Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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

July 24, 2017

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

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

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 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

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.

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

May 27, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I was most delighted to find that the Big Bang Bar has reinstated an open mic – of a different kind to the one it used to host, and which I had taken off the list after it was done away with. There are two or three other updates, including great Facebook page for finding open mics.

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

So check it out!

Swept Up by the Big Texas BBQ & Waffle House Open Mic in Bahrain!

April 7, 2016

Big Texas BBQ Bahrain

Big Texas BBQ Bahrain

PARIS – For the last four days, my life suddenly took control of me, led me where it wanted, swept me up and down off of my feet and … well, it has just been four days where I have not been able to get down and grounded. So many great things have happened that I did not plan for. But the focus of this post will be what I should have written about upon my return to Paris on Monday night: The fabulous and unexpected open mic of the Big Texas Barbecue & Waffle House in Bahrain. Sunday night was the first of a series of nights where I was inexorably called forth by the open mic and gig Gods to appear onstage, whether I wanted to or not. (Although I invariably want to.)

I had filed my Formula One race report in record time – 40 minutes – and took the shuttle back to downtown Manama. I had missed one of my favorite open stages the night before – the Dublin Club’s jam – because I’d spent an hour trying to extract a contact lens from behind my right eye. (Which I discovered later had actually ended up under the sole of my right foot.) So on Sunday, I was really keen to play again somewhere, and I had seen earlier in the weekend that there was an open stage, open jam, open mic, at some bar I did not know about.

But after leaving the circuit and getting back to my hotel fairly late, close to 10 PM, I decided that because I had not yet once again found the location of the open mic on the Internet, that I might as well say, “OK, another missed occasion. It’s too late.” But as I walked into the lobby of my hotel – the Best Western Olive – I heard the distinct sound of live music coming from a door on the left, which used to be the breakfast room.
Clarissa killing it at Big Texas BBQ

I decided to investigate, with the idea that where there was live music there was also a stage, and who knew? Maybe a chance to play? So I go through the doors and I find myself in another world: The Big Texas Barbecue & Waffle House. And you could not get much more American than this! In downtown Manama. All done up in your typical kind of wood-panelled ranch style Texas Barbecue decor, and a beautiful kitty-cornered stage with a great sound system, and a couple of performers, one of whom had a distinctly American accent.

I immediately inquired of the waitress if she thought I might have a chance to play on the stage if I brought my guitar down from my room in the hotel, and she answered in the affirmative, but said I should speak to the musicians. Well, guess what? It turned out that this was the open mic night at the Barbecue, and I was not just warmly welcomed, I was encouraged to get on stage and then warmly celebrated and accepted by the fabulous house band consisting of the man on the keyboards, and the woman singer, Clarissa Malpass, not from Texas, but from what I would dare call the Texas of the UK…. up north Manchester way….
Duet at Big Texas BBQ

But let me tell you the surprise I had when I learned that this American country-sounding musician on the keyboards was none other than Rusty Golden, part of one of U.S. country music’s most illustrious musical families. Rusty has had a long and interesting musical career, and I managed to get a copy of his latest album, called, “SOBER,” and I gave him mine. Rusty, in explanation, is the son of none other than William Lee Golden, one of the members of The Oak Ridge Boys, who were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year.

So how the hell could this happen in Bahrain? No, even better, how could it happen that I walk into my hotel where I’ve been staying for several years on my annual visit to this desert kingdom, and there I am in the middle of Texas. AND I realized later, this was the very open mic, open jam, open stage, that I had been intending to attend, but had not found the time to look up its address! Can there be any better sign that it was all meant to happen?

Big Texas BBQ ad on wall in Bahrain

Big Texas BBQ ad on wall in Bahrain

And it led to the fabulous discovery, also, of Clarissa, with her fiery presence and flamboyant, smokey soul, bluesy, pop voice. I’m finding words difficult to find to describe it. So just give a listen to the badly filmed – but good sound – snippet I have of her. She also did some back up vocals for another singer who took to the stage in the open mic, as you’ll see in the second video.

All in all, it was a night to remember. And I will eventually write about Rusty’s album on my roundup in my next “Morning Exercise” music post….

Oh, and back to the beginning: It was also the first of a couple more nights of inexorable movement through unexpected situations in Paris open mics, and a last-minute gig offer. Having got all that out of my system, I’m starting to feel grounded again….

From Hero to Zero in Two Crappy Days – That’s Liv(f)e for You!

February 17, 2016

Live Music

Live Music

PARIS – Something I did not mention in yesterday’s blog post – out of modesty – about some great new open mics in and around Paris was that I received lots of insanely warm compliments for my performances in two of those open mics. In fact, I did feel really good behind the mic, sensed a really warm and direct connection with the audience, and the sound systems in both places allowed me to be extra comfortable with my guitar and vocals; I was floating in that outer space place we aim for while playing live music. But live performance is a beast that cannot be tamed. And I was reminded of that again last night at two open mics in a row: Feeling like crap, like the worst musician of the night, not hearing my voice, not hearing my guitar, not connecting with the audience, being “outside” myself, outside the music.

In the intervening two days – Sunday and Monday – between those stage experiences, I had a minor ear infection that was treated by a specialist on Monday, but while the pain was gone last night, the ear remained slightly plugged. Playing music with a plugged ear is probably ambitious. But it was far from the only problem. In the first venue I played at, my first visit to Le Clin’s 20, I discovered that although it is kind of like an open mic, it is much more like a live karaoke, with a pianist who will play along so you can sing, on a stage where there is no real set up for musicians who need a good guitar and vocal amp and monitor. The evening was wonderful, with a warm atmosphere, great hosting, full of nice people – and some musicians with guitars, saxes, etc. – but unfortunately for me, with just one real ear and no monitor, I could hear neither my guitar nor my voice.
Nicolas Chona at the Feline

To make matters worse, I felt pressure that I should try to sing a “crowd pleaser,” since the evening is made mostly of cover songs. It is usually a bad idea to try to please a crowd. You have to start by pleasing yourself. I found myself yelling into the mic, forcing my guitar playing, forcing my voice, forcing my effort to connect with an audience that seemed almost as connected to talking to each other as they were to listening to the performers (not a problem in itself, but fatal for me last night), and I left the stage feeling as bad within as I had on stage. Worse, there was a guy in the audience who has seen me perform at two other locations, and when I said I did crappy, he actually confirmed this to his friends, assuring them that there was no comparison to what he had seen me do before!!!!
Bunch of musicians at Le Clin’s 20

So it was that I left this really neat venue, that has open mics and live karaokes several times a week, and I walked on down to La Féline for the open mic there. For the first time in my attendance there, the place was just popping at the seams with performers and audience members. I have a small suspicion – maybe even a big one – that one of the reasons the crowd was so big was because the Café Oz open mic that usually runs on Tuesday night in Pigalle was cancelled due to a soccer match, and therefore, the habitués of Oz went to the Féline.
First at La Feline

Whatever may be the reason, the resulting anonymity that I had half hoped for in order to gather together my feelings of control over my stage presence and singing was far from present. Worse, much worse was to come. It turned out that I would be the last musician of the night, but that going on stage JUST before me was fabulous young blues guitar player and singer named Nicolas Chona who blew everyone away with just the right kind of hard-driving, hard pumping, slide guitar playing and singing for the moment.
Another Nicolas Chona at La Feline

In fact, dare I say it again, that the vocal mic at the Féline also sounded like it had cotton wrapped around it, and the guitar amp wasn’t sounding that much better. Especially from the stage. So the result was that I had to get up on stage with half an ear, not a great mic and having just followed one of the best musicians of the night – whose hard-driving slide sound felt right at home with that particular sound system.
First at Le Clin’s 20

I decided I would nevertheless forge onward, choosing, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty, to start with, as my statement for the evening. I then did my “Borderline,” and I decided to hell with the bad mic sound and the increasingly restless audience, talking to themselves, and having been let down by me after the great Chona, and I just decided to sing a nice quiet, finger picking song – the way I do it – and please myself with that, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” by Bob Dylan. Unfortunately, pleasing myself did not do the trick to please the spectators here either, as I felt like crap through all three songs, failed to hear much of myself – or even the crowd – and left the stage to a huge reception of people clearing the path for me back to the bar without a single compliment or nod or smile….

Well, I do have a category on this blog called “rant,” and this is clearly one of them. On the other hand, what it REALLY is, is just another confirmation that when “live” really works, you can be really happy for it, and you can say that it’s thanks to a certain magic in the air. And when “live” does not really work, so fucking what! Move on to the next live! The delight will return when it wants to…. That’s the beauty of live.

In fact, this whole thing reminds me that I read in The New York Times the other day that even one of the performers in the Grammy Awards ceremony, Adele herself, suffered a setback during her live performance thanks to a malfunctioning piano string, from which she never recovered! She’ll be back doing live, I’m sure….

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