Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

One Thing Again Leads to Another at the Chiringuito Jam in Scopello

August 26, 2022
bradspurgeon

Babel Tower Logo

Babel Tower Logo

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – It seems not to matter how many times I live this lesson, I always come close to forgetting it – only to relive it and learn it again. A few weeks ago I wrote of my experience at the Chiringuito jam in Scopello, Sicily. I wrote about how one good thing leads to another good thing – and vice versa. I missed the last few jams on Wednesday nights at Chiriniguito for various reasons – a cold, a more important meeting, and, yes, inertia. I was almost going to let inertia steer me away from it again this time, but didn’t, and the reward was huge, and unexpected – as usual!

We had planned to have dinner in Scopello at the Nettuno restaurant with Ornella’s family Wednesday and then head off to the jam. But the dinner started late, many more family members arrived, and conversation and good cheer began to take over and extend the time at the table, and reduce the potential time at the jam. Then, as with the last outdoor restaurant meal with the family – last week – a sudden downpour of rain began. It never rains here in the summer. It’s not supposed to. Will not, does not. Unless we have a family gathering or a jam session to attend.

The conversation, family get-together and rain all persuaded me by midnight that I was going to miss the jam session again, and I was going to miss it for valid reasons. I had my guitar ready in the trunk of the car, I had made the “effort,” but it had failed. Once again. Then at about two minutes past midnight, Ornella said to me: “You are going to miss the jam! Go and play, Brad. Don’t worry about us.” In fact, I had been told that many of the members of the family had come to see me play, but I suppose inertia had settled in there too….

I decided not to let that get me down, and in any case, I fully expected to go to the jam – a few minutes’ walk away from the Nettuno – and find that it had been packed up, closed down, over with, all thanks to the downpour, which could have short-circuited all the guitar amps and everything else. There, I thought, I would have my excuse. Part of me had the jitters about playing the jam again also because it had gone so well the first time, and I had had so much fun, that I expected it would fall flat this second time.

I got my Gibson J-200 from the car trunk and went to the jam. It was bopping big time. The stage was curiously dark and wet, but there were musicians on it, playing to a vast crowd of manic spectators jumping up and down in delight at the front of the stage. Michelangelo, the jam organiser and MC, immediately saw me with my guitar on my back at the front right corner of the stage and he approached: “Brad, we had a problem tonight with the rain cutting out a lot of things, and we had to set up all over again, and try to make it work after that…. anyway, the point is, I had to change the format a little: You only get one song. And you are up next.”

Man! I could not say no to that. I had no more excuses! And anyway, I started feeling the pulse of excitement of the idea of going up and playing just one song and if it all failed, I had my excuse there too! I just finished a massive bacon and cheese burger, a massive chocolate Sunday, got wet in the rain, came over to the jam, had one song and got up with no warming up!

I got the Gibson out, waited, when the guy finished, I climbed up on the stage where someone said: “What chords?” I realised it was one of the other musicians – turned out to be the bass player – and he wanted to know what chords I would use for my one song. I didn’t even know what my song would be. I had, in advance, been planning three: “Crazy Love,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” and “Wicked Game.” I thought for a moment about the simplest of them, but also I decided to go for a contrast to the crowd pleasing, foot-stomping, fast-moving, singalong song of the guy onstage before me. I chose “Wicked Game,” by Chris Isaak. It is just three chords from beginning to end, and there can be plenty of room for the jamming of the harmonica and lead guitar between verses on those three chords.

I whipped through the song with huge pleasure – and a few rough spots – and then got off the stage fast. It seemed to go fairly smoothly, and the others had lots of room to jam. I blew my voice out a little, since I had a bit of a problem hearing myself and so I forced it too much, but in all, I was really happy to have done it, and I was happy to have been able to do it fast during what was clearly a difficult night for the organiser – with that rain storm!

Now here is where the real story starts: I got off the stage and began packing my guitar away in its case when a guy approaches and starts speaking English and congratulating me. He turned out to be another musician, a drummer, and he asked if I played professionally. I said no, and asked him if he did. He said he did, and that he was also studying jazz drumming at the conservatory. But he said his band was playing in Castellammare soon, and so I should come and listen. The band, he said, was called Babel Tower. It turned out that they had played recently at Picolit, where my musical adventure began last month.

Babel Tower in Castellammare del Golfo



We talked for some time about music, his life, and the band playing around Sicily. I was still a little breathless after performing, and I had to go and find Ornella’s family. So we parted without exchanging contacts.

Then Ornella and I later in the evening went to the Picolit Pub in Castellammare, and I tried to remember the name of the band that this drummer played in, so I could speak to one of the owners of Picolit about it. Since they have a lot of bands there, she had no idea! But then I looked at the names of the bands that have played there recently, and I recognized the name “Babel Tower.” I then found the Instagram page of the band, and looked at the photos and…there I saw the photo of the guy I spoke to at the jam session.

I returned to the owner, told her it was this band, and she said: “Oh yes!!! And by the way, the singer of the band is sitting at the table beside yours!” Unsure whether I should speak to the singer of Babel Tower and tell him I had just met one of the other band members, it was again Ornella who pushed for this. I decided that, yes, I’d love to know the name of the drummer I met and maybe send him a message on Facebook.

So we approached the singer of the band, and we explained the situation. He gave me the link to the Instagram page of the drummer of the band and I followed it. Then, we got involved in more conversation with the singer, pulled our chairs over to his table, and after some minutes of talk, it began to dawn on both Ornella and the singer that they knew each other! They had not seen each other for 15 years or so, but they realized that he had been one of Ornella’s sister’s best friends! And as it turned out, he had long been trying to make contact with her, but as she no longer lives here, he had not found out how to communicate.

Another bit of Babel Tower



This happy situation then led eventually to the singer inviting me to play with Babel Tower at their next gig, in a small town not too far from here on Saturday night! Now, let us remember and realize and think about all of these happy repercussions that came form a moment’s decision as to whether I should or should not make the effort to play at the jam! Had I done the easy thing and just sat back lazily, I would never have met these musicians, never had the fun of playing the jam, never been offered to play this weekend, and Ornella and her sister would never have met this old friend! Astounding what action, and music, can do!

Babel Tower, I learned, plays nearly 300 dates per year throughout Sicily, doing all manner of rock, pop and reggae. I suggest you look them up and give a listen! And maybe you will discover something that will change your life too!

The Power of Good and Evil – Playing at the Chiringuito Scopello Pub in Sicily

July 28, 2022
bradspurgeon

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

Brad and band at Chiringuito Scopello

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – Just over 20 years ago I wrote a lighthearted Op-Ed column in the International Herald Tribune newspaper using a personal experience I had to show how a single bad action by someone can have many, many bad repercussions going on for days, weeks or more. This morning when I awoke and thought about the jam session I took part in last night at the Chiringuito pub in Scopello, I suddenly realized that precisely the same ripple effect happens when someone does something good, leading to all sorts of other good things.

I am talking, of course, about the results of the effect that began in my previous blog item, where the generosity of a musician – Francesco Riotta – in giving me the microphone and his guitar during his own gig at a bar in Castellammare del Golfo led to meeting another musician after the performance, who in turn told me that there was a jam session in a nearby village every Wednesday and I should go. After coming here for five or six years, once per year, I had never found an open mic or jam session, and it seemed the only thing missing in our summer paradise. All it took was the generosity of Riotta for the good things to start happening.

Brad playing I won’t back down in Scopello

I took the first opportunity to go to check out the jam session at the Chiringuito Scopello pub, which was last night, Wednesday. This is also proof of how important it is to “get yourself out there” if you want any kind of satisfaction in life: Ornella’s uncle and aunt own a restaurant in Scopello, and we have also been going there for years without ever knowing that the Chiringuito hosted a jam session every Wednesday through the summer for the last three years!

Scopello is part of the commune of Castellammare del Golfo, where we are staying, but it is a kind of separate village suburb, about a 15 minute drive away. It is a beautiful tourist attraction area, with lots of restaurants, and beautiful views, beautiful nearby beaches, and a gathering place for some of the people in Castellammare who want a night out that is slightly different from the usual one of wandering around the streets of the main town.

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

Brad playing Chiringuito with budding Joe (Josephine) Cocker girl onstage

The setting for the Chiringuito is absolutely fabulous! It is an outdoor pub and restaurant, and the stage is quite big, with a decent sound system, good lighting, and a fabulous location that means that you can be seen and heard when you perform by people in the bar area, the lounge area, the restaurant area, and the tables in front of the stage itself. But standing up there and playing and seeing also the surrounding mountains and the sea in the distance – although it is not really clearly visible in that darkness – is a heavenly sensation.

Brad and band playing Mad World in Scopello

The open jam is run according to the usual method, with a sign up list, and it starts around 10pm. But the list order is not strictly followed, especially because much of the jam involves several musicians onstage at once. IE, it is not just an open mic with a single performer or band. It’s a bit of a free-for-all, and once everyone has had a chance to perform once, then the stage is opened to even more mixing, if there is enough time.

First act in Scopello

It is wonderfully hosted by Michelangelo Bologna, who plays harmonica on the videos where I am playing (and elsewhere), and he speaks good English. And as with just about everything here, it turned out that Michelangelo was Ornella’s cousin! (It seems everyone we meet here is Ornella’s cousin, so for me that was not really a surprise.) And Ornella and I both thought he was an exceptional harmonica player. Turns out he studied harmonica at a jazz conservatory!

Michelangelo Bologna demonstrating (English subtitles) his harmonica studies.

Michelangelo told me that last week there were 30 musicians! Given that it lasts only until around 12:30 or 1am, it’s best to get there on time – although I was too early, arriving at 9pm.

There was a large cross-section of performers last night, with lots of blues, a bit of rock, and some acoustic stuff too. In general it was an everything goes kind of jam.

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

Brad and band at Chiringuito 3

What a pleasure this was to play again in front of such a big crowd, to have some wonderful musicians play along with me, mistakes and all, and an incredibly enthusiastic audience, many of them right in front of the stage. For me, it represented the real moment of passing from my Covid hibernation to a break out back to pre-Covid days – ie, I’ve barely played in public at all since the beginning of the pandemic. And for all I know, this place was bursting with the latest, extremely contagious variant…but I couldn’t not do this! And underpinning it all was that generosity of handing over the stage two days before. Incredible how good things come from good things, and bad things from bad. In case you missed it, check out the link – which I add again here – to that story I did in the IHT Meanwhile column for that story I did way back when. And now think about how those repercussions of badness can be the opposite when the initial act is a good one…!

Brad and band Plauing What’s Up!? In Scopello two vid points of view.

PS, I thank Ornella Bonventre’s daughter, Morgana, for all the videos and photos she took of my performances. I also thank Ornella’s aunt, Daniele, for the video she took of my What’s Up!, while standing in a different position to that of Morgana – I combined both of them toward the end of the What’s Up video to have a different perspective.

Acoustic act in Scopello jam

Jamming at the Picolit Pub in Castellammare del Golfo, thanks to the Amazing Francesco Riotta

July 26, 2022
bradspurgeon

Francesco Riotta at Picolit

Francesco Riotta at Picolit

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – I had reached such a bursting point of frustration and desire in wanting to play some music on stage somewhere, anywhere, last night, that before we went out to dinner I said to Ornella: “I want to bring my Gibson J200 with me just in case I find a place to play!” It being very hot, and the likelihood of finding a place to play being very small in this dream of a fantastic seaside town on the coast of Sicily near Palermo, in the end I chose not to take my guitar. Then the miracle happened.

We ate in a wonderful, cheap, heart-warming restaurant – the town is full of them! – and then headed off to one of our two favourite pubs in Castellammare. I am speaking of the Picolit pub, which I have written about in the past, and which features live music at least four nights per week in its outdoor terrace, with the natural amphitheatre of a public staircase. (Our other favorite joint is Cantina Aurelia, which does not feature live music.) As soon as I heard and saw that it was guy on an acoustic guitar – occasionally joined by a bass player – I thought we had to go an listen.

There was something very attractive in his sound, and demeanour: I immediately felt something a little Brazilian in it, but it was manifestly more African, Jamaican, and reggae-related. His performance is very intimate, warm, and he has a great way of communicating with the spectators both through the music and its stories, as well as directly involving them – for instance in using them to create harmony for a chorus to one of his songs. The musician’s name was Francesco Riotta, and while he comes from Palermo, where he was raised in the tangle of culturally mixed streets in the central part of the city, he has also travelled all around playing his music, and learning more sounds, and mixing his culture and language with that of the countries he visits: English, French, African, Spanish, German, etc.

Francesco Riotta at Picolit.

I was intrigued by his guitar, which was steel-stringed but sounded more like a nylon-string guitare, and I could not read the brand name. So when he took a break, I decided to go to ask him if I could look at the guitar, which he had placed in its case. We got into a conversation immediately, and we switched from English to French, as he said he had lived in Paris for a while, and had even written and performed a song in French, and done a video with an African musician, who he met in the Goutte d’Or part of Paris. (He had gone there to seek out African musicians.)

Brad singing What’s Up! at the Picolit in Sicily.

He asked about me, and when he learned that I played guitar and sang, he asked if I wanted to do a song at the end of his set. Hey presto! That need to get up and do a song on stage that I had felt overpowering me before dinner was about to be calmed! Unbelievable! I did two songs, and I was joined by his bass player, Daniele Ferrantelli. This thanks to a generous, human musician who knows what it means to create a great vibe during a gig and give something to a fellow musician. In fact, Francesco knew it very well, because I turned out not to be the only one he lent the stage to. There were a couple of guys who go up from the Picolit clients and did a kind of rap competition – in Italian – and then another singer, a woman named Kristen Palmera, took the mic and she did a couple of songs, for which Francesco played the guitar – one was Hit the Road Jack….

Francesco Riotta’s latest clip.

But in the magic way in which these things almost always happen in the life of the musical troubadour, after the “open mic” ended and the instruments were put away, several of us joined together for a drink, and one of the rappers approached me and he too spoke in French. He informed me that in a neighbouring town, called Scopello (which is actually part of Castellammare, but a 15-minute drive from here), every Wednesday night there is an open jam session in a bar, and I should attend. Wow! It was only the day before that Ornella and I were saying that Castellammare is a perfect place for us, with the exception that I cannot satiate my need to play music by dropping into an open mic in the way I can at home. Hey presto, now I can! I will report on that here once I do it….

Francesco Riotta singing in English at Picolit in Sicily.

PS, lest I give a wrong impression about this place, it is absolutely full of music, and there are several bars with live music several times per week. But they book acts long in advance, so I’ve never had a chance to play in one.

PPS, and for those who noticed the hole in my storytelling…the guitar was a Crafter!!! (The hole was there on purpose, but against my wishes, because I had gone blank while writing this on what the name of the guitar was!!!)

Another great song with Francesco Riotta.

Liner Notes to a Formula One Fan’s Song and Video For Daniel Ricciardo’s Monza Victory: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Kenna and Cox

September 15, 2021
bradspurgeon

Daniel Ricciardo, of McLaren, celebrates his victory in Monza on the podium.  Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, celebrates on the podium with his trophy. Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

PARIS – Several of my lives and passions came together over the last three days resulting in a personally imposed lock-down thanks to the victory by Daniel Ricciardo at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy on Sunday. Now if that sentence full of facts gets your head spinning to sort it all out, how about checking out the result of all that passion, which is the video I put together for a song in tribute to Ricciardo, written and performed by a couple of Aussie expats in France who I met during my open mic wanderings: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Chris Kenna and Melissa Cox:

The last thing I imagined after watching the F1 race on Sunday – and being at first appalled by the crash between the two series’ leaders, and then ecstatic about Daniel Ricciardo’s victory – was an email from Melissa Cox telling me she had a song from Chris Kenna, and did I by any chance have any photos of Daniel Ricciardo to illustrate it in a video. The last thing I imagined after reading that email was that my next 48 hours and more would be occupied passionately making a video myself for what I feel is an absolutely fabulous, dynamic, and cool song of tribute to one of the finest, nicest, coolest and most deserving drivers in Formula One.

The situation, it turned out, was actually linked to the previous post in this blog, about Elliott Murphy. Melissa Cox and I, who had met at performances of Kenna and Cox a few years ago, got in touch because it turned out that she not only plays violin with Kenna, but she is also part of the regular band playing with Elliott Murphy! So those two worlds suddenly joined.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

But whenever I had met Chris Kenna in the past in bars around Paris, where he is a mainstay of the Paris music scene, we had always spoken about his love of Formula One – which, of course, has been central to my own life and livelihood. And another passion of mine that then joined up in these last few days.

Well, when I heard this fabulous song for Ricciardo, and Melissa asked for photos, of course, another passion took hold: Making videos, mostly those involving music…but this time, with Formula One as a theme. And so, another passion suddenly joined up here, and little by little I got hooked on making this video.

Of course, time pressed as it seemed this thing should come out as close to Daniel Ricciardo’s victory as possible, while his many millions of fans are hot on the story. So that is where all these merging passions came together to force me into a personal lock-down and finish this thing. It would never have been possible, of course, had I not many friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Formula One who kindly helped me out, including especially Bernard Asset, who is one of the series’ best and most respected photographers – and who I worked with on my book about Formula One published at Assouline (which will be spoken of more in a future blog post), who incredibly selflessly allowed me to use a lot of his photos and even chose a selection, treated them and sent them very quickly. And there was the McLaren team’s media staff as well, who gave me access to their collection and videos; and Steven Tee, who is another of the great F1 photographers, and whose LAT Images is probably the biggest, best database of F1 photos there is.

The Extraordinary Musical Pedigree of Kenna and Cox

It was especially great fun to be able to make a music video for someone else from the Paris music scene, as I have made many for my own songs, but few for other people. And Kenna and Cox are no ordinary other musicians based in Paris. Kenna was a farm boy from south-western Victoria state in Australia, who grew up milking cows and trapping rabbits with his brother before dreaming of being a rock star. He may not be a household name, but got a lot of big tastes of that life and world as in Australia he opened for bands like Midnight Oil, Men at Work, The Church and Ian Moss (Cold Chisel), and then when he later moved to France – for the love of a woman – he not only has lived off his own gigs in small venues and bars ever since, but he occasionally supported big names here too, including for Jeff Beck, Peter Green and Tommy Emmanuel.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

He has now been playing with Cox for more than a decade, when the two Australians ran into each other at a gig, and he asked her to play a tune with him. She is from Sydney, where she studied classical violin since the age of 10, but then later got discovered jazz, blues, folk, rock and world music. Although her dream had always been to live in Paris, she first tasted a bit of the rest of the world. To quote from her bio: “Under the name Black Sesame, she released an album of electro-pop songs in between residencies as a jazz singer in Tokyo and Guangzhou. But it was Paris she dreamed of; and an invitation to study film composition at L’Ecole Normale de Musique saw the dream become reality.”

So she got to Paris, and has never left – or rather, the two now live in a remote village and commute for gigs, recording, etc.!

As I write these words in closing, I think about how amazing life is when one thing leads to another in an organic manner that you could never have predicted between the moment of one action – for instance, Ricciardo’s victory, or Kenna and Cox meeting at that gig, me writing the Elliott Murphy item leading to Cox contacting me about the song – and the string of events that it sets in motion! And speaking of motion, and e-motion, check out the video and song now because there is LOTS of motion, locomotion and emotion in this “I Can Take Anybody Down” cry of victory for Daniel Ricciardo and his fans!

This blog item feels more and more like liner notes, and no liner notes are complete without the lyrics to the album (well, that’s arguable!), so here I am also going to post the lyrics to this song (which you can also find at Chris Kenna’s bandcamp page, with the song:

They call me the honey badger
And I hail from the west,
I’m an animal behind the wheel –
It’s the thing that I do best.
Nothin’ gets me higher,
Higher than the moon,
(Than) when I’m trippin’ major nutsack
On a Sunday afternoon.

When I’m thirsty for a shoey
Then I hardly use the brakes;
If someone holds me back,
Well I just pounce on their mistakes.
When they see that number 3,
With Lando by my side,
Well they know their race is over
So they take the corner wide.

I can take anybody,
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

The boys in orange hold their breath
Until their faces all turn blue,
Well I’ll get them on the podium
If it’s the last thing that I do.
All the stallions and the toros
They’re all chafing at the bit,
(And) Mr Hamilton is arguing
With the boss down in the pit.

I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

[Uh, watch your back, we’ve got the McLaren on turn 20]
Here comes Danny Ric
[We need to go faster otherwise we let the McLaren pass]
Here comes Danny Ric
Coming up behind you
[Keep pushing – mate, you need to go now]
It’s Danny Ric, oh yeah
Coming up beside you
[Oh shit, he’s got you]
It’s Danny Ric!

I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down

Paddy’s Paris Songwriter Club at the Rebel Bar: One of Paris’s Most Intimate Open Mics

March 28, 2019
bradspurgeon

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

PARIS – I have written before about Paddy Sherlock and his fabulous Paris Songwriter Club open mic. But the last time I visited it was located on Sunday nights at the Tennessee bar in the Latin Quarter. Last September it moved to the O’Sullivan Rebel bar on the rue des Lombards, near Chatelet. I have now finally had the chance to attend, and I am happy to report that the move has done it some good. It is even more intimate than it was before, so much so that at the end of the evening it suddenly turned completely acoustic, and that much warmer still.

This bar used to have an open mic on the ground floor, run by Etienne Belin, who used to run the Coolin open mic, which was the bar where Paddy had a gig that lasted around two decades until they closed the place after Apple bought it and transformed it into an Apple Store. That sentence was purposefully a mess, as I write this blog item now a few days after attending Paddy’s open mic at the Rebel bar, and I continued to think about how I can sing its praises!

The new open mic takes place in the basement, vaulted ceiling room, and not on the ground floor, and this is a stroke of genius. Or at least a natural environment for it. The ground floor, in my opinion, was never quite right. Here in the basement room, there is just enough room to make it a packed evening of music and audience participation no matter how many people show up.

The only drawback to having it in the basement is that bar patrons from above must pass through the room of the open mic in order to get to the toilets. Having said that, this is a way to rope in some extra spectators who might have decided to drop into this popular bar without considering attending the open mic, and then they can get drawn in by the music.

There was an eclectic mix of music on Sunday, with everything from the usual singer songwriters showing off their new songs to even an actress showing off her new monologue. Frankly, it has been a long time since I have played in front of such an intimate audience, and it was challenging at first, but I eventually felt at home. And I will return as soon as I can….

One Year of the Bootleg Open Mic in Paris – The Real Thing

February 7, 2019
bradspurgeon

The Bootleg Bar

The Bootleg Bar

PARIS – In the music industry, the word bootleg is used to describe an unauthorized album or recording. In the music scene in Paris, the word is synonymous with one of the city’s best open mics – that of the Bootleg bar on the rue de la Roquette, off the Bastille. This week the venue celebrated its one year and more than 50 events of existence, and I decided to attend to check out a place I have not been to for while.

A reminder: The Bootleg grew out of the former Rush Bar open mic, when for a short period of time the Rush bar had changed owners and ceased to run the open mic. So the people who ran that open mic moved to the Bootleg bar and picked up where they left off. In the meantime, the Rush bar got a new set of open mic operators and returned to its former glory attracting musicians from all over.

I attended several of the Bootleg open mics in the first year, but I have not been for a long while. I am happy to report that it is even better than before, judging by my experience on Monday, when I went and found among many others, a couple of musicians I used to play with at the former Baroc bar open mic, and together we did a short set, and set the tone for several more sets by other musicians deciding to go with the band.

All in all, it was a warm, satisfying evening, beautifully organized, as usual, by the wonderful musician Charlie Seymour.

This is no Bootleg open mic. This is the real thing! I’ll be happy to return when I can. And hopefully it will have another great year ahead of it again.

Open Mic Purgatory Page

February 3, 2019
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

PARIS – In further reference to my post of yesterday where I speak of yet another open mic that has been closed down for reasons linked to a Draconian attack by the authorities against live music in Paris, I have decided far too late to create a section on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music on which I will place the bars and venues that had open mics until they were attacked by the authorities and told that they had to stop until further notice.

I have put this list there because I realize that over the last couple of years I have had to wipe out one after the other from my list, and the hope is that eventually these open mics will return. So people who are curious can check up the names of those in purgatory to see if they are running or not. I wish, for instance, that I had been able to put the information of the open mic at La Féline bar into that area, but I just wiped it off the page once I learned that La Féline was permanently closed due to these attacks by the authorities.

Anyway, so check out the page and its new purgatory section, which will also serve as a kind of epitaph to each of these wonderful establishments (or at least their former open mics). You will find it on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

Here is an article from Libération that talks about this sad phenomenon of closing of live music joints in Paris – which has been reported widely elsewhere as well.

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!!!!


The Little Happy Theater Open Mic in Paris

December 3, 2018
bradspurgeon

PARIS – It has been a long time since I’ve been to a new open mic in Paris, so it was a strange but exhilarating experience on Saturday night to finally get over to the open stage of a little, tiny, minuscule bar/venue/theater space in Montmartre, called the Petit Théâtre de Bonheur and perform in front of the absolutely jam packed space of about 25 square meters.

I had discovered this place while working on an article about Paris’s small theaters, but I wasn’t sure the place really fit in. One thing is sure: It only just fits into its Montmartre location on a stairway steeply climbing up the slope towards the Sacre Coeur. You find yourself, in fact, on simply a midway up landing on the slope, not even on any kind of a street as such.

The venue is also jam-packed into the tiny space, and the open mic takes place in front of the seated spectators, seated in rows of available chairs as in a theater. These are moveable chairs, so while it is cramped quarters for everyone if the open mic is as well attended as it was on Saturday, you can move the chairs about to find the best squeeze…!

While I call it an open mic, they have another name for it: Cabaret Voltaire! It is open to anyone, musicians, comics, you name it. We saw several comics and the rest musicians – even some who had no instruments but just sang their texts unaccompanied.

The place is so small and intimate that I decided to perform without a mic or pickup on my guitar. It was one of the first times that I actually really enjoyed that, since it was so intimate a space, and I knew I did not have to strain my voice (or guitar) to be heard.

Anyway, it was really unlike any open mic I have attended in Paris so far. If you are looking for “different” then this is it! Not to mention the fabulous location on the hill leading up to Montmartre.

PS, This open mic was the last before they close down for a few weeks for renovations – so be sure to check the web site for the program to make sure they have reopened.

An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

November 26, 2018
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Just a note to say that I have updated my open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

In fact, the only update is to bring back a listing for the fabulous Paris Songwriters Club open mic of Paddy Sherlock, which has already had five editions at its new location, O’Sullivans Rebel Bar. It had previously been at the Tennessee Bar before seeking a new home for many months, and finding this fabulous, intimate place. Check it out!

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