So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.
So check it out!
So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.
So check it out!
I remember in my first years in Barcelona I had a hard time finding a decent open mic of the kind where a musician goes up on stage and plays his or her songs with their instrument and has an audience listening with silent worship-like regards. In the last five nights, I did three of those classic open mics, and I could have done more. I did not attend a single jam session, which Barcelona specializes in, and which I used to do regularly here – at Jazz-si and elsewhere.
As it turns out, one of the best venues I used to attend for its back-room jam session now has a classic open mic, and I attended this on both Thursday and Sunday night. I’m talking about the Big Bang Bar, located in one of the coolest parts of the city, with all its old, winding, dirty streets, and the name of which I do not know. Laziness and the fact this blog is a blog means I will not look up the name of the area.
Last One at the big bang
But the open mic was much more to my taste than the former jam session. I’m of mixed feelings that the back room where the jam took place has been closed off. As I understood things, that jam session had to be closed because the neighbors were complaining too much about the noise. So now they have set up a stage at the back of the main bar area – opposite the photos of famous jazz musicians – and put a piano and small drum set there. And started an open mic of the classic kind we know, and which attracts more calm, quiet music than that of the typical jam session.
Another Amy at the Big Bang
The evening was hosted by Oscar, a Spanish singer songwriter, and I was pleased that there was a mixture of people singing in both Spanish and English. It was by no means just another anglo thing.
Oscar Closes at the Big bang
I could have attended another open mic on Friday night, late after a concert, but I decided to do one on Saturday night, at another very cool venue, called Belchica, near the Urgell metro. This had a fabulous high stage in a back room, with, guess who, Oscar again running the show. What makes the venue a great one for an open mic is the back room with the stage is intimate, but then there is the front room where people can go to talk. So you really have those who want to listen, listening, and those who want to talk, talking….
Another at the Big Bang
By the way, it is now Tuesday, and I ended up stopping writing this post in order to meet with a friend and then to perform at the Galway. It turned out to be a great night too, especially since there was a lead guitar player from the U.S. who joined me on stage and played the hell out of the place to my songs, “Mad World,” “Crazy Love” and “Borderline.” Huge fun!
Second at the big bang
But back to Barcelona, in fact, the last night, Sunday, I returned to the Big Bang Bar, since there is also an open mic on the Sunday night! And guess what? It was even more full of participants and spectators than the Thursday night open mic. Barcelona is just kicking big time with open mics. Even worth the trip down for a week to do them all, if you’re trying to figure out which European city to go to for an open mic experience….
Third at the Big Bang
Another at Belchica in Barcelona
Last at Belchica
I was just too excited to have found a really amazing and true open mic in Barcelona that I had not expected to find at all. I’ve had so much more experience in this city with jam sessions than with classic open mics, that I had begun to despair. But last night, in my desperation, I did a search on the Internet employing the Spanish term, “micro abierto,” and there I managed to come up with something at Freedonia that looked as if it really was an open mic, and it really was last night.
The even more amazing thing was that I could walk all the way from my hotel down to the venue in central Barcelona, not far from the St. Antoni metro station, and I could play until late and walk back again, within 20 minutes. But the best thing was the actual open mic. The back room is far enough away from the front room – and there is an empty room between them – that the music can be loud and no one seems bothered in the front room. Having said that, I imagine if there is a really bad comic on stage and no one is laughing, then the music coming from the open mic would be a relieving distraction. As it was, when the music stopped, I could hear lots of laughter.
Freedonia, in fact, is an association. So in order to take part or even watch as a spectator, you have to sign up your name and information. But that membership process lasts a year, and in exchange, you’re invited into a kind of wonderful private club, with a bar, lots of cheap beer – 2 euros 50 centimes for a bottle – and lots of musicians, comics and spectators.
The back room has a few tables, a few chairs, high and low, and a large stage – for an open mic. It is a basic rectangle shape, with a large set of speakers, a mix table, and people trying to make sure the sound is good – even when it isn’t! (I had a problem with the second mic on my third song, but aside from that (and that the quality of the mics was not great), it’s a wonderful setup.) It is a classic open mic, as opposed to a jam, with each person signing a list and playing three songs.
No doubt one of the reasons this place is different from other Spanish jam sessions/open mics/micro abiertos, is because it is run by a delightful Englishwoman with an Irish name: Bronagh Ni Laoi. You can also catch a glimpse of her playing in the wonderful high moment of the night, the all-girl band, whose name may or may not be the Ukaladies. (I find another such band on the Internet, in Canada, so I’m not sure about who really has that name….) Four or five women with ukuleles and a cajon and singing and … just check it out….
There were one or two singers in Spanish as well, thank goodness! And a high Spanish-spectator content…. The comedy open mic in the other room seemed to be only in Spanish, by the way.
All in all, a fabulous surprise, in a very cool, very hip, very open open mic. Oh, and I forgot to mention just how neat the neighborhood is, also, all alleyways and narrow streets, hidden away off the Ramblas. It seems to be tucked into a little bit of a Little India too. Oh, and on my way back to the hotel, I got dragged in to jam a little on my guitar in a sort of garage-loft by a half destroyed Colombian and his friends…. You had to be there…. It seems to be run every second Thursday – but I’ll confirm that before I put it on my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona open mics, jam sessions and other live music….
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.
So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Barcelona since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….
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….
BARCELONA – For my sixth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Barcelona page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s popularity I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.
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.
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.
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.
So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!
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.
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.
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.
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….
Sometimes on my worldwide musical adventure I get the feeling that an open mic here or there has been thrown together just for me. When I played in Cologne two years ago I found what was certainly the only open mic in the city, and it happened to be on the first day I arrived, the Thursday, I stumble across it immediately while searching the bars desperately for an open mic, and it had only existed for three months. Although Barcelona is full of open jam sessions, the strict open mic mic format is more rare. Two years ago I discovered an open mic on the Monday night at an Irish pub called the George Payne, on the Place Urquinaona. But it did not last long. Yesterday after an internet search, I found it was happening again, and it was on Thursdays.
I arrived last night to find that it has only existed since last week, but in only one week it has become a great success. There were all sorts of accomplished musicians and bands there to play last night in this vast “Irish Pub,” which looks more like a Texas whorehouse, if you ask me – although I’ve never set foot in a pub in Ireland OR a Texas whorehouse…. but anyway….
This time around it was more Spanish, too, as the MC, Max, is Spanish, and there were more Spanish-speaking performers, despite the Irish pub aspect to it. There were the usual expats too, and some very good ones. In fact, most of the performers were a multicultural mix – from Joe-Psalmist of Nigerian origin to Jesse Masterson and Paul Henry of Argentine, Spanish, U.S. and British mix to me, a Canadian living in Paris….
Most of us did around three songs, although the guys dressed up like the Blues Brothers – Masterson and Henry – did a lot more, by popular demand.
Oh, forgot to mention, the Internet also led me astray as I first went to a very hip musical venue called KGB, that was supposed to have an open mic according to the net, but which had some kind of pin-up girl thing going on instead. Reminded me of the venue in Paris called the Machine du Moulin Rouge.
Now onwards to the many blues, rock and jazz jams in the coming days….