PARIS – I wrote in my previous post about how it did not feel like August in Paris at the Galway on Monday night. I also wrote of the brave, good souls who keep their open mics alive during the vacation month of August. Last night, another such brave establishment was Le Baroc, near the Metro Colonel Fabien, and I went for the first time in a long long time.
Le Baroc is one of the mainstay musical bars of Paris, it always makes an effort to open the stage to pros and amateurs alike, and this mid-month of August it has also made the effort to keep the open mic open and alive. So there were a respectable number of musicians last night, but still, with very few clients in this slightly off-the-beaten-path of tourist Paris, there were few spectators.
Meeting Up With LadiesDi Again
The result was, it really felt like Paris in August. But I was really pleased to have a stage to sing a few songs on, and someone played along on piano. I was also pleased to see my friend the Argentine musician, LadiesDi, again. Since last I saw him in the open mics of Paris he has tramped around the world in various countries, including Japan – where we played in the same venue perhaps a week apart last year, in Osaka – and in Finland and Italy and who knows where all else….
So it was a very worthwhile evening, even if it did still feel like August.
Sometimes finding a place to play in a new city one has never been to before requires a little more than just an Internet search or randomly wandering the streets. Last night before I set out to randomly wander the streets of Osaka, where I have never been before and where I found no open mics or jams on my Internet search, I decided to contact a friend of mine whom I know in Paris and who frequently plays in Japan. It turned out that this friend, who calls himself LadiesDi, is actually right now doing his tour of Japan clubs. He was unavailable on Facebook or anywhere else – I still haven’t heard from him! – but I noticed the name on his site of an intriguing looking venue in Osaka where he played last week.
So it was that I decided to set out in search of the Club Mercury and see if it was possible for me to play there. Located near the Hard Rock Cafe, I thought I had that landmark to use as a guiding point in a culture where I find it extremely difficult to navigate. But I am getting better and better after several visits to Japan, and this trip has been my biggest breakthrough so far in terms of understanding signs and streets and other cultural marks.
So to my complete and utter shock and surprise and a sense of pride, I arrived directly at the Club Mercury, making no big errors as I went. At the door I found there was a 20-euro cover charge, but some very nice people who did all they could to understand what I was looking for. I asked them if I could play music there, and they said that there was already another band. They then inquired within and said I should come back later if I wanted to play.
So I went across the street and had a sumptuous pizza with cream sauce instead of tomato sauce, and then I returned to the Club Mercury, and went in to find that the show had ended for the evening, but that the owner manager was aware of my desire to play. He asked me what date I was free, and I told him I was leaving Japan on Wednesday.
“Do you have a guitar now?”
I said I did, and he invited me on the stage to play. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The place had around 25 people there to listen, the stage was sizable and very cool, this kind of bauhausian feel to it, and complete with spotlights, a curtain and a great monitor system. The room was very small, and on the curtain in front of the stage when there was no performance, old movies are projected.
I played a few songs with all spectators listening quietly, and applauding with warm appreciation. I spoke to most of them afterwards, while I ate the noodle soup I had been offered in gratitude and payment for my set. In short, it was all very bloody amazing!!!
I was also told, by the way, that Osaka is full of such neat music venues, hidden, off the main roads, in basements, in places you would never find them if you didn’t know. The Club Mercury has existed for eight years. It has a regular stream of local bands and musicians playing there, and is well worth the visit for the cool atmosphere and people alone.
After I left, I decided to flex my new found navigational muscles and dared myself to walk all the way across town back to my hotel rather than take a subway train. Along the way I met a young band, called The LaQ, sitting in the covered mews thing that traverses the center of town. They gave me their CD, which I have not been able to play yet, as I have no CD player in my hotel or on my computer. I put the CD with that of one of the musicians I met at the Club Mercury, called Side Slow, and I look forward to listening.
As I neared my hotel, I passed a bar and some people within saw that I had a guitar and gestured me to come in and play. There was nothing going on musically, but it looked like a fun group of people in a small, comfortable, corner neighborhood bar. So I went in, played a song and took a beer.
That was the beginning of a long end to the evening playing music myself in the bar, and listening to one of the other people at the bar, a guitarist named Gil, whom I have recorded on video here, which makes up partially for the lack of videos from the Club Mercury, aside from the panoramic. But I truly regret not having heard any of the music from the other musicians at the Club Mercury, and I should never have gone for the pizza – except it was great.
I wanted to keep the names of the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub out of the headline this time, since my weekly haunts while in Paris might cease to look very attractive as a read. But they continue to be attractive as places of musical discovery.
Last night I showed up at the Tennessee Bar at 9:10 PM and I was far too late. I never would get a slot on stage. But I stayed long enough to hear some fabulous music before heading on to the Galway where I basically always get a slot on stage, thanks Stephen Prescott.
But the discoveries at the Tennessee were well worth the visit. The biggest discovery of the night, no doubt, was Benjamin Scheuer, who sang some songs of his own composition before picking up the lead guitar to help Les DeShane with “November Rain.” When you hear Benjamin singing his songs you think of the 1960s, and more the 1970s, and you think of the great singer songwriters of that era. You think of Simon & Garfunkel, without the harmonies. I’m sure some people could come up with some much better parallels, but this much is certain: Benjamin has a very cool voice in terms of expressiveness, natural timbre and emotion. And he writes some beautiful touching lyrics AND he places a wicked guitar. In fact, after hearing him play his songs with the acoustic I had no idea that the same guy could do that “November Rain” lead – which was very cool. Check out the videos, and his web site. The word “up-and-coming” cannot be better fitted than to this guy Benjamin.
Then there was this wild old French guy who took to the stage and was immediately joined by Les on the lead and another guy on the piano, and we had to have the oldest guy in the place provide us with the most rock ‘n roll stuff of the night. I recorded his “Route 66,” and it’s pretty cool.
Les himself, in fact, also played a song I had no yet heard him play, and I enjoyed it immensely, and this was a Robert Johnson song. I also had fun with the camera work, managing to get Les in the shot and to also simultaneously get Les in the shot on his own camera that was videoing the whole thing.
When I realized that I did not want to wait around any longer at the Tennessee and that if I did get up the audience would be reduced to 1 person by then, I decided to head over to the Galway. There I heard a cool guy named… Brad as I entered. And then a cool guy named Matt, who was from Montreal. And then I heard cool Stephen, who showed off his new toy, which is a box that can turn your voice into harmonies as you sing. Now, although I had seen Les with the same thing at the Mecano, I had never tried it. Stephen told me I could try it, and that was another very cool discovery. I want one. I used it to harmonize my voice on my song that I wrote when I was 16, and which still has no title. I put the harmonies on the chorus: “My love she’s gone away, she’s left me here to stay, all by myself, all by myself.”
Ladie's Di lied, saying I looked 20 years younger in this photo. Shit, I look like a grandfather.
Oh, the other discovery was not on stage. I ran into Ladies Di, a friend and fellow open mic traveler from Chile, whom I have mentioned on this blog before. He presented me with the CD he had been working on for the last year or so, and it was finally finished, packed, ready for distribution around the world, and now entitled “Who else is gonna leave me?” (Could have put my song from when I was 16 on that.) Ladies Di had invited me to put something on the CD and I didn’t. Couldn’t get myself together enough to do anything, and hesitated to put my Ephemere Recordings on it. But the concept is this: The CD is a sampling of I think 12 musicians, each of whom contributed 2 songs (although one seems to have contributed 1 song). Each group or musician then gets a 100 or so copies of the CD and distributes and sells it at gigs around the world. Indeed, the artists come from all around the world: Chile, France, England, Sweden, Norway, Japan, etc. Very cool. And it ain’t half bad! I found a number of songs I liked. The CD project has its own myspace page, robotminimalista.
I dropped off at l’International last night to see one of my friend Calvin McEnron’s latest in a string of concerts, and no doubt it is his biggest. I met Calvin at Earle’s open mic last year, or even the year before, and he has been making songwriting, guitar playing and singing progress ever since. In leaps and bounds, in fact, as this half hour or so set at l’International attests. He writes in English, and has a hip thing about him. Check him out.
I then went on to the open mic jam session at the Bizart Bar near the Place de la Nation, and only four stops away from the International. I had last attended this Tuesday-night jam at the end of last year or early this year. The accent here is on blues, but they accept just about anything. The bar is small, cosy, and the people are there mostly to listen to the music, but it doesn’t bother them to talk, and it doesn’t bother the musicians much either, as it never gets excessive.
I enjoy it because you get people like the fiddler player Joe Cady joining you while you play. In fact, Joe seemed to play on just about every song last night – including on the four I played – and he is often there, so he gets his weekly workout. Last night my friend who calls himself LadiesDi was also there, with his Finnish girlfriend and another Finnish woman, Tatiana, who played some nice tunes.
Altogether a very relaxed and enjoyable evening from start to finish. Only problem was the unicycle that I noticed sitting up above the tables on the wall of the Bizart. I asked if it was usable, but the barman told me there was no air in the tires. A terrible temptation to go unanswered, that one.
But this is the story: At the Tennessee bar open mic last night – thank goodness it is still running in August – during the short time that I was there the best guitarist was clearly the guy whose video I have pasted in below. He had a very agreeable tapping style on the guitar, and an agreeable timbre to his voice as well. And to top it off, the guitar was not even his own, but the one most people shared at the open mic.
I got called up suddenly to play after one or two other performers and when another guitarist tapped the strings of the same guitar so hard that he broke two of them…. Since I had my own guitar, it was a good moment for me to go and play. But I had not played on stage for what felt like a million years – was it a full week? Can’t remember…. So I started off a little cold, then built it up with each song and received a resounding applause for the final one – my own, “Let Me Know,” which I played a little differently than I have in the past, as I have now been influenced by my own studio version of the song!!!
Anyway, I left soon after my own performance to go to the Galway Bar, just down the Seine, near the Place St. Michel. Stepping outside of the Tennessee I met up with two friends from the open mic circuit, Lord Prosser and LadiesDi. The former is an Englishman who talks like he comes from Birmingham, and as it turns out, he does. He has lived in Paris for more than a decade, though, and plays at all the open mics. LadiesDi – not sure where he got that name – is from Argentina, and he has been hanging around Paris for a while. Anyway, they told me to tell the man at the Galway that they would soon join me along with a woman from Sweden (I think it was).
So off I went to the Galway. When I arrived out front I found Steven, the Australian MC, had changed his bush hat of the last time I was there for a Mohawk haircut.
“You picked a great night to come back,” he said to me, recognizing me immediately and telling me he had seen the video I did of him on this blog the last time.
I looked inside to see there was practically no one there. Just an American man singing and playing behind the mic and a few people in the bar.
“There are going to be three others coming soon to play, too,” I said, referring to Lord Prosser, LadiesDi and the Swedish woman.
“This guy will play, then I will play, then you can play,” said Steven.
Yes, I had picked the right night. Just the time to tune my guitar and then go and play my four songs, no waiting. And as it turned out, an audience would build up quickly, even during the time I played. And more and more of the musicians from the Tennessee showed up as well, so the even went on quite late after midnight.
So back to the main narrative thrust of this post. The tapping….
I played three songs and by then LadiesDi was there and taking photos of me and he made a request for the last song. He asked for “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the song I do by Harry Chapin. Then I think he said, “Cat Stevens” and it may be he wanted “Father and Son,” but as I had already sung that at the Tennessee, I leapt at the opportunity to do the Chapin song.
I also took this as an opportunity to talk about how I had met Chapin while doing a television show in Ottawa in 1976. And I recounted what a great guy he was. We spoke while waiting for him to be called on stage to play for the TV audience. We learned we were born on the same day, December 7, and that we both wanted to go to acting school. He was, of course, 15 years older than I was – and I was just a teenager. When he was called to play he grabbed his Ovation guitar quickly, dropped it, and broke a rib in the guitar. He laughed uproariously and shrugged it off, running out to play with the broken guitar. It was the way he was, I thought, it best summed up his personality – from the little I had seen.
It was also sad that he had this hit song about growing up and working as a father and never really seeing his son grow up. But in the end, it was even more tragic in Chapin’s life, as he died in a car crash on 16 July 1981 at around 37 years old – so saw even less of his kids’ lives….
I sang the song at the Galway, it went down well. Then right after me, Steven decided to go up to sing a song before the next invited guest. And the song he sang, of all things, was the old 1970s hit, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” This is really not a very common song these days in open mics. But it woke up my sense of the past, the supernatural, and the tappings of voices from the past…for it was the song on which during that same music program in the 1970s with Chapin that I appeared in a music video of the song. Sorry for that mangled sentence. Too lazy to fix it. In other words, my biggest, starring role on the music show was that of a kid going off on a jet plane and leaving his girlfriend behind. It was a music video, style 1976, and I had the main role, acting out the “Leaving on a Jet Plane” story. (It helped that the woman who played the woman was the TV show’s cute blonde secretary, and I had a crush on her and got to kiss her during the filming….)
As I was leaving the Galway I just had to stop and whip out the video recorder to get a few seconds of the act consisting of a reggae kind of guy and a woman from New York. She later told me that she had seen me at the Tennessee, and I had, in fact, noticed her there too – as she was noticeable. But her singing was magnificent, it turned out, and it was too bad I didn’t see her at the Tennessee. I managed to catch a little of the song she did at the Galway, and I’m pasting it in below, although it is far from good enough as an expression of her sound….