Music in London and Paris

After that small diversion for food, how about we continue our August with a musical lift to our spirits?  Hopefully this is the month the sidewalks stop melting, air-quality alerts cease to depress us and Henley Street becomes a beautiful boulevard. OK, maybe two out of three. College football starts later this month, in any case, and some of us are happy about that.

Busker in Bath, England, June 2011

There is no way I could travel to London and Paris without having a few musical moments. That said, Urban Woman and I were exhausted at the end of every day from walking miles and generally navigating through situations and cultures of which we were basically ignorant, so clubbing didn’t quite have the appeal it might have had otherwise. I’m sure there are great, small musical venues in both cities, which remained completely off our radar.

Street Musicians on Montmatre, Paris

I’d hoped I might catch Bob Dylan in London, but my trip was a week too late for that. I didn’t have any realistic thought beyond that of seeing anyone of a big-star caliber. And I didn’t see a big star – but I heard one. On our first day in London, walking through Hyde Park I heard the strains of “Hey, Soul Sister.” At first I thought it was a really loud sound-system with a CD playing, but then, it had the quality of a live performance. I never saw them, but I confirmed later it was indeed Train giving a concert in the park. So, at least I can say I heard them.

Michele Anderson sings outside Harrod’s in London

Funky Brass Band plays on Montmartre, Paris

Both cities were teaming with buskers as is the case in most larger urban areas. Whereas the quality of the performances by Knoxville buskers and street performers ranges from weak to solid enough and occasionally very good, the range in London and Paris moved from very good to incredible. The most arresting of all the buskers we heard was just outside of Harrod’s department store. She was singing songs from Phantom of the Opera and other musicals and had a voice that would stop anyone on the street. Another great busking moment came when we found an entire brass band on Montmartre.

Two songs and table to table in Paris

The low point for busking is that it often takes the form of more of a scam at some street-side cafes. A busker will play for about five minutes, go to each table asking for money and then go to another restaurant. I always tip buskers in Knoxville if I listen to them while eating a meal and feel that they added to my dining experience. In Paris no one but tourists tip these guys. I did it once and learned from everyone else. It just felt like more of a shakedown.

Carnaby Street looking much more tame than its reputation, London

Royal Albert Hall, Lond, July 2011

There were certain musical landmarks I had in mind when planning the trip and some of them worked out while others didn’t and, of course, there were those I hadn’t thought of but stumbled upon. I’d planned to have my photo made crossing Abbey Road barefoot, but I never made it to that part of London. We did stumble onto Carnaby Street, previous home to punk rockers, though now it looks rather tame. Royal Albert Hall is included in any London tour and it is the center of legendary rock and roll performances by the biggest artists in music history.

Frederic Chopin’s grave in Pere Lachaise, Paris

Gioachino Rossini’s Grave at Pere Lachaise, Paris

In Paris, with one musical destination in mind, a great opportunity presented itself on a perfect Parisian Sunday afternoon. I visited Pere Lachaise, which is the most famous of all Parisian cemeteries and  probably the most famous in the world. While there I saw the graves of Chopin and Rossini (Knoxville tie-in with our festival :-)). Those were pretty cool, but the one musical grave I came to view was a sixties icon. Unless you believe the conspiracy theories, Jim Morrison died in Paris July 3, 1971. I stood beside his grave on July 3, 2011. It was one of the two very moving experiences I would have in that graveyard. 

Jim Morrison’s Grave?, Pere Lachaise, Paris

Who knew a highlight of a city so filled with life could be found in a cemetery? I’ll write about my experiences, as well as a very interesting downtown cemetery in upcoming posts. Just consider yourself prepared a bit early for Halloween.

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