Image: Oh Othello
George Jephson (left) and Thos Henley (right) are two guitar-strumming, lyric-writing, harmonizing Englishmen living and performing in Paris, both as solo artists and together as Oh Othello. When not touring or writing songs, they can be found performing at Chez Justine on rue Oberkampf on Friday nights. They are currently working on their next album.
1. What initially inspired you to move here or visit?
George: A few years ago we were both looking for an escape from England. The need to leave had been building for some time. Tom and I had both left our bands and we were moving away from the scenes we had been part of for so long in London, and we knew we had to go away and start something together. Initially we thought of going to the States, but it was impractical and felt a little predictable. We both agreed on France being a place that had everything: mountains, ocean, forest, a culture we loved and admired, and was familiar to us as Englishmen yet equally completely unknown to us. So we set off in a van together, driving, busking and drinking around France, and writing songs together that would eventually become Oh Othello. When we arrived in Paris on the last few days of the trip, Tom told me that he wanted to stay in Paris. So with no money, a few new friends, a guitar and a pile of books, Tom stayed and I left. Tom carried on in Paris for a year until I came to join him. We then got our flat together and worked in earnest at Oh Othello.
2. Earliest Paris memory?
Meeting three Swedish girls and a Columbian guy who would become our best friends.
3. Best neighborhood you’ve ever lived in?
The 12e is where we lived together, sang together, got drunk together, watched sunsets together high at 4 in the morning over Père Lachaise. It’s where Oh Othello was born. So its got to be the 12e.
4. What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in Paris?
George: A L’Ami Pierre. I’ve done a lot of partying there, and a lot of drowning my sorrows too. The owners Robin and Nico are a wonderful couple who have always shown me love, and the food has never disappointed either. The best fruits de mer, os à moelle and côte de boeuf around.
Tom: The steak tartare from Chez Justine on rue Oberkampf. It’s made right in front of you and with a Whiskey Sour next to your elbow, you cannot go wrong.
5. Sexiest moment you’ve had in Paris?
You got a lot of nerve asking us that. Would you ask the Beatles that?
6. What do you hate most about living in Paris?
Tom: Line 13. We spent our whole journey around France being very poor and living solely on sardines each day. To ride line 13 from Place de Clichy and Guy Moquet is to become a sardine yourself, without the tomato sauce! Plus, the train cars smell of rancid fish.
7. Who’s your favourite Parisian — be they living or dead, real or fictional?
Tom: Blaise Cendrars, the one armed poet who inspired Henry Miller. Technically he was Swiss, but he was naturalized as French in 1916 and he embodies the raw side of post-World War I Paris where he dirtied Montparnasse more than Hemingway ever could. A pure rebellious passion.
8. Favourite cinema?
George: Outdoors in Place des Vosges, in the summer with Maria watching Erotissimo.
Tom: Le Champo on rue des Ecoles. I went there on my 22nd birthday alone. Everyone was working and so I watched Hitchcock’s original print of Psycho. There was only one other person there; a lady who laughed whenever a shot rang out or a dagger flashed. She was scarier than Herrmann’s score.
9. Right bank or left bank? And why?
Right Bank. Whenever we find ourselves on the Left, under the shadow of the Notre Dame with mime artists contorting and souvenir shops rattling, we get home sick and want to be back next to the African restaurants and Arabic cafés under the shadow of the distant Bastille. We get withdrawal symptoms.
10. Favourite caviste?
George: Without a shadow of a doubt, Le Baron Rouge. It has essentially acted as our surrogate mother in Paris, albeit one that enjoys seeing us plastered, providing us with all we need. Tom based his novella To the Gates We Followed around it, and I wrote the song Warm White Wine about it.
11. Where do you go to escape the city?
12. Where are the best looking girls or boys in Paris and why?
In our apartment, ‘cause that’s how we roll.
13. Where do you get your news?
14. Favourite museum?
George: Musée d’Orsay.
Tom: Musée des Plans-Relief.
15. Favourite shop?
George: Paul Beuscher, the music shop in Bastille. It’s always there when I need it.
Tom: Marché aux Puces St. Ouen; not a shop, but a heaven of nostalgia.
16. Who’s the most stylish Paris personality?
George: Gwen Jamois, an amazing DJ and rare record hunter. He lives near the Marché d’Aligre and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, vintage clothes, and wine; was an early pioneer of ‘80s & ‘90s electronic music; he grew up in London squats with a French mother. He’s often dressed head to toe in Hermès and Harris tweed. He’s not famous – he should be, but that’s not his style.
Tom: Judah Warsky, our bass player can rock a cowboy shirt and is one of the only people I know who can also rock a bolo tie.
17. What is your favourite film that is set in Paris?
George: La Commune by Peter Watkins. If you can sit through 5 hours of budget filmmaking, you are rewarded by the most genuine and fascinating film about one of Paris’ seemingly forgotten revolutions.
Tom: I always shout out Brando’s profanity whenever I am on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim after Last Tango in Paris, but my favourite film set in Paris is Bande à part purely for the opening scenes where they drive next to our apartment and you can see the Monoprix sign that has hardly changed.
18. What about Paris most inspires you?
19. What makes someone a Parisian?
Living in Paris.
20. What’s your favourite French word? (Swear words allowed!)
Poubelle and époustouflant.