Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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….