Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Cool Time at Jack Doyle’s Open Mic in Budapest

July 25, 2014
bradspurgeon

jack doyle's budapest

jack doyle’s budapest

BUDAPEST – Budapest is one of the coolest, swingingest and musical cities I know of. It is one of the cities with the seemingly youngest hippest populations. There are sectors of the city that look like Berlin ( – or rather, what I imagine Berlin to be like, since I’ve never been there!!!!). But there is the weirdest thing about this city: I have a hard time finding open mics here, year after year. Open mics and jams and their venues last such a short period of time that they disappear fast. Or maybe it is just not in the mentality of the place – but that seems unlikely, since the open mics I HAVE attended have always been great.

Last night, therefore, I was really pleased to see that the open mic I discovered last year – or whenever it was – and that takes place at the Irish pub called Jack Doyle’s, right near the busy pedestrian tourist trap street of Vaci, still exists.

Jack Doyle’s is a pretty typical Irish pub, with the nice touch of a little library and reading area at one end, and a small stage located centrally in the room so providing great viewing and excellent sound for all spectators.

In fact, the sound system last night was really amazing, and I don’t remember it being that good last year. The vocals came through so crisp, so clear, and you could even hear yourself singing and playing. The guitars might have done better to be a little louder, but that was ok.

It turns out that the Irish owner/manager of the place used to work in the Coolin in Paris! It turns out he is friends with John Murphy, the once upon a time MC of the musical activities at the once upon a time Beckett’s Irish pub in Budapest, that was closed in January. So it is a small, small world – well, especially in the international world of Irish pubs!

From a New Pub to an Old, Amazing Times in Historic Heidelberg

July 20, 2014
bradspurgeon

Heidelberg castle

Heidelberg castle

HEIDELBERG, Germany – Just when I started feeling depressed about the idea of ever finding – or rather not finding – an open mic or jam session in Heidelberg, I stumbled upon an historic, amazing, astounding student pub and restaurant called Zum Seppl, in the old town. It may not have been a classic open mic or open jam joint of the kind I try to find to play in, and I may not have played there myself last night, but not only was there music all evening long by a piano player, there was a sudden eruption later on of restaurant patrons launching into what seemed like traditional German songs, with a freedom and fun attitude and feeling equal only to the best open mics.

I discovered that the extraordinary look and atmosphere in this restaurant, and the amazing cragged wooden tables, were so astounding because this place has been a restaurant since at least 1703! Check out the link above to find out more about it, but for the moment I just want to say that if you ever get a chance to visit Heidelberg, drop in to this student pub. Heidelberg is a university town, and it and its already ruined castle were an inspiration to the German Romantics – including Goethe himself – already a hundred years after this student restaurant was a student restaurant.

It also has a tradition as a brewery, and the beer was great. But the food was fabulous too. I cannot quite describe the atmosphere and look of this place, so take in my iPhone’s look at it all – and the singing.

And Before that, It Was Off to a Karaoke at O’Reilly’s pub in Heidelberg

The night before I had settled for O’Reilly’s pub on the other side of the river, a classic Irish pub of the kind I find all over the world. O’Reilly’s has a karaoke on both Friday and Saturday nights, in the back room. It’s a fabulous little stage, a wonderful amphitheater-like room, and a great MC. The only problem with the place is that with such a great setup, they really should invest in better mics or other sound system materials to make sure that the voices in the karaoke can be heard in all their glory.

I feel as if I have succeeded in singing in karaokes only maybe once before – i.e., whenever I sing covers with my guitar I do them differently than the original, so I usually fail utterly in karaokes. But on Friday night, I found myself deciding to risk singing a song I barely know on my guitar, and have never tried in a karaoke: Born to Run. Somehow, the key was perfect and I was able to sing along in a way that felt wonderfully powerful. It was a real joy, and I fear I might try more karaokes….

Still, I’m overwhelmingly upset that aside from a jazz jam club at Cave 54 that has a jam on Tuesdays, I have still not found any of the kind of open mics that I seek out, and this looks set to be the first time in years that I have failed to find one in a new city I have visited. I chose Heidelberg because I thought it was the most culturally strong city in the area near the Hockenheim racetrack, and I think that remains true. So why is there not more live music in this student center of the region?!?

http://www.heidelberger-kulturbrauerei.de/en/

Wait, Now Where Was I Again? Oh, Yes, From Oxford and the Harcourt to Paris and the Sous Marin on the Mouffe

July 15, 2014
bradspurgeon

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

The world has been too much with me of late as I spent my last evening in Oxford playing at the fabulous Harcourt Arms open mic on Sunday night, and then coming to Paris where I got caught up in life of a different kind before stumbling into the open mic of the Rue Mouffetard on Friday night that I had never attended, and then….

Well, getting robbed of my new, three-day-old iPhone 5c as I took a cab from the open mic on the rue Mouffe to an historic mansion in the Marais where I then jammed for a while with interesting new acquaintances before I left and returned the next day to buy an iPhone 5s, since I would not accept that my quality of life be reduced by a thieving taxi driver!

And then yesterday as I wrote my articles for my newspaper in the park Montsouris by using the iPhone 5s as an Internet connection for my MacBook Pro, I then realized tonight – too late – that this fabulous discovery comes at my own expense as I just uploaded the videos you see on this page from the iPhone connection and…used more than two thirds of my annual 4G free Internet connection from Orange France in order to do so!!!!!! (And will have to pay soon to continue using Internet via 4G!!!) So I hope you enjoy these very costly video uploads!

:-)

(that’s a smiley of desperation in the guise of a headline, even if it may not appear to be such)

Yes, so, let’s take a step back for a moment after that load of yelling and ranting.

The Harcourt Arms is a fabulous, down-to-earth open mic in Oxford run by the same man who ran the open mic at the Bookbinders Pub for many years, and who has been running another at a pub next to the bus station in recent weeks. It is a classic open mic in a classic British pub, and after now having attended for several years, I can only say that I will return every chance I have. Two songs to start with, and a third if there is still time.

I had discovered the open mic at the Sous Marin bar on the rue Mouffetard a couple of months ago, but I had never actually managed to get there until Friday. It runs every Friday from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and it turns out to be a fabulous open mic in the great spirit of “anything goes” and “let’s not worry about the quality of the sound, but just have fun.”

The Sous Marin is a tiny bar with tables against the left wall as you enter from the front door to the tiny bar in the back. You can barely find a place to stand or sit, and it’s everyone shoulder to shoulder and chatting away like mad. But the ambience is absolutely perfect for a “let’s have fun” open mic, and that’s exactly what I did.

The “stage” area is right in front of the door by the street with the big front floor-to-ceiling pane glass window leading into the rue Mouffetard, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris and full of people passing all the time. So it is that the pedestrians and passersby will see the musicians all night, and the bar may thin out but it will never empty out. In short, you feel like you are singing in the street – and you might as well be.

A great new addition to the open mic world of Paris!

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Oxford Edition

July 14, 2014
bradspurgeon

Oxford

Oxford

My 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.

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

Playing at the Fabulous F1 FanZone in London

July 6, 2014
bradspurgeon

F1 FanZone

F1 FanZone

F1 Fanzone stage in London

F1 Fanzone stage in London

LONDON, England – It was not a dream come true, really, as I never expected to end up on the fabulous covered outdoor stage of the F1 FanZone in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London playing my songs and some covers to a crowd of F1 fans and with part of the London skyline as backdrop. But that’s precisely what I did late Saturday afternoon, along with Joe Cady on lead guitar and violin.

I had seen the F1 FanZone at previous races, and there had been some talk of me taking to the stage to sing a song or two. But it never happened, until a week or two ago I was invited to take part in the first time the FanZone has set up its bigtop in London, in conjunction with the British Grand Prix, which I came to report on this weekend at Silverstone, an hour’s drive away.

Brad Spurgeon on stage at F1 FanZone in London

Brad Spurgeon on stage at F1 FanZone in London

The FanZone is a fabulous concept, a kind of gaming zone where spectators can test their pit stop skills, their reaction times, their driving acumen and other things all in a portable theme park that travels along with the Formula One series. It is usually set up quite close to the venue – as in Monaco or Abu Dhabi – but this time, it was set up in London in order to allow spectators who could not attend the race to see all the action live on the the giant screens beside the stage.

For that’s one of the main draws of the F1 FanZone: It has the rights to show the live broadcast of the racing action over the weekend. For me the other attraction is clearly that big, beautiful stage where the FanZone also puts on acts throughout the weekend. This weekend, for instance, it had the band of Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One team owner (who pulled out at the last minute and sent a replacement drummer!); like a huge British beatbox band called “Duke,” like a famous cheerleading group of dancers and a band from Leeds called Skinny Living. Oh, and me.

I only got to see a part of the the Skinny Living set, as I had to rush off to collect Joe Cady at just that moment at the Stratford International station, where he had just arrived from his trip over from Paris on the Eurostar. So I managed to get a few bits of video of Skinny Living, but not much more. (Also, it was very windy, and that had some weird effect on the camera – or on me, or on both – so it’s very jerky.)

Joe and I took to the stage for a half-hour set at 4:30, advanced at the last minute to make way to vacate the stage immediately afterwards for the autograph signing of the Formula One reserve driver, Charles Pic.

Unfortunately, the only rain of the day began to fall just as Joe and I took to the stage, so some of the audience ran for cover under the various events tents, but our music was piped in and broadcast throughout the FanZone, and it was a pure fantastic pleasure to play on such a cool stage. The soundmen had come straight from working with a few supergroups at the Glastonbury Festival, and their fabulously professional work made me feel totally at ease, and in my element as I sang my songs and some covers.

Brad Spurgeon after performance at F1 FanZone in London

Brad Spurgeon after performance at F1 FanZone in London

The set list as I recall it (it was written in advance and then improvised as befit the feeling of the moment) was: “Mad World,” “Crazy Lady,” “Borderline,” “Wicked Game,” “What’s Up!” and “Not Much in the Mood.” So that was three covers and three originals, and I had at least three more originals planned, but the Formula One driver arrived in a helicopter and the fans were waiting for their autograph signing, so we cleared the stage and handed it over to the real star of the day.

I was then kindly offered a helicopter ride back to Silverstone by the organizer, but I had an appointment in a nearby record store to buy a bunch of CDs, and then a table waiting at an Indian restaurant. I opted for the latter, and had a leisurely evening in London, no doubt my best visit to the British Grand Prix so far…. (Oh, yes, and the race turned out to be extraordinary too!)

Astounding Night at Catweazle in Oxford – also a Warmup for F1 FanZone in London Tomorrow

July 4, 2014
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – Arriving in Oxford yesterday for my coverage of the British Grand Prix in nearby Silverstone, I had written down on my mental agenda that there was no way in the world I would miss attending one of the coolest open mics in the world: Catweazle. Little did I know that it would be a classic edition, and that it would finish with a bang as the musicians of a traveling circus now in a stopover in Oxford decided to take to the stage to close off the night – and they drove everyone mad… mad enough for several to drop into a nearby pub afterwards, where the circus musicians could not resist another moment of music on the pub piano….

Catweazle has existed for well over 20 years, and it even spawned a few branch offices in places like London, New York and I think somewhere in Canada. I don’t know how many of those still exist, but the original one, here in Oxford, and run and MC’d by Matt Sage, is the one and only as far as I’m concerned.

What makes it so special? Like any successful open mic, it has to do with the MC and the location and the idea/approach/zeitgeist. Catweazle is run by the smooth talking, funny and worldly Matt – worldly, but very Oxford anchored…. The format is that anything goes, but that it is always done in a purely acoustic set up: no mics for the voice and no amps for the instruments. It’s also poetry, acting, comedy, whatever you want. The singers get one or two songs, the poets one or two poems. I’ve seen bands close off with more numbers when they are exceptional, and that turned out to be the case last night when there was a surprise visit by the musicians of Giffords Circus.

Giffords Circus is a classic European-style one-ring circus with a cross-section of typical acts, including clown, juggling, unicycling and animals. And the band is supercool. These three guys come from similar musical backgrounds, each with his own specialty. But the formation last night was acoustic guitar, percussion and piano and a little singing. Check out the videos – I could have been better placed, but you get a great idea of their wacky-coolness.

And Off to the F1 FanZone in London Where I’ll Perform a Set Tomorrow

F1 Fanzone stage in London

F1 Fanzone stage in London

The F1 FanZone is a racing game, activity and live feed on large screens area that follows Formula One around the world at certain races – I’ve seen them in Abu Dhabi and Monaco and one or two other places – and this weekend they have set up the area at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, where the Olympics took place. I’ve been invited to perform a set tomorrow, Saturday, at 4:55 p.m., and I’m very hyped up about it. The stage looks fabulous, as you can see in the photo on this page. There will be other very interesting acts, too, like Eddie Jordan’s band tonight, and the Duke beatbox band and another interesting electro-acoustic band from England called Skinny Living. (Jordan, by the way, is a former Formula One team owner who plays the drums and who has played around the world with the series as I have, but generally in much better circumstances than the bars I hang out in!)

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 8th Installment: Aaron Bowen, Marjorie Martinez, Karim Kanal, Zucco San, Joe Psalmist and the usual compilations from Uncut and Mojo

June 28, 2014
bradspurgeon

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

For my eighth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the seventh of which ran on 21 Jan. - I have a whopping collection of something like 10 CDs from various sources, but unique so far in this column, all but the compilations from Mojo and Uncut are from musicians I have met and heard since that last instalment at open mics and through other person connections. None, that is to say, is really well-known.

The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy

As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T do exercises. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.

I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.

Aaron Bowen and His Paul Simon-like Vocals and Virtuoso Guitar Playing

Aaron Bowen Karaoke Fallback Plan

Aaron Bowen Karaoke Fallback Plan

I first heard Aaron Bowen playing at an open mic in Paris a few months ago, and heard enough in the din of chatter, television and pub noise to think that this guy had some kind of real and individual talent, both vocal and on guitar. So it was with no hesitation at all that when I saw he was doing a short concert at another venue that I decided to go and give a listen. When he announced at the end of that show that he had some CDs for sale, I immediately went on my attack and took both. Hailing from San Diego, and just on one of his many visits to Paris, Aaron Bowen has an ethereal sound and fairly involved lyrics, but ultimately an often fast-moving, classic pop-sound to his melodies and rhythms. And his vocals so often sound like Paul Simon, it’s astounding. From intricate fingerpicking to rambunctious strumming, Bowen puts his own being into the performance, and on the CDs you’re still left with a strong, melodious, imaginary world. The first album is “The Karaoke Fallback Plan,” which in no way resembles karaoke, and the other is his latest album, “The Quarryman’s Footbath.” They can be listened to many times, too, these CDs, as you delve into the lyrics and add dimensions to your understanding, slowly, as the full sound is not evident on first listen – i.e., this is not bubblegum pop music lyrics, but more comparable to the kind of involved Paul Simon stuff of that writer’s maturity.

Marjorie Martinez, the Bluesy, Jazzy, Pop Lady of Nice

Marjorie Martinez

Marjorie Martinez

I first heard and met Marjorie Martinez in Nice when I showed up for the open mic jam session of Wednesday night at the Shapko bar and discovered that it had changed days and I had stepped into a gig by Marjorie. She invited me to play if I wanted to, though, and then a sax player joined her, and the night took on the aspect of a jam…before she returned to playing her gig. I saw her a few nights later playing out front of a restaurant with a bass player and keyboard player. By then, I had already listened to her two CDs that I had grabbed that first night, having been enthralled by her guitar playing, vocals, her musicality in general. Think Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Bonnie Raitt. In fact, Marjorie Martinez is a little bit of all them – with a very strong talent for jazz singing as well. She is, it turns out, a major attraction in the Nice music scene, playing all over the place, and recording with some fabulous musicians when not entertaining live. The two CDs that she was selling were both different, with her quartet, being much more jazz-oriented, and the other, called “Travelin’ Alone,” being more pop – middle-of-the-road U.S. country rock style pop, and all in English, her own compositions included. But it’s not easy to pigeon-hole this funky, rocking’ guitar player singer, and even on the album with the quartet her cover songs are by Jimi Hendrix, Lennon and McCartney and Janis Joplin….

The Constrasting Sounds of Joe Psalmist, Zucco San and Karim Kanal

Joe Psalmist

Joe Psalmist

It has taken me three years or so to hear Joe Psalmist in his full band and CD-mode. His new CD, “If I don’t praise you Lord,” is just what it sounds like: One long praise to the Lord in the form of dance and gospel and bluesy melody music from this Spanish expat from Nigeria. I first hear Joe playing his keyboards and singing along at an Irish pub open mic in Barcelona a few years ago and we kept in touch. But we did not meet up again until he invited me to his open mic in April, and I found his vast cross-section of musical vocal talents ranging from classic rock to blues to gospel. This CD is just one long pure praise the Lord hymn of 12 songs that really move you….

Zucco San‘s single “Undefinite Time,” by comparison was a real discovery for me from a musician I have heard in more open mics around Paris than just about any others. I’m used to hearing Zucco’s airy, Jeff Buckley interpretations and other interpretations of classic pop and rock. He almost always wows his audiences with his application and raw emotion; so it was really interesting to hear his voice in a recording like this and see what dimensions it can take in a recording studio. I never had the occasion to hear Zucco San outside of the open mic situation until he invited a friend and I to a showing of some videos and short films he worked on in his other role as actor and musician, and he had some of the CDs there. The music video for Undefinite Time” and the music he wrote for the short film, Toi Femmes, were superb as well.

Karim Kanal

Karim Kanal

Karim Kanal is the only musician here that I have not met. He is my girlfriend’s sometime guitar teacher and a musical mentor at the fabulous Centre Musical Barbara, Fleury Goutte d’Or in Paris, which exists to help nurture young musicians. His CD, “Espace(s),” of his guitar compositions, part lead, part fingerpicking, struck me as a kind of world music fusion jazz kind of thing, that even though it is nowhere near the kind of orchestration of a Weather Report, has a lot of the feel and melody style of such compositions. There’s a little bit of a Pat Metheny feel to this too….

Uncut, Mojo Compilations Give Me a Revelation – at Least to Me

Maybe this is not new as an idea for anyone else, and I never claimed to be a music critic or expert, so what seems new to me is no doubt old hat to those in the know, but when I was listening to the recent batches of compilations from Uncut and Mojo of the latest best music around – according to them – I suddenly had a revelation. I was listening, in particular, I think, to the CD from Mojo for the month of May called “Death Disco” and including such artists from the past and present as Felt, Orange Juice, Bush Tetras, Sonic Youth, The Fall, Young Marble Giants, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, The Nightingales and others, and then I was listening to the Uncut compilation “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” followed by the Uncut compilation called “One For the Road,” with lots more recent bands, and suddenly, I said to myself that a lot of the new music around today that has a folk feel to it, using acoustic or only quietly used electronic instruments sounds like the spitting image of the electro music of the 1980s, but yes, with acoustic, “traditional” stringed and keyboard instruments. It is the heart and soul of electro, with similar melodic approaches and vocal styles, but not with electronic instruments. So, is this an original thought, or am I showing my ignorance and there’s already a name for it…?

I may well have been simply over-intoxicated by my morning exercises and the endorphins that coursed through my system, augmented by the same sent via the music….

Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my eighth edition since I started doing this in April of last year….

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