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.
BARCELONA – No wonder lists of open mic venues are needed: I’ve been playing in Barcelona for five years and I’m still discovering new open mic venues. Just when I think I’ve found them all – and that there are not that many – I find a new one. As it turned out, last night’s open mic at the Samba Brasil, near the Horta metro station, was one I had heard about and forgotten each year, since I’m not usually here on Wednesday nights.
As it also turned out, I only learned of this open mic – which has been running for three years – thanks to having made a friend at the George Payne open mic three years ago and maintained contact: Run by Joe Psalmist, a Nigerian expat, the Samba Brasil bar open mic takes place every Wednesday, and because it is a little out of the center of the city, it is less visible than most in Barcelona. But it is well worth the visit, for the warm MCing by Joe, for his fabulous voice, keyboard playing, and repertoire, and above all, for the great warm treatment by the clients and managers of the bar.
Oh, and that name Samba Brasil, it has nothing really to do with the style of music at this open mic: There is no Brazilian theme to this. It’s part open mic, part jam and bar live karaoke – I mean, it’s whatever you want it to be, and Joe is always ready to play along with you on keyboards if you are a singer and cannot play an instrument. Actually, he even played along with me while I played a couple of songs on my guitar, and sang.
The neighbourhood may be outside the downtown area, but it is well worth the visit too, as it has a taste to it of small cafés and twisty old Spanish streets that is quite different to that of the downtown with its ramblas or dark Gothic section. And anyway, this open mic starts at the very humane and Spanish hour of around 11 p.m. So no problem with being limited by time in terms of getting there….
By the way, Joe tells me that he also runs a jam session at the same bar on Sunday nights. So that sounds worth checking out too….
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…..
I started out last night checking out a musical venue, a bar, in Barcelona called Foc You. That word “foc” means something in Spanish, but the bar obviously enjoyed using it to mean something else, adding that English touch. The open mic was not running last night, in fact, so I just went out for a quiet dinner. But after the meal I decided to take a look at the streets around the Cathedral because I had been told there were lots of places to play music, jam sessions and buskers. I ended up meeting a busker who did not like me taking a video of him and then leaving without paying any money and he ended my night with “Fuck You!” Let me clarify:
But first, before you consider me an ogre, let me note right away that I got a fabulous video out of it, the kind that could go viral perhaps – although no one can ever really figure out what works or doesn’t. So today I decided I would open up an AdSense account and action the video to make money. Any money I earn on the video of this busker whom I did not leave any money, will go 50-50 to him and to me. If, that is, I ever meet up with the guy again or he makes himself known to me…let’s say, in the next 1 year.
Now, back to the story: I had a wonderful meal, wandered over the cathedral, contemplating the meal, my next day of work and my imminent return to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. But as I went around to a back street behind the cathedral, I heard this fabulous violin music. The streets were beautifully lit, old Barcelona, ancient brick and just a medieval sort of feel to the whole thing. And with the music it was stunning.
The busker had a recording of a classic piece on the radio and he played along on his violin. I recorded for about two minutes, taking in the scene and appreciating his music. (I have cut the video to under a minute.) I realized that I had no coins of any kind left in my wallet as I had left the last coins in a tip in the restaurant. And in euro bills, the smallest I had was a 50. Way too big. So I knew that I could leave him no money.
But I thought that he could see I appreciated his music and that I was making a video out of respect. In fact, I had remembered seeing a video on YouTube about a star violinist from the Washington symphony (I think it was) playing in the subway in Washington and being ignored by almost all passersby. I thought of that and decided I would do the video of this guy and put it on my blog as an example of a great busker in Barcelona.
So I was quite surprised when the violinist, playing this beautiful classical music, saw me about to leave around the corner without leaving any money in his case, and he stopped playing, said, “Fuck you,” and gave me the finger. He then went on to tell me about how he only played for money, he had to pay his bills, etc. I was so surprised by the contrast of the classical music, the setting, the peace… and then this vicious verbal assault! Moreover, for me, despite all my own experience, this was tantamount to whoring. And, of course, while I am occasionally paid to play my music today in the gigs I perform, I am lucky enough to have a job to enable my music to be something I do to share with people for free since I love music.
I would never, ever, not in my most destitute days as a busker, have ever given the finger to anyone and sworn at them and told them they had to pay for my music. Having said that, I would never want to profit by this man’s reaction without giving him a share of the profits. So I have set up that advertising account mostly in order to see if I can earn a bit of money for him, but also to justify putting up the video. I considered whether I should give him ALL of the profits, until I said, “No, I have bills to pay, kids to feed, electricity and food for myself to pay, too!”
Still, I feel no animosity toward this busker. A little pity, yes. And a difference of opinion on the purpose of sharing music. But variety is what makes life so interesting….
No playing of music for me last night. I am expecting a busy next two days on that front, as most of the jams in Barcelona happen on Sunday and Monday night. So last night I interviewed Unax Noga, also known as Max, who organizes the open mic at the George Payne pub.
I interviewed Unax on camera for that open mic documentary I am working on, and learned he is from the Basque region – thus the name – and that he recently came to Barcelona to do a masters in sound engineering. He is also a musician and as you can hear from the video I made of him singing at the open mic the other day, he has a great voice.
But the point of all this is that his girlfriend, Lore, was also there yesterday and we spoke a little, and she asked me if I had been to the Placa Catalunya on this trip and seen all the demonstrators. I said I had not. It was just down the street from the George Payne, though, and I decided to check it out after dinner. What I found blew me away. This was, as planned, kind of like the demonstrations in Bahrain and other countries on the other side of the same Mediterranean whose shores are only a few hundred meters away at the port of Barcelona.
These people, said Lore, were protesting the current political and economic situation in Spain in a peaceful protest. I sympathized with her and said, “Yes, with 20 percent unemployment….” She quickly pointed out to me however that for the young people in Spain up to about age 24 – Unax’s age – unemployment was more like 40 percent. [Since I first posted this I have learned that in fact the unemployment rate in Spain was 21 percent, with the under 25 rate being more than 44 percent! That is almost half of young people under 25 have no job.
Crap. No wonder the Placa Catalunya was so full of young people. The protest was indeed peaceful, and the feeling was one of controlled tension. There was music all over the Place too, and the banging of casseroles that I have heard since I arrived in this city, which I did not at first understand the meaning of. Now I do. Protest song.
Barcelona is full of jamming venues that shift musical styles from one day to the next, most serving up blues, rock and jazz at one moment or another. Sunday is the busiest day for these jams, which are like open mics but usually like to have musicians join other musicians they may not know, playing in a jam session. Last night I dropped by one of these clubs, called Big Bang, even though I knew it was a jazz jam and that I would not be able to play along.
But I will probably return to the Big Bang tomorrow when it is rock, pop jam night. In any case, last night there was a jazz concert before the jazz jam, and I caught a bit of it on video, and I decided to make a couple of videos just absorbing and showing the venue to the readers of this blog. It is a very cool, old-style, almost 1950s feel kind of place. Set up in 1992 by a musician named Jesus de Kalle who played in the nearby Catalunya Place and decided to create a venue for bands to play together.
It turns out it is just around the corner from the JazzSi jam bar too, which also runs on the same principle and which is associated with a music school. Tomorrow, I might play at both.
One of the advantages to this area, near the Sant Antoni metro, is that just up the street from the Big Bang is a very unusual restaurant run by an unusual owner, Mario M. Perez Ruiz, who is a poet, author, and television and radio personality who owns and runs and cooks in his own restaurant. I discovered this place last year when I met some people at the Big Bang session and they took me to the restaurant afterwards.
In addition to the interest of the restaurant having bookshelves, paintings and drawings and other cultural artifacts – in addition to the poet-chef’s own books and large personality – there is the fact that the food is very tasty, filling and cheap as hell. I was looking at other nearby restaurants with menus at around 30 euros and I opted for Perez-Ruiz’s place. When I saw there was a three course meal with more than a quarter liter of red wine and an espresso coffee offered at only 10 euros, no tax, I was out of my mind with joy. So I ate my salad, paella, crema catalana, red wine and coffee and read my “Chronicles” by Bob Dylan, and then went off to the Big Bang, feeling pretty good.