La Blogothèque

Herman Dune & Friends

As if on purpose, for this Soirée de Poche, the group brought with them a certain attitude, a need to de-stress, to return to nature. The setting was apt – my back garden in Saint-Ouen, right at the North of Paris. For some reason it brought back memories of open-mike nights, those spent in the smoky basement of Paris bar The Pop In, the walls sweating beer, the same kind of thing done over and over. Dress code: beard, general hairyness, guitar.

As the night fell, there were about fifty of us sitting in the garden of a house too new to be truly fitting. An old sofa, a few beers, and three individuals stood ahead of us in the cool of late September.

David, a tall bearded bloke wearing a cap, seemed surprisingly shy when he announced the title of each song they would play – lots of new songs, by the way, followed by a few of their well-known titles. Illuminated by a string of fairy lights, a few feeble lamps, and a couple of candles, the trio completely captivated their audience.

At around ten at night, a neighbour commented that “the music is quite nice, but some people are trying to sleep”. We politely disregarded this feedback. It was still early, and Herman Dune were not alone.

It was evening in the garden, and the feet of Herman Dune had trampled little circles into the slightly damp grass. The cold had begun to close the ranks. Yaya passed through the crowds and in through the open doors of the house and stood there in the living room, singing a soft, light melody. It was Yaya against the rest of the world.

Herman Dune were not alone, and the time soon came for each of the other performers to introduce themselves.

It was the calm Rivkah who opened the second part of the evening – alone with a tiny electronic toy piano. The introduction had simultaneously a hardness and a shyness to it. Rivkah seems not to connect with her audience – her features don’t relax for anybody. But she has a delightful art for little amusing comments, comments that almost seem to come out of nowhere. During Herman Dune’s set, she tells me that their songs always make her cry. During her set however, it was me who had a tear in my eye; the notes of that little piano heavily marking the silence of the room, and her fragile crystalline voice affecting us all in unexpected ways.

Next came the turn of Ben Pleng, seemingly nervous, despite having accompanied David and Neman in the garden some twenty minutes earlier. Ben was alone in the middle of the white living room, with his guitar, his plaid shirt, and his timid voice. Ben sung us soft folk melodies through the silence. It was lovely.

Up next was Kate, the singer of This is the kit, who arrived with her banjo, messy hair, a smile, and kind eyes. Kate radiates warmth. It is as though when she sings she is surrounded by a warm aura that infects almost everybody. We smiled with her, listened religiously to her tales – sometimes happy, sometimes sad – paying attention to the lyrics, and to the natural charm and disarmament of this young woman and her admirable creations.

That evening we were also introduced to a tall fellow with a bald forehead and tongue-in-cheek humour. He was a real discovery – worthy of a stand-up career. If, during Dick Turner’s trombone solo, I worried about the sleepy ears of the neighbours, his storytelling removed any anxiety I was feeling. The theatrical way in which he moved his giant-like body, moving his face towards the audience, wide- eyed, reminded us of the narrator of Vincent, a short film by Burton. Dick Turner fixed a smile on our faces, he even made us chuckle a few times, with stories that covered everything from sex to airplanes. We felt like big kids.

Kim, music lover and man of ten million simultaneous projects, was also invited to play this evening. I first met him during a wonderful Bordeaux-dwelling period at the start of the century. At the time, there was an underground (in all senses) bar on rue Sainte Catherine – one of the busiest roads in the city. Entering involved knocking at a perfectly inconspicuous door, making your way down a long, dark corridor leading to a large staircase full of people. It was a bit of an adventure. The makeshift bar was on the left, resting on trestles. Exploring upstairs wasn’t allowed, as the apartments were occupied by the very people who were welcoming us! The bar was open every Thursday, and only until 22h. Strangers, friends, students, those in the know – thrown together weekly, in happy chaos. It was in this illegal bar that, one night, Combinasion, one of the many groups of the afore-mentioned Kim, played. The ground floor packed with people, drinkers spilled down into the basement, despite the dust and lack of electricity. Little by little, Combinasion made their way back up the stairs above everyone, throwing their instruments to one another above a sea of heads.

In my living room, I find once more, Kim. The same united atmosphere, years apart. The underground bar in Bordeaux, and my little house in Saint-Ouen.

With his unchanging Beatles haircut and an anecdote or two, he still manages to capture the hearts of the audience. He has the skills of a street performer. Kim, his pop songs, and his art of storytelling come with an outstanding simplicity, a surprising freshness. La Dune du Pyla and La Garonne were met with smiles from the audience that night. Lo-fi certainly serves him well.

The fifth Soirée de Poche ended with an epic group-cover of Rivers of Babylon. It was certainly something very special. Instruments were left huddled in a corner, and several cold beers later the artists were chatting away with their audience; singing praises, signing posters, and reflecting upon the evening as the dear old neighbours fell asleep peacefully.

Photos: Antoine Doyen