PARIS – Unless my mind is playing serious games with me, this last week I finally attended open mics in Paris again for the first time since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020. I have mentioned in these pages before that I have performed here and there occasionally in various performance formats – including the jam I did a couple of times in Sicily over the summer. But unless this old brain is fading, these are the first open mics I have done in Paris since 2020, or even 2019! And it was great to see that while I may have been playing it safe on the disease front for a lot longer than most open mic performers and spectators, clearly I am behind the times on open mic performing!
I have been waiting for a long time to attend the new open mic at the Cave Café, near the Lamarck metro in a part of town that – at least to my knowledge – has few open mics. This is the place where I used to love to go just before the pandemic, when Sheldon Forrest ran his “Montmartre Mondays.” I was very sad when it ended, because the Cave Café, owned by the American, Arthur, has such a wonderful vibe: Like its name, it takes place in a “cave.” Lest you get images of brutes with wooden clubs to beat you with, please know this has nothing to do with neanderthals. It is the French word for basement, and it drums up the beautiful image of precisely what we find here: a vaulted brick ceiling in the cellar room.
But the real cherry on the top of this cake is that the new open mic at the Cave Café is now the old Paris Songwriters Club run by Paddy Sherlock. This is one of the best open mics in the city, but one where you can ONLY sing or play your own compositions. No cover songs. Paddy had run this first at the Tennessee Bar, then at the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar. But this is not just his best location so far, it is also the most intimate and well-served sound wise. So it is also perfect for the precise kind of open mic it represents: play your own songs to an audience that listens in a location that makes you want to spend the whole evening there just for the comfort and fun.
I took advantage of this open mic to play for the first time in public anywhere, my song, “What’s All This Talk?!” which I wrote during the pandemic, in the fall of 2020, and which provided me the soundtrack for the video I made of and after the January 6th, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It’s always very difficult to sing a song for the first time in public, especially with that weak memory of mine – but I got through it pretty well.
From Tuesday’s Songwriter Open Mic to a couple of regular Wednesday venues
I mentioned Sheldon Forrest above, and on Wednesday, it was time to visit Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz Café in Montparnasse. From Montmartre to Montparnasse. Could anything be better? I have no need to introduce either Sheldon or his Osmoz Café open mic, as both have been around for years now. In fact, Sheldon was running this one at the same time as he did the one at the Cafe Café as I mentioned above. It was great to see that everything was the same as usual: Sheldon playing piano to accompany singers who do not play an instrument. Or if you do play an instrument then you are welcome to do that too. I took this opportunity to play a few songs that I had learned during the pandemic – or just before – so as not to be singing the same songs for more than a decade for Sheldon and his audiences. I also did “What’s All This Talk?!” and felt about the same as the night before at the Cave Café, so that’s down now!
I finished my tour of three open mics in two days by attending the open mic at the Bootleg Bar, heading directly from Montparnasse to the Bastille! How much better does it get than that? Montmartre to Montparnasse to Bastille!
I only discovered after I finished at the Osmoz that there was an open mic at the Bootleg. This is the one that I used to attend that was run by the former group running the Rush Bar open mic. It used to be on Mondays. Now, it is every Wednesday, and seems not to be run by the same groupe of people, and has a bit of a different feel to it: Wednesday evening it was mostly about jamming, with several musicians playing simultaneously. Although there was a woman who came to play her songs on the acoustic guitar, and she accepted some other musicians joining her – but it seemed not to be obligatory. First at Bootleg Bar
Here I was told I could go up to play, even though it was by then quite late, just before midnight. But after listening to the other groups and realizing I had a long hike across Paris to return home, I opted not to play. I had all I needed: I got to see that life continues at the Paris open mics, and now I will finally also be able to update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, which through Covid, had been collecting cob webs, but remains one of the most often consulted pages on this blog.
PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.
And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!
1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)
The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.
2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.
If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.
Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.
4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”
I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….
5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….
I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!
PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:
PARIS – With the world no doubt feeling tense over the possibility of an Act II to the riots of D.C. at tomorrow’s inauguration for Joe Biden as president of the United States, and the end of the reign of terror by Donald Trump, I wanted to do a post of a kind I have never done before. It has to do with the writing of my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” Normally I prefer to leave as many interpretations open as possible for a song I write, since I do believe that sometimes songs can be interpreted even in ways the author did not intend; so why limit it with an explication de texte?
But as you can see from the video that I made for this song – which I will put here below again – I have already decided, by using news footage from several different sources of the riots at the Capitol Building on 6 January to give one interpretation to the song. In fact, I was pretty surprised myself how well those riots seemed to illustrate the meaning. Especially since I wrote the song in late October, early November, just before the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
And it is true that Trump was first and foremost in my mind when I wrote it. But he wasn’t the only one. I also had Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro, Salvini, Orban and many other world leaders involved in the current trend for populist destruction and manipulation in mind. And I even had past such leaders, like Hitler and Mussolini in mind. But when I saw the riots at the Capitol, I said, crap, this thing is really coming to a head here, and these images are the perfect illustration for this sad protest song “What’s All This Talk?!”
So I decided to try to string them together as a background for the song. For me, personally, it was an interesting project, because pretty much without fail all the songs I have ever composed have had to do with a broken heart, a love story, an emotional relationship with a lover, etc. The old stories. I never thought I could write a protest song about politics.
Then something happened and I only saw it once I made the video. In fact, there were one or two listeners who when I sang them the song wondered if it was about a personal relationship rather than the politics I had intended. But now I know and understand: For the past four years I have been emotionally devastated by witnessing these political populist movements we are surrounded with and by the seeming loss of a world where the highest values are truth and beauty for one where lies and ugliness seem to reign. In other words, I did indeed have an emotional crisis; but not with any particular person, rather with our vanishing world of decency.
So it turns out that this is only just another love song of a broken heart after all. Let’s hope for a clean and peaceful transition of power tomorrow, followed by the whole world coming back to its senses bit by bit.
PARIS – Just a quick post to mention that I have updated my personal music site, Bradspurgeonmusic.com with my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” This is a new protest song that I wrote just before the U.S. presidential elections last November, and which I decided to make a video for after seeing the attack on the Capitol Building illustrating everything I had been protesting about. I’ll probably do another post to speak more of that in the coming days, but for the moment, I just wanted to note that the song and video are now on my music site under the news section on the opening page, and in the video section. And here, for good measure, is a link to that video here too: