NICE, France – The last thing I expected upon arrival in Nice last night in the sun and heat was that I would get all that much hotter as the night went on, and that it would get sunnier when the sun went down. I’m talking about having discovered a new – for me – open mic in a section of the city where I never played before. Finding it was a breeze, since all I did was enter the words “jam” and “Nice” and “France” into the Internet search engine and up came a link to the Jam bar in Nice, that specialises in live music, including an open mic on Tuesday nights….
It is located in the pedestrians’ only streets near the Promenade des Anglais, but not in the old town, which was the only section of town where I had played in open mics prior to this. It was my kind of place also in starting after 9 p.m. but having a slot for me to play every when I got there after a pizza up the street after 10 p.m.
What I loved about this place was that a), it has a cocktail lounge kind of feel to it, but at the same time, it maintains a simplicity of any open mic in any open mic I’ve been to, and b) it was brimming full of people. The crowd could be loud at times, but when a comic went on before me, they kept very quiet for him, and then when I went up, they continued being respectfully quiet. I think that had to do with me going up only on acoustic guitar and vocals, whereas most of the talking happened when it was a full band formation.
Most of the evening did consist of the full band formation, with musicians exchanging places and instruments: a classic jam. But it was also a classic open mic, allowing, as I said, a comic and me only on the guitar and vocals. All in all, I found the atmosphere to be a fabulous, anything-goes, perfect open mic atmosphere. Really glad to have discovered it – in fact, it has been going for only a year, apparently, so that’s why I missed it in my previous visits to Nice….
PARIS – Thursday night was the May 1st public holiday, the Fête du Travail, in France. So it was a great day to think of nothing but maybe going to attend a little gig by some friends and acquaintances that I have met at open mics in Paris, and who have now decided to perform as often as possible in gigs as opposed to open mics.
Well, not all of them. But in any case, I’ve mentioned or filmed each of these performers on my blog in the past, and seen a couple of them several times, and one just once. They all impressed me and showed me another side of their talent at this entirely entertaining 2 and a half-hour gig they put on at very neat bar venue called L’Angora, just off the place de la Bastille in Paris.
I’m talking about the French guitar player singer who calls himself Ventru; about the American singer songwriter from Seattle, Shelita Burke; and about the visiting American from San Diego, Aaron Bowen. Together, they put on a highly entertaining evening that allowed the fairly large crowd or spectators to see different sides to their talent than what their open mic appearances allow for, due partly to the often raucous spectators at open mics, and the often bad sound systems, and the often too low quota of songs.
Ventru started the show, and played his distinctive rhythmic guitar style and vocals in French; he was followed by Aaron Bowen, who deftly managed to pull of a different style of song in just about every single piece he played, from quiet, ethereal singing melodies to hard hitting rhythms and jazzy leads and chords….all of which was tied together by his own unmistakable style. And then the evening was closed by Shelita, with her hard hitting rhythmic guitar playing and vocals that for me seem to be a cross between Tori Amos and Bjork….
The Warm and Funky Venue of L’Angora, in Paris
I just was not bored throughout the evening. And the Angora is a great discovery: Located at No. 3 Boulevard Richard Lenoir, it has a real 19th Century feel to it both on the ground floor with its fabulous long, oak bar, its old fashioned ceiling mouldings and on the first floor where the music takes place, in a low-ceilinged private room with a piano, carpet and great acoustics. There is a blue jam on Sundays, but on the ground floor, since they do not have the right to use drums on the first floor. Definitely worth the visit.
PARIS – As it turned out, I could have played in all of the three musical locations that I visited in Paris last night – but I played in none of them. And as it turned out, I was just as happy with that situation as going somewhere to play myself, as my real idea was to take in three in one night for a completely different cultural experience each time.
The first was the one where, I will admit, the idea of playing there myself is greatly exaggerated. The only reason I mention it at all was that when I arrived at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore to hear Gary Lucas play his guitar and talk about and read from his book, Lucas actually had a guy singing with him in a vaguely Jeff Buckley manner. The guy, it turned out, was just someone Lucas did not know or had never heard sing, and he had asked in advance if he could join in and sing along when Lucas performed at the bookstore. Lucas agreed, and it was a cool effect and a nice little addition to a very cool presentation. So it occurred to me that perhaps if I had asked, too, he’d have given me a chance – even if it was a longshot….
Gary Lucas was at Shakespeare and Company to promote his book “Touched by Grace,” which recounts his experience working with Jeff Buckley, with whom he wrote a dozen or more songs, including the famous “Grace,” and “Mojo Pin.” But Buckley is not his only claim to fame as a collaborator. Lucas has played guitar or otherwise collaborated with a Who’s Who of popular musical geniuses – to say nothing of Leonard Bernstein – from Captain Beefheart to Patti Smith to Lou Reed to Iggy Pop…oh and even people like Peter Stampfl, of the Holy Modal Rounders….
Lucas played his Gibson J-45 in opening tuning, filling the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and its full-house of people with the ethereal sounds that are his trademark. I bought one of his CDs, which I will be including in my next Morning Exercise Music review. Oh, and I must add that I was just delighted that although I arrived a little late, and the bookstore was entirely full to the point that the front door could not be opened, I was ushered up through the first floor library by another door into the building, and led down to the back of the “stage” to listen to Lucas. That, by the way, is why you only get my videos of Lucas from off to the side of the musician, and from behind.
From the Books to the Taps, it Was Time for a Beer at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar
From Shakespeare and Company I headed over to the Tennessee Bar to check out the open mic. There, of course, I’d have been able to play if I wanted to. But I had that third date of the night coming up, so I just stayed and listened to a few songs – including by the mainstay of the Tireuse open mic, Wayne Standley – and also by someone else using a Gibson, similar to the J-45 of Lucas, but which was either a Dove or a Hummingbird, and they were also using it in a similar manner. But to slightly less effect. Still, it was an incredibly beautiful sounding guitar and nifty playing. Once I had assured myself that my favorite Thursday night was going strong, I finished my beer and went off to the third location.
This final stop of the evening bore no resemblance to the first two. I was invited to this one by a Brazilian friend, who said that she had a Brazilian friend playing Brazilian music in this hotel – the Hotel Athenee. I was a little confused when I got there, as I had for mixed it up in my mind with the Plaza Athenee, or whatever it is. But this was quite a posh joint as it turned out, with a long lobby cocktail bar room in plush furniture and walls covered with casting photo portraits of famous Hollywood stars from the past.
With a Final Glass of Wine at the Hotel Athenee and Brazilian Music
The Brazilian music was guitar and vocals, mostly bossa nova stuff, and it was a very cool and relaxed evening and foretaste of my imminent trip to Sao Paulo. My friend got up and did a song too, by the way, and she invited me to play, saying the mic was open…. So that’s how I tie in that final unforeseen possibility of being able to play in all three venues, had I wanted to. But there at the Athenee, I felt that the atmosphere was so laid-back Brazilian bossa nova style stuff that my own songs or covers would be far too big a contrast, although I was definitely tempted.
In any case, it was a really cool evening, kind of like an all you can eat buffet of different foods and sauces, on the Paris plate….
PS, It turns out that in arriving late at the Shakespeare and Company performance by Gary Lucas, and hearing him talk about about his singer as someone who just contacted him and he’d never heard of him before, I had no doubt missed a more correct introduction beforehand. I’ve since learned from a reader of this bog – as you can see in the comments below – that the singer was Tim Watt, and he is a musician who was already known to Gary, and the two prepared together in advance… So the very premise of this whole blog post was faulty, as I’d never have been able to play at Shakespeare and Company after all!! 😉
PARIS – In 30 years living in Paris I never set foot inside the Hotel de Ville until last night. At the invitation of a friend, who is a friend of one of the band members, I went to see the African band Debademba in the great salon of the Hotel de Ville. The band was giving a concert to celebrate Ramadan.
The inside of the Hotel de Ville, in fact, is well worth a visit. It is massive and ornate and just…extraordinary. I have done no research on it, so I will leave this blog description as silly and basic as that.
There were hundreds and maybe even more than a thousand people present in the vast room for the music, which started with a maghreb band walking around playing drums and some kind of screeching horn. I did a bit of research on that, and thought it was something like a bombarde, often used in Brittany, but I could not really name it accurately.
But Debademba were just fabulous. The guitar player, Abdoulaye Traoré, is really strong, and the vocalist – who sings the guitar player’s compositions – had an amazing high-pitched, almost feminine voice. The music was a mixture of everything, with a strong overtone frequently of jazz fusion.
I had never heard any African music in concert that was like this, and it was very strong. The band was particularly good at understanding an audience, too, as just about every song was different, had a different tempo, mood, melody.
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
More Experience Than Existing Open Mics
Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.
Mostly Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Nice, Not Monaco
I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. It is for that reason, in fact, that I include Monaco on this latest list: Monaco is where the race takes place, and most of the people who attend the race stay in Nice, because it’s cheaper than Monaco. It is also more conducive to open mics and open jam sessions. Over the years I have always been able to play in Monaco, but usually as an invited guest by generous musicians. So there is no real listing for Monaco!!! McCarthy’s Pub was a mainstay, but I heard it was all over now, and I have not yet confirmed if that was an illusion… I no doubt will, though, so keep posted…!
NICE, France – Nice is a kind of mini city with a little bit of everything, and last night, on my first night of six in this Mediterranean wonderland, I had a mini experience of the kind I love and speak about so often on this blog. It was the kind that started bad and ended great – but there was something mini about it anyway.
I had begun with the doubtful prospect of finding an open mic at the King’s Pub. I say doubtful because I had not yet managed to find an open mic at the King’s Pub on my Tuesday nights in Nice in the past, so I doubted the Internet site that said there would be one.
It All Started With a Le Cenac Dinner
Still, I went out for a great dinner at a favorite restaurant, Le Cenac, eating fruits de mer and a good red wine of Provence. Then I walked toward old Nice, the old town, where I knew that my first stop would be at the King’s Pub, and if, as I expected, there was no open mic, then I would head off and visit the several other bars and pubs and venues where I have played in the past, hoping to stumble upon music in at least one of them.
At King’s Pub, I was told by the man who organizes the music, that, No, there was no open mic last night. On the other hand, he told me there was one on Sunday night, and that it starts pretty late – so I knew I had some good times ahead on the weekend.
I left the pub and decided to visit each of the other places that came to mind and in the most logical order: Paddy’s Pub, the Snug pub, Shapko Bar and then Jonathan’s…oh, and it started with a place the name I know not. At each successive bar I found that there was either no music, or no open mic. Mostly no music. That will come later in the week – Shapko is only open Wednesday to Sunday, but it does not exactly have an open mic, from what I can see.
I was feeling really crappy, and my entire sense of optimism faded. In fact, before I visited the last bar, Jonathan’s, I began feeling as if my entire good sense and feeling for the city of Nice was suddenly changing. Had the place gone down hill? I thought of all the fun musical evenings I have had in the past, and I felt I was facing the lowest ebb of musical nullity yet.
I then had the option of breaking out of the old town by turning right and heading the shortest route back to my hotel near the Nice train station, or turning left and taking a longer, more scenic route through the old town where I would perhaps run into a few more bars that, who knew, might have live music?
And Then There Was De Klomp
No sooner had I opted for the optimistic, left turn down a narrow street – like most in the old town – than I heard music coming from a bar on the left, saw hip looking people standing outside smoking, and began to examine the front of the pub, and saw the name of the place: De Klomp. Then, at the same moment I noticed the word “Jam,” chalked up on a sign, and I heard a man from behind asking me if I played music – he saw my guitar on my back – and if I did and I wanted, I could go in and play in the jam.
Wow! So I entered, feeling much lighter and immediately better about Nice and its music scene. It turned out to be a cool, young crowd of listeners, and a nice, low-ceilinged pub with plenty of choices of draught beer. And the man behind the mic playing a Godin guitar – same company as my Seagull S6 – had a great voice and played well. He was young contemporary, the whole place and vibe was just that.
Enter Harry, the Musical Host of the Open Jam at De Klomp
So I approached him after he sang a couple of songs and I ordered a beer, and he said before I had a chance: “I saw you have a guitar. Do you want to play? It’s not actually a jam session tonight, but you are welcome to play.”
This is the attitude I love! It’s the real music attitude, and at once common and not also rarer than it should be, around the world. So I accepted. His name, by the way, was Harry, and he not only plays that night, but also said that he runs a jam session at the bar on Sunday nights, and that I should come. Hmm, that makes for two on Sunday!
After I played my first song, “Wicked Game,” Harry returned and asked if he could play lead with me. So began at least 45 minutes of playing together, and the audience built in size, came closer to the stage, listened, sang along, and applauded warmly. I took a break after sweating out my insides to the point of no return, and Harry took over again completely.
Oh, and another audience member eventually joined Harry for one song, so it did become a kind of open mic, open jam, after all. Still, it was a kind of mini one…. But boy was it gratifying! First night in Nice, very, very nice….
I see Wayne just about every week now, as we both continue to attend the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic. And when he learned I was going to be in Australia this week, he told me that his daughter was performing with Moriarty in a few dates in Australia, and as it turned out, the band was playing in Melbourne last night at The Famous Spiegeltent, at the Melbourne Arts Centre. Wayne also told Rosemary, and she put me on a list to get in to watch the show.
That was really cool, and it turned out that the Spiegeltent was a few stops on the tram from the racetrack where I do my day job, so how could I not go?! Of course, the only thing that might stop me was the open mic at the Acoustic Café scheduled for last night, in another nearby part of Melbourne. And this is, after all, my open mic adventure.
But I really enjoy the songs of Moriarty that I have heard on the radio in France – frequently – and the videos I have seen, and I thought this would be a fabulous opportunity to see – and potentially meet – the band, and continue the Moriarty moments on the open mic adventure. The adventure, after all, is all about adventure and not getting stuck in too much of a pattern in life. Moriarty, you might say, is a little about the same – given that the name of the band comes from the character, Dean Moriarty, in Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road”….
The band started out doing traditional blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but with the departure of some members, specifically a drummer, they went more acoustic and more vocal oriented. (Last night after the show when I mentioned to the bass player, Zim, about how fabulous it was that I did not need to use my earplugs during the concert, he said that was something they always insist on, that the decibels be lower than what most bands pump them up to in order that people may actually listen to the music, hear the music without destroying their future capacity to hear anything….)
Founded in 1995 amongst a bunch of friends from Paris who mostly came from a multicultural mix – three of them now have one or two American parents – their music naturally gravitated to American music. That’s who they are. But they were actually in Australia first of all to play in the Womad festival in Adelaide, and although the band cannot really be described as “World Music,” it is definitely eclectic, and the influences range from just about everything to just about everything else. With a strong dose of country, blues, pop, but even, as the radio personality – no name, sorry – who introduced them last night said, “Depeche Mode.”
So I showed up last night to find a GIANT line up of people waiting for the doors to the Spiegeltent to open, as the few chairs and the rest of the standing room only areas of the venue are served up on a first come first served basis. I was surprised there were so many people, as I was unaware of Moriarty being well known in Australia. In fact, they are not that well-known, but they have toured here before, and one spectator I spoke to said she had seen them three times – ie, each time they came.
There were also a number of people from France. But there was a very healthy number of Australians. Another couple of spectators, also from Austraila, who stood behind me in the line told me that they had never heard of Moriarty, but they gladly paid the $45 for the tickets because they knew that in general the shows at the Spiegeltent were very good.
Indeed! The Spiegeltent is this kind of theatre-in-the-round building that travels from city to city, and originally came from Belgium in the 1920s. It reminds me most of a kind of circus tent, or even carrousel, but it is filled with mirrors and brocaded columns, wood, canvass and glass. The stage was small, but all spectators had a pretty close up view, despite that the room was packed. How many? 500 people? 700? I can only guess.
I ended up finding a nook right beside the stage that allowed me the freedom to do some videos without obstructing anyone else’s view, but it was not the best vantage point to see the band straight on and get the full feel for the stage antics. Still, it felt like a privileged position as I could grab lots of images from the side and behind and get a backstage kind of feel to it.
I have now written almost a 1000 words building up to this and saying nothing. But what can I say, really? Watch the videos and listen. The band was simply fantastic. The show was complete with lively stage presence and patter and antics and a very talented multi-instrumental group of musicians.
They are also very international, as I said, and a funny moment came during the show when a an Australian woman standing next to me turned to me and said, “Why do they all have American accents?” She was no doubt surprised and feeling somewhat invaded when I responded in my “American” accent and told her because they had American parents….
Anyway, Rosemary’s voice, I would just like to add, which I had heard only on the radio or Internet in the past, is absolutely superb, rich, and strong, and she and the other band members all have great stage presence. I can see why they have gone so far, but they deserve further recognition and success – let’s hope the hits keep coming. They are in no way a “traditional” music band, with some very avant garde touches and a newness and nowness to the band.
I also saw just how professional every one of the band members is, when they all went out from the “tent” after the show to meet with their fans and stand around and talk and sign autographs and copies of their latest CD. I spoke to just about all the band members, and Rosemary and I talked for quite a while – much of it about her father, Wayne. Wayne it turns out, has also played and recorded with the band – and that’s the next thing on my list I’ll want to see. But when I see and hear Rosemary, I cannot help but hear and see the Wayne influence in the background, and I imagine the upbringing….
I arrived at the Bar de la Degustation in Nice just in time to see and record what would be the last song in some kind of open jam, open not just to musicians, but open to the public in the streets of Nice on the public square. I was asked by someone if I wanted to play, I said, Yes, I went up to the mic and someone else started unplugging and told me it was finished. I ended up being much luckier at Paddy’s Pub, where I had seen a near riot take place the night before….
Having just missed the chance at this curious bar with its wide open front and terrace being bigger than the interior of the bar, I decided to check out the other bars. I found one that had a couple of musicians and I chatted with one of the managers at the door, and he was interested in hearing me play, but clearly with a band doing a gig it was out of the question.
So I went down the street to again visit Paddy’s Pub. I could see immediately that the crowd and the vibe and the band were all different from the night before. It was quieter, but still far from tame. It was a lively evening, in fact, with a good crowd, and this duo of musicians on stage, with two guitars and vocals provided mostly by one of the musicians, but occasionally they worked in harmony.
I pulled up to the bar, listened to the band, and found I liked it. After their set, the main guitar player came up to his girlfriend who was standing beside me, and we struck up a conversation. I learned that they were two of a four piece band called Pin Heads, that they were from Nice, and the most surprising thing for me to learn was that the lead singer had only started playing guitar and singing last year!!! I mean, he sounded so good after one year at that, that I wonder what he can do from here.
Anyway, as we spoke, I told the musician about my musical adventures. So he asked if I wanted to go up and play a song or two, and I agreed. We all three of us went up, I did “Mad World,” and “Wicked Game,” AGAIN! And they played along with me. It was pretty loud, the sound system was not what you would call great, but I felt a captive audience and I enjoyed myself immensely.
The secret to a venue is always the people therein….
Fishing around for places to play in Nice, I was always going to try out the amazing Shapko bar on the rue Rossetti. And last night, I was in the presence of my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, the inimitable French redneck hillbilly singer songwriter, and it turned out that the theme of the music at Shapko was fairly close to redneck, so I thought Baptiste and I should make a visit.
We had also been considering going to King’s Pub again, where I had played the night before and was invited to play again last night. But I really wanted to take another look at Shapko, where I managed to play some songs last year during a similar acoustic night, hosted by someone else – Peter Cogavin. Peter, in fact, told me yesterday that he knew the guy hosting the evening at Shapko, and that he thought he might be open to letting me play.
That guy was a British musician with the somewhat bourbon soaked hillbilly name of Jack Daniel. It is his real name. And he plays a wicked fingerpicking blues and country guitar and lays a nice laid back vocal on top of it. He had a harmonica player, and then his “friends,” who joined in as the even progressed.
Shapko, the man who owns the bar, is a saxophone player from Russia, and he is a real mean sax player. I mean good, not nasty. He is also a music-loving performer who opens his stage to other players as much as he can while maintaining a good professional business and show. I was really flattered when I walked in last night and he immediately remembered me, although I had visited his bar only twice last year: ‘The Canadian!” he said.
At the break, I spoke to Jack Daniel about the possibility of playing, and he more or less accepted. But as the evening went on with the second set, it became clear that the music was moving further and further away from what either I or Baptiste do, so we ultimately decided to cut out and check out the scene at the King’s Pub. It turned out that that was pretty quiet and the musicians were doing a long set, and we ultimately decided that it was getting too late to hang around much longer. So we both left and went our ways.
But the night was really enriching in terms of the music at Shapko, which was fabulous – especially in the middle of the jam during the second set.
I never expected to do a nearly 1-hour set in a bar in old Nice last night. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d find any place to play the whole time I am here until next Monday. But I stumbled on the King’s Pub, noticed they hold an open mic sometimes on Thursdays and Sundays, went in, asked when the next open mic was, got told it would be in nearly two weeks, looked disappointed, got offered to go on stage then and there to play. So I went up, never got asked to get down!
I could not believe my good fortune, but it had to do with the mindset of Christian, the manager of this rock, pop, folk venue in Nice, a mainstay of the live music scene. I had arrived in Nice at dinner time, had to finish doing three articles for my Monaco Grand Prix preview, worked until nearly 10 PM, ran out and found a restaurant, ate, then decided to digest my food by walking around Old Nice checking out the various venues to see if I could plan for playing somewhere later on the trip.
But I had my guitar with me, as always, and the vibe passed with Christian, and the stage was already set up with the equipment of the musician for last night, Matthieu Saque, who was just as open and willing as was Christian to allow me to go on stage and play.
The sound system was great, the monitor was perfectly set up, and later in my set – which lasted 45 minutes to an hour – Matthieu came up and pointed out that I could also use the vocal mixer button to give my voice a bit of harmony.
All in all, it was a superb evening, a great way to digest my food – truffle pasta, confit de canard and baba au rhum, plus a good local red wine – and to discover this very cool bar, the music of Matthieu and Christian and his group. Because it turns out that Christian, the manager, has a band called The Running Birds, that plays at the pub sometimes – he is also doing a different duo thing tonight and tomorrow at the pub – and they are opening up the show this Saturday at the Nikaia for The Scorpions.
Can anything be much cooler than that for a first night in Nice where I expected nothing and inherited the world? The audience was appreciative, and kept asking me to play, so you cannot feel any better while playing than having that happen.