Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

One, Two… No Third Open Mic This Time, I was Already Out

January 17, 2013

I had this really ambitious idea last night in Paris in the wicked cold weather to go to three open mics, as I had on Monday. But I started off at Vieux Leon and found myself in a great open mic, even if half the crowd of the bar patrons did not seem as if they were there for the music. There were some wicked musicians and singers and I decided to be a little perverse amongst all the noise of the talk of the patrons and play a nice quiet version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” by Bob Dylan. In the end, it was a good idea for the few who wanted to listen – and for me, since I really enjoyed singing it.

I enjoyed rediscovering Marco, the Italian bluesman, and I enjoyed discovering Solène, the Frenchwoman who sang a Lio song. And I enjoyed Junior Vic as usual. And I just in general enjoyed the amazing vibe at this recent addition to the Paris open mic scene. In fact, I was invited to do another round of songs after the initial three songs, like all the musicians, since there was enough time to do it. And I was enjoying the evening so much that I regretted that vow of mine to do three open mics in one night again. Because that meant leaving, and it meant no certainty that I would find fun at the Highlander – the next open mic on my list – and even less certainty that I could find a spot on the list at the Highlander to play, arriving so late as I would.

But I headed off un the sub-zero weather and went to the Highlander to find it buzzing, bustling, bursting with energy and enthusiasm as usual. And Thomas Brun, the genial MC said he thought that there could quite possibly be JUST enough time for the list to finish and then me do a song before the open mic closes at 1:30 AM. Thomas is THE most clear-cut of the MCs of open mics in Paris, I think. The list gets signed up upon early in the evening – 8:15-8:30, and it is followed religiously. And it doesn’t matter how many musicians are present, each musician always gets three songs to play. (Unless he has found he has five minutes at 1:25 AM and a late-arriving musician wants to play – in which case, Thomas will give him a single song, or two….

Anyway, as I sat there and listened to some interesting music – even some astounding vocals occasionally – I conversed with some old friends of Thomas, and I drank my beer, and bit by bit I felt tired as hell. So for one in my life, I decided I would not see through my vow, I removed my name from the list, left the bar and went directly home – and did my unicycle ride of 5 kilometers in the sub-zero weather, and went to bed. Too bad about the third joint that I had planned to visit, the vocal jam at the Cavern. I had had a fabulous evening again at the Paris open mics, and I was happy.

Is this the most self-indulgent post I’ve done in a long, long time???? Well, what’s a blog for, right? (This one is primarily for putting up text to separate the videos I do of the talent around the world….)

Pretty Immense: Four Disparate, Unrelated, Extraordinary Venues in One Night in Paris

September 27, 2012

I may only have actually played in one place last night, but I attended three open mics and a concert in Paris and took in all vibes and sensations available and went home still with enough energy to ride my unicycle five kilometers around the neighborhood. If that sounds weird, keep reading!

First stop was the Truskel Bar to see the Velvet Veins, the new band of my lead guitar player, Félix Beguin – who was supposed to play with me at that ill-fated gig of ours at the Lizard Lounge a couple of weeks ago – and his shockingly good young guitar alter-ego and singer. Félix is still part of the Burnin’ Jacks, but he created this band, the Velvet Veins, in order to play exactly 100 percent the kind of music HE is addicted to… kind of 70s blues rock, metal rock, rockin’ rock, guitar-based stuff with amazing lead exchanges between the two guitar players, some mad drumming and even a bit of harmonica playing from the bass player. Don’t ask me to be literate or even precise or accurate about what this sounds like – just give it a listen. Unbelievable stuff. (I apologize for the shaky camera work, but the excited crowd was jumping up and down so virulently in front of me – and on me – that I could not do any better.

From there I head over on a short walk to the much quieter and down to earth Vieux Leon bar near the Pompidou Center for the first of a new Wednesday night open mic, which was this night hosted by my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, formerly known as Texas in Paris. The bar could not have been a bigger contrast to the Velvet Veins-bopping Truskel, but that was just fine as a way to come down and do some of my own bopping music – actually, I opted for Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and my own, “Borderline.”

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

From there I used my new iPhone maps app thing to get lost just trying to find the quickest way over to the Highlander. But fortunately as soon as I found the rue de Rivoli, I no longer needed the app. (Piece of shit, and I dread where it will lead me next week in Osaka and Nagoya and Suzuka….) So I just HAD to go to the Highlander, even if I knew there was no way I would even dream of performing. The thing was, it was the sixth anniversary of this most popular of Paris open mics, run by Thomas Brun. Thomas not only does a great job with running the open mic, but he sings and plays amazingly, and even more importantly he comes up with good birthday cake on these annual celebrations, and last night he added some champagne into the mix. I got my cake and champagne as soon as I arrived, and the timing was perfect since I had by then digested my main course of duck kebab and pasta….

From there I headed up the rue Dauphine to the Cavern, where the agreeable bass player master of ceremonies, Guillaume, again invited me up to the stage to play. But I learned my lesson long ago that everything I touch at the Cavern turns to rust and I have to either persuade them to let me take my guitar up with me and we do songs I know, or I’ll have to go to a massive number of karaoke bars and hone my skills in that area on the same songs they do. But I’m pretty blown away by so many of the singers there, that I know I have far to go…. But the band is really worth going for alone, say nothing of getting on stage and making a fool of one’s self.

So that was it, after that, all the beers, cake and champagne, I just had to do the unicycle thing around the neighborhood, despite it nearing 4 AM…. What a night.

All Downhill Up to Here

September 13, 2012

Please excuse me while this blog goes totally downhill. It can only be uphill from here – in a good sense. What I’m trying to say is that I have been so occupied with a million other things, including performing and practicing or rehearsing with my friend Felix Beguin, that I have let the blog slide downhill. It will not stay there, I’m sure. And it is not representative of the state of affairs in my life….

In fact, it was business as usual at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance on Tuesday night with a great open mic, and a few new things – like duets. Including a duet consisting of Yaco and me. We did “Mad World.”

Okay, so there was no time yesterday to report on that because I was practicing for my gig this Sunday with my amazing lead guitar player, Felix Beguin. Then we went directly off to the Highlander to perform there together. On the way there after more than two hours rehearsal, I received the message that our gig at the Lizard Lounge had been cancelled due to a double booking. What crap. But that did not prevent Felix and me from performing a couple of songs at the Highlander and blowing away the crowd of five people that remained there until 1:30 AM. And then I was able to make the wonderful and profound announcement about our upcoming concert – IE, that it was cancelled….

Between times while waiting on the long, long waiting list, we dropped off at the Cavern to listen to the vocal jam band at work, especially because there is a great lead guitarist there I wanted Felix to hear. Actually, I’d have loved it if we could have taken that stage over for a few minutes, but that’s not the way the jam there works.

So anyway, before I run off tonight to something else – a new thing – I am just slamming down this huge number of meaningless words and a bunch of video proof that I have indeed been active….

She Ain’t a Creep, She’s So F… Special and She Belongs Here – at the Cavern and Everywhere Else

May 17, 2012

Sarah Manesse

Sarah Manesse

O.K., so I’m sitting there at a table beside the stage at the Cavern club in Paris last night at the open vocal jam session after I played at the Highlander, when up comes this perfect woman who sits down at the table opposite me. She has a perfect face, perfect lips, her eyes are covered with glasses, but I guess the eyes are perfect too – and I can only imagine she has a perfect body as well. So I had to talk to her, right? I mean, there was a little potential awkwardness because she had not sat down at my table because of me, but because of a friend of hers, another woman, from Quebec, with whom I had spoken a little before the perfect woman arrived.
“Do you sing too?” I ask, as her Quebecoise friend sang, and was very good.

“Yes,” she said.

“Are you going to sing tonight?”


Not one to know much about making moves, I make my moves slowly, carefully; but nothing will stop me.

“So, what do you do, I mean, do you perform?”

“Yes, I play guitar and sing.”

“Oh, me too. Are you mostly a singer or a guitar player?”

“Mostly the singing.”

I won’t give more details of the conversation, but let’s put it this way. We spoke, she told me her name was Sarah, and I learned that she was working on her singing and performing career, she was tempted to sing on the stage last night, but was not sure what to do. Moreover, she seemed pretty nervous about it. She did not want to go immediately after the break – during which time we had been speaking – and really was not so sure what she could do.

When the break ended, Guillaume, the bass player of the house band, asked if she wanted to go up. She said not just then, and looked very nervous. A little later, please….

So the house band played a song. Then Guillaume asked for another singer, no one presented themselves, and he saw me at the table and knew I had performed there a few times and asked if I wanted to sing. I DID! But I had been also discussing with Sarah about how I found it really difficult to sing with a band without my guitar in my hands, and I had not much experience doing that and that it was really like karaoke and you had to do the songs just the way they were normally done, without much room for interpretation – or free flowing personal whatever….

But I wanted to sing to finally break through my incessant failures at the Cavern. And I kind of wanted to show Sarah and her friend that I could sing! After all, I had just come from the Highlander where I had done three songs different to what I usually do there – “Unchained Melody,” my “Except Her Heart” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” and it had gone over wonderfully. I was still basking in my success but ready for the blow of failure at the Cavern.

So I got on stage and did “Wicked Game,” and it was pretty much a fuck up from beginning to end. Oh, it was better than the last few times. But I still did not let loose, get into the musical groove and do what I am capable of doing with my own guitar in my hands. It feels like riding a bicycle with no handlebars to hold onto – of course, I do that on my unicycle, but it’s not the same…. Anyway, so fresh from my latest failure – and noticing during the song that neither the perfect Sarah nor her Quebecoise friend had actually listened to me, I rejoin them at the table.

It takes several minutes, but finally the Quebecoise and then Sarah, say of my performance, “Oh, that was good.”

I say to Sarah, “No Sarah, it was not good. It was nothing. Really, you KNOW when you have flattened your audience, knocked them onto the floor, killed them,” – and I might have added, You know yourself when you have reached the emotional pitch you are capable of, the flow. And you know when you are putting the audience to sleep, and singing “outside” the song. “That,” I say, “was putting them to sleep. It was not good.”

She looked at me with her eyes intent perhaps for the first time. We left it at that, and after a few other performers did their thing, Guillaume got Sarah up on the stage. He said to her that she had better go now – because she was still shy about it – because otherwise people suddenly all wanted to play at the same time at the end of the night and there was no more time.

So up goes Sarah, and she still had not decided what song to do until she was right on the stage, looking at the blue book of lyrics. Then she says, “Creep.” And I’m thinking, how is this perfect young quiet and shy girl going to pull that one off.

She starts out real slow, quiet, but I hear a beautiful and interesting quality to her voice. And then slowly, bit by bit, perfect Sarah explodes vocally and physically on stage. She is brilliant. The best of the night. I am entirely subjugated, hypnotized, as I realize that Sarah has a perfect voice too. Sarah has a truth and and edge to her voice. For a moment as she is singing, I’m saying, hmm, behind the light softness of this perfect girl there is a Nina Hagen boiling inside too. No, she is not a Creep. But that perfect body and all of that stuff that she calls out for in the song, well, it’s there. That bit about not belonging? She DOES belong there.

And so after she comes of stage and rejoins me at the table, I take a few minutes to calm down, then I say, “You see, YOU killed me! Destroyed me.”

She thanks me, and a few minutes later, when the Quebecoise goes up to sing, I turn to Sarah again and I say, “There is no competition here in this, but you were by far, far, far the best one here tonight.”


“Yes, but you know that,” I added.

“No,” she said sitting back and smiling.

I tell her I have a blog and would like to put up the video, and I give her my card with the blog address. Then I ask if she has a myspace I can link to. So she gives it.

I’m so totally destroyed that I leave for the evening in the middle of the Quebecoise’s song, and tell Sarah to say goodbye for me.

I get home and I look on the Internet for Sarah’s myspace and I discover that this quiet, shy, nervous and wildly talented singer was a star of X-Factor, that Sarah is now playing in Sister Act in the Theatre Mogador in Paris, that she is indeed a young singer starting out, but that she already not surprisingly has a history of success and subjugation. Just take a look at the crying judge on X-Factor when she does the Adele song. The man obviously had the same reaction as I did.

But more importantly for me, I know nothing about this and may be wrong, but I think that participants in things like X-Factor, the Voice and all those other music reality shows, probably end up having a hard time shaking the reputations they get on those shows of sugary, middle-of the road teen idol kinds of singing and have a hard time breaking out of that mold into something with more of an edge and truth to it.

I saw clearly that Sarah has that edge lying beneath the perfect everything. She just is not a creep, that’s all. She did not tell me anything about her TV stardom, her role in Sister Act, she was just another musician trying to make her career. And knowing full well I wanted to use the video on my blog, she had no objections – as more and more rising performers I have met do for fear of hurting their “careers.” This was REAL. (Too bad I was sitting in the shadows beside the stage without a good perspective for my camera either for the sound or image, but it still shows and allows for a hearing of enough to know it was a great performance, growing better as it progressed.)

Anyway. My apologies for the outpouring, but it was very cool, and my own failure faded into the background. But I must learn how to sing with a band without my guitar, for God’s sakes! Or for Sarah’s sake!

Ecstatic Release at the Highlander, Progress at the Cavern

March 29, 2012

I’ve ended up having a couple of crowd-pleasing cover songs that tend to get the audience participating, clapping, drumming on tables and joining in the chorus. Those are “Mad World” and “What’s Up!” I think these are pretty much sure-fire for almost anyone who sings them, but they work more often than not very well for me now. Last night at the Highlander open mic was no exception. But what a contrast to going to the Cavern afterwards….

The point is, I wish I had a lot more of those sure-fire crowd pleasing songs. But it takes time, and there are only so many that exist, no doubt. (Another would be Wonderwall, but I don’t do it since I have a hard time with the rhythm on the guitar!!!!) Anyway, I will continue to try to build up a repertoire in that direction, as well as write my own. Last night I started with “Crazy Lady,” my latest completed song. I enjoy singing it, but it did not light the fires the way “What’s Up!” subsequently did. And then someone requested “Mad World.”

The reason I am blowing my own horn here is not to boast, but simply to set the stage for the contrast. From the Highlander I went over to the Cavern, which holds its vocal jam open mic night on Wednesdays as well, but a little later than the Scottish pub. I have written extensively about my failures at the Cavern in the last few months, as I have tried singing “What’s Up!” there with the band and done dismally, horrendously, depressingly badly each time.

There is a HUGE difference between playing your own guitar at your own rhythm in your own way and actually having to stand up with a band that plays the song the way it was recorded. (More or less.) But that is also a wonderful, and usually humbling, challenge. So despite wanting to commit suicide on at least the last two occasions at the Cavern, I decided to return last night, but this time not for “What’s Up!”

It occurred to me that if I tried “Wicked Game,” I might have a little more luck. There are not many different ways to play those three chords – Bm, A, E – and the rhythm doesn’t change much either. So I went, asked Guillaume, the bass player, if I could try it, and he, as usual encouraged the effort.

Thank goodness I tried! It did not go amazingly well, but it went okay, there was progress, and I began to feel more at ease with the band. Guillaume commented afterwards that he thought it went a lot better too, than the last couple of times. And I heard a few nice things from the audience too.

The point of all this is to say, “Don’t give up!” But it is hard as hell to practice with a live band in front of a live audience. The other point of this post, however, is to say just how different each musical exercise is. You can play an audience with familiar songs and conditions, and you can appear like a complete crappy amateur on the other side of the street in different conditions. So leap in head first and try em all and work at em all. Coming out the other side with a bit of progress feels GREAT! Of course, you need patient and kind musicians like at the Cavern to do it, too.

Happy 5th Birthday Highlander Open Mic in Paris – and a Visit to the Cavern

September 29, 2011

Five years that the Highlander open mic has been running in Paris. That is a very long time for open mics, even if there are some around the world that have been going for several decades. But this is clearly the work of a good venue and the presenter, Thomas Brun, who does a great job of organizing and hosting the open mic. Last night’s birthday celebration of the fifth year was an example of that, as Brun took the trouble to celebrate, put up balloons, have a birthday cake, a free drink for musicians, and someone donated a guitar as a gift!

It was almost a perfect open mic evening, too, with interesting musicians regular and new. And an audience that was typical for the Highlander, celebrating the music when they liked it, talking when they felt it didn’t fit their mood. Whatever, I enjoyed it immensely. And I had the honor of playing my three songs just before Thomas brought out the birthday cake. Unfortunately I just missed the blowing out of the candles with my video camera.

Even so, I felt the need to go on to the Cavern Club vocal jam open mic thingy up the street on the rue Dauphine with a couple of friends. Unfortunately I did not sing there, as the list of songs contains nothing I feel competent at. But there was some great stuff.

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