I first visited Antwerp in the late 1970s, found it was a great town for busking, and in the 1980s I made it my base of operations for several years. That was largely thanks to Vera Singelyn, whom I met when she was running a sort of flophouse and soup kitchen that was a dinner stop and occasional lodging for much of the itinerant musical population. I don’t remember how I first met Vera, but it was probably at Den Billekletser, because that was where a lot of us called home during the daytimes. It was a bar on the Hoogstraat, near the banks of cafes surrounding the Cathedral, and we would start drinking coffee there in the morning, graduate to beer around noon, and continue through the evening between sorties to play the cafes, restaurants, and bars. Some people got their mail delivered there, and for ten years or so I would go there first whenever I hit town and find out who else was around and where they were living.
That’s where I met Derroll Adams, Jack Elliott’s old traveling partner, and the dazzling ragtime guitarist Leo Wijnkamp, and a charming English drinker and artist named Frank Allen who gave me a lovely wooden pipe he’d carved, and all sorts of other people.
It’s also possible that I met Vera at the Musik Doos, which was in a couple of different locations over the years and had a stage and microphones for whoever wanted to play a set and pass the hat. Etienne, the owner, was always good to me and I made a lot of friends there. Or maybe someone just brought me over to the place Vera was running to have some dinner.
Anyway, I became a regular and began minding her newborn son Liam while she dealt with cooking and riding herd on the mixed crowd of waifs and wastrels, and shortly she was letting me live in an apartment on the third floor of a house she had at Huikstraat 5, in the red light district. As I recall, Irish Tony and Jimmy were on the second floor, and Montana Bob and his daughter were on the fourth – or maybe Bob and his daughter had the other side of the third and my rock ‘n’ roll partner David Greeley was on the fourth.
I settled in and worked on learning three-row diatonic accordion and sometimes babysitting Liam, who gradually graduated from lying on his back to turning over, and then to crawling — and who seemed to be the only person who enjoyed my accordion playing.
The most musically educational experience of that period was working in a swing duo with Nick Boons, an excellent fiddler in the style of Stéphane Grappelli and the Hot Club de France. I’d work the cafe terraces in the daytime, and then Nick and I would get together and do the nice restaurants. We’d typically warm up by playing a standard in all twelve keys, and “Some of These Days” was one of our favorites, along with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Blue Skies,” and “Marie.”
This was composed by Shelton Brooks, whom I’ve written about in my post on another of his enduring hits, “Darktown Strutters Ball” — which I’m sure we played as well. I always liked this song, but don’t recall performing it without Nick until I heard Dave Van Ronk’s version on his second swing CD, Sweet and Lowdown. As was his way, Dave wrote a great new introductory verse, and that got me singing it again, usually with my wife Sandrine on clarinet. Now I need to get back to Antwerp and try it again with Nick, whom I haven’t played with in almost thirty years — but see on Youtube looking exactly the same and sounding better than ever.