Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The 27th Hour: Women’s Rights with TAC Teatro and others, in front of the Pompidou Center in Paris

May 11, 2019
bradspurgeon

Playing to the 27th Hour at the Pompidou – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

PARIS – Performing in front of the Pompidou Center last Sunday afternoon, I had my first taste of dancing in a choreography.  I feel often like the world’s worst dancer, and although music is at the center of my life, I hate dancing.  I love to watch fine dancers, I just feel that I cannot do it.  But the choreography on Sunday was in the form mostly of a kind of boxing movement, and we were in a big enough group that I felt I could fade into the mass and not be seen!  So why did I do such a thing in front of the famous Pompidou Center – and in front of several cameras filming it?

Simple:  I, like the other 14 or 15 people who took part in the performance – called “La 27ème heure” – was invited by Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro, with which I have performed occasionally over the last couple of years.  Most importantly:  The event was designed to fight violence against women.  Another detail for why I participated was that in addition to the dance, I was told I could sing a song and play my guitar. So that gave me the inspiration to try the rest….

https://ellepi.zenfolio.com/blog/2019/5/27-me-heure

So it was that the 15 or so artists, musicians, dancers, actors, had been rehearsing for several weeks to put together this street action in defence of women’s rights.   Although it came months after the usual day of women’s rights, TAC Teatro, which is new in France after several years of success in Italy, has since 2011 put on events annually in support of women’s rights in the streets in Milan, and Ornella was keen to continue this TAC tradition in France, with no need to fit any particular anniversary date.

For this, she put together this team of performers not only from her own group of artists who take part in her TAC Teatro high-level Monday morning actors’ training sessions, but also joined forces with the prestigious ARTA (Association de Recherche des Traditions de l’Acteur) based at the Cartoucherie in Paris, part of the Théâtre du Soleil group.

Choreography of the 27th Hour at the Pompidou – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

And so commenced several weeks of artistic creation for the Pompidou performance. Very early on the street action transformed from the kind of spectator participation event that TAC usually does into a performance in which the spectators were just that – invited to enter mentally into the performance, if not physically or vocally – and based on a choreography directed by Philippe Ducou, of ARTA. Ornella and the other artists proposed texts related to women’s rights.  

In addition to her experience in performing street actions for women’s rights at TAC Teatro, Ornella also has frequently staged the “Vagina Monologues” of the author Eve Ensler, in Italy, in Italian.  So several of the spoken texts came from excerpts of the “Vagina Monologues,” and were performed in several languages – French, English, Romanian, Vietnamese.

Ornella gave the event the name “La 27ème heure,” or “The 27th hour,” after an Italian study that showed that women have days that consisted of 26 hours – to take care of their jobs, their homes, their children, their husbands, etc. – where men need only 24 hours. The 27th hour is the hour that the women should have to be free and do as they please, to escape from their burden however they wish.

More choreography of the 27th Hour – Photo: © Morgana Stabile

In the end, we put on a 35-40 minute performance, ending with my singing of the 4 Non Blondes song “What’s Up!” as I circled the dancers and finally incited both the artists and the spectators to sing along.  Luca Papini, a Paris-based teacher, photographer and filmmaker – invited to the event by Ornella – made a 5-minute film of the performance and put it on his blog. It’s a fabulous tribute, and paints a beautiful picture of the event, so I am sharing the link to his blog item with the video.

Paddy’s Paris Songwriter Club at the Rebel Bar: One of Paris’s Most Intimate Open Mics

March 28, 2019
bradspurgeon

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

PARIS – I have written before about Paddy Sherlock and his fabulous Paris Songwriter Club open mic. But the last time I visited it was located on Sunday nights at the Tennessee bar in the Latin Quarter. Last September it moved to the O’Sullivan Rebel bar on the rue des Lombards, near Chatelet. I have now finally had the chance to attend, and I am happy to report that the move has done it some good. It is even more intimate than it was before, so much so that at the end of the evening it suddenly turned completely acoustic, and that much warmer still.

This bar used to have an open mic on the ground floor, run by Etienne Belin, who used to run the Coolin open mic, which was the bar where Paddy had a gig that lasted around two decades until they closed the place after Apple bought it and transformed it into an Apple Store. That sentence was purposefully a mess, as I write this blog item now a few days after attending Paddy’s open mic at the Rebel bar, and I continued to think about how I can sing its praises!

The new open mic takes place in the basement, vaulted ceiling room, and not on the ground floor, and this is a stroke of genius. Or at least a natural environment for it. The ground floor, in my opinion, was never quite right. Here in the basement room, there is just enough room to make it a packed evening of music and audience participation no matter how many people show up.

The only drawback to having it in the basement is that bar patrons from above must pass through the room of the open mic in order to get to the toilets. Having said that, this is a way to rope in some extra spectators who might have decided to drop into this popular bar without considering attending the open mic, and then they can get drawn in by the music.

There was an eclectic mix of music on Sunday, with everything from the usual singer songwriters showing off their new songs to even an actress showing off her new monologue. Frankly, it has been a long time since I have played in front of such an intimate audience, and it was challenging at first, but I eventually felt at home. And I will return as soon as I can….

The Sudden, Tragic Loss of Formula One’s Calm Anchor: Charlie Whiting (1952 – 2019)

March 14, 2019
bradspurgeon

Charlie Whiting

Charlie Whiting

The sudden death at age 66 in Melbourne of Charlie Whiting, the Formula One race director, official race starter, rules-writer and rock-solid leader in many other roles in the world’s premier racing series, hit me and anyone else who knew him even marginally as a complete shock. It also came in a dramatic manner the day before the new season’s first track action at the Australian Grand Prix, and while the series itself continues to pass through a transition from its old management – that of Bernie Ecclestone – to its new owners, Liberty Media. That Liberty Media asked Whiting three years ago to remain in the series just when he was contemplating retirement after a 40-year career in the series, and at the same time Liberty were preparing to fire Ecclestone, speaks volumes about the importance of this man to the smooth operation of the series.

But probably the thing that most comes to mind in all of the tributes from friends and colleagues around the world since his death last night is Whiting’s simplicity, kindness, sweetness and fairness as a human being. He was much loved by almost everyone in the series, despite having probably the most difficult job of all: to act at least in part as a rules enforcer and referee during both technical and human racing disputes. Whiting was one of the rare people in high positions who had no airs of self-importance, and he was hugely respected by the drivers – with whom he performed pre-race briefings at each event – and with the media and team personnel.

I had a wild first meeting with Whiting at the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1998 on the morning of the race. But it was wild for just about every external reason – later that day Formula One had the biggest multi-car pile-up in its history with 13 cars crashing in the first corner – rather than my interaction with Whiting himself being wild. I felt slightly nervous conducting this first interview with the race director – then in his second season in the role – but very quickly as I sat in his small office off the side of the paddock with the rain pounding down outside, I started to ask myself: “Does he appear to be more nervous than I am about our interview?” His manner put me quickly at ease.

I would conclude over the years that, no, he was not likely nervous during our interview. He simply had a very human, very natural way of speaking to a reporter, or a whole media center full of reporters, that felt very unlikely for a man of his power within the series. It was the same as he spoke to anyone in any circumstance, it seemed. There were no external facades put on to persuade anyone of anything. He had a balanced, calm, cool way of dealing with the problems at hand, and seemed so perfectly suited to being the dispute-defuser that he was, that it was clear to see why Ecclestone – and the International Automobile Federation – had trusted him from Whiting’s early days in the series working as a mechanic at Ecclestone’s Brabham team in the 1980s right up until today over his more than 20 years in his race director role.

Whiting, left, at press conference

Whiting, left, at press conference


As one paddock person after another (journalists, drivers, co-workers, and other related F1 people) have said today in their outpourings of grief, Whiting had time for everyone, and could be counted on. It is difficult to imagine how Formula One will cope in the coming season – or even beyond – without him.

In order to give some idea of the kind of life Charlie Whiting lived in his daily working life, I have decided to re-print on my blog the article I wrote outlining that weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998 when I met him. Before our meeting on the morning of the race, I had also been invited to spend the Friday practice session in the race control tower watching how Whiting and his team worked during the race action. That, too, turned out to be something of an historic, frantic session, as the cocky young reigning world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, decided to test his manliness by taking the series’ most wicked dangerous corner at full speed, and he paid the price with a spectacular accident into the barriers.

The story, which follows here, appeared in the International Herald Tribune on 11 Sept. 1998 as the race preview of the following race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza:

The atmosphere will be tense at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, not only in the battle between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher for the drivers’ title but also because it is the 20th anniversary at the Monza track of a 10-car pile-up that seriously injured two drivers and took the life of a third, Ronnie Peterson.

That anniversary might have passed unnoticed were it not for a stark reminder Aug. 30 at the Belgian Grand Prix when 13 cars were destroyed in one of the sport’s worst pile-ups. The fact that no driver was injured is partly a tribute to the strict safety rules now applied to the cars’ cockpits, which are much more solidly constructed than they were in 1978. But it is also due to luck.

Nowhere will the off-track tension be higher Friday in Monza than in the race control tower, where the most important safety decisions are made. During the Friday practice session in Belgium, this reporter was invited to watch the scene in what is normally the privileged domain of a handful of officials who have the best seat at the track. The 20 officials sat in deep concentration watching 39 television monitors in their room high above the track, in what looks like a cross between a TV station and NASA’s Mission Control.

When a car suddenly spun off sideways into a tire safety barrier at nearly 300 kilometers an hour (185 mph) , the silent watchers sprang to their feet and spoke into walkie-talkies and cellular telephones. ”Red flag! Red flag!” called out Charlie Whiting, the race director, to stop the practice session. ”Send the break-down truck,” another official barked. ”Go to the site,” ordered another, as Whiting put on his windbreaker to go to inspect the scene of the accident.

Jacques Villeneuve, the car’s driver, climbed out of the wreck and teetered like a boxer after absorbing an effective uppercut. But within 20 seconds, Sid Watkins, the track doctor, was by his side, having been dispatched to ”corner 3” by the control tower. Fortunately, Villeneuve was not hurt, and the session continued after a 15-minute track cleanup, done by the track-side workers following directions from the control tower.

The control tower is manned mostly by local officials, the most senior of whom is the so-called clerk of the course. They communicate with about 300 officials around the track. Whiting, who represents the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, oversees them all. As race director, he ensures that the locals do things the same way in every country. He is also the official race starter, which can turn the best seat in the house into the hottest seat.

Both the Monza accident 20 years ago and the recent accident in Belgium occurred on the first lap. Two hours before the Belgian race, while the rain fell in sheets across the track, David Coulthard, the British driver, pleaded with Whiting to start the race behind the safety car.

A safety car leads the racing cars, in their grid order, around the track until it drives off, allowing the race to start in earnest. This kind of rolling start – rather than a standing start – can reduce danger of cars fighting for places at the first corner through poor visibility on a slippery track.

”We’d like you to use the safety car because otherwise a lot of us are going to go off the track,” Coulthard said, ”and I’ll probably be one of them.”

But Whiting, at noon, could not give Coulthard a definitive answer for the race that would begin at 2 P.M. He was nervous about the treacherous conditions, but said he would decide only just before the race.

”You have to address every problem individually,” he said. ”The weather can change.”

By 2 o’clock it had cleared a little but the track was still wet under a light drizzle. The safety car was not used and Coulthard’s words proved strangely prophetic: He was the first to slide off the track at the start, setting off the chain-reaction pileup.

After the race Villeneuve said the use of the safety car wouldn’t have made a difference, while Alexander Wurz said the safety car should have been used. Whiting said that the safety decisions are always ”a human thing as opposed to a machine.”

“Back in 1969:” No Reserve at Le Reservoir in Eric Dufaure and Private Pepper’s Public Bash

February 24, 2019
bradspurgeon

Back in 1969

Back in 1969

PARIS – Eric Dufaure is something of a maverick: He was the boss of EMI music publishing in France at the turn of the current century; he was a top director of the Sacem music rights organisation in France; he founded a record label (Cachalot Records); he has produced albums by some of France’s top recording artists, including Lio and Bernard Lavilliers, among many others. He was raised in a bicultural family, with an Irish-American mother, and his education was about the same eclectic mix: Science Po and a history degree in France, along with an MBA from Harvard Business School. If that isn’t enough, he is also a musician himself, playing primarily keyboards, guitar and singing, and directing a band called Private Pepper.

Eric Dufaure

Eric Dufaure

Until last November, I had only vaguely heard about Dufaure thanks to his Private Pepper band’s musical bashes at the Paris food, music and dance hall called, Le Reservoir. Then I attended one as a spectator, then last Tuesday, I ended up performing onstage at one – and having the time of my life playing Bob Dylan’s “Lay lady lay,” as each event marks the 50th anniversary of a year’s pop and rock music, and now, of course, we are 50 years on from 1969, when the Dylan song came out on his “Nashville Skyline” album.

Having now had experience on both sides of the proscenium arch at Eric’s musical evenings, I can write this post with a perfect knowledge of the fun and extraordinary organization that constitutes Eric’s series of concerts at Le Reservoir, all called “Back in…” and then whatever the year happens to be (i.e., Tuesday it was “Back in 1969.”). It is clear that his business background sets the tone for a perfect package of organisation for both the audience and the musicians: Each show presents a two-part string of the hits of the chosen year, played mostly with the backing of the Private Pepper band – which included on Tuesday a bassist, Nicolas Chelly, lead guitar player, Laurent Pradeau, drummer, Seb de Laleu and Eric on keyboards – with each special guest singing one of the hits from the period.

Here is a small compilation of some of the acts from Tuesday that I filmed with my new Huawei telephone, and which I think I will never use again unless I can improve the sound and image!:

But it is not ONLY the “house band” that puts on the show, as the band is often joined by special guest musicians, and sometimes the entire stage is full of all of the performers of the evening at once, or occasionally someone will take over keyboards or guitar or go solo. In any case, I felt incredibly honoured to be part of this, and saw that for the musicians, everything is also done behind the scenes to prepare the best possible outcome: A day of rehearsals precedes the event, and then a soundcheck the night of the event is followed by a meal at Le Reservoir before the show starts.

An impeccable organization, and a huge opportunity for so many of us who do not often perform on this kind of stage in what seems to be invariably a packed house of diners and drinkers and dancers for each show. To say nothing of the mix between Eric’s musician friends and major stars of the French pop music world. The whole is a deliciously slick production for the paying spectators – dinner is optional, but great – as well as for the performers.

Last Tuesday they included Lio, who has had several hits in her long career going back to 1979; and Laura Mayne, whose duet “Native,” also had hits, among her other many successes, including doing the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Walt Disney film. On Tuesday, Lio showed why she rose to the top of her show business profession when she fractured her ankle after the rehearsal on Monday, but showed up on crutches Tuesday night to perform in the show anyway. A real trooper, as they say.

For myself, finding there were none of the songs available that I sometimes do from 1969 – “Something” (done by Dom Hutton) and “Space Oddity,” (done by Emmanuel Tellier) – I decided to learn “Lay lady lady,” as I have always fooled around with what I imagined the chords of the song to be, without ever learning it. In the end, I was up as the third act of the night, and did it solo, with my Gibson J-200, the same model that Dylan holds on his album cover.

It was a fabulous feeling to play in front of this packed house of what felt like between 200 and 400 people, and I was thankful to be so early on the bill so that I could enjoy the rest of the night without pressure listening to all the other artists. Incidentally, I was not the only journalist-cum-musician playing there, as there was also the American journalist Mark Lee Hunter, and the aforementioned Emmanuel Tellier.

Crazy Mad Wall of “Frontière Nord” at the Cartoucherie in Paris (France, not Texas)

February 17, 2019
bradspurgeon

Frontiere Nord

Frontiere Nord

PARIS – Could there be a better time to be staging plays about the building of walls to separate peoples? Could there be a better play to show to Donald Trump about the significance of building walls than “Frontière Nord,” a play written in 2007 by the Canadian playwright, Suzanne Lebeau? After all, it was written for children (of all ages). My guess, though, is that Trump would never understand the messages of this play, even in the brilliantly produced and performed version that we saw at the Théâtre du Soleil last night – to say nothing of Trump’s certain lack of understanding of the French language. But what was so fabulous about this production by the visiting Montpellier “Théâtre de l’Evidence,” is that it speaks to the spectator on so many different levels of language – music, dance, vocal expression, mime, and above all of intensity of emotion – that it is unlikely any spectator can see it without some sense of the stifling nature of building walls between societies.

I’ve been thinking a lot in recent weeks about exactly what constitutes great theater, as I work on a personal theater project with TAC Teatro and its director Ornella Bonventre; and as I just had my story published in The Stage all about Paris’s 30 minuscule theatres of fewer than 50 seats; and after also seeing yet another piece in one of those theaters last week. The latter was the one-man-show enacting the “Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol at the Tremplin Théâtre in Montmartre. Some of these thoughts came to me during and after that production, directed by Stéphanie Slimani, with the actor Sylvain Zarli, attempting to adapt the classic Russian story to the stage using many of the elements of physical theater, including the introduction of another character beyond the human presence in the form of a dog puppet.

And it is this question of text vs. physical action that really preoccupies me. Most of the plays we see in Paris have to do with the text, and the talk the actors do around that text. The use of the physical to express another world is far too often an afterthought. This is where “Frontière Nord” director, and founder of the Théâtre de l’Evidence, Cécile Atlan, not just excels but in my view works like a virtuoso.

Puppet in Hand in Frontière Nord

Puppet in Hand in Frontière Nord


The play took place at the Cartoucherie in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, in an annex space of the famous Théâtre du Soleil, founded and run by Ariane Mnouchkine since 1970. (Actually, her company was founded in 1964, but they have been at the former munitions factory since 1970, in a wonderland of theater that if you have not yet been there, you have to go.) The atmosphere of the place is more than convivial: Food and drink is served before and after the show, the room probably seats a maximum of 100 or so people, and you can usually meet the artists afterwards for a drink. The show was also presented in conjunction with the ARTA (Association de Recherche des Traditions de l’Acteur) research center at the Cartoucherie.

The live music is provided by the “Trio Zéphyr,” also based in Montpellier. Trio Zéphyr consists of three women string players – violin, viola and cello – who have been performing together for 19 years, and whose vocals are as sweet as their stringed instruments. The music comes from a rich assemblage of classical, modern and world music influences, and while it was composed by the trio for the trio – Marion Diaques, Claire Menguy and Delphine Chomel – and not for the play, Atlan worked specifically with pieces she chose or the trio suggested, adapting the performance and the pieces together.

Frontiere Nord at Théâtre du Soleil

Frontiere Nord at Théâtre du Soleil

The synthesis of the whole is just stunning, as the music adds brilliant drama to the already dramatic situation: The sudden appearance of a wall being built to separate people from the north and the south – and everywhere in between. It is a multiracial cast, too, by the way, with a total of eight actors – three men and five women – plus the trio of musicians, always present and visible off to the side, and sometimes involved practically physically in the action.

I cannot emphasize enough the quality of every element of this show: The actors are 100 percent in character the moment they arrive onstage, and the intensity of their performance is practically physically palpable throughout. The show was about 90 minutes long, and I was not bored for a moment. It was the third show I have now seen in the last year in this room – ranging from a fabulous amateur group’s production to the most recent show of Odin Teatret, called “The Tree” – and it kept me dreaming and asking questions and confronting ideas throughout (as had Odin’s show).

Trio Zéphyr

Trio Zéphyr


In many ways, I felt like I was watching a piece of ancient Greek theater, with the fabulous use of a chorus technique that continued throughout the play, and consisted of three or four characters speaking in unison much of the text. It was a highly stylized production, disconnected from everyday reality, that lifts the spectator into a world about as far from popular text-based theater as you can get.

The use of the puppet character was also beautifully done and added another dimension, and of course it is not surprising since early in her career, Lebeau had studied puppetry. Having started as an actress the 1960s, the Québecoise began devoting herself to writing plays in the mid-1970s and is now one of Canada’s most successful playwrights, especially as an export. I found it very interesting that at the same time as the main Théâtre du Soleil is putting on the production that became a huge controversy in Canada of the play “Kanata” – its Québecois director, Robert Lepage, was criticized for doing a play about the country’s indigenous people without using an indigenous actor (he is using Mnouchkine’s troupe, which personally makes sense to me, but that’s another story) – this other theater at the Cartoucherie is staging a play by another Quebecois that SHOULD be noticed by as many people as Kanata because of its very important subject matter in our day of Trumpian walls…but also, fittingly, in this day of the “Gilets Jaunes.”

“In this story,” said Atlan (in my translation from the French), “the building of a wall destined to create a border has dramatic consequences: Loss of jobs, uprooting of populations, isolation of families, suffering of children…the work exposes the question of freedom, and what humanity does with it. This wall leads to all of the barriers, both visible or invisible, that deprives humankind of its liberty.”

Theatre du Soleil Nefs

Theatre du Soleil Nefs


The play, appealing to almost all the senses – it also has fabulous costumes, by the way – and through a physical theater of an exceptional level, manages to communicate this message to the spectator in a powerful way that the written word or current events alone cannot come close to. That, I suppose, is precisely what makes great theater.

FRONTIÈRE NORD
at the Théâtre du Soleil, from 08 to 24 February 2019

One Year of the Bootleg Open Mic in Paris – The Real Thing

February 7, 2019
bradspurgeon

The Bootleg Bar

The Bootleg Bar

PARIS – In the music industry, the word bootleg is used to describe an unauthorized album or recording. In the music scene in Paris, the word is synonymous with one of the city’s best open mics – that of the Bootleg bar on the rue de la Roquette, off the Bastille. This week the venue celebrated its one year and more than 50 events of existence, and I decided to attend to check out a place I have not been to for while.

A reminder: The Bootleg grew out of the former Rush Bar open mic, when for a short period of time the Rush bar had changed owners and ceased to run the open mic. So the people who ran that open mic moved to the Bootleg bar and picked up where they left off. In the meantime, the Rush bar got a new set of open mic operators and returned to its former glory attracting musicians from all over.

I attended several of the Bootleg open mics in the first year, but I have not been for a long while. I am happy to report that it is even better than before, judging by my experience on Monday, when I went and found among many others, a couple of musicians I used to play with at the former Baroc bar open mic, and together we did a short set, and set the tone for several more sets by other musicians deciding to go with the band.

All in all, it was a warm, satisfying evening, beautifully organized, as usual, by the wonderful musician Charlie Seymour.

This is no Bootleg open mic. This is the real thing! I’ll be happy to return when I can. And hopefully it will have another great year ahead of it again.

Open Mic Purgatory Page

February 3, 2019
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

PARIS – In further reference to my post of yesterday where I speak of yet another open mic that has been closed down for reasons linked to a Draconian attack by the authorities against live music in Paris, I have decided far too late to create a section on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music on which I will place the bars and venues that had open mics until they were attacked by the authorities and told that they had to stop until further notice.

I have put this list there because I realize that over the last couple of years I have had to wipe out one after the other from my list, and the hope is that eventually these open mics will return. So people who are curious can check up the names of those in purgatory to see if they are running or not. I wish, for instance, that I had been able to put the information of the open mic at La Féline bar into that area, but I just wiped it off the page once I learned that La Féline was permanently closed due to these attacks by the authorities.

Anyway, so check out the page and its new purgatory section, which will also serve as a kind of epitaph to each of these wonderful establishments (or at least their former open mics). You will find it on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

Here is an article from Libération that talks about this sad phenomenon of closing of live music joints in Paris – which has been reported widely elsewhere as well.

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