This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Melbourne, Australia since I first started here in 2009. At each subsequent Formula One race I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….
I remember seeing that this place existed in years past, but I’m not sure why I never managed to get there until last night. Even then, I was lucky to get on the list, as by the time I had called up the list was full. But because the Acoustic Cafe on at 187 Johnston Street in Collingwood has the truly great open mic spirit, Glenda – who runs it along with Ian, the instigator of the Acoustic Cafe – told me to come along and she would try to fit me in. As it turned out, there were some who had put their names on the list and did not show up. I will be eternally grateful, since this was one of the great open mic experiences, as I just said.
Located in a very funky little bar with the mic setup at the front window, and with a long corridor leading to a back terrace, the Acoustic Cafe has one of the ingredients that makes for a great open mic in the small size of the room. It is so intimate that everyone kind of has to conform to the attitude of listening to the music more than talking. Another ingredient is the great attitude and approach and openness of Ian and Glenda. Another ingredient is that it attracts some wonderful musicians of all ages, but very clearly it is open to and encouraging of the youngest generation.
It has another thing going for it that I have never seen before anywhere: It’s not an open mic with one guitar for people to use, but rather a whole museum of vintage guitars hanging on the walls high above the main room, any of which is there for a musician to ask permission to use, and then use. And not just guitars, but I think I saw a mandolin or two or a bouzouki, although I didn’t really check it out. Oh, and it turns out that if you want to buy one of the guitars, you can do that too. They’re for sale!
Another cool thing is that Acoustic Cafe records a video of your performance, and they’ll make a DVD for you if you ask for it. I was so nervous that I don’t think I want to see mine, but I was pleased that I got to play something like five songs in total despite the full list! (My songs: Crazy Lady, Borderline, When You’re Gone Away. And also the cover songs: Cat’s in the Cradle and Year of the Cat.) I liked that aspect of this place too, which is that they did not set the number of songs to a fixed quota, but let you go on or encouraged you to go on depending on the feel of the vibe of the music and the moment in the spectators.
There were a number of interesting singer songwriters, and that was the emphasis. Cover songs were in the minority, but not banished. It ranged from a mono-chordal Japanese woman of haunting melodies and lyrics to a guy with an eye patch – he said it was the result of a battle between him and a contact lens, and he lost – to a boppy Chilean and a local “many-friends-in-the-crowd” songstress singing (cool) songs about her friends….
So after four years, why is the Acoustic Cafe stopping? They only announced the news for the first time last night, and the reason given was that the owner of the building also owned buildings on either side, and he wants to knock them down and put up an apartment building. (I kept thinking of the Joni Mitchell song about putting up a parking lot….)
So there are going to be two more open mics at the Acoustic Cafe before it closes at the end of March, on the next two Thursdays starting at 7:30 PM, and if you are in Melbourne, I cannot recommend highly enough that you attend, whether it is to play or to listen, or both. Glenda tells me that they will not be seeking to start up a new open mic, but I had some sixth sense that told me that I would not be surprised to see that she and Ian end up finding a new location – but can it be as good as this funky place? Well, if anyone can make a success of any location, I suspect they could….
Because it is the end of the line for the Acoustic Cafe I decided to get a few bits of atmosphere in my videos of the place, and not just music. So check out the atmosphere videos – I loved how the cash register had a number of guitar picks sitting on it….
Anyway… last night it was another visit to the mainstay Melbourne open mic of the Great Britain Hotel and/or pub. I say and/or because as far as I can see this place is not a hotel but only a pub. Still, there may well be a hotel upstairs – but if there is, I wouldn’t want to go there. Having said that, the open mic is well worth it.
It’s a well organized one with a great little stage, a nice sound system, excellent lighting, and an all together cool experience. And it has been going for years. I think this was my third or fourth year playing here, and each time I have actually had different experience. So anything I say about it today, will probably be out of date tomorrow….
But after last year I thought it had taken a little turn for the less crowded and interesting, this year suddenly there was a nice sized audience and a number of very cool and interesting musicians. There were also about four or five comics, which I don’t think I had ever seen even one of before.
So expect anything at the Great Britain open mic in Great Melbourne!
And stay tuned for tomorrow at the open mic I attended tonight, because it was a real winner…. (As you can probably guess by the inebriated state of my prose….)
In all my four years visiting open mics and writing about the experience, I don’t think I have ever had an anecdote to tell that says so much about the ambience and general coolness of the open mic as the following one.
Last night in my last night in Melbourne, I returned once again – for the third or fourth time – to the great and intimate Empress Hotel open mic on Nicholson street in North Fitzroy. The hotel is a well known music venue, and Robin and Frank have been running this open mic on Tuesdays for around six years, although an open mic existed before that. It is an excellent venue with a warms stage, hot lighting, back outdoor terrace, laid-back feel, and spectators who respect the other musicians, listening and generally staying to listen after their own sets.
I recounted on this blog last year how I was in such a state of nervous spent-ness just before leaving for my flight to Malaysia but also needing to interview people for my series of Podcasts, that I walked out of the open mic and went off to the airport having left a great guitar tuning device that I had just bought, AND the huge copy of the Steve Jobs biography that had recently come out. I was halfway through the Jobs book, and loving it, and I had just bought the tuner.
So imagine how upset I was. Well. After posting on the blog about leaving my belongings behind, Robin wrote me to say that they had recuperated the tuner and the book and would keep them for me. For me, this was the end of the story. I completely forgot about the tuner and the book, and yesterday I returned to the open mic a year later without warning Robin and Frank (who operates the soundboard so deftly) that I was returning again this year to play some more music and hear more music at their great open mic.
I got there early to get an early spot on the list in order to get out earlier this year to catch the same flight with less stress…. And when Robin and Frank arrived, Robin marched right up to me and gave me the book and tuner! The battery in the tuner is fully charged, as it was when I left it last year, and the book was in the same condition as well.
This was EXCEPTIONAL! It says all you need to know about this great open mic.
By the way, I here include my first video of me singing my song, “If I Only Had You,” because it was a song that until now I was not supposed to sing as my own. I had written it for someone else. But it has now been months since I gave it to them, and I’ve heard nothing back for many months. So I have decided to re-appropriate the song for myself.
I was filmed last night by my friend Emily Brown, who used to run the great All Nations U-Bar open mic, and as it turned out, she liked the song and said SHE might do something with it! So we’ll see if it has a life beyond me after all. The Empress Hotel certainly will have!
It was the first time I had been in the heart of this Brunswick area of Melbourne, and when I took the tram from near my hotel on Spencer Street downtown out to Brunswick Road, I thought I had arrived at the edge of the earth. The houses in this area look like they are sitting on the Bayou in the deep south of the U.S., and the store and pub facades look like cowboy movie set facades. But I was assured when I entered the large, cavernous and cool Cornish Arms pub that I had arrived in the hip and cool hot part of town in Melbourne.
OK, OK, I know my observations of the way things look could get me grilled somewhere, perhaps fed to the alligators. But I would say the same thing of certain parts of of my home town of Toronto – or similar reflections on places like Jerhico in Oxford…. But anyway….
The Cornish Arms was another of these very cool Australian pubs with a fabulously cool stage with lighting and a good sound system and practically a proscenium arch. I would love to know the history of why so many of these neighborhood pubs have such cool stages built into them. Perhaps it’s from when the prisoners were required to make their own entertainment before the days of television and radio….
The place was great too for its wide open space, terrace, vast bar and decent meals available on the menu. So I ate dinner, signed up right at 7:30, got a slot for 10:15 – although I think I was probably within the first three or four to arrive, and it’s a rush for the sign-up – and did my songs. It’s a 15-minutes slot, which comes to three songs.
(more videos to come shortly, as they upload…)
My only criticism of this open mic, really, though, was that like that of the Great Britain pub last Wednesday, it was another of those situations where people came, sang and left. I did not really get a sense of a scene, a happening, or support of fellow musicians the way I do in so many of the best open mics, and in so many in my “home” town of Paris.
But I know those have existed in Australia – like with Emily Brown’s open mic in the past at the All Nations U-Bar, or a little at the Arthouse, and definitely at the Empress Hotel – and apparently it exists at the Artcafé, but I missed that one.
From that point of view, my evening was once again saved by the amazing singer Aarti, who did this great a cappella song that I videoed, and with whom I spoke much of the evening. I had met her at the Great Britain last week, remember. But this time you can see the image of the video much better, thanks to the great lighting. And the sound is better too – so check it out….
Before embarking on my fifth worldwide tour of open mics and jam sessions last week, I announced on this site that one of my projects for the year would be to expand my popular “Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics,” by adding making a collection of such pages, by adding a new page for each of the 19 other countries I visit around the world this year.
Today I have taken the first step, by putting up my guide to Melbourne, Australia open mics. I have also rearranged the blog to simplify and make sense of the new series of thumbnail guides. The Paris guide and the Melbourne guide and all future guides will be located in a new menu item at the top of the blog page, called “Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide,” which has a page with a full explanation of the project.
As I explain, the new pages will not be as exhaustive as the Paris page, since I live in Paris. But I hope they will help travellers and locals, and I also ask for locals and travellers to provide me with any open mics they think should be listed, by sending a word in the comments area on the relevant page, and I will add it to the list.
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….
So, now that I’m well above a thousand words, you can see that I have no regrets about missing an open mic myself last night…. I learned a lot, and had a great time. And, by the way, I also went along to this concert with my friend and fellow Paris-based F1 journalist, Adam Hay-Nicholls, who has joined me in Paris to see Wayne Standley and me play at the open mic – and Adam has also done a nice – but more sensibly short – item on the concert, in his new cool blog, the F1 Social Diary.
Last year in Melbourne I had a great time at the open mic of the Great Britain pub on Church Street, at Swan. So last night on my first night in Melbourne when I searched around for places to play, I immediately decided to head for the Great Britain again. This time, it started off by clashing with my memory, entirely.
Oh, I found the place buzzing with life and activity as usual, with the bar in the front having a few clients, another few playing pool on the table off to the side, and a steady stream of conversation coming from the outdoor terrace in the back.
It was the middle area of this pub where things seemed desolate and deserted, to start with. I got there at almost precisely 8:30 and found myself lucky to be able to sign my name on the second to last available slot for the open mic. The evening is divided into 15 minute slots for each performer from 8:30 to 11:30.
So I had avoided one of my worst open mic nightmares on this worldwide adventure – ie, travelling to the other side of the world and arriving on the very same day jet-lagged out and finding myself unable to participate in the open mic because the list is full! Having got my spot, I went off to eat in a Greek restaurant on Swan, where I had an excellent glass of red wine – Shiraz from Adelaide – with a less than excellent kebab.
I got back to the open mic by 9:30, thinking that with a completely full list like that I would find the place just buzzing with energy and activity. What I found upon arrival, was once again the bar itself and the rear outdoor terrace bubbling with life. But the room in the middle, where the open mic takes place, was dreary, dreary, deserted, lifeless, unmanned, all except for the duo on stage and maximum three or four spectators.
The room itself, is wonderful: sofas, chairs, tables, and best of all, a great sound system and an actual stage. I mean, a real stage with curtains and lighting, the whole deal. Very beautiful, if worn at the edges.
But what was missing was one of the most important aspects of an open mic: And Audience. And so proceeded the open mic. Act after act went up and took to the mic, and as they did so, segments of audience entered the room to listen to their friends while other corresponding segments left the room once their friends had played. I mean, this was grave….
As I was the last one on the list, I was pretty sure I would be playing to an empty house. I mean, this was dreary!! I know from experience that open mics are better some weeks than other weeks. But I wondered if I had had a faulty memory on this one.
Then things changed a little, even a lot. What happened, at least concerning me, was that when I heard one of the performers, named Aarti Jadu, singing her songs, I loved her voice and songs, and I decided I had to tell her that. For me she was the stand-out performer of the night. So it was just natural….
Well, it turned out that she was there with friends and family, and so she very kindly said that they would wait to listen to my set. Hey, I had spectators! But I also ended up talking to her a little more, partaking a little of the ambience that existed, and then finding myself once on stage, actually feeling committed to singing to expectant ears.
That changed the dreary situation into something quite fun, and made the open mic worth it. Then during my songs, a few other people came in to listen, notably two or three guys, one of whom asked me afterwards if he could use my guitar to sing and play. So he and his friend made up the last act.
All of which meant, human exchange, taking part in the evening, not feeling so cut off, and ultimately “meaning” had been given to the open mic – at least for me, the jet-lagged foreigner who had suddenly parachuted in from nowhere.
But I hope that the Great Britain open mic – a mainstay open mic of Melbourne – has a little more atmosphere than this on most other weeks. The idea of having people go in and out of the music room depending only on whether their friend is playing, is one that while I can understand it, is not the greatest in open mic styles….
Last night in Melbourne was the true beginning to my third worldwide musical adventure to the open mics and jam sessions of the planet over the next nine months. My first was in 2009, when I played my guitar and sang in 17 countries, nearly 30 cities and on every continent except Africa (where I did once live and play) and Antarctica (where I do not want to live or play). I did roughly the same adventure last year, and I will probably do even more this year – I think I have 18 countries planned….
The first year I worked on a book about the adventure – which I am still editing down from its initial 1,000 single-spaced pages!!!-; last year I put posts up on this blog about the adventure; and this year I will do the blog again, and I also have another project in mind that may involve linking it all together in a sound and/or image narrative.
But last night showed me that although this is the third year of the adventure – which, by the way, follows the trajectory of the Formula One world championship, that I report on for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times – and for an F1 blog at the NYT and as the About.com F1 guide – it is not just a repetition of the past.
Life changes, things change and move in ways we cannot predict, and last night I realized that this parallel life of playing in musical venues around the world for the third year has new possibilities I had not imagined: Call it a snowball effect, or a building up of experience. Last night I ended up playing again at the All Nations U-Bar open mic at 2 Spencer Street in Melbourne, which I had discovered last year. But I did that in the company of my friend Lara, whom I had met at the Softbelly Bar open mic in the first year of the adventure – and whom I had not seen since (although we maintained a correspondence).
I was a little disappointed with the U-Bar open mic this year because the sound system was horrible, and I performed very early and so probably the atmosphere had not developed into the fabulous, rollicking evening I had discovered the year before. But our impressions change from one year to the next, and I had also noticed that Emily Brown, the very cool woman who had organized and MC’d the show last year was not there. I thought maybe that was the problem.
I suggested to Lara that we leave and go somewhere quiet and have a drink and talk. And as we left and crossed a nearby street, I heard a shout in the distance from a woman.
I turned back and crossed the street to find that it was Emily, and she had recognized me out in the dark road as she returned to the U-Bar where she still IS the MC, although someone else was briefly filling in for her last night. She asked me if I had played yet, and I said I had. She said that she was bringing along a Latin music band to do the second part of the evening, and I thought, there we go – the open mic evening probably would turn out to be as good as it was last year. I had simply not given it enough time.
But most of all, I was delighted at how Emily had recognized me, a year later in the dark and slightly rainy street in Melbourne. (Yes, the weather is crap.) It gave me the sense of having musical friends around the world thanks to this adventure. And there I was, of course, with Lara from two years before. Melbourne was feeling like one of my many homes!
I decided to continue on to another bar with Lara, so we went to the Softbelly bar on Little Bourke Street, where we had met at the open mic on the Wednesday before the F1 race in 2009. I did some advance work this year and wrote to the organizer of the Softbelly open mic and found that it no longer exists…. Until we got there and Lara noticed a little poster that said there IS an open mic at the Softbelly on Wednesdays, starting at 7 PM – but it obviously has a different organizer.
I think part of the reason I did not feel quite so good at the U-Bar was also, in fact, because of Lara’s presence. Having her there made me very nervous when I sang my songs, as she had arrived only around 10 minutes before I had to sing, and I was terribly self-conscious all of a sudden about singing in front of the beautiful Lara and letting her down. (As it turned out, I need not have been too worried, as I received some compliments from a couple of people – as well as from Lara – on my four-song set afterward, as Lara and I left the bar.)
But I also had the terrible task of deciding if I should sing the song, called “Lara, Lara” – that I had written for her two years ago. Could I really do it in public here in front of all these people – for there was a fairly decent number of clients at the All Nations U-Bar. I decided I would not sing her song for fear of embarrassing her. But later on I realized I had made a mistake.
Here is the recording I did of “Lara, Lara” in 2009:
So it was that when we sat in the U-Bar and talked, I mentioned that I had considered singing the song and I could see she would have liked that. So I decided that we had to find a secluded alley somewhere and I would sing her the song, as she had pointed out she had never heard me sing it for her live.
We crossed the street from the Softbelly and found a perfect secluded alley where there were no private residences. Together we sang there for probably close to an hour. We went through a large part of my cover song repertoire and a few of my own songs, including Lara, Lara – which was the first I sang. Together we also sang “Cat’s In the Cradle,” which of course was the subject of yesterday’s post…. Lara’s voice was magic; her musical talents and skills are well developed as she has many years’ worth of training on the violin.
So this was an amazing first musical evening in Melbourne, the first true day of my new adventure, and it was made new and unusual by the fact that it was Year III of the adventure and there is a building up of connections and friends and situations.
The only problem was that I managed to do only two videos of the U-Bar open mic, and only one of these is in any way worth putting on the site. I do a panoramic turn around the bar with the camera, and I particularly like the painted mural on the wall that you see near the end of the short video.