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A Week of New (for me) Open Mics in Paris – Including a Visit to Serge Gainsbourg’s Old Joint

April 9, 2018
bradspurgeon

Gainsbourg's Home

Gainsbourg’s Home Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – One thing leads to another and somehow things don’t lead to as many things as before…ok, start again. I finally, over the last week, had time to attend a few open mics – and a musical evening – that I have wanted for a very, very long time to attend. And I was wonderfully surprised, enlightened and inspired by them all – basically!

The first was Stephen Saxo’s open mic at the Cross of St. George pub on rue St. Georges, not far from Pigalle, called Finely Tuned Sundays. It was the first time I had played with Stephen for a long time, the last time being at his open mic – now defunct – in St. Germain en Laye.

The story of this new one is kind of funny: I had noticed for a couple of months that there was an open mic on Sunday nights early, through dinner time, from about 6 pm to 9 pm, and it was not so far from chez moi. I kept on intending to go, but those hours never worked out for me. Then, one week all of a sudden, my friend Stephen the sax player, ie, Stephen Saxo, announced on Facebook that he was hosting this open mic at the Cross of St. George. He had not been the host when I discovered it, and it turns out, from what I understand, that it was not really very active. So Stephen took over and …boom!

Yes, it was a good evening, and in the end a nice time of the day to have an open mic, because you can play music early, then eat your dinner either at the pub or wherever else you might choose. Stephen accompanies those who like that, but otherwise, it’s a classic open mic, where you can go up and do your stuff. The pub had quite a large crowd, but most of them looked like regulars, for whom the music was not the main attraction, but something they appreciated nevertheless.

From the Cross of Saint Georges to the Cave Café and Sheldon Forrest

The following night, Monday, I was ready, willing and able to finally go to Sheldon Forrest’s lates open mic, at a pub nestled in not far from Montmartre, on the other side of the hill…. I have written about Sheldon’s various open mics and vocal jam sessions over the years, starting with where we met, at the now defunct Swan Bar in Montparnasse and most recently with his Ozmos Café open mic, also near Montparnasse.

But I had been itching to go to this Cave Café open mic and jam for a while, since I had the impression that it was a little different than the others where Sheldon officiates, playing his piano accompanying singers, often with a jazz or cabaret leaning. It turned out to be different, entirely different, except for Sheldon’s always genial hosting.

The Cave Café is a corner bar owned by an American who is so discreet you wouldn’t know he was anything but a local French bar owner. The open mic takes place in the cave of the café, as you might expect by the name of the joint. The cafe is a classic Paris vaulted cellar, and this one is complete with a bar and a nice little stage. The vibe is 100 percent open jam, music-loving, anything goes.

There’s a piano on the stage as well, but Sheldon only plays according to when it is appropriate. You can do solo guitar and vocals, or you can be joined by other musicians – I did both. I enjoyed being accompanied by a lead guitarist, Sheldon on piano, aand even an acoustic guitarist and harmonica player. The sound constantly being tweaked by the barman/soundman, using his iPad to control the sound.

It was a fabulous night, and I look forward to many more. The one thing that really stands out is that it’s a music-loving joint that attracts musicians of all kinds.

And finally a visit to the Carré open mic and Jam beneath the legendary Don Camillo and around the corner from Gainsbourg’s home

It has been many months also that I have been intending to attend the open mic and jam of Olivier Domengie, the Carré open mic and jam in the heart of the Latin Quarter. I know Olivier from his various other open mics and jams, notably the one that used to be at the Paradis bar near Barbès, the Nul Part Ailleurs bar near the Bastille, and the Carré jam that happened in the bar near St. Michel.

I was particularly curious to see what this Carré jam at the new location would be like, as it was so much in the classic art gallery, up market part of the neighborhood. And I wondered how it was possible to have his kind of anything-goes sort of jam in such an area. The first idea of how it might be came when I suddenly recognized the name of the street upon which part of the bar sits: Rue de Verneuil. I said to myself, “Wait, isn’t this the street where Serge Gainsbourg lived?!?!”

Later in the evening I not only had it confirmed by Olivier that it was the very same street, but also that 1) Gainsbourg’s home was just around the corner, and 2) Gainsbourg used to go sometimes to play and hang out at this bar! The bar is part of the Don Camille, which is upstairs, and its walls are plastered with the photos of famous popular musicians.

The jam is a classic Olivier jam, and I took the opportunity to play here with a drummer, sax player, bassist, and lead guitar. I had not brought my own guitar, but I got to use the nylon string semi-electric of Olivier – which dictated a little the songs I had to do (“Wicked Game,” “Mad World” and “Don’t Back Down”).

The feel of this bar, with its broken mirror walls, is really 1970s, 1980s, nightclub, but with the stage perched in the front window, and the comfortable chairs and couches, and the large number of musicians present, I cannot recommend it enough.

And then there is the need to do the little visit around the corner to the home of Gainsbourg, with its famous graffiti covered walls. I took a photo or five of that.

And it was all preceded by a visit to the suburban Captain Fox bar in Bois-Colombes

This whole week began, by the way, with a visit to the cultural pub of the Bois-Colombe suburb, where it turned out a pianist singer from my own suburb right next store was giving a concert in this small, convivial bar. Such cool places are rare in the suburbs, but the Captain Fox, as it is called, gets the recipe right! And this performer, as you can see from the video I have put up, is fabulous – anyone who can sing this Queen number as well as him is exceptional.

And that ends the roundup of my open mics and jams and spectator-hood evenings of the last week.

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