Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The Upper Levels of the Highlander Open Mic

January 26, 2012

A few months ago the Highlander shifted its 5-year-old open mic from the ground floor to the basement. I thought it was a bad move as I thought there was something warmer about the ground floor, but after the open mic had to return to the ground floor just for one night last night to make way for the Robert Burns celebration in the basement, I have revised my opinion.

The ground floor is too packed, too suffocating, not as good acoustically and more difficult to order from the bar! There’s also a way for most of the chattering classes to move into the back of the basement room, where as on the ground floor they are mostly much closer to the performance area.

Having said that, when an exceptional performer gets up and sings the right thing, the chattering cuts out a lot, or at least gets replaced with a sense of community, warmth, great vibe and fun. That happened last night occasionally, especially early in the evening when, sorry to repeat this name once again, Conn Bux took to the mic.

Conn is the Irish musician I keep talking about. But last night was a particularly poignant moment because he announced with his second song that he wanted to dedicate it to an old friend of his, a woman named Emma, who died of breast cancer last weekend at the age of 35. It was wrenchingly emotional, in fact. And it did not stop with the dedicated song, it continued when Conn went on to continue with his next song called “Last Time,” about seeing someone for the last time. Afterwards he told me the first song was a favorite of Emma, and that he had sung Last Time with her in his mind too. Of course.

I enjoyed my own moment as a lot of the audience members sang along with me on three of the cover songs I chose do, “What’s Up!,” “Father and Son,” and “Just Like a Woman.” Of course, I chose them with that hope in mind, thinking the audience needing some drawing together and personal interactivity at that point – which was well past midnight. Still, I was so delighted with the singing along on the Dylan song that they actually threw me off a couple of times as I kind of waited to hear THEM sing the lines instead of me…. A huge, greatly needed, pleasure.

Last Time: Stephen at Galway, and Reflection on Hit Songs and Big Bux

January 24, 2012

Last night was Stephen Danger Prescott’s last time presenting the open mic at the Galway Pub in Paris after three or four years on that job. He will be hugely missed, but he has decided to go as far away as Berlin in order to avoid being lured into the job again.

It was a good night there, and also at the Tennessee Bar open mic a few minutes walk away, under the aegis of James Iansiti. I only stayed a short time at the Tennessee, though, and did not sing there since I arrived too late to do that AND the Galway, and I had to attend Stephen’s last time.

And speaking of “Last Time,” that is the second theme of this post. Readers will have noticed that I have buddied around over the last week in Paris at the open mics with an Irish singer named Conn Bux. Last night as the two of us attended both open mics there was one singer who went up and I told Conn how much I liked the singer’s voice but that I felt all the songs sounded the same.

“All you need is one,” he said. He meant, of course, that all any group or singer really needs to break out of the lowest levels of the music business is one hit song. Of course, a load more of them than that would also be welcome.

But his words reminded me that over the two previous days I had been saying to myself that this was precisely Conn Bux’s own situation. I did not tell him that last night, but he had given me his three CDs last Friday – made over the last decade – and I had been listening to them in the mornings during my morning exercise.

One of things I thought as I heard Conn sing in the various open mics over the last week, and as I listened to his superb CDs, was that this Irishman is so good he just needs one hit song and he’ll break out. He’s got his own voice, a strong voice, musical talent and skill, and he plays well in cool bands.

This morning as I listened to Conn’s third – most recent CD-, called The Old Reliable, as I did my morning exercise, suddenly, it seemed to me that Conn’s hit song had just popped out of the laser and into my head. It was a song that I had listened to several times over the last week, and he sang it again last night at both the Tennessee Bar and the Highlander. It is called Last Time, and it has been ringing in my head all day. The version with the band brings yet another level to it, but this song is for me clearly a hit. It has memorable words, theme, melody – it rocks, it rolls, it souls….

So why is it NOT a hit? That then got me to thinking that NOTHING in the music business actually makes sense and that there are probably a lot of hit songs in existence that are NOT hits because of totally obscure reasons, and things like simple luck. Things like being in the right place at the right time, etc. Cliches.

Having said that, Conn is only around 35 years old, and I can see through his three CDs that he is developing as a musician too, and that no music careers follow any precise plans or routes. Some careers have exploded several decades in and suddenly the singer gets noticed, has a hit and starts earning the big bux.

So check out the Last Time performance at the Galway by Conn Bux, so appropriate on the last time Stephen acted as MC.

Cabaret Culture Rapide Revisited

January 21, 2012

To my knowledge there are not many open mics or open jam sessions in Paris on Fridays or Saturdays. So last night, in the company of Conn Bux, the cool Irish singer songwriter I have shown videos of several times this week as he makes a brief visit to Paris, I ended up last night going to the only venue I know of in Paris that has an open mic on Friday nights. That was the genial Cabaret Culture Rapide, near the Belleville metro station.

This is a completely acoustic open mic, and it is open to music, song and dance, comedy, rap, slam, crap, anything you want, really. I have seen it go through two previous MCs, and therefore two previous incarnations. Last night, it had yet a third MC, and so a third incarnation. The format remained basically the same: You do a number, you go off and watch others do theirs, then once the complete round of performers has happened, you go up and do another number.

The new MC, who calls himself Paparenda, called on Conn and I to sing a couple of things that we had not planned to do, like…singing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” with him. Well, anyway…. moving right along…. Here are some videos from the evening, including the cool one of Conn Bux doing the U2 song Paparenda, which as it turned out, was also not planned in advance, but went down pretty well indeed….

Mazet True to Itself

January 20, 2012

I attended my first open mic at the Mazet since it took a brief break for the festive holidays, and found that it was back to its regular ways. That means that it tends to start out fairly slow and discrete, and then it wakes up and becomes more intense, and often turns into a jam session at the end of the evening.

I met up with Conn Bux again, and he played some of his great songs, cutting through the chatter to have plenty of the many spectators applaud even during the middle of his songs. The Irishman was well received, to say the least.

I was pleased – if a little intimidated – that this time Conn’s friend, Saray, from Spain, asked if she could film me with my Zoom Q3HD recorder. I happily accepted. So I have more recordings here than usual of me….

During my set suddenly as I was singing “Mad World,” my upright bass player from the night before at the Highlander suddenly arrived, parked in front of the stage, and added another dimension to the song – injecting me with an instant fix of added energy as well. He then played with me on “Runaway Train” as well, and that was the end of my set.

Rimed showed up and played some of his sensational tapping, and there were a few other regulars who also played some lively and fun stuff.

I ended up cutting out at midnight, however, to go to Stephen Danger Prescott’s final Thursday night gig at the Galway before he heads off next week for Berlin. He will have one more open mic at the Galway, on Monday, though.

So all in all, it was a good evening at the open mic….

Highlander on the Move Too

January 19, 2012

This could be considered Part III in the series of Paris open mics coming back into the usual high level of attendance and action, as the Highlander open mic was bustling full of performers and spectators last night. Thomas Brun, the founding MC of the open mic, had also returned from his winter holidays, and was in great singing form.

I managed to get there at a reasonable hour for once, signed up and got on in about the middle of the evening, so that was great. Even greater was having an upright bass accompany me on all three of my songs. I started with “Crazy Love,” since I wanted to do a kind of “Irish” soul song, to try to match Conn Bux’s Irish soul…. I had met Conn last week at the Galway, and then on Monday at the Galway, and then there he was at the Highlander.

I did my song, “Except Her Heart,” and then “Mad World.” It was great fun playing with the acoustic upright bass!

Conn was great, and I particularly enjoyed his song he wrote when he was 16 years old, about some rotten boss he had in a sandwich joint.

There were several new performers and a few more established ones, including All the Roads, who did his wonderful Irish song by Damon Rice, with some French in the middle of it – but my recording device was not turned on or died out or something, during that one….

After the Highlander I popped in to the Cavern to find its open mic – or live karaoke – just bursting at the seams with musicians and spectators, including Dr. Chouette, whom I videoed at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance a few weeks ago. And he invited me to his concert this Friday at the Abracadabra bar….

But I had by then drunk a little too much to go up on stage and try to repair my damaged reputation on the ill-fated rendition of “What’s Up!” a few weeks earlier, so I decided to return home after listening to a few fine songs…. I especially liked the Peter Gabriel one they did with one of the regular guitarists doing the singing, and the bass player doing the Kate Bush part of the song… Don’t give up….

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