Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Another Dream Missed in Osaka: Two Minutes Too Late for Bluegrass Night

October 10, 2013

bluegrass in japan

bluegrass in japan

OSAKA, Japan – And so my second night in Osaka ended up being a near repeat of the freaky first night that I documented below. I worked in my hotel room all night and having not found any threads for open mics I decided early on that I’d just take my guitar out and scour the streets around the hotel, since I had seen live music advertised in one bar or venue after another. It turned out that my best opportunity was right beneath my feet….

I walked out of the hotel and took the back stairs since the escalator to my hotel – Hotel Floral Inn Namba – was moving in the wrong direction. Walking through the hall to the street exit I saw a door open to a cellar room called, “Another Dream,” which is one of the many “Live Houses” offering live music, that are all over Japan. The concept is similar to an open mic in that a Live House is open to pros and amateurs, anyone who wants to play. The difference is that you rent the room and try to fill it up with spectators to pay the rent….

Well, it turns out that on the second Wednesday of every month – ie, yesterday – at “Another Dream,” the room is rented out by a Japanese bluegrass band, and it’s a full-on, live bluegrass night. I discovered this was right under my feet all along, and I didn’t know about it. I walked into the large venue room to find a fabulously decorated Live House looking like a New York jazz bar, and getting off the stage just as I arrived, were a bunch of Japanese musicians dressed in distinctly hill billy clothes, and with mandolins, double bass, guitars, banjoes, etc., in hand.

I had just missed by two minutes the once-per-month bluegrass night – which goes from 7:30 to 10:00, every second Wednesday of the month. I rarely put up anyone else’s videos on this blog, but since I was not able to make a video of the music myself, and I have found someone else’s video of the sam musicians and same venue, I have decided to put it up. I spoke to the hayseed mandolin player on the left of the video last night.

I left this failed dream and did a long, long walk all around the area and failed once again to find the open mic venue that I had found adveertised on the Internet, just as I had failed the night before…. this was a different venue, however. But despite seeing a few other live houses, I found nowhere to play myself. It is a massively vibrant city musically, however, and I hope to have more luck when I pass through again next monday.

Lost in the Streets of Osaka, Found a Busker

I DID manage to hear a little live music in the end, though, in the form of this wonderful busker on the street, who passed out a flyer advertising another live house, called JT Volcano. She was a volcano herself, as you can see in my short video of her:

A Trip of a Day, Through Life in a Way, in Paris on a Bastille Fête Weekend

July 14, 2013

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

PARIS – Ultimately, my Saturday in Paris yesterday was a very personal thing, but in another way, it belongs entirely on this blog as it started with some themes recently expressed here, and it ended with a surprise musical interlude of the kind I love.

I was thinking of driving off to Deauville for the day, as there was sun and heat and it really isn’t that far. In then end, I decided to go to the Musée d’Orsay and profit by the sun and heat of Paris. But on the way there, I decided to go to the amazing crime writing library, the Bilipo that is behind the fire station on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th Arrondissement that I wrote about on the blog the other day. I wanted to check out the mystery magazines and maybe see if there were any of the people I knew there.

So I went to the Bilipo, thumbed the pages of the mystery magazines from England, France and the U.S. and then I spoke to Catherine Chauchard, the longtime director of the library. It turned out that we shared a passion for the band Moriarty, and ended up talking as much about music as crime literature.

From there I went off towards the Seine and ended up stopping for a salad in the park of the St. Julien le Pauvre church next to the oldest tree in Paris, planted in 1602. This, of course, was right next to Shakespeare and Company, and I decided I must buy a copy of the New York Review of Books. So I went there and started entering this great bookshop only to find a hand and a voice preventing our passage: “Sorry, there is a line up of people here and you’ll have to wait in line before entering.” I turned to see this lineup of around 10 or so people, and I looked in the store to try to see what people were lining up for, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked.

“There are currently too many people in the shop, so you have to wait in line until your turn,” was the response.

Huh? I looked in the shop and found that it had fewer people in it than many times I had visited, and fewer than many stores. Clearly, though, the guy at the door did not seem to be wanting to get into a discussion of what this new policy was all about, and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was to wait in line as if I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, when in fact I had freely entered the bookshop for 30 years…. So I told the guy I wasn’t going to wait and I went off to the Abbey Bookshop, even if they don’t carry the New York Review of Books. Despite the even more cramped quarters of the Abbey, I’d never been told to wait in line….

So I went to the Abbey, which of course, I spoke about in two recent posts here. The place was buzzing along with business, and rather than being told to wait in a lineup to get into the mausoleum, Brian Spence, the owner, greeted us by saying immediately, “Oh, just in time for a cup of coffee with maple sirup!” So I had a cup of coffee with maple sirup and I explored the bookshop, descending into the cave which Brian referred to as the scene of the crime – in reference to my short story. And while I did not buy an NYRB at Shakespeare and Company, I did decide to ask Brian for some book recommendations, and I left with three (A Steinbeck, a Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Auster)…. Now does this not show how effective good customer treatment is in business?!

I moved on to eat a meal at a Thailand restaurant, the Lao Lane Xang. The food was great. Oh, and on the way to the restaurant, I don’t want to forget to mention, I explored some wonderful parts of Paris, including the Chateau de la Reine Blanche, just off the Avenue des Gobelins…. What a city!!

I decided to make a very brief visit to The Quiet Man pub since it reminded me of a similar kind of jam in Montreal that I had attended, the one at Grumpy’s. Whereas Grumpy’s is all about bluegrass, the Quiet Man is all about Irish music…played by French people. They all sit around a table in the basement room every Saturday evening and play jigs and reels, with violins, concertinas, guitars, flutes, etc.

I stayed there for a half a pint of beer and then headed off to call it a night, oh, and perhaps catch some fireworks for a Bastille Day display, if there were to be any the night before the 14th…. On the walk away from there, however, I suddenly heard someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and I heard an accompanying violin, and I turned my head and looked right, into a pub called The Green Linnet. It was another Irish pub, and the man singing finished his song and saw me looking in and invited us in… I asked if it was an open mic, and he said, “No,” but the violinist indicated that maybe I wanted to play, and he asked, and as I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed a man at the bar waving to me.

I suddenly realized that I had recognized the guy without it really clicking in my head: It was Chris Kenna, an amazing musician from Australia who lives in Paris and performs regularly in bars mostly in around the 11th Arrondissement. I had met him first when he was hosting an open mic in that area. Now he performs quite a bit with a violinist named Melissa Cox, as “Kenna and Cox,” and I suddenly realized this was the woman playing behind the mic with the other singer man (as I had in fact met her before too).

So I stopped for a beer here, and they invited me to go up and play some songs after their break. So I played three songs: “Mad World,” “Borderline” and in order to suit the place, I sang “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” which I rarely do anywhere. I was fantastically fun to have this impromptu, unexpected moment, and I had a nice conversation with Chris and Melissa. Then Chris and Melissa took to the stage and played a few songs, Chris with his deep, raspy voice that seems tailor-made for the blues, and a few other styles too…. They sounded great together.

I left, and never did see any fireworks, but all in all, I realized, it was the ultimate day in the streets of Paris. How could it have been any better and with more unexpected moments and adventures!!! It felt like the greatest decision to wander about Paris rather than drive three hours to Deauville and three hours back, but I’d still have loved to stick my feet in the sea….

Oh, yes, and if you read this far, you might have also realized that I never did make it to the Musée d’Orsay, and in the end, that matters little. Perhaps all of life’s journey is kind of like this???

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Montreal Edition

June 9, 2013

canada open micMONTREAL



For my eighth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Montreal page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.

More Experience Than Existing Open Mics

Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.

Two Mainstay Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Montreal

I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. Montreal, like all cities is a moving target. But for me personally the mainstay joints are Grumpy’s pub and Brutopia pub, both of which offer classic open mics, and Grumpy’s has the added attraction of its open jam sessions of jazz and bluegrass.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Montreal Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

An Anything But Grumpy Bluegrass Jam in Montreal

June 7, 2013

grumpys montreal

grumpys montreal

MONTREAL – I’ve been there before, I’ve written about it before, I’ve played there before. But I never had so much fun at Grumpy’s bluegrass jam in downtown Montreal as last night when I saw the light. The light – not the little halo around my head in the videos – had to do with attending the jam and going with the flow.

The problem is that I do not know how to play a single bluegrass tune on my guitar, nor do I know how to sing a single bluegrass song. IE, I don’t know any lyrics. Oh, there’s also the “old time” aspect of this weekly jam session around a mic in this mainstay bar on Bishop Street in Montreal, but even there, I know no old times songs.

Oh, sure, I know some traditional Irish, Scottish and English songs – but they don’t count as old time or bluegrass, despite the great similarity and the same roots of the music. Last time I attended this jam, then, I insisted on playing and singing something from my repertoire as close as possible to the old time, country, bluegrass sound. I did Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Well this time, the light I saw came partly from the friendly prodding of one of the guitar player singers of the jame – which is organized by Mike Emmet, by the way – when he asked me more than once to just join in the jam and watch him play the chords and follow.

This man, it turns out, is also the organizer of the Montreal Folk Festival, which begins next Tuesday and has as a featured act Roger McGuinn of the Byrds! So this guy obviously knows how to get people to take part. So I decided to forget my usual need to play a song and sing it and take up center stage. I would just join in the jam and play along.

And so that is exactly what I did, and I found, beyond my belief, that I could actually to a respectable job of it. In fact, it was really mostly only three chords: D, A and G. Now what could be simpler than that?!? But there were so many musicians playing and singing together that the effect went way beyond the simplicity and into this almost trance-like situation. In short, it was a fabulous jam, an authentic jam, with authentic North American music, and some fine, friendly musicians.

And boy were there a lot of them – I think sometimes there were 10 musicians playing at the same time (a little like the Quiet Man jam for Celtic music in Paris) with banjos, fiddles, guitars, mandolins and vocals).

It is an added bonus that Grumpy’s, as I mentioned in the past, was one of the favorite hangouts of one of my favorite Canadian authors: Mordecai Richler. As Mike pointed out to me a couple of years ago, they actually shot a scene or two from the “Barney’s Version” film – based on the Richler novel – in Grumpy’s. So check it out! Oh, and check out the videos where you actually see me taking part in this jam.

Sick as a Dog in Korea, Listening to David Broad

October 14, 2012

David Broad's New CD

David Broad’s New CD

There has been a long break from activity on this blog, partly because I have been traveling from Japan to South Korea, but mostly because I was lying sick as a dog in a tiny town called Mokpo in the south of South Korea for two of the three days. Sick as a dog is not a term I really wanted to use in this place, but it was the best one that came to mind. The good thing about all that is that it did give me time to contemplate the new CD of David Broad, one of the few guitar players I have seen at open mics who has made me briefly contemplate quitting playing guitar.

Mokpo is the location of the Formula One race this weekend, and I got in so much music AND work in Japan that sleep and proper nourishment and all of the rest of the things we do to keep ourselves healthy were left out of my life for a little too long, resulting in a wretched, flu-like deathly cold. Now under control, I found a moment to write about the music I did NOT play, but would have liked to – that of David Broad.

Broad is this amazing finger-picker guitar player from Leeds, England, who spent some time in Paris last year playing at the open mics and doing some concerts. He sent me his new CD a couple of weeks ago, and is it beautiful. You feel like you are in the same room with him and his band listening to his songs performed to perfection. Old time, country, blues, it’s all here. Broad’s heroes are above all the country blues stars of the 1920s and 1930s, people like Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James, Blind Blake, and of course Robert Johnson.

The album is not just beautifully produced in sound terms – with its mix of his finger-picking guitar, warm vocals, harmonica and double bass, and the mandolin, lap steel guitar, fiddle and 12 string guitar of the other musicians – it is also a wonderfully produced physical CD with a screenprinted cardboard sleeve. Recorded in Leeds and released on Folk Theatre Records, it has been produced in a limited edition of only 500 copies – so get one. If you’re sick and/or low, it will bring you out of it. If you are doing just fine, it might head off the flu – or the blues – lurking just around the corner.

P.S., if you are in the UK this fall you can catch David Broad on his tour at the dates on this list.

Que du Happiness at the Big Happiness Bar in Paris

September 5, 2012

Yes, it is called something like the little happiness bar, the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, but last night it was real big happiness at the little happiness bar. All you have to do is check out the videos I caught of the jam sessions upstairs that followed the open mic to see that this was real, bona fide, big time happiness jam shit.

I mean, this night at one of the best open mics in the city just went on from start to finish in the same happy nice way. And then when the bar closed at 2 AM, it was off to another bar in the area where we ran into numerous Bonheur people and people from other bars, including, hey, the Highlander and the Coolin – two other open mic bars I write about frequently.

It was such a great night last night at the open mic, speaking to people, playing music, listening to other people’s music, etc., that I was more satiated than usual, and have decided to keep this blog item to a minimum, pack my bags and get off to Milan tomorrow. Hoping to find music other than opera….

Too Late to Play, but Great Listening at the Oxford Folk Club

July 7, 2012

I would have thought I would have learned my lesson by now. I always push myself to the limit to seek every opportunity to play on an open stage. But last night, despite knowing there was an outside chance of playing at the Oxford Folk Club, I decided to decide that the announcement on its web site that it was a concert night meant there was no open stage. Of course, two years ago I attended on a concert night and was able to play in the first part of the evening. The same would have happened last night – but I missed the chance. I stayed at my hotel, dried my feet, changed shoes – a month’s worth of rain is falling this weekend in Oxford – and THEN went to the Oxford Folk Club, across the street. There, I nevertheless, heard a fabulous folk band called Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators.

It was well worth hearing and seeing them, but I really regretted not going earlier to play a couple of songs myself in the first part of the evening along with the other people who took part in the open stage beforehand.

The Oxford Folk Club has been around for well over a decade and is located in a rustic pub on the Abingdon Road. It has featured some of the best folk musicians of the country but in a very intimate environment of an upper room of the pub. Last night the band, which has existed on and off since the mid-1970s, played its own folk songs and some American popular music as well. It was extremely together, and excelled in fun patter between numbers.

A Different Side of Grumpy’s in Montreal

June 8, 2012

I wrote about my disappointing visit to the Grumpy open mic in Montreal the other day. Last night I decided to attend the Grumpy’s bar weekly open jam session called Moonshine on Thursday, run by Mike Emmet. This is a completely different atmosphere to the open mic on Tuesdays.

Having said that, the crowd is no more respectful of the musicians, and there seems to be two different things going on in the pub during this fabulous evening. While the pub patrons stand around and chat at high volume, the musicians all gather around on the stage – which resembles a corner of someone’s living room, and play together in a circle, with a high powered omni-directional mic in the middle of the circle.

The musicians can barely be heard over the noise of the bar, but every once in a awhile the patrons applaud the musicians. There is a complicity and sense of community and communion amongst the musicians, however, that makes it so that this evening is really something special: while the clients drink and talk, the musicians have fun playing together. If they attract appreciation of the “listeners,” fine. If not, that’s fine too.

The only drawback to the evening for me is that this is almost exclusively bluegrass and “old time” music, or old country and hill billy kind of stuff. So although last year I sang Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” this year I felt unequal to the task of playing with these musicians, so I did not take part. Having already played in one open mic, and with another waiting for me on Sunday, I knew that my stay in Montreal would not be without music.

It was great, however, to see the variety that Grumpy’s is capable of delivering, from a weird and cliquey open mic on Tuesdays to a warm and family-like bluegrass jam on Saturdays.

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