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.
One of my personal objectives this year from the outset was to do more and more concerts as opposed to open mics. Given that I have about three or four different careers or big projects going on at the same time – Formula One journalism and travel, open mic book, open mic film documentary and the learning and writing of my music itself – taking the time to get concert dates and work with the other musicians I play with is a very difficult thing. But I have already succeeded in doing more concerts than in the previous two years since I started playing music again. I did a concert with the band at the Disquaires in February, another at the Green Room in July, and yesterday afternoon I did one with Felix Beguin, of the Burnin’ Jacks, on lead guitar at the Cabaret Culture Rapide in Paris near the Belleville metro.
With all that going on I entirely forgot to make any sound or video recordings of the concert! So you will just have to trust my word here. It started badly, or at least with a lot of stress, when I found that my microphone did not work in the sound system that Culture Rapide had to offer. So the first set of 45 minutes or so was entirely done without a mic, but with my guitar in acoustic mode and Felix doing his lead at a lower volume than usual.
Every song I sang I feared ripping my vocal chords apart as I desperately wanted to be heard by everyone in the bar. Even if I was told on several occasions that I could be heard, the urge is to belt it out louder than you should just to ensure that you ARE heard.
But later, just as I began my second set, Calvin McEnron, the friend who invited me to sing at his gig the night before, arrived with a microphone. It worked, and henceforth I could relax completely and do my music in full peace. There is a massive difference when you can let go completely and submerge yourself in the music compared to when you have some horrible concern on your mind about the delivery of the music. (Having some horrible concern about life is something else and can actually fuel and fire up the music and emotion.)
So the second and last set of 45 minutes or so went very well, was lots of fun, and I enjoyed the concert thoroughly. Felix played his usual fabulous lead, worked in his usual relaxed manner, accepting my errors and minor changes in structure of the songs here and there as I decided on the spur of the moment that we needed a long musical interlude or I just plain forgot something. We also improvised very well for certain songs we had not played together on before, such as “Year of the Cat” and “Runaway Train.”
Last night I found no open mics to attend, but I had my friend Calvin McEnron playing at the Horror Picture Tea and I had another friend invite me for a concert at the Belle Vie St. Martin bar near the Gare de l’Est. As it turned out, Calvin after his set opened the mic for me and another of his friends, Max of the band Misfits Galleon. So not only did Calvin do another great little concert, but he opened his heart and the mic for those who never say no.
I then went on to La Belle Vie St. Martin, and there I met my friend Elise, and I immediately recognized a few of the musicians from their recent appearances at the Tennessee Bar open mic. Talk about a small world. One of these musicians was the man I called an Iggy Pop lookalike, but whose name I have now learned is Franck. He and his band played mostly the blues. After they all finished up the bar stayed open until 2 AM, and I sat and jammed with my guitar at our table, singing several songs and having others sing along and bang along. Altogether a fun night, considering the lack of open mic. No, not true. I had brought my guitar as I had planned to go to the Swan Bar’s “Around Midnight” open jam. Just didn’t get there for what would have been the third day in a row.
As I write these words I am in rainy England, on another racing and open mic mission. Yesterday I made the mistake of taking the Eurostar instead of an airplane, so I lost so much time in my day that I could not post anything of the concert I did the night before in Paris.
(The Eurostar was fine, but the car rental operation was a failure as I ended up spending too much time driving from London to the Midlands, where the race is – in Silverstone – and my lodgings are, in Oxford.)
The concert was great fun, as I got to play along with my favorite lead guitarist, Felix Beguin, and even sang some songs with Vanessa, including our by now standard, “Mad World.” The concert was organized for me by Calvin McEnron, who also performed, and also had Felix accompany him on two or three songs. Felix really changes the texture of things, really gives drive and movement to the songs. Love it!
Oh, yes, and the concert took place at the Green Room bar in Paris, not too far from the Bastille. It is a very cool venue, a long room with a stage at the end and a not bad sound system – although in listening to the videos made of my stuff, I wish there had been more volume on the vocals (for the videos)…. 🙁
From there, it was right off to England the next day, and what turned out to be TWO open mics. I managed to do the Catweazle Club open mic at the Oxford Community Center AND the Half Moon pub open mic down the street. That was two completely different experiences. Catweazle is one of the most amazing open mics in the world, with a massively respectful audience that sits on the floor, on chairs, couches, and standing by the bar, and you can hear the proverbial pin drop. No joking.
The acts at Catweazle are often very original as well, and the open mic is done entirely in acoustic mode. Last night there were microphones, in fact, but they were there for a sound recording that was being done of the show. I was nervous as hell because this audience is so attentive, and because it is so rare for me to play without a mic that I feel less in control and aware of what I’m doing. But I got through my two songs, “Borderline” and “Except Her Heart,” and afterwards I received several compliments. So I felt I did okay.
I then went down the street and saw the Half Moon open mic in full swing and went inside and did a duet of two songs with Vanessa, “Mad World” and “What’s Up.” The Half Moon open mic is without mics too, and before we played, I said to Vanessa, “Listen, don’t worry and don’t pay any mind but no one will listen, and they will talk and make noise throughout. So just don’t take it personally.” I really felt it could be painful for her, as it is for me in those circumstances. Boy were we surprised when everyone shut up and listened and then began to sing along and clap and encourage and demand an encore after Mad World. They went through the same thing with What’s Up. And we were in bliss.
It just showed that there is always a right song and spirit for no matter what crowd, and we left there feeling like we had had the time of our lives thanks to the crowd at the Half Moon.
Keep your eyes open for this band, now called The Last Waltz, and previously called, “The Euks.” I wrote about them playing in my son Paul’s room nearly a year ago. Now, a week ago, they played their first concert, having renamed themselves a level higher to show their ambition. I was in Shanghai playing at the Melting Pot when they were doing their first concert at the Cantine de Belleville, so I could not make it. But from what I see in the video and hear from the reports, it went more than just well.
In fact, they may have another concert coming up very soon. I will keep you posted. But in the meantime, check out The Last Waltz’s facebook page and see the two videos on it and the photos….
The Last Waltz playing their gig at the Cantine de Belleville in Paris
By the way, this concert was booked and arranged by Clavin McEnron, the same guy who booked my first concert at the Disquaires. Calvin performed the same night at each concert. (And no, this is not a case of Dad’s contacts getting son a gig – quite the opposite is pretty much the case….
Did it! Played a gig with Félix Beguin of “The Burnin’ Jacks” on lead guitar and Virgile Arndt of “Natas Loves You” on bass. Both contributed some harmonies too. It was the first bona fide gig that I have done with a backing band, aside from playing here and there in open jam sessions, and we did it last night at the Disquaires bar in Paris, near the Bastille.
The evening started with Calvin McEnron, who played his set with his songs, including everybody’s favorite, “After the Rain.” In fact, Calvin invited about five of us up on the stage to sing the chorus to that song. I did not realize that I had placed the Zoom Q3HD in a bad position, so we get the sound, but very few of the faces. Want to put it up anyway.
The Romantic Black Shirts played the final set and they entertained us with their great covers from everyone from Bob Dylan to Daniel Lanois, and a nice sound of violin, jazzy guitar, cool voices… very nice ambience.
I played five of my songs – including one I wrote at about 22 years old and never ever played in public before – and three cover songs, “Crazy Love,” “Mad World,” and “Father and Son.” The ambience was wonderful, a great warm audience, and the sound system worked out okay, and Félix and Virgile were brilliant. Unfortunately the limitations of my Zoom Q3 – operated my son here – does not do justice to the whole vibe. But I would say that, right?
At the Tennessee bar and the Galway last night I spotted some new things to write about: First was the great use of one of the worst guitars that exists in the world. When I started travelling around the world two years ago playing music I decided to check out all the travel guitars, and I quickly concluded and discovered that it didn’t matter what size the guitar was, the airplane would let you on board or not. So I stuck with my regular guitar, my Seagull S6. But one of the guitars I had tried was a piece of shit, and I could never understand how anyone could buy one for the crap sound it gives off…until last night I saw someone at the Tennessee doing a fabulous thing with it: Slide guitar. Check out the video. And the most mystifying thing about this piece of crap is that it is a Martin!
After that, over to the Galway where for the second time that night Ollie Fury played his wonderful new song, and both he and Stephen Danger Prescott for a change played Dylan, and did it in their own ways, as you can also see from the video. All in all, a satisfactory “new” night.
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.
For various reasons I did not put up a number of videos this week of performances that impressed me or that I otherwise wanted to put on this blog. It had to do with the needs of other stories that threw themselves into my face…. So today I have just decided to put up a few videos from the various places I went to this week, from the Be There bar to the Galway to the Truskel and other places. Like a slideshow, it’s a video show: