Jean-Michel Blais live in London

November and December were busy months for Jean-Michel Blais, who was on tour in Europe performing music from his latest album, ‘Dans ma main’. On 25 November, he dropped by London for a performance at Kings Place in London.

The audience was waiting quietly in their seats when Jean-Michel appeared on the stage and immediately commenced his performance by playing ‘roses’, a delicate piece with a hopeful tone from his album.

He ended the piece and turned towards the audience to greet everyone and to welcome the late-comers in his typical humorous manner. A gregarious person, Jean-Michel continued joking for a few minutes, making the audience laugh out loud. It was clear that he is a down-to-earth guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. It made for an interesting contrast, as the minor keys he typically employs for his compositions generate music that is quite gentle and melancholic.

Jean-Michel commented on the beautiful venue, saying that he found it inspiring and that it made him feel like a king. Not surprisingly, as Kings Place, one of London’s hidden gems, provided the perfect venue for this intimate performance. The dark blue lights peeking from behind the hall’s wooden columns resembled a clear blue sky and gave the illusion of a modern Roman temple, housing an open-air concert in the middle of summer.

Jean-Michel Blais live in London

Jean-Michel talked about his goal to make classical music accessible and give an angle to the piano, which he was never allowed to do at the Conservatory. He wanted to see beyond the black and white keys. Thus he employed techniques such as stretched piano and prepared piano, mentioning Paul Nasca (the creator of PaulStretch) and John Cage, as the original pioneers of these techniques.

Jean-Michel went on to play a few more compositions from ‘Dans ma main’, among which were ‘igloo’ and ‘blind’. He took a short break to give us the backstory of how ‘blind’ came about. The inspiration hit him while watching one of Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries in which he mentions that termites are actually blind – they couldn’t see him, but he could see them. He felt that it would be arrogant of him to believe that he, as a human, possessed all the senses required to understand the world. Hence his position on being agnostic. And so ‘blind’ was born and it is all about the concept of limitation.

Jean-Michel Blais live in London

Jean-Michel wanted to sample that documentary in order to use a small section of the narration in this piece so he sent Sir David a handwritten letter to the UK, asking for permission. Sir David replied firmly, also with a handwritten note, ‘no’. According to Jean-Michel, he framed that note and keeps it in his home. He hopes that Sir David will someday give him his blessing.

Although the version recorded on the album doesn’t contain the sample, Jean-Michel went ahead and performed the full version of ‘blind’ for us.

‘blind’ was followed by a personal favourite of mine, ‘Hypocrite’, a composition from one of his previous albums titled ‘Cascades’, which was produced in collaboration with CFCF.

Jean-Michel disclosed that he likes to improvise during his performances and draw inspiration from each location he plays in and so each city puts its unique stamp on Jean-Michel’s performance. And thus none of the pieces ever sound the same.

Jean-Michel Blais live in London

An interesting development in his life and one Jean-Michel is very excited about is his recent collaboration with Xavier Dolan on his feature film ‘Matthias & Maxime’, marking Jean-Michel’s debut as a film composer. Due to the fact that all the cues were quite short, he created an 11-minute medley which he performed towards the end of the show.

Jean-Michel ended his performance with ‘a heartbeat away’, but not before making one last cheeky joke by throwing in a sample of Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’, which had the audience giggling while trying to maintain a serious face.

A most humble guy, Jean-Michel took the time to chat with every single person who approached him at the end of the night. He signed autographs, took photos with his fans and gave advice to aspiring composers.

Personally, I find it delightful when an artist not only enchants and inspires their fans with their creations but are also approachable, humble and charismatic. And Jean-Michel Blais passes both these ‘tests’ with flying colours.