Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Unfinished Business Continues: From a Glam Rock Roll to Light and Soundman, Music Jams and Colin Wilson Book Presentation at a Red Cross Event

December 12, 2017
bradspurgeon

Ornella Bonventre Show

Ornella Bonventre Show

MILAN – It was a crazy few days of a classic example of performing my unfinished business for my new company called Unfinished Business SAS, created last month and truly starting business next week. But I just had to write about this weekend in Milan, as a perfect example of how my business is now about doing all the different things I ever did or wanted to do in my life, but now, all at the same time! And so it went with me wearing my 41-year-0ld, green and orange sequinned circus costume while acting the role of a glam rocker from the 70s arriving in a special part of heaven – for women only – along with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro at an art exhibition in Navigli on Friday; to a jam Saturday evening on the top floor of a condo to celebrate my birthday; to featuring in a conference to present the second edition of my Colin Wilson book after a 5-actor play presented at a Red Cross event, and taking a side route as the play’s sound and light man when it was discovered that the theater had not booked their person to work that night…. The whole followed by another brief jam at the Spazio Ligera before returning to Paris today…

My Colin Wilson video and Philosopher of Optimism link

The weekend was also supposed to include setting up the exhibition about peoples’ dreams – Acchiappa Sogni – that Unfinished Business helped TAC Teatro do a few months ago. It was supposed to be set up for the second time at a local public library, but there turned out to be a problem with scheduling. No problem. That can be done another day. I only mention it to talk about the diversity of this weekend in Milan.

Which was the most fun? That’s my point: It was all equally fun, sometimes nerve-wracking, as well as hugely gratifying. And all of it thanks to my association with TAC Teatro. Ornella Bonventre and I first started rehearsing the Friday night show in the TAC Teatro France space in Asnieres last week. At the time, I couldn’t quite believe it would turn into the wonderful event it did. By now, I can believe anything! The story of Ornella’s one-woman-show, called “Avete mai provato ad essere donne…,” is that of a place in heaven for women who have been beaten and eventually killed by their husbands. It is all about the low opinion people have of women – but all done in good humour, as in the section about how one woman was the fourth girl in a family of no boys, and the huge disappointment of the father….

Anyway. my role turned into that of an androgynous glam rock star from the 1970s – Bowie, Bolan, Glitter, etc. – finding himself in heaven, but not sure where to go. He ends up in this women’s part, and he is accepted there, and is invited to play his music as the various women tell their stories. The role just naturally wrote itself, and the final crowning touch was when I remembered I still had my glam circus costume from my days in the circus in 1976 and it still, somehow managed to fit me! It also turned out that I have a large number of cover songs from the 1970s or earlier, touching on subjects that just fit right in – “Father and Son,” “Cat’s Cradle,” “Just Like a Woman,” etc., as well as some of my own songs that fit in, like the sad one, “Memories,” that we closed the show with.

Ornella Show 2

Ornella Show 2


The show took place at an exhibition put on by the Circolo Metromondo association in a week of events linked to violence against women in this fabulous space on the canal in the Navigli area of Milan. The building is called the Spazio Ex-Fornace, and it was likely used in the past for making bricks, which were then loaded to boats in the canal.

Ornella Bonventre and Brad Spurgeon in Avete mai provato ad essere donne

The exhibition was a series of paintings and sculptures by the Italian artist, Roberta Stifano, who gave us a tour of the artworks in the exhibition, “Dal Tunnel…” and explained how they charted her experience in a relationship with a narcissist pervert, and the resulting road from infatuation to pain to torture to separation, and eventual slow recovery. It was clearly a good marriage between the exhibition and Ornella Bonventre’s monologue, entitled “Avete mai provato ad essere donne…”

And Then Came the Interlude of a Chef From Emilia Romagna

Saturday was supposed to be the setting up of the Acchiappa Sogni exhibit at a public library, and here I post again the video that I helped to make, and I edited, for that project many months ago. TAC Teatro and Unfinished Business plan to continue collaboration on this and other such projects in the future.

Acchiappa Sogni video

Saturday night, it was time for a break, and I was invited to a birthday party in the top floor of an apartment overlooking Milan, with the Duomo glowing visible in the distance. It was a private party just for me, for my very big birthday that actually happened on Pearl Harbour day. The main interest of this party was the invitation of a private chef from the great dining area of Italy, the Emilia Romagna. She prepared a fabulous lasagna typical of the region – making the sauce and the actual pasta herself. We had a roast porc and some fabulous fried potatoes that has herbs and spices that the cool would not reveal but said were a secret recipe of her grandmother. The dessert was a typical Italian tart, filled this time with fabulous fresh prunes.

After the meal, which by the way was watered by two different Italian wines from the chef’s region, I pulled out my guitar and two other guests pulled out some bongo drums, and we jammed for an hour or so. A better, more relaxing evening could not be had….

And from there, to the Binario 7 theater complex for the conference and play of TAC Teatro

The final evening in Milan was the very special one of my first witnessing of the TAC Teatro production of the play called Edipo Rap, written by Angelo Villa, an Italian psychologist who is also the author of many oeuvres. I have not only seen this play in preparation over the last year from auditions to rehearsals, but I have also helped to re-edit the trailer that contains the endorsement by Mogol, the great Italian songwriter. On Sunday, once again I watched a little bit of the rehearsal at TAC Teatro, and gave a little feedback to Ornella Bonventre, the director of the play. But I knew little else about it, and had never seen it performed from beginning to end.

So it was a moment of extraordinary panic when I found myself at the Teatro Binario 7 just an hour before the show and with Angelo Villa present, and I learned that I had been drafted in as the sound and lighting man! I at first refused, saying that not only can I not speak Italian, but I’ve never seen the play! It turned out that the Binary 7 had not included a technical guy to deal with the sound and light, and no one knew this until the moment the troupe arrived at the theater, just an hour and a half before the show.

Mogol endorses the Edipo Rap play by Anelo Villa

But Ornella and TAC and the four other actors of the play are the very definition of theatrical troupers. So I was drafted in to do whatever I could to help, while the other actors filled in on the lighting and sound responsibilities whenever they were not on stage! To my great amazement, I managed to perform the lighting and sound function without a hitch, and when it was not my responsibility, the actors did the same, again without a hitch. No audience member – and there were between 120 and 130 of them in a full-house of the small theater – was aware that anything but a professional, smooth production was underway and went from beginning to end without a hitch.

Such is life in the theatrical lane!

And once my duties as the light and sound man were finished I was then invited up onto the stage in my official role – more unfinished business – in presenting the second edition of my book, “Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism,” to the audience as part of the conference after the play. The other invited guests were two emergency workers of the Red Cross, a psychiatrist and Angelo Villa. So I was among distinguished company.

Edipo Rap, in fact, is a play that deals with the problem of drugs, and ultimately, outsiders from society – which is why there was the connection with my Colin Wilson book – Wilson being a specialist on the theme of the Outsider – and the Red Cross had paid to host the play as part of a show of its new service that it offers to people in trouble with drugs and in need of emergency psychological assistance. This service is offered in Monza and Milan, and the space between.

Yes, it was strange for me to find myself performing all of these functions in Monza! For regular readers of this blog will know that I have been visiting Monza annually since 1998 or so to cover the Formula One race – until this year! And so I was back again, symbolically NOT covering the F1 but taking care of unfinished business, in the way of running a theater performance’s lighting and sound system while then appearing and a special guest author.

The play was fascinating even for someone who understands no Italian! The actors were an eclectic group that includes Ornella, who in addition to directing the play, had a small role that opens and closes the action; Cisky, a well-known Italian rap artist (and former prisoner who turned his life around with theater and music); and Jagorart Marco, who is a fantastic circus juggler trying to turn his life around into that of actor.

After the show came the conference, as I mentioned, with Ornella acting as my interpreter. I was pleased to learn that no one in the audience had heard of Colin Wilson – despite many of his books being translated into Italian – and so I was able to give a very short primer on who he was.

After the conference came a return to our local hangout, the Spazio Ligeria, in via Padova, where over a nice meal of pasta and other things, I took a moment to take part in the ongoing jam session that had been providing the soundtrack all evening.

The weekend left a very strong feeling of no unfinished business. I hope I can have many more like it….

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….

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