Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

New Music at the Highlander, Serenade at Shakespeare and Company

February 16, 2012

Some days it seems you run into new things and people, even repeating your regular habits, while other days it seems nothing happens. Last night at the Highlander I met some interesting new people, and enjoyed my set in a different way than usual, singing this new song I’ve been working on, called “Sing It.” Then today I found this extremely cool musical atmosphere where I least expected it: at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

The highlights of the Highlander came in like the parts of a short story; at the beginning, middle and end. In the early part of the evening it was a performance by the interesting and talented and tastily named “Whiskey Bliss.” Whiskey, whose real name is Whitney (!), is an American who is traveling all around Eastern and Western Europe, busking, performing in bars, open mics, and wherever the adventure takes her. No wonder I had to leap over to her table as quickly as I could to ask her about her adventures.

She is from the U.S., and plays accordion and sings, often performing with jugglers and the like. There is definitely something cowboy saloon-sounding about her stage name, and the performance – well, check it out for yourself. She has a big, beautiful voice and a handy accordion style. She is based in Athens at the moment, I think – if the bliss from the Scotch single malt whiskey that I drank last night has not killed my memory – and she has spent time in Bucarest and Budapest and other such dazzling places, and will be moving on to various other ones, like Berlin…. Keep an eye out for her.

In the middle of the evening it was the interesting performance by Brislee Adams, who played a Leonard Cohen, and showed another aspect to his vocal prowess. I had never heard him doing the deep voice. At the end of the evening it was a man named Peter, of Irish origin, who sang the blues and played some slide guitar along with it. He did some Robert Johnson and some 1930s blues. I was pleased to learn that he had discovered the Highlander through my open mic guide on this site. I love it when that happens.

Today I had to go and pick up a book I had ordered at the Abbey Bookshop. It was the book called “The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” about that wine scandal that I wrote about and posted in my articles area on this site. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to make my first visit to Shakespeare and Company since the owner, George Whitman died in December. There I decided to by the Steven Jobs biography as a way not so much to pay homage to the man who so recently died, as to really jump as deeply as I could into the Mac world, having just bought my first Mac computer last Sunday.

I also bought the New York Review of Books, and then I said, well, I’m here at Shakespeare and Company, a place where I had done one of my rejected stories that I put up on this site after Whitman’s death in December, so I must go upstairs to the first floor and just absorb the atmosphere.

I had expected to absorb the atmosphere of books, but as I climbed the stairs I heard the piano chords to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and I thought it was the radio or a recording. I followed the music into a back room and found the song was being played on a piano. It was a guy playing it, I listened for a moment and absorbed the wonderful atmosphere of music and reading- other people sat around reading books – and then I explored the rest of the floor.

I was then attracted back into that piano room by the sound of a lovely singing voice, along with the piano again. This time it was a woman, a Dutch woman named Vera van de Seyp, and she was singing to the guys, while others continued to read. I had to make a video of the moment and spread the atmosphere. And Vera kindly allowed me to put it on the blog.

Talk about a lot of new and interesting encounters for less than 24 hours! May it continue….

Tiny Update to Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music in Paris

October 3, 2011

Last night did mostly ironing and listening to the Chorus DVD as I prepared to go tomorrow on my two-week trip to Asia for the next step in the open mic adventure around the world. But I did do a little update on my Thumbnail Guide of Open Mics, Jam Sessions and Live Music in Paris, adding a few jazz clubs at the end of the list.

Finally, Jamming at Fermento Art&Pub in Milan

September 9, 2011

So it took three visits over the least three years to finally find a bar with a bona fide weekly jam session. It turns out it has less to do with Milan being non-musical than to do with the city still remaining closed throughout the month of September for “the summer.” Two years ago the only open jam session I found was amongst the anarchists – and it was great – and last year all I found was a karaoke where they allowed me to play with my guitar. Last night, it was a hugely fun and cool and real jam session, the weekly jam at the Fermento Art&Pub.

Although I had fought through hours of web surfing and spoken to many people in the last three years, I never managed to find anything aside from the aforesaid anarchist jam and karaoke. Oh, I did see an open mic and a jam, but they were closed. Yesterday I managed to find a page that listed jam sessions in Milan, and I narrowed down my choice to Fermento, as the only other that seemed to be happening was more about jazz, Fermento was blues. Of the two, I figured I could find a place in the blues jam better than in the jazz one.

My choice was right. I managed to play “Mad World” and “Crazy Love” with the band, and we did O.K. The band, however, was very interesting. I could hardly have imagined that I would find that the lead guitar player, Fred Pierre Gustave, and the harmonica player were both Frenchmen. They were in fact invited as the feature band of the evening, playing along with a drummer and with the bass player who organizes the jam, an Italian named Lucio “Omar” Falco. Fred PG, as he appears to be sometimes known, is a hot lead player who likes the blues AND French gypsy jazz. He lives in Madrid and plays in Spanish bands, and also all around Europe. He’s on a little tour in Italy at the moment, in fact, and Fermento was one of the stops.

After the feature act – the French harmonica player did interesting French blues songs of his own writing, by the way – the stage was then open to other musicians and there were singers, bass players, harmonica players, drummers, lead players. The whole, real thing. It was so a wonderful evening that I was just buzzing and flying from start to finish. Got a little interview with Omar for my film, too. And they invited me to play with them in Monza tonight, so I could not have dreamed for more. Check in tomorrow to see how the Monza thing goes – if it goes.

P.S., I have once again a very slow internet connection so I have been unable to put up all the videos I wanted to put up.

A New Open Mic, and an Old Open Mic Redone

June 23, 2011

I had to debate if I would do an open mic in Paris last night before getting up early to go to Valencia, Spain today. I opted for doing it, and I’m glad I did. It turned out that I managed to do TWO open mics, as there is a new one in Paris on Wednesday nights, just up the street from the mainstay Highlander open mic in the Latin Quarter.

But I had not been to the Highlander for so long that I did not even know that it had a complete makeover, and now it takes place in the basement room instead of on the ground floor. This may not sound like much, but it changes the whole vibe of the open mic, confirming for me once again that the success or failure of an open mic depends massively on where it is located, what the room is like, in addition to the vibe give off by the host MC, the day of the week and the kind of musicians that end up feeling welcome there.

It will be interesting to see how it develops at the Highlander. At first glance it seemed to me that it should always have been in the basement room. It is a more wide open space, the sound system is better placed in front of the performer rather than behind, and the cave-like feel to the place is comfortable. But there did seem to be a kind of lack of the neat thing of the past: Little corners all over the place where you could tuck up and mix and view the show from different angles. Anyway, we’ll see.

There were some interesting performers, and Thomas Brun, the host, was as lively as ever.

I put my name on the list there and decided to run up the street to the Rue St. Andre des Arts to check out the new open mic at The Mazet pub. It is run by David Oxxo, who, it turns out, is a friend of Thomas Brun. The Mazet is a cool pub and the little stage on the ground floor with a big backdrop of a window leading into the street is very comfy. I played five songs! That was very wonderful, and while there was a lot of talk, it was also clear that people were there to listen to the music too.

The one thing I really wish for, though, is that all the open mics would not choose the same day! There are two or three on Sunday, two or three on Monday, around five or six on Tuesday and two or three on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday and Saturday desperately need an open mic like the Mazet one.

Oh well, it was nice to bop from the one to the other – kind of like the nearby Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics on Mondays.

I am writing this from Valencia, Spain, and as often happens when I go off to another country, the Internet connection is not strong enough to defend itself against the coffee I’m drinking – to steal a style from Tom Waits. So the problem is that although I took several videos last night, it has taken a couple of hours for three to upload, and I wanted to put up about six. Maybe I’ll add something more tomorrow. I did not make the choice – YouTube took them randomly.

A Squat, a Brunch and a Be There

January 17, 2011

I have reported in the past about a squat art space in Paris, it was called 0XIII and it ended up being raided by the cops and closed down. Well, it seems the same gang found another location, much more chic, much more private, and much more music-friendly.

This one is called 08, and it is located near the the Place de la Madeleine and Place de la Concorde. It is on several floors, and in the basement is a great area for bands to play, with even a way of people in the upper floors to look down and listen – as you can see from a few seconds of video I took of the drummer from above.

Among the bands were one of my favorite young bands in Paris, Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes. And last time I wrote about these guys – playing at the OPA – I said every time I see them they improve. It has happened again. They’re getting some faster tunes and sounds in with the slower more romantic stuff – something I need to do myself. And they sound generally more together than ever. So what do they need to do now to advance? Well, as one spectator said to me, “the smiling tomatoes never smile….” No problem!@!!

There was another cool duo, a guy on drums and a man on vocals and guitar – very primitive drum beat manic stuff.

And I enjoyed – for a minute or two – the gypsy jazz trio just jamming on the first floor. In fact, I managed to borrow the guitar for one song of my own, which I apologized would not be manouche, and not manically fast…. But the lead guy played along with me, and I enjoyed blasting it out.

That was Saturday night. Sunday turned into a double-header as I did my brunch from 3 PM to near 7 PM and I then went to an open mic I had long heard of but never visited. The open mic was quieter than last week, but I enjoyed hearing Rym and Elise doing a duo, among other songs. I also enjoyed using my new vocal harmony machine, which splits my voice into three-or-so-part harmony, and adds some sorely needed depth on certain songs.

The open mic I mentioned runs on Sundays and starts around 8 PM, and it is in a bar called “Be There.” It is located on the Ile St. Louis, which makes going to it a certain pleasure if you are not in the habit of going to the Ile St. Louis – which is sort of out of the way, despite being right in the center of Paris.

The small bar on two floors is very open and kind to musicians, and I felt great and relaxed – and well-oiled after my brunch – and so I followed a full-fledged band with no problem at all. This open mic is interesting in that it DOES allow full-fledged bands. There is a drum set read at hand, an amp, PA system, a perfect set up for bands. And although the place is mostly about rock & roll, the open mic accepts all kinds of music, acoustic and other.

The one constant, however, is that “Be There” insists that musicians play their own compositions, not cover songs. I liked that, and I played “Since You Left Me,” “Borderline,” and “Let Me Know.”

For me the revelation of the evening was a band of young musicians from various suburbs of Paris. Called, La Ronge, the band had some original sounds, and some charisma. I thought this band could go places in the young band music scene in Paris. The keyboard player sang most of the songs, and had some charisma, but one of the guitarists who also sang was a little disadvantaged by less sound on his mic. A band to watch.

Three ways to whip an open mic audience into a fever of excitement

September 14, 2010

There are three ways to send an open mic audience into a fever of excitement. The best way to illustrate these methods are to be seen and heard in the three videos below, which were made last night at the Galway Pub in Paris, by the Seine River.

1) The first method is that exemplified by Les DeShane: Make sure the audience has drunk enough alcohol and then take an old standard pop song that the entire audience knows and sing it fabulously, milking the crowd at every moment. Check out his style in the first video below, and note the arrival of new listeners from the street, and jolly making dancers in the pub.

2) The second method is that exemplified by Stephen “Danger” Prescott: Make sure the audience has drunk enough alcohol and then take a song that no one knows but that the entire audience thinks they know and sing it with great fun and gusto without an instrument, milking the crowd at every moment as they try to sing lyrics they do not even know but think they are getting the hang of, or think they should know. Check out his style in the last video below.

3) The third method is that exemplified by Brad Spurgeon: Make sure the audience has drunk enough alcohol and then take an old standard pop song that the entire audience knows and screw it up entirely, inadvertently milking the crowd at every moment as they try to sing for you. Check out his style in the last video below.

(I have to add here that Stephen just surprises me EVERY time at the Galway. The song he sings here is written by Stan Rogers, a Canadian folk musician from the east coast who died in a burning aircraft in Cincinnati in 1983, and the song is obscure on the international scene, and even in Canada. But Stephen came out with it. I have it on one of only four or five of my remaining LPs, two of which are Stan Rogers. I actually saw Rogers perform in a bar in Ottawa a year or two before he died. A wonderful voice, this man.)

Guitar Tapping at the Tennessee, Ghost Tapping at the Galway

August 10, 2010

I had to think of some kind of headline that would sum up two different experiences at two different open mics that I have already written about before on this blog. That weird thing above is all I could come up with. It’s a stretch….

But this is the story: At the Tennessee bar open mic last night – thank goodness it is still running in August – during the short time that I was there the best guitarist was clearly the guy whose video I have pasted in below. He had a very agreeable tapping style on the guitar, and an agreeable timbre to his voice as well. And to top it off, the guitar was not even his own, but the one most people shared at the open mic.

I got called up suddenly to play after one or two other performers and when another guitarist tapped the strings of the same guitar so hard that he broke two of them…. Since I had my own guitar, it was a good moment for me to go and play. But I had not played on stage for what felt like a million years – was it a full week? Can’t remember…. So I started off a little cold, then built it up with each song and received a resounding applause for the final one – my own, “Let Me Know,” which I played a little differently than I have in the past, as I have now been influenced by my own studio version of the song!!!

Anyway, I left soon after my own performance to go to the Galway Bar, just down the Seine, near the Place St. Michel. Stepping outside of the Tennessee I met up with two friends from the open mic circuit, Lord Prosser and LadiesDi. The former is an Englishman who talks like he comes from Birmingham, and as it turns out, he does. He has lived in Paris for more than a decade, though, and plays at all the open mics. LadiesDi – not sure where he got that name – is from Argentina, and he has been hanging around Paris for a while. Anyway, they told me to tell the man at the Galway that they would soon join me along with a woman from Sweden (I think it was).

So off I went to the Galway. When I arrived out front I found Steven, the Australian MC, had changed his bush hat of the last time I was there for a Mohawk haircut.

“You picked a great night to come back,” he said to me, recognizing me immediately and telling me he had seen the video I did of him on this blog the last time.

I looked inside to see there was practically no one there. Just an American man singing and playing behind the mic and a few people in the bar.

“There are going to be three others coming soon to play, too,” I said, referring to Lord Prosser, LadiesDi and the Swedish woman.

“This guy will play, then I will play, then you can play,” said Steven.

Yes, I had picked the right night. Just the time to tune my guitar and then go and play my four songs, no waiting. And as it turned out, an audience would build up quickly, even during the time I played. And more and more of the musicians from the Tennessee showed up as well, so the even went on quite late after midnight.

So back to the main narrative thrust of this post. The tapping….

I played three songs and by then LadiesDi was there and taking photos of me and he made a request for the last song. He asked for “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the song I do by Harry Chapin. Then I think he said, “Cat Stevens” and it may be he wanted “Father and Son,” but as I had already sung that at the Tennessee, I leapt at the opportunity to do the Chapin song.

I also took this as an opportunity to talk about how I had met Chapin while doing a television show in Ottawa in 1976. And I recounted what a great guy he was. We spoke while waiting for him to be called on stage to play for the TV audience. We learned we were born on the same day, December 7, and that we both wanted to go to acting school. He was, of course, 15 years older than I was – and I was just a teenager. When he was called to play he grabbed his Ovation guitar quickly, dropped it, and broke a rib in the guitar. He laughed uproariously and shrugged it off, running out to play with the broken guitar. It was the way he was, I thought, it best summed up his personality – from the little I had seen.

It was also sad that he had this hit song about growing up and working as a father and never really seeing his son grow up. But in the end, it was even more tragic in Chapin’s life, as he died in a car crash on 16 July 1981 at around 37 years old – so saw even less of his kids’ lives….

I sang the song at the Galway, it went down well. Then right after me, Steven decided to go up to sing a song before the next invited guest. And the song he sang, of all things, was the old 1970s hit, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” This is really not a very common song these days in open mics. But it woke up my sense of the past, the supernatural, and the tappings of voices from the past…for it was the song on which during that same music program in the 1970s with Chapin that I appeared in a music video of the song. Sorry for that mangled sentence. Too lazy to fix it. In other words, my biggest, starring role on the music show was that of a kid going off on a jet plane and leaving his girlfriend behind. It was a music video, style 1976, and I had the main role, acting out the “Leaving on a Jet Plane” story. (It helped that the woman who played the woman was the TV show’s cute blonde secretary, and I had a crush on her and got to kiss her during the filming….)

Anyway, so there we are. It was as if the spirit of Harry Chapin and that TV show had come back for moment to animate the Galway Pub in Paris. (Or as if I had nothing better to write about today, especially after finishing the re-reading of The Occult, by Colin Wilson…!)

As I was leaving the Galway I just had to stop and whip out the video recorder to get a few seconds of the act consisting of a reggae kind of guy and a woman from New York. She later told me that she had seen me at the Tennessee, and I had, in fact, noticed her there too – as she was noticeable. But her singing was magnificent, it turned out, and it was too bad I didn’t see her at the Tennessee. I managed to catch a little of the song she did at the Galway, and I’m pasting it in below, although it is far from good enough as an expression of her sound….

Of a Chris Isaak Imitator, Sparklers, Balloons and Me

July 25, 2010

Day three in Mannheim and I managed to sing and play for the third night in a row. That was pretty crazy for a town that on my first day I considered would be a dismal failure. The breakthrough last night came in the form of an Irish pub called Fitzgerald’s, where every Saturday night they have a fabulously busy karaoke. The bartenders are Germans who speak English like Irishmen and women, the stage area is large and the sound system excellent. The place was full of rowdy spectators from around the world, and I just loved the party atmosphere.

I never do karaokes as part of this musical adventure, but last year in Cologne I had been told that if I brought my guitar and asked to sing at the karaoke there, they would let me. I did not do it there. But thinking about that and wanting to play again last night, I decided to show up at Fitzgerald’s and ask if it was possible to sing a song or two with my guitar during the karaoke.

The waitress introduced me to the DJ, and he looked skeptical, but accepted. I showed up shortly after 10 PM and at around midnight, the DJ came over and said, “We haven’t forgotten about you. Why not fill out a couple of request papers and mark, ‘Acoustic version.'” So I did that.

At around 12:30 AM they called me up. The crowd was hot, bubbling, bubbly, big and ready for a break after two and a half hours of karaoke. So I plugged my guitar into the sound system, set up the mic and laid into Father and Son and everyone immediately sang along with me. The DJ asked if they wanted more of me and they all cheered. So I did my “Irish song” for the Irish pub, the Van Morrison “Crazy Love.” They enjoyed it too, but there was less singing along as it is less well known. The DJ asked if they wanted still more and they cheered again. So I slipped into “Just Like a Woman” and they sang along again, and even danced. In fact, one woman got up and sang along with me, partly behind me, and that was a pleasure.

There was a crowd of young women that came in with balloons and sparklers and I think it was the one who sang with me who sang a song as they all lit up the sparklers. Talk about a party. For me, one of the best of the karaoke singers was the guy who did the Chris Isaak song below…. Of course, it sounded better live than in my recording.

What really pleased me was being able to survive, and even thrive with my acoustic guitar alone in the party atmosphere of a karaoke. But as I said, I think the spectators needed a change of gears. After me it was back to the karaoke madness….

Ullmann’s Kararocké at the Bus Palladium

July 3, 2010

A crazy night last night at the Bus Palladium with Nicolas Ullmann’s well known Paris show called the Kararocké. It is just what it sounds like – more or less: A rock ‘n roll karaoke but with a live band. This reminded me very much of a crazy phenomenon in Barcelona run by an American woman named Rachel Arieff and called the Anti-Karaoké.

I plan to write more about both of these things and my night at the kararocké, where my song offering was not pulled from the hat so I never made it to the stage. But first, I want to put up a few videos about this event that I took last night, while it’s still fresh. No more time, gotta run! More later:

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