Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Perfectly Compatible Contrasts, from Lou Pascalou Open Mic to La Java Midnight Special

February 15, 2013

I had a difficult decision to make last night. I had been invited personally on the two previous months to attend a new open mic – that is monthly – at the Lou Pascalou bar and I wanted to go each time, but always had something preventing me from going. But I also, last night, had a personal invitation to attend a launch of Midnight Special Records‘ collection of artistes in a special showcase at La Java. This included the exceptional Michelle Blades, whom I have shown videos of from the Vieux Léon open mic. But when I found that the Lou Pascalou bar open mic started very early and ended early, and that the two venues were about 10 minutes walk away from each other, I realized the choice was a no-brainer. I would do them both.

The only risk spot, the only drawback, was that my third favorite meal of the day – after breakfast and lunch -, that is, dinner, would potentially be compromised if I were to arrive at 8 PM for the open mic in order to play and leave early for the concert. But then I learned that the Lou Pascalou has food. When I arrived, I found this splendid bar of old, classic, French proportions, with a high ceiling, bistrot sort of tables, a wonderful stage and sound system, and, as I would immediately learn, a fabulous plate of charcuterie and cheese!!!! And the St. Emilion was fabulous too!

So ANYWAY…. I ate my meal, listened to the performers in the open mic, took in the atmosphere, met and talked with some friends, then mounted the stage myself and took MY turn trying to wrestle the bucking bronco of the loud, loud, happy crowd of the Lou Pascalou that last night, at least, was there more for the nibbles and drink than for the music. I felt I reached a few of the people – which was great – and the stage itself was so wonderful to sing on, that I actually thoroughly enjoyed the open mic. I WILL return.

I began to feel I would be too late for the the Midnight Special records concerts at La Java, but I really wanted to go to that too, so I wrenched myself away from my friends and the bar of the Lou Pascalou – the only real fault of this open mic is that it is only once a month – and I walked over to the Java. There, I was immediately greeted by friend after friend, and I descended into the basement area of this large underground concert hall, to feel absolutely just as much at home there as I had at the Lou Pascalou. And the fact that I could not play here, little mattered.

Midnight Special records is a minuscule label operated by Victor Peynichou, but his bands are very original and great – judging by those I know of in the past and those I heard last night. But for me the highlight of the night was Michelle Blades, who was also the last band of of the night. I have put up videos of her at the Vieux Léon, Michelle with her strong stage presence and her inimitable voice and interesting melodies and songs. I’d only seen her perform with acoustic guitar or ukelele, but last night it was with bass – Victor, in fact – and drummer, and with her on keyboards, vocals, electric guitar. And another woman and Victor who added some background vocals occasionally.

One of the great things about Michelle is her fabulous range, both vocally and in terms of musical styles. Watch all the videos I did of her act, right to the end. The final number of night starts fairly slow and relatively quiet, and then explodes into this punk magic.

The Transformation of Baptiste W. Hamon, From Texas to Paris

December 11, 2011

baptiste w hamon

baptiste w hamon

Last night I had a wonderful brief break from the usual whatever to go and listen to a friend, Baptiste Hamon, play a short show at a bar called the Red House, not far from the Bastille in Paris. I have mentioned Baptiste over the last couple of years occasionally on this blog under the name usually of his band Texas in Paris. Baptiste writes cool, Dylan-like, Guthrie-like, Townes Van Zandt-like songs with sober, sombre lyrics and strong emotion mixed with a highly distinctive voice and delivery. Last night I was invited to attend the launch concert for his cassette of new songs – yes cassette, tape cassette! – and what I found was a wonderful, interesting surprise. Baptiste has grown as an artist.

The launch was for a cassette he has put out on a very small independent label in France called Midnight Special Records. There was another singer at the Red House bar too, but I came in just as she sang her final words. So I missed that. But Baptiste went up as soon as I arrived so I caught his whole set. Suddenly, as I was being served a beer at the bar, I heard Baptiste singing in French. Wow! Before I had a chance to take the beer I whipped out my Zoom Q3HD recorder and began to shoot the song, since I thought it was a rare and unusual chance to catch Baptiste singing in French. Turned out I was wrong. During his set of six or so songs, Baptiste sang only one in English.

The rest were a new crop of songs he has written in the last few months, and they were a fabulous surprise. Basically, to try to sum it up, Baptiste writes excellent poetic songs in English. And he is far from the only non-native English speaker to do that. It is happening all over the world. But how much of the stuff really breaks out? The Tallest Man on Earth from Sweden is similar. Abba, not at all. Bands from all over the world try English. It just never seems to take off or doing anything much of importance, no matter how good it is.

But what I found Baptiste doing last night was to do EXACTLY what he has always done in English, but to do it in French. And that brought out even more originality in what is already an original writing and sound. Baptiste continues to sing about the U.S. dream he lives and follows, but he does it in a non-fake sentimental way and in his own language. There he was singing a ballad to Townes Van Zandt, for God’s sake.

Apparently the French think he has changed his style, and sounds closer to something like Jacques Brel or some other classic French singers. But for me this is the same Baptiste, he’s just finding more precision in what he sings, and its a step closer to who he really is than what was already something very fine before. Oh, and with these songs he is no longer calling himself Texas in Paris, but simply Baptiste W. Hamon….

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