As I write these words I am in rainy England, on another racing and open mic mission. Yesterday I made the mistake of taking the Eurostar instead of an airplane, so I lost so much time in my day that I could not post anything of the concert I did the night before in Paris.
(The Eurostar was fine, but the car rental operation was a failure as I ended up spending too much time driving from London to the Midlands, where the race is – in Silverstone – and my lodgings are, in Oxford.)
The concert was great fun, as I got to play along with my favorite lead guitarist, Felix Beguin, and even sang some songs with Vanessa, including our by now standard, “Mad World.” The concert was organized for me by Calvin McEnron, who also performed, and also had Felix accompany him on two or three songs. Felix really changes the texture of things, really gives drive and movement to the songs. Love it!
Oh, yes, and the concert took place at the Green Room bar in Paris, not too far from the Bastille. It is a very cool venue, a long room with a stage at the end and a not bad sound system – although in listening to the videos made of my stuff, I wish there had been more volume on the vocals (for the videos)…. 😦
From there, it was right off to England the next day, and what turned out to be TWO open mics. I managed to do the Catweazle Club open mic at the Oxford Community Center AND the Half Moon pub open mic down the street. That was two completely different experiences. Catweazle is one of the most amazing open mics in the world, with a massively respectful audience that sits on the floor, on chairs, couches, and standing by the bar, and you can hear the proverbial pin drop. No joking.
The acts at Catweazle are often very original as well, and the open mic is done entirely in acoustic mode. Last night there were microphones, in fact, but they were there for a sound recording that was being done of the show. I was nervous as hell because this audience is so attentive, and because it is so rare for me to play without a mic that I feel less in control and aware of what I’m doing. But I got through my two songs, “Borderline” and “Except Her Heart,” and afterwards I received several compliments. So I felt I did okay.
I then went down the street and saw the Half Moon open mic in full swing and went inside and did a duet of two songs with Vanessa, “Mad World” and “What’s Up.” The Half Moon open mic is without mics too, and before we played, I said to Vanessa, “Listen, don’t worry and don’t pay any mind but no one will listen, and they will talk and make noise throughout. So just don’t take it personally.” I really felt it could be painful for her, as it is for me in those circumstances. Boy were we surprised when everyone shut up and listened and then began to sing along and clap and encourage and demand an encore after Mad World. They went through the same thing with What’s Up. And we were in bliss.
It just showed that there is always a right song and spirit for no matter what crowd, and we left there feeling like we had had the time of our lives thanks to the crowd at the Half Moon.
As I was walking through Vila Madalena last night having still had no luck in finding a place to play my music after four nights in the city, I had a couple of thoughts dominating my mind. One was a phrase and an attitude that Vanessa gave me when she said, “Brazil is an open mic, all you have to do is just go into a bar and they’ll see your guitar and you start playing music.”
The other thought I had as I walked through this vibrant section of town so full of restaurants, bars, boutiques and venues of all kinds, was that it reminded me – musically – more of Istanbul than perhaps any other country on my world travels. There was must blaring from just about every public room, from the popular folk harmonies of several bars, to the sitar music in an oriental restaurant, to the rock of several other venues and the bossa nova in another bar, to the jazz in a place called piano bar, and the happy birthday song being played by a brass band across the street.
It was not quite the wall of sound of certain quarters of Istanbul, but it was a very refreshing approximation to it and like nothing else around the world in my experience. But there is a very key difference to it all, and that has been a theme of my four days here so far on this blog: the open jam, open mic, open arms mentality is not a part of this musical scene in Sao Paulo as it is in Istanbul. In Turkey, it sometimes felt that every bar I passed by the waiters or owners would stretch out their arms when they saw my guitar and they would invite me in to play. Here, each musician, group and bar owner to himself.
I did get stopped by the owner of one bar – the name of which I could not find – who had a couple of fine harmonizing musicians sing pop songs with one of them playing guitar. (I have put a recording of this below.) And he asked if I was a musician, if I was playing somewhere, etc. I decided to have a beer at this place, listen to the music, and hope that maybe I would be invited to play. I was thinking of Vanessa’s suggestion. But no, it never happened, the invitation. And I just did not ultimately feel the vibe was right to propose it.
So I moved on through the area and decided to check out every venue I could find and look for one quiet place I had discovered last year. I headed toward Wisard street, a lively part of Vila Madalena, and as I walked by the tables of the Baia de Guanabara bar spilling out into the street with all the chatter and carousing of the clients drinking and merrymaking, a man at one of the tables reached out to me and asked if he could play my guitar.
It was a table of about eight men, and they were all beseeching me to allow their friend to play. I needed little provocation. Here it was, the beginnings of what would possibly be my own chance to play a few songs, if not in an open mic, then at least…. but wait, Vanessa had said this would happen. Brazil is an open mic. “Just go to a bar and they will see your guitar and ask you to play. It will be your open mic.”
So I opened the guitar case and gave the man the guitar. He sang and played well, but the noise in the bar and the street was so loud it was difficult to hear. It turned out that the men were all in town in order to attend the Formula One race, and that they came from Uruguay, not Brazil.
So he played several songs and they asked me to sit with them, they bought me a beer and then they asked me to play some songs. I started with “Crazy Love” because I thought I could get some volume out of the vocals and guitar despite the street and bar noise. They clapped along on the chorus each time and we managed to get some people to stop by the table to listen. But mostly the event passed as a normal part of the evening at the bar, as if it was normal to play music at a bar table on the sidewalk in the Vila Madalena.
After “Crazy Love,” a bit of further surprising synchronicity occurred when the singer man asked me if I could sing any Cat Stevens, and he said, “Father and Son?” Readers of this blog will know that it is one of the songs I sing regularly, and to usually great response from my listeners. So how incredible was that?
I sang it, did one of my own, called, “Borderline,” and another one or two, and then the man played one or two more of his, and I filmed him below in the darkness and noise. And then they had to leave in order to get up early to go to the race. I finished my beer, and went on through the streets to seek out another venue, but found none – yet I did feel a huge sense of relief that I had indeed finally found a place to play in Brazil, which is, it seems, its own open mic….
Wednesday night in Paris, Thursday night in Oxford. I have had a busy couple of days, no time to think let alone sleep. But I have had time to play music, as usual, and the last two nights have been rich in discovery of new experiences at new venues, and a lot of fun.
Vanessa and I had signed up a couple of months ago to sing together at Chez Gudule bar in the Guduleries of the Bande a Gudules. (Gudule is the patron saint of Belgium, by the way.) It calls itself an open mic, but it is much more a cafe theater kind of thing, with a mixture of the regular actors and comedians of the Gudule group and four or five featured guests in the open mic part of the night. We had dropped by on a Wednesday only to find out that you had to sign up far in advance. So we did. Each night there is usually a mixture of one music act, a comedian, an actor, a poet, etc.
Each performer has five minutes in the first part of the show and five minutes in the second part, so for us that meant a first song and a second song. We did “Just Like a Woman” in the first part, and “Mad World” in the second part. The audience sits at tables, and there is a proper little stage with spot light and microphone and a red backdrop curtain. A lot of fun, and very much NOT a classic open mic.
Best of all, the spectators are there to watch and listen and be entertained. The room is above the bar on the first floor, so it is really a private theater-like set up, and Candice, who organizes it, takes it very seriously and insists on a certain protocol. It’s really fun to stand in the wings, in the dressing room and rehearse, etc. For an open mic!
At the end of the show the audience votes on the best act of the evening. I was surprised when we arrived to find Emeric Degui there to do a comedy routine. Emeric is the radio DJ at the station where I took part in the song contest a few months ago, and I ran into him again at the Culture Rapide Cabaret that I mentioned before on this blog.
Singing with Vanessa was just such an incredible pleasure with both songs and for different reasons each time. With the first song, it had to do with singing “Just Like a Woman” to a great woman, and feeling the woman in the song in her. I had to shake myself to not ignore the audience and turn away from her occasionally. I have not heard the song done as a duet before, but it is made for it, and although for the moment Vanessa sings mostly only the lines “just like a woman” and “like a little girl,” she also joined in with harmonies on other parts that really make the song so much more full and complete as a duet.
On “Mad World,” we’ve had more practice on it now as the months pass, but we’re still exchanging lines a little at random, probably each of us fighting to express the ones that suit our own particular feelings of madness and world view the song expresses so well…. It was probably an advantage to have only one microphone at Gudule, since it was a little easier to balance our voices, but I was again guilty of singing more loudly than I should have…. Vanessa has a great voice, and our voices go really well together – they complement each other – but I tend to blast it out louder than I should and sometimes I drown out her voice… But Candice said she played with the sound settings to get us both right. I’ll get it right myself someday, I hope.
Barely had enough sleep and I was off on a flight to Birmingham the next morning with my guitar in the hold of the small Avro airplane of Air France operated by City Jet. The cabin really was almost too small for the guitar this time, and I just offered it up at the luggage trolley at the base of the stairs leading on the flight.
Had a good productive day at Silverstone, where the British Grand Prix is taking place, and then went to Oxford to seek out the one open mic that most frustrated me last year as I arrived a few minutes too late to take part. I was frustrated because I had heard that this open mic – with another name as weird as Gudule – was the coolest, hippest open mic not only of Oxford, but almost of all Britain.
I had learned about the Catweazle Club, as it is called, through Anton Barbeau, the American with the French name who lives mostly in England. Anton had told me Catweazle was a fixture of the Oxford music scene, that it had a special ambience, an almost hippie-like vibe, and that the audience was so quiet you could hear a guitar pic fall. (Actually, I think he might have said a “pin drop,” but I’m trying to avoid cliches these days.)
That prospect filled me with both delight and fear, as when an audience is that quiet it means you’re really being listened to! In any case, as I said, I had missed the list last year. But this year, I got on it. Run and founded by Matt Sage since 1994, the evening and concept has become such a success that there is now a regular Catweazle Club night in London once a week, in Brighton, and most recently in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, on East Third Street, which of course is where Gerde’s Folk City used to be….
Catweazle has had many homes in Oxford, but Matt said that he is happiest with the most recent one, at the Oxford Community Center, where it has been located for several years. Indeed, the room is big but not too big. There must have been a hundred people in it last night, sitting on living room sofas, on cushions on the floor, on chairs, and standing against the walls or by the bar – yes, there is alcohol served.
It is difficult to say what makes it unique, but I think it’s the vibe, it’s Matt – he has a very good sense and talent for patter, and a mixture of slightly catty jabs and snide comments with good humored banter. The evening is not confined to music only, but to “music, poetry, story, song and all manner of acoustic artistry,” as a story in the current edition of the East Oxford Community News says.
There is no microphone and no amplification, indeed. But the other aspect of this that is unique is that the audience is invariably quiet as hell. I enjoyed standing under the spotlights, looking across the room at the young and old, hippie and conventional, student and worker. And I enjoyed many of the other musicians and performers and poets.
My only frustration was that I had the right to sing only one song, and usually it takes one song to warm up and by the second things go better. I had hoped to do a cover song and then one of my own. As it was, given the creative accent to the Catweazle evening, I decided just to do my own song, “Since You Left Me.” It went over well, and I had some nice compliments afterward. But it is very difficult to go from using a microphone to singing to a crowd of a hundred people without a mic.
I told a little story beforehand, saying I had never seen a place like Catweazle in all my travels to open mics around the world, and that was received with a few exclamations of agreement and appreciation. But it was entirely true. Afterwards I was thinking of a line that the jazz saxophone player Stan Getz used on one of his recordings – I think it’s on “Serenity” – in Copenhagen or some such place, where he compliments the venue and the crowd and they applaud and then he says, “I said the same thing last night in Stockholm….” to more laughter. But my words about Catweazle’s uniqueness were true. Try it out and see!
My ears, eyes and nose were again last night invaded by the massive sounds, colors and smells of one of my two favorite locations for a Formula One race as I arrived in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend.
This time, however, I have the additional pleasure of revisiting my musical territory of last year with Vanessa. So last night upon our arrival I took her around to the main places where I played and sought out music last year in what was also one of my favorite locations for the musical adventure.
There is no way to describe the invasion of the senses, really, without being there. I occasionally think of it as like a trip on LSD where all your senses kind of blend in together and you’re hit from several different directions and dimensions with emotional vibes that you find hard to categorize. Walking through the Taksim area and Beyoğlu at night all the bars have different kinds of music at full volume and it blasts you from all directions and you cannot really make out the sound of any one group. Ninety percent of it is live music, and so Istanbul is a fine place to be a musician. (That sounds like Hemingway. Remember, “fine.”)
We took a walk around last year’s places, so I dropped in and said hello to Mohammed at the BluesLive bar where we were invited to play with the band – and separately – on Friday and Saturday. I’ll write more about it and the other places as we re-live them more fully. The BluesLive bar was hosting film club night last night, however, so there was no music.
We went to Molly’s Café for a while and spoke to Molly and found she had moved to bigger quarters, across the street, and she invited us to come along to the musical evening on Saturday, and perhaps place. Molly is of Canadian origin, but lived in the United States to raise a family, and then came to Istanbul to run a school – and then she started her homey café near the Galatasaray Tower.
Because last year I visited Istanbul in June the Jazz Café, off Istiklal Street, was closed for the summer. It was one of the few places that has an official, occasional, open mic. So I dropped by there hoping it would be open – but it was again closed for the summer, relocating to some beach bar somewhere.
We dropped by, walking in front, of a couple of the other bars I played last year, but I made no attempt to play in them. Walking in front of another bar in Beyoğlu, however, I found myself being solicited as I was last year to enter and play some music myself, although there was already a Turkish musician playing. I would have to buy a beer, at least, of course. The bar was empty, however, and we had much walking and tourism to do, so we elected not to go in and play at this one. I’d have done it had I been alone, but I had no qualms not doing it while preferring to discover Istanbul with Vanessa.
Finished the night by going to one of the chicha bars to do the comparison between the chichi in Paris and the chicha in Istanbul that we had planned to do since smoking the pipe in Paris a few days ago. I will not make a habit of this, as I quit smoking 20 years ago and do not want to start again, particularly not with the lung destroying chichas…. We tried an apple chicha, and it was a lot rougher than what we had in Paris. Hit me in the head immediately. We were served at the bar by a rock and roller in his 20s with long curly locks and a beard and a black T-shirt with guitar necks on it and torn denim black pants with chains. He showed me his electric guitar – as he saw I had a guitar – which was an imitation Stratocaster. I let him play my Seagull acoustic, and he loved it – as is the usual way. He then played a couple of songs for us to listen to on his portable phone with Vanessa and I each using one ear bud. It was Turkish rock music. Kind of soft metal ballads.
I also revisted two times the place where I spent a couple of hours busking last year with a gypsy off Istiklal, but I did not see him or his friends. In any case, I had no desire to start busking again. But I will always remember the beautiful voice of the gothic woman violinist named Meltem, who came that first night last year and sang a few songs and listened to mine. I remember particularly also how I discovered afterwards the sound of the birds singing along above us.
I kept the recording I did of Meltem last year and present it here for you:
It was with great delight that Vanessa and I discovered only on Friday that Monday – today – is a public religious holiday in France. So Vanessa suggested that we take advantage of the extra day to the weekend by doing something a little adventurous on Sunday: To take the train to Metz to be amongst the first visitors to the new Pompidou Center in Metz.
In the end, however, the day ended up being an extraordinary adventure of a different kind, a comedy of errors and plans foiled by strange twists of fate…. Here is a timeline of our day :
10:20 AM: After quiet evening at the movies the night before in order to arise early, arrive at Gare de l’Est to buy tickets on TGV for Metz. Arrange ticket for Metz, but machine says that sales of tickets for return to Paris from Metz that night or even the next day, are suspended. Cannot buy a return ticket. Seek out ticket sales desk, but find it closed on Sunday. Try machine again but no matter what we do, no way to buy return ticket to Metz. Give up on idea of going to Metz and Pompidou Center, figuring all weekend workers have decided to go to Metz and no space left on train.
11:00 PM: Eating breakfast in nearby cafe, Vanessa discovers period has begun. Rushes across street to Franprix to buy tampons. Finds that all women who went to Metz stocked up on tampons so none left in Franprix.
2:30 PM: Eat lunch of hot dogs – four times as big as what we can stomach – and decide to spend afternoon swimming in local pool near Vanessa’s to burn off the calories. Queue of 500 people waiting outside pool, families, teenagers, little children. Look through fence to see poolside grass and pool itself overflowing with people on holiday weekend soaking up sun. Give up on idea of going to Vanessa’s pool, figuring all weekend workers who did not go to Metz decided to go to Vanessa’s pool.
3:00 PM: Having walked over to the Canal de l’Ourq near the Stalingrad Metro we decide to take tourist sightseeing boat that goes from there to Bastille. Make our way through the crowds soaking up the sun and arrive at mooring for cruise boat as boat hands and cruise captain lift anchor and untie ropes to take boat on cruise. Ask ticket person when the next boat leaves. Learn that there is only one cruise in the morning and one in the afternoon, we missed the boat – and anyway, we are told the boat had far too many passengers anyway, with some sitting on stairs to observation deck. Give up on idea of going on cruise, figuring all weekend workers who did not go to Metz and who did not go to Vanessa’s pool took the Ourcq cruise.
3:35 PM: Having strolled around the viaduct arrive at rental place for tiny electric dinghy boats for sightseeing. Decide to rent one for half an hour. Bingo! Get boat and take a little electric float around the pond.
6:30 PM: Having decided to go to sing at the Pop In open mic, we find ourselves after a short rest – to heal aching bodies from all the sun and hours of walking – too be too late for the 7 PM sign up at the Pop In. Give up on Pop In as it would not be worth going late to sign up, as figure on holiday weekend all workers who did not go to Metz and who did not go to Vanessa’s pool and who did not take the Ourcq cruise decided to go to the Pop In. Decide to go to the Styx restaurant open mic instead. A very relaxed open mic where there are hardly any performers, it seemed the best way to go out, eat a meal, sing a couple of songs – relax.
8:00 PM: Walk the 30 minutes to the Styx to discover that it is closed for the day or the weekend, exceptionally, because of the holiday weekend. Give up on the Styx as all people and employees who did not go to Metz and who did not go to Vanessa’s pool and who did not take the Ourcq cruise and who did not go to the Pop In did not go to the Styx either.
8:30 PM: Decided to drop in on Earle at the Mecano to eat dinner and talk to Earle, but Earle was not at the Mecano.
9:15 PM: Found an amazing Thai and Laotian restaurant and ate dinner.
11:30 PM: Decide to go visit friends of Vanessa at the Feline bar in Menilmontant. Arrive to discover that only a bartender and two clients are at the Feline. None of Vanessa’s friends are present. Give up on idea of the Feline because all workers who usually go to the Feline were on the cruise, or in Metz or at Vanessa’s pool or wherever Earle was or wherever the Styx people were – gone.
Midnight: Decide to go and smoke chichas at a chicha bar on Oberkampf in order to forget our day of moving and missed targets.
Final note: This morning woke up to finally have time to finish reading yesterday’s Journal du Dimanche and discovered that there was a bug in the French train system computer over the weekend and that maybe we could have taken that train back from Metz after all, and for free as did so many others of the holiday weekend revelers in France….
Vanessa and I decided to go to the Baroc open mic last night. Every Tuesday in Paris, near Belleville, this cool bar hosts an open mic. It has been run for around a year by Leander Lyons, an American in his twenties who plays guitar, percussion and sings. He’s also got a degree in music from some U.S. university, and his whole life revolves around music – a cool, nice man.
And last night we were pretty thankful to him for getting us up early behind the mic at the Baroc, as we both had other things to tend to today, and so could not stay too late. The place was just beginning to really get going, too, when we left around 11 PM. The open mic was as usual, very open in approach too. The first guy who went up sang/talked a couple of songs and then did a theatrical piece – enunciating like a trained actor – that I did not really listen to as Vanessa and I were trying to figure out which songs to do and how to do them. There was a woman singer with a guitar and a percussionist, and a trio of musicians who played some kind of rap/hip hop thing just before us.
The crowd is consistently, but not only, young. The musicians are mostly young too, and the vibe is cool, innovative, open – as I said. So when we got up to play, having finally agreed that we were not yet ready to do “Where the Wild Roses Grow” – since I have not yet memorized either the words or the chords, we had decided to do our “Mad World” and “Just Like a Woman.” At the table we had worked out how we’d attack “Just Like a Woman,” with Vanessa coming in at strategic points – ie, “…just like a woman…” – and me cutting out there, and I worried I’d forget the plan. But as I said to her – and to myself -, “We should just go up there and have fun.” I thought even off-the-cuff stuff would be effective, since people want a “live” show, not a memorized, regurgitated recitation.
Vanessa had put on some make up and looked young and great. I looked old and tired, probably. But I felt great by the time we got up and began. We started with the Dylan, since we are fuller and more together on the “Mad World.” We went through them both with few errors, a bit of back-and-forth laughing chatter and kidding, and basically I think we looked all right. But the Baroc is one of those crowds where there is a lot of talking at the tables, there is eating, there is gossip, and some listening to the music too. So I was far from convinced we’d reached many people.
But to throw it all together in no particular order, the general impression was that we brought the house down – as much as you can at the Baroc. Several people, including the manager, asked us where we were playing around town, what gigs we had lined up, etc. From the mic after we left the stage area, Leander asked if we had any announcements to make – ie, gigs lined up that we wanted people to go to.
Needless to say, we were both in seventh heaven and surprised, and inspired to go on. Sure, why not? A beautiful young woman and an older, world-weary guy – nice combination. Serge Gainsbourg exploited that one several times…. 🙂
Anyway, will update on the further adventures of Brad and Vanessa as, and if, they happen….
Arriving in Barcelona yesterday for the Spanish Grand Prix, I discovered a few weeks after the fact that the French sports daily, L’Equipe, had published a story about me after the Malaysian Grand Prix. The journalist at the Equipe had been talking about doing a story on my musical adventures since last summer, but she never found quite the right occasion. In Malaysia, however, she learned about my experience with Eddie Jordan and the Hard Rock Cafe appearance that never happened, and she had her pretext.
The story is very short, but very well written, and she manages to get in my run-in with Eddie and a little description of my musical adventure that runs parallel with the Formula One season. Very cool! Check out Brad in L’Equipe for Eddie Jordan musical tale.
That’s one piece of old news. The other bit of old news was that I did get back to Earle’s open mic last Monday, but because of preparations for the Spanish Grand Prix, I did not have time to put up any of the video footage I took. Now I do not have an Internet connection quick enough to put up the footage, and the parts with me in it were just too long and need cutting. But the report is that I played and sang several songs with Vanessa, including our “Mad World,” and a new one we are working on, “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” which is based on the Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave version. This was chosen by Vanessa, and it is very cool. We also played “Jealous Guy” and “Just Like a Woman,” and Vanessa provided very nice background vocals and wonderful interjections – like on how I am a jealous guy.
It was a busy and good night at Earle’s, with a return of Felix Beguin and Syd Alexander of the Burnin’ Jacks, and they were hot as ever. Also, I was pleased to play “Except Her Heart,” with Felix, that song of mine that he arranged and that I have put up on the site. It was the first time we played it together since he learned it, and it went very well.
Vanessa jumped up on stage at one point during a Burnin’ Jacks song and shared the mic with Syd, but they are not at all the same height, so that required some handy mic manipulation on Vanessa’s part. I will put up whatever videos I can as soon as I can.
Now on to Barcelona. Last night I went to the George Payne pub which is near my hotel in Barcelona and which has an open mic on the first Thursday and last Thursday on the month. (I played there last year.) And I discovered that this was the first Thursday that they decided to drop the open mic from the first Thursday and turn it into every second week. So no luck. It’s not the first time I have showed up at an open mic only to find it has just ceased to occur on the night I show up.
I spent the rest of the evening exploring one of the most bar-filled areas of Barcelona, only to see that there was not a single live music venue among them. Dozens of bars with no music – thanks, no doubt, to the noise laws that are killing this city as they are Paris.
For the moment I only have the Jazz-Si club lined up for Sunday, but I will continue to try to find other venues, and will keep posting about the adventure.