Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Dualo Night at the Baroc Open Mic in Paris

April 22, 2015

Jules with his Dualo

Jules with his Dualo

PARIS – Arrived back in Paris on Monday night from Bahrain, totally wasted tired. But it just took one night’s sleep to lift myself out of my torpor and go on over to the Baroc open mic, to get right back into the groove. Groove would be a word that the night would reveal in a way I could never have imagined in advance.

There was this guy there who had this strange looking Star Trek-like luminous accordion-like device hanging off his chest, and I immediately queried him on what the hell it was!

A dualo,” he said.

He then began to demonstrate. The dualo may look like a quaint accordion of the past – one of those quintessential French instruments that we define as being the backbone of so many songs by French singers, or even Belgian ones, like Jacques Brel – but it is capable of sounding like an orchestra. Or even, I was brought back in mind to the late sixties, early seventies, the days of Moog synthesizers and mellotrons and other keyed electric instruments.

The guy who held the thing is Jules Hotrique, a street-musician-cum-mathematician who is also the creator of the instrument, this dualo, and who is in the thick of developing this instrument of the future in dynamic with his engineers at his new French start-up.

So what is it really? Well, let’s say, a dual is 116 letup pads and captors that acts like a midi, keyboards, synthesizer, drum machine, with 8 hours of autonomy and the ability to be played through speakers, headphones, a computer, has looping sequencing and 116 editable instrument sounds that can be programmed, shared and even help you write music.

Welcome to the electronic-instrument musical world. And the device only cost €1000. That’s only a third of the price of my Gibson J-200, which is just a bit of wood and plastic and you have to play it all by yourself. Oh yes, you do have to do some learning for how to play the dualo; but you can get your first lessons by watching some of the videos I took last night….

And the open mic at the Baroc was not that bad either…

I’ve talked enough about the dualo, the videos do the best talking. The open mic itself was pretty good, and I got to play some songs, and I got to forget some chords on “Just Like a Woman,” which I play all the time, so it must have been the lack of sleep from recent days….!

Present also were many of the regular regulars, as well as one or two new faces and sounds I did not know, like a guy from Holland who did several pretty mean interpretations of well-known covers…. Again, check out the videos…!

Classic Bahrain Open Mic/ Jam Night at Downtown Bar Manama

April 21, 2015

Downtown Bar Manama Bahrain

Downtown Bar Manama Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain – I ended up attending a non-existent jam night at the Downtown bar at the Intercontinental Regency hotel in Manama on Saturday night because someone gave me bad information about it happening every night of the week. In fact, it only takes place on Sunday nights. But that was no problem for the members of the house band, called OverNite Band, and all of whom are – in the big tradition of Manama bar bands – from Quebec, Canada! They were so cool and righteous, that they allowed me to go up and play two songs during their night. They then invited me back for the open mic on Sunday, and since I had a really early deadline in my regular job, I managed to get there. Boy did I not regret going!

The open mic at the Downtown bar in Bahrain is very similar to all the others I’ve attended: The one at the California, the one at the Dublin Club, you’ve maybe seen my posts on this blog. It’s the style where you can go up and do a live karaoké…or, you can go up and play with the band on an instrument, and sing. Or whatever. But what is clear about this one is that the reception and management of the open mic/jam by the band, is so warm and cool, that was my best experience in a Bahrain jam so far.

I got to play several songs, and unlike on Saturday night when I just played by myself with my acoustic guitar, I managed to play with the band this time. Did my covers, the easiest ones, three or four chords – Wicked Game, Mad World, I Won’t Back Down, etc. – and another group of jammers invited me up to sing All Along the Watchtower to their music. That was fun, but I was a little out of sync a few times, not having played that one before in public, and especially without my guitar.

There was a large cross-section of performers and styles, and one notable moment for me was when one of my colleagues from Formula One took to the stage and played my guitar and sang…oh, after he sang a previous song with the band itself, and before he joined me to add a little rap-like part to “I Won’t Back Down.”

An amazing last night in Bahrain, and I forgot to mention, the sound system is great, and the stage is even better! Oh, and that colleague filmed me doing Wicked Game. So check it out!!!!

The Outrageous Acts and Wonderful Format of the YYT Open Mic in Shanghai

April 19, 2015

YYT open mic

YYT open mic

BAHRAIN – So here I am writing about what I did during my time off in Shanghai, China, but from Bahrain where I am at the moment. I have 15 minutes free before I have to get down to work for the evening, so I decided to do what I could to reverse this trend of getting behind my little reports of life on the road at the open mics. I got behind in China for obvious reasons to readers of this blog – if you read the post before this one. But, yes, I did attend an open mic in Shanghai, and I did love it, and there were some really outrageous acts.

I had heard of the YYT open mic – for YuYinTang – for at least two years, but I never managed to get there. I think it’s because it happens on Monday nights, and I had to leave the country in recent years past. But this time around I was there Monday night so I took the immediately first opportunity to attend this open mic, and I’m glad I did.

Although when I arrived to find the room full of spectators, and a high, sizeable stage set up with drums, a half dozen guitars and other instruments, I thought, Oh, no, this is a jam session for a full band kind of situation. That meant so much for my solo bit with my guitar, and that of a Brazilian colleague of mine who I arranged to meet there.

In the end, I did not have to worry, as the YYT is really open to all kinds of acts, solo or otherwise. Oh, you’re at a disadvantage in that situation going solo, since the crowd gets really wild and hot when the bands go up. But I had plenty of thumbs-up signs from spectators through the evening after my two-song set early on. And they were immensely respectful during the songs.

The MC is a wonderful presenter, and if you had a case of the nerves, he’ll be there to warm you up, as he was with my colleague, going up and speaking between his songs in a Chinese that we could not understand, but that warmed the audience up further….

Of the outrageous acts, my favorite was the man with the rage. This was a Chinese guy who had a cool foreign backing band, with a slick lead and smooth bass player, but this man yelled, yelled, yelled with rage into the mic. Even the band was amused. Check it out.

The other fun band was the very young and inexperienced group that looked almost like teenagers, and who played almost exclusively Led Zeppelin songs, with the woman singing. Delightful!

Finally, I met the bass player, spoke to him afterwards, and found he was a Frenchman, longtime expat in Shanghai, with a talent for gypsy jazz, which he plays frequently in China.

Altogether worth attending ever time I get a chance!

A Celebration of My Father’s Life, an Obituary of David Carey Spurgeon

April 15, 2015

Spurgeon portrait

David Spurgeon

Today, it is with great sadness that I am announcing on my blog the death of my father, David Carey Spurgeon, who died on Saturday, April 11, in a hospital in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, two days after celebrating his 90th birthday. Although I rarely speak about my family on this blog, I am also announcing with a sense of pride, that I have decided to celebrate my father’s life and achievements here in a formal obituary that I wrote yesterday while waiting for my flight from Shanghai to Bahrain.

My father was a lifelong journalist, notably as science writer at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, and I have to say that a majority of the things that I know about the craft of journalism, I learned from him. I did so both through osmosis and his constant help. That help from him came especially in the early part of my journalism career, and especially in terms of his building up my confidence, at a time when I was receiving a barrage of rejection slips from editors for several years! He was my secret weapon against defeat, telling me what was right, or wrong, about my stories.Spurgeon of Arabia

Although I had considered for this blog to write some personal reminiscences about him, it occurred to me that as a first step, I’d rather take up the challenge of writing a newspaper-like obituary, impersonal, but factual; which is to say, the way that he spent most of his writing life, always trying to be objective, rarely putting himself in the story. I’ll let time take care of the rest of it, and perhaps some day in the future write something more. I have never before published an obituary of anyone, having only made one effort to do so in the past, and having had it rejected.

So here, for the moment, in my blog section of “Blog articles as opposed to posts,” is my obituary, of my father, a trailblazing Canadian science journalist, who covered most of the major science stories of the second half of the 20th century: David Spurgeon: A Life Devoted to Science, Communications and Living Well.

Bits of News from Shanghai – Breaking Through the Great Firewall & Les Yeux Ouverts

April 11, 2015

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

SHANGHAI, China – I think the only way to understand the frustration of trying to do a blog once a year for a few days in Shanghai is to come to Shanghai and try it yourself. Let me just say that the Chinese government control of the Internet is quite effective, even if there is such a thing that exists called a VPN, that allows persistent people to fight through the great firewall. I’m not feeling very energetic tonight, so I decided I will keep this post very short.

I just simply wanted to say that I have been in China since Wednesday, and I have not posted partly out of discouragement from the necessary pains trying to do so, and partly because I have not actually attended any open mics so far on this visit. I intend to attend open mics in the next two days, though, hopefully two open mics. And I will duly report on those. Both will be new experiences for me, as I have attended neither of them in the past.

I have been playing LOTS of music in my hotel room, though, as my last couple of weeks or whatever it was in Paris, I did little playing thanks to a new neighbor who hates music, and thanks to my own other occupations. So I have been going absolutely crazy playing in my hotel room with Shanghai lit up 18 floors beneath me.

My only other reason for posting is to mention on this blog a very worthwhile project that needs crowdfunding: My daughter, Emily, is working on an end-of-the-year short film project at her film school, the Ecole de la Cité, and she needs to raise a budget. The budget, it turns out, is a very real need. I spoke with her about where it goes, and if she is learning a lot at the film school, I’m learning a lot through her about what it takes to become a filmmaker – including where the budget goes!!! So go to her crowd fund-raising page and support her film: Yes Yeux Ouverts or what she is calling, Opening the Eyes in English. She has reached nearly 50 percent of her budget so far, and needs to get 100 percent, as you probably know in the principles of crowd fundraising.

Cabaret Culture Rapide Lit Up With New Cool Open Mic

April 7, 2015

cabaret culture rapide in the snow

cabaret culture rapide in the snow

PARIS – I have written quite often about the Cabaret Culture Rapide open mic night over the years, specifically the Friday night one that has changed MCs quite a bit, and also the Thursday night jam session. Now, the Thursday night jam has long ended and it has been replaced fairly recently by a new, wild, very open kind of open mic – and very English – that calls itself “Paris Lit Up.” It is run by the genial Jason Francis Mc Gimsey, and is open to music, spoken word, poetry, just about anything.

I do warn again that it is very English expat oriented, but it is also open to everything. Like all the other open mics at the Cabaret Culture Rapide, there is no microphone. Unlike the other open mics there in my experience, people at this one sit and listen religiously! There is complete silence during each person’s moment behind the mic, and that is wildly appreciated. It makes the need for a mic much less pressing….

The atmosphere is really one that reminds me a lot of one of the world’s best open mics, the Catweazle Club in Oxford, that I attend annually in June or July or whenever there’s a British Grand Prix. Very cool, with lively MCing, intelligence, anything goes.

Paris Lit Up is also part of a whole little group of writing, and a small press of the same name, which is why this is so cool and intelligent and laid back. I highly recommend checking it out at least once – and you’ll probably end up returning, as I know I will!

Merdekarya, Malaysia, Open Mic Revisted, Cool as Ever

March 29, 2015



Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Even halfway through the evening at the Merdekarya open mic in KL last night I could not remember for sure if I had been there one year ago, or two years ago, so fresh was the feeling of my last visit. It was only in consulting my blog this morning that I confirmed it was actually two years ago that I experienced Merdekarya this best open mic in Kuala Lumpur the previous time. It came back to me that last year I had some last-minute interviews to do in my job or something, and had to cancel out at the last minute. Last night, as I flailed around central KL to try to get a cab to this “suburban” open mic, I almost gave up.

But in the end, I got a cab, got back to the Merdekarya, and was so thankful that I pushed myself to get that cab: Over the last two years this exceptional open mic has grown even more exceptional, with a format that includes a concert by a featured band, and an open mic, almost every night of the week.

It is located in Petaling Jaya, which is kind of far from downtown KL, but it’s well situated if you live in Petaling Jaya! In any case, this year, a nice working air conditioner and some other building works done since I last visited meant that the loft-like location of the open mic was more comfortable than two years ago. But the vibe was the same.

You may be located in what appears to a foreigner like “the middle of nowhere” but once inside the venue – which is located above an open-front street-food-like restaurant, you feel like you could be in a New York City loft. And then when you hear some of the local musicians with their often exceptional vocals, you feel like you’re in a very with-it NYC loft. I still cannot understand quite why the pop music of Malaysia has not made a bigger splash internationally. The level of musicianship, songwriting and vocals here in Kuala Lumpur is exceptional.

OK, now that Merdekarya runs an open mic every night, my choice of attending on Saturday night was not the best in terms of the performers turn-out numbers. Still, there must have been five or six of us performing in the open mic and then the 1-hour long concert by the featured band, The Cotton Field Scarecrows. Apparently Friday night is the most popular night for the open mic. You can check out in advance by signing up for a slot on the Merdekarya web site in advance, with a well-honed system that ensures you don’t have to wait long for a confirmation.

The format now is that every month there is a rotation of featured artists playing once a week on a given day, with the artists changing each month. The Scarecrows were quite exceptional, even in what I was told afterwards was a stripped down version of the band, with only a bass, lead and acoustic guitar and vocals. Normally there are keyboards and drums, too. But I actually thought the stripped down, minimalist version had a fabulous haunting quality to it that I assumed was done on purpose. It was so strange to see what amounted to Americana – even in their original songs – being played and sung by Malaysians in this loft in a suburb of KL. Check it out for yourself with the videos I took….

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