Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The Imminent Closing of the Coolin and its Crazy Cool Open Mic in Paris: And the Definitive Video of an Open Mic at the Coolin

March 1, 2015

Outside the Coolin

Outside the Coolin

PARIS – It will not be news to most people who attend open mics in Paris, since we’ve known about this for several months, but there are only three more occasions to take part in one of Paris’s best open mics at one of Paris’s best Irish pubs: The Coolin Irish Pub.

I have written so much about the Coolin open mic over the years since I first discovered it around four or five years ago – I cannot find my first post!! – that I do not need to introduce it to many regular readers of this blog. Suffice it to say that it quickly became one of the most fun, crazy and popular open mics in the city thanks to the usual recipe that makes open mics a success around the world: A great pub environment (this one is pretty voluminous, and that’s pretty rare for success); a great pub owner who loves music and never complains about the “noise”; a great MC in Etienne Belin (and his assistant MC, Ellen Banville); and a usually full and great audience and musicians….

You can see all of that style, feel and sound in a wonderful video on the Coolin open mic filmed and edited by my daughter Emily Spurgeon, posted on this page, above. Emily attended a night recently in order to film me for a school project documentary she called Rebellious Youth, and she was so fired up by the evening that she decided to use a whole lot more of the rushes she got from the evening to string together a fabulous final video – and advertisement for the last three open mic nights – of the atmosphere of an evening a the the Coolin open mic. Check it out and see all the incredible moments and emotions a single night passes through….

Yes, Coolin had everything. Oh, if there was one downside, it might be that this was far from the intimate kind of environment that the Ptit Bonheur la Chance could provide to artists testing new, tender material – but I assure you, those moments could happen as well at the Coolin, especially at the end of the evening ’round midnight, when most listeners had exhausted their frenzy, and some musicians were called up a second time to perform, and launched into something more intimate….

Anyway, in general, the environment at the Coolin was always one of good cheer and warmth, and the staff was always part of that environment. I only ever saw the pub on open mic nights on Mondays – and tomorrow will be the third to last Monday for that before the pub closes for good on 21 March, so get there!!!!! – but I understand that many of the other musical nights, like Paddy Sherlock’s Sunday, were among the most popular in Paris.

The pub is not closing out of any kind of failure, it is closing on success. It is closing because the fabulous Marché St. Germain in which it is located has been bought by a technology company that doesn’t need any more real estate in Paris, but feels it does. I’m not so happy about the fact that I’m writing these words on one of the computers made by that technology company, and that while I love the computer, I am sorry to see that another real world meeting place is being replaced by a company that prefers virtual worlds….

Saxi-versary at the Little Balcony in Paris

February 24, 2015

Le Petit Balcon (Paris)

Le Petit Balcon (Paris)

PARIS – I’ve written one or two times about this young, new music bar in Paris called Le Petit Balcon. But being invited back to celebrate the birthday of Stephen Saxo – an American expat sax player in Paris – gave me the chance to see just how much this little joint has grown in such a short time.

From two fairly quiet musical nights a couple of months ago or so, this place has turned into a really big bopping concert and hang-out venue bar. Located off the beaten track in a part of Menilmontant not usually visited by wandering pedestrians, the reason this place is becoming such a success is clearly because the owners are music lovers, and musicians.

I felt that particular vibe even the first times I visited this place. But a few days ago, at Stephen’s birthday, when after the evening’s concert the cellar room was opened up to Stephen and his musical – and other – friends, I could see that the place was more than just buzzing.

It was full of musicians, audience, diners, drinkers, and other kinds of people, and the general feeling was of complete festival activity and music. Music. Music. Stephen turned his birthday party into something of an open mic, and I managed to play several songs, both with my acoustic and a few other musicians – including Stephen – and with Andy Bone’s electric, his Epiphone, while he played my acoustic.

An amazing night, but I did not manage to get more than two or three videos.

Salt Petal Revisted – After all these (3) Years

February 20, 2015

Salt Petal

Salt Petal

PARIS – One of the satisfying – and essential – aspects of doing this mostly music blog is being able to talk about bands I have discovered, and sometimes having people present me with their music, or the music of bands they are representing, thinking that this blog would be a nice place to have it talked about. A few days ago, I received an email from a PR person involved in talking about a hot new Los Angeles band. Within a few seconds I had bells going off in my head, and I realized that this was a band that I had already heard, met and written about in the context of open mics in Paris: Salt Petal.

What a joy it was to see that this band that had so impressed me back in 2012 at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance (in its heyday) and when Salt Petal played at the Highlander, had continued to progress, to grow, and to turn into a band that is being hailed by publications across the U.S. – including Billboard, apparently – and is being played on MTV and has won a prize from an international panel of judges in the World Music Battle of the Bands.

The salty memories came back, I checked out my own blog, and found that I had been thoroughly impressed by the freshness and excitement of the two band members who came to Paris in 2012 – Autumn and Rodrigo – and had so enraptured the Ptit Bonheur and the Highlander. And so I checked out the video of the song that won that World Music prize, “Por la Luna.”

I compared it with the videos I had taken at the time, and said, yes, that’s the same two. Now it has turned into a collective with several musicians – and not just the two who were in Paris – and they have added different nationalities, expanding from American and Argentine to Japanese and others, and making a true collective of world music.

The PR reads well too: “Los Angeles is a city of diversity, a place of mixed cultures with a colorful tradition. Few bands better represent this than LA musical collective Salt Petal whose cross border musical influences of Argentinian folk, Brazilian tropicalia, Cumbia and up tempo indie rock blurs ethnic and musical boundaries. The band’s sound is one of the freshest to come out of Los Angeles, showcasing deep South American rhythms with vibrant indie pop harmonies and textures.

“Salt Petal has played high profile venues and festivals such as SXSW, Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books and Make Music Pasadena. Performing alongside well-known artists including Lila Downs, Grimes, Hello Seahorse!, La Santa Cecilia, Dengue Fever, Las Cafeteras, members of Blondie and Jane’s Addiction. Their videos have been featured on MTV Tr3s and have been written up in Billboard etc.”

But ultimately, as I write these words, I listen to all of the tracks on Salt Petal’s SoundCloud, and it is beautiful stuff, combining the South American – Argentine and Brazilian – rhythms with a very clear American Indie sound, thanks in no small part to Autumn Harrison’s vocals.

They’re even calling it “Tropical Surf Rock.” What do I know? It’s very strange, but I actually find a tiny, tiny little touch of a sound that is similar to the American singer April March, who is known more in France than elsewhere (I think) for her modern version of French Yé Yé music. Is that what this is? An American interpretation of Tropicalia and other South American sounds? Updated? Give it a listen to see. May they pass through Paris again.

5-Minute Documentary About Dad at Open Mics by Daughter: Me by Emily

February 17, 2015

PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my ongoing project making a film about open mics around the world. Well, guess what? My daughter, Emily, beat me to it! As a student at the Ecole de la Cité film school outside Paris, she had a class exercise to make a 5-minute documentary film portrait of a person. She decided to choose as a subject her wacky, crazy Dad who travels around the world doing open mics – while writing about Formula One car racing as his real job….

One of the main riddles she had to solve in doing the 5-minute film, called “Rebellious Youth,” was what story to focus on in the telling? My bizarre past working in a circus, acting on TV and in films, in bit-parts, or busking in London and working as a bartender at the National Theatre, or writing about Formula One car racing and writing short stories and novels, etc. Where to start? So in order to find coherence to the story within the 5-minute limit, she decided to focus entirely on the story of a guy in his 50s who has a straight – or actually really exciting – day job writing for a major newspaper, who spends his spare time singing in bars at open mics with a generation that is generally many times removed from his own.

So that’s why there is the emphasis on the “old guy” playing music with young people…. Check it out for yourselves. I’ve been given permission by Emily to put it up on the blog. There are a few moments of pretty average sound quality, but keep in mind that Emily filmed the whole thing by herself with no crew, and then she edited it too. Thanks a million to the Coolin, the Galway and the Escargot Underground venues for letting her film during the open mics – and thanks to the people she interviewed for being so nice about what you say about me!!!!

A Brief Stop-In at the Oasis

February 14, 2015

Oasis 244

Oasis 244

PARIS – I guess and oasis is really a drinking spot where you’re meant to stop for a brief moment on a long walk through the desert. That’s how I could describe my visit last night at the Oasis 244 in Paris, where I had such a great Friday night last week at the weekly gig of John Redford, Stephen Saxo and friends.

I arrived very late last night, so did not get to hear that much of the music, not get to see that much of the vibe. But from all I could see and hear, it seemed like it was as great as usual. And I got to play twice – once solo and with cajon, and another time with an electric guitar accompaniment – even at that relatively late arrival hour. So the brief visit was all I could hope for at the Oasis 244. Only one short video to show for it, though:

The Cool and Laid Back Scene of the Café Jean Open Mic

February 13, 2015

Cafe Jean Open Mic

Cafe Jean Open Mic

PARIS – An open mic is made in a big way by the location, by the MC and of course by the musicians and the spectators who turn up. I’ve been meaning to go to the Café Jean open mic in Paris for something like a year, but as it was at first once a month it took a long time for me to find the right month. Now it is twice a month, and I finally got there last night.

One of the reasons I was really keen to go was because it is run by Nicolas Blampain, a wonderful guitar player and singer, and great open mic host who ran the open mic at the Lou Pascalou bar in Menilmontant for a couple of years or so. He did a great job there, but the bar itself was somewhat limited in its layout.

So I really wanted to see what Nicolas could do in another location. The Café Jean is a little on the edges of Paris, near the Ourcq metro, not too far from the Abracadabar where there is a monthly open mic and a lot of live music – but really on the edge of things. In any case, I was surprised to find at the Café Jean a very hip sort of café restaurant with what looked like great food.

The public did not really look like it was there for full involvement in the music, but when the food is that good looking, it’s no surprise. On the other hand, Nicolas does such a great job of hosting the evening, and makes musicians feels so welcome – you can play covers, your own stuff, or even sing to his guitar playing if he knows the song – that it was a real pleasure to play at the Café Jean last night.

The sound system was good, the public was definitely listening despite the chatter, and the people running the bar felt really open to the music. Definitely worth a visit on the second and final Thursdays of the month. But don’t forget the competition at the Escargot Underground open mic the same night!!!

Something New at the Baroc Open Mic in Paris

February 11, 2015

Le Baroc open mic

Le Baroc open mic

PARIS – Sometimes I wonder during my winters in Paris when I’m not travelling and I’m attending the same open mics week after week, I wonder how I can write anything new about them on my blog. Such was the case again last night when I went again to the wonderful Baroc open mic in Belleville. I’ve been going for years now, and for years the MC, Réjean Mourlevat, has been doing a great job. But from one week to the next, how do you find something new to write about, let alone to “live”? Last night, Réjean himself gave me the answer.

Towards the end of the evening, which had many of the regular musicians I see there from one week to the next, Rejean got up behind the mic while a pianist from Strasbourg (not a regular musician here, and boy was he good), began to jam away with a sax player. Suddenly, Réjean began to sing. No please note that Réjean is a wonderful MC, and a multitalented musician, who often plays either piano or drums while others play their stuff at the open mic. But he is something of a quiet, shy guy, and I have never heard him sing before.

This may not sound like much, but really, listening to Réjean sing was one of the high moments of the night! It was so cool! In fact, it was so cool that I didn’t think about taking out my camera until it was almost too late. I did manage to get a bit of it on film, though. So check it out.

Other than that, it was a pretty typical night at this warm open mic where you rarely know quite what to expect from one week to the next in the way of small differences, but at the same time you know you can always expect something to happen.

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