I arrived a little late at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance last night as I get back into the rhythm of life in Paris and the open mics. I descended into the cave cellar where the open mic takes place and found the place almost standing room only. But to my great surprise, there were only around six musicians, and all the of the people were spectators. What an almost ideal situation that was. It meant I did not have to wait long to play my three songs, and then I listened to all the other musicians before going up to play another song – as did everyone else. But there were also some great musicians to listen to….
I came in on some American guy whose name I did not catch, but who sounded fabulous, and I managed to catch half of his last song on the recorder before he left for the night.
Then there was the usually solo-playing Wayne Standley who had a friend with him playing lead and singing harmonies. It was superb.
I chose to re-tell my Dylan quote and story and sing again “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” since I had failed so badly the night before at Coolin. This time it all worked perfectly, but it is a different kind of audience too, entirely there for the music.
I would estimate that 98 percent of the time I go to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic in Paris near the Pantheon on the rue Laplace on Tuesday nights I end up having a great evening of music and socializing. It happened again last night. The evening started slowly with not that many people there when I arrived at around 9:30. I was afraid I would be too late for the list, to perform, but I was lucky and signed up. Then the place began to fill up with musicians and spectators, and the musical aspect of the evening was great – with a respectful audience that listened and sang along (not to mine) – and then afterwards there was a long period of socializing in the bar, meeting new and interesting people – a great time.
One of the big differences at this open mic is that it is a place where people go into the small cellar to listen to the musicians, and they stay up in the bar to talk. The musicians tend to be very good, young and original, and the audience tends to be about the same. I go so often that I was not sure what to sing, but decided to do “I Won’t Back Down” and my new one, “Crazy Lady.” I did not think of these as crowd pleasers, but I did think of them as songs I wanted to sing. That seemed to please the crowd, which pleased me even more.
I was then even more delighted to meet afterwards someone from a band from California who approached me and said they found the open mic thanks to this blog and its list of open mics and jams in Paris. This was Autumn Harrison of the band Salt Petal. Autumn, who plays accordion and sings, later gave me their CD, and it is quite good – with my favorite song being the very sort of retro-pop song called “Travel Far.” That one sounds almost like something written by Buddy Holly.
I went a little late to the Highlander open mic last night and worried I’d never have a place on the usually packed list. But it turned out that because it fell between Christmas and New Year’s, the usually full, even outrageous, evening and list at the Highlander was just a nice comfortable situation. I got to play almost as soon as I arrived, the audience was warm and receptive and spoke less than usual during the performances, and there were some new musicians and old ones sounding great.
I even had a request from an audience member to sing my “Borderline” song, which is always nice to have requests of one’s own music.
I then went over to the Cavern to see if I could face down the failure of the previous week, and see if I could get the band to play the song with the capo on the sixth fret of the guitarist. But once I got there and listened to a few songs I backed down; it was a different guitarist this time, and I just decided that I could try it another time. So I watched a few of the acts and then went home. A very quiet night in Paris during the winter festive week…. It was very much the same kind of atmosphere as the night before at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and I await the re-awakening of Paris with excitement nevertheless….
I had high hopes for the open mic night last night in Paris, and it came to pass – far beyond my wildest expectations. If the headline to this post, and my lede, sound like a massive dose of hyperbole, too bad!
First stop was the Bus Palladium, the famous Paris venue that I have written about on several occasions on this blog. Last night was the second of the Bus’s new open mic evenings, the first being around a month ago. I don’t know how long it will continue, and I didn’t ask. I get the feeling that the Bus is kind of feeling out the territory, and seeing how it works out. They took a very professional and highly organized approach to the thing by sending out a Facebook announcement and asking musicians to send an email and a myspace link to their music as a tryout. And they admit that this made it a “semi” open mic.
I got accepted along with 14 other acts. I missed the first evening a month ago, but they said that they had room for 14 acts, but received 35 responses. So I felt honored to have been accepted, but I’m not so sure they got 35 responses this time. In any case, the whole evening lineup was planned in advance and I was to play 7th. Musicians were greeted at the door and asked questions about our music and what material we needed.
So professional and cool, and that is normal for such a fantastic and historic venue. Having said that, as the evening progressed, I had some mixed feelings about it and how it might pan out in the future. Most of the tables in this cool restaurant that greets the “afterwork” crowd, were booked in advance, so most of the musicians sat like cattle on the sidelines on a step, awaiting their turn. The usual Tuesday night crowd was the same last night as on the afterwork evenings hosted by Yann Destal, and that meant that music for them was really a background thing, and not the main attraction, or, I soon felt, something they care for at all. One table of around 25 people was particularly noisy, with the effect that although I thought there were a number of very good acts, I could not hear their vocals or their guitars.
I made some videos at the quieter moments, but it got pretty loud and rowdy. It is very common to find open mics where people talk, talk and talk. But this one seemed a little heavier than usual to me. Having said that, I was really determined to see if there was a way that I could break through the clamor and grab the attention of the afterwork crowd and pull them out of their conversation and into the show. I had invited someone with me, too, and I felt a little helpless at the thought of her seeing me standing all alone up on the stage singing to myself.
So the first thing I thought I should do was cover songs that everyone knew, and forget about my own songs. The second thing I thought I had to do was to dive into it absolutely totally, but not so much as to be aggressive. Well, to cut the long story short, it worked from the first notes and lyrics of “What’s Up,” through “Father and Son,” and “Mad World.” The audience applauded, sang along, cheered, and briefly left their conversation to take part in songs they all knew and wanted to leap into. I finished with my own “Borderline,” after asking if I should do another cover or one of my own.
So I left the Bus Palladium walking on clouds and delighted at having worked like a bullfighter, or rather, a rodeo rider, trying to tame the bucking horse and succeeding.
From there I decided it was still early enough to go on to Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and I was right to do so. I got to play a song at the end of the evening. But there I felt hardly up to the task, as Ollie’s was such a HUGE contrast to the Bus Palladium: You could hear the proverbial pin drop so quiet was the audience. And like usual, the place was full of massively talented young people. (I’m not saying the Bus was not, but it was more difficult to hear and appreciate them.) Ollie’s is attracting new musicians every week, and there is thankfully more and more French language stuff too.
Then, like icing on the cake, at the end of the Ollie’s evening I struck up a conversation with the man who I had seen at the Galway the night before. This was the man with the guitar with the carvings on it. Remember the video? It turned out that I had found a fascinating like-spirit – Ollie had prompted me – who wears more than one hat: His name is Danny Fonfeder, and he owns 50 percent of one of the most successful school supplies companies in Canada, makers of the Buffalo pencils with the famous tartan box, that I used as a child in grade school. His dad founded the company, and Danny is apparently running it, but in any case, he is travelling the world in his job for the company, and like me with my Formula One race travel, he brings a guitar with him and plays in open mics wherever he can. He started two and a half years ago. But unlike me, the guitar he brings with him – that fabulous carved thing on the video – is one of his own, that he has made for a company he owns and started up six years ago.
It is called Blueberry Guitars, and Danny put the whole thing together when he met a woodcarver in Bali, and decided he wanted a guitar with woodcarvings on it. He started this Blueberry guitar company and it is quite a good business, with guitars I could never afford – check out the $7500 Blueberry guitar on eBay. The wood comes from Canada, it is carved in Bali, and a luthier from the U.S. is responsible for making these into real musical instruments. I invited Danny out after the open mic, along with my friend Tory Roucaud, in order to interview him – and her – for my open mic film.
Now, does it really sound like hyperbole, that headline and lede? No way! A monumental evening.
I could not believe my ears last night at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar when Natas Loves You got up and began singing “I Talk to the Wind” from the first King Crimson album. I mean, this fabulous band originating from Luxembourg – and all over the world – does frequently surprise me and most people in the audience with their harmonies and original sounds.
But here I was faced with not only the nostalgia of listening to this fabulous sound of one of my favourite bands from my youth. I was also faced with the existential question of, hey, when these guys do this it is out-of-this-world-super-cool and hip and original. If I did the song or another from that same album – In the Court of the Crimson King – would I not just be considered an old fart who has never gotten over his first musical loves and cannot move on?
Well, who cares!! Just enjoy the recording I did on the video. Kudos to Natas for this original idea. To top it off, they told me they had only been singing the song for a day or two….
That would not be the only surprise at Ollie’s open mic last night. After a one-week dip in attendance suddenly the scene was back and boiling. It was standing room only for a while, again. And I got hit in the face with several other surprises. They included yet our slide guitar girl Nicole doing her own song for the first time in public; the fuck-poem girl doing another fuck poem – but with much more poise than the last time; Wayne Standley bringing along his banjo instead of his guitar; and Emma doing a crowd-killing “Preacher Man” a cappella with another singer….
I’m returning next week, no problem. But I will have to arrive earlier. Due to all this success, Ollie is moving the start time to 21:00 now from the 22:00 it was when the open mic started a year or more ago….
Just a little note today of a funny coincidence, which I have mentioned before and want to mention again. Ollie Fury is a friend of mine and fellow musician in Paris and he runs the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar’s open mic on Tuesdays. It turns out that he lived five years as a child in Singapore, from age 5 to 10, and it turns out also that he came here for a couple of weeks just for a visit and some gigs, arriving the same day as I arrived, last Thursday.
ollie fury drinking a tiger beer in singapore before performing at actors jam bar
So we met up and played together last night at the Actors jam bar that I mentioned in my previous post. I played “Crazy Love” and two other songs – along with a group (and Ollie on lead) – and he played some songs before I arrived, and then when I was there he played “Brown Eyed Girl,” to match my “Crazy Love,” so we had to Van Morrison songs. I made a video of him playing “Brown Eyed Girl,” but the image quality is garbage. I’m putting it up here anyway so you can hear the sound of the music, and especially Ollie’s cool voice.
poster for ollie fury concert at crazy elephant in singapore
Tonight Ollie is doing a gig at the Crazy Elephant pub in Clarke Quay, and he invited me to come and play a song during his gig, which was bountiful. As I walked toward the MRT line metro stop on the way to the race track today I passed by the “Crazy Elephant” and saw the announcement for his gig. Looked great, so I took a photo and put it up here, along with a photo of Ollie having a beer with me last night before we played at Actors.
Amazing how the life of musicians can meet in the global village in the strangest of places….