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Jack Daniel and Friends at Shapko in Nice

May 24, 2012

Shapko Bar Nice

Shapko Bar Nice

Fishing around for places to play in Nice, I was always going to try out the amazing Shapko bar on the rue Rossetti. And last night, I was in the presence of my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, the inimitable French redneck hillbilly singer songwriter, and it turned out that the theme of the music at Shapko was fairly close to redneck, so I thought Baptiste and I should make a visit.

We had also been considering going to King’s Pub again, where I had played the night before and was invited to play again last night. But I really wanted to take another look at Shapko, where I managed to play some songs last year during a similar acoustic night, hosted by someone else – Peter Cogavin. Peter, in fact, told me yesterday that he knew the guy hosting the evening at Shapko, and that he thought he might be open to letting me play.

That guy was a British musician with the somewhat bourbon soaked hillbilly name of Jack Daniel. It is his real name. And he plays a wicked fingerpicking blues and country guitar and lays a nice laid back vocal on top of it. He had a harmonica player, and then his “friends,” who joined in as the even progressed.

Shapko, the man who owns the bar, is a saxophone player from Russia, and he is a real mean sax player. I mean good, not nasty. He is also a music-loving performer who opens his stage to other players as much as he can while maintaining a good professional business and show. I was really flattered when I walked in last night and he immediately remembered me, although I had visited his bar only twice last year: ‘The Canadian!” he said.

At the break, I spoke to Jack Daniel about the possibility of playing, and he more or less accepted. But as the evening went on with the second set, it became clear that the music was moving further and further away from what either I or Baptiste do, so we ultimately decided to cut out and check out the scene at the King’s Pub. It turned out that that was pretty quiet and the musicians were doing a long set, and we ultimately decided that it was getting too late to hang around much longer. So we both left and went our ways.

But the night was really enriching in terms of the music at Shapko, which was fabulous – especially in the middle of the jam during the second set.

Playing at the King’s Pub in Nice and Finding the Right Stuff

May 23, 2012

I never expected to do a nearly 1-hour set in a bar in old Nice last night. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d find any place to play the whole time I am here until next Monday. But I stumbled on the King’s Pub, noticed they hold an open mic sometimes on Thursdays and Sundays, went in, asked when the next open mic was, got told it would be in nearly two weeks, looked disappointed, got offered to go on stage then and there to play. So I went up, never got asked to get down!

I could not believe my good fortune, but it had to do with the mindset of Christian, the manager of this rock, pop, folk venue in Nice, a mainstay of the live music scene. I had arrived in Nice at dinner time, had to finish doing three articles for my Monaco Grand Prix preview, worked until nearly 10 PM, ran out and found a restaurant, ate, then decided to digest my food by walking around Old Nice checking out the various venues to see if I could plan for playing somewhere later on the trip.

But I had my guitar with me, as always, and the vibe passed with Christian, and the stage was already set up with the equipment of the musician for last night, Matthieu Saque, who was just as open and willing as was Christian to allow me to go on stage and play.

The sound system was great, the monitor was perfectly set up, and later in my set – which lasted 45 minutes to an hour – Matthieu came up and pointed out that I could also use the vocal mixer button to give my voice a bit of harmony.

All in all, it was a superb evening, a great way to digest my food – truffle pasta, confit de canard and baba au rhum, plus a good local red wine – and to discover this very cool bar, the music of Matthieu and Christian and his group. Because it turns out that Christian, the manager, has a band called The Running Birds, that plays at the pub sometimes – he is also doing a different duo thing tonight and tomorrow at the pub – and they are opening up the show this Saturday at the Nikaia for The Scorpions.

Can anything be much cooler than that for a first night in Nice where I expected nothing and inherited the world? The audience was appreciative, and kept asking me to play, so you cannot feel any better while playing than having that happen.

Scott Allen Trio at Shapko’s Bar

May 29, 2011

It was back to being a spectator again last night as I dropped by the Shapko Bar to see what was touted as one of the feature, top acts of the venue, the Scott Allen Trio, with Allen as the bass player and lead singer. In fact, it was the trio of Allen, Peter Thomas on drums and Ronnie Ray Jr. on keyboards, plus two cool lead guitarists.

I thoroughly enjoyed the music and it really got me to thinking about the whole nature of what music is; what various styles and modes of expression are. Both Allen and Thomas sing extremely well, both have flashy, lively stage presence. They are both such good singers, in fact, that we can even forget how good their are on bass and drums. That’s rare. But I was also interested in the music’s quality; it was a cross between funk, soul, Motown, a little jazz, but not much.

And they were so good that I said, so this is like flashy cool competent pizazz, and what the hell do I or so many other people at open mics do by comparison? Technically, these lead guitarists too were light years ahead of my playing. And I enjoyed the keyboard breaks by the interesting Scotsman whom I spoke with afterwards, who showed interesting musical culture by not only being adept at this music but also knowing who Dick Gaughan was, and bringing up the name of Aly Bain, a great Scottish fiddler who played with the Boys of the Lough, among many many others (including people like Rosanne Cash and James Taylor).

But then, I’ve been reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles over the last couple of weeks, and Dylan has been bringing up all sorts of other ideas about what a musician is – and most of it has to do with his models like Woody Guthrie, etc., although he also loves a vast number of other styles of musician, including the Neville brothers, rap, etc. So. I’m saying, Okay, the Scott Allen Trio is quite brilliant and their soul, funk, Motown and a little jazz is great. But the rest of it is music too.

I get kind of an inferiority complex sometimes when I hear really good musicians. Anyway, off to see what my last night in Monaco/Nice will present me with.

Persistence Pays: Playing at Paddy’s

May 28, 2011

I would never have believed it after the first few nights that I would end up playing my music at Paddy’s Pub in Nice. As I said in the previous posts, I kept on having conflicting information and experiences leading me to believe that Paddy’s Pub was a dead end. But last night, out of principle, I persisted. I ate a great meal at an interesting Nice-style restaurant, and then I decided to go to Shapko’s Bar because there was supposed to be a good singer. But on the way, I decided to stop in at Paddy’s once again, just for the sake of good form.

It was Friday night and there was a two-piece band called Spacecats, with a New Zealander named Angus and a French/Brit on guitar, named Stephane. I went in, bought a pint of beer, and parked myself and my guitar at a table not far from the stage. Business was kicking and so was Angus.

They played a couple of songs after I arrived, and then announced they were taking a break. I suddenly remembered that I had seen Angus playing in the open mic at Ma Nolan’s pub in Nice at the Old Port two years ago. He had seen me come in with my guitar, so he came over and immediately asked me if I wanted to play some songs while they took their break. He did not know who I was, he did not remember me from two years ago, and seemed to barely remember the time he went to Ma Nolan’s.

Then Stephane came over and encouraged me to start playing immediately. These guys did not know me from a hole in the wall. So this was a superb example of the kind of openness that I just love and so rarely find in bars around the world where there is not a formal open mic. Angus told me that they were happy to encourage people to go up and play a song or two at Paddy’s, although he said for certain other big gigs it would not be the same thing.

In any case, here it was, my second opportunity to play in Nice on this trip, and in similar circumstances. It also turned out that Angus had in the past played in a band with some of the guys who are now Hobo Chic, and he had also played at Shapko’s Bar. Talk about a small community of music in Nice, small world.

I played four songs, and later another guy went up to play, but the audience loved what Spacecats did so much that they were occupied until after 1 AM doing song after song after song and the crowd wouldn’t let them go.

Loved that evening!

Playing at the Extraordinary Shapko Bar in Nice

May 26, 2011

I discovered the Shapko Bar in Nice on Tuesday evening as I was walking around the streets with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as I sought a place to play. As I mentioned on the previous post, I had decided to pass by and mourn the passing of Johnny’s Wine Bar, and it turned out that right next door on rue Rossetti was this Shapko bar and standing outside of it was Mr. Dimitri Shapko himself and we struck up a conversation.

I told him a little bit about what I was doing, but not much. In fact, maybe I just told him I was looking for a place to play, and I also told him I had been in Istanbul and found Nublu, which also exists in New York City, and which is also a venue – like Shapko’s – that is run by a saxophone player. Shapko being a very cool seeming guy with open ideas, invited me to show up last night – the following day – as it was the one night of the week where the music was not jazz, but more folk, pop, rock. He said his regular musician for that night was an Irishman named Peter Cogavin, and he said Peter called his night, “Peter Cogavin and Friends,” and that there was a chance Peter would let me get up and play. Peter, he said, did that a lot – he was very open too.

So I went, I found the bar to be a fabulous venue, great little stage, nice sound system, several listening areas, big crowd of listeners, and above all a general ambience of the kind I love, with Peter Cogavin being not only a fabulous singer and good guitar player, but as Dimitri said, very open and friendly to other musicians. Peter played most of the evening, and he invited me up to play after his first set. I did four songs. He also invited up a friend of his from Ireland who had never played in public before, and it was the guy’s birthday, he did a song and it was interesting. Later on, Jake Hall, one of the buskers I met the previous night took the stage and played as well, doing that tapping stuff he did with my guitar, but also singing in his rich, deep voice.

It turned out the rest of the busking band was there too, and now I learned their name: Hobo Chic. I had, in fact, found them on the street busking before I went to Shapko’s and I did some videos of them. I was also there when a French painter named Morassut gave them a painting of them that he did.

But back to Shapko’s bar. No, back to Shapko. I have not yet heard his music, but I am very keen to do so, because after discovering Ilhan Ersahin in Istanbul, I think I have just discovered another very interesting sax player, if Shapko’s biography on his bar’s web site is anything to go by. Shapko, who is from Russia, has played with an extraordinary number of top musicians, such as “Wynton Marsalis, Al Grey, Doc Cheatham, Benny Waters, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Sol Yeaget, Lorna Watson, Ali Jackson, Jeniffer Vincent, Steve Kirby , Debora Brown, Rob Agerbeek , Doug Sides , Margorie Barns and Debora Carter.

And he has played with his band at the Newport Jazz Festival, The North Sea Jazz Festival, The Montreaux Jazz, Juan Les Pins Festival, Maastricht Jazz Festival, Breda Jazz Festival, Harlem Jazz Festival, New York Jazz Festival, Festival du Jazz du St.Germain Des Pres, Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz Fesival, Calgary Jazz Festival and many others.

Pretty impressive. And here he is running a very cool venue in Nice. What a discovery. And what an honor to have played there! It was, in essence, if not strictly speaking, an open mic. I even managed to interview Peter for my film.

Nice Buskers in Nice

May 25, 2011

Funny, I arrived last night dead tired from a disastrous train ride to Nice from Montpellier – after taking a couple of other trains before that from Barcelona – and had a meal in Nice and said, “Early to bed, don’t even bother looking for a place to play music.” But I said, “No, push yourself, and walk off some of that three course meal.” Mainly I did want to push myself. It was late, and the music scene for open mics and jams has not proven to be too fertile here in the south of France in the past, so every moment is valuable.

So I headed off to the old town in Nice looking to check out some of the places I knew of in the past. I knew that Johnny’s Wine Bar no longer existed, and that it was there where I had one of my best open mics in the south in 2009. But I dropped by there anyway, only to find a jazz club just up the street and the owner sitting out front. That led to what may tonight turn into an opportunity to play. I will write about that tomorrow once I see if or how it goes.

Then I headed down a street to the left right near this music joint and suddenly I saw a group of four or five buskers taking a break from their busking and snacking in the narrow street. They had a guitar, an upright bass, a saxophone and some percussion things – a drum, bongos. They said hello when they saw my guitar. So I stopped, we chatted, I noticed that the Takamine guitar had a crack on its table that looked like the problem on my Seagull, but not as bad. I commented on that and pulled out my Seagull to show it to them.

One of the guys then wanted to try my guitar, then another, so we had a little tiny moment of jamming in the streets. But they gave me a couple of ideas for further musical possibilities – including a bit of busking tonight, perhaps. I may or may not take that one up. But as the conversation progressed I ended up telling them I was a journalist specializing in Formula One and taking my guitar around the races to play around the world in open mics and jam sessions. One of the musicians then said that he had played in Eddie Jordan’s band before, and we got to talking about our experiences with Eddie Jordan, as I had written about my musical experience last year with this former Formula One team owner who is now a commentator on BBC television.

I knew that Eddie was using a busker from Italy in his band lately, and here it was it turned out he had used two of these buskers I was now speaking to in Nice. These guys were not French, by the way – or at least not the bass player who tried my guitar and did some really nice tapping with it as you will see in the video. But naturally, I thought, what a bloody small world, and what a cool adventure! And crap, there it was again, that message: When you’re feeling down and low and tired, push yourself to the edge of something better. Had I retired to my bed after a contented meal and a long day, I’d have missed out on all of the above!

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