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Tales from Tennessee to Galway

December 17, 2013

Wild life in Tennessee

Wild life in Tennessee

PARIS – I guess that headline is meant to be a little misleading, since the Tennessee refers to the Tennessee Bar and the Galway refers to the Galway pub, and not to the places in the U.S. and Ireland. But for all the different nationalities of patrons and musicians present at the two open mics in Paris last night, it might as well have been the real Tennessee and the real Galway.

The highlights of it all? Well, the Tennessee open mic seems to be attracting more and more French performers, singing often in French, and that’s refreshing. I loved hearing Audrey’s voice again, after I met her and jammed with her at the open mic of the Arte Café in Paris, which is no longer running. Audrey has a tremendous blues feeling to her strong voice.

And speaking of French, Ollie, the MC, did a new French language song, and it was massively cool! It reminded me ever so slightly – or more – of Jean-Louis Aubert of Telephone, the French rock band of a generation ago. And speaking of blues, there was this guy at the Tennessee who sat as an observer, and then came along with us when we headed over to the Galway, and he ended up telling me his story. He lives in New York City and just came for a short trip to Paris to check out the music scene and have a holiday.

He calls himself Blues Buddha, and plays all over NYC. He has some interesting videos up on the web on his cool web site, and when we got to the Galway, I decided to ask if he wanted to join me for a song or two. Unfortunately, although I love the blues – the best of it – and so much rock it based on the blues, I do not myself play any pure blues song. But we managed to find a song on my repertoire that we both know, and that was the classic “Stand By Me.” Even, there, though, I play a pretty bad, bastardized version of it.

In any case, the Blues Buddha joined me for that one and sang. Other than that, I had another American, Max, join me on violin for my other three songs at the Galway, and he added a few backup vocals too. All in all, a great evening at the two mainstay open mics of Monday in Paris (not counting the Coolin).

PS, unfortunately I’m in a place with an internet connection that is not as fast as my fibre optic connection and it is taking forever to upload the videos. So I’ll have to upload more later.

L’Arte after Paix, Should Return to Life Soon… I Hope!

February 2, 2013

The very new l’Arte Café open mic in Paris quickly became one of my favorite open mics in the city. I could not figure out how it was what it was: It took place on a Friday night, in a tiny little cubby hole of a bar with hardly anywhere to sit, with bright lights, clean walls and floors and just…cramped quarters. Nothing seemed to point to it being a great venue; but week after week it ended up hosting some of the coolest open mics in the city, and with some of the coolest people running the bar that should not perhaps have been all that big of a surprise. But lately, the Christmas holiday seemed to make people forget this neatest of open mics in the city, and the last few weeks it has been really, really quiet.

Last night, after I went to the Café de la Paix to have a drink with a Canadian friend who lives in Monaco and came to visit Paris for a few days, I was still restless to do more with my night, I had my guitar, and despite hearing that maybe it was not going to be so busy once again at the Arte Café, I headed off the 8 metro stops anyway to see what was happening.

It was, once again, at L’Arte Café, another quiet night of 2013. But there were a few musicians anyway, and a few of us played. The walls and front window and bookshelf of the place had suddenly been changed into something…else. But the atmosphere remained really nice. It seems that probably the key to this momentary slow period of the Arte Café open mic just might be the fact of it taking place on a Friday. For me, as there are practically no open mics in the entire world that happen on a Friday, I always thought that was great to have one on that day. But no doubt people can occupy their Friday nights better than any other night of the week, and the open mic is more associated with the other nights.

So it seems the Arte Café is considering changing the night of the open mic – and I can only hope that it returns to hosting some of the best evenings of the week. Many times it felt like a salon, a private party, a meeting place for like-minded musicians and spectators. Hope we didn’t lose it for good!

The Adrian Henri Poems I Did Not Read at the Open Mic That Did Not Really Happen, for the End of the World That Never Came

December 22, 2012

penguin poets 10

penguin poets 10

I was fantastically excited last night because one of my favorite Paris open mics fell on the day to end all days in the history of the world. So it was that the Arte Cafe decided to have a little theme of the end of the world for what was also its final open mic of 2012. I was so excited because although I was going to bring my guitar with me and perhaps sing some songs in the jam afterwards, my main plan was to read a couple of poems by one of the favorite poets of my youth: Adrian Henri.

Henri was one of the Liverpool poets from the 1960s – and after – whose volume of Penguin Poets No. 10, The Mersey Sound, was a famous moment in such anthologies when it came out in 1967. The other two poets in the group were Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Henri was an artist, performance artist, musician, poet and friends with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg and others.

I met him briefly at a Toronto Harbourfront Reading series night on 25 October 1980. I remember the date because it is inscribed in my book of his poetry that I bought that night called “From the Loveless Motel.” I also recall the moment because I was so young and gauche and although I admired him greatly, I insulted him without intending to. I went up to him excitedly to buy the book and talk, and I told him that I had traveled a good part of the world in my life and as a fan of his writing I had looked all over the place for his volumes and never found any of them outside England. Or something to that effect.

My intention, of course, had been to show what a devoted reader I was and not how obscure he was as a writer. But naturally, his face dropped and he said, “Well, you’ve got plenty of them here….”

Anyway… the point of all this is to say that when I learned that the end of the world was about to come, it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Adrian Henri poems, and I decided that I would read it at the open mic last night. I thought that as an introduction to Henri for the listeners, I would also read another of my favorite poems by him after the end of the world poem.

As it happened, a friend was also holding his annual end-of-the-year party, so I decided I would attend that first before going to the open mic. During the party I learned that the open mic at the Arte Café was, exceptionally, closing down early, for lack of its usual unfailingly loyal crowds of attendees. (Due no doubt to the Christmas holiday.) That meant my big moment as a reader – as opposed to singer – would never come. Neither, of course, did the end of the world.

But I did get to play my guitar and sing songs at the home of my friend, and that was loads of fun. And because I have this blog, I’ve decided that I can STILL read those two poems, and put them here on the blog for everyone to listen to – and then to go out and find Adrian Henri books and buy them wherever you may be. Henri, by the way, was born in 1932 and he died in 2000…on 20 December – IE, it would have been his 80th birthday two days ago, the day before the end of the world that never came.

The first poem, called, “Death in the Suburbs,” – and contained in “from the loveless motel” describes the end of the world…. which, as Henri says: “will surely come in Bromley South or Orpington.” Listen right to the end where suddenly I finish reading the poem only to have the sound of a siren emerge from outside my apartment like the end of the world has really begun after all:

The second poem, called, “Me,” is contained in Penguin Poets No. 10, and is a clever rhythmic thing which consists only of the names of people Henri would like to be, as you will hear if you listen:

Salon Feel of the Arte Café Open Mic in Paris

December 8, 2012

The evening was so incredible last night at the open mic of the Arte Café that I had barely the time to make any videos, and I have come up with only two for the blog – and they were not very representative of the whole, although they are cool in their way. This relatively new open mic in Paris on Fridays has turned into something that feels much bigger than an open mic. It felt very often last night like a good “old fashioned” – though not old in the calcified sense – artistic salon of the 1920s and 30s… not that I ever attended one of those.

The Arte Cafe is run by two wonderful young women who have mountains of taste and talent. The walls have art, there is a bookshelf with books, a literary magazine or two, and the room itself is like someone’s kitchen in size. But the feel as the place filled up last night was more like a literary salon in someone’s living room. And the accent was on young and dynamic.

It got so full of people that the usual cramped quarters for 15 people seemed like it was housing 75 people – although it wasn’t. I arrived fairly late, in fact, and was immediately hauled on “stage” to play a musical background to the risqué poetry recitation of Lisa Marie, who has occasionally spoken at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance. Perhaps Lisa Marie preferred to have me safely up there with her on stage playing my guitar rather than videoing her recitations of her risqué poems as I have done in the past. Who knows?!

But from there, since I was already next to the microphone, I was asked to play some songs myself. I had no idea where to start after Lisa Marie’s success and tone. But she herself suggested I do “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I find it hard to refuse a request I am capable of doing, so I did it, and people actually sang along. So that was great. Then I did “Mrs Robinson,” which was not as much of a hit as the night before at the Highlander – maybe I did not “hit” it myself – and then I did my own song, Borderline, which did go down very well.

There were several other musicians and singers and another spoken word person, but the feel last night was more toward social occasion than complete and pure open mic. I loved it.

Late for the Mépris, Got Miggles, on Time for a Late Awakening at L’Arte Café

November 10, 2012

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….

Revisited: Orphee and L’Arte Café

September 29, 2012

I keep on forgetting about putting the extra “e” on “Arte,” and I might well borrow one of those “e’s” from the no doubt unnecessary two “e’s” on Orphee. But one thing is sure: Both venues hosted their open mics on Thursday and Friday respectively, and while both were not quite so full as the last time I attended, both were still very much worth going to.

Having said that, I left early from the Orphee in Pigalle since I did not feel really entirely into the groove. But I stayed as long as I could at the Arte Café, which has never let me down. The Arte Café open mic, as I mentioned in the past, exists in this tiny, sandwich-shop-sized bar with barely room to sit down for the spectators and musicians. But each time I have attended, I have ended up having a great night, thanks to the people who run the bar and those who attend.

It’s also great there is an outdoor terrace where you can escape from the confines of the inner nest of a bar. Out there you can talk and drink and smoke and just let go a little, until closing time. Somehow, don’t ask me how, the neighbors have not called the cops. Actually, I think it has to do with the basic respect of the clients and people who run the Arte Café, and all closes down at a reasonable hour – late enough that I cannot remember precisely what it is.

I arrived a little late for the open mic and only saw a couple acts before it was my turn to perform. I took advantage of the quiet room and captive audience to sing three pretty quiet songs – all of my own, at the request of the great crowd. I sang, “Crazy Lady,” “Except Her Heart,” and “Lara, Lara.” Then, next up behind the mic was my friend Marianne BP, and so as we have done before, I accompanied her on my guitar. But since we had not done it for so long, I was a bit rusty and forgetful as to which chords precisely I should use. No problem, Marianne has an amazing way of singing around and through and in and out of anything you throw at her. As a reminder, I’m going to put her superb video up on this page again. She has a few others, and a new one soon coming out – so get ready….

Don’t Kill the Young – They Make Great Open Mics

July 14, 2012

Entering the Arte Café last night I felt a little drop in my stomach. I had been invited to a new open mic there, and having missed the first one last week while in England, I could attend the second one, last night, but I had not been expecting to find a room like this. “Tiny” is not the word for this place. Minuscule fits the description much better. In fact, there is virtually no place to sit down, and the place fills up with about 15 people. Not sure whether it is an art gallery, bar, snack joint or clothes closet, I could never guess that I was about to attend one of the most fun open mics in recent memory.

What made it fun, and what proves a point better than ever, is the people who attended. I’ve often said there are a few essentials for the success of an open mic: Location in the city, the shape and vibe and size of the venue, the coolness of the staff and the people who run it, and finally the people who attend. Last night’s open mic at the Arte Café proved that the most important thing of all, a thing that can take over and trash all other factors – i.e., don’t matter where it is located – is the people who attend, and the people who run it.

The place just filled up slowly but surely, and it was a great mix of the crowd that attends the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic that I rave on about in Paris on Tuesday nights, and the Pop In crowd. Oh, there were other aliens too. And another element that made it fun for me personally, in addition to knowing several musicians and meeting other new ones, was this freaky thing that happened: Last week I was listening to a stack of CDs from a French independent record company called Volvox, and found this cool group I had heard of, but never heard, named “Kill the Young.”

I had been given the CDs by a friend who works with Volvox, just as a sampler of what they are up to, this label. I knew the label as far back as nearly three years ago when I met and discovered Anton Barbeau, the crazy cool American acid-y kind of rocker, who was signed to Volvox. So anyway, I listened intrigued to Kill the Young, and I liked what I heard. Coming from a town near Manchester, but mostly now a French-European-international group of three brothers, they had some success with their first album as far back as 2005.

When I listened to the music, I thought it was an interesting combination of Brit sound and the French take on the Brit pop sound. I don’t know if it is that or anything else, but some of the songs are very original, melodic and interesting – and it does not all sound alike. The lead singer, Tom Gorman, has a very cool and interesting gritty, emotional voice.

So, what was my surprise with the album fresh in my mind when about the fourth or so performer last night was announced as Tom from the band Kill the Young. And he played the first song from the album I had just listened to, “I don’t want to fight with you anymore.” It was Kill the Young’s third album, which came out in 2011, and is called, Thicker Than Water. So after he plays I go up and recount the coincidence… but I’m having a bit of a hard time because a young woman outside the bar had stopped and heard him and recognized him and introduced herself as a former student assistant at the label!

When I did introduce myself, Tom said to me, “Yes, my girlfriend over there told me that you had lent me your guitar once at the Pop In when I played there….”

Well crap! Talk about things coming together. So I ended up lending him my guitar again last night for his next song, later, and then at the end of the evening we played “Mad World” together, as a duo. Then we jammed together, as did almost everyone else who remained.

The evening was a fabulous mix of different styles, different duos, trios, the after show jam session where anything goes – and did. The confined quarters meant intimacy, meant speaking with lots of people, making new friends and acquaintances, and forgetting entirely how cramped it all was. There was a bookshelf with literary books in French and English, including a novel by Virginia Woolf and the autobiography of Keith Richards. (Nice combination….)

silverstone guitar and amp case

silverstone guitar and amp case

Talking of another coincidence, the wonderful open mic organizer, Amelie S. Bolt, had this most amazing guitar/amp kit for use by everyone: Like the name of the last place I travelled to (last weekend, Silverstone, England) it was called a Silvertone guitar. And it comes in a case that doubles as an amplifier. It is a rarity, an oddity, from the 1960s – vintage kitsch. But very, very cool.

The open mic runs again next week and then picks up again at the end of August, after a summer break. At least I HOPE it does. As I thought about the place, bit by bit it reminded me of an interesting thing. This was called l’Arte Café, and it served a great Belgian beer, called Delerium. Well, in Liege, readers of this blog may recall that I used to go to a now-defunct place called l’Art Café, where there was a great open mic and jam. Of course, I would drink Belgian beer there too, although I think I saved the Delerium for the Delerium pub in Brussels and ITS open mic on Sunday nights. What a small world full of connections and coincidences – when you put yourself out there….

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