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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….

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!

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