Monaco may be known for its casinos, but I felt I won the jackpot in the music stakes on my last night in Monaco on Sunday when I finally found a place to play. It would have been my first Grand Prix since 2008 that I did not sing and play at had I not found the place on Sunday night – and taken the risk to go to a place that was not, strictly speaking, holding a jam or open mic.
After learning that BOTH of the open mics I attended in Nice last year no longer existed (Johnny’s Wine Bar and Ma Nolan’s Pub on the old port in Nice), I decided to make one last attempt at finding a place to play, after the race. I had, yes, rocked on the rock, as I said in my previous post. But that was playing in private at the home of a friend of Vanessa’s. It was not playing in public, the way my quest is supposed to be done. But that friend, Jasmine, had told us that her favorite pub, McCarthy’s Irish Pub, was a very convivial place that had a kind of open jam night and that was very open to letting others play and that I should try it.
So after the race ended and I wrote my story on Mark Webber’s victory, I called McCarthy’s and asked if the had live music tonight.
“Yes,” said the man with an Irish accent, “we have a cover band.”
I told him I’d heard they sometimes let people go up and sing a song, and asked him if it would be possible for me to do that. He said I probably could, but he was slightly cagey: “If you CAN sing, and CAN handle it, yes.”
Clearly he did not just want a drunk going up and making a mess of things, and that was a signal I would receive later when I got to the pub and asked again.
But that’s jumping ahead. I took my guitar and computer and walked over to McCarthy’s Pub, since it was only around 25 minutes walk from the paddock, located on the other side of the tunnel where the Grand Prix cars race. You almost always end up walking along the race track in Monaco during the race weekend, and going to McCarthy’s was no exception. Last year I never did find a place to play in Monaco itself, and thought that such a thing was impossible. It turns out that Monaco is very alive musically during the race weekend, and on several occasions I felt I was walking through Istanbul with music coming from all directions in a cacaphony of different genres and styles and sounds. It made me drunk with feelings.
The walk to McCarthy’s was no exception as I heard and saw music being performed all along the periphery of the harbor, including at the Rascasse and a little farther down the track from there where a couple of crooners sang in the street outside a restaurant.
Once I got there, I could see why McCarthy’s was Jasmine’s favorite hangout in Monaco. It is very laid back, very Irish, very pub, and musically it was also a pleasure, and relaxed. I had feared when I heard there was a cover band that it would be a giant stage with a huge setup including drums, keyboards, flashy spotlights, the whole deal, and that any effort I might make to sing would be received very coolly, and I would not be very comfortable. What I found was two or three ampliphiers, a couple of mic stands and this all set up beside the bar against the wall. The band would not start until around 11 PM, and that gave me time to go eat dinner in an Italian restaurant nextdoor.
When I returned the band was setting up. It would be an electric bass, two acoustic guitar players and a singer who occasionally played the bongos – as did the bassist, who also played acoustic between sets. The band was a new one, having only practiced together for a few hours on three different occasions before doing the gig. Three of the men were Italian and one – the lead guitarist and sometime singer – was French. They all lived in France.
It was indeed a cover band, but it was very laid back, low key and friendly. They called themselves, appropriately for the weekend, The Petrol Heads. They sang all the usual stuff: Mustang Sally, Smoke on the Water, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the usual Nirvana stuff, and Beatles, and others. The lead singer had a very good voice with some emotion and grit and grain to it.
The bar became increasingly crowded with people from all nationalities – including a number of Irish people – and they were warm, outgoing and loved to dance. But they were never too rowdy.
I made a lot of videos as every time I heard a new song I knew it and wanted to do something with it on video. But it would be far too heavy here, especially considering the darkness of the videos, to put up that many.
In any case, after their first set I asked one of the band members if I could play and sing a song or two. He accepted immediately, and I plugged in and went up to the mic and introduced myself. Since this was not an open mic, I decided to tell the audience that I was actually a journlist present to cover the race, not a musician, but that I took my guitar with me to all the races to play. Normally I don’t mention that, but in a situation like this one, I felt I should give an explanation, and I also pointed out how nice it was for the band to allow me to play, as they had never heard me before.
The manager, as I said, was actually a little worried, as he had no doubt had some pretty bad people trying to sing and breaking the atmosphere in the past. But it worked out. I sang two songs and decided not to push it, since I was up against a very together group and me with just the guitar…. During my first song, though, (yes, Crazy Love), the singer from the band came up and started playing bongos with me. He continued for the second song.
I thanked the band and the audience and then sat and listened to the band’s second set. After the second set, they let a guy from the audience grab one of the bongos and he sat in front of the playing area on the floor and began to bang out a pretty primal rhythm. The bass player took the other bongo and joined in, and the guitar player played a rhythm to it, and people began dancing. It was a pretty Bacchic moment, but amongs the fishing boat decor, the wooden panel walls, the long bar and the sports on television, it was a true moment of controlled mayhem in the Irish pub that showed they really are open to the jam situation, and audience participation, and in a way this could definitely be categorized as a jam.
By the time that ended it was around 1 AM and I decided to leave. On my way out I said goodbye to the band members. They all told me they enjoyed my stuff. One of the guitar players said the only problem was that it was too short. Another band member agreed on that and said, “If you want to play again, go ahead.”
So I accepted, returned to the pub, took out my guitar and did another two songs. I was in heaven. And I had achieved something I had not been able to do the previous year, to play in Monaco and not just close to it….