NICE, France – Another of my great frustrations on my worldwide open mic travels is that I am rarely in Nice on a Monday, which is the night that one of the coolest pubs in the Old Town holds its open mic. The open mic at The Snug has been going on for several years now, and last night was only the second time I have been able to attend the Snug’s Monday open mic, again this time not because I was passing through Nice for the Monaco Grand Prix – my usual reason – but again for personal reasons, as I spent a night in Nice on my way back to Paris from Milan. The Snug, was very intimate this time, located not in the basement “cave” but at the back of the ground floor in a tight, small, intimate space.
I was fortunate enough to be able to arrive late and still take part, thanks to the kind hosts, as the open mic usually stops at midnight, and by the time I played just before midnight, there were still a few people to get up behind the mic. First at the Snug open mic in Nice
Nice feels to me like it has a growing open mic scene, and while the open mic at The Snug was started by someone else a few years ago, it has managed to pass from one MC to another and remain alive, where often an open mic can only survive its original, founding host. In this case, I think it’s thanks to the cool, laid back management of this amazingly authentic pub, and the fact that the open mic atmosphere is fabulously warm whether it be performed in the basement room or the ground floor. Second at the Snug open mic in Nice
NICE, France – The night before last it was my arrival in Nice, in the south of France, for my only night in the town this year as I attend the Monaco Grand Prix. I’ve been lucky enough to luck out on an apartment stay in Monaco itself this year, so the rest of the week will be devoted to trying to crash the impossible town and find a place to play in Monaco. I have one or two ideas. But this post is about King’s Pub in Nice, in the old town. It’s a mainstay of live music in a town that is bursting at the seams with live music. But after a few years where it seemed to have lost its way with the open mic, the open mic is now back with a vengeance on Tuesday nights. MC opens open mic at King’s Pub
As soon as I saw somewhere that King’s Pub was holding an open mic on Tuesday, I shelved all other plans and went directly there after a wonderful dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in Nice (had gambas pasta). I arrived after 10 PM and the open mic was just starting. I was delighted, because the crowd looked like your bona fide open mic crowd, and not just a jam crowd. And the MC, Chris, was announcing that the stage was open to anyone, and he’d just play a few songs first. final one at King’s pub
The stage is very sweat, a nice comfortable size for a single musician, but they also manage to get whole bands up there; and the sound system was so good that you had perfect vocals and great guitar sounds coming out of every performer’s set. And there is also an excellent monitor, so you feel as comfortable as anything. Duet at King’s pub
I love this fabulously huge pub with giant high ceilings, and when you stand on the stage, you can look right down through the whole pub and out through the front entrance into the street. And you can project, and hope that you will attract more spectators or musicians. Another duet at King’s Pub
In any case, there were a number of musicians, but it was also free enough that I managed to do a long first set, and then later on, finished off with a second set. Another long one. It was pure delight from beginning to end. One of the nicest open mics I’ve done in Nice, now. A different duet at King’s Pub in Nice
SINGAPORE – Looking back to see what my last post on this blog was, I’m stunned to see it was about my trip to Belgium! Since then I’ve been to Milan, Nice, Paris, and now I’m writing from Singapore. I’ve done an open mic in Nice, another in Paris, and I’m going out for music tonight in Singapore. I did a gig on Saturday night too, by the way, in Bondy, just outside Paris, in a neat restaurant called, L’Atelier. Time goes too quickly sometimes. But there really is a good reason for the lack of activity on the blog during that period. First performer at the Snug open mic.
I’ve just emerged from my busiest period of the entire year in my job as a Formula One writer, having produced 16 full-length feature articles for the next two races, Singapore and Japan, which you will be able to find amongst my Brad Spurgeon stories on The New York Times site in the coming days; I have written a 5-page profile of the Ferrari racing boss, Maurizio Arrivabene, in the October issue of Road & Track magazine, which just came out on the newsstands yesterday, and I have also been preparing the visas, flights and hotels for the remaining part of my world travels, which will be hugely intensive over the next two and a half months, taking me around much of the world…. Fourth performer at the Snug open mic in Nice.
So it is that occasionally, just occasionally, I can truthfully say that I’m not updating the blog because I’m a slacker who has run out of steam, but because it’s totally full-steam ahead in other areas, leaving no time for this. But now I’m back, and I’m hoping to keep this going massively in the coming months! Second performer at the Snug.
But first, I want to report that I finally got to play at the Monday night open mic in Nice at the Snug & Cellar pub. I’d been wanting to go to this for years, but I was never in Nice on a Monday night – until last week when I had to interview a legendary author – of one of the greatest car racing books ever written – and so I had a bit of time to check out the Snug. Third performer at the Snug.
It was a pretty good atmosphere, full of people, full of musicians, a nice presentation by the MC, but the sound system was not the best on earth. And it tended to be a very vocal audience – during songs, I mean. Fifth performer at the Noctambules.
In Milan, I think it was the first year ever that I did not get to play anywhere, as there too I had on the only night I usually play in a jam, I had an important interview to do for my job, so I had to let the music drop there. That was the first race at which I have not played at a venue in I have no idea how long, but it seems like years! First performer at the Noctambules.
So it was that once back in Paris, it was with a vengeance that I went and played at Raphaëlle’s open mic at the Noctambules bar on the Place Pigalle – which I actually help organize a little too, making sure the sound is good for every performer…. It was another fabulous night, in any case, mostly because of Raphaëlle’s extraordinary MCing, and her incredible singing too, between the other wonderful musicians of the evening…. Fourth at the Noctambules.
And that takes me to Singapore, where I am quite exhausted as I write these words and prepare to go out and force myself to keep awake, as the more than 20 hours of travel without any real sleep have begun to weigh on me…! Second at the Noctambules.
PARIS – So my last night in Nice was not all that nice, really. But things got better going back to Paris, and look even better soon….
On my last night in Nice, on Sunday, I went to the De Klomp bar, the open mic of which was supposed to be happening. I entered the bar and asked the waitress about the open mic, and she confirmed it was happening. But the stage was not setup and I had to wait for it to be set up. I ordered a beer, therefore, and waited. No open mic. No stage setup. So I then asked the guy who looked like the manager, and he confirmed there would be an open mic, and he went on to explain that they were changing the style of it, and that it was going from a bit of a jam thing amongst friends to a real open mic format and jam.
He told me to wait until the band came to set up the state. But not long before midnight, I told him that it looked like the band was not coming to set up the stage, and he agreed. So I just finished my beer and left. Better luck next time!
Monday was the trip back to Paris, reunions, fun, settling back into the winter weather of Paris (from the Cote d’Azur, that’s what it felt like.) And on Tuesday, it was a visit to the Baroc. The great Baroc. Unfortunately, I found that I had no juice in my iPhone and no battery power in my recording device, my Zoom, so I ended up with just one video. But it was a full, wild and crazy night at the Baroc.
Wednesday, that’s last night, well, I went to check out a new venue, the recently re-opened “Aux Noctambules” bar on the Place Pigalle, and there I saw a band playing, and spoke to the owner about an invitation he had put out to Raphaëlle and I about playing there. So that’s why we went and took a look, and indeed, it all looked really fabulous, so the result is that Raphaëlle Pessoa (along with Insu), will host the first open mic on Sunday aux Noctambules, on the place Pigalle!
That’s the future taken care of! But what happened after that was that we went over to Trelys’s open mic at the Oasis 244 bar near the Jaures metro, and played some songs and had a really great laid-back time. Two of the high points for me of that open mic last night were definitely when Pascal segued into playing Bach on his harmonica (see the video until its end) and when another guy played AC/DC, “Highway to Hell” on his ukulele! I was out of battery power again for that on both sources, so only got a small bit. It was very funny – and later in the evening, he would play “Smoke on the Water” on the ukulele, which was also fun….
NICE, France – The question running through my mind over the last couple of nights as I have walked the streets of Nice, mostly the old town, is whether my imagination is playing havoc on my memory, or whether Nice had a brighter period for roaming musicians than at the moment? I passed many of the previous places I had played in here over the years to find either the businesses no longer existed, or there was a change of style, a change of owner, a different zeitgeist.
Shapko still exists, but I saw nothing inviting in the way of the jam that was kind of slapped on to the end of a jazz night of band gigs. The King’s Pub told me they no longer host a jam or an open mic, and only show sports on TV. Johnny’s Wine Bar is long since gone.
There are other examples of things past, but I’ll forget about them for the moment. There remains hope in places one would expect, though. I dropped in to Paddy’s pub to find a musician doing a nice little gig on the nice little stage, and warmly coming up afterwards to say hello, as I had a compliment to make of his music. I asked him about open mics and jams, and he only knew of one that I will try tonight – hoping it still exists. But his stage was not open, as it has been in the past during other gigs. That said, Paddy’s apparently has an open mic every Tuesday night, so that’s great news.
From there, I decided to head on down to the first of the former Johnny’s venues, this one called Jonathan’s Live Music Pub. There, as soon as I saw that it was Friday night, and therefore one of the nights served by one of the three D’s – three musicians all having the letter D as their first initial somewhere – and I saw it was Joe Danger, I knew I was at least in for a fun moment of music.
And as with years past, it was the same climate: Go into the bar before Joe is onstage and you’ll find it empty, or nearly empty of clients. Wait a bit, Joe Danger takes to his musical chair, and suddenly the whole cellar room of this great bar fills up with people, mostly young people, keen to go crazy with the music of Joe Danger as a backdrop.
Joe, an Austrian originally, but who sings and speaks in perfect English, has been playing Jonathan’s pub for 15 years. He is really part of the walls, I think. Or at least the playing stool. He also has the great warm trait of offering the stage to people who ask, to play a song or two, although it is not an open mic.
So he saw me with my guitar, we chatted, he remembered me from the past, and he invited me up to play. I high, high point of the week.
Last night, I dropped by the Snug, where there is an open mic on Monday nights, and there was a singer. She played some lovely material, and after when I complimented her, we got to talking about my guitar. She normally plays an acoustic, loved my guitar, and I offered to let her use it on her next set. All over wonderful time – but I didn’t play anything.
So there are bits and pieces of music and open stages still in Nice, but I still feel things have got a little reduced in recent years….
NICE, France – It’s funny how the atmosphere in music venues can change over time. In fact, the atmosphere for the clients of the Jam bar in Nice was the same last night as on the previous occasions I had come and played there. It was full of rocking, blues’n, soul’n music with neat sax and guitar and keyboard solos. It was wild and fast. And crowded. But if you are a new or unknown musician showing up at the Tuesday night open jam and open mic at the Jam in Nice, forget it. You won’t be treated equally to the regulars – at least that’s the way it felt last night.
I had, as I said, played at the Jam in the past, and I had loved the feeling, the whole thin, and I believe I had been treated OK – although I do remember a long wait even in the past. But last night? It was one of those situations where you arrive and shake hands with someone at the edge of the stage who seems to be in charge, but he says he is not in charge and sends you to “the guy with the hat” behind the bar. The guy with the hat, moment he hears your English accent in otherwise excellent French, starts speaking to you in English – and puts you in the category: English tourist.
Once in that category, I was doomed. It’s funny because in Paris I blend in with the cosmopolitain population; but here in Nice I never fail to feel like every local I speak to is fed up with meeting another “English tourist” and even when I carry out several exchanges in near perfect – but accented French – they still don’t believe I’ve lived most of my adult life in Paris and I am NOT a tourist in this country!
Anyway, so the guy with the hat feeds me a line when I ask about how I can take part in the jam: “Well, sure, yeah, just buy a drink and go and sit down and wait. The guy who does my sound set up isn’t here at the moment and he’ll have to take care of you and your guitar.”
So I buy the drink, and I go and sit at the front of the stage. And over the half hour I’m sitting there, I’m seeing one new musician after another enter the Jam bar and take to the stage – with guitars, with keyboards, for vocals, you name it. Saxophone, trumpet. Cajon. Just climbing up on the stage. And I’d already spoken before dinner to the drummer and bass player, and they saw me sitting at the table at the front of the stage with my guitar. So everyone knew that I was there to take part in the jam, but guess what? I was not a regular. The others were all known to each other.
And so it was that I discovered “Le Volume” – a fabulous musical association in Nice
Is that the idea of a free and open jam and open mic – as advertised on the Jam bar’s site? Not for me! So I got fed up and didn’t even finish the costly beer. I did a search on my iPhone and discovered to my amazement, that there was a jam session at a place I’d never heard about, going on right then, called, “Le Volume.” So that was it. I said, “Go to Le Volume. It can’t be worse than this!”
And boy was I right! I crossed town using my iPhone GPS and found Le Volume in a part of town where I never played before – facing the old town, but in the city center, on the opposite side of the tracks – and I found this stupendous place devoted to live music. My first thought was that it reminded me of the place I did the open mic in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, because like Freedonia in Barcelona, Le Volume is an association. You have to buy a membership and leave your name and address. But don’t worry, the membership costs 2 euros and lasts a year!
I entered the building to find, like at Freedonia, two different venues in one. But unlike Freedonia, where one stage was for comedy and the other for music, here at Le Volume, it’s all music. The rooms are on one side for an acoustic jam session, and on the other side for an electric jam session, complete with drums, electric bass, etc. The acoustic jam was in full swing when I arrived.
Watch out, this is like a real underground sort of musical space where you don’t really have an audience and musicians separated by a stage and seating area. This is like two open-space performance areas divided by the central room where, like at Freedonia, there is a bar with cheap beer selling for 2 euros. (Or was it 2.50?? Can’t remember!)
As you’ll see from my videos, it was pretty free-form, but people were doing songs nevertheless, and anyone could join in, both the acoustic and electric areas. I felt complete acceptance by everyone – unlike at the Jam bar – and I joined in and did a few songs in the acoustic jam, on which I had people playing the cajon and bongos, and violin, and another guitar, and helping out on vocals too.
It felt very much like the kind of scene I have found in places like in Budapest with its Szimpla Kert jam sessions; or even a real sort of hippie feel too it.
The Volume also puts on concerts and the music faculty in the local university here is doing some demonstration soon of the fruits of its students’ work this year. So Le Volume is a really multi-purpose musical association, an just a great place to go and jam. OK, it’s not the night club feel of the Jam bar, but for me the important thing was feeling welcome! I’ll return!
P.S. The jam session usually takes place on Wednesdays, but due to a concert overlap thing, they ran the jam session on Tuesday night this week. There is also a rap open mic on Friday….
My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
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.
NICE, France – The idea Sunday night was to enjoy a good, simple meal in the old town of Nice, take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, maybe film a few scenes for my next song video, the song of which has now been all nicely mixed and ready for posting. Then, somehow, an open mic intervened. I just happened to stop by at the De Klomp bar, in the old town, and discovered that the open mic still existed, that a crowd was building, and that there was a place for me to play. I couldn’t resist.
And then the was the listening to the very cool voice and neat music of the new MC, Erik Marchini, who for a newcomer to performing his music, is pretty hot. He said he has only being playing in public for around three months. Amazing.
De Klomp is a pretty hip bar, with a central bar area and two different, but connected rooms, so that with the music on one side and a drinking room on the other, people can choose whether they want to listen or talk. Of course, you get a bit of both, like anywhere. But it is a very nifty, and has a kind of underground feel to this place – I highly recommend it.
It was really one of my favorite open mic situations: You don’t plan to attend an open mic, you enjoy a meal at a restaurant, show up in a bar, there’s an open mic, they invite you up, you play, you have fun, you listen to others, you leave. Perfect recipe for a night out….
NICE, France – My feeling is that it is better to be late and short than to completely ignore my experience playing my songs, and listening to those of Marjorie Martinez, at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night. I mean, here I am on the Riviera, having suddenly disappeared from this blog and got sucked up by the sudden appearance of sunlight and sea air – or something like that.
But the more important reason for writing a post here on my evening playing music at Shapko Bar in Nice on Wednesday night is for the record of this blog: I’ve written about the amazing Shapko Bar on rue Rossetti in the old town of Nice since 2011. It became the highlight for me of coming to play in Nice.
So it was at first a shock to arrive for the Wednesday night jam session at Shapko and to find that rather than a band occupying the neat little stage on the lower part of the room it was now several tables full of patrons sitting there drinking, talking, and listening to the music of a woman playing at the mic on the new stage area in front of the bar at the front of the venue.
I learned immediately that Dimitri Shapko, the wonderful Russian saxophone player who founded the bar had just recently sold it to a new owner. I then approached the woman behind the mic – with her Gibson acoustic – after she finished her set, and I asked her if there was some kind of open jam, as there always had been. She said, “No,” but then immediately, in the spirit of Shapko, said that if I wanted to play some songs I could.
So I took the stage after her next set and I sang three or four songs, mostly mine, and “Wicked Game.” I then later spoke to the new owner of the bar, and he said he planned to continue the same spirit of the old Shapko bar – and he has maintained the same name – including having any concerts that start the evening finish as a jam. But there is also an official jam session night on Thursdays, and any kind of music goes.
A Change of Ownership at Shapko Bar
So the good news is that we have not entirely lost Shapko Bar. But let’s see how it develops….
In the meantime, Marjorie Martinez impressed the hell out of me: She had a very cool way of playing that guitar, ranging from folk rock, soft rock and blues into some very adept and fabulous sounding jazz stuff. That came in handy when she opened the stage for the jam, and a saxophone player went up and jammed with her. I mention Marjorie’s range and guitar playing first, but it is her singing voice that is the real center of her show: She sounds like a cross between Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.
She is French, but her English accent is almost impeccable. In fact, in the gig it was impeccable. It was just in hearing her on her albums – that I bought and later listened to, that I noticed the slightest hint of a French accent. She writes most of her own music, but does not shy away from cover songs either, especially the jazz stuff. In fact, a lot of her own songs have a jazz feel to them in parts, and her backing musicians are clearly jazz-oriented. A very, very interesting discovery, this Marjorie Martinez of the French Riviera – because she is a local….
NICE, France – The last thing I expected upon arrival in Nice last night in the sun and heat was that I would get all that much hotter as the night went on, and that it would get sunnier when the sun went down. I’m talking about having discovered a new – for me – open mic in a section of the city where I never played before. Finding it was a breeze, since all I did was enter the words “jam” and “Nice” and “France” into the Internet search engine and up came a link to the Jam bar in Nice, that specialises in live music, including an open mic on Tuesday nights….
It is located in the pedestrians’ only streets near the Promenade des Anglais, but not in the old town, which was the only section of town where I had played in open mics prior to this. It was my kind of place also in starting after 9 p.m. but having a slot for me to play every when I got there after a pizza up the street after 10 p.m.
What I loved about this place was that a), it has a cocktail lounge kind of feel to it, but at the same time, it maintains a simplicity of any open mic in any open mic I’ve been to, and b) it was brimming full of people. The crowd could be loud at times, but when a comic went on before me, they kept very quiet for him, and then when I went up, they continued being respectfully quiet. I think that had to do with me going up only on acoustic guitar and vocals, whereas most of the talking happened when it was a full band formation.
Most of the evening did consist of the full band formation, with musicians exchanging places and instruments: a classic jam. But it was also a classic open mic, allowing, as I said, a comic and me only on the guitar and vocals. All in all, I found the atmosphere to be a fabulous, anything-goes, perfect open mic atmosphere. Really glad to have discovered it – in fact, it has been going for only a year, apparently, so that’s why I missed it in my previous visits to Nice….