Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Belgium

September 6, 2014



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

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



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



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!

Not Amused, Brad Was A-Meused

August 27, 2011

Another night of negatives in Liege, as one of the city’s main jam session bars was closed for the summer – and opens in a few days from now. It was my second night in the Belgian city and the second night that I found jams closed for the summer, closed for good. I couldn’t take it. So I took my guitar down to the river Meuse at midnight and played “Mad World,” on a walkway as late-night pedestrians passed by clapping and stomping to the rhythm. It is indeed a mad world.

Check out at the halfway point of this video where a couple of guys show up in front of me clapping and stomping time with the rhythm before they head off:

Actually, I played four songs. It’s too difficult to go more than a day or two without music, and it was too late to play at the hotel. The Friday night jam takes place at a bar called the Surlet, and is apparently one of the best in the city.

Since I began this worldwide open mic adventure, I have always worried about the fact that a number of races happen during a period that many bars use to close down for the summer holidays. Fortunately I have never until now been affect by it. But since there is nothing left in Liege, I decided that I will go to Brussels for my final night in Belgium, tomorrow night. I know there are at least two jams there.

P.S. At 1 AM I decided to take my unicycle in go for a spin down the same walkway where I played – along with a few other late-night cyclists. It rained, of course, but it was easy to ride with the umbrella.

Art Cafe in Liege Renews the faith, and also love of Brel

August 28, 2010

Yet again the lesson gets learned: Never give up hope. As my post from yesterday indicated, I thought I had no chance in Liege to find a place to sing during this end of summer break. Wrong!

I had found the Art Café last year, and I remembered that the place had a Wednesday jam session every week. But when I turned up last year on the Friday, I was told that exceptionally they would have a jam on the Sunday after the F1 race. So I went and had a wonderful evening of music in this dynamic little bar. They called it a café, but it is a bar (that’s Belgian).

So I drove directly from the race track yesterday to the Art Café, and I walked in to find a live, bubbly crowd. In fact, not quite true. I looked at the posters on the window facing the street and learned that there would be live music with a band or two last night.

So I went in, saw the drum set on the stage, and asked if there would be live music.

“No,” said the man behind the bar, whose name is Raph, and who has a band of his own.

I asked if there was a jam over the weekend, and he said, “No, only on Wednesdays.”

I looked disappointed, of course. And he said, “But if you want to go up and play now, you can. But we have no amp or mic set up so you’ll just have to play up there on the stage just like that.”

I happily accepted. The Art Café has a great atmosphere with a lot of young people, lots of musicians passing through – in fact there was a guy with a guitar sitting in the back when I arrived, although he did not play. It is fairly narrow, dark, and has a wonderful little stage and generally has a hip and cool feel to it.

I went up on stage and played somewhere close to 10 songs, and with several of them I found the crowd clapping and singing along – like with “Mad World,” “Baby Blue,” and “Father and Son,” and maybe one or two others. I played only one of my own songs, “Since You Left Me.”

But I was encouraged to continue by Raph, and by members of the audience. That does not mean they were quiet the whole time, they were enjoying themselves – and so was I! Can’t play in my crappy hotel facing the train station, the walls are too thin between rooms, so this was a fabulous release and relief just to be able to go up and sing my heart out.

I stopped in order not to overstay my welcome. But little by little as I spoke to people and the night dragged on and I was invited to play some more, I decided to run across the street to buy a pizza to eat a meal playing more.

As it turned out, the evening would develop into a full-fledged jam. A man named Luc showed up with his acoustic guitar and we did a few songs together – he was a much better guitar player than me, and knew all the rock standards, Beatles, Clapton, you name it. When I began singing “Cat’s in the Cradle,” we were joined by a young musician named Sofiane, who has his own band to be found on myspace as Niagarasound, and he played my guitar and sang a few good songs, like the Nirvana one and others.

Then Raph came along and he joined in with some rock songs, and finally near midnight, with his first love: Jacques Brel. So here I was in Belgium with two Belgians – and then an Algerian/Moroccan woman singer – singing Brel. And that was one of the high moments of the evening for me. So high, in fact, that I decided it was time to pack up the guitar and leave.

I had lost all hope, and found a jackpot. The Art Café renewed my faith in Liege, and Belgium in general….

Powered by