Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Total Musical Release and Relief at the Blues-sphere in Liege, Belgium

August 27, 2016
bradspurgeon

blues-sphere

blues-sphere

LIEGE, Belgium – That was easily one of the longest periods that I have ever gone in the more than six years of this blog without putting up a post. In fact, and of course, it was almost one of the longest periods during that same period where I did not go out and play music in public somewhere, crying out my insides on stage for all those willing to subject themselves to it. And it all goes down to my summer vacation, which was spent entirely working on my job writing and writing and writing, and doing all sorts of other administrative chores that I really don’t even want to have to think about, let alone talk about. And it all ended last night in Liège, at the Friday night jam of the Blues-sphere club not far from the Meuse in this fabulous Belgian city.

The Blues-sphere is a really classic kind of blues-jazz bar with a long front entrance leading into a room full of photographs of historical blues and jazz musicians, with a big stage with keyboards and drums, and a multi-pronged room allowing for every kind of spectator – from those who want to listen, to those who want to talk. A great sound system, and above all, a barman-manager who not only loves music, but also loves to get up and play his harmonica from time to time when he feels inspired by the music.

I’ve written about the Blues-sphere before, and I’ve probably usually mentioned about how intimidated I am about going to this very cool venue outre-Meuse because it is so much Blues and so little mainstream pop or rock – at least in my perception of it each time I go. But last night, debating with myself as to whether or not I should go, I found myself realizing that I had really no excuses whatsoever, and having overcome a few of the biggest hurdles of my year in other levels, I decided I needed the break, and the first time on stage in more than three weeks….
Third at the Blues sphere in Liege

So I went with much trepidation. I need not have worried. It turned out to be just the elixir that I needed. I was also very lucky in finding that at this open jam evening there was a crew of people from nearby Aachen who were there and looking for someone to play along with – they were a bass player, guitarist, keyboard player, and a local drummer. And I said, “Sure, but forget the blues with me!” Well, except to the extent that all rock and pop comes somehow from blues roots. Pretty much.
Interpretation at the Blues sphere in Liege

So we got up after some pretty fabulous local musicians – and an American from a nearby Dutch town – and we played whatever came into our heads. I got to exchange between leading the group with my guitar and vocals on my songs, to playing along with the bass player doing his songs and singing. I was almost invisible during those moments, as my capacity to really jam is somewhat limited! But sometimes that’s the best thing, is to be invisible on stage.
First at the Blues sphere in Liege

In any case, it was a fabulous night of music and human warmth at the Blues-sphere, and it recharged my batteries, and I highly recommend this venue to anyone wanting to recharge theirs….
Second at the Blues sphere in Liege


Fourth at the Blues Sphere

Fifth at the Blues sphere in Liege

From Two Down Venues to an Up Moment in a Public Square, Playing in Liège

August 26, 2015
bradspurgeon

blues-sphere

blues-sphere

Belgium? Liège? My weekend across the border turned out to be my least interesting in recent years in Belgium. So I just want to post a few words before moving on to more fun times at the open mics in Paris in the coming days.

The whole trip from Thursday to Sunday in Liège might have taken another turn, but the new open mic/jam session that I seemed to notice on the Internet on Thursdays was impossible for me to attend, as I had an important meeting Thursday night for my job (which is why I’m sent there in the first place!)….


First bit of jamming at the Blues-Sphere in Belgium.

So I took the first opportunity to explore on Friday night, with the Surlet open mic and the Blues-Sphere open mic being the only ones left for the weekend, according to my research and knowledge. But when I showed up at the Surlet – on rue Surlet – I found it to have apparently transformed itself into a laid back chicha bar with no music “in sight.”


Second bit of jamming at the Blues-Sphere in Liège.

That was a disappointment, obviously, as the rare number of open mics in Liège seems to have been diminished even more – although I’ll have to confirm that before removing the Surlet from my open mic list for Liège. I then walked up the street to the Blues-Sphere bar, which has one of the city’s best known jam sessions, on Friday night.
<a href="http://

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>A moment of me playing in the public square in Liège, caught and tweeted by one of my colleagues.

But entering the bar for probably the fourth year in a row I was still recognized by no one, and when I asked for a beer and noticed that they practically only had Leffe on draught, I said I wanted any beer at all except Leffe. So the guy served me some kind of strawberry or raspberry flavored beer, which I felt was a reaction to what he took for a not-very-macho dislike of Leffe! I took it as an insult, but made no comment, and simply drank the beer, which was nevertheless tasty as a fruit juice.

As I drank it, I watched the jam go on, and at no point did any musician or organizer approach me to ask if I wanted to take part, although everyone saw my guitar bag. So listening to the jam, pure blues, pure electric, I said to myself finally, “I don’t need this. In the past, I’d have taken to the stage just to mark my territory in Liège. But this time, I have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all myself, and I just don’t see the point of invading the stage and doing a couple of songs that are not the blues….”

So I finished my beer when their set ended, and I left without anyone saying a word to me about whether I wanted to play or not. No problem. The Blues-Sphere is a very cool club, but not really for me this last weekend – despite having spent some cool nights playing there, maybe twice on stage as I had come too late last year, I think….

Still, I never give up on my open mic mission attending the Formula One races, and on Saturday night I went out to dine with some colleagues, and brought my guitar with me – just in case, and as I always do when checking out the terrain. We had a fabulous meal in an Italian restaurant, and then went bar-hopping in the Carré district, and on the way back to the hotel I suddenly felt the inspiration and need to whip out the guitar and play a few songs in a public square. I was then joined by a local North African guy who did a rap in French while I played the backing sound on the guitar – my Gibson J-200.

That moment in the square was more fun than anything I’d have done at either the Surlet or the Blues-Sphere, so I considered the musical part of the weekend to be a success of a kind after all…. But not the kind I really seek out at open mics. Liège seems to be dying, musically….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Belgium

September 6, 2014
bradspurgeon

liege

liege

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.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Belgium since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Yes, yes, for those who are very alert, you might realize that I am writing these words from Monza, Italy, that Belgium was the race I attended two weeks ago. I admit, I am behind schedule on this one by one race – but the Italy section will be done pronto!!!

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Liège Edition

August 25, 2013
bradspurgeon

LIEGE, Belgium – For my 12th city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Liège, Belgium 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 success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Musically, Liège is More Than Meets the Eye for Open Jams

liege

liege

You might not expect that Liège would be such a lively city musically, but there is music all over, and jams sessions in bars aplenty. The problem is the jams are constantly changing location, and they start and fold at an even greater rate than in many larger cities, in my experience. For the moment, I have only a couple of places on my list. I have been unable to find out if the third place I intended to visit this weekend is still operating its jam, but if I find it is, I will add it to the list. I may in the near future also decide to add the couple of open mics I know of in Brussels. But in the interest of getting this edition of the guide set up now, while still in Liège, I am putting it up with the only two open mice/jams I currently am sure of.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

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.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Liège Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Jammin’ at the Classy Blues-sphere Venue in Liège, Belgium

August 24, 2013
bradspurgeon

blues-sphere

blues-sphere

Liège, Belgium – On this, my fifth year of my worldwide open mic adventure, I think no other city that I visit has the distinction of providing me with a different place to play almost every year the way Liège has. And that is not necessarily a good distinction: Unfortunately, each year that I come here a place I jammed at the previous year no longer exists.

But so far, the good thing is that each time I come here I DO find another place to play. Last night, I actually had two choices, on the same street, less than 10 minutes’ walk from my hotel. Last night, I visited both the Surlet bar and the Blues-sphere bar, both located on the rue Surlet, in downtown Liège, in Outremeuse.

I was with a work colleague after a long day at the track, and so I felt I had to decide between to the two venues and not do both of them the same night as I would otherwise have done. So we visited both of them, and I was welcomed warmly by each.

Each of these bars holds an open jam session on the Friday night in Liège. The Surlet is a little more open, from what I could tell, allowing any music anyone wishes to play. But last night I had the sense also that it was pretty much loud rock and pop oriented.

The True Open Jam Approach at the Blues-sphere

When I arrived around 10 PM, it was not particularly well attended, either, but the musicians were just warming up. I went to the Blues-sphere and found it deep in the action. The downside was it was geared specifically to jazz and blues, and I’m not adept at either. But the delightfully friendly and encouraging Jean-Paul (I think his name is!) who runs the bar and the jam, said I was welcome to play something as long as it approached the jazz blues area, rather than something purely in the pop vein.

The room has a fabulous feel to it, the stage in the corner was irresistible and the sound was excellent. The walls were decorated with photos of musicians, there were tables spotted about the place and a very well attended open jam with many spectators and musicians made it so I had an easy choice to make: I settled for the Blues-sphere.

As I said, I would have performed at both places under different circumstances. But as it was, I was really pleased with my choice, as I got to do two songs – Wicked Game and Mad World – and I had a drummer, bassist, lead guitar player and pianist (on the first song) play along with me. And a receptive, warm, audience.

Th Blues-sphere, according to Jean-Paul, has been in operation in this spot for about a year, and before that they had organized jams in two or three other spots over the last two years. The place hosts concerts at other times, mostly blues and jazz, like the jam. It has very much the look and feel of a New York jazz bar, and I was delighted to play there.

A Better Musical Scene Than Meets the Eye in Liège

The level of many of the musicians – there was a very good 15-year-old guitarist, by the way – was such that it reinforced my feeling about the musicality of Liège, and made me realize that if I could spend more time in the city and seek out more places, I’d probably find a much richer musical scene than the one I have found so far with each successive bar closing down or jam stopping. I was very sad to see on Thursday night, for instance, that the famous Bouldou bar and venue in the center of town where I had played two years ago was now boarded up and looking like a ghost house. All done. Just like the Café L’Art from 2009-2010. I am now hoping that the jam I attended at the Cuba Libré bar last year is still around and holding a jam and that I will finally be able to play in the same place twice!

Jamming in Liege, With a Little Help From My Friend

September 2, 2012
bradspurgeon

I had just reached the conclusion that I would finally have to admit defeat here in Liege. For the first time on my worldwide musical adventure this year I thought I would have no chance of finding an open mic or open jam session in the country where I have been sent to work on my job as a Formula One journalist. Oh, there was the possibility of packing my bags and going to Brussels tonight after the race, but the weekend had been so hugely packed with unforeseen events – read, the broken down car – that I did not really want to do that. Enter my friend Sofiane Hamzaoui.

Brad Spurgeon’s podcast interview in French with David and Franco of the El Cuba Libre open jam session in Liege, Belgium:

It was, in fact, another one of those cases of how this worldwide adventure now in its fourth year has expanded, grown and blossomed as I pick up friends, contacts and musical acquaintances around the world and get a better and better understanding of the musical venues and vibes in each place. I had met Sofiane at a place called l’Art Cafe where I had jammed on a previous trip to Liege, and we had remained in touch through Facebook.

Recently, in fact, Sofiane and I learned we had even more in common than just music, as he told me about his documentary film about metal music that he has just completed and for which he sent me a link on YouTube. I thought he did a fabulous job and enjoyed it immensely, so I’m sharing it here. But the big news yesterday was that suddenly Sofiane said he thought he had the answer to my problem of trying to find a place in Liege to jam.

It had turned out, by the way, that all the places I went to in the past in Liege are closing down. I arrived on the doorstep of the great Bouldou bar on Thursday to find it blacked out and boarded up and out of business. L’Art Cafe had already closed down when I came last year, as have other venues.

But Sofiane told me of a new jam taking place near the Art Cafe ruin, and which runs on Saturday nights. He said he knew the drummer who is one of the organizers, and he gave me all the information, and I went and found not only that the event was indeed running – minus the drummer, who was ill – but that it was also being run by the former owner of the Art Cafe, David, who is also a guitar player.

The venue is called El Cuba Libre, and it is located at 7 rue St. Leonard, and is owned and operated by the friendly and music-loving Franco. Don’t worry about the name of the bar, the music crosses all styles, mostly rock and blues, and has nothing to do with Cuban, or Latin, music. The jam has existed only around two months, but the bar has been around for more than a decade.

Both Franco and David told me that bar after bar is closing down in Liege due to the financial crisis, and also due to new anti-smoking laws that are making life difficult. Franco had never held a musical event at his bar, but he is now apparently addicted. Check out the podcast I did with him and David, another in the series of podcasts that I have been doing this year.

I was delighted because not only did I hear some great music and play with some cool musicians, but I also continued on my goal of recording myself playing with local musicians in every country I visit this year – all 20 of those. Once again, just as I felt like I was ready for failure, I found myself persisting and getting lucky. It was all thanks to Sofiane – there was no web presence for this new jam or for the bar itself – check out his documentary, and if you have any ideas on how to get it distributed or sold to a TV station – send them in.




Stalled Out Between Paris and Belgium

August 26, 2011
bradspurgeon

Suddenly three days appear to have disappeared on the Weblog. No, I have not become a slacker. I did actually attend the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic on Tuesday night, but I had much work to do to prepare for my trip to Belgium – where I write these words – and a slow internet connection here and there. And then there was drive from Paris to Belgium. The result is not a weblog but a backlog. But great stuff at the Ptit Bonheur, and a little letdown and a bit of bonheur in Belgium.

I was particularly happy on Tuesday evening to see my favorite Paris poetess, the wonderful Lisa Marie Guilbot, who writes clever and piercing short poems mostly about love – of one kind or another – and who has a very enticing reading delivery of the poems. She goes to Ollie’s open mic occasionally and it’s always a nice break from the music.

This time Ollie was on holiday and it was Rachel Crocker (it should be “Rocker”) who did the MCing, and who opened with her cool songs accompanying herself on the ukelele. I uploaded a video of her too, but somehow the lousy internet connection meant it did not make it….

The other amazing and wonderful meeting at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance was with Fabien Fabre. I had seen this guy at another open mic several times, and he stands out enormously as he is virtually the only performer who specializes in a weird and wacky humorous singing and songwriting. We spoke for a while and I learned that he is not only an open mic addict, but he is an artist of the bicycle. Fabre makes extraordinary bicycles out of pure materials. Check out his stuff at Fabien Fabre Bicyclettes.

The Musical Story in Liege

Upon arriving in Liege, Belgium yesterday, however, I learned that the jam session I intended to attend at the famous Bouldou bar was not taking place in the summer, and I’m not even sure it will continue. I also learned the terrible news that the Art Cafe closed down. This Art Cafe jam was the open session I had hoped to take part in on Sunday evening, as it was a high point of my musical adventure in Liege last year and the year before.

The Art Cafe ran into the same problem facing such musical venues and bars in so many parts of the world – what is really hurting Paris too – that residents wants cities to be quiet now so bylaws are being written and enforced to cut out live music. And close down the bars and venues if they don’t obey – or the places close down because they cannot afford to do the work needed to make the bars soundproof.

The good part of the whole story was that I did meet up with Raph Charron again. He is the one I speak of in the post on the link above, describing my experience at the Art Cafe last year. Raph and I talked music at Bouldou and then managed to shoot a video interview for my open mic film, with Raph reminiscing on the Art Cafe and talking about the music scene in Liege.

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