Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Five Musicians In Search of Nothing: Thriving in a Covid World

April 7, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.

And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!

1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)

The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.

2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.

First single from “Dusk,” the new CD from Paddy Sherlock

If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

3) The only musician on this short list who I did not meet at an open mic is Misja Fitzgerald Michel, one of France’s top jazz guitarists, whom I met through a mutual friend, a photographer. And what a discovery! I say he is a jazz guitarist, but he is pretty much an all-rounder, and never more so than now that I can tell you about his recent exploit. (Misja did a fabulous CD a few years ago playing guitar along to the singing of Hugh Coltman of cover songs all by Nick Drake. A kind of Nick Drake tribute album that got some great critical reviews.) In fact, he has had two very interesting projects in the past year or so since Covid, one being his CD with a vibrophone player named Franck Tortiller, but the one I wanted to draw your attention to now is astounding!

Making of the Elzbieta Sikora piece with Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.

Gaelle Buswel

Gaelle Buswel

4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”

Title song of Gaelle Buswel’s latest album.

I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….

5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….

Joe Danger singing his “Let’s Get Rich” song.

I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!

PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:

My own song, “What’s All This Talk!?”

“What’s All This Talk?!”

January 17, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – Just a quick post to mention that I have updated my personal music site, Bradspurgeonmusic.com with my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” This is a new protest song that I wrote just before the U.S. presidential elections last November, and which I decided to make a video for after seeing the attack on the Capitol Building illustrating everything I had been protesting about. I’ll probably do another post to speak more of that in the coming days, but for the moment, I just wanted to note that the song and video are now on my music site under the news section on the opening page, and in the video section. And here, for good measure, is a link to that video here too:

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

April 26, 2017
bradspurgeon

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

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

Since You Left Me – video

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

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

The Sounds and Visions of CPH:DOX: A Podcast Conversation with Adam Thorsmark

March 23, 2017
bradspurgeon

Adam Thorsmark

Adam Thorsmark

COPENHAGEN – The reason I came to attend the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival this week – which I have been reporting on extensively on this blog – is because it has a special section called “Sound & Vision,” that focuses on music documentaries, as well and another part to it that draws together interesting music groups and visual things – such as the concert by Tindersticks in conjunction with an old documentary, Minute Bodies; or a concert by a Danish band called Shiny Darkly at a film about the career of rock photographer Mick Rock. The man who is the head of both of these musicl sub-categories of the festival is a 32-year-old Dane named Adam Thorsmark. Adam studied film, but is above all a music lover, and has always combined in his career the mix of film and music. In addition to writing music reviews for various publications and other music and film related jobs, it was therefore no surprise that since 2011 he became the head of these music activities at the festival, also known as CPH:DOX.

I had the great luck to find myself being allowed to meet and interview Adam yesterday in the restaurant of the main festival hall. My original idea had been to write a Q&A for this blog from the interview, but suddenly I realized that for a Sound & Vision section of the film festival, it made much more sense to edit the half hour interview down into a podcast. So here is the interview, and please excuse the ambient noise of the restaurant… or perhaps it is a better idea to appreciate it and hear just how lively is this CPH:DOX festival. And to appreciate through the sound of his voice, especially, Adam’s enthusiasm for his job, the official title of which is: Head of Regional Activities & Music.

Podcast interview with Adam Thorsmark Head of Music at CPH:DOX, with Brad Spurgeon

Mad World – around the (mad) world

December 9, 2016
bradspurgeon

The World

The World

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.”

A mad idea in a mad world, for a Mad World.

A Fun and Intriguing Night at the Black Horse Open Mic in Mexico City – With a Cameo by a Runaway Director

October 27, 2016
bradspurgeon

Black Horse Open Mic Mexico City

Black Horse Open Mic Mexico City

MEXICO CITY – One of the occasional side shows of open mics around the world is the attendance of unusual people meeting on the level playing field of the amateur stage. Sometimes this comes in the form of professional musicians, actual rock stars, opera stars, or symphony violinists taking to the stage. Sometimes it comes in the form of actors or actresses trying their hand at the similarly thespian art of singing and performing live music instead of inhabiting theatrical roles. Last night at Mexico City’s only open mic, this cameo guest role came in the form of the somewhat eccentric, controversial and talented director of classic rock videos by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and, for me most significantly, “Runaway Train,” by Soul Asylum. Oh, and of course, this rather private man, Tony Kaye, is above all known as the renegade director of the film, American History X. So what the hell was he doing at the Black Horse open mic in Mexico City?

First part of Tony Kaye’s performance recorded on Zoom


Well, first of all, if you go to Tony Kaye’s Wikipedia page entry, you will find him defined as: “Director, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, actor, writer, poet, singer/songwriter, painter.” Yes, singer/songwriter. So what could be more natural than for him to show up at an open mic in a town where he is apparently doing some filming? And guess what? I could see from his performances and the lyrics and music of his songs that Tony Kaye is definitely expressing himself in song. This is not just a capricious night out to give a try behind the open mic. In fact, I learned that he had also attended the same open mic the week before. (NOTE: After posting this blog item, I learned through amazing synchronicity in a conversation with someone who knew someone else who is working with Kaye now in Mexico on an advertisement for Mr. Muscle, a Mexican cleaning product  like Mr. Clean.  So that’s why Kaye is here; directing a commercial. It all makes clean sense now!)

Second part of Tony Kaye’s performance – recorded on Galaxy 6

Mounting the stage, he put on a hat that made him look vaguely like the Wicked Witch of the West, and had his by now trademark long white beard, and round spectacles, and definitely had a “presence.” And yet, it was interesting to see this legendary – if not very productive – film director (and ad man) then go on to apologize before his performance: “Thanks for letting me indulge in my hobby here before you,” he said, or something very similar. And he repeated two or three times that, “I’m only an amateur…”

Jairus and Ty opening the open mic at the Black Horse


That made me think, nevertheless, that maybe Tony Kaye has not done THAT many open mics or public performances, since I think there is a moment where you stop apologizing and just get on with doing your best. But there was not much of a way of learning the background to it all, for Tony off stage was actually a lot more private than onstage. He sat mostly by himself, and when I tried to venture over and start a conversation, I found it roadblocked most of the time. Is this his nature? Is it because as I learned from the IMDB that Kaye has had a severe speech impediment since childhood? What I really wanted to talk most about was that song, “Runaway Train,” which is one of the few cover songs that I do.

Natalia doing her moment at the open mic at the Black Horse in Mexico City


In fact, I was really tempted to sing my version of the song, and to preface it with my usual statement that while most people tend to use a respectable term for covering other musicians music by calling it “interpretation,” for me I say that I always try to cover another performer’s song in EXACTLY the way they do it… and I fuck up completely, but the fuck up ends up being called “interpretation,” and sometimes it is considered slightly original!

Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City

Tony Kaye at Black Horse in Mexico City

But in the end, I opted to do “Mad World,” and two of my own songs. Not only did I not quite have the nerve to do “Runaway Train,” but I felt it to be too fawning. I did, however, tell him that for me, that song had never represented the interpretation he had given it in the video, i.e., about teenagers who run away from home. Despite having run away from home myself briefly at age 17, I told him, I always felt the song was much more likely about such a thing as drug addiction, or perhaps addiction to a relationship one cannot break away from. (The band itself refers to it being about depression.)

The duo at the Black Horse open mic


In any case, it much to my great and huge delight to hear Tony Kaye respond to me very quickly about my observation by answering: “Oh, I put a spin on it.” In other words, he had very creatively interpreted the song his own way – and as it turned out, that was an important interpretation, as it is said to have helped save many relationships as many runaways were subsequently found.

Tony Kaye’s “Runaway Train” video for Soul Asylum


Part of me thinks I should not be writing that on the blog, since I had not intended to “interview” him, but this blog is a conversational thing that I generally write in as if I’m sharing stories with my friends. And I’ve already told a few friends about that conversation. So rightly or wrongly, I quote him there. Maybe, in fact, that is part of the reason he remained so private and closed-mouthed in general throughout the evening. But I think, now having looked up his career in Hollywood and the ad world, that possibly that has more to do with just how this eccentric director happens to be as a person.

Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Tony Kaye video)

I felt slightly embarrassed for Kaye when he got up to do his first song and after a few words of introduction – those apologies – he was entirely drowned out by the cheers of a large number of Mexicans watching an important soccer match with a Mexican team, precisely coinciding with the penalty shootout! When the cheers were explained to Kaye, he said in a very good natured way: “Well, I can’t compete with that, can I?”

In any case, Tony Kaye made the evening for a lot of people last night by showing up to do more of his very personal music, and I continue to feel justified in loving the open mic format.

But I should NOT being talking only about Tony Kaye. The evening at the Black Horse was another classic open mic evening, with a wonderful hosting job done by both Natalia – who did a great rendition of the Mercedes Benz song by Janis Joplin – and by Jairus, whom I had met last year when I attended.

There were many other fun and interesting performers as well, by the way, especially the couple of model-musicians who do music together as well as model together, with the woman on keyboards and the guy on guitar, and both on vocals. They did among other songs, a Pink Floyd….

Anyway, why could there not be MORE open mics in Mexico City!!!???? Perhaps there would be even more meetings with remarkable men…(and women)….

PS, a few hours after posting this blog item, I learned of a fabulous video that shows Jairus McDonald and his band in a recent live recording they did of some of their songs and some covers. The quality of this video, and especially the quality of the sound is spectacular – to say nothing of the quality of the musicianship. This is truly the Jairus I saw in his brief live appearance at the open mic last night, too. Apparently this video is one of a series of such live videos recorded in Mexico City of basically only Latin American bands, and Jairus and his band are the exception. I can see why. Very cool….

Peregrino – Sesión Completa (En Sesiones Claustro) – Jairus McDonald on vocals and guitar and the band…

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