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Wonderful Discoveries at the Orphee Open Mic in Pigalle – Including the Male Josephine Baker

September 14, 2012

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

I think I said that it had to be uphill from here yesterday. And yet, wow, was I surprised last night to find myself in an open mic I had never heard of, never played in, never knew of, and found it to be a unique experience with different people. I’m talking about the Orphée club in Pigalle, where I had to ask a neighboring boutique – a karaoké bar – where the Orphée was. “I’ll show you, come this way,” said the woman; and she led me to the door of what looked like an apartment building right next to the karaoke, to show me the buzzer into the Orphee.

There, I found myself as if in someone’s living room – and for all I know, I was – and on the piano was my friend Vincent Lafleur, who had sent the invitation by Facebook. No wait, not quite. Someone else was on the piano at that moment, because it was indeed an open mic. And Vincent was off somewhere else as the other man played. Then Vincent returned and named the next act.

It was an open mic like none other, because it really was like someone’s living room. A long venue room, with a bar near the front, the piano along a wall, a separate smoking room, and darkness so dark that I looked ten years younger. And felt even younger than that. LOVED IT. This was a real feeling of a private club, a jam and open mic night in an almost 1930s Berlin kind of environment.

The music was mostly soul, though, so my own brand of stuff had a little bit of a hard time fitting in – but I didn’t care; there was a mic and I had my guitar, and there was an audience.

Thank goodness, though, that I got to do my songs before the mic and “stage” area were taken over by two American men with similar sounding names. One was Brian and the other Bryant. First Bryant took to the mic with piano and then guitar, and I heard this velvety smooth soul thing. Then the two suddenly stormed the floor and exploded the joint with a kind of gospel American hallelujah stuff and strutting and dancing that just drove the crowd of cocktail sniffers wild.

Bryant was from LA, and Brian was from Baltimore. I learned this after being impressed with their stuff and saying basically, “Where the hell are you guys from?!?” And I was very keen to figure out exactly what they were doing in Paris. But I did not get quite all the information before Brian, the rest of his name being Scott Bagley – ie, Brian Scott Bagley – took to the mic to perform his solo song, with Vincent on the musical side of things. This too exploded into a massive bit of choreography, an abandoning of the mic all together, and a finale with the splits.

No, no, wait. No. There’s something going on here, I thought. This is not just your regular open mic kind of performer. So I went to talk to Mr. Bagley, and what did I learn? Well, simply, that I had PART III to my tales of meeting at open mics the former famous candidates of television reality music competition programs. In this case, American Idol. Mr. Bagley, it turned out, was a star graduate of American Idol – after my meeting with those French twins named Twem, and that amazing woman at the Cavern, Sarah Manesse, of X-Factor.

But just like happened in the case of Sarah, I actually never learned from Brian that he had done American Idol. That’s something I learned when coming home afterwards and checking him out on the Internet. What I learned at the Orphee open mic was that Brian had moved to Paris seven years ago, that he had come working in a revue about the 1920s performer Josephine Baker, and that he had actually played the role of Josephine Baker himself. I recalled that the New York Times and International Herald Tribune had written a story about the play, and I learned that he was involved with plenty of jobs as a choreographer, dancer and singer, and he loves the “old school” stuff for what it has to say to us today.

I could go on and on, but the best thing to do would be to check out the links I’ve put in here. And to go off to see his one-man musical spectacle every Sunday at the Theatre la Cible in Pigalle, called “Cabaret Me – I’m Famous.” The guy is an enormous talent. I was soooo happy that I had not heard and seen him and Bryant perform BEFORE I went up to do my number.

But my huge, huge regret was that I had walked out of my apartment without my Zoom Q3HD recorder and so I had to depend on my iPhone for the videos – and both the image and the sound is crap. How can I keep doing that!?!

She Ain’t a Creep, She’s So F… Special and She Belongs Here – at the Cavern and Everywhere Else

May 17, 2012

Sarah Manesse

Sarah Manesse

O.K., so I’m sitting there at a table beside the stage at the Cavern club in Paris last night at the open vocal jam session after I played at the Highlander, when up comes this perfect woman who sits down at the table opposite me. She has a perfect face, perfect lips, her eyes are covered with glasses, but I guess the eyes are perfect too – and I can only imagine she has a perfect body as well. So I had to talk to her, right? I mean, there was a little potential awkwardness because she had not sat down at my table because of me, but because of a friend of hers, another woman, from Quebec, with whom I had spoken a little before the perfect woman arrived.
“Do you sing too?” I ask, as her Quebecoise friend sang, and was very good.

“Yes,” she said.

“Are you going to sing tonight?”


Not one to know much about making moves, I make my moves slowly, carefully; but nothing will stop me.

“So, what do you do, I mean, do you perform?”

“Yes, I play guitar and sing.”

“Oh, me too. Are you mostly a singer or a guitar player?”

“Mostly the singing.”

I won’t give more details of the conversation, but let’s put it this way. We spoke, she told me her name was Sarah, and I learned that she was working on her singing and performing career, she was tempted to sing on the stage last night, but was not sure what to do. Moreover, she seemed pretty nervous about it. She did not want to go immediately after the break – during which time we had been speaking – and really was not so sure what she could do.

When the break ended, Guillaume, the bass player of the house band, asked if she wanted to go up. She said not just then, and looked very nervous. A little later, please….

So the house band played a song. Then Guillaume asked for another singer, no one presented themselves, and he saw me at the table and knew I had performed there a few times and asked if I wanted to sing. I DID! But I had been also discussing with Sarah about how I found it really difficult to sing with a band without my guitar in my hands, and I had not much experience doing that and that it was really like karaoke and you had to do the songs just the way they were normally done, without much room for interpretation – or free flowing personal whatever….

But I wanted to sing to finally break through my incessant failures at the Cavern. And I kind of wanted to show Sarah and her friend that I could sing! After all, I had just come from the Highlander where I had done three songs different to what I usually do there – “Unchained Melody,” my “Except Her Heart” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” and it had gone over wonderfully. I was still basking in my success but ready for the blow of failure at the Cavern.

So I got on stage and did “Wicked Game,” and it was pretty much a fuck up from beginning to end. Oh, it was better than the last few times. But I still did not let loose, get into the musical groove and do what I am capable of doing with my own guitar in my hands. It feels like riding a bicycle with no handlebars to hold onto – of course, I do that on my unicycle, but it’s not the same…. Anyway, so fresh from my latest failure – and noticing during the song that neither the perfect Sarah nor her Quebecoise friend had actually listened to me, I rejoin them at the table.

It takes several minutes, but finally the Quebecoise and then Sarah, say of my performance, “Oh, that was good.”

I say to Sarah, “No Sarah, it was not good. It was nothing. Really, you KNOW when you have flattened your audience, knocked them onto the floor, killed them,” – and I might have added, You know yourself when you have reached the emotional pitch you are capable of, the flow. And you know when you are putting the audience to sleep, and singing “outside” the song. “That,” I say, “was putting them to sleep. It was not good.”

She looked at me with her eyes intent perhaps for the first time. We left it at that, and after a few other performers did their thing, Guillaume got Sarah up on the stage. He said to her that she had better go now – because she was still shy about it – because otherwise people suddenly all wanted to play at the same time at the end of the night and there was no more time.

So up goes Sarah, and she still had not decided what song to do until she was right on the stage, looking at the blue book of lyrics. Then she says, “Creep.” And I’m thinking, how is this perfect young quiet and shy girl going to pull that one off.

She starts out real slow, quiet, but I hear a beautiful and interesting quality to her voice. And then slowly, bit by bit, perfect Sarah explodes vocally and physically on stage. She is brilliant. The best of the night. I am entirely subjugated, hypnotized, as I realize that Sarah has a perfect voice too. Sarah has a truth and and edge to her voice. For a moment as she is singing, I’m saying, hmm, behind the light softness of this perfect girl there is a Nina Hagen boiling inside too. No, she is not a Creep. But that perfect body and all of that stuff that she calls out for in the song, well, it’s there. That bit about not belonging? She DOES belong there.

And so after she comes of stage and rejoins me at the table, I take a few minutes to calm down, then I say, “You see, YOU killed me! Destroyed me.”

She thanks me, and a few minutes later, when the Quebecoise goes up to sing, I turn to Sarah again and I say, “There is no competition here in this, but you were by far, far, far the best one here tonight.”


“Yes, but you know that,” I added.

“No,” she said sitting back and smiling.

I tell her I have a blog and would like to put up the video, and I give her my card with the blog address. Then I ask if she has a myspace I can link to. So she gives it.

I’m so totally destroyed that I leave for the evening in the middle of the Quebecoise’s song, and tell Sarah to say goodbye for me.

I get home and I look on the Internet for Sarah’s myspace and I discover that this quiet, shy, nervous and wildly talented singer was a star of X-Factor, that Sarah is now playing in Sister Act in the Theatre Mogador in Paris, that she is indeed a young singer starting out, but that she already not surprisingly has a history of success and subjugation. Just take a look at the crying judge on X-Factor when she does the Adele song. The man obviously had the same reaction as I did.

But more importantly for me, I know nothing about this and may be wrong, but I think that participants in things like X-Factor, the Voice and all those other music reality shows, probably end up having a hard time shaking the reputations they get on those shows of sugary, middle-of the road teen idol kinds of singing and have a hard time breaking out of that mold into something with more of an edge and truth to it.

I saw clearly that Sarah has that edge lying beneath the perfect everything. She just is not a creep, that’s all. She did not tell me anything about her TV stardom, her role in Sister Act, she was just another musician trying to make her career. And knowing full well I wanted to use the video on my blog, she had no objections – as more and more rising performers I have met do for fear of hurting their “careers.” This was REAL. (Too bad I was sitting in the shadows beside the stage without a good perspective for my camera either for the sound or image, but it still shows and allows for a hearing of enough to know it was a great performance, growing better as it progressed.)

Anyway. My apologies for the outpouring, but it was very cool, and my own failure faded into the background. But I must learn how to sing with a band without my guitar, for God’s sakes! Or for Sarah’s sake!

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