Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Stalled Out Between Paris and Belgium

August 26, 2011
bradspurgeon

Suddenly three days appear to have disappeared on the Weblog. No, I have not become a slacker. I did actually attend the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic on Tuesday night, but I had much work to do to prepare for my trip to Belgium – where I write these words – and a slow internet connection here and there. And then there was drive from Paris to Belgium. The result is not a weblog but a backlog. But great stuff at the Ptit Bonheur, and a little letdown and a bit of bonheur in Belgium.

I was particularly happy on Tuesday evening to see my favorite Paris poetess, the wonderful Lisa Marie Guilbot, who writes clever and piercing short poems mostly about love – of one kind or another – and who has a very enticing reading delivery of the poems. She goes to Ollie’s open mic occasionally and it’s always a nice break from the music.

This time Ollie was on holiday and it was Rachel Crocker (it should be “Rocker”) who did the MCing, and who opened with her cool songs accompanying herself on the ukelele. I uploaded a video of her too, but somehow the lousy internet connection meant it did not make it….

The other amazing and wonderful meeting at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance was with Fabien Fabre. I had seen this guy at another open mic several times, and he stands out enormously as he is virtually the only performer who specializes in a weird and wacky humorous singing and songwriting. We spoke for a while and I learned that he is not only an open mic addict, but he is an artist of the bicycle. Fabre makes extraordinary bicycles out of pure materials. Check out his stuff at Fabien Fabre Bicyclettes.

The Musical Story in Liege

Upon arriving in Liege, Belgium yesterday, however, I learned that the jam session I intended to attend at the famous Bouldou bar was not taking place in the summer, and I’m not even sure it will continue. I also learned the terrible news that the Art Cafe closed down. This Art Cafe jam was the open session I had hoped to take part in on Sunday evening, as it was a high point of my musical adventure in Liege last year and the year before.

The Art Cafe ran into the same problem facing such musical venues and bars in so many parts of the world – what is really hurting Paris too – that residents wants cities to be quiet now so bylaws are being written and enforced to cut out live music. And close down the bars and venues if they don’t obey – or the places close down because they cannot afford to do the work needed to make the bars soundproof.

The good part of the whole story was that I did meet up with Raph Charron again. He is the one I speak of in the post on the link above, describing my experience at the Art Cafe last year. Raph and I talked music at Bouldou and then managed to shoot a video interview for my open mic film, with Raph reminiscing on the Art Cafe and talking about the music scene in Liege.

Art Cafe in Liege Renews the faith, and also love of Brel

August 28, 2010
bradspurgeon

Yet again the lesson gets learned: Never give up hope. As my post from yesterday indicated, I thought I had no chance in Liege to find a place to sing during this end of summer break. Wrong!

I had found the Art Café last year, and I remembered that the place had a Wednesday jam session every week. But when I turned up last year on the Friday, I was told that exceptionally they would have a jam on the Sunday after the F1 race. So I went and had a wonderful evening of music in this dynamic little bar. They called it a café, but it is a bar (that’s Belgian).

So I drove directly from the race track yesterday to the Art Café, and I walked in to find a live, bubbly crowd. In fact, not quite true. I looked at the posters on the window facing the street and learned that there would be live music with a band or two last night.

So I went in, saw the drum set on the stage, and asked if there would be live music.

“No,” said the man behind the bar, whose name is Raph, and who has a band of his own.

I asked if there was a jam over the weekend, and he said, “No, only on Wednesdays.”

I looked disappointed, of course. And he said, “But if you want to go up and play now, you can. But we have no amp or mic set up so you’ll just have to play up there on the stage just like that.”

I happily accepted. The Art Café has a great atmosphere with a lot of young people, lots of musicians passing through – in fact there was a guy with a guitar sitting in the back when I arrived, although he did not play. It is fairly narrow, dark, and has a wonderful little stage and generally has a hip and cool feel to it.

I went up on stage and played somewhere close to 10 songs, and with several of them I found the crowd clapping and singing along – like with “Mad World,” “Baby Blue,” and “Father and Son,” and maybe one or two others. I played only one of my own songs, “Since You Left Me.”

But I was encouraged to continue by Raph, and by members of the audience. That does not mean they were quiet the whole time, they were enjoying themselves – and so was I! Can’t play in my crappy hotel facing the train station, the walls are too thin between rooms, so this was a fabulous release and relief just to be able to go up and sing my heart out.

I stopped in order not to overstay my welcome. But little by little as I spoke to people and the night dragged on and I was invited to play some more, I decided to run across the street to buy a pizza to eat a meal playing more.

As it turned out, the evening would develop into a full-fledged jam. A man named Luc showed up with his acoustic guitar and we did a few songs together – he was a much better guitar player than me, and knew all the rock standards, Beatles, Clapton, you name it. When I began singing “Cat’s in the Cradle,” we were joined by a young musician named Sofiane, who has his own band to be found on myspace as Niagarasound, and he played my guitar and sang a few good songs, like the Nirvana one and others.

Then Raph came along and he joined in with some rock songs, and finally near midnight, with his first love: Jacques Brel. So here I was in Belgium with two Belgians – and then an Algerian/Moroccan woman singer – singing Brel. And that was one of the high moments of the evening for me. So high, in fact, that I decided it was time to pack up the guitar and leave.

I had lost all hope, and found a jackpot. The Art Café renewed my faith in Liege, and Belgium in general….

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