I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Milan Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I’m pretty disappointed that the moment I update this guide is also the moment I lose the mainstay listing of the Fermento bar, which stopped its open mic/open jam. But thankfully, I do get to add a new open mic, the even cooler one at the Bachelite CLab bar that takes place every second Thursday….
(PS: Update to the update!: I’ve also added the new quasi open mic/open jam of the Spazio Ligera, which I discovered in September, and which is one of my favorite bars in Milan now, although the open mic/open jam is not regular – as you can see by my description on the Guide.)
PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the songs I sing most often on my world travels is the now classic Tears for Fears song, “Mad World.” I really don’t know how this came to be a staple of my open mic stage repertoire. Well, except that I like playing it, everyone seems to know it, and it turns out to be one of the few songs that I feel really comfortable playing impromptu when I’ve got other musicians on stage, none of whom I have ever played with.
With the recent absolutely MAD events around the world – such things as the Donald Trump election, Brexit, Italy, who knows what in France, and goodness knows how many surprises to come in the future – I thought it was a good moment to make a video of as many of the “Mad World” videos that I could find of me playing in open mics and open jam sessions around the world. The idea was to join them all together at the lip, and use as the common thread the recording of “Mad World” that I have on my album, released this year, “Out of Jam.” (Which is available now on all the basic downloading sites, such as iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, and who knows how many others!)
I also decided to let slip into the video the occasional “live” sound from the actual recordings at the open mics, where it seems to fit O.K. without too much disruption.
Needless to say, this compilation of “Mad World” moments from early 2010 up until last month in 2016, is only a small sample of the hundreds of times, and dozens of countries in which I have sung the song solo or in a group, due to the fact that I’m usually not the subject of the videos for this blog, but the recorder of the videos. This video represent some of the few occasions in which someone actually did record me – and I have so many other musicians around the world to thank for the times they played “Mad World” or other songs with me, that it would take too long here – and be too boring – to name them all.
So check out the link above, to my “Mad World – Around the (mad) world.”
ABU DHABI – I was greatly relieved to find that one of the rare open mic, open jam events in Abu Dhabi, one that I had found last year, still exists this year, and was as fun and open as ever. This is the Friday night jazz night at the Mood Indigo Lounge in the Mercure City Center hotel, in downtown Abu Dhabi. It is hosted and led by the genial and talented Rob Millner, who plays piano and sings, and he had a drummer and bass player backing him up throughout the evening. It is organized by Bruce Olsen. It is mostly geared towards jazz, as I say, but like any great open stage, just about anything is acceptable. But what I did find out to my great disappointment is that if I had gone directly there on Wednesday night upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, I’d have found a similar evening devoted more to folk, acoustic music, with this time Rob Millner on the Irish fiddle!
And I can confirm by what I heard through a short snippet of a recording, Rob is as adept on the fiddle as he is on the piano! In any case, the stage was certainly open on Friday, and although this might be one of the best kept secrets in Abu Dhabi, as the place was no overflowing with jammers, there was a very agreeable saxophone player who joined in, and I had my moment behind the mic, with the band, too. First at Mood Indigo Lounge jam in Abu Dhabi
I kind of get tired of always playing the same standard songs in my repertoire whenever it is a jam situation – i.e., playing with musicians I’ve never played with before on songs they don’t know – so I decided to try something a little new. I felt confident with Rob’s piano as well as the drumming and bass playing, so I decided to risk doing Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” which has two, three, maybe even four different chord structured parts to it and can take other musicians by surprise if you don’t know it. I also did a couple of Bob Dylan songs, and of course, “Mad World.” Second at Mood Indigo in Abu Dhabi
To my amazement, it went over just fine – at least I’m judging by the way I felt we only went off the rails a couple of times, and by how a number of people in the audience were dancing away to it. It was a great pleasure, especially in this oasis of a night club in Abu Dhabi, which is not dry of musical joints, but has only about three other open mics from what I can make out – and none of the others took place this weekend….
If I can get back again to the Mood Indigo Lounge, I will!
The big discovery was the new location (and day) for the Austin Songwriters Group’s open mic, on Monday’s at the legendary Threadgill’s off South Congress by the river in the center of town. I still have yet to do my blog write up about that one, as well as my visit to Speakeasy last night after the ASG event. (Two in one night.) But as I had a few minutes free in the airport before I fly to Atlanta and then Mexico City, I decided to update the guide.
AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!
Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept. A Dario Fo moment at Ligera
After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing. More of jam at Ligera in Milan
And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera. Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro
And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown
I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A. First at Stay Gold
I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set. Second at Stay Gold
But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q. Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin
The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place. Sundown and spoons
MILAN, Italy – The via Padova part of town in Milan, is apparently a little bit of the seedy corner of things. But I didn’t notice any of that last night as I took part in the coolest jam session I have yet been in in this otherwise not very musical – in the pop music sense – city. Oh, once upon a time I had another fabulous jam similar to this, at the anarchist’s club not far from the location of last night’s jam at the Spazio Ligera. And it should be no surprise, then, that the way I found out about this regular, if occasional, jam at this music bar/venue was thanks to my friend Emiliano Laurenzi – who plays the didgeridoo – the very man who had organized the anarchists’ jam at the Circolo Anarchico Ponte della Ghisolfa seven years ago!
Seven years between amazing jams? Of course, I’ve attended the blues jam at Frontera regularly since then, but that is a blues jam. The Chitarrata at the Ligera last night was a jam the likes of which I have only really run into before in Sao Paulo, with everyone gathering around a table and spread out throughout the café and playing whatever instrument comes to hand, with any song that they feel like. Last night I heard more Italian songs in one single night than I’ve ever heard anywhere, and they ranged from pop to rock to the song of the resistance against fascism. But there was also Bob Dylan, 4 Non-Blondes and everything you can imagine in between from the 60s on up to today. Third at Ligera in Milan
Emiliano was there, too, with the most bizarre didgeridoo that I have ever seen: A mini, snail-shaped, or spiral, handheld didgeridoo that seemed to have a voice as big as the long, encumbering instrument we know so much better. There were at least four guitar players, a bongo, a kazoo and I don’t know what all else. And vocalists galore. Amazingly, I was never really intimidated by a situation that usually makes me feel a little ill-at-ease, playing with no microphone. But it was best to find a vocal that could be belted out very loud above the din of the joyous gathering of people at the Ligera. Second at Ligera in Milan
The walls of this underground café are covered with photos and posters of crime movies, and other interesting pop culture phenomena – I also noticed some kind of Stratocaster hung up high on the wall above our head – and I regret that I missed my chance to delve into the cave to take a look at the regular concert space, which in the photos looks like a typical European vaulted cave room. (Think “Cavern Club.”) It is there that Ligera usually holds its gigs with local bands. On occasions when there is no gig lined up, they often decide to hold an open jam like last night’s on the ground floor of the bar. Fifth at Ligera in Milan
Incidentally, the café is also called a 70s café, whatever that is. All I know is that it was a fabulous cross-section of people attending, and there was as much warmth coming from the jam as there was from the other people in the bar there just to talk, occasionally listen and occasionally sing. It completely and totally lifted my previous sense of Milan as a pretty stuffy place musically speaking into being as capable as any other city of having a very cool and musically vibrant scene. First at Ligera in Milan
It also confirmed my desire NEVER to jump to conclusions about a city’s musical environment when I have a very poor grasp of the language and cannot therefore easily find the musical get-togethers. To say nothing of my unfortunate timing in Milan in early September when everyone and every venue is still contemplating summer at Lake Como or some cooler place. How could I possibly have found out about this “Chitarrata” without a little help from my friend…. Follow @BradSpurgeon
But I did do a considerable amount of housekeeping on the page, and added links of stories and items that were not there before, and I updated information as my knowledge and understanding of certain open mics grows….
BAKU, Azerbaijan – Unfortunately the European soccer championships in France that are currently dominating television channels all over the continent interfered with what I heard was the best open mic in Baku. Yes, many bars place people kicking balls around a field as higher entertainment than live music! But that did not stop at least a couple of bars in Baku last night from putting on live entertainment as well as the images of the soccer on their television screens. And that meant that I could try to party crash the house bands in these places and see if I could scream my heart out in Baku again. Thanks to the open arms attitude of the Baku house bands at both Finnegan’s pub and the same place I went to last Wednesday, Pancho’s Mexican etc., I got to play with two mean house bands, and fabulous full-house crowds.
And to forget about the soccer tournaments. Finnegan’s is a typical Irish pub, and the house band was a very mean all-rounder with a keyboard player, sax player, two lead guitarists – one who reverted to rhythm while the other did lead – a drummer and bass player. And although it was not classified as an open mic, they did seem to let up others who were not actually part of the band, that included me and a woman singer. Cool house band at Pancho’s
They were a very, very hot band, so tight, with a vast repertoire of pop, from blues rock to Pink Floyd, and even some kind of 60s bubble gum stuff in between. I felt I got off to a bit of a slow start with “Mad World,” but after the Dylan and then “Wicked Game,” it was pretty much full swing. It was one of those situations I just love, with a full house of appreciative listeners packed right in up to the stage area. First with house band at Finnegan’s
Later, well after midnight, I decided to check out Pancho’s Mexican/Adam’s Curries, where I had played in an open mic on Wednesday. There was a very cool sort of “new wave,” laid back, slightly techno-sounding band that mixed their own songs with some original versions of covers, including an upbeat version of “Wicked Game”! I took them a bit by surprised when I asked at around 1 AM if I could do a song, but in the same spirit of openness as the band at Finnegan’s, they let me play, and they all played along. guitar and sax at Finnegan’s
I started with “I Won’t Back Down,” then did the same Dylan as at Finnegan’s (You Ain’t Goin Nowhere) and then I decided to push the limits by doing my “Borderline.” It was all a fabulous moment, and I will leave Baku in a couple of days feeling very warm about the music scene and musicians here, even if I have barely scratched the surface…. And even if they should not get rid of open mics in favor of soccer – but that happens everywhere in the world, or at least in Europe….
WAKEFIELD, Quebec – If it is Wednesday, this must be Wakefield, Quebec. Where? Yes, Wakefield. Wake up! And if you cannot wake up, go to Wakefield on a Wednesday night and attend the open mic of the Kaffé 1870. I attended on Wednesday, and while I was told it was a good one that night, what I saw was an AMAZING open mic. Of course, it helped that it was run by one of my best and oldest friends in life, Jamie Munro. And it helped that despite him being one of my best and oldest friends we had never ever played music together before, and did so that night. But I can assure anyone reading this blog, that if Wednesday night at the Kaffé 1870 as anything to go by, this is really a very cool open mic.
Wakefield is a small town about half an hour’s drive outside of Ottawa, in Quebec. It has little more than an out of use train station and track with weeds growing out of it, a scenic lake on which it is all set, a depanneur, a few arts shops and restaurants and minor lodging places, a covered bridge, a whole lot of surrounding ski resorts and … actually, it’s adding up to something now, isn’t it? And the population of Wakefield, I came to learn, is quite arty, intelligent and hip. And the Kaffé 1870 feels like a bit of Texas in Wakefield. Or something like that. Third at the Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield
It is a warm bar that feels a little like a ranch, with a neat overhanging front porch for when it is warm – one day per year – and it has a couple of rooms within and a nice, cosy, but sizeable stage with a really decent sound system. Second at the Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield
The open stage of the Kaffé 1870 has been running maybe 10 years or more, and Jamie is one of several rotating hosts. I mean, he doesn’t host it that often, but if he really wants to, it seems, he can. So it was that when he heard I was coming to town, he decided to host the open mic. And for him, that meant bringing his drum set and playing along with all of those participants who decided they wanted drums. Fourth at the Kaffé 1870
So here was I playing my songs with Jamie on drums, another guy on bass, and during my Bob Dylan finale – “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere,” another musician leapt to the stage and did a wicked harmonica accompaniment. It was really surreal playing on that stage with our band with an old friend with whom I have never played music, and we didn’t even think to rehearse! And I think we nailed it! First at the Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield
But if the night was only about me, then forget it. This was a hell of a night in terms of the quality of musicians and the atmosphere, and I am very happy that I was the second man to play. That role was bad enough after the brilliant fingerpicker. But had I seen the talent that would go up the entire nightlong, I’d have been much more reticent about getting up on stage.
There was a great energetic French singer, a kind of mini brass band, a super lead guitar player accompanying several other singer songwriter types, and just generally a very savvy bunch of performers and above all, above all an audience that was kind hearted and ready to dance, move, listen and jive. In fact, the whole evening was so much fun – and while the accent was on the English, there were a number of French people – that I just couldn’t draw myself away from watching, or talking to other old friends, long enough to make more than a handful of videos.
So don’t just try to figure things out with this blog account. Get over to the Kaffé 1870 the next time you happen to be in Wakefield, Quebec. Oh, yes, did I forget to mention that it felt really strange also playing there and knowing that in the 1970s my father had lived a three minute drive down the road?!