Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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In Paris, Three Open Mics Over Two Days – a Post-Covid Return!

October 2, 2022
bradspurgeon

Bootleg Bar open mic near Bastille

Bootleg Bar open mic near Bastille

PARIS – Unless my mind is playing serious games with me, this last week I finally attended open mics in Paris again for the first time since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020. I have mentioned in these pages before that I have performed here and there occasionally in various performance formats – including the jam I did a couple of times in Sicily over the summer. But unless this old brain is fading, these are the first open mics I have done in Paris since 2020, or even 2019! And it was great to see that while I may have been playing it safe on the disease front for a lot longer than most open mic performers and spectators, clearly I am behind the times on open mic performing!

I have been waiting for a long time to attend the new open mic at the Cave Café, near the Lamarck metro in a part of town that – at least to my knowledge – has few open mics. This is the place where I used to love to go just before the pandemic, when Sheldon Forrest ran his “Montmartre Mondays.” I was very sad when it ended, because the Cave Café, owned by the American, Arthur, has such a wonderful vibe: Like its name, it takes place in a “cave.” Lest you get images of brutes with wooden clubs to beat you with, please know this has nothing to do with neanderthals. It is the French word for basement, and it drums up the beautiful image of precisely what we find here: a vaulted brick ceiling in the cellar room.

But the real cherry on the top of this cake is that the new open mic at the Cave Café is now the old Paris Songwriters Club run by Paddy Sherlock. This is one of the best open mics in the city, but one where you can ONLY sing or play your own compositions. No cover songs. Paddy had run this first at the Tennessee Bar, then at the O’Sullivan’s Rebel Bar. But this is not just his best location so far, it is also the most intimate and well-served sound wise. So it is also perfect for the precise kind of open mic it represents: play your own songs to an audience that listens in a location that makes you want to spend the whole evening there just for the comfort and fun.

Paddy Sherlock playing at the Cave Café

I took advantage of this open mic to play for the first time in public anywhere, my song, “What’s All This Talk?!” which I wrote during the pandemic, in the fall of 2020, and which provided me the soundtrack for the video I made of and after the January 6th, 2021, attack on the Capitol. It’s always very difficult to sing a song for the first time in public, especially with that weak memory of mine – but I got through it pretty well.

First at the Cave Café

From Tuesday’s Songwriter Open Mic to a couple of regular Wednesday venues

I mentioned Sheldon Forrest above, and on Wednesday, it was time to visit Sheldon’s open mic at the Osmoz Café in Montparnasse. From Montmartre to Montparnasse. Could anything be better? I have no need to introduce either Sheldon or his Osmoz Café open mic, as both have been around for years now. In fact, Sheldon was running this one at the same time as he did the one at the Cafe Café as I mentioned above. It was great to see that everything was the same as usual: Sheldon playing piano to accompany singers who do not play an instrument. Or if you do play an instrument then you are welcome to do that too. I took this opportunity to play a few songs that I had learned during the pandemic – or just before – so as not to be singing the same songs for more than a decade for Sheldon and his audiences. I also did “What’s All This Talk?!” and felt about the same as the night before at the Cave Café, so that’s down now!

I finished my tour of three open mics in two days by attending the open mic at the Bootleg Bar, heading directly from Montparnasse to the Bastille! How much better does it get than that? Montmartre to Montparnasse to Bastille!

First at Osmoz Café

I only discovered after I finished at the Osmoz that there was an open mic at the Bootleg. This is the one that I used to attend that was run by the former group running the Rush Bar open mic. It used to be on Mondays. Now, it is every Wednesday, and seems not to be run by the same groupe of people, and has a bit of a different feel to it: Wednesday evening it was mostly about jamming, with several musicians playing simultaneously. Although there was a woman who came to play her songs on the acoustic guitar, and she accepted some other musicians joining her – but it seemed not to be obligatory.
First at Bootleg Bar

Here I was told I could go up to play, even though it was by then quite late, just before midnight. But after listening to the other groups and realizing I had a long hike across Paris to return home, I opted not to play. I had all I needed: I got to see that life continues at the Paris open mics, and now I will finally also be able to update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, which through Covid, had been collecting cob webs, but remains one of the most often consulted pages on this blog.

Second at Osmos Café

Paddy Sherlock and piano player at Cave Café

Second at Bootleg Bar

Third at Osmoz Café

Third at Bootleg Bar

A New Tack With TAC Teatro – or Should it Be Called a New TACtic?

September 23, 2019
bradspurgeon

TAC Teatro

TAC Teatro

Why have I done so few posts on this blog in recent months? Let’s call it a TACtic. I have mentioned TAC Teatro a few times on this blog in the past three years, and especially my activities with TAC. But as of this summer, I have been devoting a lot more time to TAC, and am now a full member of the troupe. This is part of a decision to transform all my open mic experiences into something different, and, hopefully, bigger.

When I say bigger, I mean above all in terms of range of use of the body, voice, performance. I continue to play guitar and write every day – in fact, I am working on a very big writing project that I will finish at the end of the year – but I got to the point with the open mics that it felt as if I was repeating myself. Since stopping my travel to the Formula One races at the end of 2016, I had pretty much only Paris as my stage. And as big and beautiful and great is that stage, playing the same open mics with the same songs for the same spectators began to wear on me.

But my love of performing and my need to create are as strong as ever and always. Now, invited by Ornella Bonventre, the director of TAC Teatro, to involve myself even more than before – that is to say, with at least three meetings with the newly formed Paris troupe per week — I have found what feels like the answer to the stagnation at the open mics.



Of course, I am also continuing several other projects, such as the completing of my open mic documentary and the completing of my open mic memoir. But as far as performing goes, the idea is to build as much as possible on the physical theater of TAC Teatro. This is a kind of theater that appeals to me as it involves voice, music, physical action, acrobatics, puppetry, juggling, unicycling, text and just about every other thing you can imagine all wrapped into one.

Among its great proponents are groups like Odin Teatret of Denmark – I am also finishing the editing of a video interview with the founder of that theater, Eugenio Barba, that I conducted along with Ornella – and even the Théâtre du Soleil of Paris, and many others. TAC Teatro has existed for many years in Italy, and Ornella started up the Paris part two years ago. This year is the biggest step so far, with the recent gathering of several new performers – and you could say I am part of that wave.



In the first week of September five of us, under Ornella’s direction, put together a performance on the theme of borders, or “Frontières” that we performed on an outdoor stage at the city hall of Asnières-sur-Seine, where the French TAC is legally based in France. I am putting up on this blog page two videos connected to that event, one of which is a short video of the performance that Luca Papini, an Italian filmmaker in Paris, made.

The other video is of my own specific contribution to the writing of the performance, that did not make it into Luca’s film. All the performers created the first seeds of their own scenes, which we all then worked on together under Ornella’s directing, and so I was pleased to learn that Ornella had found in the filmed bits of our rehearsals and moments of creation, that there was a good, complete filming of my scene. (The exercise of filming the rehearsals was in order for the performers to have a more objective view of their work.) Ornella just finished preparing that segment as a video, which I post above.

TAC Rehearsal with music

TAC Rehearsal with music


We all used our personal preoccupations of the moment to create these seeds of our scenes, which were all also somehow connected to the theme of borders. My own section, called “Le Passeport,” as you will see, has to do with my personal battle with the concept of Brexit, which is affecting me to the point of madness as I wonder at how long I will be considered a legal citizen in France, as opposed to an illegal alien…. And I emphasize that word ALIEN.

So to sum up, again, my lack of presence on the blog in recent months has had nothing to do with an end to my creative projects, but rather, a reduction in the approach of the past – focusing almost entirely on open mics – and the beginning of a new approach, combining all of my interests, including playing music. I hope now I can shake myself out of the lack of contributions to the blog and back into a cycle of regular updates, but on a bigger theme!

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.

Le Truskel Revisited: An Anniversary of a Kind at a One-of-a-Kind Paris Bar Venue

February 2, 2019
bradspurgeon

Brad Spurgeon at Le Truskel

Brad Spurgeon at Le Truskel

PARIS – I had some more really bad news for Paris open mics and jam sessions the other day when I learned that the fabulous Cave Café jam is no longer happening due, it seems, to another move by Paris police to enforce certain regulations. I don’t know exactly which regulations these are, but there have been several articles in the French press talking all about the endless closing down of live music joints in Paris due to the police enforcing sound regulations, safety regulations, and other regulations that are designed to destroy the musical culture and nightlife of an increasingly gentrifying city. It was so depressing to hear that one of my latest favourite places for a jam was no longer in action. I hope it starts up again soon. But immediately follow that news came an invitation for me to do an opening set for a young Paris rock band at a place that I know very well, but have not been to in years. And going last night to play, I was not just relieved, but absolutely ecstatic to find that this bar/venue, Le Truskel, is not just alive and kicking, but it is almost exactly the same as it was when I first played there 10 years ago!

Le Truskel is the place where Earle Holmes’s open mic moved to after it started at the Shebeen and then went briefly to the Lizard Lounge. So it was that in exactly this same period of time a decade ago I began playing every Monday night at the fabulous open mic Earle ran at the Truskel, until he basically quit the open mic business (except for a brief period when he got me to host a Sunday afternoon open mic at the Mecano Bar in Oberkampf, where he was working at the time).

Le Truskel

Le Truskel

There is a magic at the Truskel, with its fabulous stage space, DJ area, dance floor/audience space, horseshoe-shaped bar and now also for many years, the incredible labyrinthine basement room. That room, smokers will delight in, has now been fitted with the necessary apparatus to make it a smoking room. Last night I just loved that while the gig was going on upstairs, downstairs there was a group of 25 or so soccer fans watching a local match and going crazy with chants and whatever else they go crazy with, and nothing upstairs was being affected by this mayhem.

The bar has a big following of regulars, mostly people in their twenties, but it also has plenty of older regular clients, and a long, long tradition of nurturing young bands. The band that invited me to open for them last night was called Britches, and it is an international mix of performers, the lead singer of which – Nadeem Hakemi – is a Canadian from British Columbia, with Afghan heritage.

I was flattered as hell to be invited to open for them, which apparently resulted in the interesting turn of events of Nadeem having been a fan of this blog for a while, and then discovering my own “heritage” in the article that I wrote for the Canadian national newspaper, the Globe & Mail, about my return to play music after decades away, at…Earle’s open mic at the Lizard Lounge. So how extraordinary that I should be invited to open for them at the Truskel!

Le Truskel a real musical mecca in Paris

I felt very much at home onstage doing just an acoustic set with my Gibson an no accompaniment. It really, truly, felt as if time had stopped from the 10 intervening years and that I was there again on stage at another open mic run by Earle. Well, ok, it was not utterly bursting at the seams with all the regulars that had shown up week after week for those insane open mics, but the Truskel had not changed one single bit. And that is hugely great news for the Paris live music scene. Especially for the young up-and-coming groups like Britches.

In fact, Le Truskel is not just great for young up-and-coming bands: It has hosted such established acts as Pete Doherty, Baxter Dury, Metronomy and incarnations of bands of Johnny Borrell of Razorlight fame…. In fact, it was also a funny, fitting thing that Borrell and Razorlight are performing at the Bataclan tonight.

Back in 1969

Back in 1969

By the way, it was also a great opportunity for me to have a chance to try out my “Lay, Lady Lay,” cover of the Dylan song for the first time in public in preparation for the fabulous gig I will take part in on 19 February at that other famous music venue in Paris, Le Reservoir. That is a show called “Back in 1969,” which will, as its name indicates, celebrate the music of 1969 – ie, 50 years ago – with a diverse collection of very interesting musicians, including the French/Portuguese star, Lio, and Laura Mayne, who was part of the duo called “Native.” There will also be my faithful sax player friend and sometime accompanist, Stephen Cat Saxo – so I’m hoping to feel as at home at Le Reservoir as I did last night at Le Truskel!

P.S. Oh, yes, of course, I had to do my Mad World cover! Thanks to Ornella for filming – and also starring in one of these videos…I wonder which one….

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!

Caveau des Oubliettes is Back – and Just like it ever was….

September 5, 2018
bradspurgeon

Caveau des Oubliettes Jam

Caveau des Oubliettes Jam

PARIS – Just a very short post to celebrate that in this time Paris when night music joint after night music joint is closing down as the Parisian population becomes more and more bourgeois and gentrified and refuses to accept the sound of music at nighttime, I can celebrate with a few words to say that a longtime mainstay of the Paris live music scene has returned after months of being closed down. The Caveau des Oubliettes on the Rue Galande in the 5th Arrondissement, near Shakespeare and Company and Notre Dame, has re-opened after its change in ownership and renovation. And it looks the same as it ever did.

Well, of course, the little problem of paying 12 euros for a 50 cl of IPA beer will steer away many a poor musician. Or at least no doubt limit their spending to say, one beer, rather than probably three beers at 5 euros each (and therefore earning more money for the bar).

In any case, the jam I attended on Sunday night was one of the many it has during each week, and this one was the blues jam, now led by Youva Sid, who I met a few years ago at his own bar venue in Menilmontant.

The great news is that this place looks as if it has basically not changed at all. It has just cleaned everything up to make it look more stylish – but the jam principle is the same. Bring your instruments, make your presence known, get up on stage and play!

New Rush Bar Open Mic Another Real Rush!

August 15, 2018
bradspurgeon

Rush Bar open mic

Rush Bar open mic

PARIS – I have always said that for an open mic to be a success it is necessary to have three essential ingredients. And the new version of the Rush bar open mic has proven this to be true again:

First, a great location both within the city, but also the nature of the bar room itself. There has to be a bar that lends itself to intimacy for the musicians and the spectators. But it should also have a way in which the spectators can listening quietly to the music, or go to another part of the bar (or outside) in order to talk and socialise. This the Rush bar has in spades. Something about this room and the precise location on the corner of a couple of quiet streets really works.

Second, an owner of the bar that loves music and really wants to have an open mic, and understands what is necessary to ensure that the musicians and spectators are happy. The Rush bar changed owners last year and while I had met one of the two new owners before they took over, and they said they were really enthusiastic about keeping the open mic, that is not something that you can believe in until you see it. Well, attending the open mic on Monday night I found the owner I had met before and he seemed even MORE enthusiastic now about the open mic than he was before he bought the place.

Third, you must have someone running the open mic who has a knack for doing this highly specialized job. The knack involves a nice way with people – both musicians and spectators – and a love of music, and even sometimes a little bit of a side to them that is happy to see a big party…. Igor and the gang from the Escargot Underground Radio fit this bill entirely.

And that is why the old Rush bar has managed to successfully make the transition from its status a year ago to what it is today, as I saw on Monday. The open mic had been run from its inception only around a year or so earlier by Charlie Seymour, who ended up moving on when the management changed, and who now runs the Bootleg bar open mic near the Bastille. Charlie did such a great job at the Rush bar that I was very worried that this great open mic would die upon his departure.

It went through some months of I don’t know what – since I never went – until the open mic became the new Rush bar open mic, with Igor and the gang running it. And it looks like it has saved one of Paris’s great new open mics, and given it a different twist too. Like I said, it needed all of the ingredients to be a success – and it now has them all. Oh, and I really must add that an open mic also needs understanding neighbors who are inevitably exposed to the cacophony of music and talk that a great open mic invariably produces – and for the moment it seems the Rush bar has this ingredient too.

I’ll definitely be returning!

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