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
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….
PARIS – The adventures continue now in Paris, after the weekend in Bahrain and that last night of craziness mentioned in the previous post. Well, no sooner did I return home than I received a message from an old friend whom I had met at open mics a few years ago, and who recites poetry. She wondered if I could accompany her on my guitar while she recited her poetry, in French and in English. If you ever saw and heard this woman recite her poetry, then you know that I would never refuse such an offer….
So off I went on Tuesday late afternoon to practice with her and see if we could come up with some chords and rhythm for her poems in English and in French. We got it down in an hour, then trundled off to the Café Oz open mic, where Lisa Marie – the poet – wowed the crowd and I felt for the first time in my life comfortable accompanying someone on my guitar. Unfortunately, I could not make a video of her incredible performance, her outrageous poetry, which sometimes has themes that shock, surprise or titillate – like comparing a certain part of the male anatomy to the leaning tower of Pisa in the final lines of the suggestive poem…. Brad Spurgeon doing Except Her Heart at Soirée Buzz
From there it was off to the Pigalle Country Club, the scene of the crime of a couple weeks earlier, where a woman used my Seagull as a dance floor. I was not going to allow anyone to discourage me from attending my favorite Paris haunts, especially when I knew there was nothing personal to that attack on the poor Seagull. And my feelings were confirmed when within half an hour of attending this raucous open mic I barely missed being struck by someone else’s nice new acoustic guitar being hurtled across the room by a frustrated guitarist. Somehow the guitar resisted snapping to pieces upon landing at the foot of the microphone. (I swear I am not making this up!!!) Brad Spurgeon doing Mad World at the Tres Honoré
This was no environment for poetry of ANY kind, so I simply took to the mic and jammed away with some old friends and other musicians at the Pigalle Country Club, playing for maybe half an hour and feeling triumphant to be doing so with my Seagull – which accompanied me wherever I happened to move in the bar throughout the evening. Brian Scott Bagley performing at his Soirée Buzz
Late Wednesday afternoon – we’re in the next day already – I suddenly recalled that I had received a telephone message from a musician friend. I called him back to find that he was offering me a gig that very night at the crazy mad Soirée Buzz open mic at the very chic Très Honoré cocktail lounge on the Place du Marché St. Honoré. It was to start at 9 PM, and I would play until 10 PM, and be paid with a free meal and drinks! This I liked, and despite still recovering from the excitement of the previous days, I accepted. Another bit of jamming at Soiree Buzz green room
No sooner did I accept than I invited the poetess to the evening as well, since after my feature act performance the evening turns into that crazy mad open mic, hosted and organized by the inimitable Brian Scott Bagley, American male cabaret and burlesque artist. And I KNEW that my poetess’s poetry would go down well at the Très Honoré. Another act at the Soirée Buzz
So I arrived, showed the house band a few chords of the songs I thought I’d play – my own songs as well as some covers – and off we went to playing on this chic stage in this basement room, darkly lit and feeling like some purposeful high class contrast to the Pigalle Country Club. It would turn out to be what is the longest period of time I’ve spent playing with a band that has never played my songs before, as we did about four of my originals and four cover songs, and somehow it all felt just great. It got me to thinking about what it really means to play with really great musicians who can follow anything! Having now seen it on video, well, I could have done a lot better! But I include a couple of videos taken by my friend, Mr. Lafleur, who invited me to the soirée, and whose new album I will write about later…. Fun in the green room of the Soirée Buzz
Of course, it was all helped by the fact that I had my faithful lead-playing fiddle player, Joe Cady, who agreed to come and provide the necessary color between the drums and bass and my rhythm guitar playing. But somehow, it all felt like it held together, and it was a personal moment of satisfaction of doing something I never thought possible: IE, playing a series of my own songs respectfully with a band who had never even heard them before, let alone play them. Second at Café Oz Open Mic
I also spent some fun moments in the artist’s “Green Room,” which actually has a green theme of wallpaper, and listened to and jammed with some of them. And there discussed the idea of doing our act again with Lisa Marie. She was all ready, we went on stage, and if the night before it had been my first challenge to accompany the poetess, well, it then grew into another challenge for both of us, as we were also joined by the drummer, bass player and Joe on the fiddle! And as predicted, her poetry was more than well received in this crazy mad, chic environment – to say nothing of her appropriate personal beauty. Syd and Co at Pigalle Country Club
And so it went, from unpredictable to unpredictable, a series of musical adventures that I had never imagined Sunday morning as I awoke in the heat of Bahrain…. Tonight, another one awaits….
PARIS – I have written quite often about the Cabaret Culture Rapide open mic night over the years, specifically the Friday night one that has changed MCs quite a bit, and also the Thursday night jam session. Now, the Thursday night jam has long ended and it has been replaced fairly recently by a new, wild, very open kind of open mic – and very English – that calls itself “Paris Lit Up.” It is run by the genial Jason Francis Mc Gimsey, and is open to music, spoken word, poetry, just about anything.
I do warn again that it is very English expat oriented, but it is also open to everything. Like all the other open mics at the Cabaret Culture Rapide, there is no microphone. Unlike the other open mics there in my experience, people at this one sit and listen religiously! There is complete silence during each person’s moment behind the mic, and that is wildly appreciated. It makes the need for a mic much less pressing….
The atmosphere is really one that reminds me a lot of one of the world’s best open mics, the Catweazle Club in Oxford, that I attend annually in June or July or whenever there’s a British Grand Prix. Very cool, with lively MCing, intelligence, anything goes.
Paris Lit Up is also part of a whole little group of writing, and a small press of the same name, which is why this is so cool and intelligent and laid back. I highly recommend checking it out at least once – and you’ll probably end up returning, as I know I will!
OXFORD – When Matt Sage began his unique, usually witty and sharp spiel in opening up the night of festivities at the Catweazle Club in Oxford last night, he talked about how he had met several interesting people just beforehand and how he had this feeling that swamped him about how human nature, when you got right down to it, was really sympathetic and nice. This, naturally, drew some nay-saying comments from the nearly 100 or more spectators and musicians in the hippie-like environment of the East Oxford Community Centre where this iconic open mic has taken place for more than two decades.
But what Matt did not refer to was his own sympathetic nature and the act of kindness he performed the moment I arrived after a nearly 1 hour 30 minute drive through thick traffic from the Silverstone racetrack to the Catweazle Club, also known as Catweazle Performance Space. I took my guitar out of my rental car and decided to put my computer bag in the trunk, and I suddenly started searching for my wallet and instantly realized I had left it in a locker at the racetrack. That meant that I was 1 hour and 30 minutes’ drive away from my cash, credit cards, every bit of my lifeline for the night, and with an empty, growling stomach after the trip from Paris to Oxford via Eurostar, walk, rental car, etc. And there was no way I wanted to drive back through the pouring rain AND miss my one chance per year to attend and play in the Catweazle Club.
So I entered the room where the gathering takes place, and I said, “Matt, hi, it’s Brad Spurgeon….” He immediately recognized me from past years, and I said, “I’m really sorry and embarrassed, but I have just discovered I have no money or credit cards or anything, having left my wallet at the racetrack.” My immediate thought was not my dinner, but how could I take part in the evening. I forget that as a performer I do not pay an entrance fee, but I would need to buy a drink, certainly. The entrance fee for the public – well worth it – is something like 5 or 6 pounds.
“We’ll sort you out,” said Matt without hesitating. He then pulled out an envelope from his pocket and from the envelope he removed 40 pounds and said, “Is that enough?”
I could not believe his kindness. He only knows me as a guy who has showed up annually once per year for the last four or five years, and even during that time he was absent on one occasion – replaced by someone else. So it was a risk he would not get the money back – but his empathy overruled any doubts.
Thanks to the loan – I ended up returning 20 pounds later in the night and will return the rest today or tomorrow by mail or special delivery – I was able to have a meal and a beer and to spend yet another absolutely fantastic evening at this amazing open mic “happening.”
Catweazle, in fact, has such an enviable ambience and approach to the open mic format that it has been imitated in several different places, including London, New York, and lately even in my home town of Toronto. (Last night there was a Catweazle happening in Oxford, New York and Toronto, in fact.)
What makes it different and cool is just subtle stuff, and personally, I think most of what makes it different and cool has to be Matt’s presentation and MCing – he comes up with the funniest lines between acts. It is also the hippie lilke vibe: Everyone sits on mattresses, pillows, cushions, chairs and couches, right up to the foot of the performers on the performance space. Behind the performers is a curtain – like a stage curtain – with Catweazle written in large freaky letters above. There is no microphone and no amplifier, and the audience knows that it is expected to be religiously silent for every performer – and the audience IS.
Furthermore, just about any kind of performance is allowed. Although I have posted only videos of music, there were several spoken word performers and poets. And this being Oxford, I assure you that they were good.
This being Oxford, the performers were also very cool. There were a surprising number of Americans and Canadians, too, as it turned out. And two Germans. I don’t know about the other nationalities, but it was clearly a cosmopolitan mix.
I must apologize for one thing, which is that because I did not want to be too obtrusive with my video camera in this silent, respectful space where few people make videos and none took photos, I chose to sit at the back of the room, and that unfortunately meant that not only the focus of the camera was not what it should be – since I used the zoom of the Zoom Q3HD recorder – but also the sound was often pretty low, and WORSE: I had to hold the camera high over my head and my hands were shaking through most of the filming. So bear with me on that.
Oh, by the way, I also did manage to do my song “Crazy Lady,” and as usual at Catweazle, I felt bizarrely more nervous than I do at most other places. It’s that respectful silence and the 100 or so faces at your feet…. it’s at once fabulous and frightening! But I will definitely return whenever I can.
So, yes, human nature can be incredibly positive and wonderful – especially at Catweazle Club, Oxford.
I was fantastically excited last night because one of my favorite Paris open mics fell on the day to end all days in the history of the world. So it was that the Arte Cafe decided to have a little theme of the end of the world for what was also its final open mic of 2012. I was so excited because although I was going to bring my guitar with me and perhaps sing some songs in the jam afterwards, my main plan was to read a couple of poems by one of the favorite poets of my youth: Adrian Henri.
Henri was one of the Liverpool poets from the 1960s – and after – whose volume of Penguin Poets No. 10, The Mersey Sound, was a famous moment in such anthologies when it came out in 1967. The other two poets in the group were Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Henri was an artist, performance artist, musician, poet and friends with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg and others.
I met him briefly at a Toronto Harbourfront Reading series night on 25 October 1980. I remember the date because it is inscribed in my book of his poetry that I bought that night called “From the Loveless Motel.” I also recall the moment because I was so young and gauche and although I admired him greatly, I insulted him without intending to. I went up to him excitedly to buy the book and talk, and I told him that I had traveled a good part of the world in my life and as a fan of his writing I had looked all over the place for his volumes and never found any of them outside England. Or something to that effect.
My intention, of course, had been to show what a devoted reader I was and not how obscure he was as a writer. But naturally, his face dropped and he said, “Well, you’ve got plenty of them here….”
Anyway… the point of all this is to say that when I learned that the end of the world was about to come, it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Adrian Henri poems, and I decided that I would read it at the open mic last night. I thought that as an introduction to Henri for the listeners, I would also read another of my favorite poems by him after the end of the world poem.
As it happened, a friend was also holding his annual end-of-the-year party, so I decided I would attend that first before going to the open mic. During the party I learned that the open mic at the Arte Café was, exceptionally, closing down early, for lack of its usual unfailingly loyal crowds of attendees. (Due no doubt to the Christmas holiday.) That meant my big moment as a reader – as opposed to singer – would never come. Neither, of course, did the end of the world.
But I did get to play my guitar and sing songs at the home of my friend, and that was loads of fun. And because I have this blog, I’ve decided that I can STILL read those two poems, and put them here on the blog for everyone to listen to – and then to go out and find Adrian Henri books and buy them wherever you may be. Henri, by the way, was born in 1932 and he died in 2000…on 20 December – IE, it would have been his 80th birthday two days ago, the day before the end of the world that never came.
The first poem, called, “Death in the Suburbs,” – and contained in “from the loveless motel” describes the end of the world…. which, as Henri says: “will surely come in Bromley South or Orpington.” Listen right to the end where suddenly I finish reading the poem only to have the sound of a siren emerge from outside my apartment like the end of the world has really begun after all:
The second poem, called, “Me,” is contained in Penguin Poets No. 10, and is a clever rhythmic thing which consists only of the names of people Henri would like to be, as you will hear if you listen:
Hugely mixed emotions yesterday night as I had a couple of literary evenings mixed with music to attend. The first was not mixed with music, in fact, but was the most bittersweet. That was a visit to The Village Voice Bookshop, for a party to “celebrate” the closure of this Paris institution of the last 30 years. The store is closing as it can no longer survive as an independent bookshop in our Internet and ebook world. The second event was a celebration of Bloomsday, at the Swan Bar, where I was invited to play music and to listen to readings of James Joyce prose and other Irish things.
The Village Voice was one of my first Paris hangouts, and I went there in the second year of its existence, starting in 1983. I had seen many readings there, met many people, and got to know Odile Hellier, the woman who started the shop and has run it all these years. She is a fascinating woman who loves American literature, and decided to open a store with the true feel of the American literary expat bookshop in Paris – I guess she is a mixture of both Sylvia Beach AND Adrienne Monnier, who ran their stores only a few blocks away a few decades ago….
When I arrived for the closing celebration, I found that not even my personal invitation to the thing would save me from the impossibility of getting through the doors, so full was the two-floor shop of admirers and book lovers. In fact, they were bursting out into the street. All I could manage to do was glimpse inside and see Odile reading something from the staircase to the throngs below. I made a video of this, to give an idea.
I went off and ate a wonderful pizza dinner at a nearby pizzeria, where I also devoured the London Review of Books that I had bought in Montreal last week. Then I returned, sweating from that hot and spicy pizza, and found that I could now penetrate into the Village Voice. There I found the place now had enough room available for a visitor to wander around, and meet old friends. I started by saying hello to Odile outside the shop, where she was talking with someone and no doubt getting some fresh air after her various readings.
Inside, I found some old friends, including Jim Haynes, the American Paris expat supreme, whom, I recalled, I had met for the first time at the Village Voice in the back room cafe it used to have, in 1984, while I was reading Jim’s very own autobiography, “Thanks For Coming.” Jim and I kept contact over the years, I have been to his famous Sunday dinners at his atelier in the 15th arrondissement, and our lives have criss-crossed occasionally.
I also saw David Applefield, whom I had met at Shakespeare and Company in 1983 in the writer’s room, but whom I had probably seen more often in those early days at the Village Voice. David, at the time I met him, was working on the first Paris issue of his literary review called “Frank,” which would go on to have many more issues and a long life in Paris. Last night he passed on to me a book he has just published, right off the press, in a new imprint, and which was written by another Paris literary alumnus, John Strand.
Strand had started another Paris literary review in the early 1980s, called Exile, or Paris Exile, can’t remember quite. But I do remember him celebrating one of the issues at some kind of evening at the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Strand has gone on to become a multiple prize-winning playwright based in Washington D.C., and his novel is called, “Commieland.” I’m looking forward to reading it, and seeing where Applefield’s imprint, called, Kiwai Media, goes.
Unfortunately, I could stay long at the Village Voice as I had agreed so sing Irish songs at the Bloomsday evening at the Swan Bar, a newer American-culture hangout in Paris. In a brisk walk from the rue Princesse to Montparnasse, I managed to digest that pepperoni pizza and all the desert items – macarons – that I ate at the Village Voice. I arrived to find Sheldon Forrest hard at work accompanying a singer, and the Swan Bar was just brimming full of people.
This bode well, and as I waited to perform my first song, it occurred to me that I had a nice little story to tell about James Joyce, and I could connect it to the build up of my song. It was a story about how the journalist and novelist Eugene Jolas had spoken to Joyce one day and asked him what he accomplished that day, and Joyce responded that he had worked all day and managed to complete a sentence. “Only one sentence??!!!” “Well, yes,” said Joyce. “I knew what the seven words were, but I could not figure out what order I wanted to put them in.” I then told the audience that I had several songs, but did not know what order to sing them in. The one that went down the best, and which I did sing the best, was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” by Mickey MacConnell.
There were lots of other musicians, lots of readers, and the evening was in general a bigger success – I felt – than last year’s such celebration at the Swan Bar.
I returned home, had a good sleep, got up today and finally, finally, after nearly four years finished the book I have been working on about my first year of musical adventures around the world. I also came up with a new, final, working title: “OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Story of Healing and Rebirth through Music” In the end, I must say, that it felt appropriate to complete the book on such a literary weekend….
I braved the continued freezing temperatures in Paris last night to go first to the Cariatides bar/venue to see Marianne BP do her concert before the jam session organized by Doréa SisDee, which is called “We Jam.” The thing is, I knew that no matter how freezing cold I was, Marianne’s performance would heat up my body and spirit. And I was NOT let down. It was a fabulously inventive, creative and sexy show that Marianne BP put on singing and speaking and chanting her texts to the sounds created by Thomas Kpade on the cello and bass and computer….
In fact, Marianne BP – whom I once backed on a song playing guitar to her singing at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance – was sooooo hot, that I knew I had to escape the Cariatides as quickly as possible after her performance to go and cool myself off not in the freezing air of Paris, but in the new open mic and jam over at Coolin Irish Pub, that I discovered last week. I was not let down there either.
Back to Marianne BP. It’s kind of difficult to define what she does or how she does it. I think about that a lot as I watch and listen. And I must apologize for a lot of the jerky camera work, but it’s difficult to control the handheld camera when one’s eyes are partly looking at its screen and partly drawn to the perform “en direct.” Marianne has great presence, an amazingly sexy voice and delivery and some very clever and interesting lyrics. She even tells stories a lot of the time, and has this cool approach about “transforming” herself into things like a woman in a poster in the metro, or a GPS, or a man.
And her idea of taking some classic jazz lyrics and chanting them to different melodies is very cool too, as it is usually the opposite to what happens with classic jazz. And the accompaniment by Thomas Kpade was so entertaining and intellectually pleasing as well, the two of them just did a sensational one-hour show, never losing their audience. ANYWAY…. more another time no doubt!
Coolin was great too, although it got off to a late start due to the horrible habit that so many sports bars have of leaving soccer – or football, if you prefer – matches to play out until the end even if no one is watching them! But there were a few new faces this time around, like Mary Catherine and Maddie Speed. And the late night jam went so long that it went pretty much beyond closing time, much to the chagrin of at least one bartender wanting out of that joint. I’ll be back.
Last night I decided it was finally time to step out of my habit of attending the two usual Paris open mics – the Tennessee Bar and the Galway – in order to try a jam session I had been hearing about, at the Nilaja restaurant, which specializes in African food. Actually, I intended to check out the Nilaja jam and then go to the Galway, but that soon proved impossible as I got sucked up by the atmosphere and other things at the jam.
So it was no surprise that she was the same in person as online. What WAS a surprise was when I arrived in the middle of one of her songs and the stage was beside the entry to the restaurant and as I closed the door the door handle fell to the floor with a loud metallic ring. She stopped, I picked up the door handle and apologized for doing that as a replacement for a triangle…. She then recognized me, asked my name, and then introduced me to everyone, the whole audience of 20 or so people who were there at that moment. She was effusive in her praise for my world travel to jams and open mics and my blog.
I was thankful, but suddenly felt enormous pressure about playing in the jam – more so when I realized that it was a real classic jam session kind of thing where musicians all go up together and play jamming music while someone sings. I am still at the very early stages of my development in that area, as I usually just play my own memorized material rather than improvise with a group. Of course, that is fabulous exercise and essential for any musician. But I was scared as hell, and felt very inadequate, given that I felt the audience rightfully had great expectations of the world traveller.
Having said that, the jam was very warm, wonderful, laid-back, and there were some interesting musicians – very interesting ones. My personal favorites were Isiah Shaka, Doréa and Marianne BP, who more than anything recited a text she wrote – and reminded me of Patti Smith, and of course, the genial Hervé Samb, who organizes these jams every Monday night.
I could not believe my ears last night at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar when Natas Loves You got up and began singing “I Talk to the Wind” from the first King Crimson album. I mean, this fabulous band originating from Luxembourg – and all over the world – does frequently surprise me and most people in the audience with their harmonies and original sounds.
But here I was faced with not only the nostalgia of listening to this fabulous sound of one of my favourite bands from my youth. I was also faced with the existential question of, hey, when these guys do this it is out-of-this-world-super-cool and hip and original. If I did the song or another from that same album – In the Court of the Crimson King – would I not just be considered an old fart who has never gotten over his first musical loves and cannot move on?
Well, who cares!! Just enjoy the recording I did on the video. Kudos to Natas for this original idea. To top it off, they told me they had only been singing the song for a day or two….
That would not be the only surprise at Ollie’s open mic last night. After a one-week dip in attendance suddenly the scene was back and boiling. It was standing room only for a while, again. And I got hit in the face with several other surprises. They included yet our slide guitar girl Nicole doing her own song for the first time in public; the fuck-poem girl doing another fuck poem – but with much more poise than the last time; Wayne Standley bringing along his banjo instead of his guitar; and Emma doing a crowd-killing “Preacher Man” a cappella with another singer….
I’m returning next week, no problem. But I will have to arrive earlier. Due to all this success, Ollie is moving the start time to 21:00 now from the 22:00 it was when the open mic started a year or more ago….