Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Ry Cooder-, Taj Mahal-, Jesse Kincaid-Related History at Be There Open Mic in Paris

July 18, 2011

This really is what open mics are all about: The scene was set in the “Be There” bar last night on Paris’s Ile St. Louis as I arrived after 9:30 PM, and the only person in the bar was the bartender manager owner guy. Great, I thought. I better drink a half a pint and go on over to the Caveau des Oubliettes for the blues jam. But while I got to drinking the half pint, in walked a middle-aged man with a guitar in his hand, with no case for the guitar. What then worked out was the whole reason one should never take a look at an open mic and say, “No one here? It’s a lost cause.”

The guy, whose name was Jesse, went up and played. So here we were, this guy Jesse, the bartender and me. And as I listened, I thought, hmm, this guy can play. He has the licks. His classical guitar had no pickup, and it was mic’d in. Turned out in the beginning, his voice had no mic, but I didn’t notice the difference because it carried. Anyway, I’m listening to the stuff, filming the stuff, and thinking, this is cool. I like this feel. An old Elvis song or something, and some stuff I don’t recognize, and some nice finger picking.

So Jesse plays four songs, then I go up. I play four songs, two of my own and two cover songs. I noticed that by now this guy Jesse had been joined by two women, and another man had entered the bar. Anyway, I finish my songs and Jesse comes up and asks if we can play together. Absolutely, I said, and thought this is even more cool. So I suggest “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison, and he knows it note for note, plays lead and sings along in the chorus. Then I do “Father and Son” and he plays along. Then I do one of my own, “Since You Left Me,” and he plays along beautifully with the lead. And I’m thinking, the man knows his chops! Who is this guy?

So then he plays more and I go and talk to one of the women he was with, who turns out to be his beautiful daughter. I learn that they are just visiting Paris, they are staying in an apartment on the Ile St. Louis – near the open mic – and that he had seen the sign outside the bar announcing the open mic, and that he had also noticed the guitar in his apartment. No case, no nothing, no great shakes of a guitar. So he took the guitar and did the open mic.

Well, after he plays, I decide to probe a little, because I had said to myself, “This guy has something of the professional musician about him. Something in the ease of what and how he is doing it.” So it turns out when I ask him that, guess what? He IS a professional musician, his band is called the New Rising Sons, and that he was a founding member of the band the Rising Sons, his name being Jesse Kincaid. They were founded in 1964, did an album for Columbia Records that was not immediately released, but was released many years later. That two of the original members of the band were Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Holy shit! Now is that not the coolest open mic experience you can imagine? Ok, ONE of the coolest? And I am very seriously pleased that I did not know who he was BEFORE we played together or before I sang my songs….

So anyway, as I said, don’t cut out on those empty open mics – you might find a pearl somewhere during the evening if you hang around and play anyway.

On the way there, by the way, I recorded this cool Kubrick sort of moment as I walked out of the metro:

Not Quite There at “Be There” Hier

July 4, 2011

Weird night that was last night going to the “Be There” bar’s open mic. I was supposed to be returning to the “stage” and wonderful open mic times in Paris after several days holing up in my home doing other things, and I ended up having strange time – but performing nevertheless, to a nearly empty house, and as the only performer.

That was not the weird and silly part. What happened was that I prepared all my video equipment with me in a bag, prepared my guitar with reading material for the metro, and then for the sake of convenience, I put a metro ticket in my pocket and my wallet in the video bag.

So I left home and took the metro and continued reading Patti Smith’s book about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. This is a beautifully written story that takes you right back into the 1960s, 1970s, and the daily life of the artists in Manhattan. Love the writing about the Chelsea Hotel, where they lived, and which I am reading now. And she is so down-to-earth, contrary to the image I recall having at that time of the Patti Smith rock start.

Anyway, I got just about to the “Be There” bar on the Ile St. Louis when I suddenly realized I did not have the camera bag. I feared I left it on the metro, but I had simply left it at home – along with my wallet and further metro tickets and money for beer at the open mic.


So I went to Be There anyway, and found the place almost empty. One guy had a guitar, but he would soon leave, and I had not heard if he was playing. Was there an open mic as usual? Yes, I was told by the manager, but maybe people would show up later. I then explained my predicament. He did not offer me a beer, but he did suggest that if I wanted to, I could go up and sing anyway. This was a huge relief, as it meant the night was not entirely wasted, and even better, I had a platform for getting rid of my frustrations.

I sang five or six songs, I think three of my own and two cover songs. Some people heard me from outside and popped in, others had perhaps been out smoking when I started, and came in, the others had been there. But there was not much of an audience, and I did not care at all. I just wanted to sing and play. And I did not have the slightest bit of nervousness, I was doing it entirely for myself. And interestingly, I think I did it well.

I thanked the Be There man and then left for a walk along the Seine. Then I looked at my iPhone map and discovered that it was about 10 kilometers walk back to my place. I decided to do it, walking at a mad pace, and forgoing my unicycle ride upon my return.

Talk about a Mad World….

P.S., by the way, the “hier” in my headline – for non-French speakers – is not a typo. It is the word “yesterday” in French. Pronounced to rhyme with “there,” obviously…. (Maybe I should do a daily French lesson… 🙂 )

The Last Waltz at the Disquaires, and Being There at Be There

May 16, 2011

I get to hear this band all the time at my home, since it is the band of my son Paul. Formerly called, The Euks, it is now called, The Last Waltz. The band played its first concert while I was in Istanbul, so I missed it. Last night, it played its second concert, at the Disquaires in Paris. I was there and filmed it.

It is quite a different thing to be sitting around at home and hearing the sound of a budding band coming through closed doors and actually being at the venue and watching the band perform for its public for the first – or second – time. And I can say that I was favorably impressed. I was also happy when it ended that I still had all senses and had not been whacked in the head by a guitar or a foot as I tried to get in fairly close towards the end on the last song and found myself in the middle of an onstage riot – or at least chaos of dance and flailing limbs.

I stayed a little longer to see for the first time for me also a band consisting of a couple of friends of my son’s from years ago, which was on the same bill by accident. This was The Likely Lads, and at least two of them used to go to school with my son when they were kids.

Then I moved on to do a little bit of my own music at the Be There bar’s open mic on the Ile St. Louis. I always enjoy this one, and despite arriving and finding very few people present, it turned out to have some interesting performers. I am not sure who was who, but the band names I got were goodbye paname and super vener. I enjoyed my own moment – thoroughly screwing up a new cover song I thought I had memorized, “What’s Up.”

By the way, my son Paul is the guitarist on the right in the images in general, or stage left, usually playing in front of or below the saxophone player painted on the wall.

When Brad Runs in Circles, it’s a Very, Very….

May 12, 2011

“When people run in circles, it’s a very, very, maaaaad world….”

I sing those lyrics often when I do “Mad World,” my version falling somewhere between that of the original by Tears For Fears, and that of Gary Jules. But in the last several days I can really apply those words literally to my life, as opposed to the figurative sense that I play in my head when I sing the song.

There has been an uncommon break on this blog, because I’ve been running in circles in all sorts of senses. First, my third cold in about six weeks meant that upon my return from Istanbul I was more wiped out than at any time in recent memory, and therefore did not go out to an open mic on Monday.

(I later learned that despite my doctor’s belief that the cold might be allergy related, the entire Lotus Formula One team apparently came back from Istanbul with the same cold.)

Well, that was the first running in circles: a third cold in six weeks and never seeming able to kill the virus, or whatever it is.

Second, I decided to sit down and read into my computer from my Canon HV20 HDV video camera the footage that I took in Istanbul, including my interview with Safak at the Kooperatif. And that is when the real running in circles began and has still not ended.

There is no problem with the ultimate fate of the footage. It is on mini DV tape, so I can read it into the computer with any HD DV camera. But with MY camera and MY computer, it has been a full time job for the past three days trying to overcome technical difficulties that I see on Internet forums are very common for people with this and other camcorders, but that no one has a solution for.

The problem is that the computer does not recognize the existence of the camera through firewire, which is the only way to connect to download the video from the tape to the computer. This had happened repeatedly with the camera in the past, but I was always able to somehow eventually hook into the camera and it would pop up on the computer.

Now, no luck. Dead! So that led me to deciding finally to download Windows 7 and loading it on my Vista computer…. But THAT process has now taken two days and my computer keeps on rejecting it!!! I am currently using my work lap top to write these words, as my computer has been setting up Windows 7 for about six hours….

In short, between the cold, the video and the Windows I have been running in circles, and going very, and completely MAD.

I did, however, decide that while I might get a little behind on the blog entries, I could not let myself go completely mad. So I went to Ollie’s open mic on Tuesday, and I went to the Highlander open mic last night – and in order to run continuously in circles I took a brief break from the Highlander to walk the 10 minute sprint walk over to the Be There bar on the Ile St. Louis to see a friend’s band. I missed his band, but I saw another, and it was good mad world fun, so check it out – the C*caine Rodeo.

But the highlight for me at Ollie’s was most certainly Victoire’s rendition of “Look What they Done to my Song…” of Melanie. I had mentioned her on this blog a couple of weeks ago after that wonderful women’s night, and I said that I told her she ought to do the Melanie song. She listened to it on my iPhone, liked it, and two weeks later, there she was performing it in public for the first time. She did an excellent job, and I think her voice DOES match up well with it. She was a little more at ease on her next song, but once she gets going on this Melanie one, Victoire will definitely wipe us out.

Now, with the new Q3HD, my videos will be visible!

January 31, 2011

It’s true, I finally managed to buy the Zoom Q3HD video camera and it has all sorts of improvements over the Q3 that I have been using since the beginning of this blog, nearly a year ago. If that sounds like a television commercial, it’s not. But why not? I love the thing.

I bought it Saturday, used it Sunday for the first time, at my brunch at the Mecano and at the Be There open mic. So check out the videos below. Finally there Q3 has a control that allows it to see in the dark, more or less, so that horrible problem I have had of the nearly invisible videos has disappeared. They are now grainy, yes, but at least you can see the musicians as well as hear them. And the sound quality has also been improved with this Q3 going up to 98,000 hz and 24bit sound. (The other was 44 or 48 hz.)

The brunch started quietly, but picked up and there were a few new performers, and it was a great pleasure. At Be There I managed to get some videos where you can actually see this dynamic, young new band called La Ronge, that I already mentioned a few weeks ago.

A Squat, a Brunch and a Be There

January 17, 2011

I have reported in the past about a squat art space in Paris, it was called 0XIII and it ended up being raided by the cops and closed down. Well, it seems the same gang found another location, much more chic, much more private, and much more music-friendly.

This one is called 08, and it is located near the the Place de la Madeleine and Place de la Concorde. It is on several floors, and in the basement is a great area for bands to play, with even a way of people in the upper floors to look down and listen – as you can see from a few seconds of video I took of the drummer from above.

Among the bands were one of my favorite young bands in Paris, Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes. And last time I wrote about these guys – playing at the OPA – I said every time I see them they improve. It has happened again. They’re getting some faster tunes and sounds in with the slower more romantic stuff – something I need to do myself. And they sound generally more together than ever. So what do they need to do now to advance? Well, as one spectator said to me, “the smiling tomatoes never smile….” No problem!@!!

There was another cool duo, a guy on drums and a man on vocals and guitar – very primitive drum beat manic stuff.

And I enjoyed – for a minute or two – the gypsy jazz trio just jamming on the first floor. In fact, I managed to borrow the guitar for one song of my own, which I apologized would not be manouche, and not manically fast…. But the lead guy played along with me, and I enjoyed blasting it out.

That was Saturday night. Sunday turned into a double-header as I did my brunch from 3 PM to near 7 PM and I then went to an open mic I had long heard of but never visited. The open mic was quieter than last week, but I enjoyed hearing Rym and Elise doing a duo, among other songs. I also enjoyed using my new vocal harmony machine, which splits my voice into three-or-so-part harmony, and adds some sorely needed depth on certain songs.

The open mic I mentioned runs on Sundays and starts around 8 PM, and it is in a bar called “Be There.” It is located on the Ile St. Louis, which makes going to it a certain pleasure if you are not in the habit of going to the Ile St. Louis – which is sort of out of the way, despite being right in the center of Paris.

The small bar on two floors is very open and kind to musicians, and I felt great and relaxed – and well-oiled after my brunch – and so I followed a full-fledged band with no problem at all. This open mic is interesting in that it DOES allow full-fledged bands. There is a drum set read at hand, an amp, PA system, a perfect set up for bands. And although the place is mostly about rock & roll, the open mic accepts all kinds of music, acoustic and other.

The one constant, however, is that “Be There” insists that musicians play their own compositions, not cover songs. I liked that, and I played “Since You Left Me,” “Borderline,” and “Let Me Know.”

For me the revelation of the evening was a band of young musicians from various suburbs of Paris. Called, La Ronge, the band had some original sounds, and some charisma. I thought this band could go places in the young band music scene in Paris. The keyboard player sang most of the songs, and had some charisma, but one of the guitarists who also sang was a little disadvantaged by less sound on his mic. A band to watch.

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