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Five Musicians In Search of Nothing: Thriving in a Covid World

April 7, 2021

PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.

And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!

1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)

The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.

2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.

First single from “Dusk,” the new CD from Paddy Sherlock

If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

3) The only musician on this short list who I did not meet at an open mic is Misja Fitzgerald Michel, one of France’s top jazz guitarists, whom I met through a mutual friend, a photographer. And what a discovery! I say he is a jazz guitarist, but he is pretty much an all-rounder, and never more so than now that I can tell you about his recent exploit. (Misja did a fabulous CD a few years ago playing guitar along to the singing of Hugh Coltman of cover songs all by Nick Drake. A kind of Nick Drake tribute album that got some great critical reviews.) In fact, he has had two very interesting projects in the past year or so since Covid, one being his CD with a vibrophone player named Franck Tortiller, but the one I wanted to draw your attention to now is astounding!

Making of the Elzbieta Sikora piece with Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.

Gaelle Buswel

Gaelle Buswel

4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”

Title song of Gaelle Buswel’s latest album.

I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….

5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….

Joe Danger singing his “Let’s Get Rich” song.

I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!

PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:

My own song, “What’s All This Talk!?”

Astounding Study in Contrasts, Age, Style and Other – Acoustic Bazar vs. Ptit Bonheur

May 16, 2012

I never intended my evening to split between the generations, styles and locales. But last night it all just came together that way, and I ended up attending and performing at the Acoustic Bazar open mic and then the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, two venues divided by the generations and styles and all of Paris….

I have only been two or three times to the Acoustic Bazar open mic at the Satellit Café near the Oberkampf metro, and the last time feels as if it may have been almost two years ago. One problem for me is that it happens only once a month, on a Tuesday, and you can be the first to arrive and the last to perform, and you have to be there right at sign-up time, which is 8:45. But the quality of the performances, the locale, the sound system, and the history of this open mic all make it a fabulously interesting evening whenever I go.

This year the Acoustic Bazar celebrates the 20th year of its existence. It started out being dedicated to acoustic guitar music alone, but eventually decided to allow singer songwriters on the guitar too. You can play cover songs or your own compositions. It is very open, and there is a sound man behind the board throughout the evening, and a quiet and usually large audience. It usually runs on the first Tuesday of each month, but with two national public holidays this month on the first two Tuesdays, it did not run until yesterday.

One of the main differences between this open mic and others is that there is always a very, very high class act in the middle of the night doing a 30 minute set. I have seen some good ones, and last night’s was no exception. Or rather, perhaps I should say, was exceptional. It was the French guitar player Michel Haumont, who specializes in finger picking. He was brilliant, and he invited several brilliant guitar-playing guests, and one singer who knew who happened to be in the audience.

There were several other extraordinary guitar players in the line up during the open mic, and some excellent singers too. For the second night in a row I heard a woman play “Jimmy” by the French/American band Moriarty. There was also Gaelle Buswel, whom I met a couple of years ago at the Cavern vocal jam, here trying out some of her new songs.

Then it was my turn, and after hearing some of these extraordinary musicians I felt very small, and my guitar playing felt worse than small. On top of it, I had not sound on my voice on the monitor – which has never happened at this place for me – so after my slot I decided I needed a change of air despite the coolness of this open mic. In fact, one thing I really noticed here for the first time was that while the quality of the Acoustic Bazar music was very high, mature and accomplished, the audience tended to be in the upper area of middle age. This was normal for an open mic that has been going that long, no doubt. But it also meant a kind of orderliness and professionalism and calmness to the evening that I felt I needed a break from after my average effort on stage.

Looking at the time, I realized I had enough time to get to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar on rue Laplace, which is another reason I went so rarely to Acoustic Bazar, because the Ptit Bonheur has been so much fun. I thought I would be too late to get behind the mic, but I ended up lucky and got a slot not long after I arrived. Still, the Ptit Bonheur was full of spectators, musicians, including one of the Frangins, whom I had told about it the night before at Coolin. And most of all, I saw immediately the difference in the vibe. We were not talking about accomplished musicians of the level of Michel Haumont. But we were talking about a crowd of magnificent young people of an average age closer to 22 than 62. Oh, or even the oldest of them, Wayne Standley, who may be closer to 62 than 22, but who has a young spirit and shows up week after week.

There was me, of course, closer to 62 than 22. But I felt immediately at home in the musical vibe of Ptit Bonheur, and after playing my slot and then lending my Gibson J200 to two or three performers – including Wayne – the open mic ended and we went up to the bar. I was still hungry for playing, and I pulled out the Gibson to show it to Baptiste W. Hamon, and then I started playing some songs, and I was soon joined by another guitarist – from the band LA//KVLKD, and soon we were jamming like madmen, and had everyone singing and clapping along.

I then gave the Gibson to one person after another and the jam continued until 2 AM. It was about great music, youth, hope, fun, laid back musical revelry and a general sense of anything goes. It was so revitalizing that I didn’t want it to end. And it also made me think of the extraordinary contrast between the two open mics, defined mostly by the age and accomplishments of the participants. But both have their place. Looking forward to doing it all again sometime.

Ambience at Mazet and Cavern

February 17, 2012

It was a little like a Wednesday night, when it is possible to attend both the Highlander open mic and the Cavern open vocal jam session. Last night I had a great time at the Mazet open mic and then took a three minute walk up the street to the Cavern to listen to the acoustic night with some Cavern regulars and a bunch of acoustic guitars.

I decided to go out and play at the Mazet despite feeling like the never-ending cold was finally going to get the better of me. I played immediately, and with the whiskey and the emotion of the singing, I thought I managed to get rid of all the sweat I needed to wake up the following morning without the cold. Wishful thinking.

There was an original act at the Mazet, a kind of young electro duo called “Save the Radicals,” that played a cool and unusual set. Other highlights were the visit by James Iansiti, the MC of the Tennessee bar open mic on Mondays, who came and played – can’t keep a good musician down.

Speaking of which… I had noticed on Facebook that Gaelle Buswel was playing in an evening of acoustic music at the Cavern, just down the street from the Mazet, so I decided to stop in and give it a listen. Along with Gaelle – whose rendition of What’s Up! had inspired me to try the same song last year – there were Cavern regulars like Jon Du, and Allison Maarek.

With sometimes four acoustic guitars going at once, the evening was very interesting and fun and fresh. And Gaelle was sounding strong as ever – check out her Janice Joplin rendition – as were the others. Totally fun and interesting, and I was pleased that despite the deathly cold I could have a decent night out. Going for the same thing tonight….

From Calvin and Olivier at the Galerie 106, to Gaelle Buswel at Le Cavern

December 19, 2010

I had to go over to the Galerie 106 to see the exhibition of my friend Olivier Rodriguez’s photos yesterday and when I got there, I found I not only had a feast of photos – with Olivier’s, but also with those of Aurore Gorius, Julien Navas and Victor Paimblanc – but I also met up with my friend Calvin McEnron. And as we spoke eventually Calvin said he wanted to play one of his new songs. So I handed over my guitar and he played and sang, right in the middle of the vernissage. That’s Calvin – and he writes some damned interesting songs….

Olivier’s photos were all taken with an iPhone, and I recognized a lot of the subjects of the photos – ie, the people being photographed. Olivier is the guy who took one of my favorite photos of me, which I use as my profile photo on my myspace. Olivier used to do a lot of the photos of the musicians at Earle’s open mic, so he’s got some wonderful stuff.

But in the end, I had to leave after an hour or so from the Galerie to get over to Le Cavern to hear the concert of a woman singer I discovered last year, and whom I immediately fell for. Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience. Last night she played with her band, Cam On, the two brothers of Vietnamese origin playing bass and lead are extraordinary. Last night it was mostly cover songs, that they did, but Gaelle also has some of her own.

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