Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Dream Evening at the Cirque d’Hiver, Today and 24 Years Ago….

November 6, 2017
bradspurgeon

Cirque d'Hiver, Paris

Cirque d’Hiver, Paris

PARIS – The Cirque d’Hiver, or Winter Circus, in Paris is one of the great treasures of the circus arts. After the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently – and, for circus lovers, tragically – closed down after more than a hundred years of existence, this Parisian tradition is one of the last remaining great, great circus attractions. Over the weekend, I decided to attend its latest show – called “Exploit” – and was not let down. I threw together some of the videos I took during the show into a single little clip that you can see below. And I also decided on this occasion to republish, on the blog, an article I wrote about this great Paris institution 24 years ago in my blog articles section under the title: Cirque d’Hiver: A Unique Tradition Under the Big Top Ceiling in Paris. It all remains so incredibly true and fresh, and I cannot be happier to report that. The show, as you will see in the video, was stupendous.

A Serendipitous, Synchronistic Video Experience for “Since You Left Me,” Amongst the Jugglers and the Musicians

April 26, 2017
bradspurgeon

MILAN – The idea was only to try out my DJI Osmo 4k camera again and see if I could do a cool atmospheric video of a walk in the park with a bunch of jugglers, musicians, slack-line walkers and other circus arts practitioners at a get together by a lake in Lombardy. Then, thanks to some fabulous serendipity and synchronicity, something quite unexpected and beautiful, it turned into the seventh video of the series of 10 that I have been working on to “illustrate” my 10-track CD, “Out of a Jam.”

I have been working towards finding the best way to record sound with this DJI Osmo and so I again tried out my system of using a Zoom recorder attached to the DJI as a microphone. Without me realizing it, the connection between the two gadgets was bad, and eventually the recorder unplugged itself from the camera, as I was walking around the lakeside park. When I returned to view and listen to the video, I found great images – as usual with this fabulous little camera – but the sound was a disaster. A horrible mess. There was crackling, banging, popping and sometimes no sound at all. It went from silence to hurting the ears – moreover, the level was set too high as well, even when it worked, so it was distorted even when at its best.

Since You Left Me – video

I decided to put the video up on this blog as a demonstration, again, of what the Osmo can do, but I would put a music recording over the original sound, so not to distract and hurt the ears of the viewers. For that, I decided to use my song, “Since You Left Me.” Then, after importing to the film editing programming, when I pressed the play button, I saw immediately an uncanny synergy between the content of the video in the park and the music of the song. The musicians playing, and the dancers dancing seemingly to the same beat as my song; the link in the lyrics between seeking out another world, another way to live, and the otherworldly link to the juggling, slack-line walking, and other circus arts; even the view up to the sky at precisely the right moment for the song.

I immediately decided that I had the basis for a video for “Since You Left Me,” and that I would put in either a performance by me of the song, or do some more filming, some kind of dramatic storyline of me acting something out. So I used the performance I did of the same song at the Noctambules bar, edited it all together, and felt lucky for the serendipity, synchronicity, synergy, and luck that all seemed to combine to come up with another video for my CD, and the first with which I have used the 4k camera.

A Crazy Side to the Staid City of Milan – And Back to Circus Beginnings for Me

March 15, 2017
bradspurgeon

Brad Spurgeon in Irreality Mode

Brad Spurgeon in Irreality Mode

PARIS – It is only now after a trip to Milan and back in Paris that I have finally had the time to sit at the blog again and dream about the past…without any jealousy, but many warm memories. I’m talking about yet another night at the Joy bar jam that I have not been able to note; about a fabulous visit to an annual variety show in a very neat theater; and about actually taking part a couple of nights later in another such annual show in a bigger theater and event space. All of which has continued to allow me to dismantle, bit by bit, my feeling that Milan is as boring a city as its mostly boring outer appearance of the streets and cityscape would have us believe.

There IS a mountain of “underground” activities in Milan, you just have to know where to look for them. And how strange and in some ways ironic can it be that it is in this city that I used to classify as “boring” that I would find myself performing for the first time since my early 20s in the area of my life in which I started: In the circus arts!

Yes, it may have been the last of these events, but it stands out first in my mind not just for its proximity in my memory, but especially because I got to dress up as a clown and clown around with a fabulous little troupe of clowns and actors, to ride a unicycle through the event, and even do a little bit of juggling. And, now that I think of it, I managed at one point to gate-crash a musicians’ group and take their acoustic guitar and perform a song – along with them singing along with me.

Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro

Brad Spurgeon with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro



I’m referring to the annual “Irreality Show,” which took place at the fabulous associative theater and event space known as, Arci Ohibo. I was invited to join the troupe of actors and clowns of the TAC Teatro – which I have written about before on this blog – by Ornella Bonventre to clown around during this fabulous event. Naturally, having not done such a thing since my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little bit worried. A little bit reticent. A little depressed at the prospect of looking lack a fool – in the bad sense. Especially next to the fabulous talent of the TAC Teatro troupe.

But I decided that part of my new life approach over the last decade with its philosophy to do “everything” (except destructive things), I really ought to give this a try and hope that I could have a George Plimpton moment again, of the kind that I had the first time I dared go on stage with a band at the Jazz-Si open mic in Barcelona of 2009. And man, was I right to try.
more of the TAC Teatro clowns

more of the TAC Teatro clowns



It only took entering into the Ohibo space to see that I loved it immediately and would feel at home. The Irreality show consists of multiple little shows and events spread throughout the space, and performing at the same time. Spectators pay 5 euros and get to walk around all night from room to room, stage to stage, space to space, and take in the various acts and activities. The TAC clown troupe were just about the only ones who had the luxury of being itinerant within the space, an free to roam all over the place. What better way to see everything and take part than to be part of that roaming troupe.
Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show

Brad Spurgeon unicycling TAC show



So it was that I could see it all, and take part in what I wanted, riding my unicycle, clowning, juggling and playing music while also remaining a spectator of the amazing collection of acts: An Irish harp player, a mermaid, three or four actors and actresses doing one-person shows, a band of traditional musicians, a folk music trio, a body painter, a marionette act, a cross-dresser, a musician playing a saw, painters, photographers, and performance artists like the depressed man who sat in the same spot all night looking depressed, or the other itinerant one, the Andy Warhol with his head in a picture frame.

There may have been other acts, but the point is, this strange evening of drinking, socialising, and watching the acts through the very hip and cool, sprawling Ohibo, did as I say, renew my faith in the coolness of Milan – once you find it. And while I felt somewhat rusty and ever so inhibited at times as a clown, I also felt amazingly liberated in returning to my own personal roots for an evening. I’m hoping to do much more of it in future, too….

And then there was the skit show at the Scighera Teatro

A few days before that, I found myself the envious spectator at the other space I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Scighera Teatro, where the stage and space was given over to an annual kind of clowning competition show. This is a fabulous space with a bar in the front part of the building, and the stage in a vast room off the back, which includes the performers’ dressing room/off-stage in a kind of bird’s nest above and next to the stage.

The show consisted of several clowning skits, a Mexican trapeze artist, musicians and a storyteller. And it was entertaining almost start to finish. My two favorite acts were, first, the pizza dough chefs with their battle with the dough – this was so Italian and yet so universal, it was crazy. It could be understood in every country in the world, since I think every country has its pizza chefs! And yet here we were in Italy.

And the other act I loved was the incredibly skilled, mind-boggling one of the man who threw and caught paper airplanes in a kind of paper airplane ballet. Hidden behind the dance was a skill of a kind I could not even imagine existed. Unfortunately I had problems with my camera throughout, and particularly during this act – but I did manage to get a little bit of video of the paper airplane guy, as well as the pizza chefs. So check out the videos.

And then finally back to the Joy Bar jam…and then a return to Ligera….

Finally, I’m a little late on getting it up on the blog, but I’ve got a video or two or three of the latest Joy Bar open mic/open jam that I attended. In one of the videos I show the atmosphere as you approach the bar, with the music blaring inside, and the outside, dull, dead, depressing Milan environment from which springs this…joy….

And now suddenly, I remember there was another night of a fabulous, interesting discovery. This was at the great Spazio Ligera, which I have also written about several times on this blog. I was attracted this time to go to a concert in the large and cozy vaulted cellar room with its magnificent stage and regular music concerts, thanks to the appearance of an interesting story in the form of Julith Ryan, of Australia. This is an Australian musician who by complete freak happenstance ended up recording a CD with a bunch of Italian musicians in Italy, after a career in local Melbourne bands.

Julith was on a mini tour of Italy with the release of the album. When I heard the recordings on youtube and soundcloud, I was very intrigued to see her live. I didn’t put it all together until I did see her at Ligera, but that is when the parallel finally came to me: There’s something of the Marianne Faithful to Julith.

But it was the open act soloist on acoustic guitar and vocals who really blew my mind: That was the intriguingly named Jennifer V Blossom. A very powerful mix of strong rock vocals and nifty rhythmic guitar with a mesmerising delivery. And the sudden, surprising rendition of Edith Piaf’s song about regretting nothing. I sure did not regret this discovery….





A Not-Book-Review: Neil Young’s Memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace”

December 3, 2012
bradspurgeon

neil young book

neil young book

I have decided to create a new feature type of article on this blog. Because this is a blog, and because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and talk about them, I have decided to start this occasional feature. The idea is that I am not going to place myself on a critical pedestal and dictate what is righteous or not about a book I read. I am not going to recommend it as a piece of literature or a consumer product. I am not going to fulfill the role of the book reviewer whatsoever. I’m not even certain I would have the talent, let alone the knowledge, training and authority. This is a blog. It is my space, Brad’s world. So what I will do when I feel compelled, will be to write about books I am reading or have read or feel compelled to write about for any other reason. This “Not-Book-Review,” as I will call the writing, will be something people can read, and should read, only as a reflection of how I felt about the book – not a recommendation that they should or should not read it.

The idea was inspired by the book I just finished, and that accompanied me from Austin, Texas to Sao Paulo to New York’s JFK airport and then back to Paris, all in the last week and a half. I rarely read any 500-page book that quickly. But I did it this time. And I can’t even say that I think this book is some kind of gripping masterpiece. But I really, thoroughly loved reading Neil Young’s autobiography, memoir, tale of his life past, present and maybe future.

Here is my Not-Book-Review of “Waging Heavy Peace” by Neil Young.

Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman Dies – a Remembrance

June 3, 2012
bradspurgeon

frazier mohawk self portrait

frazier mohawk self portrait

Yesterday Frazier Mohawk, born Barry Friedman, died of complications from illness related to his liver, at the age of 70, in a hospital near where he lived north of Toronto, Canada. Born in Los Angeles, Frazier had moved to Canada in the early 1970s to escape and recover from the second part of his remarkably interesting career, and to return to a path he had set out on in his first short career. Frazier went from being a teenage circus performer and television producer to producing records and putting together some of the top musicians of the 1960s and 1970s – like the Buffalo Springfield, Nico, Paul Butterfield, Jackson Browne and many others – and then back again to the circus as he set up Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus in Canada, before founding Puck’s Farm, and creating a music studio on the farm.

I met Frazier in Toronto when I was 18 and he hired me for his circus. I dropped out of that quickly, but we remained lifelong friends, and he was an influence up to today, including with my return to music in recent years, which led to the existence of this blog and my worldwide musical adventures.

I have written a personal remembrance of Frazier, outlining his life, and drawing together the threads that joined our paths over the years. Located here on this link in the same area of this web site as the story I wrote about Frazier for the International Herald Tribune in 1997, it is a personal look at one of my closest friends, Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman. It can also be accessed in the menu above by clicking on “Blog Articles (As Opposed to Posts). Written very quickly today to get it up immediately, I will no doubt return and add links and clean it up a little occasionally – so keep posted, and please share your own memories of this remarkable man, if you are lucky enough to have any.

Brussels Meanderings

August 6, 2011
bradspurgeon

Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel

The blog has been slow in recent days as I try to mix my personal vacation with work winding down and other new experiences. I have just about finished the first week of a three-week break between Formula One races, and it feels as if I have done nothing. In fact, I went on a three-day trip to Brussels just for the fun of it. Naturally I sought out open mics and jam sessions, but because I will later do Belgian jams and open mics in Liege at the F1 race late this month, there was no sense of urgency. That said, I also missed out by a small margin doing a couple of jams in Brussels – but I found some seriously interesting and funny jibing things there nevertheless.

On the first day, for example, walking around near the Grand Place my eye was caught by a unicycle and juggling equipment in a store window. I then noticed that the store was a sheet music shop. As I juggle and unicycle and practice a few other circus arts, and as I read sheet music and play music and sing, I entered the store vastly intrigued. What could possibly be the connection outside of myself of the circus arts and unicycles and juggling and sheet music. For that matter, how could a store devoted 90 percent to sheet music – and 10 percent to circus equipment – possibly survive?

We met the owner, spoke, looked at the sheet music, learned that the Internet had indeed all but killed the industry – oh, not enough to rule out the existence of another sheet music store nearby – and that there really was no connection between circus and sheet music. It turned out the circus paraphernalia came from a relative of the sheet music store owner whose own store had gone out of business, so the sheet music guy took the stuff to try to sell it.

I asked him for information on jams and open mics, and he was extremely helpful, although all the help did not lead me to any jams or open mics.

Around the corner from there we went to the Editions Jacques Brel, which is a publishing company and institute or association, owned by the Brel family. And there is a fabulous exhibit inside in which you go from room to room with headphones and listen to the Brel story and his relationship with Belgium. Very much worth it for any Brel lovers.

So I WOULD find open jam sessions. I was led all over town, and I believe I missed one on the Wednesday night in the St. Gilles area; but more importantly, I missed the Thursday night jam at the Delerium bar by just an hour, as it allegedly starts at 8 PM – that’s what they told me, but the Delerium web site says differently, and my train for Paris left just after 9, but I had to get to the station in advance. Delerium, a massive and lively bar, also has a jam on Sunday nights. And across the street from this huge pub is another big pub that also has a jam on Sunday nights. Check ’em out if you’re there.

By the way, we also toured the musical instrument museum, which presents a fabulous history of instruments from around the world and through the ages, and to which you can listen with headphones as well. And there was a live act of a woman on a harp and singing Celtic music, of which I grabbed a little morsel.