Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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One Thing Again Leads to Another at the Chiringuito Jam in Scopello

August 26, 2022
bradspurgeon

Babel Tower Logo

Babel Tower Logo

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – It seems not to matter how many times I live this lesson, I always come close to forgetting it – only to relive it and learn it again. A few weeks ago I wrote of my experience at the Chiringuito jam in Scopello, Sicily. I wrote about how one good thing leads to another good thing – and vice versa. I missed the last few jams on Wednesday nights at Chiriniguito for various reasons – a cold, a more important meeting, and, yes, inertia. I was almost going to let inertia steer me away from it again this time, but didn’t, and the reward was huge, and unexpected – as usual!

We had planned to have dinner in Scopello at the Nettuno restaurant with Ornella’s family Wednesday and then head off to the jam. But the dinner started late, many more family members arrived, and conversation and good cheer began to take over and extend the time at the table, and reduce the potential time at the jam. Then, as with the last outdoor restaurant meal with the family – last week – a sudden downpour of rain began. It never rains here in the summer. It’s not supposed to. Will not, does not. Unless we have a family gathering or a jam session to attend.

The conversation, family get-together and rain all persuaded me by midnight that I was going to miss the jam session again, and I was going to miss it for valid reasons. I had my guitar ready in the trunk of the car, I had made the “effort,” but it had failed. Once again. Then at about two minutes past midnight, Ornella said to me: “You are going to miss the jam! Go and play, Brad. Don’t worry about us.” In fact, I had been told that many of the members of the family had come to see me play, but I suppose inertia had settled in there too….

I decided not to let that get me down, and in any case, I fully expected to go to the jam – a few minutes’ walk away from the Nettuno – and find that it had been packed up, closed down, over with, all thanks to the downpour, which could have short-circuited all the guitar amps and everything else. There, I thought, I would have my excuse. Part of me had the jitters about playing the jam again also because it had gone so well the first time, and I had had so much fun, that I expected it would fall flat this second time.

I got my Gibson J-200 from the car trunk and went to the jam. It was bopping big time. The stage was curiously dark and wet, but there were musicians on it, playing to a vast crowd of manic spectators jumping up and down in delight at the front of the stage. Michelangelo, the jam organiser and MC, immediately saw me with my guitar on my back at the front right corner of the stage and he approached: “Brad, we had a problem tonight with the rain cutting out a lot of things, and we had to set up all over again, and try to make it work after that…. anyway, the point is, I had to change the format a little: You only get one song. And you are up next.”

Man! I could not say no to that. I had no more excuses! And anyway, I started feeling the pulse of excitement of the idea of going up and playing just one song and if it all failed, I had my excuse there too! I just finished a massive bacon and cheese burger, a massive chocolate Sunday, got wet in the rain, came over to the jam, had one song and got up with no warming up!

I got the Gibson out, waited, when the guy finished, I climbed up on the stage where someone said: “What chords?” I realised it was one of the other musicians – turned out to be the bass player – and he wanted to know what chords I would use for my one song. I didn’t even know what my song would be. I had, in advance, been planning three: “Crazy Love,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and “Wicked Game.” I thought for a moment about the simplest of them, but also I decided to go for a contrast to the crowd pleasing, foot-stomping, fast-moving, singalong song of the guy onstage before me. I chose “Wicked Game,” by Chris Isaak. It is just three chords from beginning to end, and there can be plenty of room for the jamming of the harmonica and lead guitar between verses on those three chords.

I whipped through the song with huge pleasure – and a few rough spots – and then got off the stage fast. It seemed to go fairly smoothly, and the others had lots of room to jam. I blew my voice out a little, since I had a bit of a problem hearing myself and so I forced it too much, but in all, I was really happy to have done it, and I was happy to have been able to do it fast during what was clearly a difficult night for the organiser – with that rain storm!

Now here is where the real story starts: I got off the stage and began packing my guitar away in its case when a guy approaches and starts speaking English and congratulating me. He turned out to be another musician, a drummer, and he asked if I played professionally. I said no, and asked him if he did. He said he did, and that he was also studying jazz drumming at the conservatory. But he said his band was playing in Castellammare soon, and so I should come and listen. The band, he said, was called Babel Tower. It turned out that they had played recently at Picolit, where my musical adventure began last month.

Babel Tower in Castellammare del Golfo



We talked for some time about music, his life, and the band playing around Sicily. I was still a little breathless after performing, and I had to go and find Ornella’s family. So we parted without exchanging contacts.

Then Ornella and I later in the evening went to the Picolit Pub in Castellammare, and I tried to remember the name of the band that this drummer played in, so I could speak to one of the owners of Picolit about it. Since they have a lot of bands there, she had no idea! But then I looked at the names of the bands that have played there recently, and I recognized the name “Babel Tower.” I then found the Instagram page of the band, and looked at the photos and…there I saw the photo of the guy I spoke to at the jam session.

I returned to the owner, told her it was this band, and she said: “Oh yes!!! And by the way, the singer of the band is sitting at the table beside yours!” Unsure whether I should speak to the singer of Babel Tower and tell him I had just met one of the other band members, it was again Ornella who pushed for this. I decided that, yes, I’d love to know the name of the drummer I met and maybe send him a message on Facebook.

So we approached the singer of the band, and we explained the situation. He gave me the link to the Instagram page of the drummer of the band and I followed it. Then, we got involved in more conversation with the singer, pulled our chairs over to his table, and after some minutes of talk, it began to dawn on both Ornella and the singer that they knew each other! They had not seen each other for 15 years or so, but they realized that he had been one of Ornella’s sister’s best friends! And as it turned out, he had long been trying to make contact with her, but as she no longer lives here, he had not found out how to communicate.

Another bit of Babel Tower



This happy situation then led eventually to the singer inviting me to play with Babel Tower at their next gig, in a small town not too far from here on Saturday night! Now, let us remember and realize and think about all of these happy repercussions that came form a moment’s decision as to whether I should or should not make the effort to play at the jam! Had I done the easy thing and just sat back lazily, I would never have met these musicians, never had the fun of playing the jam, never been offered to play this weekend, and Ornella and her sister would never have met this old friend! Astounding what action, and music, can do!

Babel Tower, I learned, plays nearly 300 dates per year throughout Sicily, doing all manner of rock, pop and reggae. I suggest you look them up and give a listen! And maybe you will discover something that will change your life too!

The Power of Good and Evil – Playing at the Chiringuito Scopello Pub in Sicily

July 28, 2022
bradspurgeon

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – Just over 20 years ago I wrote a lighthearted Op-Ed column in the International Herald Tribune newspaper using a personal experience I had to show how a single bad action by someone can have many, many bad repercussions going on for days, weeks or more. This morning when I awoke and thought about the jam session I took part in last night at the Chiringuito pub in Scopello, I suddenly realized that precisely the same ripple effect happens when someone does something good, leading to all sorts of other good things.

I am talking, of course, about the results of the effect that began in my previous blog item, where the generosity of a musician – Francesco Riotta – in giving me the microphone and his guitar during his own gig at a bar in Castellammare del Golfo led to meeting another musician after the performance, who in turn told me that there was a jam session in a nearby village every Wednesday and I should go. After coming here for five or six years, once per year, I had never found an open mic or jam session, and it seemed the only thing missing in our summer paradise. All it took was the generosity of Riotta for the good things to start happening.

Brad playing I won’t back down in Scopello

I took the first opportunity to go to check out the jam session at the Chiringuito Scopello pub, which was last night, Wednesday. This is also proof of how important it is to “get yourself out there” if you want any kind of satisfaction in life: Ornella’s uncle and aunt own a restaurant in Scopello, and we have also been going there for years without ever knowing that the Chiringuito hosted a jam session every Wednesday through the summer for the last three years!

Scopello is part of the commune of Castellammare del Golfo, where we are staying, but it is a kind of separate village suburb, about a 15 minute drive away. It is a beautiful tourist attraction area, with lots of restaurants, and beautiful views, beautiful nearby beaches, and a gathering place for some of the people in Castellammare who want a night out that is slightly different from the usual one of wandering around the streets of the main town.

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

The setting for the Chiringuito is absolutely fabulous! It is an outdoor pub and restaurant, and the stage is quite big, with a decent sound system, good lighting, and a fabulous location that means that you can be seen and heard when you perform by people in the bar area, the lounge area, the restaurant area, and the tables in front of the stage itself. But standing up there and playing and seeing also the surrounding mountains and the sea in the distance – although it is not really clearly visible in that darkness – is a heavenly sensation.

Brad and band playing Mad World in Scopello

The open jam is run according to the usual method, with a sign up list, and it starts around 10pm. But the list order is not strictly followed, especially because much of the jam involves several musicians onstage at once. IE, it is not just an open mic with a single performer or band. It’s a bit of a free-for-all, and once everyone has had a chance to perform once, then the stage is opened to even more mixing, if there is enough time.

First act in Scopello

It is wonderfully hosted by Michelangelo Bologna, who plays harmonica on the videos where I am playing (and elsewhere), and he speaks good English. And as with just about everything here, it turned out that Michelangelo was Ornella’s cousin! (It seems everyone we meet here is Ornella’s cousin, so for me that was not really a surprise.) And Ornella and I both thought he was an exceptional harmonica player. Turns out he studied harmonica at a jazz conservatory!

Michelangelo Bologna demonstrating (English subtitles) his harmonica studies.

Michelangelo told me that last week there were 30 musicians! Given that it lasts only until around 12:30 or 1am, it’s best to get there on time – although I was too early, arriving at 9pm.

There was a large cross-section of performers last night, with lots of blues, a bit of rock, and some acoustic stuff too. In general it was an everything goes kind of jam.

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

What a pleasure this was to play again in front of such a big crowd, to have some wonderful musicians play along with me, mistakes and all, and an incredibly enthusiastic audience, many of them right in front of the stage. For me, it represented the real moment of passing from my Covid hibernation to a break out back to pre-Covid days – ie, I’ve barely played in public at all since the beginning of the pandemic. And for all I know, this place was bursting with the latest, extremely contagious variant…but I couldn’t not do this! And underpinning it all was that generosity of handing over the stage two days before. Incredible how good things come from good things, and bad things from bad. In case you missed it, check out the link – which I add again here – to that story I did in the IHT Meanwhile column for that story I did way back when. And now think about how those repercussions of badness can be the opposite when the initial act is a good one…!

Brad and band Plauing What’s Up!? In Scopello two vid points of view.

PS, I thank Ornella Bonventre’s daughter, Morgana, for all the videos and photos she took of my performances. I also thank Ornella’s aunt, Daniele, for the video she took of my What’s Up!, while standing in a different position to that of Morgana – I combined both of them toward the end of the What’s Up video to have a different perspective.

Acoustic act in Scopello jam

Jamming at the Picolit Pub in Castellammare del Golfo, thanks to the Amazing Francesco Riotta

July 26, 2022
bradspurgeon

Francesco Riotta at Picolit

Francesco Riotta at Picolit

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – I had reached such a bursting point of frustration and desire in wanting to play some music on stage somewhere, anywhere, last night, that before we went out to dinner I said to Ornella: “I want to bring my Gibson J200 with me just in case I find a place to play!” It being very hot, and the likelihood of finding a place to play being very small in this dream of a fantastic seaside town on the coast of Sicily near Palermo, in the end I chose not to take my guitar. Then the miracle happened.

We ate in a wonderful, cheap, heart-warming restaurant – the town is full of them! – and then headed off to one of our two favourite pubs in Castellammare. I am speaking of the Picolit pub, which I have written about in the past, and which features live music at least four nights per week in its outdoor terrace, with the natural amphitheatre of a public staircase. (Our other favorite joint is Cantina Aurelia, which does not feature live music.) As soon as I heard and saw that it was guy on an acoustic guitar – occasionally joined by a bass player – I thought we had to go an listen.

There was something very attractive in his sound, and demeanour: I immediately felt something a little Brazilian in it, but it was manifestly more African, Jamaican, and reggae-related. His performance is very intimate, warm, and he has a great way of communicating with the spectators both through the music and its stories, as well as directly involving them – for instance in using them to create harmony for a chorus to one of his songs. The musician’s name was Francesco Riotta, and while he comes from Palermo, where he was raised in the tangle of culturally mixed streets in the central part of the city, he has also travelled all around playing his music, and learning more sounds, and mixing his culture and language with that of the countries he visits: English, French, African, Spanish, German, etc.

Francesco Riotta at Picolit.

I was intrigued by his guitar, which was steel-stringed but sounded more like a nylon-string guitare, and I could not read the brand name. So when he took a break, I decided to go to ask him if I could look at the guitar, which he had placed in its case. We got into a conversation immediately, and we switched from English to French, as he said he had lived in Paris for a while, and had even written and performed a song in French, and done a video with an African musician, who he met in the Goutte d’Or part of Paris. (He had gone there to seek out African musicians.)

Brad singing What’s Up! at the Picolit in Sicily.

He asked about me, and when he learned that I played guitar and sang, he asked if I wanted to do a song at the end of his set. Hey presto! That need to get up and do a song on stage that I had felt overpowering me before dinner was about to be calmed! Unbelievable! I did two songs, and I was joined by his bass player, Daniele Ferrantelli. This thanks to a generous, human musician who knows what it means to create a great vibe during a gig and give something to a fellow musician. In fact, Francesco knew it very well, because I turned out not to be the only one he lent the stage to. There were a couple of guys who go up from the Picolit clients and did a kind of rap competition – in Italian – and then another singer, a woman named Kristen Palmera, took the mic and she did a couple of songs, for which Francesco played the guitar – one was Hit the Road Jack….

Francesco Riotta’s latest clip.

But in the magic way in which these things almost always happen in the life of the musical troubadour, after the “open mic” ended and the instruments were put away, several of us joined together for a drink, and one of the rappers approached me and he too spoke in French. He informed me that in a neighbouring town, called Scopello (which is actually part of Castellammare, but a 15-minute drive from here), every Wednesday night there is an open jam session in a bar, and I should attend. Wow! It was only the day before that Ornella and I were saying that Castellammare is a perfect place for us, with the exception that I cannot satiate my need to play music by dropping into an open mic in the way I can at home. Hey presto, now I can! I will report on that here once I do it….

Francesco Riotta singing in English at Picolit in Sicily.

PS, lest I give a wrong impression about this place, it is absolutely full of music, and there are several bars with live music several times per week. But they book acts long in advance, so I’ve never had a chance to play in one.

PPS, and for those who noticed the hole in my storytelling…the guitar was a Crafter!!! (The hole was there on purpose, but against my wishes, because I had gone blank while writing this on what the name of the guitar was!!!)

Another great song with Francesco Riotta.

Having a Great Laff in Ottawa, and a Fabulous Moonshine in Oakville

January 5, 2019
bradspurgeon

moonshine café in oakville

moonshine café in oakville

Our last two nights in Canada were spent checking out a couple of open mics I have never played in before. In fact, as far as playing in open mics in Ottawa, I had never done that at all. Both nights had their amazingly cool aspects, as ultimately, I finally found myself in a familiar environment after a week and a half of discoveries of the past, present, and maybe the future, in a country that I used to call home.

I guess I can still call it home thanks to my friends and family still living there, but just about everything else felt a little foreign to me after not visiting much of it for a decade. Yes, I had been going to Montreal yearly for the previous nearly 10 years, to cover the Formula One, but that excluded Toronto, and made Ottawa a big step away. Moreover, this visit was only my second in a Canadian winter since 1983, and that was something else again!

The Laff – or Château Lafayette – calls itself Canada’s oldest tavern, as it was founded in 1849. (It also calls itself Canada’s original Dive bar – which generally means a scummy kind of place, but now means it can also be slightly trendy.) Ornella happened to see that there was an open mic on Tuesday night, and that was our last night in Ottawa, and we were staying within walking distance of the place in the Byward Market, so there was no way possible to miss this one.

The open mic has been running for more than 12 years, and has a large cross-section of performers, a good sound system, and I am sure that if it had not been New Year’s Day, there would have been a lot more musicians and a bigger “musician” vibe. (In fact, I was told this was the case by the longtime organizer of the evening,
John Carroll.) I was just thankful that it even took place on New Year’s Day, since so much of the city was closed down. And, yes, it was around 20 below zero outside with lots of snow and ice on the roads. I was astounded there were as many musicians attending as there were, but then again, such weather is just natural for Ottawa.

And then on to Oakville and the Moonshine Café

commandments of the jam at the moonshine

commandments of the jam at the moonshine

Our final night in Canada we went to visit my old friend, Mark Parr, who had been telling me about this great open mic he has been attending for as long as the Laff open mic has existed in Ottawa. Located in his current hometown of Oakville, which is about 40 minutes’ drive from Toronto, the Moonshine Café is the region’s biggest attraction as a music bar. Toronto itself may be full of bars and music venues, but certainly in the suburban areas, and the region immediately surrounding Oakville – and, as the denizens of the Moonshine say – there is no bar that devotes itself to music the way this one does.

Music every night, basically, it has an open mic, jam sessions, band nights, stars, beginners, everything you can imagine. And the vibe you get from the decor and the piped in music when the stage is empty – mostly they play recordings of people who have played there – shows that the Moonshine really is a musicians’ paradise as far as bars go.

In fact, it is a community as well, and the artifacts and posters on the wall – of musicians (Bob Dylan), house rules, definitions of the jam, photos of past evenings – all attest to and set the vibe of a warm, cosy, home for musicians and spectators alike.

house rules at the moonshine

house rules at the moonshine

The jam this night was – as you will see and hear in my videos – pretty distinctively that of a bunch of local musicians who have played together frequently. (But I am told that they also regularly come from all around the region.) And much to my delight, they were able to fit in really easily with even my own songs that they had never heard before. My friend Mark – who plays the recorder and penny whistles – goaded me on to doing my own stuff when I started out playing a cover song everyone knew. So I tried, “It’s Easy,” and then “Borderline,” and later I jumped into doing some covers I don’t usually try – such as “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum – again due to Mark’s pushing me onwards. I’d like to have that kind of goading at every jam like open mic, as I usually tend to fall into what I see as the three-chord-safety zone of well-known covers.
mark parr and brad spurgeon in action at puck's circus in 1976

mark parr and brad spurgeon in action at puck’s circus in 1976


By the way, the highest point for me of this jam was that it was the first time in my life that I had found myself playing music with Mark. Who could have imagined that 42 years after we shared the same circus ring – as you will be able to see in the photo of the two of us during my juggling act at Puck’s Circus in Toronto – I was now playing music with him on another kind of stage…. Thanks Mark!!!!


Caveau des Oubliettes is Back – and Just like it ever was….

September 5, 2018
bradspurgeon

Caveau des Oubliettes Jam

Caveau des Oubliettes Jam

PARIS – Just a very short post to celebrate that in this time Paris when night music joint after night music joint is closing down as the Parisian population becomes more and more bourgeois and gentrified and refuses to accept the sound of music at nighttime, I can celebrate with a few words to say that a longtime mainstay of the Paris live music scene has returned after months of being closed down. The Caveau des Oubliettes on the Rue Galande in the 5th Arrondissement, near Shakespeare and Company and Notre Dame, has re-opened after its change in ownership and renovation. And it looks the same as it ever did.

Well, of course, the little problem of paying 12 euros for a 50 cl of IPA beer will steer away many a poor musician. Or at least no doubt limit their spending to say, one beer, rather than probably three beers at 5 euros each (and therefore earning more money for the bar).

In any case, the jam I attended on Sunday night was one of the many it has during each week, and this one was the blues jam, now led by Youva Sid, who I met a few years ago at his own bar venue in Menilmontant.

The great news is that this place looks as if it has basically not changed at all. It has just cleaned everything up to make it look more stylish – but the jam principle is the same. Bring your instruments, make your presence known, get up on stage and play!

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

August 8, 2018
bradspurgeon

Oxford

Oxford

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I’m happy to be able to say that I did not remove any open mics from the list, as all the ones I know are still running. The main addition is for the open mic at The Old Bookbinders pub, which I was finally able to attend in July after years and years of trying!

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

A Golden Jamming Concept at Jay Golden’s Jam School at the Disquaires in Paris

February 23, 2018
bradspurgeon

Jay Golden's Jam School

Jay Golden’s Jam School

PARIS – I finally got to drop in to Jay Golden’s Jam School at the Disquaires in Paris on Wednesday evening. Brought my guitar, was happy as a little baby to visit this place I had heard of a long time ago but never attended…then found myself ill-prepared and didn’t play! But that’s no problem. The entertainment was great, and I discovered this fabulous open mic, jamming concept….

Jay, an American expat in Paris, said to me it was in part to get young musicians to learn new stuff. Basically, while it is an open mic, open jam, it has the following twist: It runs every Wednesday night but each week of the month is a different style of music (you can find all the information on the Jay Golden’s Jam School Facebook page) – and when I went, the third Wednesday of the month, it was blues and rock ‘n’ roll – and you sign up and join the other musicians to play in that style.

First at Jay Golden’s jam
But the catch is that you don’t just play blues and rock ‘n’ roll or whatever the style of the week is, you have to look at the set list in advance to see what songs will be played that night. You then join in on the songs that you know how to play. So, for instance, there was “Fever,” (not sure that’s blues or rock ‘n’ roll) and “Brown Sugar and other standards, and you volunteer to play bass or lead guitar or rhythm, or drums, or sax, or whatever. Or vocals. It looks like he is in need of more vocalists – as he made a comment about that. The set list remains the same for each night over four months, and then changes to a new set of songs.

Anyway, the point is, this is a kind of jam, but a highly structured one that has a set list. I spoke briefly to Jay, and he said it was in order to help promote young musicians – but all ages are welcome – to learn new songs.
Second at Jay Golden’s jam

The sound system was excellent, the stage is great, the ambiance fabulous, and the Disquaires has gone through a nice renovation since I played there with my band in 2011 in what I think was our first real gig (and one of our last ones too!!!).

All together a great evening, and I highly recommend checking it out. But do remember that this is not a typical singer songwriter place, nor a typical “anything goes” jam. It has this structure. Golden, by the way, who is from Baltimore, has had a long and illustrious career as a bassist, producer, sound engineer and arranger, working with Luther Allison, Bernard Allison, Liz McComb, Screaming Jay Hawkins, BB King, in Europe, as well as Bryan Adams, Marc Stern, George Clinton, George Benson, Jeff Majors, Pic Connelly, Steve Kelly, Joe, Mario, in North America, among others.

You drummer at Jay Golden’s Jam
Here FYI is the organization of the month:

The 1st week is Jazz
The 2nd week is Funk
The 3rd week is Blues-Rock
The 4th week is Soul
The 5th is a Tribute

From the Arci Turro Jam to an Impromptu Jam at Ligera

May 20, 2017
bradspurgeon

MILAN – Wednesday night in Milan for me has mostly two significations: The Arci Turro jam and the jam at the Milan Joy bar. But last Wednesday I decided after a spell at the Arci Turro – in fact, when it ended at midnight – to go off to the Spazio Ligera bar for a nightcap and forgo the Joy bar jam. But Ligera being Ligera, I found myself invited to open my guitar case and play a few songs. Then one of the owners decided to play a song on my guitar behind the bar, then another one decided to bring out a bongo and invite me to play more while he played the bongos. And so there I was with a jam anyway…!

The Arci Turro was only slightly calmer than the last time I attended and reported about it on this blog. But that too gave me to the opportunity to play more songs behind the mic – and to expose myself as a complete beginner on a classic Chicago blues song….
Jam at Arci Turro

The Spazio Ligera bar proved itself to be the genial, warm and open place I have always said it was. There is often the possibility to just pick up a guitar and play, if not much else is going on – especially not in the concert room in the basement.
jam moment at Spazio Ligera

In any case, it was a fine feeling of fulfilment from the jam point of view last Wednesday in a completely unexpected way – par for the Milan course….

Another Fabulous Find in Milan at the Arci Turro Open Blues Jam

April 22, 2017
bradspurgeon

Arci Turro

Arci Turro

MILAN – This is just the kind of thing that confirms my increasing belief and understanding about the Milan cultural scene: It took until Wednesday evening for me to discover one of the coolest open jams in the city. And the Arci Turro open blues jam has been going on weekly for more than three years. How could I have missed it? The answer is simple and goes back to that bit about my understanding….

Milan is spread out all over the place. There is no real concentration of any particular kind of life in the city – except perhaps the most easily recognizable Duomo kind of life and its major commercial center in the middle of the city. Elsewhere, to find an open mic, an open jam, a theater, a music venue, you have to know where they are, either by word-of-mouth, or long, long experience and contacts.
Arci Turro blues jam second

Of course, it is all up there on the internet in one form or another, but that seems not very clearly communicated either. In any case, the xxx open jam takes place in one of the coolest bars I have discovered so far.

Located in a completely residential and/or business area just off the via Padova area, the venue sits on a side street with complete anonymity. It has a completely laid back club house sort of feel to it, with large dining tables in the front room, a neat bar in the back, a giant billiards table – the kind with no ball pockets – and a multi-level back porch with more tables and chairs. It is also decorated in almost a clubhouse kind of way, with newspaper clippings pinned to a corkboard, books in shelves, and various other bric-a-brac.
Arci Turro blues jam first

In fact, it is something of a clubhouse, as it is the location of an association that is linked to all sorts of events, and just happens to have this bar and jam – the blues jam is run by Giulio Brouzet, who joins in on harmonica and vocals, depending on the situation. There is also an upright piano, and basically it seems every kind of instrument is accepted.

I played with my guitar and sang, and accompanying me were a trumpet player, a violin player, a harmonica player, a drummer, and a lead guitar player. There may have been more, but as you sit in something close to a circle halfway between the two main rooms of the venue, I’m not sure I saw all the people who were playing along when I did my number! And, yes, I did not do a blues song, since I don’t know how to play any – so although the emphasis here is about 90 percent blues, the jam is open to other things, or at least a broad definition of blues.
Arci Turro blues jam … after the jam around midnight….

In any case, the atmosphere is so cool at the Arci Turro in both the jam and the bar in general, that I will be sure to return whenever I can. It also happens to be on the same night of the week as the Joy Milano jam that I have written about several times, but as it turns out, the Arci Turro ends around 23:30 and the Joy Milano only really gets swinging into high action at around that time, so you can go from the one to the other. As did several of the musicians last Wednesday, I was told. But I was so comfortable at the Arci Turro that I hung around for another hour or so talking to people on the back porch and drinking some of the many available wines….

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….