I just arrived back in Paris after a 26-hour trip home via Kuala Lumpur, so I had no time to report on my last night in Shanghai, which was spent, after that exceptional Grand Prix race, at the jamming night of the Melting Pot. I had played at the Melting Pot’s open jam session last year on the Monday night when I got held over thanks to the Icelandic volcano. It was Frida Andersson, ie Sister Fay, who told me this year that there was another jam at the Melting Pot on Sundays as well. So we both went.
The Melting Pot has a fabulous stage, bright lights, nice seating arrangement for the clients, and a very lively vibe. As I learned Sunday, there is even good food. (I had a dinner of chicken something or other and onion rings, and the wine was fine.)
The evening started with a few songs by Sherry, the American MC. But as the evening progresses, anyone can go up and play the drums, keyboards, bass, lead guitar, etc., and take up a role as singer or – as with Frida and I did – with guitar and vocals.
I did four songs, and it was interesting to play along with a drummer, keyboard player and bassist who didn’t apparently know any of the songs. I played much of the time with my back to the audience so they could see the chords I was playing. But I enjoyed it immensely – as usual….
My mind is now partly in Malaysia, partly in China and partly in France. Mostly in the ether, though. Now to lay down all those recorded interviews and other videos for my open mic adventure film….
I did not expect to play for my fifth time in Shanghai last night. I was invited to Bee Dees to hear Sister Fay, otherwise known as Frida Andersson, play as the opening act to the house band. But Frida and Jeff and a request by some people in the audience led to me doing a few songs part way through the night. I was really grateful, since I just love playing – but the biggest news was the fabulous concert by Frida with the house band, and the discovery of the music of the man who calls himself Bone.
Bone first. I met this Chinese guy who works behind the bar on Thursday when I first went to Bee Dees on this trip. He complimented my singing very warmly, and I thanked him. I had no idea that he wrote songs, and played guitar and sang and that his voice is bloody fantastic. So the compliment came back to me as being even stronger. Also, last night when I was invited to play, it was Bone who offered me his Ovation, since I did not have my guitar with me.
Frida did a first set all by herself, and I will not put up the videos here since I have put up a few other videos of Frida’s solo stuff in recent months. But it was very cool to see her do a second set along with the house band, a lead guitar player from Russia, Jeff on bass, and the house drummer. Frida did a wide cross-section of cover songs, including stuff that really surprised me like, “What a day for a daydream….” (Which reminded me of when I met John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful when I was a teenager on a TV program he played on.) And the video I put below with her “Georgia on my mind.” The band was quite together, given the fact that it was essentially an unrehearsed jam.
After promising Frida I would not take too much time, just doing four songs, I got a request for a fifth song – “Memories.” So I did that, and it was nice to have the request for my own song. Frida did a video of me doing two or three of them, and I put up “Borderline,” below.
This roll just keeps going on. My second night in Shanghai and I got to do two more open mics. One of these was very different than anything I’ve done before, and it was thanks to a discovery by Frida Andersson, also known as Sister Fay.
The first was run by a guy from Quebec who calls himself Max Wengel and who is a sound engineer living in Shanghai. This is a songwriter’s open mic called, “Your Songs, Your Show,” and it happens around every two weeks. The principle is that you book a slot in advance and you play for between 20 minutes and half an hour, depending on the number of performers, and you only sing your own songs, no cover songs.
I was slightly reticent about that format because I like to throw in cover songs to give a shift in speed and tone, etc., sprinkling my own songs with covers. And so I had a hard time as I awaited my turn trying to figure out what songs to do and in what order. One of the performers who played before me, however, did a whole set linked to the story of an imaginary “Dave,” and American living in Shanghai – loosely based on himself. This was Tom Mangione, who calls himself, “Ho-Tom the Conqueror,” and his band, “The Horde.” That gave me the idea of simply playing my own songs in the order I wrote them over the last two years. I narrated a little of their genesis as I went along. It turned out to be good fun for me, and judging by the audience reaction, for them too.
The aforesaid Ho-Tom had in the band, The Horde, a mandolin player and a harmonica player, and they played some very good and together music. It turned out that he had seen me playing at Oscar’s pub last year in Shanghai and I remembered having seen him too. It grows, this voyage.
Also up was Sister Fay, Frida, as I mentioned above and in yesterday’s post. And her songs came out all the stronger in this format too – even though they are strong enough to begin with.
There was a woman from Virginia, Nancy, who played keyboards and sang a couple of her beautiful songs in a great strong voice that had a country pop sound to it. One of the songs was half written by her grandmother in 1937, and the part that was lost had been written by her. Very touching.
The open mic was located in a very down-at-the-heals shopping mall called Fanfare in a music studio, and it felt very strange to walk the halls after hours like that. A very, very authentic off-the-beaten path experience – but with little Chinese content in terms of music or spectators, although there were two or three Chinese spectators.
After that Frida and I – and her mother – went off to Bee Dees, where I had performed last year. The advantage to Bee Dees is that it will go on very late. So we got there around midnight and played for another hour before another group of musicians took to the stage. When we arrived Jeff, the owner of the club, was playing bass with a drummer and a couple of guitarists. Although there is a lot of rock music at this place, which is a cross between a jam bar and an open mic, all kinds of music are accepted and encouraged.
It was a little slow when we arrived, but then it picked up and turned out to be a fine evening. If I sang only my own songs at the first place, I decided to sing only cover songs at Bee Dees. That was fun too. And Frida did a number of cover songs herself, including two Joni Mitchell songs. That was a treat.
I must be on a roll. I wrote about how great things had gone in Kuala Lumpur. Now I have had only one night in Shanghai and I have already played at two open mics, one with a friend I met in Paris and have written about on this blog in recent months. I am in a huge rush to get back to Paris now from the Formula One race track as I have two more open mics to do tonight. So I will keep this to a minimum….
The first place I went to last night was Oscar’s Pub, which I wrote about here last year. Last year it was one of the highlights of my trip to Shanghai, with wonderful musicians and a great atmosphere. (Remember Tom & Jerry, the bluegrass musicians from Mongolia?) Well, last night it was a horrendous atmosphere and aside from the MC, I was the only musician at the open mic. The MC, needless to say, is not the same one as last year. Last year it was the genial Paul Meredith. This year the man greeted me with open arms and kindness. But somehow the open mic just did not have what it did. It did not bother me to sing my four songs entirely for my own ears while the pub boiled with talk and carousing. I just needed a place to play.
But what I had not planned for was that just around the corner at a bar called Not Me – the idea is that when you are in this bar you are not yourself!!! – owned and run by Chinese people, there was another open mic, and this one had a very cool, laid back and hip atmosphere. I learned about this one through my friend Frida, whom I have written about on this blog during her time in Paris in recent months. She now lives in Shanghai and we met, and will meet again, to play further open mics.
Known also as Sister Fay, Frida has some clever and sensitive lyrics, and she really did a good job last night. It’s funny because Frida found Ollie’s open mic in Paris through my blog, and when she looked for places to play in Shanghai she also found my blog items about the places here, from my trip last year.
Small world? That cliche does not even begin to tell the story this time.
Unfortunately, the upload of the video files is taking WAY too long. So I will have to put them up tomorrow. Apologies. But I have to take an hour and a half trip back to central Shanghai so not to miss tonight’s open mics….
The two highlights of Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar last night were for me the three Swedish women (actually there was a fourth in the audience) and the fiddle playing of the Englishwoman, Georgia.
But even Georgia’s participation was with one of the Swedes, Sister Fay (who should not be confused with Sister Ray). It turned out that the two groups of Swedish women were not even connected, it was just happenstance that they both showed up.
In any case, Georgia played a jig to start with. Then she played with Sister Fay, who sang and played guitar, on a song from the 1930s – Dream a Little Dream of Me – that was also famous in the 1960s when sung by the Mamas and the Papas, one of whom knew the co-writer of the original song…. They also performed a song that I immediately recognized the music to, which was Shady Grove. But I knew it as Matty Grove, primarily through the Fairport Convention version (and recently the version sung by Zara Sophia at my Mecano brunch. I spoke to Georgia about it, and she said the two were similar. She has classical training on the violin, but has had much experience in folk and bluegrass bands.
The next highlight was when Sister Fay and her Swedish friend – whose name I do not remember – got up to sing a Swedish song. It was very beautiful, and another case of great music not really having to be understood literally to be appreciated.
I almost forgot, there really was another highlight to the evening, and that was Vincent Barriquand from the band Black Butterfly, who played solo with a guitar and no microphone. His strong voice carried with no problem through the small room, and without the mic we got to appreciate all its qualities. He too sang at my brunch, just a week and a half ago.
It feels somehow not right to make such judgments, and in many ways it is difficult to do anyway: But yesterday’s musical brunch at the Mecano, my first of the new year, really felt like the best one I’ve ever had since starting them last fall.
I had more musicians dropping by and playing than ever before, and a great level of quality, and I also had a large audience of intent listeners, coming from all over the place, including a couple of women visiting from Belgium.
Amongst the surprises were picking up for the show the wonderful Vessna Scheff from San Francisco. Vessna had intended to go to the Pop In open mic, but she said the Pop In was closed and there was no open mic there last night. So she ended up finding my brunch, and she ended up entertaining us with her lyrical and melodious music and voice. Rym also played some of her songs with her ukelele, and then gave the instrument to Vessna for her last song.
Two members of the band Black Butterfly played several songs, and Vincent Barriquand, the singer of the group, also did some solo stuff with the guitar and his voice. He also played with Sven Cosnuau, who came to play and sing on his own.
A young Frenchman who lives down the street from the Mecano also discovered the brunch yesterday and rushed off to bring his guitar to play and sing some songs. So all together, the vibe, the crowd, the musicians, it was all fabulous and a great beginning to 2011. In fact, Vessna may not like me to quote her here, but she said it was the best Sunday open mic she has ever done. Of course, it is not entirely an open mic as such – but as it turns out, the mic is always open….
Because the brunch was the closest thing in my memory, I started writing about that. But I did not blog for the last couple of days, so I want to move backwards and continue telling the musical adventure: On Saturday night I went to the Baroc and heard The Romantic Black Shirts, the band of my friend Joe Cady. As a special guest they also had Chris Kenna do a set. I first met Chris in 2009 at the Biz’Art open jam. He is a wild Australian with the voice of a Tom Waits. He played on Saturday with Melissa Cox on violin. A big moment, with both of these bands. I loved the Daniel Lanois cover that the Romantic Black Shirts did, and Chris’s voice and the violin were mesmerizing.
Friday night I went to a party hosted by Sister Fay, who is from Sweden and sings a lot at the open mics in Paris these days. There I met both Stephen Prescott and Ollie Fury, both of whom host open mics. And there was also Pierre Doucet, who plays violin with Stephen at the Galway Pub and elsewhere. I got Pierre on video with a bit of fiddle music in the middle of the party, though no one was really listening. It was a nice moment – but too dark for the video.
I then went off to the Planete Mars bar and listened to some DJ music mostly and spoke with a friend. A high moment with the DJ music was when he played a song from the last – or second last? – T. Rex album, Dandy in the Underworld, that I had bought at the time. Hadn’t heard anything from that for along time.