive after showing up there tonight and playing my three songs and listening to the other open mic singers and the house band.
And it proved a thing to me again: Go off the beaten path, break your habits, try something new, force yourself! Last year on the Thursday of the Formula One weekend I played in the open mic of the Spleen Bar on Bourke Street. So being like most people a man of habit, I decided to try it out again this time.
But then life got in the way – thank goodness! I ended up staying late at the track, well not that late, but until 7 PM. And could not find any indication that the Spleen Bar was still doing its musical open mic night. And this being Comedy Festival month in Melbourne and the Softbelly having canceled its musical open mic, I feared the Spleen might have canceled its musical open mic too, since the Spleen is more known for its comedy open mics on Monday or Tuesday (can’t remember which).
So it was that I stumbled across this open mic announced for the U-Bar at the All Nations Hostel on 2 Spencer street. It looked pretty certain to be happening, and on my way back from the track, I happened to find it on the corner of Spencer street where I got off the tram and where I had to head uptown on another tram to my hotel. According to the Internet it would start at 8 PM, and I was there at 7:40 or so. So I popped into what looked like a dreary bar with few people in it, and I asked if there was an open mic.
“Yes, it starts at nine,” I was told by a young man behind the bar.
The walls were painted graffiti-like with strange cartoon drawings and other graffiti-art like stuff. Very colorful, but my main impression was of potential dreariness. And I noticed a crappy looking amplifier against a wall near the bar and the pool table. It looked as if the open mic would be an afterthought.
But it was so late I decided I had no choice but to take the tram to the hotel and then return to the bar, since I now had plenty of time as it started at nine, not eight.
Returned to the hotel, warmed up my voice with a song on the guitar – ‘Father and Son’ – and then ate a very quick meal at the buffet in the hotel before taking a tram back down to the U-Bar or whatever it was called.
Went into the place to find a lot of people and a dreary, quiet singer at the dreary amp. I was guided by the bartender to a woman named Emily Brown, and told she ran the open mic. There was so much talking in the bar that I could barely hear the singer or Emily. But I gave her my name and she said she’d get me up. “Three songs each,” she said.
Turned out to be a nice crowd of young people, and very international. That clearly had to do with the hostel next door. I spoke to a Dutchman, and one of the performers was from Canada. A man named Brandon, who was from Burlington and there with his girlfriend as they were spending a year in Australia traveling all over the country.
Emily reminded me instantly of Bea, the 23-year-old woman from Sydney who ran the Softbelly open mic last year. I would learn that Emily was 22 years old, she had studied music at “uni” and she had run the open mic here since last August or so. She also had a band that would play in the middle of the open mic evening for a full one hour or so set. She taught singing in the Melbourne school system and also had a few other music gigs to keep her going. She was very enthusiastic and friendly. This was classic open mic stuff here!
And guess what? The music just got better and better, and the crowd got thicker and thicker and the atmosphere just grew stronger and stronger. Sure, there would be talking throughout the night, and there would be some people playing on the pool table, and you would have to move aside while singing a song to occasionally let the man hit the pool ball because the performer was too close to the table. Oh, and the sound system was indeed crap.
But this would prove to be so much fun, with such an eclectic group of musicians, mostly young, that I was very quickly persuaded that it had a real atmosphere. Several of the musicians came from local bands, too, and played acoustic for fun. A lot of what I learned about the evening came from a couple of the musicians, one named Jim, and the other named…Jim.
One of the Jims described the other Jim’s music as being very eclectic, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of his hero.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
I expected him to say, “Townes Van Zandt,” but decided to get him to say it.
“Townes Van Zandt.”
“Yeah,” I said. And the other Jim was surprised.
“What do you think of him,” asked the Jim who sang Townes’s songs.
“A genius,” I said. To which the other Jim just walked away in disgust and let us talk about Townes Van Zandt.
So it was cool indeed to be in Australia talking about Townes Van Zandt.
The Canadian Brandon played some blues of his own making, and had a nice strong voice and a nice fingerpicking style. A local rock musician who had given out his self-produced record played three or four songs that were fast moving and hard hitting, and perfect for the crowd. And he showed a wonderful attitude as several drunks joined him during his song and he stopped and spoke to them and at one point said:
“I’d like to introduce you to my band, I don’t even know their names, but here they are.”
I did not have to wait very long before I went up, in fact, I went up after that guy. I had planned to play Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” a song of my own, and Cat Steven’s “Father and Son.” But in the end, given how much noise there was and how the crowd felt, I did not do my own song, but instead did “Just Like a Woman,” by Bob Dylan.
It was one of those evenings where you wonder how much you’re really reaching people. But when both of the Jims told me afterwards how much they loved my songs, especially the Cat Stevens, I knew I had reached the people. In fact, one of the Jims actually gave me the biggest compliment I ever had with “Father and Son.”
“I was just saying to Jim,” said Jim, “that I actually liked your version of ‘Father and Song’ more than the original.”
No compliment can be better.
The singers varied a lot, from rocking to quiet and from singing originals to singing covers. One of them who got up just before Emily’s band was in fact the guitar player from her band, and he sang some very nice covers quietly but strongly.
And now to Emily’s band, called “My Favourite Emily.” This was fabulous. Emily sang, she had a female bass player, she had a 23-year old sax player who Jim told me had begun to play at age eight, and she had a drummer and the guitar player. They had some very nice jazzy stuff, and the sax player blew me away. I loved Emily’s voice too. I made videos all night with my new Zoom Q3 toy, and I will post something here:
In addition to the great musicality of the band, Emily had a nice way of communicating with the audience, and she frequently went into the crowd to get some audience participation in the songs – ie, holding the mic up to spectators to sing along.
Oh yeah, and Emily told me she took a couple of photos of me and will put them up on the open mic’s Facebook page, so I’ll link to them as soon as I see them.
This was a very moving, swinging, cool and hip open mic format, and Emily was all the things a great open mic host should be: Friendly, encouraging, nice, warm and enthusiastic. And on top of it, she is a talented musician herself. I’ll go back again – unless my desire to break all habits gets me finding another place on Thursday in Melbourne next year….
It’s so depressing when you write a nice long blog post and then the computer eats it before you get a chance to put it up. Especially at nearly 1 AM. So I give up. In short, today was not a fruitful evening on the musical front. But it was not entirely without – for as I walked from the circuit shuttle drop off point at the Gulf Hotel back to my hotel I ran into a Hard Rock Cafe just down the street from my hotel. It reminded me of the evening I had at the Hard Rock Cafe in Kuala Lumpur last year when I went to listen to Eddie Jordan’s band there, and I did a blog post on Eddie and the Robbers at my F1 blog at the NYT.
The neon guitar of the Hard Rock Cafe in Bahrain appeared on the horizon of the cityscape....
So tonight, I went into the Hard Rock Cafe and had a beer. The place was bursting with people and at the bar where I sat were about five men dressed in the traditional white Arab garb – not sure what they were drinking. I asked a nice blonde barwoman if she knew a place to play music, like in an open mic or jam, and she knew nothing. She was from South Africa, but had lived here for some time. She said, though, that the woman at the door, the greeter, had lived here a lot longer and she might know about places to play.
So I left and on my way out, I asked the greeter woman – who looked Filipino – if she knew where there might be a place for an amateur musician like me to play.
“You know, an open mic or jam session,” I said. “Just some place where they might allow anyone to go up and play a little music. I’m here for a few days and brought my guitar and I’d like to find a place to play.”
“At all the bars in all the hotels,” she said.
“Okay, thanks,” I said, and got out fast.
That was it. Back to the hotel. Play a little music all by myself with the knowledge that I may have had a down day today, but there was definitely an open jam session at the Dublin Club tomorrow and I was told they’d fit me in.
So I went back to the hotel itching to play. I’m like a violinist I remember reading about when I was a teenager. It was either in a radio and TV announcing course I took or it was in a ventriloquism course, I cannot remember which, but the quote was very interesting. The violinist said: “If I don’t practice for one day, I notice it. If I don’t practice for two days, my family notice it. If I don’t practice for three days, my audience notices it.” Well, I may be the only one who notices it when I don’t practice for a few days, but I’ve still begun to get a little itchy if I can’t play every day.
So I went into the bathroom in my hotel room since it is well insulated from the other rooms next to mine, and also because it echoes nicely and gives me that feeling you get when you sing in the shower – or just a bigger sound. And I sang two cover songs I often sing, “Father And Son,” by Cat Stevens and “Just Like A Woman,” by Bob Dylan. I set up my handheld recorder that I use for my interviews in the paddock, propping it up on the towel rack in a way that Jac Holzman had me do (not in the bathroom but on a towel on a table in his hotel room in order to absorb and deflect any bad sound vibrations from the glass-top table) in Amsterdam a few years ago when I interviewed him, the founder of Elektra Records for a story. Anyway, I thought I’d put up here the results of those two recordings I did in the bathroom of my hotel tonight and leave the musical adventure at that for today as I wait with anticipation for tomorrow. You can click on the songs below to hear me singing them in my hotel in Bahrain tonight: