Just a very brief note to mention that it was a nice and calm and quiet Saturday night celebrating Calvin McEnron’s birthday at the 49 Bar in Pigalle. A nice cool, small bar with tasteful photos, including one of the famous Edward Hopper painting of a diner. I played two sets of maybe four songs each, including by popular demand my “A Change is Gonna Come,” which I am working at more these days to try to get right.
Calvin, whom I met at Earle’s open mic at the Truskel bar in Paris nearly three years ago, played some of his songs, and there was a short jam with one of the members of the Likely Lads of Paris and a jam of the band The Last Waltz, also of Paris, in which my son plays guitar and does back up vocals and writes songs.
Check it all out! Just a party, really! But Calvin McEnron is more than worth the celebration….
Oh yes, almost forgot that I saw this cool violinist on the metro the previous day as I went to the Abbey Bookshop to celebration a Christmas party.
I decided that for a change I would go back to Le Baroc for its open mic last night, as Tuesday in Paris there are so many choices of where to go and I almost invariably choose the P’tit Bonheur la Chance, no doubt the best open mic in town at the moment.
But I did not regret the change. First, on the metro ride to the Baroc I heard a couple of wonderful African musicians, playing some kind of African harp and singing. Then, arriving at the Baroc, the first act was an incredibly fantastic young classical guitarist who barely hit a bad note. I’ve never heard an unknown player play classical stuff this well in an open mic. I took his name and email address, but lost it! Will try to find it for future reference, but give him a listen – it reminded me a little of the Lenny Breau recordings from when Breau was 20 years old and recorded with Levon Helm and Rick Danko.
The Japanese man who calls himself “monkey guitarist” was also there. I had heard him play at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, so he obviously chose to change too. And there were other interesting acts as well. I played four songs, and had the MC, Rejean, play drums with me, and the classical guitarist did some lead. That worked best on “Mad World” and “Borderline,” which were the only two songs in which I more or less kept the same rhythm from beginning to end. :-()
Funny, I arrived last night dead tired from a disastrous train ride to Nice from Montpellier – after taking a couple of other trains before that from Barcelona – and had a meal in Nice and said, “Early to bed, don’t even bother looking for a place to play music.” But I said, “No, push yourself, and walk off some of that three course meal.” Mainly I did want to push myself. It was late, and the music scene for open mics and jams has not proven to be too fertile here in the south of France in the past, so every moment is valuable.
So I headed off to the old town in Nice looking to check out some of the places I knew of in the past. I knew that Johnny’s Wine Bar no longer existed, and that it was there where I had one of my best open mics in the south in 2009. But I dropped by there anyway, only to find a jazz club just up the street and the owner sitting out front. That led to what may tonight turn into an opportunity to play. I will write about that tomorrow once I see if or how it goes.
Then I headed down a street to the left right near this music joint and suddenly I saw a group of four or five buskers taking a break from their busking and snacking in the narrow street. They had a guitar, an upright bass, a saxophone and some percussion things – a drum, bongos. They said hello when they saw my guitar. So I stopped, we chatted, I noticed that the Takamine guitar had a crack on its table that looked like the problem on my Seagull, but not as bad. I commented on that and pulled out my Seagull to show it to them.
One of the guys then wanted to try my guitar, then another, so we had a little tiny moment of jamming in the streets. But they gave me a couple of ideas for further musical possibilities – including a bit of busking tonight, perhaps. I may or may not take that one up. But as the conversation progressed I ended up telling them I was a journalist specializing in Formula One and taking my guitar around the races to play around the world in open mics and jam sessions. One of the musicians then said that he had played in Eddie Jordan’s band before, and we got to talking about our experiences with Eddie Jordan, as I had written about my musical experience last year with this former Formula One team owner who is now a commentator on BBC television.
I knew that Eddie was using a busker from Italy in his band lately, and here it was it turned out he had used two of these buskers I was now speaking to in Nice. These guys were not French, by the way – or at least not the bass player who tried my guitar and did some really nice tapping with it as you will see in the video. But naturally, I thought, what a bloody small world, and what a cool adventure! And crap, there it was again, that message: When you’re feeling down and low and tired, push yourself to the edge of something better. Had I retired to my bed after a contented meal and a long day, I’d have missed out on all of the above!
I think I found out last night why all the music bars have been empty in the new downtown area of Mokpo: The entire population of the city and all its visitors have been congregating down at the waterfront in a music and fun festival surrounding the Formula One race. I made a quick visit to see if there would be any chance of finding a microphone or stage for MY music, and quickly realized it was not possible.
So I headed back to the downtown area – the new downtown as opposed to the old downtown – and made my way to Rose Street, also known as “The Street of the Roses,” where I reported finding some music places yesterday. It was getting late and I’d had Korean barbecues for the last two nights, so I opted for pizza at the “11 A.M. Coffee Shop,” which is just below Moe’s Bar and Grill.
After I ordered the pizza I asked my waiter if he knew of any places I could go and sing and play my guitar and my music. I decided to cash in on his friendliness and his excellent English.
“Oh, just out there,” he said, pointing to the square on the pedestrians-only Street of the Roses that faced the coffee shop. “These guys go out and play there every night at 10 PM. You could go out and join them.”
I was slightly skeptical, and I could not quite believe that some guys would show up at precisely 10 PM to play in the square.
But as I sat down at 10 PM and began reading my MOJO magazine – still stuck in the August issue, though I have the November one too – as I waited for the pizza to cook, the waiter came up to me and said, “Come out here for a second.”
He led me out onto the terrace and pointed out two or three guys sitting on a bench and playing guitars and singing. They had just arrived.
“Great,” I said.
“They play pop music,” said the waiter.
“So do I,” I said.
“Oh, good, I’m really excited to hear you!” said the waiter, and that seemed to seal it for me.
Not to mention that I knew I had an open mic lined up for Monday in Seoul, so I did not want to take the risk of seeing all my time in Mokpo disappear without a little musical interlude of some kind. For the moment I had only managed a few songs each night in my hotel room.
So I ate my pizza, then ordered a cup of ice cream, then went out to the square. A small audience of mostly young women had gathered around the boys on the guitars. There were two guys who played guitar, and another guy who added some vocals and another who mostly watched, but occasionally drummed on the guitar case.
As soon as I entered the square one or two of the guys motioned me over to play, as they saw my guitar on my back. I nodded, took a concrete post as a seat and finished my ice cream while I listened to them.
Ice cream finished, I whipped out my guitar and began playing what would turn into an hour and a half of jamming, singing along, playing together, with Won Jin, Ye Eum, Seo Hyun and MJ. They all looked in their late teens to early 20s. They played some Korean songs, bust mostly the pop standards we hear all over the world, like “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and all the rest. I played some Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Dylan, Beatles, Lennon, and even a couple of my songs too, and they played along. We exchanged rhythm, lead, harmony and other vocal roles, and basically had a great time.
They all want me to return tonight. “Every night, here, after 10 PM,” said Won Jin, who seemed like the most dominant of them all – and the one I record mostly on the guitar and vocals on this page.
So I may well return there for another jam tonight. After I played last night I returned to Moe’s for a beer, and there I met an American expat English teacher woman from Florida, named Kelly, who told me that she saw these guys all the time. If they are indeed the same ones, she said they are actually professional musicians who play in bars in the old downtown area regularly. But they like coming to the Street of the Roses to play in that square at the end of the night.
I did too. Again, it built up the human dimension of my visit to this country I had huge misgivings about visiting before I came here – stories of a lousy rural area where the race takes place, a long horrible ride down from Seoul, inhospitable this and that – and which I actually now find to be one of my favorite trips this year….