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….