Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Accidental Spectator Discovers Why; Two Important Films on Hate at CPH:DOX (and Tindersticks vs. Minute Bodies)

March 21, 2017
bradspurgeon

James Baldwin

James Baldwin

COPENHAGEN – Somehow, I ended up in the wrong film at the CPH:DOX festival. I did not choose this film and it was not the film I came to see, it was not the film written on my ticket, although it was the right cinema, and the right auditorium. But then, immediately, as the film began in its strange manner, I decided that it could be a very interesting exercise to watch a documentary that I did not choose to see. And by the time it was over – even before that – I realized that it was a fabulously synchronistic thing to have had happen. The night before, Sunday night, I had seen another film that in fact fit in perfectly with this film. So I realized I had something to write about these two otherwise completely different films: They both deal with some of the biggest problems of our day – but in completely different ways – namely: Ideology, intolerance, hate, lack of love, rejection of people who are different from us, and above all, ignorance.

While I came to Copenhagen mainly to watch the music documentaries in the Sound & Vision festival-within-the-festival I was going to at least see some of the non-music films. Sunday night’s film was the first of those that I attended, the very powerful “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck, and based on an incomplete book, “Remember This House,” by James Baldwin about his relationships with his three murdered friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. The other film, where I found myself by accident, was “The Devil’s Trap,” about a man who grew up in a Christian cult that rejects anything to do with the world outside the cult. The film is by the Canadian Mitchell Stafiej, and it follows 25-year-old Lane, who found the strength to reject the church of his parents, brother and sisters, only to find that he had been permanently rejected by his family.

I Am Not Your Negro trailer

In each film, we find these problems of hate for anyone who is different, intolerance over the differences, and above all fear. Fear of the consequences of living with people of different beliefs, races, colors, creeds. Throughout “I Am Not Your Negro,” I was thinking about how the film answered for me my questions about the current situation in the United States. How could there be so much hate in this country now with Donald Trump’s (mostly white) voters asking for an America that closes out the rest of the world, refuses to accept diversity and refuses to acknowledge that human beings, in order to survive, need a moral standard that cannot include lies and hate?

Watching the “Baldwin-narrated” – an actor speaks Baldwin’s text, and the film tells the story through historic footage – of the history of black people in America answers that question of “how” can things be like this now. Because many of the white American people – not all of them – have been this way through most of their history. As is said at one point in the film, the history of America is the history of black people in America, and you can use the way black people are being treated as a barometer for the health of the whole country.

It’s a stunning, powerful film. James Baldwin was more than a front-row observer, more than a witness of that history of the second half of the 20th century. He was friends with these three prime voices in the battle for black peoples’ rights – or as King said, “duties” – and he himself, as the film shows, made some very clear and powerful statements.

I have always felt close to Baldwin as an expat writer who lived in Paris in the 1950s. He returned to the United States in the 1960s because he missed the people, then spent the decade there in the height of the civil rights battle, before moving back to France in 1970, and settling in Saint-Paul-de-Vence until his death in 1987 at age 63 from stomach cancer.

Baldwin had never wanted to be taken as a “black writer” first, which is one of the reasons he moved to France – to write from outside the context of his situation in life in the U.S. During his battles in the civil rights movement, he spoke about how he was raised on the same white culture as his white countrymen and women were raised on, and only once he hit a certain age – still as a child – was he stunned to realize that he was in fact considered by the white people in the same role as the Indians were that John Wayne was killing in the films he grew up watching. He, suddenly realized in his innocence, that he was a target.

The film shows not just the past, but it shows how the problems still exist today, with an appearance or two of Trump’s face and words, and there are references to Black Lives Matter, and other current events and murdered black people.

I left the cinema feeling I understood the current situation with Trump much better – because it has so long been woven into the American psyche.

And then the accidental part of this story with The Devil’s Trap

But the next day, Monday, I ended up by accident in this film about Lane and his family’s devotion to the cult of the Exclusive Brethren. To quote from Wikipedia, this cult is “a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848.”

Lane and his family, it turns out, are Canadians. They attended the church in Montreal, where Lane grew up controlled by the doctrines of this church, through his parents’ application of the codes on the family. The film, in fact, takes us across the border to various cities in the U.S. as well, including Washington D.C., where his family now lives.

The Devil’s Trap trailer


I am a Canadian, born and raised, and as I heard Lane speak, I felt I heard my friends and family – eh? So my thoughts about “I Am Not Your Negro,” and the U.S.-specific hate and intolerance came into a different perspective.

Lane tells the story of how he grew up indoctrinated by the principles of the cult through his parents in such a strict way that he felt like a complete outsider in Canadian society. (Although he never used such a national distinction.) He could not watch films, had no right to listen to music CDs, if he swore his father would wash his mouth out with laundry detergent. And when he dared decide to leave the church, his family and eventually join the military, his family not only disowned him, but refused to speak to him. No one paid much attention when he told them that he had been raped at age 13 by a church member at the church.

His parents never want to see him again. First, though, so convinced were they that there was something wrong with Lane, that they took him to the Mayo Clinic for several days of physical and mental examinations. The overseeing doctor at this respected clinic told him after all the tests that he was an entirely healthy teenager, both physically and mentally and he should not let anyone tell him otherwise. That helped him realize that despite hearing that he was mentally ill from his family for years, his inclinations that there was a problem rather with his upbringing were right.

He broke away. But the film shows how he makes a final effort to try to see and meet, and share the life he deserves with his family, travelling to Washington to see them. It is only in this culminating scene that I became entirely convinced myself that Lane was not exaggerating, or perhaps even lying, about the extreme nature of the treatment by his family. We learn through a concealed recording he made of his meeting with his brother – whom he had not seen in years – that his parents would not come and meet him, that it would be too difficult for them to take emotionally. These parents were, however, dying, feeling completely destroyed, by the departure and betrayal against the church and its beliefs, their beliefs, of their son.

In short, their cult religion, their beliefs, were more important than their love for their child. Oh, no, sorry, Lane they do love. But they would only welcome him back home and come to see him, make him a member of the family again if he accepted the dictates of the cult. Only if he sacrificed everything to the cult as they did would they accept that he was worth loving and associating with. Otherwise, he was to be shunned, closed out, shut up, disowned, considered dead.

One difference between the treatment of Lane and the treatment of the blacks in racist America is that at least it would appear that the members of the cult do not intend to actually physically kill those who are different from them, as is the case through the history of violence and hate against the blacks in America. There is, of course, the mental torture his family inflict from their intolerance and ignorance and hateful actions – but at least there is no murder, in this case.

But for me, these two films sum up the depths to which humanity appears to be going at the moment with the extremism that Trump represents. One of the most interesting elements for me, also, is that these people in the cult who hate and refuse to live with those who are different than them, including their own family members, they are from an affluent middle class. We are not talking about physical poverty here – only mental poverty. Most of Trump’s voters, while perhaps being from a lower-income part of the population, are not exactly starving and dying from exposure either. We are, in both cases, talking about people whose basic needs have been met, and now they are free to hate through extreme ideologies. Why is it that with the most common challenge facing humanity being the very survival and feeding and housing of the 6 or 7 billion of us all, we have to try to destroy one another based on ideologies and beliefs? Could fear and cowardice be the answer to that?

Anyway, this has to be one of the most run-on posts I’ve ever done, and I’d probably do much better to stick to writing about the music films at CPH:DOX. But I was affected by both of these films.

And then there was Tindersticks vs. the amoeba

To finish on a lighter note, I also attended briefly the multimedia event of the weekend, the concert by the group Tindersticks, playing at the festival headquarters while overhead some strange video showed of sped-up-motion nature shots of plants and amoeba etc., in Minute Bodies. Don’t bother asking me what it all meant. Check out my video of a minute or so of that concert, if you want to understand. Then get back to me on your theories….

Tindersticks at CPH:DOX

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=ceZb4f0R7Uk

A Couple of Kunst (?!) in a Bunch of Kunst – A Sleaford Mods Doc

March 19, 2017
bradspurgeon

Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods

COPENHAGEN – Rather than trying to look hip, cool and with it, I will admit here that before I stepped into the world premiere of Christine Franz’s film at the Empire Bio at the CPH:DOX festival last night I had no idea who the Sleaford Mods were. Then, as the film began, I quickly concluded that they were just a couple of kunst. As the film rolled on, the couple of kunst reminded me less of Derek and Clive, and more and more of the reason Britain voted for Brexit. And more and more, I grew to feel sympathetic and warm to the two stars of Bunch of Kunst, coming out feeling finally that I may not – as Iggy Pop says toward the end of the film – understand much of what they are saying (thanks to that strong British accent) but I can understand the reason they exist. And though I always thought the Brexit vote was an illness, I can now understand a little better through this film the nature of that illness.

Having said that, I don’t think the word Brexit was mentioned a single time in the film. And in a talk in the cinema at CPH:DOX after the film, Franz said she specifically did not want to make an overt political statement in the film. It turns out there has already been another documentary about the Sleaford Mods, called Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, and that one was very political. So no doubt Franz wanted to avoid what had already been done.

So who the fowk are the Sleaford Mods anyway??? Well, a couple of guys who had musical ambitions, one of whom played in several bands without success, the other of whom was a DJ doing his own thing. They met one night at a show, and the guy who speaks the rap and writes the lyrics, Jason Williamson, got together with the man who does the DJ thing, Andrew Fearn, and they began to do some shows in bars, raging against the machine that is working class life in middle England. At their home in Nottingham, they decided to set up a little studio and record some albums.
Bunch of Kunst Sleaford Mods trailer

This was in the late 2000s, and they stuck things out in bars for years, through failed album after failed album. Eventually, the chicken-factory worker – Williamson – (well, seems that job lasted six weeks) and the unemployed man, Fearn, met up with a guy who had a solid job, driving a bus for 14 years, and he became a fan and had a vision. These two modern day punk rappers, he thought, could get their act together and do something relevant and cool.

To draw the story short, they ended up doing bigger and bigger venues, finally playing in Glastonbury, and then, as the film shows, ultimately signed a record deal with the legendary Rough Trade label. (There is a shot at one moment that shows the first Rough Trade album, Métal Urbain, a French punk band of perhaps equally unlikely people in the 1970s, famous for a song called “Creve Salope,” (“Die Bitch” among others.) And, as I mentioned, the Sleaford Mods also ended up garnering the attention of Iggy Pop and many others.
Sleaford Mods video

The film was shot over two crucial years, from 2014 to 2016, and takes us from their lives in the pub performances to Glastonbury to the signing at Rough Trade.

What made these performers a success is clear: The nasty, angry, bad, expletive-full lyrics that speak the anger of the English working class in a language and emotion that they understand. “They speak for me,” says one of the gig-goers, a man who also appears to be in his 40s, like the two members of the “band.” But the language is so strongly couched in English argot that it is, as I said, nearly incomprehensible to an outsider – and that is also one of the main factors that makes it popular to its tribe.

And yet this deep-rooted cultural whatever did not stop the duo from gaining at first a slightly greater following in Germany before they developed one in England! (Which partly answers for the German director – although Franz also pointed out that she had attended Birmingham University, and so was steeped in a little bit of this culture herself.) We are also taken on a trip to see the German fans celebrate and react to the Sleaford Mods, and to sing along with their lyrics – which was as surprising to the Sleaford Mods as it was to anyone.

They are now about to embark on a visit to perform in the United States, and it will be interesting to see how they are received. While my first impressions were entirely softened by my “getting to know” these guys through the film, I still have to add that had I seen them in an open mic somewhere, anywhere, around the world, even in middle England, I am sure that I would have still had the impression that they were just a couple of kunst. Had I seen them in front of one of their raging audiences in England, on the other hand, I might have wondered what world I had stepped into … just the way I did when I saw my first ever performance by a punk band, the Viletones, in Toronto in early 1977. In fact, the ambience was very, very similar…and as I write these words, I realize it was exactly 40 years ago that I had that strange experience of seeing the Viletones in the Colonial Underground, and wrote about it the moment I returned home, as I did last night this post….

So if you want an experience like seeing the first punk bands in the 1970s, take a look at this film.

Rant: The Freaky List of Things That Happened to Me in My First Two Months as a Freelance, Actually Continuing to be Employed Working for Other People not Doing Their Jobs

February 16, 2017
bradspurgeon

employmentBe warned in advance. This is a rant. It has nothing to do with my usual long-drawn-out descriptions of playing music in bars around the world. But I do hope it will be at least as entertaining as a night at an open mic….

On 6 Dec. after 33 years as an employee of a company, I went freelance. The plan is to continue to do everything I always did – journalism, writing, music, film – but to be accountable only to myself, and the private company I am currently creating, which I will call: Unfinished Business. But, astoundingly, since my official separation from my employer – I was one of 69 people fired – and my decision to work only for myself, I have actually been involved in the most absurd, at times laughable, and always frustrating task of doing other peoples’ jobs for them!

For the last two months, almost every time I have had to deal with people employed to serve me – through me paying them for a service, or through government agencies, public positions, private businesses etc. – the employed individuals have not quite done their jobs correctly, not paid attention to essential details, which has in turn led to infuriating situations of me working overtime trying to resolve the consequences from the lack of attention to those details. Ultimately, it has felt at times like this has become my new full-time job.

If you think I am exaggerating or have unrealistically high ideas of a work ethic, just take a look at this incredible string of events over the last two months, this unfortunate list of 15 excruciating events that has occupied me in near full-time employment unravelling jobs-not-well-done, and let me know if you can relate to this – or worse, have your own excruciating list of such events:

  1. The annual, so-called “check-up” for my apartment’s heater turned into a one-week ordeal of emails, telephone calls, early morning meetings with a technician over the machine that had heated my home and water perfectly for years after it broke down the night following the technician’s visit since he destroyed a regulating valve during the check up. One week to get them to repair the damage, and accept that I did not have to pay an extra fee for the valve they broke.
  2. Three hours lost – instead of 15 minutes – and several days of stress created over a government official’s lack of attention to a detail sending me the wrong form letter invitation to a vitally important meeting that was supposed to be done by phone, but for which due to the incorrect letter, I was obliged to show up at the office of the agency, where I was unwanted.
  3. An hour wait for both me and for the doctor at a check up, due to an error by one receptionist who failed to send the doctor the message and a lie by her replacement when I asked 30 minutes into the wait if it was normal, and she said, “Yes,” claiming without knowing it that the wait was entirely normal as the doctor was delayed, when in fact the doctor was just waiting for me in frustration.
  4. Several days of email communications, stress, and confusion over the sending of official documents to various government agencies after a staff member went on sick leave while preparing important documents for me which then lay in limbo for weeks.
  5. Due to a Paris metro trip from my home to the Gare de Lyon taking 1 hour 13 minutes instead of 25 minutes thanks to a so-called suspicious object, I missed a train to Milan from Paris and lost the 38-euro cost of the train ticket and was obliged to buy a 114-euro ticket for the next train that left 4-hours later.
  6. That delay led to me going into a nearby Fnac store where I ended up paying 500 euros for the wrong handheld steady-cam thanks to a salesman not giving me correct information about the model of the camera – and loss of time and money in an international call over this error.
  7. Endless visits to the ticket office of the Paris metro, missed metros, and sometimes lost tickets, due to some Metro employee’s new, poor choice of cardboard for the Paris metro tickets, which is ultra-sensitive to whatever happens to be in my pockets – like keys, credit cards or lint – that then demagnetizes the tickets.
  8. Spending 1125 euros on new eyeglasses that do not work correctly as they were either poorly mounted or poorly prescribed; with the even worse insult of two months’ occupation in sending documents, emails, return visits, and debates, due to a poor job of filing the papers by the optician as I try to be reimbursed for at least part of the cost of these glasses from the Social Security and private health insurance.
  9. A failed battle to receive an adequate sick leave note from a house call doctor for the horrendous case of the flu of my son – which lasted nearly a week.
  10. The subsequent more than an hourlong battle to find a pharmacy open on the Sunday to buy his medication after the officially assigned pharmacy for that Sunday’s opening was closed for no apparent reason, despite its legal requirement to be open.
  11. Having to pack up and carry internationally across Europe from Milan to Paris and then Paris back to Milan an electric moka machine that I bought in Milan and found defective once I got it back to Paris.
  12. Returning from Milan earlier than I wanted to in order to attend a meeting at my bank in France only to have the meeting cancelled at the last minute, thus robbing me of my time in Milan and causing extra work to set up a new meeting.
  13. Paying 23 euros, plus 2 euros tip, for a very bad, rushed, haircut so inadequately done that it required another haircut to make up for it, despite having previously discovered a great place where I can get my haircut just fine for 10 euros, plus tip, but deciding to be loyal to the more expensive place as a good client.
  14. A more than weeklong battle with The New Yorker to be reimbursed for having accidentally taken out two 146-euro annual subscriptions from the web site because there was no adequate confirmation that my first subscription had been registered.
  15. Repeated calls, emails, stress and information sent to a new potential colleague who failed to correctly either save or understand the information in the first place.

So tell me, is there really a conspiracy against the unemployed by the employed – to do their jobs for them – or am I just over sensitive and this just happens to all of us all of the time due to the fact that most of us, while employed, may officially be categorised as sleepwalkers? Or is this just one of those classic cases of work filling out the time available to achieve it – i.e., I have so much time on my hands now that regular daily tasks will take all that time in order to be completed? Only time will tell….

Mad World – around the (mad) world

December 9, 2016
bradspurgeon

The World

The World

PARIS – Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the songs I sing most often on my world travels is the now classic Tears for Fears song, “Mad World.” I really don’t know how this came to be a staple of my open mic stage repertoire. Well, except that I like playing it, everyone seems to know it, and it turns out to be one of the few songs that I feel really comfortable playing impromptu when I’ve got other musicians on stage, none of whom I have ever played with.

With the recent absolutely MAD events around the world – such things as the Donald Trump election, Brexit, Italy, who knows what in France, and goodness knows how many surprises to come in the future – I thought it was a good moment to make a video of as many of the “Mad World” videos that I could find of me playing in open mics and open jam sessions around the world. The idea was to join them all together at the lip, and use as the common thread the recording of “Mad World” that I have on my album, released this year, “Out of Jam.” (Which is available now on all the basic downloading sites, such as iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, and who knows how many others!)

I also decided to let slip into the video the occasional “live” sound from the actual recordings at the open mics, where it seems to fit O.K. without too much disruption.

Needless to say, this compilation of “Mad World” moments from early 2010 up until last month in 2016, is only a small sample of the hundreds of times, and dozens of countries in which I have sung the song solo or in a group, due to the fact that I’m usually not the subject of the videos for this blog, but the recorder of the videos. This video represent some of the few occasions in which someone actually did record me – and I have so many other musicians around the world to thank for the times they played “Mad World” or other songs with me, that it would take too long here – and be too boring – to name them all.

So check out the link above, to my “Mad World – Around the (mad) world.”

A mad idea in a mad world, for a Mad World.

A Last Night in Kuala Lumpur at the Fabulous Lorong BlackBox – and Just My Luck in the KL Taxi Saga and the Internet Sweepstakes

October 4, 2016
bradspurgeon

lorong-blackboxKUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Just my luck. I was all excited about how I have a 27-minute ride on the KLIA Express train from downtown KL to the airport before boarding my flight to Osaka, Japan, and that I could use the KLIA Express train’s wifi in order to write and post this final post from Malaysia. The wifi on the train is just fabulous and never ever let me down. Until now. Suddenly, for the first time on this trip, and possibly on any trip for me to KL, the internet wifi connection is not working on the KLIA Express. I might as well have taken a taxi! Wait, no, not that! That takes me full circle back to “Just my luck!”

I’m writing this in a Word file that I will post at the airport – either KLIA or Osaka, which ever delivers wifi first – and my reference to “just my luck,” has to do with the taxi drivers of KL. As I arrived about 45 minutes late last night for my evening at Lorong BlackBox, the new food and music emporium of my friend Atraz Ismail, and I complained to him about the horrendous taxi ride I had to his place in Shah Alam, which is located about 45 minutes from downtown KL but took me around 1 hour 25 minutes to get there, he reminded me that I have a long history of terrible experiences with taxis in KL!!

Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

It is true. They ask if I have GPS because they don’t. They ask if I know where I’m going, because they don’t. They stop to buy GPS refills on their phones, since without it we end up in Thailand. They then fail to understand how to follow the blue line of the GPS on the road and end up taking the same 10-minute stoplight twice because they made a wrong turn…. Don’t get me started.

Another Syahidil Aizat at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Suffice it to say that as often as I have been let down by taxis in KL, I have been blessed with fabulous evenings at Atraz’s ventures. That started five years ago at his place called Senyap – which means silence in Malay – and it continued this weekend with his new food joint – that I mention a couple days ago – called Lorong BlackBox.

Atraz at Lorong BlackBox in Shah Alam Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Located in the small back room of a bigger food emporium in a commercial area in Shah Alam, where you have offices, restaurants, markets, and other commercial entities, Atraz not only serves wicked local spicy dishes from his truck kitchen (and the outdoor barbecue-like wok-like kitchen – but he also continues his passion for music, especially young and upcoming talent.

He only opened this place around three weeks ago, and he plans to put on an open mic, maybe a festival or other concerts, and generally liven up the back alley in which the BlackBox is located. Last night, he invited me to do a mini gig and jam, and he played some tunes too – first time I ever heard his music! – and he had a special guest in the fabulously talented and original singer songwriter Syahidil Aizat, who is also a member of a band, the CD of which I was given and will be giving a listen to as soon as I have a CD player. But if it sounds anything like the originality and sensitivity of Syahidil, it’s sure to be a treat.

I’ll write about it in a future edition of my morning exercise listening. For the moment, suffice it to say that I learned my lesson once and for all about taxis in KL. Atraz and his friends ordered me up an Uber, and despite the driver having to stop to figure out how to use his program on his phone to set the charging in motion, we spent half as much time and a third as much money getting back to my hotel as with the taxi on the way there.

It was a revelation in more ways than one, then, last night at the Lorong BlackBox.

Now off to Nagoya, where I never take any taxis – oh, except from the circuit to the train station in Shiroko. But that’s another story.

PS, So, I managed to find an internet connection at the airport, after nearly one hour of trying – first at the airport free system, which was out of reach for the restaurant where I am eating, called the Dome, and then in the Dome system, which is too slow and did not allow WordPress to work, and then in the Starbucks next-door, which took all of my personal information as it baited me into a connection before it then said that I had to ask for a wifi code at the counter!!!!!

High Gear Before Low Gear in Paris Open Mic Scene, at the Beginning of the Dead Month

August 6, 2016
bradspurgeon

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

PARIS – Regular readers of this blog over the past whatever many years it has been will know that I hate the month of August in Paris. This is the period when a vast majority of the open mics close down because they think that the national addiction to vacationing in August will mean fewer customers. But it entirely overlooks the huge influx of tourists who want not only to be climbing the stairs of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but want to attend an open mic at night. Anyway, over the last four days I attend four open mics, as they wound down, or continued valiantly forth….

It was, in fact, three days in a row, although I chose not to perform at an open mic on Thursday where I had otherwise been aiming to, but did go to two on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and another one on Thursday at which I did not perform…. (I re-wrote that sentence a couple of times, so if it’s a mess, that’s why!)
Ant Henson’s great new protest song

The Tuesday night was the usual trip to the Café Oz open mic of Brislee Adams, near the place Blanche. It was the last open mic of the summer while it closes down maybe for two weeks or so. A classic night with some great performers, including my friend Ant Henson, who runs his own open mic in London, and who was here for a summer trip. He tested out a fabulous new protest song of his, and I suggest you listen on the video below….
another at oz

From the Oz we went less than 10 minutes walk off to the real Oz, which is to say the one where Dorothy found herself. I’m referring to the Pigalle Country Club, which is one of the most open and crazy open mics of Paris, where anything goes, the mic is not just open, but has to be grabbed between performers, and where there are indeed some pretty cool performers, with the emphasis usually on the 1960s garage rock…. A crazy cool clientele also at this joint.
Ash Orphan at oz

Wednesday was one of the most intelligent, consistent, fun open mics of Paris, and one that does NOT close down for the summer – knowing its clientele perfectly – although the regular and founding host, Thomas Brun, does go off on a summer vacation. So Wednesday was Thomas’s last night at the Highlander before his vacation, from what I understood.
bit o pembroke at oz

Again, it was a classic Highlander night, with each musician singing three songs and the list going to some 20 or more performers, and the crowd ready to be entertained – mostly by crowd pleasers, but not exclusively – and all together I had a great time there. Except my guitar pick up was acting up again, as it has frequently since the horrible day when a woman used the guitar as a dance floor at the Pigalle Country Club earlier this year….
Jake at oz

And finally Thursday I dropped in to the Cabaret Culture Rapide for the weekly open mic of the Paris Lit-Up group, which is mostly an expat thing geared towards spoken word, but includes music, poetry, prose, comedy, just about anything you want to do up there behind the absent mic. Yes, it’s a tiny cool café in Belleville, with no mic, and a consequential pillar in the middle of the room that blocks the view of about 50 percent of spectators in the place. But those who present their schtick loud will be heard.
john cotton at oz

I was admirative of the Paris Lit-Up people that they are continuing into August, but the crowd of spectators and performers was a lot smaller than the last time I saw this open mic. On Thursday, thanks to arriving late, having had a good dinner and feeling open-mic-ed-out, I decided not to play any music. In fact, in a very atypical manner for me, I didn’t even make any videos.
yet another at oz

But I made so many videos at the other open mic evenings that there are far too many to look at on this page ANYWAY!!
another at Pigalle Country Club

Back next time with more open mic madness in Paris, no doubt. Or maybe not. Depending on how many close down for the annual August Parisian exodus….
craziness at pigalle country club

another great cover by Scottish guy at Highlander

another at highlander

Ant Henson’s great cover at highlander

final one at highlander

last moments of another great cover at highlander

on his mind at Highlander

Tales of Indian Food, Catweazles, Disappearing Money and Half Moons – First Night in Oxford

July 8, 2016
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – For the first time since the first time, I was too late arriving in Oxford last night after working at the circuit to be able to sign up for one of my favorite open mics in the world. That is the Catweazle open mic in Oxford, which is unlike any other open mic anywhere. The only problem it you really have to be there around 7 PM to be sure of getting a spot on the list, lining up in the front hall and waiting half an hour until the real sign up time – and I got to Oxford after 8 PM. But I nevertheless made a short visit to the open mic, had 20 pounds stolen when I lost my wallet for a couple of minutes, and then I went on to the Half Moon open mic down the street and had the best time I’ve ever had there before….

And I must mention that I also ate one of the best Indian food meals I’ve ever had, with his huge prawn or gambas or whatever it was in some kind of Bangladeshi dish, and some nice Indian red and white wine, and great rice and wow! This must be the UK.
First at the Catweazle

Right after the Indian meal on the Cowley Road just around the corner from the East Oxford Community Centre, where Catweazle takes place, I decided to see if I could drop in for a bit to the open mic. I arrived precisely at the end of the mid-show break, and so I got in easily. In taking out my camera to make a couple of videos – you’ll see the uniqueness of the place – I dropped my wallet from my guitar bag without realizing it. Or maybe it dropped out as I left. In any case, I left without my wallet and noticed that it was gone, and then returned before leaving the place, and the wallet had been found and was returned to me. Minus 20 pounds! Damn! But thank goodness the pound went down so massively last week. I mean, had they not voted for Brexit, I’d have been out a lot more euros than I was! 😉 And anyway, I was so grateful the wallet was returned. Imagine if I had lost everything.
Second at Catweazle

And from Catweazle on to the Half Moon with ITS open mic

So, I decided to go on to the Half Moon pub just down the street that I knew also had an open mic on Thursday nights, and although I’ve probably been there almost every year since I started this open mic journey in 2009, it was the first time that the man who runs it was actually present. That is the cool lumberjack, Sparky, and I can tell you that when Sparky is there, the open mic is another affair…. Cool sound, nice ambience and a man who cares about his open mic – and who has been running it for maybe 15 years….
his mama at half moon

I came late, but he still managed to find a spot for me near midnight, and I was the last guest. A really funky pub, by the way. Really feels like someone’s living room. Oh, and back to Catweazle, what makes it so different? It’s a vast room, everyone is sitting on pillows on the floor or the few chairs and couches available, and there is a backdrop to the stage, and there is complete silence amongst the spectators. A religious appreciation of the acts, you can hear the proverbial pin drop. And a vast cross-section of talent from this great university town. Still one of the top of my list. Unfortunately, Matt Sage, the usual witty and fantastically adept MC was not there last night, and I much enjoy his patter. But the replacement was excellent, and obviously following to some degree the role model of Matt….
sparky poem at half moon


first at half moon

P.S. By the way, the first time of the first time was the time in 2009, which was my first time…. (Does that sound like a sentence that Gertrude Stein might write?)

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