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High Gear Before Low Gear in Paris Open Mic Scene, at the Beginning of the Dead Month

August 6, 2016

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

PARIS – Regular readers of this blog over the past whatever many years it has been will know that I hate the month of August in Paris. This is the period when a vast majority of the open mics close down because they think that the national addiction to vacationing in August will mean fewer customers. But it entirely overlooks the huge influx of tourists who want not only to be climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but want to attend an open mic at night. Anyway, over the last four days I attend four open mics, as they wound down, or continued valiantly forth….

It was, in fact, three days in a row, although I chose not to perform at an open mic on Thursday where I had otherwise been aiming to, but did go to two on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and another one on Thursday at which I did not perform…. (I re-wrote that sentence a couple of times, so if it’s a mess, that’s why!)
Ant Henson’s great new protest song

The Tuesday night was the usual trip to the Café Oz open mic of Brislee Adams, near the place Blanche. It was the last open mic of the summer while it closes down maybe for two weeks or so. A classic night with some great performers, including my friend Ant Henson, who runs his own open mic in London, and who was here for a summer trip. He tested out a fabulous new protest song of his, and I suggest you listen on the video below….
another at oz

From the Oz we went less than 10 minutes walk off to the real Oz, which is to say the one where Dorothy found herself. I’m referring to the Pigalle Country Club, which is one of the most open and crazy open mics of Paris, where anything goes, the mic is not just open, but has to be grabbed between performers, and where there are indeed some pretty cool performers, with the emphasis usually on the 1960s garage rock…. A crazy cool clientele also at this joint.
Ash Orphan at oz

Wednesday was one of the most intelligent, consistent, fun open mics of Paris, and one that does NOT close down for the summer – knowing its clientele perfectly – although the regular and founding host, Thomas Brun, does go off on a summer vacation. So Wednesday was Thomas’s last night at the Highlander before his vacation, from what I understood.
bit o pembroke at oz

Again, it was a classic Highlander night, with each musician singing three songs and the list going to some 20 or more performers, and the crowd ready to be entertained – mostly by crowd pleasers, but not exclusively – and all together I had a great time there. Except my guitar pick up was acting up again, as it has frequently since the horrible day when a woman used the guitar as a dance floor at the Pigalle Country Club earlier this year….
Jake at oz

And finally Thursday I dropped in to the Cabaret Culture Rapide for the weekly open mic of the Paris Lit-Up group, which is mostly an expat thing geared towards spoken word, but includes music, poetry, prose, comedy, just about anything you want to do up there behind the absent mic. Yes, it’s a tiny cool café in Belleville, with no mic, and a consequential pillar in the middle of the room that blocks the view of about 50 percent of spectators in the place. But those who present their schtick loud will be heard.
john cotton at oz

I was admirative of the Paris Lit-Up people that they are continuing into August, but the crowd of spectators and performers was a lot smaller than the last time I saw this open mic. On Thursday, thanks to arriving late, having had a good dinner and feeling open-mic-ed-out, I decided not to play any music. In fact, in a very atypical manner for me, I didn’t even make any videos.
yet another at oz

But I made so many videos at the other open mic evenings that there are far too many to look at on this page ANYWAY!!
another at Pigalle Country Club

Back next time with more open mic madness in Paris, no doubt. Or maybe not. Depending on how many close down for the annual August Parisian exodus….
craziness at pigalle country club

another great cover by Scottish guy at Highlander

another at highlander

Ant Henson’s great cover at highlander

final one at highlander

last moments of another great cover at highlander

on his mind at Highlander

3 Paris Open Mics Over Two Nights, Paris Wakes Up – Or Maybe it Was Just Me

August 29, 2014

pigalle country club

pigalle country club

PARIS – Anyone who has visited or lived in Paris during the month of August knows that the city comes as close as it ever will to closing down during this month in the summer when most of France goes on its annual vacation. On Tuesday and Wednesday I went open mic crawling and managed to attend three different open mics over the two nights, and felt a wonderful sense of the city returning to action, but still sitting in the twilight zone of the end of summer.

There was a fabulous community feel at the first of the open mics I attended, at the Café Oz near Metro Blanche, run by Brislee Adams. It seemed every time I turned around I encountered some open mic host, taking what the British call a “busman’s holiday.” Hosted by Brislee, who does a great job, and often takes up a role as lead player or simply hand-clapping audience rouser, when he’s not photographing or recording videos, I turned around at one point to find Réjean Mourlevat, the host of the other Tuesday night open mic, that of the Baroc, just up the way in Belleville.

He said he was just dropping around to have a drink as he lives nearby. But I wondered if he was checking out the competition! It was the last Tuesday of the summer shutdown for the Baroc, so maybe he wanted to see how things were done at Brislee’s place….

Next time I turned around, I ran into Thomas Brun, the longtime host of the Highlander open mic, that runs on Wednesdays. I’ve seen Thomas going to other open mics from time to time to check them out – the Galway, the Lizard Lounge, the now defunct Ptit Bonheur la Chance…. But seeing him and talking to him reminded me that I had a meeting lined up for the next night from a reader of my blog who said we ought to meet and play together at the Highlander the next night….

But before I leave the Café Oz, where I made a mess of trying to sing a song in French for the first time, by the way, I decided to go up the way to Pigalle, just a short walk from the Café Oz, and check out the Pigalle Country Club open mic, which I learned was holding its first open mic of the season, after having taken a break for part of the summer as well.

There I found not only the usual crowd of the young rockers – the Burnin’ Jacks, among others – but I also found a few friends I did not know took part in that one, including my violin and lead guitar playing friend who accompanied me in my concert in London last month, Joe Cady. I ended up playing a bit with my other lead guitar playing friend, Félix Beguin of the Burnin’ Jacks, however. But he did not play lead, he sang along with me, and then I did the same with him.

And Then Back to the Highlander and a Cool Meeting

Well, I’d pretty much wiped myself out on those two open mics and meeting old friends and acquaintances and imbibing in way too much beer, wine and shots, but after at first deciding I would not attend the Highlander, I decided I had to go and meet that reader of my blog after all. And boy do I not regret doing that. It was a man named Paul Penfield, who put out a couple of albums in the mid-70s and who was on a brief visit to Paris, primarily to play an open mic or two.

We asked for another guitar from the audience, and on my second and third songs we played along together – first on my song “Memories” and then on “Mad World.” It reminded me of how much I love playing with other musicians – as if the previous night had not already done that – and that I do it far too little.

There were some great discoveries both nights, or rather, a discovery and a reacquaintance with someone I’d already heard before. Check out the videos of Desmond Myers at the Café Oz and of Simon Ferrante at the Highlander. Oh, yes, and that of Paul Penfield doing his solo number….

Back to The Highlander at the Tail End of Summer

August 29, 2013

PARIS – There was something different about the open mic at the Highlander last night, and I was unable to put my finger on it. Maybe it was just because Thomas Brun, the usual MC and founder of the open mic, was away somewhere and the evening was put together by Brislee Adams. Maybe it was because it was the first time I have attended in months, and the first time I have played there in months. Maybe it was because the audience was coming down from summer vacations.

Whatever it was, the audience and musicians felt somehow like they were all at the tail end of the summer and all the festivities they had been through, and were gearing up for another year of open mic-ing it at the Highlander. The Highlander is, remember, one of the oldest and most well-attended open mics of Paris. It managed to survive its move from the ground floor of this Scottish pub in Paris to the basement cave with no problem – and it has survived the complaints of neighbors, and even Thomas Brun’s very human need to go on holiday occasionally.

In any case, whatever the difference was I could not put my finger on it, but it all came down to a lot of fun anyway, and an audience that seemed to listen a little more than usual – the Highlander is also notorious for having one of the most indulgent audiences I have ever found, having no problem talking all night long no matter how good or scared to death a musician might be.

Were there fewer people last night since many are still on holiday? I don’t know. It was still well attended, and before it even started there were more than 20 musicians on the list, and no room for everyone. Especially under the 3-song-per-performer that the Highlander never veers from.

But by the end, judging from what I saw, most audience members and musicians had a good night, and I am sure the place will be fully booked throughout another new open mic season in Paris. Gee, wait, the Highlander was one of the rare Paris venues to NOT close down its amazing open mic in the summer…. so there are no seasons at this mainstay of the Paris open mic scene…..

In Remembrance of Zara Sophia

June 25, 2013

zara sophiaPARIS – Today I learned the news of the tragic death of Zara Sophia. I, like most of the people who heard her in open mics in Paris a couple of years ago, met her only a few times. But her voice, her music, her emotion and her presence were something we would not, and will not forget.

Zara has died at the age of 28 years, although the exact circumstances of her death have not yet been revealed from what I have been able to find out through various sources. She went missing on the 30th May and was only found on 7 June, on a beach in England. She had no cell phone or money with her, but her car was parked near by. Although early reports said there was no suspicion of foul play, a police inquest was later carried out.

I wrote about Zara at least twice on this blog, because she touched me immediately from the moment I first saw her in the Highlander open mic when I wrote a post saying: “It was Wednesday, so it was the Highlander. I had been intending to sign up early at the Highlander, and then run over to the Tennessee to see Rafa and his band, with Les DeShane on lead. But in the end, I immediately signed up for the Highlander and met a newcomer, Zara Sophia, from England, so I just had to sit and talk and learn about her, as I had a feeling that she might have some talent. How can one have that feeling? No idea. But I did, in fact, enjoy immensely what Zara did, so give it a listen and see if you agree – in the video below.”

That was the beginning of December 2010, and I was doing my Mecano bar brunch at the time with my open mic on Sunday afternoons. So I immediately told Zara about it, and she was there for the following Sunday, which ended up being one of the best of them all – thanks to her and the American anti-folk musician Viking Moses. Fortunately, I was able to make some much better videos of Zara in the good lighting of my open mic, so I made several. I only put two or three up on my blog at the time, but I’m taking the opportunity of putting all I have up on this item, in Zara’s memory. There is one in particular, the shortest of them all, just an end-of-song thing where we catch a glimpse of Zara looking over at me, and her smile says it all about her personality.

On my blog item at the time I wrote a little about my conversation with Zara and my sense of her as a musician, and she responded in a way that surprised me, making me realize my impressions were grounded in reality: “Zara has just arrived in Paris from her homeland of England, and I had listened to her songs on her Myspace and found that with one of them she reminded me a little of Sandy Denny, the late singer for the band Fairport Convention, who also put out several solo albums. When I spoke to Zara yesterday I learned that, hey, guess what? Growing up she heard her parents listening to Sandy Denny all the time, and her mother even sang some of the songs to her. I got Zara to do one yesterday, as well, the wonderful “Matty Groves.” But Zara’s voice is anything but a imitation of Sandy Denny. In fact, there are some clear touches of it, but the rest is Zara….”

I recorded her version of “Matty Groves” at the time, but I did not put it on the blog. Now I am doing so.

Today as I read around through various sources about Zara’s life from other bloggers and friends and newspaper articles in England, I learned that she had actually once performed as an opening act for Pete Doherty, in 2008, who had clearly recognized her obvious talent as well. She had also travelled to India – which I recall her telling me – and affected an interesting collection of people there as she had all who met her in Paris at the open mics.

She will not simply be missed, but she will remain an example of great purity and talent for anyone who knew her.

The Illusion of Total Fatigue as Cured by Paris Open Mics – and Brislee’s New Song

May 2, 2013

All day yesterday I was convinced I was dead tire, I was convinced I was coming down with a cold, I was convinced that I could drop into bed ultra-early and sleep for a day and a half. The last thing I felt I wanted to do was to go to an open mic; I had been to two in a row already on Monday and Tuesday, and I was much sated by that, and even, well, tired. I thought I should take the precaution of preserving my inner and physical strength by not going out last night, and just dropping in bed. That is why I decided that it was exactly the right moment to go where I felt I would not have the strength to go: to two open mics, the Vieux Leon and the Highlander, where I ended up playing in both of them. The effect was suddenly, irreversible, perfect, strong: I was no longer tired, I no longer felt a cold coming on, I had a great time, and I had the energy to go and ride my unicycle the usual 4 or 5 kilometers around the neighborhood afterwards. And today when I woke up, I was completely cured!!!

Funny the games we play with ourselves when we get in a physical and/or mental funk, right? Well, of course, it also had to do with the external stimulus of the two open mics. At the Vieux Léon the new program is that every week there will be a different host, a different MC who plans the evening, calls on their friends, makes it happen. Last night it was Cléa Molette, a wonderful singer and up-and-coming artist, who for some reason although she knows me, made a strange mistake of putting my name on the list as “Serge.” Of course, not so strange, I thought. She obviously associates me with the late, great Serge Gainsbourg thanks to my greying hair, my haggard aged looks, and my songs – I hope!!!! – and although I find it a little insulting on the physical side, if Cléa will be my Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot or Vanessa Paradis, then I accept the insult….

From there I walked the 10 minute walk over the Highlander where normally I would be too late to play. But it seemed that the effect of the 1 May holiday was having its toll on the crowd and musician level of this, one of the most crowded places on earth, and there was room for me on the list. To my great good fortune, Juba – with whom I played on Monday at the Galway – was there, and he offered to play along with me. In the context of the evening – and my imaginary fatigue – it seemed like a good choice of song was, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty. So I started with that, and then I did my new song, “Gotta Shake Her,” and then I did “Borderline,” on which song I felt we were tightest.

There were some other interesting acts, and the most fun was no doubt that of Brislee Adams doing his new song all about the Paris open mic scene, in which he sings of the venues where we play, the musicians we know and listen to, and…well there is a bit that goes something like: “and Brad films us, and that’s ok….” YEAH!

Wicked Games, Betrayals, and Laughing at Oneself with Impossibly Crazy Stories – Through Two Open Mics

June 28, 2012

I did not have the time to put up a blog item last night because I had a devastating night the night before followed by an offer to meet an old friend to pick up a lent book that was so important to me that it took precedence over the blog posting – THEN I had to go on to my next open mic adventure. But that means stories of three venues here on this page today, as I made a brief transitional stopover on Tuesday at a bar where the host of the Wednesday night open mic was playing. Things get simpler:

So, the devastating night on Tuesday? Well, I think I just now suddenly realized that it all fits into a general movement and theme right here now: On Monday night at the Coolin bar I had started feeling problems of loyalty and correct, good treatment of people to other people. Right? Okay, so on Tuesday I go to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, and my faith in the goodness and correctness and rightness of human nature is reinforced as the MC and organizer, sometimes known as Ollie Joe, fought off a somewhat aggressive effort by another musician to hold the stage while calling up his friend to sing a duo with him after his own slot, but with me standing in the wings holding my guitar as I had been told I would play next.

So Ollie Joe holds his ground and say, “Yes, fine. After Brad.” “No,” he repeats. “Not now, Brad is on next.” More insistence…, and Ollie Joe again says: “She can go up after Brad. It’s his turn.”

Oh boy did that feel good and right!!! So I had a good time at the Ptit Bonheur, sang some quieter songs, and put my head out on a limb dying to get one right that I have so rarely got right, and I did: “Only Our Rivers Run Free.” So then I leave with my friend Brislee Adams to go to make a brief stop on the way home to take in a few songs by the transition man, the MC of the following night’s open mic, Thomas Brun, who was playing not far from the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, in the Wos Bar on blvd St. Jacques, and he was playing in duet with Philippe Germaine. They were really good.

That was a transition to the Highlander open mic last night…. or not really. The transition was that I get back on Tuesday night and discover by Facebook that the woman who last Tuesday and Wednesday made out with me in a bar, sang with me on stage, invited me back to her place and told me I was the man of her life, she had realized how important I was to her, and loved me and wanted to run off to Spain with me for the weekend to see if we could really live together – as we had broken up and got back together – we make love on Wednesday in her apartment and then…suddenly after the first step of becoming “in a relationship” on Facebook with another guy on Saturday she has the guy MOVE INTO HER APARTMENT TO LIVE WITH HER, as of Tuesday, which I discover on Facebook as I arrive back home. Just a week after I was the man of her life she’ with another guy and I did nothing to provoke it!!!!

Okay, so that was the REAL transition. So I go off to meet this other woman from a previous relationship, pick up the book and find the woman has not changed one iota – which I had not expected anyway – and then I go off to the Highlander. I see Thomas Brun immediately, he signs me up, for once I’m pretty early on the list, and allows me to go out and eat my dinner – a loyal, honest and direct signer upper at open mics. So I got out for a falafel, come back, hear some good music, and get inspired by one of the performers who is a good storyteller. He tells tales before his songs. So I decide at the last minute to do the same thing.

I tell the tale of this woman who tells me she loves me and I’m the man of her life, we make love, she wants my child, etc., then of how she is “in a relationship” with another guy a few days later, and living with the guy as of the very night before! I say something like this to wrap up the story: “Now if that is not a ‘Wicked Game,’ I do not know what is. So then I sing Wicked Game, by Chris Issak. Then I decide to continue on the same theme, and I sing my song “Borderline,” about a treacherous love affair with an unstable woman. Then I finish off with the most logical song for the series: “What’s Up!” with its appropriate chorus: “What’s Goin’ On!!!”

PS., anyone who knows me well will know that it was all my fault from the beginning and I never should have seen the treacherous woman!!!! But still, I thought I had seen every possible scenario! In fact, no. There was still this other one to come. NO MORE!!!

PPS., not sure I should write such personal items on this blog, but what the hell – one from the heart…. One reason I am putting it up here is that I am capable of laughing at myself and what a fool I can be. No problem showing that publicly. Plus it’s the sort of story that if it was NOT true, no one would believe!

Score Three in a Row for Slow Starts, Fast Finishes at the Paris Open Mics

February 23, 2012

There must be something in the air these days, but last night at the Highlander seemed a reflection of the open mics the previous two days in Paris: A bit of a slow start, leading into a wonderful sense of community, jamming, and fun.

Of course, maybe I’m the one who is missing wind in his sails, and it is simply taking time for me to get pumped up about the open mics as I head into the end of a long winter in Paris attending the same ones every week. And my thoughts are already to those of the whole wide world in my fourth year traveling the world’s open mics, which will begin in Melbourne next month.

But I don’t think so. Of the three last open mics, the Highlander last night was by far the busiest. But it did seem to take a while before the music became the center of the attention. And when it did, it really did – with lots of interesting new approaches from regular musicians, and a few new musicians too….

Nightmare in the Cavern, Revenge at the Highlander

December 23, 2011

I went to the Highander open mic last night too late, finding I was last on the list, which meant playing near 1 AM. So I went after a while up the street to the Cavern, thinking I could take part in the vocal jam, which is like a live karaoke, ie, with a live band. I’ve gone there many times but only had the courage to sing about twice before. Last night, I gave up, lost courage, went to the metro and was about the catch the metro home…when I said, “You’re depressed as hell! No playing at the Highlander, no playing at the Cavern.” Go back, go back and sing with the band.

So I returned to the Cavern and asked to sing “What’s Up,” which is one of only two songs I feel I can do with that band. The band is very, tight, very cool, very nice, very professional. But I still feel very threatened by getting up in public and doing a karaoke, be it with a live band or a recording. When I sing a cover song, I do it to a great degree my own way, not the way it was recorded by the original band. So I got on stage at the Cavern all delighted with myself about having the courage to return and sing with the band. The bass player asks what key, “just like the original?” I say yes, of course, why not. I had, after all, done it there to moderate success once before, and done it at the Bus Palladium, to much more success. I had also done it in a karaoke in Mokpo, South Korea, and worked very well. So of course I thought I could do it in the original key – despite that I knew that when I did it on my guitar I put the capo on the sixth fret and that was what I needed to suit my voice.

The result? I was totally, completely and irreparably LOST. I sang in this low, low voice as the guitar player did the song with no capo, in G I imagine, but I’m not sure. My timing was off, I had no energy in my voice, it looked like it was the effort and result of a complete amateur who apparently did not even have any singing talent whatsoever. I sounded like complete crap, singing in this low voice with no power and energy, no conception of what the song was supposed to be. While I sang I made faces at the musicians of – “I’m so sorry, I’m lost, what a fuck up!” – and then I began to ask the audience for help with expressions of the same lost worthlessness. Some tried to help, but basically, I was the worst performer of the evening, and it was a complete and total mess. And if anyone saw me that night and only that night, they would laugh and say, “How could this guy get up there and do that when he obviously has not a shred of singing talent?”

I actually apologized to the audience afterwards and told them when I played it myself, I put the capo on the sixth fret – to which the bass player said, correctly, that I should have told him this myself…. Yes, but I didn’t. I was feeling out of control the moment I went on the stage, but also certain that things would take care of themselves…. Makes me feel like never returning to do such a thing again.

But what I did do was to go back to the Highlander and ask Thomas Brun if I could please have my slot back again and play just one song: “What’s Up.” And I told him why and how badly I had done at the Cavern. So Thomas, bless his soul, made room for me, I went up and I did the song, and I put the capo on the sixth fret and I had the whole room clapping, singing along and wanting more! “Why only one song, Brad!?!”

Is it not amazing how the same person, depending on the circumstance, can be considered a complete non-talent wipe out, or a star of the evening? My lesson? Probably nothing more than making sure I get the key right before doing a karaoke, and stopping the band if I haven’t got it right. Still, it would have been soooooo much better if I had been allowed to play the guitar at the Cavern; not just for me, but for the spectators, who would have had a real musical moment and not that embarrassing farce. My fault, however, not the band’s fault.

PS, aside from that, on Tuesday night I attended the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic as usual and heard some very cool and unusual musicians as usual, for which I will just put up a few videos and not go into detail, as I am about to run out to another open mic tonight.

Passing on the Flame at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance

September 28, 2011

I have little time today to say much on this blog as I prepare to rush off to the Highlander for the fifth anniversary of one of Paris’s best open mics. But I must get in a word or two about last night’s session at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, which has only been around about a fifth the time of the Highlander, but which immediately established itself as another of Paris’s best open mics. Last night Ollie Fury was back in town after a couple of months or so in Germany – was it only six weeks? – where he has decided to stay for sometime to come. He showed up at his open mic, yes, Ollie started it and MCd it from the beginning, to pass on the flame of the MC job to Yaco Mouchard, (also known as Ollie Joe!), who has been running it for several weeks.

The evening was a warm and cool one – if that is possible – as it usually is. And there were moments of moist-eyed significance in the handoff. There were great moments of music as well, and I have put up a few of the high points on videos below.

Oh, and I was again flattered to find a musician from out of town who had discovered the open mic and others through my blog and thumbnail guide of open mics. That was Hugo Kensdale from Manchester, who brought a new voice to the show.

Crazy, Wild Night at the Highlander – and a Bit of Music Too

September 15, 2011

I have been going to the Highlander open mic for almost three years now – no! it can’t be! – but last night was the rowdiest, most unruly, loudest, fullest, biggest list of musicians and crowd that I have ever seen or heard. Add to that three strings breaking on Thomas Brun’s guitar with three different musicians, a lot of broken glasses, and … some great music. It was a weird, wonderful and trippy open mic night at the Highlander. I was glad that although I only managed to get up on the stage shortly before 1 AM there was still a large audience left and I managed to get them to sing along to “What’s Up!”!

On the other hand, it was very interesting seeing how the performers coped with the crowd. You want a big crowd, you want a happy crowd. Do you want a noisy crowd? Personally, I see it as a challenge and try to break on through to the other side. I got them with “What’s Up!” but I lost them with “Runaway Train,” I suppose I should have done a Cat Stevens. We learn…. More than one performer was so upset they asked the audience to be quiet for their quiet songs. But personally, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do in an open mic. If it is a paying concert and half the people are there to listen and a small group of people is making riotous noise, then it makes sense to tell them to be quiet. Still, Thomas himself felt it necessary to address the audience on a few occasions, and of that I cannot object; it’s just not up to the performer.

In any case, a noisy crowd is just exactly what a budding performer should be using an open mic to learn to deal with, I think. So all in a night’s fun. Having said all that, a riotous evening like that will never permit anything like the high moment of the night before at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance with KUKU and Ilan and their ad lib jam.

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