Labyrinth Busker journal
Brian Robert Pearce

De Musiekdoos RIP (Really Important Place)


The Muziekdoos cafe in Antwerp has recently had to close down after decades of superb service to the world of art, music and its aspiration. Etienne and Marie have done a great thing in doggedly maintaining the spirit of the Muziekdoos for so long. Scroll down this page to read excerpts from my diary that relate to the place between 1994 and 2000. Visit the links below to find out about more recent stuff, or put your thoughts down on the new forum I've opened (above). Is the Muziekdoos really dead? What memories do you have of it?
Labyrinth Busker Journal Logo


The curious thing about my set in the 'Doos was the very obvious and genuine applause...even people clapping along to "Washington Square". There were maybe a dozen or so people there - and the problem of this new 'Doos position, as opposed to the old, is lack of passers-by. These would have been drawn in steadily. I was playing well, but still ended up with a virtual empty bar, despite people putting money in the hat before leaving. Someone had got the hat from Ettienne and had shoved money in on behalf of a group of five or six. This was after the third song. He then placed the hat by the stage. I guess there was something going on close by.
Strangely, the same thing happened on Friday night. DaveR played then, and I wandered off to play the Cathedral with a view to to warming up for the 'Doos, as a couple of other musicians were booked to play before me. I wandered off and returned to find the place virtually empty. The 'Doos has changed even over the three months of my absence. It doesn't seem to have much in the way of regulars. It doesn't seem to pull in incidental crowds. Those who do show seem to be 'one drink and go'... on their way to some other destination.
There used to be plenty of pretty girls there; now there are few. This time, last year, it was buzzing (as I said). Now it is a ghost bar almost. It is no longer a place to go for testing your songs.
Vera once said Antwerp goes in trends and patterns. All of a sudden the 'Pacific' is THE place - after a period of time, it is not. 'Cartoons' is 'cool' for Thursday night right now - at some point it won't be. So what has gone wrong with the Musiekdoos?
For me, personally, it became a place of frienemies, egos and posing imagery. Ettienne once told me he likes the idea that musicians meet ordinary people and talk in a relaxed manner. This has been the basis of the 'Doos. People could go there knowing they will have an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about the lives of street musicians etc.. Now many of these have gained a certain fame. Therefore, these musicians subconsciously isolate themselves from the ordinary visitor. Instead, they see who's sitting with who - who threatens their image - who hasn't said hello to them.
Pierre said he didn't feel comfortable in the 'Doos last year, with "everyone", it seemed, "looking" at him. I guess I can relate to that. The 'frienemy' assault on me, and others, was sensed by the 'Doos visitors, even if they were only occasional. It warped the atmosphere of the the point where people got confused about whether they should be applauding or not, even though they enjoy the music. I haven't seen Herman yet. He was an ally. Was he hounded out? Everts aside, there is no one attempting to initiate new ideas down there anymore. I' rarely it seems is Herman.
The image merchants are not motivated to endanger their image by playing the 'Doos, because they know image means little once you're on that stage. There is no guarantee the people in there will 'know who you are'. It is just you, your guitar, your voice and your songs...and a neutral audience. If you are 'green' or 'new' they will warmly encourage. If you're not, they will respond or not, feeling your mood or their own - and the better the musician the harder the job is to create re-action.

"Are you and Bennie all lovey dovey?" I asked in an even voice.
"Ah! We're just going for a drink!" she replied, dismissively.
"Yeah, I know! But are you and Bennie going out with each other?"
"Erm... I don't know..." she replied, uncomfortably, "I think so."
"Then I'm not going to the Doos!" I asserted.
She re-acted in full shock.
"Why not?!?" She danced in agitation, as if to say [how can I ever please this guy?]
A strange response.
"I said you needed boyfriends! I don't have to see it!!!" I blurted out angrily. My jealousy had taken me over. Both of her hands came to her face... she shook her head and retreated into a shop alcove, leaning against a window in nervous distress. It was obvious she loved me by her re-actions... and I loved her so much.... but the hurt of the previous two days were cutting me alongside the thought that I would lose Char so quickly and well... the sheer jealousy.
Then I even started thinking of my own vanity. I can't forgive myself that! But so many people knew about Char and me. The loss of face I'd have felt walking into the Doos with Char and Bennie... and then seeing Bennie cuddling up to Char.... would have been too much.
My image had been of Char having one or two anonymous, and innocuous, boyfriends - not one of my friends. My whole strategy with Char was to achieve everything quietly. Now the whole of Antwerp seemed to know.....
But I loved her! I went to her. She was shaking in shock, her hands held to her face still. I took her hands, regained control, and said, "It's all right! You need this!"... my eyes went cryptic.... "I'll see you again... one day."
Then, probably, we hugged... and she started onward to the Doos. But, briefly, she turned back, saying, "I'll call you!"
Maybe the cynic within me said, "Sure you will!", but the soul was grateful for the words... even though she wouldn't call: that's not her way (at least with phones). She 'called' me (telepathically) a few hours later, and it was one of the sweetest 'calls' I've ever had, but it had nothing to do with phones.
Char left for the Doos, while I wandered into bars and streets looking for some life... something to take away the sheer panic and grief and pain eating me up.... [I didn't mean it, Char! I take it back!!! Tomorrow I'm going to say I was wrong! I'm going to say forget about boyfriends!!!!]
But then I thought... [well! The die is cast. Now it is fingers crossed and hope I've got everything right.]
And then I'd think... [but what if she has a jealous boyfriend? I may never be able to see her! That can't be right! I love her too much not to see her!!! .... The DIE IS CAST, fingers crossed... the plan is in motion.... I love you, Char - I may lose you forever if I'm wrong!!! I'm so jealous.... so jealous...I've never felt as jealous in all my life! Char is MINE!!! Tomorrow, I'll see her! We'll talk this out.]
After a couple of hours of agitated restlessness, not even able to go to my local bar (the Doos) and meet my friends... because they were in there... I wandered home and lay on my bed - and tears found their way through. I was so distressed, and then... 7 or 8 in the morning... she 'called', sweeping my body with reassurance... "trust me".... "always there". For a long time I felt her, and then I slept peacefully.

Some of my sites:
Contact me
Music and photos
Music and lyrics
Other buskers
Basic Site Plan
Universe Theories
Blog (Blogspot)
Blog (Tripod)
Family Photos

Lone Wolf
Green Busker
Tortoise & Hare
New Clear Winter
Monster in NY
Things we must do

30/01/96 - Tues - Just thought I'd go to the 'Doos, about midnight, to read the English paper and find out how the football was going. Never expected more than 5 or 6 people there on a Monday, but when I got there I saw two table loads of 'ordinary' people...not a half dozen other people littered about. Asked Marie to play - she said "yes".
I started with Graham Nash's 'Wounded bird', followed it with 'Dirty old town'...then on to my own latest 'Will you sleep' - on to 'Help u thru', but the capo didn't seem to behave so I cast it aside and did 'Fairy Tales are real'...and finished with the traditional Irish song 'Star of the County Down', which left Ettienne wildly applauding. The groups on the table were all still there, so they were the kind who liked my sort of style. Took the hat round and EVERY person on those tables gave...and not just 5Bfr. I ended up with just over 600Bfr. Very satisfying!
Of course, it was sheer luck. Most musicians would have given it a miss down the 'Doos on a Monday, because it was cold, the end of the month and usually quiet there. In addition, Moondog Jr were playing in Antwerp last night, so the trendies would probably be there.
Moondog are playing again tonight so maybe I can strike lucky again.
But there is one thing that has emerged out of this. The general public have a good percentage of people who like what I do, caring little for image.
Most of this Winter I have been playing the 'Doos, which seems increasingly to be a 'trendy' haunt. dEUS, Kiss my Jazz, Evil Superstars all turn up in here, so it's 'star' spotters most of the way these days. As there is an 'anti-Brian' faction around I find it difficult when the 'abf' is concentrated of an evening.
But, all the same, this is good on a competitive level, because I must try and work harder. What I mustn't do is lose sight of reality. The reality is I am facing audiences consisting of the cream of Belgium's most promising rock talent.
Open a paper, a magazine...and I'm likely to find a picture, an article or general blurb about one of these people. So I am playing to people in, or breaking in, the music business...

Everts played a great set last night down the 'Doos. I really enjoyed it. But I'd have enjoyed it more if I wasn't following him onstage. To compound things, the mike on the guitar had been turned up.. which is usually good, but adjusting to the sound left it hard to tune the guitar. While I was playing it always appeared to be out of tune to me, although Lena said afterwards it didn't greatly notice to the audience. Seeing DaveR having similar problems with his opening numbers added a minor, but important, experience to my stage knowledge.
There is a possibility that my strings are getting too old and over-repaired to effectively hold tune in a precise way, or it may simply be lack of recent enough experience of playing with amplified guitar.
Almost certainly, there was the knowledge that Everts had played a blinder. To me, Everts at his best is one of the best around. But then... I am a fan, and I would make no secret that he influences me more than anyone else at this time.
All the same, I didn't even try to match Everts yesterday. I didn't play any of my front line songs. Instead, the audience seemed amenable to experimentation. So, after doing "County Down" and battling after each song with the tuning, I played "The tide of Fate", "Little black sheep", an abridged version of "Only in my dreams" and finished with "He doesn't look around", still only a few hours old... but (to me) saying everything about the set.
It was uncomfortable for me because my tuning ear was confused by the different sound and I really felt like just saying halfway through the set, "Sorry, these strings are all over the place" and abandoning the stage. But I kept on going forward and, instead of finishing with a safer song, I tackled my most newest... and played it well. I still wasn't happy with the tuning, but I didn't "look around".
After the set I mulled over not taking the hat round because I was unhappy with the performance, despite reasonable applause (which, in itself, surprised me). But I did, and the audience had stayed throughout my set and gave generously.
"He doesn't look around" says you keep moving forward through all your doubt. This set required just that. My ambition requires just that. My heart requires just that.

Meanwhile, I piece together the jig saw. I don't really know myself what the sum of what I've done so far ammounts to. But, as it is, I probably overplay the 'Doos - at least according to those who don't listen. The latest I heard, from Gerhard, is that Maria the landlady is a fan and listens to my lyrics quite carefully, but that Etienne thinks I play the same songs.
To those who don't listen that will be the impression, because you can do 3 new songs in a set and 2 well trodden ones. Those who don't listen will hear the latter two and not the former 3.
Annoyed (generally at the moment), I felt this needed a defence, so I went into the other room with a piece of paper and drew a cat. I then folded the sheet so that only the last part of the cat's tail showed. I returned to Gerhard and his friend Kris, saying, "Right now! Tell me what this is!"
Gerhard turned the light on to it and said, " I don't know! A snake?"
Kris said, " it a tail?"
Ah! "That's perceptive!" I replied.
I unfolded the paper to show the cat. I then said, " When I play the Muziekdoos all you will hear is that equivalent portion of the tail. What my repertoire is? That's the cat! One day people will see the whole cat and then understand."
But, of course, not everyone. Just those who are waiting to see the cat, because they already recognise the tail.

I haven't seen Char around, but then I haven't been around myself and Char may not be around Antwerp.... so, obviously, would not be around anyway. I chewed over going around to her place, but it was raining around nine thirty and I thought that going around there only to discover she wasn't around was futile. So I made my way straight to the 'Doos.
It's around bedtime, so I'll round off this monologue and see you around in the morning.

He is basically a walking ego. There's nothing he likes better than the sound of his own voice. Might be ok if he had something original to sing - and sometimes he has, but mostly he just churns out the same old stuff. "Just play all your hits!" is his simple philosophy.
To me, the 'Doos is not especially for that - unless you are particularly chasing money or there is a big, big crowd there and you feel under pressure to play it safe. On quieter nights the 'Doos is a springboard for untested new songs. I'm of the same mind as Stef in this.
Once, I said to him, "I don't know! Maybe I played too many of my own songs for this crowd."
"That's what the Muziekdoos is for! Playing your own songs!"

The evening saw us asking in the Swingcafe about gigs. Green, wide-eyed boys! But they suggested the Musiekdoos, where ' you can get up and play on a stage.'
English wide-eyed boys to the Doos, " Can we play?"
"Sure," said Marc the barman, " Just say when."
A stage and two microphones. Up we clambered and out we sallied with four or five songs.
Good audience response.
"That was very good!" flattered Marc, " What did you want to drink?"
"Ah well," I remarked to Mike, " A good experience, even if it is only worth a free drink."
So where could we earn money? We sat down with our drink and wondered whether we should play again. Mike checked with Marc about the best options for earning money. He came back agitated..... "He asked me why I didn't take the hat round! He reckons we would have earnt £12, or thereabouts!"
Ah shit!
Other musicians had started arriving and we found we had to sit through three or four acts before we could get back on stage. By that time the audience had diminished considerably, alongside their money. We got only £3.

I played the 'Doos and after 2 or 3 weeks of not playing to microphones there is the problem of adjustment and nerves. I tried to sharpen myself by playing my new song first, but I finished it halfway through because the words fell away from my memory under pressure... and I haven't really memorised it thoroughly enough. But it's always worth the try because it tests your faculties to the utmost. I played a noisy set and very short, because I felt the audience was not likely to be wonderful.
I was right there; I got about 50bfr. So, at least I didn't waste too much energy on them. It would be harder if it had been a long set. Still, I've played here in Antwerp for the first time (in public) since arriving back.... that is one plus.
Yeeta came in with one of her workmates asking for Gerhard, saying she was drunk and probably adding to that at the bar. I did not leave the table to talk to her --- I think I am learning.  She had asked if I'd seen Gerhard:
"No," I replied, " I haven't! Maybe he's playing Gent?"
"Oh, he's playing all right!" said Yeeta, " Anyhow, when you see him ... tell him that I still love him."
Well.. Everts was telling me of Leena, a German girl, who invited him back to her place.... only to find her 'boyfriend' sitting there ... and who was that? This caused a glitch in the niceties of social beauty.
"Well...." concluded Leena, " I was going out with him first! So I'd better go out with him."
I can't remember whether Everts said he had the one night with her before all this was decided ( no doubt at a hastily arranged summit.) I think a hefty re-arrangement of my conditioning is still needed.

VTM (television) had run a news report on us. A million people were suddenly made aware of the name 'Tightrope'.
Strike while the iron is hot! It didn't happen....and it should simply have been more shows like those performed at the
Tschaplin,Deurne.There was one key difficulty with any attempt to stage a show - and it was near insurmountable -
the cast had either fallen away, or were bereft of the unity that carried the project from its first mumblings in the
Muziekdoos on to its radio Centraal airing - and on to the ten live shows in Antwerp and New York.