Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Classics Continue at Ptit Bonheur: Le Plat Pays de Brel

December 15, 2010

Did Ollie Fury, the host of the open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, get an idea from Thomas Stock? Last week I posted a recording of Stock singing Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise” and I commented on how I wished more of the young generation of French singers would sing some of the French classics, instead of just the English rock songs. Yesterday, Ollie did a fabulous rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Le Plat Pays.” But remember, Ollie is one of those people who is as French as he is American in his upbringing and language abilities – when he speaks French, you think he’s French, and when he speaks English, you think he is American – so he can honestly lay claim to any English or French (or Belgian) music that he wants….

I am frequently asked by French people if I sing in French, and my usual response is: No. The thing that has always stopped me from singing in French is that the only French songs I ever wanted to sing were those of Jacques Brel, and I felt I could not get close to his sound, nor could I add any of my own interpretation with authority or interest. So I always found myself doing NO French songs. (The only exception is last year I suddenly got the idea to do the French rock group Telephone song “Un Autre Monde.” I still have not memorized the lyrics, though, and the rhythm ain’t right – but I put a recording on my myspace of it, done in my living room the night I learned it.)

But I also feel that singing Brel is not only a stumbling block for me. It is difficult for anyone to do convincingly and well and to bring something new to. Brel was such a monster of a performer, and his voice so distinct, that, good luck. But last night Ollie, after two or three false starts, got really into the song and did a fabulous job, as you will hear on the video below that unfortunately I recorded only with my iPhone 4, having again left my Zoom Q3 at home….

La Javanaise at the Ptit Bonheur – oh La Chance!

December 8, 2010

Last night was Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar near the Pantheon, and I had good evening. But it was really punctuated by the song sung by Thomas Stock, an up-and-coming Paris musician with a killer voice at age only something like 22 (not sure exactly).

I mention the age because what was so cool last night was Thomas’s choice of opening song in his moment behind the mic in the cave of this nice little bar on the rue Laplace: It was one of the rare times I have heard anyone in the open mic scene in Paris do a song by Serge Gainsbourg. Why don’t they do it more often? Instead of yet another Anglo-Saxon pop hit from the same period. In any case, Thomas chose “La Javanaise,” and did a great job.

At the end of the evening a Spanish woman asked if she could play, and it turned out to be her first ever appearance in front of an open mic audience playing guitar and singing. But when she got behind the mic she realized that she had to read her lyrics and chords and that she could not see in the dark. This is a very cosy open mic, but the darkness means that with my Zoom Q3 we never see anything. I wanted to hear the woman, so I proposed that I stand over her shoulder and beam down my iPhone in its flashlight mode, an application which turns the iPhone into a flashlight, and which I had downloaded in Sao Paulo so I could read Mojo in the darkness in the traffic jams.

I did not realize until today when I went to upload the Thomas Stock video that Ollie Fury, the organizer and MC of the open mic, had grabbed my Zoom recorder and videoed a bit of me holding the light, and the woman singing. I have included it here primarily because for the first time – why did I not think of it – you can catch a larger glimpse of the room in which this open mic takes place. By the way, it was quite full earlier on, but by the end there were just a few of us left, as you will see in the video.

Further Cool Meetings and Discoveries at The Highlander

October 14, 2010

I will keep my wordage to an absolute minimum here since I have written so much about the Highlander. Suffice to say that it was a thoroughly enjoyable open mic in Paris last night, and that like the one on Monday I had a meeting of minds with a foreign group on visit to this country. Also had a reunion with Ollie Fury for the first time since we played together in Singapore a few weeks ago. And got to see live David Broad play his St. James Infirmary, which is superb.

The meeting of minds, as it were, was with the two members of the band NoLand Folk from western Ireland.

I enjoyed their songs, especially the fun one about drinking up. And afterwards I spoke to Edel and found a lot of common ground, not just in music but in an interest in writing. But the high moment of that conversation was surely when we both connected totally on Paul Brady’s version of Arthur McBride, and we sang a few of the versions together. We both knew the video below as a high point of the return to Irish traditional music:

Here are a few of the videos I took from last night at The Highlander, oh, yes, and Thomas Brun’s version of the Dylan song, “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I love singing too, but cannot memorize….

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