PARIS – I had some more really bad news for Paris open mics and jam sessions the other day when I learned that the fabulous Cave Café jam is no longer happening due, it seems, to another move by Paris police to enforce certain regulations. I don’t know exactly which regulations these are, but there have been several articles in the French press talking all about the endless closing down of live music joints in Paris due to the police enforcing sound regulations, safety regulations, and other regulations that are designed to destroy the musical culture and nightlife of an increasingly gentrifying city. It was so depressing to hear that one of my latest favourite places for a jam was no longer in action. I hope it starts up again soon. But immediately follow that news came an invitation for me to do an opening set for a young Paris rock band at a place that I know very well, but have not been to in years. And going last night to play, I was not just relieved, but absolutely ecstatic to find that this bar/venue, Le Truskel, is not just alive and kicking, but it is almost exactly the same as it was when I first played there 10 years ago!
Le Truskel is the place where Earle Holmes’s open mic moved to after it started at the Shebeen and then went briefly to the Lizard Lounge. So it was that in exactly this same period of time a decade ago I began playing every Monday night at the fabulous open mic Earle ran at the Truskel, until he basically quit the open mic business (except for a brief period when he got me to host a Sunday afternoon open mic at the Mecano Bar in Oberkampf, where he was working at the time).
There is a magic at the Truskel, with its fabulous stage space, DJ area, dance floor/audience space, horseshoe-shaped bar and now also for many years, the incredible labyrinthine basement room. That room, smokers will delight in, has now been fitted with the necessary apparatus to make it a smoking room. Last night I just loved that while the gig was going on upstairs, downstairs there was a group of 25 or so soccer fans watching a local match and going crazy with chants and whatever else they go crazy with, and nothing upstairs was being affected by this mayhem.
The bar has a big following of regulars, mostly people in their twenties, but it also has plenty of older regular clients, and a long, long tradition of nurturing young bands. The band that invited me to open for them last night was called Britches, and it is an international mix of performers, the lead singer of which – Nadeem Hakemi – is a Canadian from British Columbia, with Afghan heritage.
I felt very much at home onstage doing just an acoustic set with my Gibson an no accompaniment. It really, truly, felt as if time had stopped from the 10 intervening years and that I was there again on stage at another open mic run by Earle. Well, ok, it was not utterly bursting at the seams with all the regulars that had shown up week after week for those insane open mics, but the Truskel had not changed one single bit. And that is hugely great news for the Paris live music scene. Especially for the young up-and-coming groups like Britches.
In fact, Le Truskel is not just great for young up-and-coming bands: It has hosted such established acts as Pete Doherty, Baxter Dury, Metronomy and incarnations of bands of Johnny Borrell of Razorlight fame…. In fact, it was also a funny, fitting thing that Borrell and Razorlight are performing at the Bataclan tonight.
Back in 1969
By the way, it was also a great opportunity for me to have a chance to try out my “Lay, Lady Lay,” cover of the Dylan song for the first time in public in preparation for the fabulous gig I will take part in on 19 February at that other famous music venue in Paris, Le Reservoir. That is a show called “Back in 1969,” which will, as its name indicates, celebrate the music of 1969 – ie, 50 years ago – with a diverse collection of very interesting musicians, including the French/Portuguese star, Lio, and Laura Mayne, who was part of the duo called “Native.” There will also be my faithful sax player friend and sometime accompanist, Stephen Cat Saxo – so I’m hoping to feel as at home at Le Reservoir as I did last night at Le Truskel!
P.S. Oh, yes, of course, I had to do my Mad World cover! Thanks to Ornella for filming – and also starring in one of these videos…I wonder which one….
The Lizard Lounge open mic is one of those that break the rule that an open mic has to be every week in order to be successful and last for years. Having taken place once a month for something like close to a decade, this open mic in a cellar of a bar in Paris near the Hotel de Ville has always been successful. Or at least since I have attended in the last two or three years. Taking place on the first Sunday of the month, somehow it has always been a great evening with a good audience and enough musicians to play through two or three hours. Now, though, it is heading for a test: Last night was the last night of the open mic as MCd by a group of close friends who have run it for five years.
It is scheduled to continue, but there is no final decision yet as to who will MC it. Before the current group of MCs, there had been another person, and it had lasted through it all – probably because the cellar is so appealing, the neighbors are not affected by the loud music, and there is a drum set and the possibility of having a full group, and not just a single musician.
So the Lizard Lounge has everything going for it. This Sunday night open mic even survived the brief period when Earle Holmes ran his open mic there on the Monday – for a few months in 2008 after he closed the Shebeen bar and its wildly successful open mic.
Last night the MCs did announce the end of the line, thanked people, hoped it would continue in a new life – but apparently they have had enough.
Last night was an embarrassment of riches for me in terms of concerts by friends or acquaintances. I had four choices of places to go. It turned out to be easy to make the choice: I had to attend the last concert ever of the group The Parisians at the International, and from there I had to go to see my friend Paddy Mulcahy and his musicians in French Rumba at the Scoop Café, rue des Dames.
I could also have gone to see All the Roads at the Backstage O’Sullivan’s or Ollie Joe at the Bus Palladium. But once I had gone to the Parisians, and knew that Paddy lives in Limerick and so does not spend THAT much time in Paris, I had to go to his show. Not to mention that he said it would end in a jam, which made me think I could play a bit.
Although the Scoop had to turn down the music fairly early, Paddy led me down to a lower room after the show where I got to sing a couple of songs – making my night. Oh, no, sorry. Making my night! Paddy’s band was great. Accordion, fiddle, vocals, guitars, it was a wild eclectic mix of sounds from around the world and not just from Ireland. Lots of South American influence too. I enjoyed it immensely, it was warm and cosy and friendly.
Which, unfortunately, was NOT the case at the last concert of Parisians. The Parisians are a French band that have existed with one line up of musicians or another since around 2004. They were at the center of the whole baby rocker scene that sprouted up out of Earle Holmes’s open mic at the Shebeen. Interestingly, although the Parisians have been in an on that scene since then, they actually have never had any kind of hit song, or even anything vaguely recognizable by the general French public.
But they are very definitely a very cool underground kind of rock ‘n roll band. They surprised me last night by doing a cover song I do all the time, “Wicked Game,” in a very punk manner. And they had Miggles, one of the original members, join them as well.
But all in all the evening at the International with the Parisians’ last concert was way too successful to be any fun or entice me to stick around very long. I could not get close to the stage there were so many people. I managed to video some stuff from the stairway through the plexiglass window, so I did catch a bit of vibe for this blog. But mostly I got nothing – including a minimal personal interaction with people I know, as there were so many people and it was impossible to sort the friends from the masses. All in all, a big let down and I was glad that I had Paddy’s place to go to for something much more in the tradition of the original Shebeen….
As everyone knows, stated start times for concerts on Facebook invitations are always from 1 to 2 hours in advance of the real intended start time of the concert. This is done to ensure that people do not show up late…. Oops, so easy is it to become skeptical of this practice that it becomes much easier to show up late. Last night was a case in point. Nevermind that I had as late as Thursday night thought that my friends’ concert at the Point Ephemere was to take place on Saturday. One of them informed me that it was in fact on Friday. So off I went an hour or so late for the stated start time on Facebook of the concert….
But as I arrived at the concert I was pleased to see that one of the people I came to see was in the middle of his set. This was Miggles and his band. Miggles is another of the people I met at Earle’s open mic four years ago. He was at the center of the whole scene, in fact, as Earle had met Miggles with Pete Doherty at the time that Miggles was in his band called The Parisians, and searching for places to play. Earle ended up starting the open mic at the Shebeen in order to give a place for The Parisians to play. That was the beginning of a crazy mad open mic that went on from then in 2004 right up to 2009 or 2010, moving from one venue to another and spawning all sorts of “Baby Rocker” bands in Paris.
I have mostly seen Miggles playing solo with an acoustic guitar. But last night it was with his band, and it made a difference. Actually, Miggles is very cool solo with his guitar. But also with the band, it gives another dimension.
The next band I was waiting to see was Le Mépris, which has members of the band Neimo in it. But as I hung out at the Point Ephemere, and listened to the next act, Call Me Señor, whom I had heard about often but never seen or heard, it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I had made a mess of things. I had, in fact. It turned out that Le Mépris had already played, as the first band that night! Holy crap, I’d missed them. Miggles and band were the feature act of the evening, Le Mépris had opened for him, and Call Me Senor closed for him and them….
So I listened to one more song of Call Me Senor and then I got the hell out of the Point Ephemere. I had a choice of two open mics and desperately wanted to play. I sent a message to the organizer of the one at l’Arte Café only to learn that it was about to end. It was my preferred venue, but I thought, “Damn, I missed Le Mépris, now I will have missed the open mic too!” Crappo night. So as I walked along to go to the other open mic, a 20 minute walk from the Point Ephemere, I suddenly received a message from the organizer of L’Arte Café open mic asking me how far away I was, because things were changing, there could be time to play after all. As it turned out, I was about five minutes away in a cab. So I went.
Am I ever glad I did, and even more thankful she texted me. The Arte Café has never let me down. Something makes it so that no matter how quiet it starts out, it develops into a cool, warm, fun open mic. And last night was the same. I did my little set of three songs, but I was barely warmed up, and not much of what I did was very good. But then when the jam happened afterwards, I led in with three songs everyone could sing along and play along to – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “What’s Up!” – and the whole thing was a massive, huge celebration of togetherness. That may sound suspiciously hippie, but it was really great. And after me, many of the other musicians picked up and led the jam, several using my Gibson J-200. An amazing, wonderful, cool night.
Just caught Miggles, missed the Mépris, and then nearly lost the open mic at the Arte Café, but got it. Amazing – and with thanks to the organizer who took the chance to see if I was near and interested….
I had so many concerts, open mics, openings, things to do last night in Paris that I decided to play it all by ear – as I do my music – and see where it would lead and what I could do. It turned out a perfect evening, more or less, with a mixture of attending the opening and playing in a new open mic, taking part in a relatively new one, seeing a friend in concert and playing a song in the metro at the request of some adventurous people attracted by my guitar case….
I started it all off at the basement room open mic called Escargot Underground, which has the strange location of a travel agency on the ground floor and a concert room in the basement amongst the brick walls of the arched ceiling. I was invited by one of the organizers of the open mic at the Blanchisserie in Boulogne, to attend this new open mic, and I warned him that I might have to run out to attend the concert of a friend. “No problem,” was the basic response. But I was pleased to see that he also decided to let me go up and play before my turn in line. It was amazing playing in this little room with my Gibson J-200, as I elected not to use a mic or amplification for the guitar, and there was a small and attentive audience. Beautiful environment and feeling in this place, and I think it will be an interesting open mic to follow in future.
From there – by the way it is located at 7 rue de Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, 75002 Paris – I went on to the International venue where my friend Ben Ellis was performing with his band after a long break from music. Ben I first met at the Lizard Lounge four years ago in what was for me the early days of Earle Holmes’s open mic. But for Ben and many of the other young Paris rockers, it was the end of an era, almost, as they had all started out at the Shebeen in 2004/2005. Ben had this band called Brooklyn, which had some amazing songs, an album, and appeared on national television more than once in France. Then Ben disappeared off to live for a short period in…Brooklyn, and Brooklyn fell apart. And Ben returned with some folk-inspired music that did not, basically, make the best use of his talents as a singer songwriter rock & roller.
Now, two years later, I think, Ben has returned with a band that DOES make use of his full abilities and talents, and has a fabulous mixture of both melody and cool rhythms. So many bands hook into either melody or rhythm. But check out the videos and you will see Ben and band excelling at both. Also, by the way, have some patience for my videos, as there were so many people at the International that it was hard to move around and get a good angle. I DID get some great angles, though, even moving around from place to place in the same video… so watch ’em from beginning to end….
From there I took the metro over to the Mazet bar which, readers of this blog will know, has an open mic on Thursdays. But now, as of a few weeks, it has been taken over by Yaco, the MC and organizer of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, so it is a different vibe from what it was. I really wanted to check it out, and told Yaco that I might be late. He said come anyway. On the way to the Mazet from the International, these four or five people in the metro saw me with my guitar and asked me to play. So I played while we waited for a train, doing “What’s Up!” on the metro platform and really getting outside myself. I loved it -especially with my Gibson J-200!!! It turned out this group of people was heading over to the Caveau des Oubliettes for the jam session, and I persuaded them to go with me to the Mazet.
So we got to the Mazet just in time for me to play five or so songs, and then one of the group I came with, Damien, took my J-200 and played a couple of songs too – in Spanish.
Well, holy shit! What kind of night was that???? In fact it was so good that we all went off to the Caveau des Oubliettes afterwards and found it to be crap, so called it a night!
Last night was the last Lizard Lounge open mic of the summer. It was as cool as usual, with a large crowd of spectators and a lot of musicians – but not too many. The most interesting aspect of this open mic is just how many different style of musician and group are accepted. From the soloist to the full band with drum set, anything goes. That has its drawbacks too, of course, if you are a soloist and you go right after an amazing full sounding band.
I decided not to do my crowd pleasers last night, and felt it. But some people complimented me afterwards, so I assume it passable. I played my Crazy Lady, and Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” There was a fabulous group playing Depeche Mode, the closing group with its sax and two cool guitar players, and one or two other neat things – like the ever cool John McNulty and band.
But I ultimately left the open mic with the most interesting moment for me personally coming as I left and a couple of the organizers pointed out to me that this open mic has been around now for 10 years! Since I did not even hit the open mic road until three and a half years ago, and the first place I played in Paris was the Lizard Lounge’s Monday night open mic with Earle Holmes, I always connected the Lizard Lounge with Earle’s Monday night open mic which ended there in around early 2009 – if not earlier.
But the Sunday monthly open mic and jam session at the Lizard Lounge in its comfortable basement room was going even at that time. And although only once per month, it has its regulars and has never stopped. It’s easy to see why – it is very musician and spectator friendly. Last night’s session was the last for the summer – that means there will be no Lizard Lounge open mic until either the first Saturday of September or the first Saturday of October, it has not yet been decided which.
Now I have to run off to go and host the Galway Pub open mic just off the Place St. Michel, taking duties for one night as the regular MC takes a break.
Last night turned into another of those exceptional moments that only the open mic can do. From time to time the people who attend and the musicians who play in open mics get treated to the surprise visit of a star musician wanting to get back to their roots or maybe try out new material or just have some fun. They show up unannounced and play like anyone else at an open mic. After Johnny Borrell did that at my brunch at the Mecano back in February, the Razorlight singer and songwriter decided to try out the Bus Palladium last night.
Of course, the Bus Palladium is a legendary venue in Paris that is well worth the visit of any musician. As I wrote the first time I visited the Bus Palladium in April last year: Started in September 1965, it began by sending out buses to the kids in the suburbs to bring them in to see the shows, since they didn’t have much money to make the trek into Paris. It quickly became a real center of the rock and pop scene, and even Salvador Dali showed up one night with a bunch of his friends. The reputation grew outside France too, and in addition to performers such as Johnny Hallyday, Eddy Mitchell et les Chaussettes Noires, Julien Clerc, Alain Bashung, CharlElie Couture, Indochine, Etienne Daho, Stephan Eicher, Noir Désir, La Mano Negra and the Rita Mitsouko, it is also famous for the fact that Mick Jagger decided to celebrate one of his birthdays there.
Borrell attended my brunch in February thanks to his friendship with my friend Earle Holmes, and it was again with Earle that Borrell showed up last night at the Bus Palladium. He has been spending a lot of time in Paris lately, and is hard at work on new songs. I was pleased to lend him my guitar again for the several songs, his own and covers, that he played last night. The Bus has been doing an open mic for the last six months or so, on Tuesdays, and normally the musicians must send in a request to play along with links to their music. Obviously, Borrell needed no such introduction or examination….
He seemed more relaxed than when I saw him in February, and he played more songs. But there is something about the restaurant room of the Bus Palladium, something about the small stage and the lighting, that makes you want to continue playing on. It’s got some kind of 1960s or 70s cocktail lounge feel to it. It may not be the quietest or most attentive audience, but there are always a sufficient number of listeners to make it worth wanting to continue. I enjoyed making some videos of Johnny playing while trying to keep the portrait of Serge Gainsbourg as visible behind him as I could. The only problem was the lighting was so dark I had to set the Zoom Q3HD to night light, which cust a lot of the clear definition of the image.
Earlier, I did my songs and a few friends showed up – like Calvin McEnron and Olivier Rodriguez – and did theirs. I heard a few new people too. All in all it was a spectacularly wonderful evening.