Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Dream Evening at the Cirque d’Hiver, Today and 24 Years Ago….

November 6, 2017
bradspurgeon

Cirque d'Hiver, Paris

Cirque d’Hiver, Paris

PARIS – The Cirque d’Hiver, or Winter Circus, in Paris is one of the great treasures of the circus arts. After the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus recently – and, for circus lovers, tragically – closed down after more than a hundred years of existence, this Parisian tradition is one of the last remaining great, great circus attractions. Over the weekend, I decided to attend its latest show – called “Exploit” – and was not let down. I threw together some of the videos I took during the show into a single little clip that you can see below. And I also decided on this occasion to republish, on the blog, an article I wrote about this great Paris institution 24 years ago in my blog articles section under the title: Cirque d’Hiver: A Unique Tradition Under the Big Top Ceiling in Paris. It all remains so incredibly true and fresh, and I cannot be happier to report that. The show, as you will see in the video, was stupendous.

Four More Years of the Great Singapore Grand Prix – and a Look Back at the First Race of 2008

September 16, 2017
bradspurgeon

Singapore Grand Prix starting grid with the Singapore Eye in the background.  Photo: © Brad Spurgeon

Singapore Grand Prix starting grid with the Singapore Eye in the background. Photo: © Brad Spurgeon

What is wrong with these Formula One fans and pundits who have been criticising the series for decades about its global expansion, and loss of “traditional” circuits in Europe? Sure, there is only one race in Italy, one in Spain, one in Germany (sometimes), and for years no race in France – soon to be rectified. Hold it, do we need more than one in each country? In fact, for me the Singapore Grand Prix not only always lived up to its expectations, but it went far beyond them to become one of the top races in the series. So no wonder that Formula One has been able to extend the deal in the city state for another four years of the race, as announced yesterday. For me, the Singapore race, the third practice of which is taking place as I write these words, is simply one of the best, most exciting and interesting races of the season – one of the hottest, in every way….

I do not recall a single time being able to walk from the MRT station closest to the circuit to the media center of the circuit without having worked up a full-body sweat that led to me adopting the habit of wearing a T-Shirt to go there, and bringing a fresh change of shirt to start the day – or afternoon, rather, since it is a night race. It is a long-haul from Europe to Singapore, and the country is so small and without a long tradition of top auto racing culture; but how can a series that calls itself the pinnacle of racing in the world pretend to be anything like that without actually racing all around the world? For me, the global expansion is both necessary and enriching, for the series, for the fans and for the participants. What a fabulous adventure. And, of course, I personally always enjoyed the discovery of the musical culture, as with my wonderful encounters in the open mics, jams and gigs of Singapore – like the time I met “the Dean Martin of Singapore.”

In my second look-back on this new section of my blog, I am posting my first race preview for the Singapore Grand Prix, published just before the 2008 inaugural race.

The 10th Edition of the Singapore Grand Prix – and a New Racing Section to this Blog

September 14, 2017
bradspurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo:  Brad Spurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo: Brad Spurgeon

This weekend marks the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, the first running of which took place in 2008, as Formula One’s first ever night race. As it happened, that first edition would take place just as the world financial markets began to fall apart in the beginning of the financial crisis the effects of which we are still feeling today. I recall the strange atmosphere in the paddock perfectly: We were gathered in the financial hub of Southeast Asia in the slickest racing environment in a downtown setting that we had ever seen, and basking in the paddock in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. While all the talk was about the underpinnings of that wealth and luxury falling apart around us – banks going bust, the global financial system sinking into an apparent abyss, and with it, the prospect of so many of the series’ sponsors pulling out and leaving Formula One adrift in a series that survives on begging for money.

As the series continues to negotiate for a new contract with Singapore, and in a season in which a new company has taken over the running of the series – the U.S.-based Liberty Media – I thought it would be a great time to look back at a couple of the stories that I wrote in the past, as well as to start a new auto racing section on this blog. Today I am running what I feel is the biggest story I wrote about Formula One as almost classical theater, a big, world story of glamour, glitz and drama. This was a Page 1 story in the International Herald Tribune, and later ran in the New York Times, and summed up the state of Formula One at the time, at its biggest race of the season: The Monaco Grand Prix. Read the story and tell me if the series is the same today 15 years later?

Tomorrow, I will run my preview for the first ever Singapore Grand Prix, and talk a little more about how the weekends go in Singapore.

By the way, while we all thought the first night race and the collapsing financial markets were the biggest story of the weekend in 2008, it turned out that there was a much, much bigger sporting story going on behind the scenes. But that scandal would only be revealed a year later when Nelson Piquet Jr. told the world that he (and his team directors) had staged a fake crash in order to help his teammate at Renault, Fernando Alonso, with his race strategy. The help would lead to Alonso’s first victory that season, and a year later, to the banning of two of the team’s directors from the series in one of the sport’s worst cheating scandals. Last year also marked the beginning of the Liberty Media story, as the announcement of the takeover of Formula One had just been made at the beginning of the month and Chase Carey, the new boss, visited the Singapore paddock – his first ever visit to a Formula One Grand Prix.

A Real Rush, at the Rush Bar Open Mic in Paris

June 6, 2017
bradspurgeon

Rush Bar open mic

Rush Bar open mic

PARIS – Last night was yet another example that you cannot write about something reliably if you have not experienced it yourself. That may sound like something so obvious it need not be said. But I must admit that I had begun to hear so often from disparate people about this new open mic in Paris at bar called Rush, that I was tempted to put it on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, and put a note that said I had never attended. But the principle of my list has always been – unlike many other such sites and lists – that I have to have attended the open mic myself. And so I finally got a chance to go to the Rush Bar open mic, and I can say that it would have been as huge, huge mistake to write anything about this open mic without having attended. It is simply the most fabulous open mic I have attended in Paris in a long, long time.

I was wondering when Paris might have a newcomer open mic to rival the great ones of the past (like Earle’s open mic that started at the Shebeen, moved to the Lizard Lounge and then to the Truskel, or like the Ptit Bonheur La Chance open mic), these places that attract a loyal crowd of spectators and musicians and almost feel like – or are – a scene. Last night I found a worthy successor to the best of them at the Rush Bar. And this open mic has only been running for 18 sessions, weekly, which brings it to what, nearly five months?
momentary glance of Charlie Seymour opening the Rush bar open mic

I found all the perfect ingredients at the Rush last night: A bar manager who loves the open mic and music – and no doubt behind him a bar owner – a fabulous, friendly and fair presenter in Charlie Seymour – a longtime Paris expat musician –, and finally, a locale of the kind that seem to always work: A very small, cosy room where everyone is tightly knit together before the stage area. Interestingly, the Rush Bar also has a couple of very cool cellar rooms, and a kind of back room, or secondary room on the ground floor, all of which could host the open mic.
Kinky one at Rush bar open mic

But I think in that immediate entrance room of the bar – that also contains the bar itself – they have found the best location for the open mic. Additionally, this open mic is located in a cool part of Paris, not far from the Bastille, about halfway to Republic. In other words, ALL of the important ingredients are there. And the result is that the Rush Bar open mic has attracted a loyal and very diverse group of spectators and musicians.
French one at Rush bar open mic

The sound system is great for the voice, and not bad for the guitar, and they are open to adding instruments like lead guitar and bass. The styles played last night run the full gamut from folk to pop rock and blues. The age of the performers and spectators also runs the full gamut, from 20s to 60s…at least I think so…! So this is not just a young scene, but a real, vibrant open mic with all sorts of nationalities represented as well: Brits, Irish, Canadian, lots of French, North African and who knows what all else!
Diggin for Gold at Rush

It’s interesting that the Rush Bar open mic has become such a clear success in such a short period of time. There has been apparently not huge labor to attract people to it, for as one spectator and participant said to me last night, there has been practically no internet campaign to make it known. I think it just lit up because Paris still needs great open mics – despite the many it has – and because, above all, of those essential ingredients I mentioned.
nice quiet one at rush

Oh, by the way, I was happy to play near the beginning of the night, because I got to do five songs, even though the usual number is 2 or 3. There were not as many musicians early as there turned out to be later – the place was packed! And I felt that the guitar that was already plugged in was good enough and I chose not to use my new D-42. It did, indeed, turn out fine. I felt great, and what I noticed above all is a detail I have not yet mentioned: The spectators were there to listen. Or if they wanted to talk briefly, they would do so outside the bar, on the street, or on the exterior tables.
Perry at Rush

A perfect open mic evening at the Rush bar. Or as I say in my headline, a real rush!!!
Great Beatles one at Rush

A Piano City Day Ends on a Note From a Guitar Open Mic

May 30, 2017
bradspurgeon

Salumeria Open Mic

Salumeria Open Mic

I am late, late, late in coming out with this one, since a personal blog is all about momentum, and recently I lost the momentum. But I always say there is nothing to worry about on a personal blog – and in life itself – that if the momentum dips, pick up the momentum again! I’m referring to a day on my last trip to Italy that started with a piano event at the TAC Teatro that was just one of dozens set all around Milan, and ended with a fairly last-minute decision to hold an open mic at a bar-restaurant, which turned out to be a great success.

The first event, at TAC, was part of a city-wide event called “Piano City,” in which for a three-day weekend there are small piano concerts all over Milan. TAC hosted one of these little concerts, with a demonstration of four-handed piano playing. It was quite successful, with perhaps close to 30 spectators. When you consider there were dozens of these events in various locations throughout the city on the same day, that must have brought together quite an audience for the piano!

“This year, once again, pianos will invade houses, yards, stations, roofs, farmsteads, museums, schools, libraries, laboratories, parks. Music won’t stop from the sunset to the dawn and from the dawn until the sunset in a continuous love declaration for the piano, its music and for the city of Milan,” says the Piano City web site. “In these last six years, like a kaleidoscope, we changed and shaped ourselves to give voice to the music and to the most surprising urban sites. 2017 edition wants to tell about these five years of changes throughout Milan. A two-day&night journey from the centre to the suburbs on the notes of our pianos spread in the best spaces telling the story of the city from historical locations to new areas.”


Piano City event at TAC Teatro

That same night, I went to an impromptu open mic at the cool bar/restaurant near the Via Padova called, Salumeria del design. It seems the open mic was part of another related musical day event, but in any case, the bar decided to open the mic to any musicians who wanted to play. It turned out to have a wide-cross-section of styles, if there were only four or five of us in total. But that gave us the opportunity to share the mic throughout the evening.
Fifth at the Salumeria open mic in Milan

And I enjoyed hearing the different Italian musicians singing Italian songs I had never heard, and keeping the English to a minimum – or leaving it to me. I got to close the evening, playing to just a handful of people at the end who wanted to hear me, after quite a raucous night of music before that with the crowd singing along to the popular Italian repertoire….
Second at the Salumeria open mic in Milan

From the Arci Turro Jam to an Impromptu Jam at Ligera

May 20, 2017
bradspurgeon

MILAN – Wednesday night in Milan for me has mostly two significations: The Arci Turro jam and the jam at the Milan Joy bar. But last Wednesday I decided after a spell at the Arci Turro – in fact, when it ended at midnight – to go off to the Spazio Ligera bar for a nightcap and forgo the Joy bar jam. But Ligera being Ligera, I found myself invited to open my guitar case and play a few songs. Then one of the owners decided to play a song on my guitar behind the bar, then another one decided to bring out a bongo and invite me to play more while he played the bongos. And so there I was with a jam anyway…!

The Arci Turro was only slightly calmer than the last time I attended and reported about it on this blog. But that too gave me to the opportunity to play more songs behind the mic – and to expose myself as a complete beginner on a classic Chicago blues song….
Jam at Arci Turro

The Spazio Ligera bar proved itself to be the genial, warm and open place I have always said it was. There is often the possibility to just pick up a guitar and play, if not much else is going on – especially not in the concert room in the basement.
jam moment at Spazio Ligera

In any case, it was a fine feeling of fulfilment from the jam point of view last Wednesday in a completely unexpected way – par for the Milan course….

The First Open Reading at TAC Teatro in Milan – Bluegrass Style….

May 13, 2017
bradspurgeon

TAC Open Reading

TAC Open Reading

MILAN – TAC Teatro has a very cool theater room with spotlight and pulpit and seats for the spectators that had been set up to host the company’s first Open Reading on Thursday. But as the guess piled in bit by bit they gravitated towards a room at the back of the theater with a couch, tables, chairs. And bit by bit that gravitated group took the form of a circle. So when it came time for the first Open Reading to commence, Ornella Bonventre, the brains behind TAC, decided that it would be worse than a sin to break up the magical circle. She started the reading in the round. I realized it was very much like the traditional bluegrass jam in the round, round a microphone – but at TAC there was no need for a mic, either.

And so began, and so continued for at least four hours, the intimate reading in the round, featuring a fabulous cross-section of writers, poets, musicians, and just plain “normal people” with something to read or say – including a local representative from a refugee squat who had something to say about his peoples’ rights.

Alessio Lega at TAC Open Reading

I even had my turn to play a couple of songs and break up the literary feel of the evening by a kind of Trou Normande of music. I was not the only musician, there was the poet, writer, storyteller and musician by the name of Alessio Lega, with his guitar and his tales. And there was the up-and-coming rap artist, Cisky, whose discovery of rap and writing led him to rearrange his life during a stint in prison after a false start in life.

The most illustrious guest was certainly Maddalena Capalbi, a well-known, award-winning Milan-based writer. She did not read her own text, however, but left that to a fabulous, dramatic reading by Cisky.

Cisky at TAC Open Reading

All in all, it was a great evening of warmth in the circle – I just wish I could understand more Italian! But it was a fabulous event that shows once again the vast spectrum of shows that TAC hosts with success, whether that be a serious play like Edipo Rap – in which Cisky appears, by the way – a clown show – in which I have appeared in a kind of George Plimpton moment – a piano show, acting or writing lessons, or a group to defend against violence against women.

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