Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Singing, Juggling, Ventriloquising, Clowning, Unicycling and Acting with Ornella and TAC Teatro at the Forum des Associations of Asnières-sur-Seine

September 16, 2018
bradspurgeon

Brad and Ornella performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

Ornella and Brad performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

Ornella and Brad performing for TAC Teatro in Asnières-sur-Seine

ASNIERES-SUR-SEINE, France – It is now a week ago, so no longer considered news, but I wanted to get down as a matter of record, the fabulous day I spent performing with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro at the Forum des Associations of Asnères-sur-Seine. Founded in Milan, Italy, TAC Teatro now also has a base in France, in Asnières. And last weekend was the annual associations forum of this city just outside of Paris. That meant it was time for the local associations to show off what they do, and try to get new adherents. We had the whole stage to ourselves in front of the mayor’s building – the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall – and had great fun performing a little show as Ornella introduced TAC to the people of Asnières.

I was pleased to find myself on stage for the first time with the newly face-lifted Peter McCabe, my ventriloquist’s – well…o.k., sorry, Peter, I’ll just say, happy to be on stage with Peter after his recent facelift. Only problem was the facelift seems to have gone to Peter’s ego, and he announced to the people of Asnières that he was going to be the next president of the United States of America – saying that he could do a lot better than the current office holder.

We put together a short video of some highlights of our time on the stage, which I paste in here; and we were very proud to find a few days later – and this makes some sense of having not written about this before now – to find that we were picked up in the official city video of the event, very much near the place of honor, in the last 10 or so seconds of the video, at approximately the 2 minute 20 second point of the video. I am pasting that one in here too.

In any case, it was a fabulous day, and thank goodness the weather was great – as it has been all summer, but after the worst winter in recent memory in Paris (and Asnières). I hope Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro are selected to do this again (as not all of the associations were selected to show off their expertise).

The Inspiring Steve Forbert Memoir, or Another Great Gift From Romeo: Big City Cat

September 11, 2018
bradspurgeon

Big City Cat Cover

Big City Cat Cover

PARIS – I am so relieved to have just finished reading Steve Forbert’s memoir, “Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock.” I am a very slow reader, and I had been glued to it during every off-moment of the past three or four days since I downloaded it into my Kindle – wreaking havoc on the rest of my life. I had been waiting patiently for the book’s release date and the moment that came, I downloaded it and dug in. Were it not for other commitments I would have finished it in a single reading, if possible. As it was, I was forced to put down the Elvis Costello autobiography to read Forbert’s, but I couldn’t kill all of my commitments – work, family and social. So it took a few days. Why all the excitement?

Let me use the Costello book, “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” as a point of departure. Forbert and Costello were born only four months apart in 1954, with Costello being the older of the two. I was born almost exactly three years after Forbert. They were born on different sides of the Atlantic ocean, and both became famous at almost the same time – Costello’s first album, “My Aim is True” was released in July ’77, while Forbert’s first album, “Alive on Arrival” came out in June ’78. I was living off my busking in London’s Marble Arch subways at the time Costello’s album appeared, and I was renting a bed in a crappy hotel in Notting Hill Gate. I remember seeing the posters all over the place for Costello’s album, with the photos of the nerd with the horn-rimmed glasses, and I remember thinking, “Who is this clown?” In time (years, really), Costello would become one of my favorite singer songwriters, and remains so today.

Forbert, for me, was a completely different story. He was one of my early musical influences. But not from his album, it was from having attended open mic nights at Folk City in New York City in 1976 when he was starting out, and I met him there, and talked to him about himself a little as we stood in line outside in the cold, waiting to sign our names to the list for the night’s open mic. He uses the older term “hootenanny,” and writes extensively about this period in his life. It fills in a background for me not only of his life, but of the life I took part in at the time but only briefly, and only barely, and especially of all that I missed by not staying in NYC long enough before returning to Toronto.

Alive on Arrival

Alive on Arrival


At the time, I was very interested in talking to him because, for me at 18, seeing this 21-year-old take to the stage and spread some kind of magic around the room, filling the place with a presence and a sound that I could not identify, I wondered what the hell was going on here? What was happening that the room changed when “Little Stevie Orbit” took to the stage? What orbit did he come in from? I was confused, particularly since I knew that my own efforts on stage as a musician at the time were so poor, and so many of the other musicians taking part in the “hoot” sounded simply human – not from another galaxy or time warp.

So his influence on me was something in his performance that I continued to search for a long while and eventually started to grasp one evening while busking in London in the fall of ’77, the following year, and feeling something about how to use the whole body and express through the body and voice the fire of the emotion burning inside the gut. (It would take me many, many more years, even so, to get to any point where I could be in any way satisfied with a feeling of how to reproduce that thing at will.) So it is that I know exactly what Forbert’s eventual manager, Danny Fields, was referring to when he describes in the book what got him interested in the young Forbert:

“I … loved the intensity of performance — I would say that most of all,” Fields is quoted saying. “I don’t remember words, just remembered he played, he sang and he played and he stomped with his boots, so he was like a one-man band and I liked that.”

That’s a bit of a crude and simple description of the thing Forbert gave off – in addition to the rich, unique rasp of his young voice – but it does indicate it was this “thing” that was being communicated and reaching everyone that listened and saw him perform. There was a genuineness that came through it all, too. And in reading this autobiography, I realize where the genuineness came from: Forbert, who reached international fame in the pop charts in 1979 with “Romeo’s Tune,” is about as genuine as they come. This book is genuine. Unlike so many efforts at propaganda that show business personalities release as memoirs or autobiography, “Big City Cat,” gives several sides of the story.

There is the beautifully told, laid back, easy voice of Forbert – his Mississippi voice comes through – telling the main narrative (in which he frequently talks about his own failings as well as his strong points and successes). But the book also gives space for several of the other people involved in his career, including the aforementioned Fields, who are given what appears to be freedom to talk about the bad side of Forbert as well as the good. (At one point Forbert just fired his whole entourage, without much explanation, including Fields – and it was for good. Oh, and he goes on doing the same with his managers for decades.)

Forbert as “the new Bob Dylan”?

And so, yes, it turns out, the “bad side” is mostly, possibly, bad for Forbert himself, who does not hide that he probably made some mistakes in his career choices that led to his career peaking in the late-70s, early ’80s before he completely disappeared from the pop firmament and never had another hit like Romeo’s Tune. He was one of a long line of singer songwriters who were cursed with the epithet, “the new Bob Dylan.”

“I say to this day that, deep down, Steve Forbert wanted to be the new Bob Dylan and/or the new Elvis Presley,” writes Fields. “And, the cataclysm, you know, was when he woke up and he was not either the new Bob Dylan or the new Elvis Presley. It became apparent after the third album—he was not the new Bob Dylan—and he lashed out.”

But here’s the beauty of the book, in Forbert’s immediate response in the main narrative:

“Any career disappointments I had didn’t center around the cliché of being the “new Bob Dylan.” I never put any credence in that,” Forbert writes. “I knew enough to know that that tag put me in some pretty good company, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, and Loudon Wainwright being three. I’m sure they would agree that what it basically conjured was a talent for poetic storytelling. As far as whatever literal expectations it might set up, it was nothing to be taken seriously. No one new was ever going to be able to bring about the radical changes the real Bob Dylan had brought to songwriting.”

“In my case, my illusions were shattered when I didn’t manage to follow the success of “Romeo’s Tune.” I had been under the impression that I could accomplish pretty much anything I wanted to do. For a while I could. And then, lo and behold, I couldn’t.”

This reminds me exactly – paradoxically – of the quote in Bob Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles,” where after the producer Daniel Lanois beseeches Dylan to write some new songs like the epic greats he wrote in the 1960s, Dylan responds that he would love to, but that he can no longer do that – that that was another time, place and Dylan. (I am paraphrasing without returning to read the original quote.)

But true to his genuineness, Steve Forbert has continued writing songs, playing music, loving music, being obsessed by music, to this day. And making albums. And touring endlessly, including around Europe and elsewhere. (I saw Forbert solo in a small town in England in 2013.) Here is, finally, a man who – after semi-serious alcohol problems in addition to the career problems – appears to be ultimately at peace with himself and his career.

“By the time “Romeo’s Tune” was a hit I had already surpassed my personal level of comfort with, oddly enough, the very goals I’d set out to achieve,” he writes near the end of the book. “If it’s clear that I am not the type of personality that would ever be at ease with a household name–level of fame, then I should be pretty comfortable these days.”

Beyond Romeo’s Tune: Or the Forbert behind it all

For me, Forbert’s voice, his talent, his “thing” from Folk City suddenly made sense to me in the middle of October 1978 when I had just returned from one of the most painful episodes of my life, living in Iran during the Revolution, and I was taking a black London taxi from the airport back to the apartment where I had been living while in London for most of the previous year. All of a sudden, over the cab radio I heard a song, I think it was “Goin’ Down to Laurel,” and I instantly recognized the voice and the feeling. It was that guy from Folk City from two years earlier.

All of my questions and confusion suddenly got answered and straightened out. He had simply been so fabulous and gifted that he was destined to be heard on the radio. It hit me with all the greater power because I was returning from the hell of the revolution in Teheran to the comfort of the West, and felt life opening up with endless possibilities. Forbert’s voice and performance seemed to fit right in with that sense of an optimistic future.

And as life’s strange synchronicities would have it, the apartment where I was heading was that of Paul Gambaccini, the American BBC radio DJ and pop music writer, which was where I had lived before heading for Iran. Paul was unaware that I was returning – but I still had my key – and so he came home that afternoon to find me sleeping on the couch in the living room. It was a slightly awkward situation for a moment, as he had come home with a couple of people he was going to interview; a guy named Bob Geldof and his girlfriend Paula Yates.

I had no idea who Geldof was – other than Paul telling me he was a singer in a band called the Boomtown Rats -, but when Geldof discovered I had just returned from the revolution in Iran, he was more interested in talking about that than doing the interview with Paul. His probing questions about the life of the people of Iran I would look at in future years as highly significant of his character: The man who eventually became famous and knighted for his charity concerts and philanthropy nearly a decade later to help people in need, was already interested in the needy people of Iran in 1978.

All of that might appear like going off topic, but I don’t think it is: Whatever you do in life, it will be influenced by the character guiding the whole enterprise. The true “you,” that you are, the one that makes the decisions every waking moment. And reading Forbert’s book, I feel I have finally understood what made up this massively talented “one-hit wonder,” who has, in fact, had a lot more to contribute to the musical world than just “Romeo’s Tune.”

And this draws us back around to the Costello book, which as reflected in its title, “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” is a completely different read from a completely different character. Where Forbert’s could be read in a single rollercoaster read (or ride) the Costello book, like his music, is a vast tapestry of stories, memories and impressions in a language that is much more involved than in the Forbert book. I saw an interview with Costello recently on YouTube where he says that the book is meant to be read very slowly (which made me feel immediately better about myself and my slow – but relishing – reading of his book). So I felt no problem dropping it for the Forbert rollercoaster, and I will now pick it up again. Suffice it to say, there could not be a bigger difference in philosophy between the two books – as I think there is in the two lives, and the two musicians’ music….

By the way, in another strange twist of fate, in 1980 when I was back in Toronto and preparing to go to see Forbert in concert after the release of his third album, “Little Stevie Orbit,” I glanced into the window of the record store on the way to the concert and saw suddenly jumping out at me the name of the man who had written the liner notes to the album: Paul Gambaccini! How the hell did that happen?!?! Come to think of it, Paul might well have been the DJ who put the Forbert tune on the radio in London as I was in the cab on the way back.

I highly recommend anyone who does not know Forbert’s music to get listening immediately, and go out and get this book. It’s a great read about the whole pop music world of the last 50 years. Forbert was one of the rare musicians who appeared to be equally at home at Folk City – and other Greenwich Village folk clubs – AND at the rock mecca of CBGB’s, where he opened for the budding band known as Talking Heads and others, including John Cale. (And don’t miss him as the boyfriend in Cyndi Lauper’s video of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun!”)

What a life!

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 New Not-Book-Review: Mike Nesmith’s Autobiographical Riff, “Infinite Tuesday”

July 24, 2017
bradspurgeon

Infinite Tuesday

Infinite Tuesday

PARIS – You can’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, said Ernest Hemingway, referring to what he thought of book reviewers who were also fiction writers. That is why on this blog a few years ago I came up with my concept of the Not Review, which I have done periodically in the form of Not Reviews of music in my “Morning Exercise Music” listenings, in Not Reviews of films, and Not Reviews of books. The idea is I’m not criticizing, or placing myself in a high position of cultural authority, but simply reflecting on books, music or films that I have seen recently, and what they made me think, what they say, how I feel, and what you might want to know about them to see if you want to listen, read or see them. Today, I have put up my latest Not Book Review, this time of the autobiography of Mike Nesmith, the former Monkee, which is called, “Infinite Tuesday.” He also refers to it as an “autobiographical riff.” Check it out on the link above! His is a fascinating story that goes way beyond The Monkees – like, how about to creating one of the first music videos, helping to create MTV, and then there is his mother the inventor of Liquid Paper….

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

Paris Photo Shoot and “Out of a Jam” on all Music Download and Streaming Sites

December 11, 2016
bradspurgeon

Brad Spurgeon by Pierre Nguyen

Brad Spurgeon by Pierre Nguyen

PARIS – At about the same time in the fall, I had a fabulous day in a hot, Indian Summer in Paris in a park and on the Seine River shooting with a photo group that wanted to do photos of musicians, and I released my CD, Out of a Jam, online.  

With the photoshoot, a Paris “meet-up” that I found on Facebook, I jumped at the opportunity and it resulted in some nice photos.  It felt more special with that coinciding with the release of my album, “Out of a Jam,” on all the usual online music sites, a few months after the album came out in CD format. I finally got the photos up on my personal music site, and BradSpurgeonMusic.com in a gallery.

Check out the gallery and check out the album at all the usual suspects: iTunesSpotifyBandcamp, and who knows how many others!

A Musical Experience in Milan – or Rather, in the Paddock at Monza… Joan Thiele

September 1, 2016
bradspurgeon

Joan ThieleMONZA, Italy – So far so horrible on the level of my open mic experiences in Milan. Followers of this blog will have noticed – or not – that in the last few years I have mostly been playing on Thursday night at a blues jam in a bar/restaurant called Fermento. Well, this year, this very night in fact, that jam don’t exist no more!!!! But I have had a really, really fun and very cool musical experience in Italy in the least expected of places: In the Formula One paddock in Monza, where I do my day job this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix. How so? It gets kind of long and complicated, so I’ll skip that for the moment, but let me just say that the experience was all about a mini-concert given in the motor home of one of the Formula One teams, by an Italian singer-songwriter by the name of Joan Thiele. I’ll try to get the rest of that story down here in as few words as possible, but that won’t be easy….

So it turns out that the Formula One team, called Manor, has as one of its sponsors, the music app called Shazam. And it turns out that Shazam is doing few little mini concerts around the world in conjunction with Formula One. (Does that sound like an alternative to the tiny desk concerts on NPR??!! In a way it is!) And it turns out that they try to use a local musician each time. So, as the PR woman at Manor knew that I was interested in music, she asked me if I had seen they were going to have a mini-motor-home-concert in Monza tonight. As it turned out, a sucker for the image of a microphone, I had indeed noticed this playbill outside the motorhome not three minutes before.
Joan Thiele – Save Me

So I went to the mini motorhome concert and found that, on the top floor of the motorhome – henceforth to be called a hospitality suite – they had set up a beautiful little playing area for the musician. There was a Fender Stratocaster, a ukulele, a couple of amplifiers, a microphone, and a mixing table. I felt envy and desire to go and play. Until I heard the musician, and said, no, I just want to listen to this. Enter Joan Thiele. What a mix of everything: A father who is Swiss, Italian, Canadian, Colombian, and who knows what all else, and Joan’s mother also a mix from one or two of those areas, and Joan having grown up partly in Colombia, but living in Italy now, and having spent two or three years in England, and learning her trade at open mics etc., this woman of – I think – 22 years old, got up with her Strat and used it as a kind of electro-music surrogate, and her voice too. Vocals that reminded me to a degree of Lana del Ray, and a sound that goes in that same direction – that’s my feeling, but there’s much more (in fact, I had a colleague who thought one of the songs reminded him of, “Down on my knees, I’m beggin’ ya…) – I listened quite hypnotised to the five or six songs she played. (Another colleague said she had Brooke Shield’s eyebrows.)
Joan Thiele – Taxi Driver

And I suddenly found myself forgetting I was in the Formula One paddock. As it turned out, I need not forget this: The Formula One paddock is a hugely diverse place. And it also turns out, then, that in that world, another of the reasons that we had Joan Thiele – who is working on her first album, and her A&R person from Universal Music was there with her – is also represented by Trident Management, which is a management and promotions agency that also owns one of the Formula One support race teams in the series known as GP2, the Trident Motorsport team. So it all suddenly fit together, in a way. Trident also represents two very well-know Italian musicians, Eros Ramazzotti and Jovanotti.
Joan Thiele – Hotline Bling

In any case, the other thing that fits together is that this being within the Formula One paddock, I, as a print media man with a print media pass, cannot use the video I made of Joan’s hypnotizing performance. The Formula One promoter sells audio visual rights to the television and radio companies for huge sums of money, and that then means that print media journalists cannot use any audio visual footage – or sound files – that they gather in the paddock, without fear of huge problems.

So my recordings will have to wait for the future. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to cut and paste some of Joan Thiele’s music videos that I find on the web into the blog to show who it was I got to hear and speak to today in the Formula One paddock and feel that from a musical point of view, my trip to Italy, even if it wreaps no musical stage-time for me, will have been fulfilling in another way! A nice discovery. Check her out, Joan Thiele.

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