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Perfect Melody at Perfect Fête de la Musique in Levallois

June 22, 2013

Melody SaysThere is a kind of fad amongst many musicians in France to say that they hate the Fête de la Musique, that night on the 21 June where music is allowed in the streets, bars and everywhere and anywhere else and goes on all night long, celebrating music (and the first day of summer, usually). It started in France in 1982, and it has spread to other countries, but I think there is probably no other country and city, especially, than Paris that celebrates this musical festival with as much fervor. But a lot of musicians like to say they are not going to play or celebrate the music, and they hate the festival. I can understand that in some ways, but my own attitude now is that I play music every day of the year – or if I don’t, I don’t feel good – and so why would I be so contrarian as to say the only day I’m not going to play is during the day that music has its official celebration?

Still, in recent years I have been much less enthusiastic about going out on the Fête de la Musique in Paris quite simply because it can be an absolute mad house in the streets of Paris, and even violent and loud and disagreeable. And if the metros run all night and are free, well, they’re also full of rowdy people pissed out of their minds and carrying a guitar on your back – as I always do – makes you stand out even more, oddly enough, than you usually do.

Anyway, all of this build up is in order to say that I ended up finding the most wonderful alternative to the madhouse of Paris during the Fête de la Musique after I was invited by the young and up-and-coming French singer songwriter Melody Says – with whom I had shared the bill last fall on a boat on the Seine – to play in the first part of her show at a bar in her native Levallois, just outside Paris. In fact, she had invited me without telling me where it was, and I immediately accepted, and then found out afterwards that it was a 23-minute walk from my home. That, of course, meant that I would perform during the Fête de la Musique without having to fight through the hell and noise of the Paris streets.
melody says with harmonica
It also meant that the gig itself would take place in a nice, calm, cool neighborhood pub, where, as it turned out, there were lots of locals and lots of guests and fans of Melody Says. And no wonder: Melody’s music is fresh with nice melodies, lively with moving rhythms and captivating with her lovely vocals. There is one wonderful song, “I Wish I Was Born in 1952,” that I particularly like, and I think it’s one of her most popular ones. But I kept wanting to interrupt her act and say, “Melody, listen, I’m sorry to have to break the news, but if you had been born in 1952 you would be hitting 61 years old about now, and I’m not so sure your future would be looking quite the same….” But then, who am I to say? Maybe it will – if she keeps up the melodies.

She had some interesting musicians with her too, by the way, with on bass a former bassist for Le Spark, and on guitar her producer Kenny Paterson, who it turns out – although I did not realize it last night – was a legendary engineer and producer from Scotland who has worked with bands like Texas, and INXS and John Martyn, and who today recorded Melody’s EP (in London), and worked recently as Pete Doherty’s sound engineer on his gigs. (Melody Says has, by the way, also toured a little with Doherty recently.)

I myself had a completely new experience as a musician working on the Fête de la Musique. When Melody Says asked me to play, as I said, I immediately agreed to do so. The idea was I’d play with my band. But here’s what happened: It being the Fête de la Musique, and me not really having any kind of permanent band (I play with several other musicians occasionally), I discovered that every one of the five or six or more musicians that I have played with were already performing in gigs around Paris in their own regular bands! I almost got one in the end, but he had a very non-understanding employer who would not let him finish work early for his music passion, even on this international music festival day.

So it was that I had to perform solo and act as the warm-up man before the real treat of the evening – Melody Says. Fortunately there was a kind of neighborhood feel to the pub, which, by the way, is called, The Last Drop, and so I found that starting the evening’s music with just my guitar was actually a great way to do things. I did shift from my original desire to play mostly only my owns songs into a decision to play some of the crowd pleasers too, some of the songs, like “Father and Son,” that everyone knows or can sing along with. And as it turned out, both Melody and her bass player joined me for several songs by playing on the drum set behind me. So I chose some very moving, thrusting rhythm songs for those ones and that got the audience warmed up a bit, and it was great fun to play with them.

So all in all it was actually a fabulous evening, and we finished it off by going to Melody Says’ place and doing a little rooftop jamming within sight of the Eiffel Tower and with my Gibson J-200 facing of with Melody’s Epiphone EJ-200, which is the Gibson clone and a fabulous guitar of its own…. Could it have been a better celebration of music in Paris – or rather, Levallois – than that?

World Travel 2012 Pithy Wrap Up Part II: Paris

December 2, 2012

I left off on my long and rambling post yesterday by saying that I would end my open mic world adventure with the story of what I did upon my arrival back in Paris after two weeks away and two days return travel. That return was a killer, because it involved two night flights, sleeping in economy class two nights in a row on American Airlines, and in between the two nights, an 11-hour stopover at JFK in NYC. Did it therefore make sense to accept to do a musical gig on the very night of my return after all that, on Wednesday? Oh it sure did! It was just what I required to kickstart my return to Paris life.

The call came on my cell phone as my shuttle bus pulled into the airport in Sao Paulo on Monday evening. Someone had to withdraw from a gig slot on Wednesday night because they had a concert in London. Would I be able to replace them? Oh, yes, I would love to! First, the location seemed very cool. It was a peniche, or barge, on the Seine. Second, the gig was just a half-hour set, so I could do that with no advance preparation. Third, there were a number of other interesting acts on the same bill. Fourth, I learned this later, that the proceeds of the show went to a charity.

And finally, I realized instantly, that if I could get my favorite lead guitarist, Félix Beguin, to join me for the gig, then I would be finishing off immediately upon arrival my challenge of recording myself playing with a musician in all 20 of the countries I visited this year. I had not yet really done it in Paris, and time goes so quickly, I was sure I could let it lag and drag and the end of the year would come and I would not have found the occasion. So I texted Félix and he agreed immediately. I would only find out the night we played that he had another gig lined up for London, England the following day with his other band, the Burnin’ Jacks, and so he had to get up early for that. Imagine him accepting to play with me? So cool.

So I arrived at my home at 8 AM on Wednesday morning, dived into bed and slept until 2:30 in the afternoon as those night flights had not allowed me enough sleep to be in good shape for anything, let along a gig. Then I got up and ate breakfast, washed all my clothes and dried them and ironed something for the gig. Then I went to the gig.

The peniche, called La Dame de Canton, was even better than I thought it would be. I had heard of it, but never seen it. It is intimate, has three levels to it, or four really, with the concert hall level, a bar above, a bar below, and a restaurant in the very bottom. The stage is big enough for a band, it is well lit, there is an excellent sound system and a sound man who takes time to make sure everything is set up perfectly for you – we did this well before the gig – and there is a nice, relaxed feel to the whole room. I loved it and felt really at home, and in a place that is made for small concerts.

Facebook listed exactly 100 people accepting the invitation for the gig, and that had mostly to do with the other bands – including Blankass, and no doubt the guy I was replacing, and above all, Melody Says, the woman who organized the show. Melody Says got the whole place dancing at one point, and her show was very polished and together – which is quite cool for a woman of 20….

Anyway, after our set – which went very well, it was so great to see people listening – Félix and I decided that we would watch the other acts and then go off and play some more songs together at an open mic. That was the Vieux Léon, which is a young open mic, having existed only a couple of months or so. I knew there would not be a vast list of people – unlike at the Highlander – so despite showing up a little late, we got to play our songs. I think we did five songs, most of which we had not done at the Dame de Canton, and which we have barely played together before. So that was fun – and went down well again.

Now, tomorrow I will introduce a new feature kind of story on the blog, which has also occupied a lot of my time in the last week. I’ll keep that one a surprise – although it’s no big deal. Just an idea.

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