Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Another, Even Better, Night Playing at the Bachelite Clab (sic) open mic in Milan

April 14, 2017
bradspurgeon

Bachelite CLab Milano

Bachelite CLab Milano

MILAN – I finally had the chance to attend my second Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan last night nearly four months after my first time there. As I have mentioned many times before on this blog, Milan is not really that rich in open mics and open jams. But the ones it does have, are fun – maybe for that very reason of their rarity. In any case, last night, what turned out to be my second taste of this new open mic in Milan also turned into basically something like a 1-hour gig, complete with a drummer and pianist backing me up with my guitar….

Running every second Thursday, this Bachelite bar open mic has so far had a perfect score for me in terms of enjoyment. And much fun as I had the first time at the Bachelite, last night was even better. They changed the location of the stage from the high “bird’s nest” mezzanine at the back of the bar to the front area between the bar and the entrance to the venue.

first at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

So it was that the piano and drum set were also located in that quite sizeable area, and for the musician you now have a view of the whole venue, including the bird’s nest part, which is now a mezzanine for customers to sit at tables. The effect is that the open mic is much more intimate. This new stage area is also located next to the front pane glass window and the bar entrance, so you can see and play to the people standing outside smoking cigarettes.

second at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

In any case, I managed to play in two sets – the closing set being just two songs – a total of probably close to an hour. And most of that with a pianist and the drummer. Great fun. I do wish there were more Italian musicians showing up to this open mic, but the word still has to pass around, no doubt.

third at Bachelite Clab open mic in Milan

The bar, in any case, and its owner, are clearly made for music. There is also a weekly blues jam, as I have pointed out on my Thumbnail guide to open mics in Milan….

Jamming at the Tapas Bar in Monaco…

May 31, 2016
bradspurgeon

La Bodeguita

La Bodeguita

It was the first time that during my attendance at the Monaco Grand Prix I actually stayed in Monaco. I had regularly stayed in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, once in Menton, and many times in Nice. Nice was my town of choice since starting the open mic adventure. But last week I had an offer to stay in Monaco, right near the entrance to my office – the track. So I decided to accept this wonderful offer and for the first time really check out as much as I could the music scene. What music scene? Well, not really an open mic scene, no. But I did, with a real bit of persistence and good luck, finally find a place to play in Monaco.

I was disappointed by my two visits to the now somewhat changed McCarthy’s Irish pub, as it did not feel welcoming to a guy with a guitar in off the street – me. There were a couple of musicians doing a gig for the three nights preceding the race, and I felt that I was definitely not the happily received guest jammer. That’s fine and normal, but it was a bit of a let down, since I had played there in the past thanks to the open arms of the giggers.

Another option was the Stars ‘N’ Bars right next to the Formula One paddock. Now this is a bar that actually DOES have open mics sometimes, although I’ve not been able to find out how often. I dropped by and asked if they were holding one that weekend, and as is often the case around the world, I was told, “No, not during the Grand Prix weekend.” I was, however, graciously told that I might want to inquire of the woman who was running the entertainment for the weekend. But I never did. I just didn’t feel it happening – although that’s a lame excuse.

In any case, on Saturday night, wandering around with my guitar, I decided that upon arriving back at my apartment near the Place d’Armes, that I was not ready to finish my evening. And I decided that there was actually this funky looking bar tucked away on the Place d’Armes that I had seen in previous days, and which I had an intuition might be the sort of place open to music. It did not look like a typical Monegasque bar. And it seemed to always have an atypical young crowd in the tables outside, just bursting the terrace seams of the place.

So I decided I would check it out. Upon arriving sometime around or after midnight, I was told they were closing. But I then noticed a guitar in the back room of this tiny place, and I said, “You have music?” I was told they had lots of musicians that night just playing and jamming, including some flamenco, some Dutch musicians, something else. And I said I was hugely let down, that I had been looking for a place to play, and that this totally controlled city state where musicians seem only to gig – rather than do impromptu jams and open mics – had let me down…but there here it was, my salvation right under my nose the whole weekend.

I was served a free beer and told I could return Sunday to play, if I wanted to.

Overjoyed, I was. Another case of never giving up. But of course, this was not an organized open mic. In any case, I returned to the place on Sunday night after the amazing race, the place which, by the way, is called La Bodeguita, and I found there were musicians playing. But the same man who invited me back, the manager, told me that the musicians were hired for the evening and that I should, in fact, go down the stairs behind La Bodeguita to another bar owned by the same proprietor, because those Dutch musicians were down there, playing, and that I would no doubt be able to play there.

I was a little let down, because I loved the environment of this La Bodeguita, with its graffiti covered walls, its tiny little square bar, the back room that is big enough for about five people, and the main terrace area where every drinks. It has an authentic Spanish feel to it, including images of heads of bulls, and other Spanish bits and pieces – the fresh ham!!! – and it was just a great vibe. The crowd is young, as I mentioned, and it is indeed a bar where young people who don’t want to be seen at other rich Monaco places go to find cheap beer and a laid back environment.

But anyway, I went down to the other bar, called, 3 Tapas, and find the Dutch guys, guitar sitting on the bar, and another man with an accordion. They were no longer playing, and the Tapas bar was not entirely full of clientele, but there was a nice group of people. I immediately got into a conversation with one of the Dutch friends of the two Dutch musicians, and he asked me to play some music.

So began at least 45 minutes of playing songs acoustically, and having the two Dutch musicians join in on guitar, accordion and vocals. It was a riot. The clientele gathered around the bar, we drank, played, caroused, and for 45 minutes, we forgot we were all in Monaco.

And so it was that my feelings about the musical side of Monaco changed. There is always something available, if you look long enough for it!!! And I had so much fun doing it, that for once I forgot to make any videos of the moment for this blog…!

21 Years into it, Catweazle Open Mic Still Going Strong in Oxford

July 4, 2015
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – It has become my main goal when I come to Oxford to not make a wrong move to miss a chance to attend and play at the Catweazle open mic in the East Oxford Community Centre on Thursday nights. I got ever so slightly lax on Thursday, my sixth time attending, as for once I had a hotel almost across the street from this Oxford institution that is celebrating its 21st year in existence, and in my final few minutes of preparation I decided I could take my time. My heart dropped to my toes as I entered the building at 7:20 PM to find nearly 20 performers already standing in a line up to sign up for a slot.

But I was underestimating the savvy, flexible, sensible approach of Matt Sage, who founded and has MCd this dynamic and unusual open mic all those years; he decided that he could get around 18 of us up on the stage area in the limited time available if we were all reduced to doing just one song – or poem or whatever it was we were doing – each. I felt a sudden relief that having arrived around 10 minutes later than last year I had not jeopardized my moment in front of the Catweazle audience. There were, unfortunately three or four performers behind me that did not make it this time. (But my suspicion is that they did not come from Paris, like I did, on my once-a-year visit!)

So off I was again on the adventure of Catweazle. And once I got up to the performance spot – it is not a stage, and there is no microphone – I suddenly wondered why it was that I so avidly seek out this thing every year! Catweazle ranks as one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking open mics I have ever done, and it does not become any easier.

Why? Because the audience is just so good, so quiet, so attentive, and always so full. There must be close to 100 people in the Catweazle performance space every week, all sitting on the floor or sofas or chairs in that room that is barely large enough for them all, and they are there for one thing only: To listen to the performer.

I reviewed all of my personal songs – my own songs – that I must have done over the years, and I thought about all sorts of possibilities in cover songs, but finally, I decided that perhaps the best way to give the audience something that they did not already have in spades last that night was to sing a song in French. I only know one song in French, so I did Raphael’s “Et Dans 150 Ans.” As it turned out, not even my decision to keep my eyes closed much of the song to concentrate on remembering the words was enough, and I realized instantly that I began singing the third verse after the first verse. But I soldiered on, and decided that three verses of French instead of four was probably enough, and I just excluded the second verse.

It went O.K. otherwise. But some of the talent throughout the rest of the night was fabulous, including a stand-out poet, named Rachel McCarthy, 30, who has been named one of the top young poets to watch – or read??? – in England at the moment.

So if ever you’re in Oxford and want to take part in a very cool, acoustic – no mic – performance space open mic for theater, poetry, music, or whatever you want, do, do, do show up at 7 PM to sign that list, you won’t regret it. It’s not for nothing that it is now celebrating 21 years of its existence.

A New Open Mic in Montreal: Medley Simple Malt

June 2, 2015
bradspurgeon

Medley Simple Malt open mic in Montreal

Medley Simple Malt open mic in Montreal

MONTREAL – I had no idea what I was getting into last night at the Medley Simple Malt bar open mic in Montreal. It seemed a tiny little bit too far off from the center of town where my hotel is located, near the Berri-UQAM metro. And then, once I got there, stepping out of the Rosemont metro, I felt I had wandered even farther away from civilization than I have bargained for. Until I walked around the block and ended up in the strip of stores, bars, restaurants and other amusements where the Medley Simple Malt bar is located, on Saint-Hubert street.

When I entered the bar around 8:20 PM, there were not that many people present, and I feared a dead open mic. I left to eat at a nearby restaurant – had a fabulous confit de canard and another lousy wine – and then headed back to find it still lacked a certain number of people. But bit by bit, the bar filled up, the vibe grew, and by the end of the open mic, the place was just thriving, the open mic was free and easy, open, anything goes, jam, solo, great musicians, a whole lot of French language stuff – relief!!!! – but also English. Totally bilingual.

And the barman, and the choice of beers, were all right up there very high on the list of what an open mic should be like. I had a fabulous, four-quarter-pint glass degustation of brews, and a couple of other beers after that – one offered on the house as a musician.

It’s a vast bar, wooden walls, counter, tables, a little bit of a western feel to it, with the bar in the center, and all sorts of home brewed beers and other stuff. The crowd was really enthusiastic, the music was good, and there was even one of the staff members who was probably the best guitarist of the evening.

Alex’s presentation of the open mic was warm and very competent, as he manned the sound board all night to make sure the volume and sound quality was good. He also accompanied some people on his guitar and did some of his own stuff. Again, one thing I loved about this open mic was for once it had a very high French Quebecois element to it, and not just another Anglo event in Montreal….

It was much to my surprise at the end of the night that I learned from Alex – and then the barman – that this was in fact only the third time the open mic has been done. It felt like it had been going for a long time, it was such a success in the end. It was one of those open mics where there’s a real sense of community by the end of the evening, and that bodes well for the future.

Oh, the only problem was that by the time I left just before 2AM, I didn’t have that many choices on how to get back to my hotel. So I decided to jog it almost all the way down Saint-Hubert, normally a 59 minute walk according to Google Maps, and I think I jogged it – with my guitar and computer on my back and my newspapers in a bag in my hand – in around 35 minutes or so…. Slept like a baby after that….



The Touching – and Occasionally Mad – Moments of a Pierre Bensusan Concert

February 7, 2014
bradspurgeon

Pierre Bensusan 40th

Pierre Bensusan 40th

PARIS – Among the many touching and deeply emotional moments of Pierre Benususan‘s concert at the Essaion theater in Paris last night, was that accompanying the third or so piece this virtuoso guitarist played, when he recounted the story of how his career took off in the United States several decades ago. It was Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, who wrote a letter to the American authorities to back up his demand to be able to go and work in the U.S. Yes, Pete Seeger, who died last week at the age of 94 after one of the most important careers in American folk music.

Bensusan, who is celebrating 40 years of a career as a professional musician this year in CDs and a series of concerts around the world (of which the concert at the Essaion is his Paris leg – and there are two more to go, tonight and tomorrow night), is himself on a clear trajectory as a legendary musician. He finished his anecdote by talking about how he ended up at a festival with Seeger, dining next to him, and hearing the great musician say that music “needs musicians like you.” The anecdote was not told as a boast, Bensusan was clearly emotionally humbled by the presence of Seeger, and his words had clearly touched Bensusan. What Seeger may not have known, though, or what may not have been immediately apparent at the time, is that there are not musicians like Bensusan. There is only Bensusan….

Oh, there was once a Michael Hedges, who by the the way, once wrote a piece called “Bensusan,” and Bensusan himself, last night in Paris played a song he dedicated to Michael Hedges. But Hedges had his style, and Bensusan has his. This French troubadour, whom I have written about in previous blog posts, has developed such a massive repertoire of personal compositions and mixtures of styles, that I’ve never personally heard, seen or heard of another guitarist on this level and with this particular voice. And speaking of voices, Bensusan also occasionally uses his vocal chords, and last night in addition to some of the mad moments of guitar fingerpicking virtuoso stuff there were some mad moments of vocal scat in which Bensusan entirely looses himself in infectious pleasure – one of those fun moments being when for his first encore he returned to the mic and did a vocal scat without touching his guitar. For the second encore he returned, picked up the guitar, and said something like: “OK, with the guitar then….”

I’ve noticed that whenever I do a post about Pierre Bensusan I tend to write glowing accounts that could almost be taken for hyperbole. So I think I will cut this one short, and let readers make up their own minds about what a great guitarist this is – amongst his many laurels were Guitar Player magazine’s crowning him the greatest World Music Guitarist, in 2008 – by looking at a few moments I managed to capture on video last night.

Just Two Nights Left to Attend Bensusan’s Concert in Paris

I also suggest that since there are only two more shows remaining of a total of six at the Essaion – tonight and tomorrow – that readers order their tickets online immediately and go to tonight’s or tomorrow night’s Bensusan show at the Essaion. I attended a concert by Bensusan two years ago at the same venue, and if he plays there again next year, I will go again if I can. It is impossible to not become involved from beginning to end in the hour and a half or so solo concert show. The tour moves on throughout France, by the way, starting with Rennes on 12 Feb., and then it will travel elsewhere in the world, so just check out the dates of Bensusan’s 2014 tour if you happen to be reading this from some other country.

A Real Scene at The Warehouse in Kuala Lumpur

March 22, 2013
bradspurgeon

warehouse kl

warehouse kl

A number of the musicians were the same last night as the night before. But this time, the scene was completely different. This time, it was no quiet, intimate, back-room loft-like affair out in a lost suburb on a hidden street above a food-stall. This time, it was a romping, wild, hip, high-ceilinged art gallery and performance space on the ground floor beneath a semi-posh, yet laid-back, steakhouse eatery up a very steep flight of stairs in a venue-cum-restaurant called The Warehouse. And this time, it was in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, in Chinatown and across the street from an historic Hindu temple.

I had planned to go to The Pan bistro out in the suburbs again, to meet up with some friends I met a couple of years ago who now run what looks like very cool open mic in Klang. But I was a little gun shy about that disastrous taxi ride from the previous night, and I had an intuition about this Warehouse place after one of the musicians from the night before had recommended I attend.

I did NOT regret it – not from any point of view. Well, OK, maybe one point of view. The vocal mic and sound system was not up to the standard of the previous night; but that is the only thing that was lacking at an otherwise exceptional evening in every way. I have been simply astounded on this trip to Kuala Lumpur at the developing underground scene in music and the arts, and this Warehouse seems to be close to the center of it.

The open mic started around 9 months ago, and according to Tunku Khairil Ibrahim, who owns The Warehouse, and who runs it with his wife, Lauren McAughtry, (who is also a journalist), they had a two or three months of fairly calm open mics until suddenly the thing ended up growing into a wild weekly party with sometimes hundreds of people attending and practically no ability for anyone to move from one spot of the cavernous room to another.

Last night, the key points for me were: the art on the wall, the cool musicians and other mix of international crowd, a real coming together of Malaysian and many other international cultures, the relaxed and caring service from the bar and other staff, and the clear and obvious understanding of the value of this scene by the owners. I mean, this IS a scene. It is a place that many of the attendees told me they return to each week to hear great music and meet people from all sorts of walks of life.

The real high point for me, aside from my two musical sets – in both of which I had people join me (it’s got a jam angle to it, this open mic) – was my meal. As I mentioned, upstairs is a classy restaurant with tables in white cloths, and photos on the walls, and a sense of wood and white and the high ceiling…. Well, when I arrived fairly late – after 10 PM – I asked if there was food, at the bar.

I was handed a small menu and told, “This is the light stuff.”

“Is there any ‘heavy’ stuff?” I asked.

“We can order for you from upstairs and you can eat it down here,” I was told.

So the bartender went upstairs and returned with the menu from the restaurant. I chose a beef rib, although there was a large selection of steaks and I was told they were excellent. I then took a glass of red wine – actually, that was offered to me by a fellow musician I had never met before, but who saw that I was new and decided it was a nice welcome gesture!!!

I then waited maybe 20 minutes, and next thing I knew, the staff from the restaurant had set up a table with a table cloth, my meal, cutlery, chair, in this almost surreal way in the middle of the rear part of the gallery, as I would become the only serious diner with a classy meal in the middle of the salon, art gallery, open mic and jam party that had begun to rise to a higher level. I felt like that astronaut in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, where at the end of the film he is in this 18th century bedroom with a table of food set for himself.

I ate the meal, enjoyed it immensely – it was excellent quality and cooked to perfection by Tunku Khairil Ibrahim – and then after I finished I went up to perform my first set within 10 minutes.

It was difficult to leave the open mic, which goes on sometimes until 3 AM, I was told, but I had to do a full day of work at the racetrack the next day – so I left after another set.

AMAZING! Kuala Lumpur’s music scene is really developing, considering how I have seen it grow in the last four years since I started this musical journey. Check out The Warehouse, either for the music, the art, the scene or simply a great meal.

At McCarthy’s in Monaco With Jaspa and Band

May 28, 2012
bradspurgeon

My last night in Monaco was the grande finale to the grand prix weekend, and I had been looking forward to it immensely, as I have had such great times at McCarthy’s Irish Pub in Monaco in the last two years, and after Jaspa invited me to come along to do a little jam during her gig, I was ready for another great time. And had it!

I was actually dead tired from a long day, a lot of work, a lot of travel, bad weather, and a lot of walk through Monaco. I then had an excellent meal with a Monaco specialty and I was not so sure I’d make it through the musical part of the night.

Then I met some Formula One people at the pub, then Jaspa came and immediately welcomed me and then she started playing with her percussionist and wonderful guitar player. Then she invited me up quickly, and by then I was all pumped up. I was also slightly left adrift as to what to play, as she did “Mad World,” which I had planned!!! So I did what else? “What’s Up!” and “Wicked Game.” Yeah, repetition of the same thing over again, but it seemed to the best stuff to play with the band and in the pub where the crowd was not too big, but big enough to want to feed with popular, well known songs.

I ended up leaving pretty early, at 1 AM…. But listening to Jaspa and the band, and taking in the warm environment of this bona fide Irish pub – with some Irish bartenders – was a great way to end the weekend.

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