BARCELONA – My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
PARIS – I managed to play a couple of songs at the JazzSi last night in Barcelona, and to record some great videos of the other performers at this mainstay venue of jamming in Spain. Then when I took the train back from Barcelona to Paris and worked the whole time on my Formula One work, and also transferred the videos from my Zoom Q3 to my hard drive, and then erased them from the Zoom chip… well, bad idea. Lost all of my work, all of my videos of the last 6 weeks, all of the videos from last night, ALLLLLLL sorts of stuff. Because the hard drive was either stolen or dropped or left behind despite three turns of my head to make sure I had everything from my seat in the train. Such was the cost of trying to cost cut AND do work on the train…. So no videos of the JazzSi night in Barcelona.
Suffice it to say that I had a great time, heard great music, and played with a drummer, bass player and harmonica player, in front of the packed house of the JazzSi, where you have to go if you are in Barcelona – for listening or playing, it is one of the greatest places left in the Spanish coastal city. Check my thumbnail guide to Barcelona open mics etc. to find out where it is.
Also lost my recorded song ideas from China and Bahrain. But a lot remains in my mind… and I will try to call the lost and found tomorrow to see if it was…. (doubt it.)
Sorry for the crappy post. But it’s necessary to have crap in life occasionally too – just not too often.
PS, I tried using some file undelete software to recuperate the videos, but it failed to get anything useable. The good thing is that it DID recuperate all my interviews from my work in Barcelona!!!! (But not the transcriptions I did on the train.)
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
More Experience Than Existing Open Mics
Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.
Mostly Jam Sessions in Barcelona
There are far more jam sessions in Barcelona than open mics as such – but the jams act as open mics too, and this is a guide to venues of both philosophies.
BARCELONA – One thing leads to another, and had it not been for striking up a friendship with an interesting and unique bass player and singer songwriter name Sergi Carós Massegur at the Big Bang Bar in Barcelona last year, I’d never have ended up playing in the monastery last night.
Well, what I mean is that this venue, called Sala Monasterio, is in the basement monastery room of what was obviously formerly a monastery – and if you pray to the sounds of music, then it still is a monastery, if last night’s jam was a good example of what it is all about.
Coming to Barcelona I contacted Sergi, and learned that the Big Bang Bar is now closed, its jam gone. (Something to do with fire escape problems and loud music isolation problems, if I understood correctly.) Sergi told me that he and his band were running a blues jam session last night at the Sala Monasterio, and why not come along.
Freaky, it turned out that the hotel I chose this year – a piece of crap – was located around three minutes walk from the monastery, so I could go an pray to the powers that I might sleep the night in the crap hotel.
Sergi’s band, in fact, was just a guest band for the venue, as there is a different band running the jam each week – if I understood correctly. The jam happens each Thursday, though, and it has its regular performers and spectators, and the level can be very high.
Sala Monasterio: A Venue With Character
The Sala Monasterio as a venu is fabulous! It is in the basement, made up of several rooms, two of which are quite large, but not so big that they cannot be intimate too. The ceiling is curved, low, and the stage is neither too small nor too large – and it has great lighting, a good sound system – with a sound man on the board at all times. The jam is part of the Barcelona Blues Society, or something like that, if I understand correctly.
You may have realized by now that I don’t speak Spanish. In fact, Sergi’s English is excellent, and he has written some wonderful songs and had some good national television air time, too, lately. In fact, his band, Ed Tulipa, has played internationally, the most exciting gig of the last year being at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
The Sergi Carós Massegur Story
That was cool for Sergi, because his music sounds very much like The Beatles, and he’s a fan of George Harrison. Unfortunately, one of the reasons he has had this big surge of creativity in recent years is that three years ago he had a very dangerous scare and battle with skin cancer, and he came out a new man – and musician. The Ed Tulipa album came from that period, and contrary to the darkness you might expect, its positive, bright and hopeful – full of life.
Last night, it was not the Ed Tulipa band, but the Neirak Blues Trio, made up of musicians from the Ed Tulipa band, but playing blues, since it was a blues jam. After I listened to a few acts, I realized that it was not 100 percent blues all the time, and I figured I could fit in my “Wicked Game” and my “Mad World,” and after doing that with the Neirak Blues trio – with Sergi on bass – they asked me to do a third song, so I did “Crazy Love.”
Something about playing in that great room with those cool musicians and that great, packed house of an audience meant it all went down very well, and I was in heaven…so to speak….
After there was a big bang in the Williams Formula One team garage after the Grand Prix I had to stay later at the race track, so whatever may have been my thoughts about where I might go to play music in Barcelona last night, it whittled the choices down to one as far as I was concerned: The Big Bang Bar. That, of course, was where I had intended to go anyway, since it has a very cool Sunday evening rock and pop jam session. So I went, I played, and I especially enjoyed – oh, and made a few discoveries.
The open jam session is run by David Sam, who sings and plays keyboards, and its the style where you go up with your instrument and play with other musicians. Mostly rock and pop. David did this fabulous thing using the synthesized vocals on his keyboard. I got it on video, so check it out here; it is on the video that starts with a long bass solo – which is cool too – and the scat singing keyboard kicks in around the 55-second point.
I got to play two songs, and David played along on keyboards, someone else played drums, and a performer named Ed Tulipa played bass. I did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game.” Oddly, I blew both of them, forgetting key moments of the vocals. But it went over pretty well, and I had an amazing time. Ed then came over later with David, and gave me his latest CD, which is called Pop Terapia. I have listened to half of it already, and have it waiting for me to accompany my exercises tomorrow morning.
But what I have heard of Ed Tulipa’s album so far is very good, and very Beatles. The story behind the CD is that Ed’s Dad died, then at the same time basically, Ed got cancer, and during his chemotherapy treatment, his girlfriend left him!!! Holy crap! So he did this album as therapy, naming it Pop Terapia. But what is beautiful is that it is not sad, down, and depressed. Very nice stuff, and Ed plays a wicked lead guitar and sings well. The songs are catchy and nice pop. One of the songs is brilliantly entitled, “I’m Only Here for a While.” That one, in fact, was written by, and played with and sung by on this album, the so-named Rory Gallagher of The Revs.
I could write all night about this place, this music, and my time last night – which was incredibly brilliant in more ways than one. But if I did that, I would find myself compromising tonight’s open mic in Paris. I had to travel back from Barcelona today and that took a while, and now I’m in Paris and looking forward to some of my own Pop Therapie…. return tomorrow to hear about that…..
The Sagrada Familia is an iconic weird looking incomplete church in Barcelona that was designed by Gaudi, as most people know. Last night’s adventures in Barcelona’s music scene for me were about as weird looking and seemingly never-ending as the Sagrada Familia. But while it is expected to see the church and other Gaudi buildings when you come to Barcelona, the kind of musical night I had last night was far from expected for me – given my experiences here in the past.
Not that I had bad experiences, but they were limited mostly to the highly organized jam sessions of the Jazz-si venue or the Big Bang bar, or the classic expat open mic of the George Payne Pub. Last night, I ended up having a three-tiered experience, a whole cross-sectional experience of the open mic and jam session, from three different levels and kinds of society. Or maybe it was all an expression of the same thing, in this country with such a high unemployment rate – especially amongst the young – and where music is one of the few releases for a suffering population, but also where it is also illegal in most venues at nighttime due to the strict anti-noise laws.
For the four years that I have been coming to Barcelona I have been hearing always in the background of my musical adventure the talk of the police crackdowns on live music at nighttime. The death of live music in Barcelona, etc. Last night was no different. But I saw one of the outgrowths of it too.
The first place I went to was more or less an expatriate open mic, run by an Englishman named Matt Kemp. It is held at the Bar Ese Efe in a cosy maze of tiny streets in the El Raval area, which has been compared to the Lower East Side in NYC. I had started the day thinking I would find no venue until Sunday, and then I received a message from my friend LadiesDi whom I met at open mics in Paris, who has lived in Barcelona and is currently in Finland but who originally hails from South America!
So I was saved by LadiesDi who told me about Matt Kemp’s open mic. I went and found a neat little bar with a back room and a cool mural of a kind of apocalyptic image behind the small stage and what turned out to be an acoustic open mic, ie, no mic. That, I later learned from Matt – and you can hear him talk about it in my next in the year’s series of podcasts – was directly due to the Draconian music laws that outlaw loud music at night.
There were a few Spaniards in the place, but mostly it was an open mic with foreigners – from England, the United States and elsewhere. It got quite full with a warm audience, and given the small size of the room it was quite possible to do it without a microphone. The ambience actually reminded me a lot of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic in Paris.
I got to go up twice, as I was the second performer of the night and later went up on the second half of the evening too. In fact, Matt prefers to call it an open stage as opposed to an open mic, as he allows and encourages everyone to take to the stage – magicians, actors, poets, musicians, etc.
Just after I finished that evening and interviewed Matt, I started to make my way back to my hotel when I suddenly heard music emanating from a building on the corner of Carrer de San Rafael. The front of the building was wide open and I walked in to see what looked like a jam session going on, acoustic, but with a mic and amplified guitar and some South American-sounding vocals. I was immediately invited to go up and start playing, by some man whose face I could barely see in the shadows.
I wanted to case out the joint and the music first, and said, “No.” I turned out to be a squat called Barrilonia. And in my mind I equated it with the current economic and real estate situation in Spain, and the crowd was a vast mixture of people from different social classes. But the overall vibe, of course, was that of an illicit squat and people bearing with life’s vicissitudes through a need to express themselves and listen to others in music.
If live music is not allowed in Barcelona late at night – and it was after midnight – it will find its way out nevertheless. Music has healing powers, and Barcelona has a huge need for that now. All of Spain does. And far from not being a musical city, there is live music all over the place. It is just highly regimented, and where it cannot be done with amplification, it will be done acoustically.
I did go up and play a song at the Barrilonia squat, and I was joined on my guitar and vocals with the other guitar player and a guy drumming on his knees. I spoke to a couple of middle-class looking guys about the place, and one of them gave me a link to a web site to find more music, and told me that the area around the Cathedral is full of live music and jams at night.
I left the squat and continued heading towards my hotel when not far up the next street I heard live acoustic music emanating from a bar, a real bar, a bona fide middle class person’s bar with wooden interior. I glanced inside and as someone saw me with my guitar on the back he gestured me in to join the jam. There were a couple of guitarists and a flute or recorder player, and one of the guitarists also sang.
I was not there long before I was asked again to join in. So I did. This time I played along to a few of their songs, they played along to my songs, and I spoke to a couple of them about life in Barcelona. One man in particular, a teacher, was angry about how Spain was in the south of Europe and had a southern culture – like Greece and Portugal – and that it would never be able to fit into the norther culture and economy pushed by Brussels and the big European Union countries of the north. And he lamented the death of such things as impromptu jams and music in the streets, and again complained about the crackdown on live music.
But had I not just lived a full evening with three live music events that the city is apparently teeming with? Everything is a matter of perspective and expectation….
Monday night was my last night in Barcelona, and I headed over to the Bel-Luna Jazz Club for a dinner and to sit in on the Monday night blues jam session. I have found that around the world the word “blues” does not always mean the same thing. Some places it means “rock.” So blues jams vary from place to place, from real and pure blues to pop rock. I prefer the latter for personal reasons, even if I don’t agree with the definition. The personal reasons are that it usually means I can play my stuff at the blues jam. Last night at Bel-Luna, with the exception of the occasional 1950s rockabilly song – I prefer to call that rock ‘n roll, but what the hell – and the occasional boogie, it was really nothin’ but the purest blues stuff.
That meant that I had a great meal – pasta starter, veal main course, sorbet desert, and a wonderful and cheap rioja red – and then I listened to a bunch of the songs and players and I cleared out by midnight. I’d been all jammed up and jammed out, and knew that I would not have a hope in hell of doing anything that would please anyone on that stage. I was tempted like anything, but this was pure, pure blues, and my stuff does not fall into that category at all.
I’ve said it before, that the pure blues jam thing actually tires me out after a while since all the songs sound the same. The players have a lot of fun, but to listen to several hours of the same riffs and chords and leads, and usually lead heavy vocals, doesn’t usually make me feel fresh.
Anyway, there was some nice stuff – and a surfeit of harmonica players, by the way, each with his case full of harmonicas in different keys to choose from. The house musicians – a drummer, bass player and pianist – were fabulous, by the way. And a wonderful club it was, with fabulous old videos of the real bluesmen from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s running on for hours before the live jam. I loved that stuff.
I mentioned the jazz jam at the Big Bang the other night, well, the rock jam is the one that started this bar off a couple of decades ago when Jesus de Kalle, a rock guitarist, decided he needed a place for him and other musicians to jam. So last night, like every Sunday, it was the rock jam night. I took that as my cue to go and play some of my songs, but there was a biiiiiiggg difference between my songs and most of the stuff last night. I mean, AC/DC, Deep Purple et al ???
Jesus was on hand to start out the night playing lead guitar, and it turned out I would be the first non-employed performer – ie, the first jam victim – and I would play with the house drummer and that house bass player. I was a little disappointed that both Jesus and David Sam, the keyboard player who is in charge of the rock jam, left when I was called up. But they had been playing for a while, so they needed a break. I played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” and then I went into “Mad World,” and as I started the first chords of the latter, David Sam ran back into the room and did some greet backing for me on the keyboards and some nice solo stuff during the break between verses and at the end.
He later told me he liked this kind of music and that’s why he came back, to play along. I suddenly realized that I had already played with David before, around the corner two years ago at the JazzSi club on my first ever time playing with a full band. That was such an odd experience for me that time, and it took me telling myself that I would do it purely for the book I was writing about open mics, just like a George Plimpton experience playing with the Detroit Lions or something. But it was my baptism by fire, and since then I’ve grown to love playing with other musicians, and I no longer tremble at the thought of it being weird for me to be caught dead in the company of “real” musicians.
Speaking of real musicians, there were a number of them last night. There were some great bass players, lead guitar players, keyboard players, sax players and a singer or two. Check out the guy singing the AC/DC! He did some other stuff that sounded even more heavy metal….
Anyway…off to a blues jam tonight. I had two other places lined up last night, but in the end I decided to get the best taste of one place only that I could. Interviewed David Sam for the documentary, and also managed to get my performance on video, but it was too long to put here and I don’t have my video editing software on the laptop to cut the video shorter….