Joey Burns front Calexico in Massy on November 23, 2012 (Photo: ©Jacqueline Jones)

My old friend Georgos Voudiklaris was in town a week or so ago. We met at Le Mistral, a bar in Place Chatelet where he introduced me to the eminent and very amusing theatre critic Micheline Servin.They had been to see Luc Bondy’s production of Le Retour – Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming – at Théatre de l’Odeon and proceeded to rip the pants out of it.”Eeet eeees voolgaire,” insisted Micheline slamming her open palm down on the table top with each word. “And Peenter ees not voolgaire.”

“Zere ees no youmour and zere ees no ménace. Bondy sayz ee has deescovered ze real meaning of Peenter. Eee is an idiot.”

Lively stuff for early evening coffee, Micheline’s table-slapping routine certainly keeping the other customers on their toes. She does not appear to be alone though in her opinion of Le Retour.

When she retired to go and vent her spleen via the keyboard, George and I strolled across the river towards St MicheL, ducking into La Fontaine for a quick beer at the bar.

At some point I mentioned that I was taking the family to see the Tucson, Arizona band Calexico in Massy the following Friday. His eyes lit up.

“I love these guys. In fact I am interviewing them next week when they get to Athens.”

I used to work with George at Athens International Radio although our paths seldom crossed. While I presented the evening drivetime news show, George fronted a graveyard shift music programme and rarely appeared in the building before midnight.

When he did, he often spooked the impressionable young ladies like Nicky Hairdo that worked alongside me, his washed out pallor given him a hint of the tomb. Because he only ever seemed to work at night, Major Tom, another of the presenters, quickly came up with the nichname Dracula.

“Joey (Burns) is a really nice guy,” said George. “Very intelligent about his music and very giving with his time. I interviewed him a few years ago so I am looking forward to seeing him again. John Convertino too.”

I am going to fess up here. I was not au fait enough with Calexico to know who was behind the band. I had heard a reasonable amount of their music and liked it. But I didn’t know it.

The brass section gets to work in Massy. Jacob Valenzuela (left) and Martin Wenk (right)/Photo by Jacqueline Jones 2012

What I did know was that my wife had been to see them at the Gagarin Open Air Festival in Athens in 2007 when they shared the stage with Sophie Solomon and Beirut. It was an evening that culminated with all of the musicians on stage at the same time, jamming and making music; a riot of musical crativity.

She described it as one of the richest nights of music in her life. And that is pretty much all the recommendation you need because Jonesy knows her music.

Joey, as it happens, is the frontman, song writer, guitarist and singer. John lays the drums and has been with Joey since the start. They are the heart of the band.

Oh and I also knew that the trumpet player and everything else man Martin Wenk had leant a hand on two tracks on the debut album of Monika, a Greek singer-songwriter I had got to know in Athens.


Fast forward to Friday night in Massy, a small and dozy suburb to the south of Paris, most famous for its TGV station, the rapid escape route to the south of France.

Jonesy and I decided to take the kids along as part of their all-round education. Lesson: how to grow sharp elbows and force your way to the rail. They have been in practise over the last couple of years, at the Green Man Festival last year they eased to the front for Low Anthem and Robin Hitchcock and at this year’s Fete de l’Humanité they squeezed through to see Patti Smith in all her barefoot glory.

It was an intimate space which added to the glory of the evening. The seven-piece band were within touching distance of the lighting operator. Or so it seemed.

And it was a stunning night of music, layers and layers of the stuff, oozing from every crack in the floorboard and anything remotely resmbling a musical instrument, the crowd and the band gorging themselves on the atmosphere.

“Calexico” by Sydney Spender

When it was all over, we repaired to the bar. The support band Blind Pilot – who did an excellent job on warming us up – were selling merchandise and ended up trading a CD and tee-shirt with my daughter for her cartoon of the band on stage.

Joey was there too and made a big fuss of the kids, talking Star Wars Lego with my son and drawing with my daughter.

“You know it is so nice to see some kids,” he said. “I left mine at home. They are just one and a half. Twins. And I miss them badly. So it is really nice to just interact with children again. Thanks for bringing them along.”

When you go to a gig the last thing you want to be is a band bore, ie someone who just hangs around the musicians like an overage groupie. So, we left them to get on with signing and selling and chatting to the others who had come to the gig.

Moments later, Joey came to join our group, chatting once more to the kids, to Jonesy and our friends Magali and Gilles about life on the road, missing the kids and so on.

“I have a band and we are going to do a cover of – ,” said Gilles (I missed the name of the song).

“That’s great. I hope you post it on YouTube. What a great place that is for music. I have been relistening to Everything But the Girl, trying to catch every track on YouTube.”

Cue a lengthy debate about the merits of Tracey Thorn’s voice and the joy of rolling around Los Angeles circa 1984 with EBTG blasting out of the car speakers.

Joey also said how much he was looking forward to their gig in Athens next Saturday (December 1).

“I was at the Open Air Gig,” said Jonesy. “You had all those guys up on stage, and even the ones without intstruments were picking up Jack Daniel’s bottles and playing them.

“Oh God, that’s right. That was a great night. Although those guys on stage did worry me a bit. Some of them weren’t in the bands, they were just security staff or audience. I got a bit concerned when they picked up those bottles, kept a close eye on them.

“I love the feel of Greece. It is a place I want to go back to with my girls and just hang out on an island for a few months.”

Joey departed rather reluctantly, the next leg of the tour down to Strasbourg beckoned. Down through Croatia to Thessaloniki and Athens. What he left behind though was a feelgood footprint. The music had been great, the band members had behaved like human beings and not arsehole primadonnas. And he hooked two new young fans.

My friend George Voudiklaris was right about Joey and about Calexico. And very probably about Luc Bondy as well.

©Barney Spender 2012

By the way you can follow me on Twitter on @bspender