Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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: Barcelona Edition

May 11, 2013

BARCELONA – For my sixth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Barcelona 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 popularity 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.

Mostly Jam Sessions in Barcelona

There are far more jam sessions in Barcelona than open mics as such – but the jams act as open mics too, and this is a guide to venues of both philosophies.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona 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!

Praying – sorry, Playing – in Sala Monasterio in Barcelona

May 10, 2013

blues society of barcelona

blues society of barcelona

BARCELONA – One thing leads to another, and had it not been for striking up a friendship with an interesting and unique bass player and singer songwriter name Sergi Carós Massegur at the Big Bang Bar in Barcelona last year, I’d never have ended up playing in the monastery last night.

Well, what I mean is that this venue, called Sala Monasterio, is in the basement monastery room of what was obviously formerly a monastery – and if you pray to the sounds of music, then it still is a monastery, if last night’s jam was a good example of what it is all about.

Coming to Barcelona I contacted Sergi, and learned that the Big Bang Bar is now closed, its jam gone. (Something to do with fire escape problems and loud music isolation problems, if I understood correctly.) Sergi told me that he and his band were running a blues jam session last night at the Sala Monasterio, and why not come along.

Freaky, it turned out that the hotel I chose this year – a piece of crap – was located around three minutes walk from the monastery, so I could go an pray to the powers that I might sleep the night in the crap hotel.

Sergi’s band, in fact, was just a guest band for the venue, as there is a different band running the jam each week – if I understood correctly. The jam happens each Thursday, though, and it has its regular performers and spectators, and the level can be very high.

Sala Monasterio: A Venue With Character

The Sala Monasterio as a venu is fabulous! It is in the basement, made up of several rooms, two of which are quite large, but not so big that they cannot be intimate too. The ceiling is curved, low, and the stage is neither too small nor too large – and it has great lighting, a good sound system – with a sound man on the board at all times. The jam is part of the Barcelona Blues Society, or something like that, if I understand correctly.

You may have realized by now that I don’t speak Spanish. In fact, Sergi’s English is excellent, and he has written some wonderful songs and had some good national television air time, too, lately. In fact, his band, Ed Tulipa, has played internationally, the most exciting gig of the last year being at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

The Sergi Carós Massegur Story

That was cool for Sergi, because his music sounds very much like The Beatles, and he’s a fan of George Harrison. Unfortunately, one of the reasons he has had this big surge of creativity in recent years is that three years ago he had a very dangerous scare and battle with skin cancer, and he came out a new man – and musician. The Ed Tulipa album came from that period, and contrary to the darkness you might expect, its positive, bright and hopeful – full of life.

Last night, it was not the Ed Tulipa band, but the Neirak Blues Trio, made up of musicians from the Ed Tulipa band, but playing blues, since it was a blues jam. After I listened to a few acts, I realized that it was not 100 percent blues all the time, and I figured I could fit in my “Wicked Game” and my “Mad World,” and after doing that with the Neirak Blues trio – with Sergi on bass – they asked me to do a third song, so I did “Crazy Love.”

Something about playing in that great room with those cool musicians and that great, packed house of an audience meant it all went down very well, and I was in heaven…so to speak….

Jamming in New Delhi, India at Turquoise Cottage

October 25, 2012

delhi india open mic

delhi india open mic

It is a running theme of this blog that I hope no one gets bored of hearing. But last night again proved to me the wisdom of pushing oneself to personal limits in order to achieve goals and dreams. Of course, it is quite small, just a day-to-day kind of achievement. But last night after a full day trying to work writing articles after having only two hours sleep over Tuesday night, I had the sudden opportunity to go play in an open mic, open jam in Delhi, and despite my exhaustion, I went. Am I ever glad I did….

Last year I had managed to book a full gig in advance at the TLR bar in Delhi on the Thursday night, and I ended up meeting a musician there who invited me to his open mic the following night at a different venue. This year I made no plans, and the TLR already has some bands lined up, and the other venue no longer exists. So I wrote a message to my friend who invited me to his open mic to ask if he knew of anywhere to play this weekend.

The response came almost immediately, and it was for an open mic at a place called Turquoise Cottage. It turns out that the bar has hosted this open mic for around seven years, and gives it the name “The Rabbit Hole Sessions.” I was exhausted, but the Facebook announcement looked so enticing – open to all musicians “including amateurs” – that I thought I just had to go. It seemed lunatic with the fatigue I was undergoing, especially since the trip over meant taking two metros and an auto-rickshaw.

But I went, and I could see from the moment I arrived that I had made the right decision. As I entered, a huge group of 16 musicians was setting up and doing a sound check, but other musicians stood around with guitars to do solo performances, and I was immediately asked by an organizer if I wanted to play.

Of course I immediately said “yes,” and then I went and ordered the most amazing dish of rice, shrimp, chicken and various spices. My only disappointment was that the place does not serve Indian food, but mostly Indonesian and Malay and other such things. But the food was fabulous.

The sound system was superb, the room was full of posters, guitars on the wall, high ceiling in front of the stage, even an old motorcycle. And it was filled with people of all ages. The massive band was the biggest I have ever seen at an open mic. It was superb, and as it turned out, this was the band’s first public performance.

Based in Delhi, the band calls itself the World Folk Ensemble, and is made up of drummers, guitarist, violin players, vocalists, a bass player, flute players…. As you can hear in their presentation of their first song, their approach is to play folk music from around the world. Last night they did tunes from Sweden, Estonia, France, India and elsewhere. A very impressive debut.

And thank goodness I finished my rice quickly enough to play before them. I’d have been dwarfed by their ensemble had I played just afterwards. But play I did, the reception was great, and I managed to take in most of the evening before leaving around midnight as the jam session opened up into the traditional blues kind of thing, and I got back for a good night’s sleep after all – dropping off like a lead weight and not waking until morning…. It was the sort of experience I’d have been mad to miss, and had I given in to my lazy urges, I would have….

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.

Falling into a Jam in Nagoya – and Loving It

October 7, 2012

I played music on the first two nights in Nagoya, feeling completely satiated and happy and full of a sense of achievement. So I said to myself on my third night, last night, that I would just simply relax, go to a restaurant, take it easy, not look for a place to play and get to bed early. And then all hell broke loose….

I finished the meal and started walking the several kilometers from the center of the city in Sakae out to my hotel in Imaike. I had been eating and drinking a fair amount in recent days and I thought I could use the exercise of a nice long quick walk. It was a great pleasure. I ended up being slightly unsure of my route, though, but decided that for the sake of adventure, I would just keep walking in that direction and see where it led.

It led precisely to the intersection where I knew I had to turn left to get to my hotel. And as I turned left, I suddenly heard the sound of live music coming from a stairwell. I was about three minutes walk from my hotel, and there I saw a sign that said: Jam Session….

I quickly descended the stairs and found the warmest, coolest, ramshackle underground bar I could imagine, and it was brimming full of Japanese people listening to a bunch of Japanese musicians on a cool stage area playing the blues. I asked the woman behind the bar – who approached me – what time the jam went on to, and she indicated 2 AM.

“I’ll be right back!” I said, pointing at the guitars on the wall to indicate I was going to get my own. After all, it was only then just 10 PM.

So I went to my hotel, took out my guitar and sang a song to warm up my voice, and then I ran off again to the bar, which I later learned was called Nanbanya, and has a weekly jam on Saturday nights. Or most Saturday nights.

The first guy I talk to turns out to be the importer for all of Japan of Godin guitars, which is the company that makes my Seagull S6 – although he does not import the Seagulls, only the Godins. The night, I knew immediately, was going to be immense.

It was. I played three times, getting invited twice more after my first time up, and I met several interesting people, saw some amazing musicians – check out the absolutely nuts guitar players, the young Japanese guy with the Hendrix T-shirt, and the Peruvian with the Gibson….

Man, this was a dream night. I never knew anything like this existed in Nagoya, and I happened to stumble upon it next to my hotel after deciding to walk home and making a mistake in navigation. This is proof that everything we want in life lies just around the corner, and sometimes we will just stumble across it – so don’t give up!

Jack Daniel and Friends at Shapko in Nice

May 24, 2012

Shapko Bar Nice

Shapko Bar Nice

Fishing around for places to play in Nice, I was always going to try out the amazing Shapko bar on the rue Rossetti. And last night, I was in the presence of my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, the inimitable French redneck hillbilly singer songwriter, and it turned out that the theme of the music at Shapko was fairly close to redneck, so I thought Baptiste and I should make a visit.

We had also been considering going to King’s Pub again, where I had played the night before and was invited to play again last night. But I really wanted to take another look at Shapko, where I managed to play some songs last year during a similar acoustic night, hosted by someone else – Peter Cogavin. Peter, in fact, told me yesterday that he knew the guy hosting the evening at Shapko, and that he thought he might be open to letting me play.

That guy was a British musician with the somewhat bourbon soaked hillbilly name of Jack Daniel. It is his real name. And he plays a wicked fingerpicking blues and country guitar and lays a nice laid back vocal on top of it. He had a harmonica player, and then his “friends,” who joined in as the even progressed.

Shapko, the man who owns the bar, is a saxophone player from Russia, and he is a real mean sax player. I mean good, not nasty. He is also a music-loving performer who opens his stage to other players as much as he can while maintaining a good professional business and show. I was really flattered when I walked in last night and he immediately remembered me, although I had visited his bar only twice last year: ‘The Canadian!” he said.

At the break, I spoke to Jack Daniel about the possibility of playing, and he more or less accepted. But as the evening went on with the second set, it became clear that the music was moving further and further away from what either I or Baptiste do, so we ultimately decided to cut out and check out the scene at the King’s Pub. It turned out that that was pretty quiet and the musicians were doing a long set, and we ultimately decided that it was getting too late to hang around much longer. So we both left and went our ways.

But the night was really enriching in terms of the music at Shapko, which was fabulous – especially in the middle of the jam during the second set.

Lame (and Expensive) Time at the House of Blues & Jazz in Shanghai

April 15, 2012

I do not see myself as a music critic, I wouldn’t be qualified enough to do that, and this blog is meant only as a kind of web diary of my experiences wandering the earth and playing music or listening to it in unique and unusual places and situations. But if I only wrote glowing, fantastic stories about everywhere I went, that would be pretty lame and unreadable. So I might as well say that I was terribly disappointed by my visit to the House of Blues & Jazz in Shanghai last night.

I just stumbled across this venue next to my hotel and after my wonderful meal at the Shanghai Grand Ma restaurant in the Bund. With a name like House of Blues & Jazz and a facade worthy of the name, and a newspaper spread recounting the greatness of this legendary local venue, I knew that I had to go in and check it out, even though there would be no chance of playing there myself.

I had had two sensational evenings before that, as I reported on the blog, so I was content to finally make an early night of it and take in a scene at the local legendary blues and jazz club. The first disappointment was the 50 yuan cover charge, but that’s only around eight or so euros, so I thought it was not exactly going to break the bank.

I paid the cover, went into the place just as the band began its set, and saw a nice comfortable stage, high ceilings, photos of jazz musicians in black and white all over the place, tables high and low, a long bar, ornate wooden finishings, a cool and comfortable place. And it was so packed there was no place to sit. The fact that it was the cocktail drinking afterwork crowd with some suits and ties and a few other monied-class signature ornaments did not entirely put me off, even if it was a huge contrast say, to Bee Dee’s, where things felt much less posh and much more comfortable.

But when I found my old friend, Kilkenny beer on tap at the counter, I thought, “Great, I’ll take a pint of Kilkenny, as I do in Paris or all over the world.” When they then charged me 80 yuan for the beer, or just over 10 euros, I thought, wait a minute, what is this? I’m in Shanghai where a pint of regular beer should cost a fraction of that, where I did not have to pay a cover charge the previous night for a first class show of Chinese music, and where I got beer for an expensive half that price and absolutely superb and real music the night before that at Bee Dee’s, and here…

Suddenly I started comparing things in my mind already with Bee Dee’s, and inevitably, looking around at the crowd in this joint that pays 80 yuan for a Kilkenny… then I moved over to a pillar and stood there to listen to the band. It was the Greg Luttrell band from Boston, and I am very sorry, because Greg can play a mean electric guitar, and from what I read on his web site, he must have a mean singing voice too. But my perception was hugely colored by the fabulous guitar playing of local boy Joe Chou at Bee Dee’s, and I thought that personally, in terms of value for money, I’d take Joe Chou and Bee Dee’s any day, over this venue that in my opinion goes right against the grain of the jazz and blues tradition. It was also a real pain to wonder what Greg’s voice really sounds like, because from where I stood the mic on his voice, or the amp or PA it came out of, did not make it possible to pick up any understanding of the grain of that voice, or what it really sounds like.

I thought of staying around long enough to tell Greg that he would do well to see if someone could do a better job on the mic, but I got too bored, and returned back to my hotel and made an early night of it. Fortunately, my Zoom Q3 HD is a good filtering recorder and you can actually hear his voice much better in the videos than I could live. In the end, the other thing that perturbed me was that this was not even jazz or blues, really. Oh, I was amused and interested that he performed Pink Floyd’s “Time,” just a week after I learned that song myself! I hadn’t heard anyone doing it until then….

It’s one thing to feel you’re robbed by attending an expat’s Blues and Jazz room, but I realized it only made me appreciate even more stuff like Bee Dee’s and Dreams of old Shanghai. There is a true difference between a bona fide, music-loving, grass-roots joint and a successful business catering to the monied classes. I’ll go for the former any day.

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