Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Le Petit Balcon, a Great New Musical Bar to Watch – and a Stopover at the CCR

November 17, 2014



PARIS – I just had to get a word down about Friday’s fun in Paris. I saw that an open mic acquaintance was putting on a little show at a bar called the Petit Balcon in the Menilmontant area, and I saw that the stage would then be open to other musicians – an open mic.

So I went to this place at 48 rue des Maronites, the Petit Balcon, and there I met Koutla, who put on his set before opening the stage to anyone – i.e., me and several other musicians.

I had a chance to talk with the bar’s owner, and so learned that he has been running it for a couple of months and is a huge fan of music, and wants to have regular musical evenings, including a regular open jam session on Wednesdays. The basement is a dream come true for an open mic or jam session, as it is a classic Paris cellar, well isolated from the neighbors, and so hopefully there will not be any volume complaints.

They are already doing Wednesday sessions, as well as nights on Friday and Saturdays featuring groups. Koutla, with his dramatic lyrics and delivery, was a great warm host for what amounted to an open mic, and I had a fabulous time, listening to some great music, and playing a couple of my own songs.

A Short Visit to the Cabaret Culture Rapide in Paris

Then it was off to the Cabaret Culture Rapide, which was only around a 10 minute walk away, and taking in the last half hour or so of the show, as it usually starts around 22:00 or later, and ends around midnight. There I caught two or three acts, including that of the MC, Terrebrune, as you’ll see. I did not play, or even ask to play, as I had been quite satiated already by the evening at the Petit Balcon.

Let’s hope the Petit Balcon develops into a regular venue – the divide between the ground floor and the intimate basement room, is really promising – as is the owner’s clear love of music and plan to turn it into a great little concert venue.

Another Baroc Night, Followed by Several More Adventures in Paris

November 15, 2014

Le Baroc open mic

Le Baroc open mic

PARIS – This has been a weird week: I arrived back very early on Tuesday morning from a two-day trip back from Sao Paulo via New York’s JFK airport, meaning an entire day spent in JFK, and two night flights in total to get back home. To say nothing of the number of time zones. And so I then arrived in paris early on Tuesday morning, and as I walked back to the apartment from the Port Royal RER station, I passed through a street market on the 11th November public holiday, and as they set up the market, several of the food hawkers said hello to me with bright, fresh morning smiles. Could this really be Paris? The place I was told decades ago that I would love for its city, but hate the people?

So anyway, I would end up sleeping off jet-lag that very same morning, then going to the Baroc open mic on the Tuesday night. It already seemed like a different culture, a different world, a different Paris, but the Baroc is also a fabulously atypical Paris. Or rather, it is perhaps one of the most quintessential Paris experiences in a bar that has kept its authenticity, and that loves music. The open mic, as usual, had a wide cross-section of fun and interesting acts, and the sound and MCing was done in the usual friendly manner by Réjean, the Frenchman with a more Quebec-sounding name than French French.

There were some familiar faces, but some new ones too. In any case, I need not go into detail, since you can just look at the videos…. Just needless to say, it felt like home after the two weeks away in Sao Paulo and Austin Texas….

On Wednesday night, it was off to the Swan Bar’s vocal jam of Wednesday night. And there, I found no familiar faces except that of the bar owner, the barwoman, and Sheldon Forrest, the pianist, MC, who has presented the vocal jam for several years now, as this has become one of the mainstays of the Paris scene, especially for those who like jazz – although Sheldon (who plays piano for the singers who need a musician) points out each time that all forms of music are welcome. My only problem with the Swan Bar is that it’s stiff prices won’t attract the majority of poor musicians, as there is even a cover charge for those wishing to play.

Thursday night it was off to a new open mic at the Bombardier pub at 2 place du Panthéon. But when I arrived I saw that this open mic – that night, at least – was one where the massively full student pub had a crowd more interested in talking than in listening to the music. So because I was planning to attend with several friends, some of whom had not heard my music before, it was not the right place to go. We ended up going not far away, to the Café Universel on the rue St. Jacques to hear the Liv Monaghan Duo, and a recitation of poetry – or verse – by Lisa Marie Jarlborn, whom readers of this blog will remember the rather provocative videos of from four years ago at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance.

Friday night, MORE open mics and concerts followed, but I’m going to give that more space tomorrow, with videos.

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – United States

November 9, 2014

austin pubMy worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

For my U.S. chapter, I divide it up between the two cities I visited for the adventure, New York City and Austin, Texas.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in the United States since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Un Autre Monde in the Last Night in Austin at the Firehouse and C-Boy’s

November 8, 2014

Firehouse, Austin

Firehouse, Austin

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Yes, here I am sitting in my hotel room in Sao Paulo, overlooking the bright lights of the big city. But thinking still about my last night bar-hopping in Austin, and seeing two French-like bands, both of which have members that have been in Austin for 25 to 30 years. So there was a very cool, and unselfconscious mix of English pop and French pop.

Un autre monde at the Firehouse:

The first was taking us full-circle from the first night in Austin, where I saw one of Olivier Giraud’s groups playing with him on guitar and synth, to now, Olivier with his original big huge successful 8 1/2 Souvenirs band playing all sorts of traditional lounge kind of stuff, including some very French stuff, as you’ll see in the videos. This was at the relatively new, and relatively cool C-Boy’s Heart & Soul bar, with its neat stage with red ribbon kind of backing to it. 8 1/2 recently reformed at popular demand; it was a well-known Austin swing jazz band from the 1990s that released two albums with RCA, and something else with an independent label in Austin.

From there, I went on to the very nifty Firehouse lounge, with its more basic and brutal stage and sound of the band of the crew from Justine’s restaurant, a fabulous French restaurant where I ate a few days earlier. The owner and some of the staff put this band together with other friends, several of whom have known each other since they were teenagers, and guess what? have lived in Austin for, like 30 years!

Check out especially, “Un Autre Monde,” of the French band Téléphone.

Oh, and by the way, the Firehouse is accessible from the front hostel entrance by pulling to one side the bookshelf, which disguises a door. And please note that on Wednesday nights, the Firehouse becomes an open mic….

Bar Hopping, Open Mic Playing, Austin Living – a Few More Days in the Live Music Capital of…

November 5, 2014

End of an Ear store

End of an Ear store

AUSTIN, Texas – On this trip to Austin, I’ve been discovering musical joints both with live bands in concert, and open mics for me to play. In the past I would always try to find ONLY places for me to play. But this time, I decided to relax a little and find out what else exists. That has led me from a dive bar to a record store to a cool open mic I did not know in the center of the city….

The dive bar is the Longbranch Inn on 11th street, and the music was about as raunchy as the bar. I was pleased that I brought my earplugs from the racetrack, since the music was so loud I could not really hear it. So I managed to record some of the set and take the recording back to the place I’m staying in, and there I heard the band for the first time. Liked the guitar, and the harmonica – and great rhythm too. But you’ll hear the singer’s voice was too low through the amp and we can’t make out much.

That was Saturday night, by the way. Sunday night I spent the whole evening writing my race report of the U.S. Grand Prix. So last night, I attended two different events, in fact. The first was at a record store that is reputedly one of the best two in Austin. And I can confirm that “End of an Ear” is a great shop. Not only full of CDs, but mountains of vinyl. I went to the record store because there was a photo vernissage by a friend of the friend I’m staying with, as well as a band.

We got there too late for the band, but I enjoyed looking at the photos by Renate Winter, the photographer. It was photos of bands, young people, musicians, from around the U.S., some from Austin, some in Atlanta and elsewhere. In some ways it reminded me of a world I know in Paris…. Check out my short video of the photos….

And Then Off to the Ten Oak Open Mic in Downtown Austin

It was my host who told me about the open mic at the Ten Oak bar on Colorado near Fifth Street, and boy was I happy to discover this relatively new open mic, which began nearly two years ago. Run by Ronnie Hall, who has a fabulous duet called Thomas and Hall, it’s worth going to just to hear them play!

But ultimately, the real pleasure is playing through the nice sound system on the terrace of this bar in downtown Austin where other musicians and music lovers can hear what you’re doing, as does the appreciative audience within the bar. Singing in the live music capital of the world, you feel a different vibe to many other places, like being part of a secret club run by musicians and music lovers.

The level of the musicians was so high at one point that I was begging in my head for someone crap to go up just before me, but that never happened!!!

Gotta run now to another couple of musical events….

Deadly Combination of F1 Fan Fest, and Halloween, Brings Austin Streets Away From Life

November 1, 2014

Austin Halloween Night

Austin Halloween Night

AUSTIN, Texas – It was a deadly combination of life and death in the streets of Austin last night, that brought the city – particularly 6th Street – back to death with a bursting forth of action in the deadzone that is this Texan city on Halloween night. The Halloween festival is always a big one, but with the added 100,000 or so Formula One fans taking to the street for the F1 Fan Festival for its first night, it was a celebration like none before.

I was half asleep by the time I arrived on 6th Street with a friend, and then I was immediately swept up into the riotous affair of the local population going crazy with Halloween costumes and filling the street from side to side – with only the central part cordoned off from the revellers, where the cops watched over the action.

Austin is particularly respectful of Halloween since there is a large Mexican population as well, with its deadly equivalent of the dastardly festival. The F1 Fan Fest runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with the U.S. Grand Prix that is taking place in Austin this weekend. The festival has four stages for music running throughout the weekend, and there are also little entertainment fairground-type activities for those who attend. The concerts include Joan Jett, and a few other bands better known locally than around the world. But all in all it’s a fabulous line up and an amazing atmosphere.

I had been thinking about trying to find a place to play music, but I had been advised against it. Then I discovered that in fact, on the Austin360 stage there was a daylong live band karaoke yesterday, and it is happening today too. But I am too busy working my job to think about doing that.

In any case, I have never seen such a Halloween occasion, and some of the effort put into the costume defies belief. You’ve got to see them in the little video I assembled of footage I took last night. My favorite wa the man who played the role of a gorilla and of a captive human in a cage carried by the gorilla. Check that one out on the video, I put in a few freeze frames on it, as I had a very small window of opportunity to grab the image….

Continental Graffiti, the 1948 Epiphone, 1938 amp, and the Aviary in Austin

October 31, 2014

The Aviary (Austin)

The Aviary (Austin)

AUSTIN, Texas – The last thing I expected to find within two hours of arriving in Austin, Texas last night was a band with some French musicians playing some pretty cool, and unusual music with old time feel, old time synthesizer, a 1948 Epiphone electric guitar, some vintage speakers – 1938 – and a unique venue called the Aviary, on South Lamar in Austin. And then, wow, actually getting to sit down and play the Epiphone myself….

Where do I start??? It was my friend from France with whom I’m staying in a an Austin suburb who led me to the Aviary for a quick late dinner after the 21-hour total trip from Paris. And there was his friend, Olivier Giraud, who runs a hotrod car business in addition to being a fabulous guitarist and synthesizer player, and leader of the band Continental Graffiti.

Giraud has lived in Austin for nearly three decades, and he has established himself in both of those areas, and last night I was honored to discover his music, and play his guitar. And in what a place! The Aviary is a unique, unusual, venue that calls itself, Austin’s only home decor store and wine bar. In fact, it is also a gallery. It has old films showing on a giant screen… it reminded me of a miniature version of one of those kerts in Budapest, like the Szimpla….

I recorded some of the music, and afterwards spoke to Giraud, and he let me play the Epiphone. I could not believe how good the action was, and how cool it sounded through the 1938 amp, which had a coil and tubes rather than a magnet like what you find in amps today….

I doubt I’ll have the time, but if I do, I’ll drop by his business, the “House of Hotrods,” and see if that guitar is hanging around amongst the grease, oil and chrome for a bit more of a play.

Blog at | The Tuned Balloon Theme.

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 214 other followers