Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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A Last, but not Least, Night in Baku

June 22, 2016

Finnegan's Baku

Finnegan’s Baku

What can I say? The last night in Baku, Azerbaijan I had been invited to play again at Pancho’s Mexican joint by the house band, the previous night. I was feeling wickedly tired – sleeping in the fleabag hotel was a bit of a trial the whole trip – and I thought I would probably just have a quiet meal and go back to the fleabag. But on the way to a meal I passed by Finnegan’s pub, popped my head in to see if the band played on a Sunday night, and who should I see sitting at a table but the whole band…that then greeted me with open arms, a beer and an invitation to play again!

I could not refuse such a warm hearted invitation from a fabulous band. And the crowd was a little thinner on Sunday night than on Saturday night, so I thought, this seems like a great way to pass the evening.
and an acoustic one at Finnegan’s in Baku

And boy, was it ever. I played maybe seven or more songs, including a couple entirely “acoustic” with the vintage copy Telecaster. But if you look at the videos, you can see that the band was playing more for itself on Monday night, too, and NOT just to please the crowd.
something pink in Baku

A fabulous night at Finnegan’s, and I hope I get back again next year – or even sooner, why not???
cool lead breaks in Baku

Oh, I should mention that my return flight to Paris was at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning, which entirely preluded sleep on Monday night, which meant that arriving back in Paris on Tuesday morning I had almost zero inclination to go and partake of the annual Fête de la Musique. I say “almost” because I did actually want to go out. But fatigue from deathly efforts to sleep on the flight and my afternoon nap and a few other things made me decide against it….
the lady gets fever in Baku

“We’ll Back You” – or Joining the House Bands at Two Venues in Baku

June 19, 2016

Finnegan's Baku

Finnegan’s Baku

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Unfortunately the European soccer championships in France that are currently dominating television channels all over the continent interfered with what I heard was the best open mic in Baku. Yes, many bars place people kicking balls around a field as higher entertainment than live music! But that did not stop at least a couple of bars in Baku last night from putting on live entertainment as well as the images of the soccer on their television screens. And that meant that I could try to party crash the house bands in these places and see if I could scream my heart out in Baku again. Thanks to the open arms attitude of the Baku house bands at both Finnegan’s pub and the same place I went to last Wednesday, Pancho’s Mexican etc., I got to play with two mean house bands, and fabulous full-house crowds.

And to forget about the soccer tournaments. Finnegan’s is a typical Irish pub, and the house band was a very mean all-rounder with a keyboard player, sax player, two lead guitarists – one who reverted to rhythm while the other did lead – a drummer and bass player. And although it was not classified as an open mic, they did seem to let up others who were not actually part of the band, that included me and a woman singer.
Cool house band at Pancho’s

They were a very, very hot band, so tight, with a vast repertoire of pop, from blues rock to Pink Floyd, and even some kind of 60s bubble gum stuff in between. I felt I got off to a bit of a slow start with “Mad World,” but after the Dylan and then “Wicked Game,” it was pretty much full swing. It was one of those situations I just love, with a full house of appreciative listeners packed right in up to the stage area.
First with house band at Finnegan’s

Later, well after midnight, I decided to check out Pancho’s Mexican/Adam’s Curries, where I had played in an open mic on Wednesday. There was a very cool sort of “new wave,” laid back, slightly techno-sounding band that mixed their own songs with some original versions of covers, including an upbeat version of “Wicked Game”! I took them a bit by surprised when I asked at around 1 AM if I could do a song, but in the same spirit of openness as the band at Finnegan’s, they let me play, and they all played along.
guitar and sax at Finnegan’s

I started with “I Won’t Back Down,” then did the same Dylan as at Finnegan’s (You Ain’t Goin Nowhere) and then I decided to push the limits by doing my “Borderline.” It was all a fabulous moment, and I will leave Baku in a couple of days feeling very warm about the music scene and musicians here, even if I have barely scratched the surface…. And even if they should not get rid of open mics in favor of soccer – but that happens everywhere in the world, or at least in Europe….

more at poncho’s baku

second at Finnegan’s in Baku

From Montreal to Baku, Azerbaijan – Too Much, Too Fast to Keep Up-to-Date

June 16, 2016

Shirvan shakir's Palace located in the Inner City of Baku, Azerbaijan, It was built in 14-15th century. The Inner City of Baku is in the list UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shirvan shakir’s Palace located in the Inner City of Baku, Azerbaijan,
It was built in 14-15th century.
The Inner City of Baku is in the list UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BAKU, Azerbaijan – What? Baku? And this is supposed to be about Montreal because I was last there and…? I left off on this blog in Wakefield, Quebec, I am now in Baku, Azerbaijan, and I spent the weekend – and more – in Montreal. So what happened to all those adventures?!? Before they fade from mind – which they will never do entirely – I want to take note here of the extraordinary three nights I spent doing open mics across the world. Starting with the fantastic Mariposa Café open mic in Montreal, where I had an incredible meeting with a guy I know from many, many open mics in Paris! Ventru….
another xprime at Brutopia

It was Thursday night, and I had just arrived in Montreal. I had written my story as a preview for the race, and I was pretty exhausted from the travel from Wakefield to Montreal, the story research and writing, and I thought, hey, take the night off the open mic scene. But one of the most interesting and fun open mics of Montreal drew me on, inexorably. Well, especially also because I had heard that a colleague from the paddock, Luis from Brazil, was going to attend.
dylan hennessey at mariposa open mic

So I packed up my courage and my guitar, and headed off to the Mariposa Café open mic that I had discovered last year. Located in a really funky bar/café/restaurant, the open mic was in full swing when I arrived. And it was clear through seeing the crowd and performer through the front window that this was a vintage edition. But what awaited me at the top of the stairs as I entered was, at first, something I took to be an hallucination.
third at mariposa

I see sitting there the performer from Paris who goes by the stage name of “Ventru.” We have done many open mics together for the last three or so years, in Paris, and the last thing I expected was to see him in Montreal. In fact, my brain was sent for a strange ride through its recollection files as it tried to compute how it could be that this Ventru guy was here in Montreal – was it really him? Or did I know him from Montreal, rather than Paris? All sorts of dementia tricks came into play before I realized that it was just simply Ventru on a visit to Montreal and attending an open mic where I was attending, and where, I should say, he half expected to see me!
Brad Spurgeon at mariposa

Anyway, the place was just bursting with performers, audience and vibe. And although I arrived late, my name was on the list as I had warned of my coming in advance, and they have a big heart at the open mic in the Mariposa Café – Victor, the organizer, was awaiting me….
another at brutopia

Ventru destroyed the audience, which was mostly anglophile who spoke some French, but also many French speakers. At least I think there were quite a few! In any case, it was a quiet, respectful audience as usual, and some fabulous performers. Oh, and Ventru filmed my first song – where I was nervous as hell, scared shitless at that attention paid to me, and unpracticed thanks to all the work.
another xprime

And from Mariposa Café to the fabulous night at the Brutopia open mic

Another of my favorite open mics in Montreal is the Sunday night Brutopia bar’s open mic on Crescent Street. I did not attend this one last year, as I chose to try another in another part of town. I ended up missing Brutopia, so there was no problem choosing to return this year.
aussie at brutopia

It started as a quiet night, and by the time the open mic began, there were only two names on the list, including my own. So I feared I had made a bad choice. But as the night progressed, so progressed the number and quality of performers. I could not believe what a fabulous evening it turned in to, and it had one of the those events that I so enjoy at open mics: A fairly well established young band of musicians – or two of the band – decided to go up and expose themselves in the open mic environment, i.e., using instruments not their own, in a makeshift arrangement of mic and sound system, and just going for it.
cool one at brutopia

That was the young band, Xprime, from Niagara Falls. They have a very, very cool sound, but at the same time they were capable of doing one of the neatest, most exact Beatles covers I have ever heard live. This night at Brutopia, in which I got to play twice, or like six songs, was just way beyond my imaginings. A must-attend open mic in Montreal.
duet at brutopia

And from Montreal it was on to Baku and a first – or rather, second – night of open mic

The travel onwards from there was pretty dire. I had an Air France flight from Montreal to Paris for Monday night to Tuesday, and then an Azerbaijani Airlines flight from Paris to Azerbaijan, 3 hours after arriving in Paris. At least, that was the plan. But there was a pilot’s strike in Air France, and the Paris airport and city were embroiled in all sorts of labor actions….
xprime cover

Also, I had a final one of 6 articles to write for my preview to the Le Mans race this weekend, and by consequence did not sleep on the flight from Montreal to Paris. Or only about an hour and a half absolute max. Once in Paris I spent three hours trying to get my boarding pass for Azerbaijan, and then the flight was delayed two hours.
Mc Quentin at Brutopia

So by the time I got to Baku, I was washed out (as the French say). On my first day, though, just before leaving the Formula One circuit, I decided to check out the open mic scene and…FOUND an open mic that was about to begin less than an hour later!!! It looked like it might be the last of the open mics available to me this week, so I jumped on that opportunity immediately.
rapping at brutopia

It is not often that I arrive in a completely new city for me, and find an open mic the first night. This was the last open mic before their summer break at the Pancho’s Mexican/Adam’s Curries bar restaurant. I could not believe my good fortune to find a real, bona fide open mic in the middle of Baku on my first night. (Barring the late night arrival on the first day when my brain was in a state of molasses and it was too late anyway.)
very cool one at brutopia

So I go to this bar, which felt like a cross-section of a little of everything – part Mexican, part curry, part Baku, Turkic Azerbaijani whatever – and found that the MC was from Colombia, the musicians from the U.S., England, Azerbaijan and … Colombia (the MC).
yodelling at brutopia

And so I got to go up and play, and had I not had plans to go out and eat at a real restaurant afterwards instead of the bar, I would have had a chance to play a second set. Oh, and it was so remarkable: The Azerbaijani band actually started off by singing a song in French!!!! You don’t even find that in Paris, let alone Baku.
second at Mariposa

I’m hoping to play at least one more time here, and if I can find more places, even more. For the moment, I can only recommend this amazing city very, very highly. I’m staying in the old town, finding it picturesque and warm and the people are fabulous. I have not been this close to an Iranian type of situation since the Revolution. But it also reminds me of Turkey; another of my favorite places in the world….

first at poncho’s in baku

second at poncho’s

third at Pancho’s

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