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Monumental Johnny Borrell Concert at Small Bar; Nice Open Mic at Vieux Léon

March 28, 2013

borrellWhen I first heard that Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the band Razorlight, was doing a series of concerts in March and April in small bars in London, Amsterdam and Paris, and that he was doing this cycle of them night after night, week after week, on a kind of mini repeating tour, I wondered if he had fallen on hard times.
This was, after all, the singer and songwriter of a band whose songs I loved half a decade ago, stuff like “The Girl With the Golden Touch,” and especially, “America.” I first listened to him frequently on my car radio, then the first – and only – time I saw the band was in August 2007 at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. Then it ended up that because we had a mutual friend, Borrell came and played two or three songs at my Sunday Brunch at the Mecano Bar open mic, for the friend.

He just did it solo with an acoustic guitar. Then we met up again at another open mic in Paris – at the Bus Palladium – one night when my friend said Johnny was itching to do an open mic, and I was there doing it. Each time, in solo acoustic Borrell was superb. I think he sang one or two new songs he was working on at the Palladium that night, and it sounded okay, kind of cool, but not the end of the world.

So last night when I decided to go see Borrell at the Truskel, I was expecting much the same, hoping some people would show up, and hoping it wasn’t the end of the road for such a wonderful musician.

So it was that I nearly shit my pants when I arrived and found this whole band set up with a great sound system, lots of equipment they are busing around from venue to venue, and above all, an absolutely vibrant, charismatic, madly wonderful performance by Borrell and his new musicians (this is not Razorlight). And the songs! It is very rare, almost unheard of, for me personally to enjoy listening to even the most famous of bands in concert when I have never heard their new music before.

This stuff was wonderful on the first listening. I really enjoyed it, and so did the many, many other people who showed up in that confined space of the Truskel. In fact, I arrived after the concert had started – or right at the beginning – and so found myself in the back of the little room with no room to move. I was therefore constrained to lift my arm high in the air over the heads to get the videos. Apologies. But you still have a chance to go next week and see his last concert at the Truskel – or further ones in London and Amsterdam.

And ultimately my conclusion was that Borrell is not on the skids, but better than ever, or at least as good as ever, and that playing in these small bars seems to be a way of getting this band’s act together out of the spotlight. It has been done before by other bands, but whatever the situation, what counts here is the supercool music being made, and the luck of those who see and hear the band in such venues.

The other good thing was that the concert ended early enough for me to split right afterwards and walk over to Chatelet where the Vieux Léon open mic takes place, and to get up and play a few of my own songs, and watch and hear some of those of my friends, the regulars at the Vieux Léon.

All together a fabulous night.

Johnny Borrell of Razorlight Does Another Paris Open Mic – Bus Palladium

September 7, 2011

Johnny Borrell

Johnny Borrell

Last night turned into another of those exceptional moments that only the open mic can do. From time to time the people who attend and the musicians who play in open mics get treated to the surprise visit of a star musician wanting to get back to their roots or maybe try out new material or just have some fun. They show up unannounced and play like anyone else at an open mic. After Johnny Borrell did that at my brunch at the Mecano back in February, the Razorlight singer and songwriter decided to try out the Bus Palladium last night.

Of course, the Bus Palladium is a legendary venue in Paris that is well worth the visit of any musician. As I wrote the first time I visited the Bus Palladium in April last year: Started in September 1965, it began by sending out buses to the kids in the suburbs to bring them in to see the shows, since they didn’t have much money to make the trek into Paris. It quickly became a real center of the rock and pop scene, and even Salvador Dali showed up one night with a bunch of his friends. The reputation grew outside France too, and in addition to performers such as Johnny Hallyday, Eddy Mitchell et les Chaussettes Noires, Julien Clerc, Alain Bashung, CharlElie Couture, Indochine, Etienne Daho, Stephan Eicher, Noir Désir, La Mano Negra and the Rita Mitsouko, it is also famous for the fact that Mick Jagger decided to celebrate one of his birthdays there.

Borrell attended my brunch in February thanks to his friendship with my friend Earle Holmes, and it was again with Earle that Borrell showed up last night at the Bus Palladium. He has been spending a lot of time in Paris lately, and is hard at work on new songs. I was pleased to lend him my guitar again for the several songs, his own and covers, that he played last night. The Bus has been doing an open mic for the last six months or so, on Tuesdays, and normally the musicians must send in a request to play along with links to their music. Obviously, Borrell needed no such introduction or examination….

He seemed more relaxed than when I saw him in February, and he played more songs. But there is something about the restaurant room of the Bus Palladium, something about the small stage and the lighting, that makes you want to continue playing on. It’s got some kind of 1960s or 70s cocktail lounge feel to it. It may not be the quietest or most attentive audience, but there are always a sufficient number of listeners to make it worth wanting to continue. I enjoyed making some videos of Johnny playing while trying to keep the portrait of Serge Gainsbourg as visible behind him as I could. The only problem was the lighting was so dark I had to set the Zoom Q3HD to night light, which cust a lot of the clear definition of the image.

Earlier, I did my songs and a few friends showed up – like Calvin McEnron and Olivier Rodriguez – and did theirs. I heard a few new people too. All in all it was a spectacularly wonderful evening.

Johnny Borrell of Razorlight Plays Brad’s Brunch at Mecano Bar

February 21, 2011

It was a slightly slower day at my Sunday brunch at the Mecano bar yesterday as we were right in the middle of the French school holidays and lots of people were out of town. But it turned into a monumentally memorable brunch as we suddenly had a special guest appear to play a couple of songs: Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the British band, Razorlight.

Razorlight is in town to play a couple of gigs at the Fleche d’Or, tonight and tomorrow, if I understand correctly. And it turns out that, as regular readers of this blog will know, that Borrell is a friend of Earle Holmes, the man responsible for setting me up with this brunch in the first place. So Borrell dropped by to say hello to Earle and his wife, Eve. Borrell had actually played at Earle’s open mic at the Shebeen a few years ago, and so here he was yesterday at the brunch, and there was the mic, there was the guitar, and there went big-hearted Johnny to play a couple of tunes – an old one and a new one.

Oh, as you will see in the videos, Borrell has changed his look somewhat – growing whiskers here and there. It was not evident that this was the same man I had seen play at the Sziget festival in Budapest in 2007. Not evident, that is, until he started playing his music and singing, and then the voice was unmistakably that of the man who sang so many of the songs I like, (my own favorite being “America,” which hit No. 1 in the UK a few years ago). It was very cool. I don’t know if the whiskers will stay there for the concerts at the Fleche d’Or, but you can perhaps try to check that out if you happen to be in Paris – and if there are any tickets left….

I learned from him that he had been present at the Monaco Grand Prix last May, as a guest of the Red Bull team. So I might have run into not only Mick Jagger on the starting grid at that race, but also Johnny Borrell – had I been able to recognize him!

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