Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

From Montreal to Baku, Azerbaijan – Too Much, Too Fast to Keep Up-to-Date

June 16, 2016

Shirvan shakir's Palace located in the Inner City of Baku, Azerbaijan, It was built in 14-15th century. The Inner City of Baku is in the list UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shirvan shakir’s Palace located in the Inner City of Baku, Azerbaijan,
It was built in 14-15th century.
The Inner City of Baku is in the list UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BAKU, Azerbaijan – What? Baku? And this is supposed to be about Montreal because I was last there and…? I left off on this blog in Wakefield, Quebec, I am now in Baku, Azerbaijan, and I spent the weekend – and more – in Montreal. So what happened to all those adventures?!? Before they fade from mind – which they will never do entirely – I want to take note here of the extraordinary three nights I spent doing open mics across the world. Starting with the fantastic Mariposa Café open mic in Montreal, where I had an incredible meeting with a guy I know from many, many open mics in Paris! Ventru….
another xprime at Brutopia

It was Thursday night, and I had just arrived in Montreal. I had written my story as a preview for the race, and I was pretty exhausted from the travel from Wakefield to Montreal, the story research and writing, and I thought, hey, take the night off the open mic scene. But one of the most interesting and fun open mics of Montreal drew me on, inexorably. Well, especially also because I had heard that a colleague from the paddock, Luis from Brazil, was going to attend.
dylan hennessey at mariposa open mic

So I packed up my courage and my guitar, and headed off to the Mariposa Café open mic that I had discovered last year. Located in a really funky bar/café/restaurant, the open mic was in full swing when I arrived. And it was clear through seeing the crowd and performer through the front window that this was a vintage edition. But what awaited me at the top of the stairs as I entered was, at first, something I took to be an hallucination.
third at mariposa

I see sitting there the performer from Paris who goes by the stage name of “Ventru.” We have done many open mics together for the last three or so years, in Paris, and the last thing I expected was to see him in Montreal. In fact, my brain was sent for a strange ride through its recollection files as it tried to compute how it could be that this Ventru guy was here in Montreal – was it really him? Or did I know him from Montreal, rather than Paris? All sorts of dementia tricks came into play before I realized that it was just simply Ventru on a visit to Montreal and attending an open mic where I was attending, and where, I should say, he half expected to see me!
Brad Spurgeon at mariposa

Anyway, the place was just bursting with performers, audience and vibe. And although I arrived late, my name was on the list as I had warned of my coming in advance, and they have a big heart at the open mic in the Mariposa Café – Victor, the organizer, was awaiting me….
another at brutopia

Ventru destroyed the audience, which was mostly anglophile who spoke some French, but also many French speakers. At least I think there were quite a few! In any case, it was a quiet, respectful audience as usual, and some fabulous performers. Oh, and Ventru filmed my first song – where I was nervous as hell, scared shitless at that attention paid to me, and unpracticed thanks to all the work.
another xprime

And from Mariposa Café to the fabulous night at the Brutopia open mic

Another of my favorite open mics in Montreal is the Sunday night Brutopia bar’s open mic on Crescent Street. I did not attend this one last year, as I chose to try another in another part of town. I ended up missing Brutopia, so there was no problem choosing to return this year.
aussie at brutopia

It started as a quiet night, and by the time the open mic began, there were only two names on the list, including my own. So I feared I had made a bad choice. But as the night progressed, so progressed the number and quality of performers. I could not believe what a fabulous evening it turned in to, and it had one of the those events that I so enjoy at open mics: A fairly well established young band of musicians – or two of the band – decided to go up and expose themselves in the open mic environment, i.e., using instruments not their own, in a makeshift arrangement of mic and sound system, and just going for it.
cool one at brutopia

That was the young band, Xprime, from Niagara Falls. They have a very, very cool sound, but at the same time they were capable of doing one of the neatest, most exact Beatles covers I have ever heard live. This night at Brutopia, in which I got to play twice, or like six songs, was just way beyond my imaginings. A must-attend open mic in Montreal.
duet at brutopia

And from Montreal it was on to Baku and a first – or rather, second – night of open mic

The travel onwards from there was pretty dire. I had an Air France flight from Montreal to Paris for Monday night to Tuesday, and then an Azerbaijani Airlines flight from Paris to Azerbaijan, 3 hours after arriving in Paris. At least, that was the plan. But there was a pilot’s strike in Air France, and the Paris airport and city were embroiled in all sorts of labor actions….
xprime cover

Also, I had a final one of 6 articles to write for my preview to the Le Mans race this weekend, and by consequence did not sleep on the flight from Montreal to Paris. Or only about an hour and a half absolute max. Once in Paris I spent three hours trying to get my boarding pass for Azerbaijan, and then the flight was delayed two hours.
Mc Quentin at Brutopia

So by the time I got to Baku, I was washed out (as the French say). On my first day, though, just before leaving the Formula One circuit, I decided to check out the open mic scene and…FOUND an open mic that was about to begin less than an hour later!!! It looked like it might be the last of the open mics available to me this week, so I jumped on that opportunity immediately.
rapping at brutopia

It is not often that I arrive in a completely new city for me, and find an open mic the first night. This was the last open mic before their summer break at the Pancho’s Mexican/Adam’s Curries bar restaurant. I could not believe my good fortune to find a real, bona fide open mic in the middle of Baku on my first night. (Barring the late night arrival on the first day when my brain was in a state of molasses and it was too late anyway.)
very cool one at brutopia

So I go to this bar, which felt like a cross-section of a little of everything – part Mexican, part curry, part Baku, Turkic Azerbaijani whatever – and found that the MC was from Colombia, the musicians from the U.S., England, Azerbaijan and … Colombia (the MC).
yodelling at brutopia

And so I got to go up and play, and had I not had plans to go out and eat at a real restaurant afterwards instead of the bar, I would have had a chance to play a second set. Oh, and it was so remarkable: The Azerbaijani band actually started off by singing a song in French!!!! You don’t even find that in Paris, let alone Baku.
second at Mariposa

I’m hoping to play at least one more time here, and if I can find more places, even more. For the moment, I can only recommend this amazing city very, very highly. I’m staying in the old town, finding it picturesque and warm and the people are fabulous. I have not been this close to an Iranian type of situation since the Revolution. But it also reminds me of Turkey; another of my favorite places in the world….

first at poncho’s in baku

second at poncho’s

third at Pancho’s

A Bru-typical Night at the Brutopia Open Mic in Montreal

June 1, 2015



MONTREAL – Arrived in Montreal pretty wiped out from a long, long day of travel yesterday. But there was no way I was going to be in Montreal on a Sunday night without hopping over to the Brutopia pub and taking part in one of the best open mics in Montreal.

So that’s where I went after a pizza dinner just up the street at which I was terribly let down by horrendously bad, and expensive, wine. But that’s another story!!!! Brutopia is one of the mainstay open mics of Montreal, and it is located right downtown on Crescent Street, where, during the Formula One racing weekend – next weekend – the street festival and all the off-track fun happens.

But Brutopia might be a pub just about anywhere in the world, were it not for the unmistakable mix of a cosmopolitain crowd, with people from Africa, Europe, Quebec, Ontario, Vietnam and just about everywhere else, along with a great little selection of beers, including local brews, and Canadian accents all over the place.

When I arrived, as usual, the small stage already had a clipboard on it waiting to be signed for a place on the open mic. It is so laid back that you don’t even have to arrive hours ahead of time, but can pretty much sign up all night long and expect a spot on the open mic. The momentum of the evening is such that people who are in the bar without even having thought of playing in the open mic end up singing up….

I got on second on the list, and after the MC opened, and a woman named Sarah from Perth did the horrible job of being the first musician aside from the MC in the open mic to play, I got to go up and relax my way into it.

Warning: Brutopia may be a very large bar, with a very cool stage, and a receptive management and audience for music, but it is far from an easy audience to grab. It’s very much a pub for carousing, and if you don’t hit the right musical chord – as it were – you can be prepared to hear talking throughout. Even if you do hit the right notes, in fact…

Anyway, I’m kind of adding words to this whole thing without saying anything, so I had better stop. Suffice it to say there were some very interesting and fun acts last night, my favorites being the Quebecois who did a great Creedence cover, and Kwa (hope I got his name right!) who did all sorts of interesting electronic things – looping, etc. – with his travel guitar, and vocals. Oh, and the fabulous Michael Jackson cover too….

I plan to be back next Sunday, so keep posted!

Bailout at Successful Brutopia Open Mic Night in Montreal

June 11, 2014



Having finished my weekend of work in Montreal on Sunday night in complete tranquility, and knowing that the Brutopia open mic starts late, and the list is often not made until around 10 p.m., I decided to eat a pizza at a restaurant up Crescent Street and not worry if I only got there at 10:30. I’d been a few times in years past to find it pretty empty, maybe five people on the list. Sunday, it proved fatal for my desire to play – and then put in a full day’s work on Monday morning before returning to Paris: Arriving at Brutopia at 10:30 or earlier, I found that I was No. 17 on the list!!!!

It was jam packed full of musicians and spectators, and there were several groups among the musicians on the list – i.e., major productions to get up and set up. So by about 00:45 I decided it was time to throw in the towel and admit defeat. I left Brutopia without playing, and with probably seven musicians – at three songs each – ahead of me before my turn.

Still, I really enjoyed the evening, the level of musicianship was very high, and the crowd and vibe was wonderful. The venue is one of the more lively and congenial in Montreal, in fact, on a stretch of road that has several pubs with music side-by-side; in fact, it is next door to the Crobar, where I played on the Wednesday evening. It was also great to see Danny Fonfeder again, and to look at, hold, hear and film one of his amazing Blueberry Guitars.

It was only this time that I noticed that the fabulous little stage is also visible from the floor above, but no one ever seems to sit up there, making it an even cooler setup than I ever thought. The evening was again MC’d by the cool Scott, who plays a means new-wave-like music beforehand, but I missed his set this time.

Anyway, that’s enough of run-on sentences and filling space with words between the videos – have a look at the vibe and a listen to the music yourself….

Insanely Fun Open Mic at Brutopia in Montreal

June 11, 2013



It was another insanely fun night at Brutopia, a mainstay open mic of Montreal. I say “insanely” fun because two or three of the acts were quite insane, in fact. A reflection of Montreal?

It was my fourth or fifth time at Brutopia, and again I found it the kind of evening that by the time I left I was thoroughly satiated by the investment of time – and beer money in their microbrewery products. The one thing that it also had in common with previous nights was a bit of a slow beginning with louder sounds coming from the spectators than from the stage.

But that did not last long before the stage activity began to take precedence over the crowd. And in the end, there were enough cool and insane acts to make the whole evening worth it.

Plus I got to hear my friend from Paris, Raphaëlle, doing her amazing songs that I am used to hearing in Paris, and blowing away the crowd completely. I was also joined by a few Formula One journalist colleagues, and while they came during a bit of a down moment in the evening and made me worry I had got them to come to an off-night at Brutopia, things suddenly picked up.

The insane ones? Well, there was MC Puzzle, to start with. This is a white Montreal rap artist of exceptional something – but I’m not sure what! Just check him out…. It was his birthday – apparently – and at the end of his act the MC of the evening – Scott – told the public they ought to by MC Puzzle some beers. A member of the public shouted out: “He oughta be buying us beers!” It was all in fun….

The maddest hatter of them all was the bass player from the band Street Meat, which I had seen last year or the year before. He wore a top hat and played solo bass and sang along. He specializes in a Jerry Lee Lewis lunacy. It was very, very cool.

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Montreal Edition

June 9, 2013

canada open micMONTREAL



For my eighth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Montreal 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.

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.

More Experience Than Existing Open Mics

Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.

Two Mainstay Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Montreal

I do not claim that this worldwide open mic directory is anything other than a quirky Brad Spurgeon centric guide, based mostly on my travel as a journalist following the Formula One series around the world. Montreal, like all cities is a moving target. But for me personally the mainstay joints are Grumpy’s pub and Brutopia pub, both of which offer classic open mics, and Grumpy’s has the added attraction of its open jam sessions of jazz and bluegrass.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Montreal Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

Bravo Brutopia Brews and Open Mic

June 13, 2012

brutopia bar montreal

brutopia bar montreal

A late night at Brutopia pub in Montreal on Crescent Street on my last night in Canada, and a good night there, meant a late posting on this blog – as I flew back to Paris on Monday, worked all day Tuesday and slept for nearly 12 hours to make up for all that! Brutopia was once again one of my best experiences at an open mic in Montreal. It started quietly and slowly, and I wondered what had happened to that great atmosphere I found at Brutopia last year…and then little by little it picked up and became just that same cool evening once again.

I showed up at 9:45 and signed up to a list with only three other names on it. The open mic started just after 10, and this time it was hosted by a man named Scott Mitchell, who has a voice reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. Last year it had been hosted by Bud Rice, and I would later learn from Scott that there are several different hosts who split up the monthly hosting job. He said it is the city’s longest running open mic, and that he thinks it will last for years to come – as long as the pub does. Check out the interview I did with him in my ongoing series of podcasts this year from my worldwide musical journey to the open mics and jams of every continent – or almost:

Brad Spurgeon interviews Scott Mitchell, one of the MCs of Montreal’s Brutopia bar open mic:

It became an exceptional evening, in fact, as I met up with friends both musical and others, whom I met or knew in Paris. One of these is my semblable, my frere, (to steal a line from a poem of a poet who liked to steal), Danny Fonfeder, the founder of Blueberry Guitars, and globetrotting businessman and open mic man himself….

I managed to drink three pints of some of the homemade beer, one of which was not planned but was offered since all performers receive a free beer. I like such places.

And despite what Scott said about the bar being an Anglo joint, I also had several interesting conversations with French-speaking Quebecers, especially about the current protest movement. Check out the videos of the bands closely and you might be able to see musicians wearing the red square that shows their alignment with the movement.

I will stop my chatter now, in order to ensure that I finally get this post up after such a long time away from this daily diary of musical adventures…. Oh, almost forgot to mention that the day before this, Saturday, I made a very early night of it, but managed to play my guitar and sing all by myself in the park outside the Berri-UQAM metro station, the place where all those protesters usually gather to start their night of protest…. Oh, correction, some people gathered around to listen, and when I finally had this woman tramp tell me she liked my voice, I decided to really belt out “What’s Up!” I had my fix.

Crowded Night at Two Paris Open Mics

June 28, 2011

Back in Paris on a Monday after the complete lack of musical culture in Valencia, Spain, it was great to attend two of my favorite open mics in the same night: The Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub. It was even better to discover that there was something in the air that meant that both places were brimming over with musicians, and good and interesting ones at that. At the Tennessee Bar the accent was on the blues, at the Galway, I suppose the accent was on just about everything – with a little tilt toward accents from the south of the United States and Sweden.

When I arrived at the Tennessee just after 9 PM there was hardly anyone there and I thought it was going to be empty. But it soon filled up with spectators and musicians, including a lot I had not seen before, but while I was there, it was certainly predominantly blues and jazz-like pop. The last act I saw I was sure was Iggy Pop doing the blues, but the voice was definitely not the same – and this guy spoke French…. Also, he didn’t take his shirt off, which would have been the real Iggy giveaway. Check out the video of him, though, and see if you agree on the Iggy bit.

The Galway had lots of people spilling out into the streets, and I enjoyed many of the acts, including a couple from Sweden who are travelling Europe on their music busking earnings and along the way picked up a violinist from Western Australia. Then there was a guy from Canada – from Montreal, and who plays Brutopia all the time, he said – who had a wicked acoustic guitar with supercool carvings on the table and the neck. And then, one of the best of the night, Stefan Cashwell from Georgia, who unfortunately could not be heard as well as he should have been, because by then the drinking crowd had hit overdrive. But it was all great fun, nevertheless.

Oh, and by the way, was I ever amused when James Iansiti, the MC of the Tennessee Bar went up and sang All Right Now – just as I am in the middle of reading the manuscript of Andy Fraser’s memoir, All Right Now.

Playing at Brutopia Open Mic in Montreal, and the Viral One-Man Band

June 14, 2011

Brutopia was my utopia. At least for last night. I did the jam session Grumpy’s on Thursday, but it was not entirely made for my style. So I was banking everything on Brutopia, one of the mainstay open mics of Montreal. Brutopia, according to Bud Rice, who MCs the open mic, has been around longer than he has been on this earth…of course, that is not THAT long.

Located on the famous Crescent Street, where there is a street festival that accompanies the Formula One race, this open mic was in fact perfect for me after the race I attended. The Brutopia open mic does not start until close to 10:30, and there was no need to be there before that time to put your name on the list.

There were a lot of performers, but everyone got to play. The bar was loud, raucous, warm and friendly. The little part of Crescent Street where it is located seems to be made of a strip of pubs and bars of a similar kind, very English/Irish. There’s Hurleys and others I cannot remember the names of.

In any case, Bud Rice – not his real name – did a great job of MCing, and there were lots of interesting acts, including a crazy guy from Melbourne with whom I discussed a lot of the Melbourne open mics, and he knew of most of them. (The Empress Hotel, the Arthouse – which he said just closed – and the hostel All Nations U-Bar.)

His name was Tim Scanlan, and he was a bit of a one-man band as you’ll see from the videos. But as he said last night when he played with Scott Dunbar, they were both one-man-bands and had just met that day and had never played before but were no longer one-man. Scott Dunbar somehow has some videos of him playing in the street as a one-man band that have gone viral. My video of him and Tim playing together should go viral, as they went apeshit.

It was so cool at this open mic that I felt very much at home and relaxed despite the talk in the room. The stage was very comfortable, and I enjoyed it up there, playing four songs on my set and then being allowed to go up and close the whole evening with a final song. I gave the remaining patrons the choice of “Father and Son,” something else that I do regularly and “Unchained Melody.” One person shouted out for the latter, so I did it.

PS: After I finished this blog post I then proceeded to download the files on my Zoom Q3HD and I then got caught in a tangle and I somehow wiped out half of the files, including the one-man band stuff and an interview I did – fortunately only on one of the three cameras I recorded it on – of Bud Rice, and the best videos of Bud performing. I did this while sitting in Le Depanneur Cafe on Monday afternoon before going for my flight. I then spent the next hour or two trying to figure out how to recuperate the deleted files, and failing to get them to work. I believe I may have found the secret to doing this and I will keep working on it and I hope in the next couple of days that I will get those videos up. For the moment, I will have only a few seconds of the one man bands preparing their bit. What a drag!!!!

PPS: I also sang two songs at Le Depanneur Cafe yesterday to release some of my angst after losing the files and before my flight back to Paris. This is a very neat and cool and hip cafe-restaurant that has a kind of eternal open stage, although there are also regular acts booked all the time, hour-by-hour. I got to play because the woman named Akua, who had invited me to come and see her play her hour, did not show up! So as it turned out, the woman named Bobby from the bluegrass jam was there and played, and I also played, as did a band called Ghetto Shul House Band, with a guest singer, Emma Frank.

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