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A Week of New (for me) Open Mics in Paris – Including a Visit to Serge Gainsbourg’s Old Joint

April 9, 2018
bradspurgeon

Gainsbourg's Home

Gainsbourg’s Home Photo ©Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – One thing leads to another and somehow things don’t lead to as many things as before…ok, start again. I finally, over the last week, had time to attend a few open mics – and a musical evening – that I have wanted for a very, very long time to attend. And I was wonderfully surprised, enlightened and inspired by them all – basically!

The first was Stephen Saxo’s open mic at the Cross of St. George pub on rue St. Georges, not far from Pigalle, called Finely Tuned Sundays. It was the first time I had played with Stephen for a long time, the last time being at his open mic – now defunct – in St. Germain en Laye.

The story of this new one is kind of funny: I had noticed for a couple of months that there was an open mic on Sunday nights early, through dinner time, from about 6 pm to 9 pm, and it was not so far from chez moi. I kept on intending to go, but those hours never worked out for me. Then, one week all of a sudden, my friend Stephen the sax player, ie, Stephen Saxo, announced on Facebook that he was hosting this open mic at the Cross of St. George. He had not been the host when I discovered it, and it turns out, from what I understand, that it was not really very active. So Stephen took over and …boom!

Yes, it was a good evening, and in the end a nice time of the day to have an open mic, because you can play music early, then eat your dinner either at the pub or wherever else you might choose. Stephen accompanies those who like that, but otherwise, it’s a classic open mic, where you can go up and do your stuff. The pub had quite a large crowd, but most of them looked like regulars, for whom the music was not the main attraction, but something they appreciated nevertheless.

From the Cross of Saint Georges to the Cave Café and Sheldon Forrest

The following night, Monday, I was ready, willing and able to finally go to Sheldon Forrest’s lates open mic, at a pub nestled in not far from Montmartre, on the other side of the hill…. I have written about Sheldon’s various open mics and vocal jam sessions over the years, starting with where we met, at the now defunct Swan Bar in Montparnasse and most recently with his Ozmos Café open mic, also near Montparnasse.

But I had been itching to go to this Cave Café open mic and jam for a while, since I had the impression that it was a little different than the others where Sheldon officiates, playing his piano accompanying singers, often with a jazz or cabaret leaning. It turned out to be different, entirely different, except for Sheldon’s always genial hosting.

The Cave Café is a corner bar owned by an American who is so discreet you wouldn’t know he was anything but a local French bar owner. The open mic takes place in the cave of the café, as you might expect by the name of the joint. The cafe is a classic Paris vaulted cellar, and this one is complete with a bar and a nice little stage. The vibe is 100 percent open jam, music-loving, anything goes.

There’s a piano on the stage as well, but Sheldon only plays according to when it is appropriate. You can do solo guitar and vocals, or you can be joined by other musicians – I did both. I enjoyed being accompanied by a lead guitarist, Sheldon on piano, aand even an acoustic guitarist and harmonica player. The sound constantly being tweaked by the barman/soundman, using his iPad to control the sound.

It was a fabulous night, and I look forward to many more. The one thing that really stands out is that it’s a music-loving joint that attracts musicians of all kinds.

And finally a visit to the Carré open mic and Jam beneath the legendary Don Camillo and around the corner from Gainsbourg’s home

It has been many months also that I have been intending to attend the open mic and jam of Olivier Domengie, the Carré open mic and jam in the heart of the Latin Quarter. I know Olivier from his various other open mics and jams, notably the one that used to be at the Paradis bar near Barbès, the Nul Part Ailleurs bar near the Bastille, and the Carré jam that happened in the bar near St. Michel.

I was particularly curious to see what this Carré jam at the new location would be like, as it was so much in the classic art gallery, up market part of the neighborhood. And I wondered how it was possible to have his kind of anything-goes sort of jam in such an area. The first idea of how it might be came when I suddenly recognized the name of the street upon which part of the bar sits: Rue de Verneuil. I said to myself, “Wait, isn’t this the street where Serge Gainsbourg lived?!?!”

Later in the evening I not only had it confirmed by Olivier that it was the very same street, but also that 1) Gainsbourg’s home was just around the corner, and 2) Gainsbourg used to go sometimes to play and hang out at this bar! The bar is part of the Don Camille, which is upstairs, and its walls are plastered with the photos of famous popular musicians.

The jam is a classic Olivier jam, and I took the opportunity to play here with a drummer, sax player, bassist, and lead guitar. I had not brought my own guitar, but I got to use the nylon string semi-electric of Olivier – which dictated a little the songs I had to do (“Wicked Game,” “Mad World” and “Don’t Back Down”).

The feel of this bar, with its broken mirror walls, is really 1970s, 1980s, nightclub, but with the stage perched in the front window, and the comfortable chairs and couches, and the large number of musicians present, I cannot recommend it enough.

And then there is the need to do the little visit around the corner to the home of Gainsbourg, with its famous graffiti covered walls. I took a photo or five of that.

And it was all preceded by a visit to the suburban Captain Fox bar in Bois-Colombes

This whole week began, by the way, with a visit to the cultural pub of the Bois-Colombe suburb, where it turned out a pianist singer from my own suburb right next store was giving a concert in this small, convivial bar. Such cool places are rare in the suburbs, but the Captain Fox, as it is called, gets the recipe right! And this performer, as you can see from the video I have put up, is fabulous – anyone who can sing this Queen number as well as him is exceptional.

And that ends the roundup of my open mics and jams and spectator-hood evenings of the last week.

The Crazy Mad Video Interview of Yours Truly by Escargot Underground Radio of Paris

March 5, 2018
bradspurgeon

PARIS – Everything you ever wanted to know about my life and music but were afraid to ask – or maybe didn’t really want to know! – is now in a 50-minute video just released on Escargot Underground Radio’s site via YouTube and Escargot’s Facebook page. This was a riot to do, and makes up part of a series of such video interviews that these people are doing – all in French, so watch out! – of musicians that are part of their Escargot Underground open mic world in Paris in the last half decade or so….

If you enjoyed the interview, they will be posting more of them in the coming weeks, so check them out. Or go to the Escargot Web Radio page and give a listen to the people they will be interviewing….

Oh, yes, and they also did this 50-second teaser for the interview which is on the Facebook page, but this is accidentally in English….

Escargot Radio’s Video interview of Brad Spurgeon

Escargot was/is one of the best open mics in Paris, so check out my Thumbnail Guide to Paris open mics also to find out how to attend their open mic nights….

A Golden Jamming Concept at Jay Golden’s Jam School at the Disquaires in Paris

February 23, 2018
bradspurgeon

Jay Golden's Jam School

Jay Golden’s Jam School

PARIS – I finally got to drop in to Jay Golden’s Jam School at the Disquaires in Paris on Wednesday evening. Brought my guitar, was happy as a little baby to visit this place I had heard of a long time ago but never attended…then found myself ill-prepared and didn’t play! But that’s no problem. The entertainment was great, and I discovered this fabulous open mic, jamming concept….

Jay, an American expat in Paris, said to me it was in part to get young musicians to learn new stuff. Basically, while it is an open mic, open jam, it has the following twist: It runs every Wednesday night but each week of the month is a different style of music (you can find all the information on the Jay Golden’s Jam School Facebook page) – and when I went, the third Wednesday of the month, it was blues and rock ‘n’ roll – and you sign up and join the other musicians to play in that style.

First at Jay Golden’s jam
But the catch is that you don’t just play blues and rock ‘n’ roll or whatever the style of the week is, you have to look at the set list in advance to see what songs will be played that night. You then join in on the songs that you know how to play. So, for instance, there was “Fever,” (not sure that’s blues or rock ‘n’ roll) and “Brown Sugar and other standards, and you volunteer to play bass or lead guitar or rhythm, or drums, or sax, or whatever. Or vocals. It looks like he is in need of more vocalists – as he made a comment about that. The set list remains the same for each night over four months, and then changes to a new set of songs.

Anyway, the point is, this is a kind of jam, but a highly structured one that has a set list. I spoke briefly to Jay, and he said it was in order to help promote young musicians – but all ages are welcome – to learn new songs.
Second at Jay Golden’s jam

The sound system was excellent, the stage is great, the ambiance fabulous, and the Disquaires has gone through a nice renovation since I played there with my band in 2011 in what I think was our first real gig (and one of our last ones too!!!).

All together a great evening, and I highly recommend checking it out. But do remember that this is not a typical singer songwriter place, nor a typical “anything goes” jam. It has this structure. Golden, by the way, who is from Baltimore, has had a long and illustrious career as a bassist, producer, sound engineer and arranger, working with Luther Allison, Bernard Allison, Liz McComb, Screaming Jay Hawkins, BB King, in Europe, as well as Bryan Adams, Marc Stern, George Clinton, George Benson, Jeff Majors, Pic Connelly, Steve Kelly, Joe, Mario, in North America, among others.

You drummer at Jay Golden’s Jam
Here FYI is the organization of the month:

The 1st week is Jazz
The 2nd week is Funk
The 3rd week is Blues-Rock
The 4th week is Soul
The 5th is a Tribute

The Rush Open Mic Rushes Over to The Bootleg Bar in the Bastille

February 16, 2018
bradspurgeon

The Bootleg Bar

The Bootleg Bar

PARIS – Successful open mics sit on a very fine line of balance between the dynamic of the location of a bar and the shape of its room, the person who runs the open mic and the owner/manager of the bar. At the most successful open mics, all those elements fit together in a perfect harmony that mesmerises audiences into attending. One of the best recent open mics in Paris took place at the Rush bar. The ownership just changed, and now the open mic MC, the bar manager and pretty much the entire audience and participants have moved over to another bar location, at The Bootleg Bar in the Bastille area. Will it be the same rush as the Rush?

Monday was the second edition at this new locale. I prefer the Bastille, rue de la Roquette address where it is now taking place to the previous address, near the Cirque d’Hiver, but which for me feels like a slightly dead neighborhood. This bar is much smaller, but it has an absolutely fabulous basement room that could be a perfect setting for the open mic, which now takes place on the ground floor.

First at Bootleg
For smokers, there is a smoking room in the front of the bar, so that means no freezing in winter time, and you can still hear the performer through the smoke-room glass – and butt out your cigarette if the performer is enticing enough.
https://youtu.be/aHdYizdzRckSecond at Bootleg
As to the performers, there were many familiar faces and sounds as you will hear on my few little videos I made of the evening. And the MCing is as great as usual, by Charlie Seymour. There is no doubt that this place has at least two of the required elements to make it a successful open mic: The MC and the bar manager. Only time will tell if the room itself attracts the same kind of loyalty that the Rush bar did. But apparently there was a very popular jam session that used to be held in the cellar of this place, so I suppos all of the ingredients are there….

Third at Bootleg
Oh, yes, and in principle, it is my understanding that a Rush bar open mic will continue. Although not with the same crew, no doubt.

A Quick Drop-in to the Still Thriving Kararocké at the Bus Palladium

February 7, 2018
bradspurgeon

Nicholas Ullmann as...

Nicholas Ullmann as…

PARIS – I have no idea how many years it has now been that Nicholas Ullmann has been hosting his Kararocké at the Bus Palladium, but I do believe I discovered it in 2010, and have been going occasionally ever since. I returned on Saturday evening – it runs every first Saturday of the month – to find his institution still alive and more than well. And this, despite the recent sad death due to cancer of the regular bass guitarist of the band, Erik Fostinelli, also known as Guy Pop.

In fact, I believe the Kararocké has been more than a decade that this formula has been working for Ullmann, the master of many disguises and above all, master MC. (Master master of ceremonies!!??) That the formula works is no surprise: It is a super karaoke, with a live band on a large stage in a large room with great sound, spotlights, and just absolutely everything to make the spectators that get on stage feel as if they are rock stars for a night.

Additionally, Ullmann has a habit of attracting some of France’s top musical talent to make cameo roles, such as Yarol Poupaud, Dave, Keziah Jones, Raphael, Dany Boon, Arthur H, Izia, Alain Chabat, Elie Semoun, Marion Cotillard, and even Michel Gondry, whom I once saw on drums at the kararocké.

On Saturday night, it was the turn of Yann Destal, known for his hit song, Lady (Hear Me Tonight), which was a worldwide success in 2000 when he was just 20 years old and in his band then called Modjo. Yann continues a strong musical career, but one that is out of the limelight compared to the days of early success. He plays around Paris all the time, and recently even starred in a musical about Woodstock.


Lady by Modjo (Yann Destal)

On Saturday, he played as one of the band throughout the whole show, and performed a solo singing “Say It Ain’t So Joe,” by the Murray Head, a song that perfectly fits his voice.


Say It Ain’t So Joe, sung by Yann Destal at the Bus Palladium

I myself did not even try to get on stage, for two or three reasons: 1) I am usually crap at doing Karaoke because when I play and sing cover songs, I usually do it with my guitar in my hands, and I do it my own way, (they call this “interpretation,” but I prefer to think of it as making felicitous mistakes when it works, as I inevitably try to imitate the real thing but fail); 2) I did sing once with success at this kararocké, when somehow the band played “What’s Up” in my key, but I made a horrible failure of singing an Arthur H. song just a few weeks later, as it was neither in my key, nor a style I can do!, and 3), in fact, I was wearing my contact lenses and cannot read with them, so I’d have to know all the lyrics by heart! Oh there was another reason too: Ullmann, in his fair way, was asking all night long only for singers who had never before sung at the kararocké. And I did not fit that category, obviously.

Hellish imitator at the Kararocké

This was a beautifully chosen song for the night, because it was written in protest and disbelief of the horrible American politics of the day…plus ça change….

But it was well worth the night. On the less good nights of this formula the music has tended to be too much hard rock. But on Saturday there was a broad, broad cross-section of sounds. I regretted enormously not having brought my Zoom recorder in order to get great sound, as we have to settle for the terrible sound of my Galaxy S8….

Dock of the whatever at the Kararocké
I will return to the Kararocké again, that’s for sure.

An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

January 21, 2018
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

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

As usual, I removed a few defunct joints, and I added some new ones which I should have added long ago, but for some reason did not. I added Sheldon Forrest’s Osmoz Café open mic in Montparnasse, I added the new Paris Songwriters Club open mic at the Tennessee Bar (run by Paddy Sherlock) and I added the Paris Spoken Word night at the Chat Noir, which I was surprised to discover I had not put on the list, since I had already performed there years ago!

Spoken Word Craziness and More, in Paris at a Couple of Open Mics

January 17, 2018
bradspurgeon

Paris Spoken Word

Paris Spoken Word

PARIS – It was time on Sunday night and Monday to visit the spoken word places in Paris again with Ornella Bonventre and our TAC Théâtre monologue routine. The only problem was that we could not find a spoken word event on Sunday night…until we realized that Paddy Sherlock’s fabulous new Paris Songwriters Club evening is also open to poetry and spoken word, as long as it is – like the music – original material. So we performed there with great pleasure, before trying out the Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for the first time….

At Paddy Sherlock’s event, we found a perfect stage and audience for spoken word, but I was a little disappointed that there were not more musicians, poets, spoken word artists or spectators present. Oh, it was a wonderful evening, and at maximum there might have been a dozen or more people. But Paddy himself put out a word on Facebook afterwards, trying to encourage more people to come for the next edition, or he risks losing the evening.
First at Paris Songwriters Club

My feeling at both of the evenings I have attended at the Tennessee Bar with Paddy was that this has the potential to be one of the best open mics in Paris, so I hope people discover it fast!

Ornella and Brad woman question

Ornella and Brad woman question

From the Tennessee to the Chat Noir and Spoken Word Paris

Although a few years ago I did try to sing a song at the Chat Noir bar’s Spoken Word Paris event on Monday night, there’s nothing like trying to do actual Spoken Word at this event, which is no doubt Paris’s most popular English-language spoken word event. So it was a natural place to try out Ornella’s monologue, with me providing the soundtrack on my guitar (and occasional vocals, and a few spoken asides).
Wayne at Paris Songwriters Club

It also proved to be as much fun as a spectator as it was as a performer. And in honor of this being a Spoken Word event, I decided (thanks also to forgetting to bring my phone or other camera) to paste together several excerpts from the evening in a 5-minute podcast. So listen to the patched together medley here and above of a few moments from Monday evening’s Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for a taste of the far out kind of thing you can expect to hear….

This new bit of activity in the spoken word open mics has given me a real feeling of refreshing the blog with something slightly new, but right in line with what it is all about. I hope you agree….

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