PARIS – If there is just one open mic you have to go to this week in Paris, then you must have a problem. There are so many worthwhile, fun and neat open mics in Paris. But now one of the most enduring is the Highlander, run since the beginning by Thomas Brun, which will celebrate its 9th anniversary of its existence this Wednesday.
If I was in town this Wednesday, I would be going. As it turned out, I thought the celebration was happening last Wednesday, so I went. Well, that just set up the right situation to get some videos up on this blog for the preparation for the ninth anniversary!
Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake
I’ve been attending this open mic more than half of that time, although all sorts of personal commitments have meant that I have not attend as much as I would like to in the last couple of years. But attending last Wednesday, I found the same open mic in the basement of this neat Scottish pub in Paris, run by Thomas Brun in a way that I would like to say is inimitable, but that would not do justice to the many open mic MCs in Paris who have, in fact, used Thomas’s presentation as a model – and imitated it to the last detail.
But as someone said last Wednesday, there are no other open mic MCs quite like Thomas – and that’s what makes an open mic work or not. (In addition to the location and the management…!)
Anyway, enough frothing at the mouth. Just check out the videos to get an idea of the atmosphere – and check out Thomas’s accompaniment of a rapper.
PARIS – I have been so busy in the last two weeks winding up my sixth worldwide open mic adventure with a visit to Abu Dhabi that I never did get back to the blog to talk about all the musical and other things I have been up to since my last post, two weeks ago. That is VERY unlike this blog. And I have no excuses – because I don’t believe in using “overwork” as an excuse, since we can ALWAYS do more.
Having said that, I’ve got stacked up in my brain of experiences and plans and projects over the last couple of weeks a bunch of different things and evenings and musical experiences to talk about. And I hate the idea of writing about them all at once on a single, never-ending post. So instead, I’ve decided to talk about the things freshest in my mind and memory first – i.e., the stuff I did yesterday – and each day when I come back (provided no new experience has been got) I will write about the experience of the day before.
That is the beauty of a blog: Anything goes!!! To hell with chronological order and the tyranny of time!
Visiting the New Open Mic at the Café Oz, Denfert in Paris
It has been running for a few weeks now, but I somehow only managed to get to the new Sunday-night open mic at the Café Oz at Denfert Rochereau in Paris last night for the first time. It’s even more surprising since I have been jogging past this pub for a year and a half on my nightly – ok, sometimes fortnightly – jog around the neighborhood. But what was even more surprising, in a pleasant way, was to discover that this new Café Oz open mic in this voluminous Australian pub, is run by the same guy who made the Tennessee Bar open mic such a great success for so many years, along with one of the regulars at that open mic night.
Yes, James Iansiti is the guy behind it, and he works with Chardes on the MCing, on musical backing, on announcing and organizing. And here we have an open mic with a difference in Paris: It may be the same format that James ran at the Tennessee Bar for so many years – until he did not do that anymore, a year ago??? – but this bar is such a different kind of place that the feel is quite different.
It confirms my feeling again that the success of an open mic is the sum of its parts: attitude of bar owner, size and shape of bar and stage, location of bar, MC, sound system, whatever. So this may be James and the gang running this Café Oz open mic at Denfert Rochereau in Paris (not to be confused with Brislee Adams’ open mic at the Café Oz at the Metro Blanche), but the feeling is different.
I personally just loved playing on this big raised stage area in front of the voluminous bar room, with hugely high ceilings, and a friendly staff. I even enjoyed the fact of the sports televisions showing their imagines as I played. All in all, this is one to recommend, and breaks a little the stranglehold of the Pop In on Sunday nights in Paris….
PARIS – This might be the first time I have ever used my own blog myself to check out the last time I sang at a particular open mic. I am having a very hard time believing what my blog is telling me! I just searched to find out that it is telling me that the last time I sang at the Highlander open mic, one of the best open mics in Paris, it was at the end of August last year! I went to the Highlander on Wednesday, had an amazing evening, sang, and it felt like I had last played there just the other day….
Well, no, not quite. I realized immediately upon entering at 8:20 p.m. that there were a lot of new faces amongst the waiting musicians. In fact, I recognized few of them. Oh, yes, there were a few of the regulars from the past few years. But there were lots of new faces. One face that was not new, the most important face, was that of Thomas Brun, the MC of this open mic that is also one of the longest lasting open mics in Paris. And thank goodness for that. The identity of an open mic is so tightly bound with that of both the location, and above all the MC.
Another thing that had not changed was that it was so popular that the list was probably too big for everyone who eventually showed up. So it was a full evening of song and music otherwise, until well after midnight.
Oh, I must add that my reasons for not singing at the Highlander in the last year – if my blog search is correct on that point! – has nothing to do with the open mic, and everything to do with my travels, personal situation, fewer open mics attended in Paris in general in order to make more time for my other music-and-writing-related projects, and just bad timing. The Highlander remains a must do open mic. You can see that in the videos….
The world has been too much with me of late as I spent my last evening in Oxford playing at the fabulous Harcourt Arms open mic on Sunday night, and then coming to Paris where I got caught up in life of a different kind before stumbling into the open mic of the Rue Mouffetard on Friday night that I had never attended, and then….
Well, getting robbed of my new, three-day-old iPhone 5c as I took a cab from the open mic on the rue Mouffe to an historic mansion in the Marais where I then jammed for a while with interesting new acquaintances before I left and returned the next day to buy an iPhone 5s, since I would not accept that my quality of life be reduced by a thieving taxi driver!
And then yesterday as I wrote my articles for my newspaper in the park Montsouris by using the iPhone 5s as an Internet connection for my MacBook Pro, I then realized tonight – too late – that this fabulous discovery comes at my own expense as I just uploaded the videos you see on this page from the iPhone connection and…used more than two thirds of my annual 4G free Internet connection from Orange France in order to do so!!!!!! (And will have to pay soon to continue using Internet via 4G!!!) So I hope you enjoy these very costly video uploads!
(that’s a smiley of desperation in the guise of a headline, even if it may not appear to be such)
Yes, so, let’s take a step back for a moment after that load of yelling and ranting.
The Harcourt Arms is a fabulous, down-to-earth open mic in Oxford run by the same man who ran the open mic at the Bookbinders Pub for many years, and who has been running another at a pub next to the bus station in recent weeks. It is a classic open mic in a classic British pub, and after now having attended for several years, I can only say that I will return every chance I have. Two songs to start with, and a third if there is still time.
I had discovered the open mic at the Sous Marin bar on the rue Mouffetard a couple of months ago, but I had never actually managed to get there until Friday. It runs every Friday from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and it turns out to be a fabulous open mic in the great spirit of “anything goes” and “let’s not worry about the quality of the sound, but just have fun.”
The Sous Marin is a tiny bar with tables against the left wall as you enter from the front door to the tiny bar in the back. You can barely find a place to stand or sit, and it’s everyone shoulder to shoulder and chatting away like mad. But the ambience is absolutely perfect for a “let’s have fun” open mic, and that’s exactly what I did.
The “stage” area is right in front of the door by the street with the big front floor-to-ceiling pane glass window leading into the rue Mouffetard, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris and full of people passing all the time. So it is that the pedestrians and passersby will see the musicians all night, and the bar may thin out but it will never empty out. In short, you feel like you are singing in the street – and you might as well be.
A great new addition to the open mic world of Paris!
PARIS – Unfortunately, I have been working all day and evening in preparation for my trip to Italy tomorrow, so I am unable to do justice to the blog post that the reopening of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic merits and calls for. But I sure did go last night, and I sure did enjoy myself. I had written for maybe three years about all the great nights at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, and suddenly it was ended, abruptly, last May when the owner/manager decided to sell the bar to a new owner. All the regular musicians who loved the bar and open mic every Tuesday were sure it was finished for good. Thank goodness, the new owner has had the great idea of keeping it going….
So now it is La Tireuse, and the spirit is still there. The bar has been very little changed, just the old boxing photos and posters were removed. Oh, and… they redesigned the basement room, where the music happens. It is now adorned with low tables, couches, lighting, it is, in short, comfortable in a way it never was before. Even better, the open mic performance area has now been moved from the kind of second-thought of a dark space near the stairs at the entry of the room to the other side of the room completely, the other end, against the large brick back wall (or fake bricks).
To play in this spot is just wonderful. There is now sufficient light on the performer that you can actually see their faces as they play. And when you perform in this space, you feel much more like you’re put in position of value as a performer. It’s funny, there was a feeling of insecurity I could never put my finger on when I played at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, even though I loved the place – and insecurity is a part of performance. But last night, playing against the wall, I felt it was much more like being on a stage, where you can feel secure in a way….
But anyway… there is a downside to this new move: The bar is so successful on the ground floor that there is always lots of chat and raucous noise going on up there. But in the previous setup, the noise from upstairs was blocked by the musician(s) and the amp throwing the sound into the room from the stairs end of the room. Now, unfortunately, that noise permeates the room up to about the halfway point, so if you want to hear most of the musicians – ie, maybe not the loudest of them – you have to sit close to the stage area. At least halfway into the room. There’s just too much noise coming from upstairs for the sound to be distinguishable at the new “back” of the room, i.e., the entrance, where the stairs are.
I hope they figure out a way to improve that, because the new set up is otherwise superb…. And above all, Ollie Joe’s MCing and the whole warmth of this open mic are exactly what they were before, and what made it such a success. If feels now, retrospectively, as if this open mic just simply took a summer break like so many others in Paris. Bravo for La Tireuse! https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=562184717151567″ width=”640″ height=”480″ frameborder=”0″
And thanks to Wayne Standley for the video he did of me doing my “Crazy Lady” song, above….
PARIS – On this lazy Saturday afternoon in Paris after I have found myself with nothing to say on this blog, it suddenly occurs to me that I really DO have something to say. Something in a way I rarely do, that is, to announce the return of an open mic, rather than an open mic I just attended, or worse, the closing of an open mic.
In fact, I did indeed announce the closing of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar’s open mic on 15 May after a three year run. It had been one of the best open mics in Paris for its charm, its musicians, its MCs, it’s understanding bar owner/manager, its fabulous set up – a bar to talk in on the ground floor and a cave cellar to play in in the basement, and above all, for its quiet and respectful audiences. Oh, and beer and other drinks that are affordable to starving, broke and drunken musicians.
It came as a massive surprise to everyone who took part in it when we learned that Pierre, the owner, had sold the bar to a new proprietor and the open mic was being closed. It felt like the end of an era. In fact, I made a video of the last night, which I am reposting.
But now, the new proprietor has negotiated with Yaco Mouchard, Ollie Joe, the multi-named, multi-talented MC, to return the open mic to the same location – now under a different name (La Tireuse) – and to once again hold the open mic every Tuesday evening, running it the way it always was run … at least I hope that there will be no new constraints.
It starts again this coming Tuesday at 18 rue Laplace, near the Panthéon, at the bar now called “La Tireuse.” An 8 PM start. And it would be wise to show up early if you want to play. I know that many of the regular performers are ecstatic at this open mic’s return. But let’s see how it goes. My experience with open mics is such that I have seen that the most successful ones are always those that get ALL the ingredients right. So it will be interesting to see how the new owner/managers manage the open mic. Keep posted on this site to find out!
PARIS – You would not have known that it was mid-August last night at the Galway Pub off the Place St. Michel. Unlike a couple of other open mic venues in the Latin Quarter that usually run on Monday nights, this bold and brave institution decided that the client comes first: They did not close down the open mic for August holidays. The result was a very well populated bar and open mic, with some different sounds and faces.
It is a wonderful place to play also in terms of the open front window that makes it so that your audience is not just in the long pub ahead of you, but behind your back, in the street, and also comprises passersby who you can try to imagine attracting into the pub as you croon. (Or scaring them off, whatever the case may be.)
I had not been to the Galway for a longtime, for one reason or another, but never for anything to do with the Galway itself. So it was nice to be back and to hear the latest performers, some old ones returning, and especially the MC, All the Roads, and his velvety voice and inventive songs and guitar playing.
I think that the open mic was also all the better as it focused musicians to come to one spot, rather than spread out to three potential ones in the same area…. So August in Paris can be not so bad after all….
I was starting to feel ill about four days without a post on this blog! I cannot remember the last time I went four days without a post. And really, it’s NOT my fault. It’s the fault of the Paris-in-the-month-of-August-syndrome. Well, all right, that combined with the fact that I am here in Paris during that month of August.
That does not mean that I have been doing nothing creative, no writing, no music, or any such nothings. I have been hugely active working on my book manuscripts, sending them out, editing my film, planning future projects, buying a new dish washer, shoes, clothes, a life….
But most of the open mics in Paris closed down for the August lull, so I had so much more time to tend to these other projects. Last night, finally, the four-day drought ended and I was able to go to…three open mics. I was late doing it, though, so I did not have time to stay longer than 30 seconds at the Tennessee Bar before I decided to go to the Coolin open mic, and I then followed that one – after my performance, and several other people’s – with the Galway pub open mic.
Despite the August lull – a time lots of people profess to like, but I now hate more than ever – there were lots of musicians at all the open mics. There were even spectators. So I played two songs at Coolin and four at the Galway, even trying out new songs I have learned – a Dylan and a Stones.
It was a nice evening that made me forget I was in August in Paris. Today was a “cold shower” of a wake up, though, when I ended up running into one August-related crappy situation after another as I sought to pick up those shoes at the cobbler’s and found them not ready; went to five stores in my neighborhood to find ink for my printer and the stores were either closed or did not want to serve me because it was August, and none had the ink; received my new dish washer only to find that all the cleaning of the floors I had done was now reduced to a muddy swamp with the exit of the old one leaking its dirty water and then finding that the delivery men had left their tools at the previous client’s place and had to leave and return to install the dish washer; going to Casino and finding there was only a half a box of dish washer salt and I need a full one; oh, I think there were other aggravations, but I’d better keep them to myself lest I have readers regretting that I have returned after a four-day lull!!!!
Just a very brief note to mention that it was a nice and calm and quiet Saturday night celebrating Calvin McEnron’s birthday at the 49 Bar in Pigalle. A nice cool, small bar with tasteful photos, including one of the famous Edward Hopper painting of a diner. I played two sets of maybe four songs each, including by popular demand my “A Change is Gonna Come,” which I am working at more these days to try to get right.
Calvin, whom I met at Earle’s open mic at the Truskel bar in Paris nearly three years ago, played some of his songs, and there was a short jam with one of the members of the Likely Lads of Paris and a jam of the band The Last Waltz, also of Paris, in which my son plays guitar and does back up vocals and writes songs.
Check it all out! Just a party, really! But Calvin McEnron is more than worth the celebration….
Oh yes, almost forgot that I saw this cool violinist on the metro the previous day as I went to the Abbey Bookshop to celebration a Christmas party.
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….