Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Backing Poetry Beauty, Open Mic Playing and Gig, Part II of the Whirlwind Adventures

April 8, 2016

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The adventures continue now in Paris, after the weekend in Bahrain and that last night of craziness mentioned in the previous post. Well, no sooner did I return home than I received a message from an old friend whom I had met at open mics a few years ago, and who recites poetry. She wondered if I could accompany her on my guitar while she recited her poetry, in French and in English. If you ever saw and heard this woman recite her poetry, then you know that I would never refuse such an offer….

So off I went on Tuesday late afternoon to practice with her and see if we could come up with some chords and rhythm for her poems in English and in French. We got it down in an hour, then trundled off to the Café Oz open mic, where Lisa Marie – the poet – wowed the crowd and I felt for the first time in my life comfortable accompanying someone on my guitar. Unfortunately, I could not make a video of her incredible performance, her outrageous poetry, which sometimes has themes that shock, surprise or titillate – like comparing a certain part of the male anatomy to the leaning tower of Pisa in the final lines of the suggestive poem….
Brad Spurgeon doing Except Her Heart at Soirée Buzz

From there it was off to the Pigalle Country Club, the scene of the crime of a couple weeks earlier, where a woman used my Seagull as a dance floor. I was not going to allow anyone to discourage me from attending my favorite Paris haunts, especially when I knew there was nothing personal to that attack on the poor Seagull. And my feelings were confirmed when within half an hour of attending this raucous open mic I barely missed being struck by someone else’s nice new acoustic guitar being hurtled across the room by a frustrated guitarist. Somehow the guitar resisted snapping to pieces upon landing at the foot of the microphone. (I swear I am not making this up!!!)
Brad Spurgeon doing Mad World at the Tres Honoré

This was no environment for poetry of ANY kind, so I simply took to the mic and jammed away with some old friends and other musicians at the Pigalle Country Club, playing for maybe half an hour and feeling triumphant to be doing so with my Seagull – which accompanied me wherever I happened to move in the bar throughout the evening.
Brian Scott Bagley performing at his Soirée Buzz

Late Wednesday afternoon – we’re in the next day already – I suddenly recalled that I had received a telephone message from a musician friend. I called him back to find that he was offering me a gig that very night at the crazy mad Soirée Buzz open mic at the very chic Très Honoré cocktail lounge on the Place du Marché St. Honoré. It was to start at 9 PM, and I would play until 10 PM, and be paid with a free meal and drinks! This I liked, and despite still recovering from the excitement of the previous days, I accepted.
Another bit of jamming at Soiree Buzz green room

No sooner did I accept than I invited the poetess to the evening as well, since after my feature act performance the evening turns into that crazy mad open mic, hosted and organized by the inimitable Brian Scott Bagley, American male cabaret and burlesque artist. And I KNEW that my poetess’s poetry would go down well at the Très Honoré.
Another act at the Soirée Buzz

So I arrived, showed the house band a few chords of the songs I thought I’d play – my own songs as well as some covers – and off we went to playing on this chic stage in this basement room, darkly lit and feeling like some purposeful high class contrast to the Pigalle Country Club. It would turn out to be what is the longest period of time I’ve spent playing with a band that has never played my songs before, as we did about four of my originals and four cover songs, and somehow it all felt just great. It got me to thinking about what it really means to play with really great musicians who can follow anything! Having now seen it on video, well, I could have done a lot better! But I include a couple of videos taken by my friend, Mr. Lafleur, who invited me to the soirée, and whose new album I will write about later….
Fun in the green room of the Soirée Buzz

Of course, it was all helped by the fact that I had my faithful lead-playing fiddle player, Joe Cady, who agreed to come and provide the necessary color between the drums and bass and my rhythm guitar playing. But somehow, it all felt like it held together, and it was a personal moment of satisfaction of doing something I never thought possible: IE, playing a series of my own songs respectfully with a band who had never even heard them before, let alone play them.
Second at Café Oz Open Mic

I also spent some fun moments in the artist’s “Green Room,” which actually has a green theme of wallpaper, and listened to and jammed with some of them. And there discussed the idea of doing our act again with Lisa Marie. She was all ready, we went on stage, and if the night before it had been my first challenge to accompany the poetess, well, it then grew into another challenge for both of us, as we were also joined by the drummer, bass player and Joe on the fiddle! And as predicted, her poetry was more than well received in this crazy mad, chic environment – to say nothing of her appropriate personal beauty.
Syd and Co at Pigalle Country Club

And so it went, from unpredictable to unpredictable, a series of musical adventures that I had never imagined Sunday morning as I awoke in the heat of Bahrain…. Tonight, another one awaits….

December Wilderness in Open Mics in Paris

December 10, 2015

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

PARIS – December, along with August, are the cruellest months in Paris. When it comes to open mics, that is. It’s like, let’s close down and disappear during holiday period. So was the theme on both Tuesday and Wednesday as I sought out the open mics in Paris.

Tuesday was the best. That’s where I had five or six open mics in mind to attend, including trying out the Feline open mic for the first time, on the new and fabulous stage that his hip cool bar has created by tearing down some useless little corners in the back of the place. But when I arrived, I found that due to a zero number of musicians, the open mic had been cancelled for the night. Next edition? Tuesday, 5 January.

So then I thought, OK, there’s always Brislee Adams and his Café Oz open mic at the Blanche metro. But at the Feline they warned me that they believed there was no open mic at the Café Oz. So I left, thinking of the third place I had in mind, in the same neighbourhood. In fact, I also checked my Facebook and found that indeed, due to a sports game on television, the Oz open mic had been cancelled. Make up your minds, bar people, sports or music!!!

So I walked down Oberkampf and made my way over to the third choice, the new Zebre Rouge bar open mic, run by Paul Cash. He thought there were not a lot of people present, but given there was no one present at the other joints, the five, six maybe more were really lots when you think about it. And I had a great time playing at the Zebre Rouge, and particularly hearing Paul’s virtuoso piano playing. (Although his accompaniment on my songs was…more difficult!)
Classic piano and harmonica at Zebre Rouge open mic in Paris

So I made a pretty early night of it on Tuesday, returned home, and then on Wednesday, last night, I said, well, there’s always the Highlander. Without fail there is the Highlander. But I decided in fact that because I had done that mainstay last week, I’d check out the Soirée Buzz at the Très Honoré bar restaurant and cocktail lounge.

This Très Honoré always promises a great show, with its fabulous house musicians, and thanks to the usual host – Brian Scott Bagley – there are usually a number of Burlesque dancers taking part too. This is part open mic, part cabaret, part live karaoké, the whole in an atmosphere of luscious wealth and snobbery.

In fact, it was so cold out last night and I was so badly dressed for the cold that when I arrived I asked for a Cognac – instead of a beer or wine – and also asked at the same moment, “How much?” The response made me feel even colder: €50. Yes, you got it, the price of a bottle of Cognac. So I asked what was the cheapest drink, and they suggested a glass of wine for €9. That was doable, and anyway, after I sang, I was given another glass of wine for my troubles….
House band warming up at Tres Honore open mic

But back to the theme of the blog: In fact, while the show was great, while there were some saving graces of the Burlesque dancers, and while the house band was fabulous as usual, I think it was pretty obvious that the usual musician contingent for the open mic were taking their Christmas holidays already, because there were not many of us! (Not to mention that Brian Scott Bagley was also not able to be there, so his job was taken by someone else – and well done.)

On my way out the door, early, I ran into some colleagues from work, and in one fell swoop my entire evening was saved – and I even got to play some more music for them, and they were more appreciative than the crowd in the basement room. Well, until I left a few hours later and got a compliment from one of the spectators as I left, about my Cat Stevens song.
First performer at Très Honoré open mic in Paris

So that is the approaching-Christmas-report of open mics in Paris, and their dissipating crowds….

Très Honoré to Play at the Très Honoré Soirée Buzz, With Bagley and Gang

January 9, 2014

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The moment Brian Scott Bagley told me he was hosting a new open mic in Paris at the Très Honoré bar off the place du Marché St Honoré, I knew instantly what I was going to do on Wednesday night. It turns out that I have been missing a fabulous open mic now for some four months or so, as that is how long Bagley’s open mic, which he calls, Soirée Buzz, has been going on. And is it ever going on!

I knew I wanted to attend immediately, since I had met Bagley at another open mic a while back – and wrote about him on this blog – and I knew he is an exceptional performer and would no doubt make a great MC and run a fabulous open mic. Oh, I had my fears and doubts for my own performance, of course, since Bagley specializes in song and dance, even working with the great Jerome Savary in France, and as a burlesque dancer, a former contestant in American Idol, and as a graduate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But when I learned that the Soirée Buzz was open to music and cabaret acts of just about any kind, I realized that I could take to the mic without embarrassment.

As it turned out, I would find myself in a much warmer environment than I expected. The moment I walked into the Très Honoré – which is also très cher by comparison to most of the venues I write about, by the way – I found myself not only in a fabulous warm room in the basement of the restaurant, with couches and armchairs, dark lit, large, two upright pianos placed in different spots, but I also found myself listening to lots of cool music on the sound system – from Johnny Cash to Yiddish music – while eating canapés and drinking wine as I waited for the show to begin. But most importantly, I also immediately recognized a friend from the Coolin open mic, Henry, who sings and plays keyboards and it turns out he is part of Bagley’s house band. Soon, another familiar face arrived, and that was Vincent Lafleur, who plays the piano and sings and was also a member of the house band.

So there it was, three people in the house band – if you include Bagley – were faces and friends I already knew. Still, with such talent present, with a full band – including sax, drums and bass in addition to the two keyboard players playing at once – I was worried I might find myself out of my league. But I decided to sit back and take in the evening for my own entertainment. And boy did it turn out to be entertaining. What an open mic! There were dancers, burlesque, singers, an accordionist who also tap danced, there were complete beginners mixed with old hands and even stars.

And Then There Were the Secret Stars at the Soirée Buzz

This high class open mic, it turns out, in its short existence has attracted stars and other personalities – at least in the audience – such as Yannick Noah, Ségolène Royal and John Malkovich, and Le Figaro newspaper has written about it too. So part of me had wondered before going who might pop in….

One of the last group of performers was a couple sitting beside me, who I had barely noticed there. When they got up to take to the stage and do a couple of numbers with the guy on piano and singing and the woman singing, it was the end of the evening and there had been several amazing performances in the second part of the show backed by the full band, etc., and I sort of expected something uninteresting for some reason. But from the first notes on the piano and then the guy’s voice, and then the woman’s, suddenly I was saying, “Wow, this is really interesting sounding pop music.” It was inventive and catchy, and there was something really original to the voices. So after this couple played I approached them to ask if they had a web site, and it turned out they were friends, not really a group, and had nothing to show. I told them I had a blog and would put something up and asked if I could have their names. When the guy gave me his, I thought I had heard of it before, but I wasn’t sure and I said exactly that to him. He didn’t say anything to suggest I should have heard of it – except something about Stringfellow bars or restaurants being in Paris, as if perhaps it had rung a bell for that reason – and so I just left it at that. (And by then, anyway, the final stupendous singer had kicked in and I turned my camera on her….) So today, at home while preparing to write this post, I looked up that familiar sounding name and discovered that this guy Ken Stringfellow was a founding member of the band The Posies, and that he had also frequently collaborated and toured with the band R.E.M., among many other projects, including solo albums. So it all fell into place! The woman he was with was Mimi Schell, who is a singer from Hamburg, Germany, and who has worked as a back up singer and also released a solo album. She got the audience at the Très Honoré buzzing on their second song, so much so that Bagley asked for a short encore of the chorus….

I was also massively pleased to discover on stage this time another aspect of Raphaëlle’s talent. I have written about Raphaëlle in the past on this blog, particularly when I first heard her at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance last year and I felt like I was hearing someone singing in the Olympia, like some Greco or Barbara or someone. For the last year, Raphaëlle has been focusing exclusively on performing her own compositions – for which she writes the lyrics and sings while playing guitar – but last night in addition to playing two of her songs on the guitar she then blew everyone away with her interpretation of “I am a Stranger Here Myself,” by Kurt Weill from “One Touch of Venus.” Amazing.

My only criticism of the whole evening was that they must do something about that microphone; not only was there no reverb or other effect of any kind, but for half of the singers you could not hear their voices as much as you might like, since the system seemed to cut out whenever the voice reached a certain peak….

Although most people who took part decided to use the house band for their singing, this open mic is indeed open to solo artists as well. In the end, I was absolutely delighted to be able to play with the band with my guitar and try my song “Borderline” with another kind of sound – two keyboards, drums, and above all the amazing sax player, Olivier Ikeda. Raphaëlle kindly recorded my performance with her iPhone. It was not an easy song to pick up on, with three different chord shifts, but starting around the middle of the song it all began to fall together. I loved it. The first song we did was much easier, the simple three-chord “Wicked Game.”

And the whole evening was especially so incredibly well MC’d by Brian Scott Bagley. A simply unforgettable Wednesday night. I’ll be returning!

Wonderful Discoveries at the Orphee Open Mic in Pigalle – Including the Male Josephine Baker

September 14, 2012

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

I think I said that it had to be uphill from here yesterday. And yet, wow, was I surprised last night to find myself in an open mic I had never heard of, never played in, never knew of, and found it to be a unique experience with different people. I’m talking about the Orphée club in Pigalle, where I had to ask a neighboring boutique – a karaoké bar – where the Orphée was. “I’ll show you, come this way,” said the woman; and she led me to the door of what looked like an apartment building right next to the karaoke, to show me the buzzer into the Orphee.

There, I found myself as if in someone’s living room – and for all I know, I was – and on the piano was my friend Vincent Lafleur, who had sent the invitation by Facebook. No wait, not quite. Someone else was on the piano at that moment, because it was indeed an open mic. And Vincent was off somewhere else as the other man played. Then Vincent returned and named the next act.

It was an open mic like none other, because it really was like someone’s living room. A long venue room, with a bar near the front, the piano along a wall, a separate smoking room, and darkness so dark that I looked ten years younger. And felt even younger than that. LOVED IT. This was a real feeling of a private club, a jam and open mic night in an almost 1930s Berlin kind of environment.

The music was mostly soul, though, so my own brand of stuff had a little bit of a hard time fitting in – but I didn’t care; there was a mic and I had my guitar, and there was an audience.

Thank goodness, though, that I got to do my songs before the mic and “stage” area were taken over by two American men with similar sounding names. One was Brian and the other Bryant. First Bryant took to the mic with piano and then guitar, and I heard this velvety smooth soul thing. Then the two suddenly stormed the floor and exploded the joint with a kind of gospel American hallelujah stuff and strutting and dancing that just drove the crowd of cocktail sniffers wild.

Bryant was from LA, and Brian was from Baltimore. I learned this after being impressed with their stuff and saying basically, “Where the hell are you guys from?!?” And I was very keen to figure out exactly what they were doing in Paris. But I did not get quite all the information before Brian, the rest of his name being Scott Bagley – ie, Brian Scott Bagley – took to the mic to perform his solo song, with Vincent on the musical side of things. This too exploded into a massive bit of choreography, an abandoning of the mic all together, and a finale with the splits.

No, no, wait. No. There’s something going on here, I thought. This is not just your regular open mic kind of performer. So I went to talk to Mr. Bagley, and what did I learn? Well, simply, that I had PART III to my tales of meeting at open mics the former famous candidates of television reality music competition programs. In this case, American Idol. Mr. Bagley, it turned out, was a star graduate of American Idol – after my meeting with those French twins named Twem, and that amazing woman at the Cavern, Sarah Manesse, of X-Factor.

But just like happened in the case of Sarah, I actually never learned from Brian that he had done American Idol. That’s something I learned when coming home afterwards and checking him out on the Internet. What I learned at the Orphee open mic was that Brian had moved to Paris seven years ago, that he had come working in a revue about the 1920s performer Josephine Baker, and that he had actually played the role of Josephine Baker himself. I recalled that the New York Times and International Herald Tribune had written a story about the play, and I learned that he was involved with plenty of jobs as a choreographer, dancer and singer, and he loves the “old school” stuff for what it has to say to us today.

I could go on and on, but the best thing to do would be to check out the links I’ve put in here. And to go off to see his one-man musical spectacle every Sunday at the Theatre la Cible in Pigalle, called “Cabaret Me – I’m Famous.” The guy is an enormous talent. I was soooo happy that I had not heard and seen him and Bryant perform BEFORE I went up to do my number.

But my huge, huge regret was that I had walked out of my apartment without my Zoom Q3HD recorder and so I had to depend on my iPhone for the videos – and both the image and the sound is crap. How can I keep doing that!?!

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