Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Crappy Time at the Jam Bar, Great Time at Le Volume – First Night in Nice

May 20, 2015
bradspurgeon

Le Volume

Le Volume

NICE, France – It’s funny how the atmosphere in music venues can change over time. In fact, the atmosphere for the clients of the Jam bar in Nice was the same last night as on the previous occasions I had come and played there. It was full of rocking, blues’n, soul’n music with neat sax and guitar and keyboard solos. It was wild and fast. And crowded. But if you are a new or unknown musician showing up at the Tuesday night open jam and open mic at the Jam in Nice, forget it. You won’t be treated equally to the regulars – at least that’s the way it felt last night.

I had, as I said, played at the Jam in the past, and I had loved the feeling, the whole thin, and I believe I had been treated OK – although I do remember a long wait even in the past. But last night? It was one of those situations where you arrive and shake hands with someone at the edge of the stage who seems to be in charge, but he says he is not in charge and sends you to “the guy with the hat” behind the bar. The guy with the hat, moment he hears your English accent in otherwise excellent French, starts speaking to you in English – and puts you in the category: English tourist.

Once in that category, I was doomed. It’s funny because in Paris I blend in with the cosmopolitain population; but here in Nice I never fail to feel like every local I speak to is fed up with meeting another “English tourist” and even when I carry out several exchanges in near perfect – but accented French – they still don’t believe I’ve lived most of my adult life in Paris and I am NOT a tourist in this country!

Anyway, so the guy with the hat feeds me a line when I ask about how I can take part in the jam: “Well, sure, yeah, just buy a drink and go and sit down and wait. The guy who does my sound set up isn’t here at the moment and he’ll have to take care of you and your guitar.”

So I buy the drink, and I go and sit at the front of the stage. And over the half hour I’m sitting there, I’m seeing one new musician after another enter the Jam bar and take to the stage – with guitars, with keyboards, for vocals, you name it. Saxophone, trumpet. Cajon. Just climbing up on the stage. And I’d already spoken before dinner to the drummer and bass player, and they saw me sitting at the table at the front of the stage with my guitar. So everyone knew that I was there to take part in the jam, but guess what? I was not a regular. The others were all known to each other.

And so it was that I discovered “Le Volume” – a fabulous musical association in Nice

Is that the idea of a free and open jam and open mic – as advertised on the Jam bar’s site? Not for me! So I got fed up and didn’t even finish the costly beer. I did a search on my iPhone and discovered to my amazement, that there was a jam session at a place I’d never heard about, going on right then, called, “Le Volume.” So that was it. I said, “Go to Le Volume. It can’t be worse than this!”

And boy was I right! I crossed town using my iPhone GPS and found Le Volume in a part of town where I never played before – facing the old town, but in the city center, on the opposite side of the tracks – and I found this stupendous place devoted to live music. My first thought was that it reminded me of the place I did the open mic in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, because like Freedonia in Barcelona, Le Volume is an association. You have to buy a membership and leave your name and address. But don’t worry, the membership costs 2 euros and lasts a year!

I entered the building to find, like at Freedonia, two different venues in one. But unlike Freedonia, where one stage was for comedy and the other for music, here at Le Volume, it’s all music. The rooms are on one side for an acoustic jam session, and on the other side for an electric jam session, complete with drums, electric bass, etc. The acoustic jam was in full swing when I arrived.

Watch out, this is like a real underground sort of musical space where you don’t really have an audience and musicians separated by a stage and seating area. This is like two open-space performance areas divided by the central room where, like at Freedonia, there is a bar with cheap beer selling for 2 euros. (Or was it 2.50?? Can’t remember!)

As you’ll see from my videos, it was pretty free-form, but people were doing songs nevertheless, and anyone could join in, both the acoustic and electric areas. I felt complete acceptance by everyone – unlike at the Jam bar – and I joined in and did a few songs in the acoustic jam, on which I had people playing the cajon and bongos, and violin, and another guitar, and helping out on vocals too.

It felt very much like the kind of scene I have found in places like in Budapest with its Szimpla Kert jam sessions; or even a real sort of hippie feel too it.

The Volume also puts on concerts and the music faculty in the local university here is doing some demonstration soon of the fruits of its students’ work this year. So Le Volume is a really multi-purpose musical association, an just a great place to go and jam. OK, it’s not the night club feel of the Jam bar, but for me the important thing was feeling welcome! I’ll return!

P.S. The jam session usually takes place on Wednesdays, but due to a concert overlap thing, they ran the jam session on Tuesday night this week. There is also a rap open mic on Friday….

Bombarding the Bombardier and Hopping the Galway – Two Paris Open Mics in One Night

May 19, 2015
bradspurgeon

Galway Pub Paris

Galway Pub Paris

PARIS – Monday night has always been a great night for open mic hopping in Paris. But traditionally I have done the rounds of the Galway, the Tennessee Bar and the Coolin. Now, with the Coolin gone, and the Tennessee bar open mic in never-never-land, if it even exists anymore, the new roadmap enters around the Galway and the Bombardier, which has moved to Mondays from Thursdays. And also the Café Oz Denfert, which has moved to Monday from Sunday.

Last night I wanted to see if I could do all three of them, but the Denfert was too far out from the previous two, given my late arrival. But what I found, much to my delight and surprise, was that as far as the two I attended – within about 15 minutes walk of each other, the one being off the Place St. Michel and the other off the Place du Panthéon – there are two strong, and completely different open mics still available on Mondays in the Latin Quarter.

When I say strong, I mean that not only is the presentation top-notch, but the talent was great too. There was definitely enough of it to go around. I’m so sorry to have missed the Café Oz at Denfert to see how much talent was there last night too! (And knowing that the presentation by James Iansiti, formerly of the now-dead Tennessee Bar open mic, is great.)

I met old friends like Shelita, and new friends like Steve Kessler, and heard regulars like Ollie, who runs the open mic on Sundays of the Pop In and used to do the great Ptit Bonheur la Chance. There were people I’d never heard before, including a Scotsman singing Dylan, and some guy in his 40s or so daring to sing an Abba song, “Dancing Queen,” which I have never – fortunately – seen performed in an open mic before. I should have recorded it, but didn’t!

There are big differences between the two venues I did perform at, however. Despite moving to Monday nights, the Bombardier crowd was still one that goes more for the social visit, the sports, the drinking, than the music. But it is a great place for that, and to have music in the background via the open mic. So a musician can use it to practice playing live, but not really trying to worry about grabbing the audience’s participation. The talk will go on!

The Galway is by comparison more of a place where the musicians can listen to the musicians, and those who don’t want music, an retire to the back of the bar or the first floor and do as much talking as they want. The Galway has a strange sort of mix between the intimate and the public about it. And Romain’s presentation is as warm and smooth as ever. And the window out to the Quai des Grands Augustins remains one of the great things to perform in front of in Paris.

Both remain great places to try on a Monday night – as well as the Café Oz Denfert….

Another Great Night at the New Rebel Open Mic in Paris

May 18, 2015
bradspurgeon

O'Sullivans

O’Sullivans

PARIS – Great news last night at only my second visit to the Rebel bar open mic, that is hosted by Etienne Belin, who is trying to transfer the same magic from his previous venue at the Coolin, to this exceptional bar in the heart of the Chatelet-Centre Pompidou area, on the Rue des Lombards. It was an even better night that the first visit a couple of weeks ago, and to add to the mix, I recognized a number of people from the Coolin, some of whom worked behind the bar and now took to the stage, and even one was apparently there whom I did NOT recognize!

Yes, I went to the Rebel bar wondering if it would hold up to my first impressions, and the first thing that happened as I entered was I was greeted by so many friendly faces, like Paul or Sinead, the former bartenders. And later, I was quite interested in one of the acts, that it turned out I believe – but I’m still not sure – was the leading light of concert nights at the Coolin, Paddy Sherlock, but whom I had never actually seen there, since I attended only on Monday night open mic nights.

Even more satisfying, though, was meeting with Steve Kessler, a musician from Chicago, with a local band there called The Saturday June Band.” Steve, immediately upon seeing me, came to tell me that it was thanks to this blog that he had found the open mic. Another bit of personal satisfaction the blog has given. Steve, it turned out, was not just a great musician, and a nice guy, but very generous, as he offered a free drink to everyone in the open mic right after his set!

My own set by then, I felt, was far too emotional, but there are nights like that!

I shall return to the Rebel bar open mic with no questions asked next time….



The Fabulous Marielle at the Fabulous Barricade – a Friday Evening Amusement

May 17, 2015
bradspurgeon

La Barricade

La Barricade

PARIS – Sheridan Morley, the theatre critic and playwright, once summed up the life and nature of Noël Coward in the title of his biography of the same Englishman stage performer and playwright: “A Talent to Amuse.” I would choose that same phrase to describe the music, lyrics and stage presence of the singer pianist, Marielle Tognazzoni, whose show at the intimate “La Barricade” venue I attended on Friday evening.

I have put up some videos on this blog in the past of Marielle jamming away at the piano at the open mic of the Baroc on Tuesday nights, and it is clear there that she has a fabulous ability to play entertaining piano. She also sings occasionally at the Baroc, and when not there just to accompany other musicians, she even sings some of her own songs. But at the Barricade on Friday, she strung together a whole set and a half of her own compositions, a rollicking, rolling, fun collection of tales and statements that can so aptly be said to constitute a talent to amuse.

Marielle is a consummate show woman, sensing when there may be a lull in the audience enthusiasm, and filling it with just the right hook to drag us back into her music and lyrics. And her ability to draw the spectators into audience participation is done with a light, sure touch that truly invites rather than cajoles.

Introducing La Barricade (to readers of this blog)

I was also really pleased to have attended her show to discover for the first time this incredibly cozy little venue, La Barricade bar and restaurant on a side road in Belleville with a small ground floor set of tables, and two little rooms with vaulted ceilings in the basement. The theater is in one of these rooms, and can seat only around 25 to 30 people maximum. It has good acoustics, and nice theater backdrop, and a piano and amazingly good – if ridiculously simple – sound system.

Spectators may sit on either the cinema seats along the left wall, or the benches lined up in the middle of the room, that feel like church pews. But the vibe in the basement of the Barricade was anything but church-like on Friday. Definitely worth another visit during the other regular musical evenings, this is clearly a venue where the owners love music and spectacle.

High Quality Night at the Great Café Oz (Blanche) in Paris – and on a “Foot” Night!

May 14, 2015
bradspurgeon

Café Oz Paris

Café Oz Paris

PARIS – It was worth the wait on Tuesday night. The open mic at the Café Oz Blanche decided to hand over the bar to the soccer lovers to watch the Barcelona-Bayern Munich match until the game’s end, and then start the open mic really late. IE, at the end of the match, at 10:30. I started getting pretty worried when the score was 2-2 not far from the end of the match and thinking maybe the open mic would be pushed even later; but fortunately Bayern won the match, and Barcelona won the … I’m getting too deeply into soccer here….

So the great thing was that here was a bar that holds an open mic but also shows the matches, and for once it was not just a case of closing down the open mic this week, in favour of the “foot” and they just pushed the time back. And it was all so much worth the wait. There were some amazing musicians, including some Paris regulars from elsewhere, like Aaron Bowen and Isaac Cheong, both from San Diego, but regular visitors to Paris and its open mics.

Brislee Adams, the host, even managed to get the bar to let the open mic go on until 1:30 AM, so despite the delay for the match, it was a fabulous open mic, and a lesson to bar owners to not forget about the open mic when there are sports. But would I expect anything different from the Café Oz Blanche? No. This, after all, is an open mic where the bar offers each performer one free drink – and although that happens here and there, it is not common.

A wonderful evening, wonderful bar, wonderful open mic. But the best thing about Tuesday was the talent. Check it out in the videos….



An Update to My Barcelona Open Mic Guide

May 10, 2015
bradspurgeon

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Just a note to say that I have updated my Barcelona open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

I mainly updated by removing the Samba Brazil open mic, which is no longer happening, and by adding the Freedonia open mic. But that’s a great addition!

Jamming With(out) Groucho, in Freedonia

May 8, 2015
bradspurgeon

Freedonia (Barcelona Association)

Freedonia (Barcelona Association)

BARCELONA – I was expecting to run into Rufus T. Firefly last night as I entered the underground-looking open mic venue, and I heard the laughter from the stage beyond the front hall. After all, this was called Freedonia, and it was a stand-up comedy open mic. I was actually disappointed at first, since I was looking for a musical open mic. But it took only a few seconds for the guys at the front desk to tell me that there were two venues in Freedonia, and one was a stand-up comedy open mic and the other was a musical open mic. So I had come to the right place after all. But I made my way so quickly through the front room venue to the back room venue that I never did see if Groucho was there.

I was just too excited to have found a really amazing and true open mic in Barcelona that I had not expected to find at all. I’ve had so much more experience in this city with jam sessions than with classic open mics, that I had begun to despair. But last night, in my desperation, I did a search on the Internet employing the Spanish term, “micro abierto,” and there I managed to come up with something at Freedonia that looked as if it really was an open mic, and it really was last night.

The even more amazing thing was that I could walk all the way from my hotel down to the venue in central Barcelona, not far from the St. Antoni metro station, and I could play until late and walk back again, within 20 minutes. But the best thing was the actual open mic. The back room is far enough away from the front room – and there is an empty room between them – that the music can be loud and no one seems bothered in the front room. Having said that, I imagine if there is a really bad comic on stage and no one is laughing, then the music coming from the open mic would be a relieving distraction. As it was, when the music stopped, I could hear lots of laughter.

Groucho as Rufus in Duck Soup

Groucho as Rufus in Duck Soup

The Freedonia Association is behind the open mics in Barcelona

Freedonia, in fact, is an association. So in order to take part or even watch as a spectator, you have to sign up your name and information. But that membership process lasts a year, and in exchange, you’re invited into a kind of wonderful private club, with a bar, lots of cheap beer – 2 euros 50 centimes for a bottle – and lots of musicians, comics and spectators.

The back room has a few tables, a few chairs, high and low, and a large stage – for an open mic. It is a basic rectangle shape, with a large set of speakers, a mix table, and people trying to make sure the sound is good – even when it isn’t! (I had a problem with the second mic on my third song, but aside from that (and that the quality of the mics was not great), it’s a wonderful setup.) It is a classic open mic, as opposed to a jam, with each person signing a list and playing three songs.

No doubt one of the reasons this place is different from other Spanish jam sessions/open mics/micro abiertos, is because it is run by a delightful Englishwoman with an Irish name: Bronagh Ni Laoi. You can also catch a glimpse of her playing in the wonderful high moment of the night, the all-girl band, whose name may or may not be the Ukaladies. (I find another such band on the Internet, in Canada, so I’m not sure about who really has that name….) Four or five women with ukuleles and a cajon and singing and … just check it out….

There were one or two singers in Spanish as well, thank goodness! And a high Spanish-spectator content…. The comedy open mic in the other room seemed to be only in Spanish, by the way.

All in all, a fabulous surprise, in a very cool, very hip, very open open mic. Oh, and I forgot to mention just how neat the neighborhood is, also, all alleyways and narrow streets, hidden away off the Ramblas. It seems to be tucked into a little bit of a Little India too. Oh, and on my way back to the hotel, I got dragged in to jam a little on my guitar in a sort of garage-loft by a half destroyed Colombian and his friends…. You had to be there…. It seems to be run every second Thursday – but I’ll confirm that before I put it on my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona open mics, jam sessions and other live music….


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