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Robb Johnson, A Break in the Clouds

Man Walks Into a Pub

Les Deux Magots

Immaculate waiters wait with the finest of wines
For a nod or a wink or a word from the finest of minds
For a couple of couplets or two from Rimbaud and Verlaine
For Pablo and Dora to meet as the bombs fall like rain

Les Deux Magots
Les Deux Magots
Everyone comes, everyone goes
in Les Deux Magots

And Oscar is drowning his absence in absinthe and wit
And Jean Paul and Simone decide on which side they should sit
And Louis and Andre and Max don’t know what to believe
And Jacques spends his time trying to count all the dead autumn leaves

Now Hemingway’s history and Albert Camus drinks alone
The immaculate waiters wait while the tourists phone home
The finest of wines and the finest of minds come to this
I finish my coffee and piss where the poets have pissed.

Les Deux Magots - in case you didn’t know - is a café in Paris where every radical poet/ artist / philosopher/ etc. famously used to hang out. The name actually means “the two Chinese merchants”, as the café for some reason has two wooden statues of these characters in it.

Nowadays, its pretty low on existentialism and rather overwhelmed by American tourists on their mobiles being served bottles of expensive wine by a pompous bloke dressed as a penguin. He was not happy when we sauntered in and I ordered a café noir as an excuse for son Arvin to use the toilets. As we descended the stairs to the facilities, I expounded to Arv about how we would be pissing where some damned fine minds had pissed, which led me to improvising the philosophical position that, no matter how fine the wine, how fine the mind, it all comes out as having a piss in the end. Everyone comes, everyone goes… so far, Bradford Folk Club has been the audience that has appreciated this little double entendre the most I think.

It was a bit of a gallop to cram all the names in - in case you’re wondering, the second names missed out belong to Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, Oscar Wilde, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, surrealists Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and my personal favourite, Max Ernst, and Jacques Prevert, again another personal favourite.

The version on the CD is a second recording - the first seemed a bit lifeless. If I was still playing with Saskia and Miranda we’d have a rollicking Grappelli-style violin solo in the middle and some sublime harmonies from Miranda, but as Saskia’s in Canada and Miranda has gone on to Far Better Things, I stuck in a key change instead. I’ve never managed a key change before, so I’m quite proud of having done so here.

When he first heard the album, Alan Levermore, Irregular’s genial and tolerant label manager at Proper Records, commented that - from the title and first track - he’d been expecting some sort of jolly cockernee Lahndun knees-up of an album, not bohemian Paris. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise having two songs clearly set in ¾ time and Paris together so soon in the album. They are there rather than anywhere else because I wanted to spread the four strummed songs out, and they seemed to work best in batches of two. The latter two sounded a bit too combative and climactic at the start, so the Paris songs got the job instead. I think I have already written somewhere else that I like to arrange albums so that they have a story, the songs constitute some sort of a journey, and I don’t just bung all the good songs at the front and leave the dodgy ones till last. Not that I think there are any dodgy songs on this album, I think they’re all pretty good really - but you are of course at liberty to disagree. Anyway, I think the two Paris songs move the album along but still keep you guessing as to where it’s actually going. Again, you are of course at liberty etc. etc.

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