PARIS – A few months ago, John Redford and Stephen Saxo, two expatriate musicians in Paris started playing a regular Friday night gig at a small bar in Paris, which is located in equal distance between the Stalingrad and Jaures metro stations. As far as I remember, they had immediately from the start opened the stage, advertising the evening as John Redford & Stephen Saxo and Special Guests, or “Friends” maybe sometimes. The evening started fairly slowly, but now it has turned into a fabulous, wild, wonderful atmosphere of an evening, much more of an open mic than a gig alone, if last night was anything to go by.
Actually, I had played as a special guest at this bar – called the Oasis 244 – with Stephen and John a few weeks ago, and it was already a lot of fun. Then I got involved in other things reported on this blog and did not return to the Oasis 244 for weeks, maybe even more than a month.
I returned last night to find the Oasis 244 full of guests, both regular clients, people there for the music, and musicians. Many of the musicians were people I see around town at the other open mics, at gigs, etc., all of whom have gravitated towards this great Friday night musical moment.
Like all great venues, one of the main things that makes the Oasis 244 work – aside from John and Stephen’s great music, openness and kindness – is that the guy who owns the place loves music, and has more than enough tolerance for letting the musicians play as much as possible before he calls it quits for the benefit of the neighbors.
Last night I got to play six or seven songs, had Stephen on the sax and then David on the cajon. Amazing night.
PARIS – On my exploration through time past, I have now arrived at last Thursday and an evening at the Abracadabar, with a trio of musicians performing a trio of sets in a single evening’s singer-songwriter concert format.
It was something of a perfect trio, in fact, with Ventru starting the evening with his probing style of lyrics and guitar, followed by Raphaëlle Pessoa with her eclectic, emotional and multilingual songs, to Shelita Burke, with her impressionistic vocal acrobatics.
The Abracadabar, is a mainstay of Paris singer-songwriters, being located near the Quais de Seine, in the Crimée area of Paris, and with an excellent sound system, soundman and comfortable stage, all separated from the main barroom by part of a wall and curtains (when needed).
I’ve attended concerts and the open mic they sometimes hold at this great little place off the beaten track, but the trio last week was one of the warmest times I’ve had so far.
And finally, as I stepped forward in time in my previous post, I want to just note in this one that the music-hall show that I mentioned in the previous post and put on by Raphaëlle Pessoa in her alter-ego, “Stella,” not only took place last night without a hitch and in triumph at the So Gymnase, but it also got a great review in a great French cultural web site called, Toute la Culture. The reviewer summed up the show and Raphaëlle’s talents perfectly, in a great story under a headline that perfectly sums up the show in a phrase: in “Stella dans tous ses éclats,” Raphaëlle Pessoa brings music-hall to the employment office!
PARIS – O.K., so where was I in my backwards step through time? Yes, yes, on Saturday, I attended a DJ night and open mic run momentarily by the inimitable Calvin Dionnet at a very cool microscopic bar of the kind I love, on the rue Pigalle.
This was the very new hole-in-the-wall bar called 46 Pigalle, located just down the street from the famous Place of the same name. Calvin, whom I have known for years – first meeting at Earle’s open mic at the Truskel in Paris – had a DJ night going at this very cool bar, and said that the first hour would be devoted to an open mic. Acoustic. No amp. Truth is, I don’t like playing without an amp most of the time. But at the 46 there was no problem at all, and I had no risk of being 86d.
In fact, it was a snug, fun, neat time playing for a crowd of expatriates passing through, and in a very intimate setting. The bar is really worth checking out, so keep an eye on the link I posted above, and especially if there happens to be another little impromptu open mic….
From there I went on to a crazy raucous evening at the Baroc – where I have frequently written about the Tuesday night open mic – where the musician who calls himself “SheMe” was celebrating one of his many birthdays…. It was crazy mad, with lots of music throughout the evening, and a kind of vibe that only the Baroc can drum up – something phantasmagoric in the barfly style.
Let’s Break the Rules and Make an Announcement or Two
As it turns out, right in the middle of trying to back pace myself in time and talk about my life over the last couple of “missing” weeks on this blog, I have decided to throw a spanner into the works and write about two events tomorrow that I am greatly looking forward to attending. One of them I will not attend, since I will attend the other – but since the first is just the first of many, I’ll attend in future….
So the first has to do with a meeting of a group of optimists on the Ile St. Louis in the center of Paris. I’ll be writing more about the location of this meeting in future, as it is a new cultural, event, optimist center on this great island in the middle of Paris, and I’m looking forward to returning. The point is, if you’re around tomorrow and want to check it out, I’m sure you will leave feeling more optimistic about life: It is a gathering of a group put together by Marie Deschamps, a leader among optimists. And it promises much more than just talk, if you can read French and see the invitation.
Stella dans tous ses éclats
But I myself will be attending – and helping to put on – the brilliant show written, produced and performed by Raphaëlle Pessoa, whom I have no problem saying at once is one of the most brilliant young talents I know of in France at the moment. Raphaëlle’s show, “Stella dans tous ses eclats,” is a brilliantly written one-woman-show comprising dialogue, song and fun. She sings in English, French and Spanish, songs of her own composing as well as classic cabaret pieces like “Mein Herr,” or French popular songs by Dalida and others. In general, I’m no big fan of cabaret, but this is brilliant. It’s taking place at the So Gymnase Comedy Club, but it is not comedy, more every emotion possible….
PARIS – I just had to get a word down about Friday’s fun in Paris. I saw that an open mic acquaintance was putting on a little show at a bar called the Petit Balcon in the Menilmontant area, and I saw that the stage would then be open to other musicians – an open mic.
So I went to this place at 48 rue des Maronites, the Petit Balcon, and there I met Koutla, who put on his set before opening the stage to anyone – i.e., me and several other musicians.
I had a chance to talk with the bar’s owner, and so learned that he has been running it for a couple of months and is a huge fan of music, and wants to have regular musical evenings, including a regular open jam session on Wednesdays. The basement is a dream come true for an open mic or jam session, as it is a classic Paris cellar, well isolated from the neighbors, and so hopefully there will not be any volume complaints.
They are already doing Wednesday sessions, as well as nights on Friday and Saturdays featuring groups. Koutla, with his dramatic lyrics and delivery, was a great warm host for what amounted to an open mic, and I had a fabulous time, listening to some great music, and playing a couple of my own songs.
A Short Visit to the Cabaret Culture Rapide in Paris
Then it was off to the Cabaret Culture Rapide, which was only around a 10 minute walk away, and taking in the last half hour or so of the show, as it usually starts around 22:00 or later, and ends around midnight. There I caught two or three acts – (one of which has since requested I remove the wonderful video I did of her fun song (note published 1 Dec. 2014)) – as you’ll see. I did not play, or even ask to play, as I had been quite satiated already by the evening at the Petit Balcon.
Let’s hope the Petit Balcon develops into a regular venue – the divide between the ground floor and the intimate basement room, is really promising – as is the owner’s clear love of music and plan to turn it into a great little concert venue.
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Yes, here I am sitting in my hotel room in Sao Paulo, overlooking the bright lights of the big city. But thinking still about my last night bar-hopping in Austin, and seeing two French-like bands, both of which have members that have been in Austin for 25 to 30 years. So there was a very cool, and unselfconscious mix of English pop and French pop.
Un autre monde at the Firehouse:
The first was taking us full-circle from the first night in Austin, where I saw one of Olivier Giraud’s groups playing with him on guitar and synth, to now, Olivier with his original big huge successful 8 1/2 Souvenirs band playing all sorts of traditional lounge kind of stuff, including some very French stuff, as you’ll see in the videos. This was at the relatively new, and relatively cool C-Boy’s Heart & Soul bar, with its neat stage with red ribbon kind of backing to it. 8 1/2 recently reformed at popular demand; it was a well-known Austin swing jazz band from the 1990s that released two albums with RCA, and something else with an independent label in Austin.
From there, I went on to the very nifty Firehouse lounge, with its more basic and brutal stage and sound of the band of the crew from Justine’s restaurant, a fabulous French restaurant where I ate a few days earlier. The owner and some of the staff put this band together with other friends, several of whom have known each other since they were teenagers, and guess what? have lived in Austin for, like 30 years!
Check out especially, “Un Autre Monde,” of the French band Téléphone.
Oh, and by the way, the Firehouse is accessible from the front hostel entrance by pulling to one side the bookshelf, which disguises a door. And please note that on Wednesday nights, the Firehouse becomes an open mic….
AUSTIN, Texas – On this trip to Austin, I’ve been discovering musical joints both with live bands in concert, and open mics for me to play. In the past I would always try to find ONLY places for me to play. But this time, I decided to relax a little and find out what else exists. That has led me from a dive bar to a record store to a cool open mic I did not know in the center of the city….
The dive bar is the Longbranch Inn on 11th street, and the music was about as raunchy as the bar. I was pleased that I brought my earplugs from the racetrack, since the music was so loud I could not really hear it. So I managed to record some of the set and take the recording back to the place I’m staying in, and there I heard the band for the first time. Liked the guitar, and the harmonica – and great rhythm too. But you’ll hear the singer’s voice was too low through the amp and we can’t make out much.
That was Saturday night, by the way. Sunday night I spent the whole evening writing my race report of the U.S. Grand Prix. So last night, I attended two different events, in fact. The first was at a record store that is reputedly one of the best two in Austin. And I can confirm that “End of an Ear” is a great shop. Not only full of CDs, but mountains of vinyl. I went to the record store because there was a photo vernissage by a friend of the friend I’m staying with, as well as a band.
We got there too late for the band, but I enjoyed looking at the photos by Renate Winter, the photographer. It was photos of bands, young people, musicians, from around the U.S., some from Austin, some in Atlanta and elsewhere. In some ways it reminded me of a world I know in Paris…. Check out my short video of the photos….
And Then Off to the Ten Oak Open Mic in Downtown Austin
It was my host who told me about the open mic at the Ten Oak bar on Colorado near Fifth Street, and boy was I happy to discover this relatively new open mic, which began nearly two years ago. Run by Ronnie Hall, who has a fabulous duet called Thomas and Hall, it’s worth going to just to hear them play!
But ultimately, the real pleasure is playing through the nice sound system on the terrace of this bar in downtown Austin where other musicians and music lovers can hear what you’re doing, as does the appreciative audience within the bar. Singing in the live music capital of the world, you feel a different vibe to many other places, like being part of a secret club run by musicians and music lovers.
The level of the musicians was so high at one point that I was begging in my head for someone crap to go up just before me, but that never happened!!!
Gotta run now to another couple of musical events….
AUSTIN, Texas – The last thing I expected to find within two hours of arriving in Austin, Texas last night was a band with some French musicians playing some pretty cool, and unusual music with old time feel, old time synthesizer, a 1948 Epiphone electric guitar, some vintage speakers – 1938 – and a unique venue called the Aviary, on South Lamar in Austin. And then, wow, actually getting to sit down and play the Epiphone myself….
Where do I start??? It was my friend from France with whom I’m staying in a an Austin suburb who led me to the Aviary for a quick late dinner after the 21-hour total trip from Paris. And there was his friend, Olivier Giraud, who runs a hotrod car business in addition to being a fabulous guitarist and synthesizer player, and leader of the band Continental Graffiti.
I recorded some of the music, and afterwards spoke to Giraud, and he let me play the Epiphone. I could not believe how good the action was, and how cool it sounded through the 1938 amp, which had a coil and tubes rather than a magnet like what you find in amps today….
I doubt I’ll have the time, but if I do, I’ll drop by his business, the “House of Hotrods,” and see if that guitar is hanging around amongst the grease, oil and chrome for a bit more of a play.
PARIS – I blame my convoluted headline on the horrendously long time I have not written a post on this blog, and on the jet-lag, the two open mics and one big party at the Ritz Carlton, and on the red wine I had for dinner – a Cotes de Bourg that won a prize at the Macon wine fair in 2013…. Now, if that sounds weird, listen to this cool thing:
So Sunday night in Singapore after my day at the racetrack covering the Formula One race, I had to make a decision about what I’d do that night as I waited for my flight back to Paris early the next morning: I had at least two main choices, one being to attend an open mic that I had never attended before, at a pub called Molly Molone’s, and the other being to attend a post-race party where a friend was performing.
It would sound like a no-brainer for me – i.e., the open mic, since my work life is involved in attending all the F1 races anyway – but as it turned out, I was worried the open mic might not last that long after the night race, and more than that, I had actually been invited to the post-race party by a guy named Luke Buirski, who is a friend, a fabulous lead guitar player, and who I had met a few years ago at the Actors’ jamming bar open mic in Singapore. So because I had missed Luke last year, and because he was playing at this party, I thought there was no way I could miss it, and so my choice was easy: The Ritz Carlton ballroom, a short walking distance from the racetrack.
So I get there, and guess what? I find myself surrounded by people I know from the media, from F1, former Formula One drivers, current racers and, well, a large number of people from the F1 world I inhabit. It was, however, a very high-class nightclub thing that apparently costs a fortune to get into – unless you’re invited – and so here I was amongst the people I work with all the time, but…I had been invited to the party by one of the performers of the night!
So it was that I felt completely at home, but much more indebted to the man with the guitar than to the people I usually work with. For this was a really, really high-class nightclub thing with performances going on all the time, DJs, local stars, and Luke…. catch a bit of his performance on the videos I put up here….
And From Singapore it Was on To Paris and two of the open mics of Tuesday night, the Oz and the Baroc
So once back in Paris on Monday night, I got just enough sleep to manage to get the energy to go out on Tuesday night and take part in the Café Oz open mic, which I have attended something like four times in the last five weeks. And as has been my wont in these recent weeks on several occasions, I decided that in addition to the Oz, I would move on from there to another open mic.
This time, however, it was not that of the Pigalle Country Club, but that of Le Baroc, which is one of the mainstays of the the Paris open mic scene. While it started a little slowly, it turned into a pretty epic evening, with some final jamming and some really cool stuff between a guitarist – Guillaume – and a fabulous woman pianist at the end of the evening.
Amazing stuff! So have I landed yet? Back from Singapore? Well, tomorrow I have a gig in the streets of Paris at the Menilmontant metro station at 13:30. So I’ll tell you after that!
PARIS – I don’t usually write about something that happened a week ago, but the concerts by Alison Young and Horse Raddish at the Limonaire bar/restaurant in Paris have stayed in my mind for a week, and in fact, I always intended to mention it on the blog. So no matter that I’ve written other things in between. Today, I just wanted to talk about these three subjects, because there ARE three: The singer, the band and the venue.
I’ve never been to the Limonaire before, but this bar-restaurant with a small stage and two wings of tables of to either side is a place I will definitely return to: The vibe is just too cool and laid back, and the stage too fabulous, the music too good not to! My only regret is having eaten a meal before I showed up, worrying partly that it would not be good food, or it would just feel weird or something, to eat during the show.
As it turned out, the show ended after most people had basically finished eating. That’s when the lights went out, and Alison Young, an American from New Orleans, took to the darkened stage under the spotlight and began singing with only the tiniest bits of ukelele thrown in here and there. I was immediately struck by the interesting melodies, lyrics and a feeling that little by little I would associated with all sorts of different kinds of sources, with, oddly, a big dose of British folk-rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s. In fact, afterwards, I spoke to Alison, and told her a lot of her stuff reminded me of Fairport Convention, whose music she said she loved.
But it was her song-writing, her melodies, her very clearly defined musical world that really signals out Alison Young – oh, and another thing….
Introducing Horse Raddish, Alison Young’s Backing Band, and a Tour de Force on Its Own Too
One of the overriding – or should I be saying “under-riding” – things that made her set so interesting, and the music so different, was that her back-up band consisted of the guitarist, drummer and accordion player from the band called Horse Raddish, that was later to play their own set. (There was also a pianist, but I didn’t see if he was from Horse Raddish also.) This backup band gave often some eastern Europe kind of sounds to the music, even klezmer.
That, as it turned out, was no surprise, because the second set of the evening was the fabulous rocking, electric klezmer music of Horse Raddish, adding a clarinet and/or soprano saxes, violin and other unrecognisable – to me – wind instruments. This was romping, exciting, sassy mad klezmer stuff, and its musicians were so adept and having apparently so much fun going crazy, that it was more than infectious. It was superb.
And in the environment of the Limonaire, sitting at a table in the dark and sipping a wine – the manager was happy for clients who came ONLY for the music, dinner was not necessary – it was a real serious challenger to my own usual desire to pass any musical night out on the stage myself rather than listening to others play. I’ll be back for more….
LONDON, England – It was not a dream come true, really, as I never expected to end up on the fabulous covered outdoor stage of the F1 FanZone in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London playing my songs and some covers to a crowd of F1 fans and with part of the London skyline as backdrop. But that’s precisely what I did late Saturday afternoon, along with Joe Cady on lead guitar and violin.
I had seen the F1 FanZone at previous races, and there had been some talk of me taking to the stage to sing a song or two. But it never happened, until a week or two ago I was invited to take part in the first time the FanZone has set up its bigtop in London, in conjunction with the British Grand Prix, which I came to report on this weekend at Silverstone, an hour’s drive away.
Brad Spurgeon on stage at F1 FanZone in London
The FanZone is a fabulous concept, a kind of gaming zone where spectators can test their pit stop skills, their reaction times, their driving acumen and other things all in a portable theme park that travels along with the Formula One series. It is usually set up quite close to the venue – as in Monaco or Abu Dhabi – but this time, it was set up in London in order to allow spectators who could not attend the race to see all the action live on the the giant screens beside the stage.
For that’s one of the main draws of the F1 FanZone: It has the rights to show the live broadcast of the racing action over the weekend. For me the other attraction is clearly that big, beautiful stage where the FanZone also puts on acts throughout the weekend. This weekend, for instance, it had the band of Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One team owner (who pulled out at the last minute and sent a replacement drummer!); like a huge British beatbox band called “Duke,” like a famous cheerleading group of dancers and a band from Leeds called Skinny Living. Oh, and me.
I only got to see a part of the the Skinny Living set, as I had to rush off to collect Joe Cady at just that moment at the Stratford International station, where he had just arrived from his trip over from Paris on the Eurostar. So I managed to get a few bits of video of Skinny Living, but not much more. (Also, it was very windy, and that had some weird effect on the camera – or on me, or on both – so it’s very jerky.)
Joe and I took to the stage for a half-hour set at 4:30, advanced at the last minute to make way to vacate the stage immediately afterwards for the autograph signing of the Formula One reserve driver, Charles Pic.
Unfortunately, the only rain of the day began to fall just as Joe and I took to the stage, so some of the audience ran for cover under the various events tents, but our music was piped in and broadcast throughout the FanZone, and it was a pure fantastic pleasure to play on such a cool stage. The soundmen had come straight from working with a few supergroups at the Glastonbury Festival, and their fabulously professional work made me feel totally at ease, and in my element as I sang my songs and some covers.
Brad Spurgeon after performance at F1 FanZone in London
The set list as I recall it (it was written in advance and then improvised as befit the feeling of the moment) was: “Mad World,” “Crazy Lady,” “Borderline,” “Wicked Game,” “What’s Up!” and “Not Much in the Mood.” So that was three covers and three originals, and I had at least three more originals planned, but the Formula One driver arrived in a helicopter and the fans were waiting for their autograph signing, so we cleared the stage and handed it over to the real star of the day.
I was then kindly offered a helicopter ride back to Silverstone by the organizer, but I had an appointment in a nearby record store to buy a bunch of CDs, and then a table waiting at an Indian restaurant. I opted for the latter, and had a leisurely evening in London, no doubt my best visit to the British Grand Prix so far…. (Oh, yes, and the race turned out to be extraordinary too!)