Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Velvet Veins and Tactics at the Bus Palladium Karaocké

May 6, 2013

In France we are in the middle of the first set of weeks in which public holidays divide the week in half. The 1 May and 8 May are public holidays – a kind of labor day on the 1st and the Victory of WWII on the 8th – and in France that means that a large percentage of the population will created what they call a “bridge,” or a “pony,” of days off between the weekend and the middle of the week. The and what THAT means is that for these two weeks there are hardly any people in Paris. And what THAT means is that the Kararocké organizers may well have been worried that there would not be many people there on Saturday for the once-a-month giant karaoke with the live band. So was that the reason that Nicolas Ullmann, the MC, decided to announce that Pete Doherty would sing a song or two before the kararocké?

Many of the regular clients of the Bus Palladium will by now know that the artistic director of the venue is acting as manager for Peter Doherty, the British rock star of the former Libertines and Babyshambles, who lives in Paris. So maybe, just maybe, Ullmann thought that would attract people during a potential down period. On the other hand, as many of the clients to his great Kararocké know, Ullmann is the master of disguise, and he dress up as a different character for each show. This time, guess what? The character, it seems, was Pete Doherty!

And it was Ullmann doing the impersonation…. Doherty has recently played at the Bus Palladium, and even in small cafés in the neighborhood, so it would not have been unreasonable to expect him to show. But the game was Ullmann’s this time, and I don’t have any idea at all if it actually worked, but what I can say is that the crowd was its usual size and enthusiasm on Saturday night, and Ullmann put on another great show.

I was surprised at how many people were there. But I also know that a lot of the people who showed up came to see the basically unknown band that opened for the Kararocké, the band called, Velvet Veins. I went specifically to see them – although my interest was piqued by the idea of a Doherty intervention – as the Velvet Veins is the new band of my sometime lead guitarist Félix Beguin, with whom I have played many times, and recorded a couple songs too. He met his new band in the studio where he works, just outside Paris. The Velvet Veins, for their part, did NOT let down.

Another Lesson for Life at Paris Open Mics

April 3, 2013

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I often learn lessons about how to tackle life through the adventures of my open mic attendance around the world. The last two days were yet another example.

Monday night, I showed up at the Coolin open mic to find that I was too late to get on the list for any reasonable playing slot – ie, maybe if I was lucky I’d get a slot close to 1 AM, if they went on that long – so I felt completely let down and a little like that was the end of my night. But I did not give up. First I went to the Tennessee. There, though, pretty much the same situation, and after buying a pint of beer and listening to a few musicians, I decided to leave half the beer and head off to the Galway Pub.

There, eureka! A wonderful crowd of spectators and a sizable number of musicians and an available slot midway through the night made this the ideal open mic of the evening – even better than Coolin, as there were plenty of people to talk to, much talent, and a great sound system – which is lacking at Coolin.

So I played my set, had fun, spoke with people, and left feeling like it didn’t really matter if the first option failed, there was a second option, if I persisted.

Well, last night I was so busy with a work-life crisis, that I did not get to post on this blog. But that in itself worked out fantastically, as I had the exact same thing happen as on Monday night as far as the open mics went. I arrived at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic and found that I was 17th on the list and it was not even certain I would get a spot to play.

Again, I had bought a pint of beer, and again I decided to drink part of it, and leave the rest on the bar and head off to another open mic that I knew existed. So I took the metro and went to the Pigalle Country Club where I had attended the new open mic a few weeks ago, and not felt like it was totally my thing.

This time, it WAS. And how! It started kind of quietly, but after I went up and played a few songs with my guitarist, Félix Beguin, and people began to sing along, suddenly, the night turned from fairly quiet and low speed, into a magic, rocking, rolling, hot musicathlon of wild craziness and amazing young Paris rock talents. I not only enjoyed my slot, but I enjoyed as much that of the others, and all the people going crazy in the crowd, dancing, moving, shaking – and I even had one crazy uncouth woman feel me up on the dance floor. Which was clearly because of my singing talent (and nothing to do with the amount of booze she had imbibed)….

Anyway….the moral of this story is clear: If you think all is lost, just keep going, there will be an alternative out there that could end up not being an alternative but the thing you were actually really looking for in the first place. Check out the videos.

Regrettable New Open Mic? Nah, Not at All

February 27, 2013

At first yesterday morning when I received a message from a friend telling me he and his band were starting a new open mic in Paris, at the Pigalle Country Club bar in Pigalle on the rue Jean Baptiste Pigalle, I sighed, and said to myself, “Damn. Now I have to make the regrettable decision of not going to my favorite open mic in Paris in order to attend this open mic of my friends, whom I MUST support.” But I then added to myself, “And it is also damn regrettable that these guys are choosing Tuesday night for another open mic in Paris, the night where there is the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, AND the Baroc bar open mic, AND others as well!”

By the end of the night, though, I had decided that nothing was regrettable. I started the evening having dinner with a friend I had not seen in a long while, and that was great and well watered. I ate at an Asian place at Odeon, and then took a cab to the Pigalle Country Club where my friend left me to my open mic proclivities. I entered to find this small bar darkly lit and with nothing of any “Country Club” decor. An interesting sort of half seedy, half classy whorehouse like feel to the place, and warm service and a lot, a real lot of clients – most there for the open mic.

But not exactly there for the open mic. The talk level was very high, and many stood outside to talk and not listen. The open mic was run by my friends the Burnin’ Jacks, and many of their other friends came to play. The accent was on rock n roll, but there was some sort of “hard folk,” the whole put together with a single small amp and the house PA, as far as I could see. The vocal mic was not the high point, as this really was mostly about hard rockin.

That is the point that brings me to the no regrets. This new open mic is worlds apart from the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, so I can’t see it attracting the same kind of musicians or crowd – even though the Ptit Bonheur does not exclude much in the way of music, just mostly percussion.

So I played with my great lead player, Felix Beguin, I did four or five songs, and I listened to several other people. Then I thought, “Hey, it’s still early. Take a cab back to the Latin Quarter and check out the Ptit Bonheur afterall.”

Of course, what I had not planned for was that between the meal, the open mic and then the third location of the evening, and not adequate sleep the night before, I was starting to lose hold of my centered-ness… if you get what I mean. So I actually got to go up and play a couple of songs at the Bonheur. But with all those glasses I had had beforehand, I found myself behind the mic and completely incapable of remembering the words to “Year of the Cat,” which I had just sung perfectly at the Pigalle Country Club.

So I stumbled through it, stopping several times and turning my slot into a comedy routine instead of a musical interpretation. People actually laughed and enjoyed the break, so that was just fine. Still, feeling complete failure, I decided to fly into my second song, with a message regarding the first: I sang, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty. (Juba’s own instrumental piece before I played was superb, by the way.)

While I played my songs at the Bonheur, my new friend Juba played lead off to the side, and boy was it great. I was sorry to let him down by forgetting all the words to the Al Stewart song. It did make me want to play with him again, though, and afterwards, I had lots of wonderful conversation with friends in the bar once the open mic finished. So I realized that I had no regrets over the evening or the open mics at all….

World Travel 2012 Pithy Wrap Up Part II: Paris

December 2, 2012

I left off on my long and rambling post yesterday by saying that I would end my open mic world adventure with the story of what I did upon my arrival back in Paris after two weeks away and two days return travel. That return was a killer, because it involved two night flights, sleeping in economy class two nights in a row on American Airlines, and in between the two nights, an 11-hour stopover at JFK in NYC. Did it therefore make sense to accept to do a musical gig on the very night of my return after all that, on Wednesday? Oh it sure did! It was just what I required to kickstart my return to Paris life.

The call came on my cell phone as my shuttle bus pulled into the airport in Sao Paulo on Monday evening. Someone had to withdraw from a gig slot on Wednesday night because they had a concert in London. Would I be able to replace them? Oh, yes, I would love to! First, the location seemed very cool. It was a peniche, or barge, on the Seine. Second, the gig was just a half-hour set, so I could do that with no advance preparation. Third, there were a number of other interesting acts on the same bill. Fourth, I learned this later, that the proceeds of the show went to a charity.

And finally, I realized instantly, that if I could get my favorite lead guitarist, Félix Beguin, to join me for the gig, then I would be finishing off immediately upon arrival my challenge of recording myself playing with a musician in all 20 of the countries I visited this year. I had not yet really done it in Paris, and time goes so quickly, I was sure I could let it lag and drag and the end of the year would come and I would not have found the occasion. So I texted Félix and he agreed immediately. I would only find out the night we played that he had another gig lined up for London, England the following day with his other band, the Burnin’ Jacks, and so he had to get up early for that. Imagine him accepting to play with me? So cool.

So I arrived at my home at 8 AM on Wednesday morning, dived into bed and slept until 2:30 in the afternoon as those night flights had not allowed me enough sleep to be in good shape for anything, let along a gig. Then I got up and ate breakfast, washed all my clothes and dried them and ironed something for the gig. Then I went to the gig.

The peniche, called La Dame de Canton, was even better than I thought it would be. I had heard of it, but never seen it. It is intimate, has three levels to it, or four really, with the concert hall level, a bar above, a bar below, and a restaurant in the very bottom. The stage is big enough for a band, it is well lit, there is an excellent sound system and a sound man who takes time to make sure everything is set up perfectly for you – we did this well before the gig – and there is a nice, relaxed feel to the whole room. I loved it and felt really at home, and in a place that is made for small concerts.

Facebook listed exactly 100 people accepting the invitation for the gig, and that had mostly to do with the other bands – including Blankass, and no doubt the guy I was replacing, and above all, Melody Says, the woman who organized the show. Melody Says got the whole place dancing at one point, and her show was very polished and together – which is quite cool for a woman of 20….

Anyway, after our set – which went very well, it was so great to see people listening – Félix and I decided that we would watch the other acts and then go off and play some more songs together at an open mic. That was the Vieux Léon, which is a young open mic, having existed only a couple of months or so. I knew there would not be a vast list of people – unlike at the Highlander – so despite showing up a little late, we got to play our songs. I think we did five songs, most of which we had not done at the Dame de Canton, and which we have barely played together before. So that was fun – and went down well again.

Now, tomorrow I will introduce a new feature kind of story on the blog, which has also occupied a lot of my time in the last week. I’ll keep that one a surprise – although it’s no big deal. Just an idea.

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.

Back in the Bonheur and Things to Come

September 26, 2012

It was just astounding to see the number of people who had shown up for the open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance in Paris last night. Clearly the new season is upon us, and the open mics of Paris are overflowing – bursting at the seams. I got there at around 9:30 or so and found myself 16th on the list. Still, I got to play, and so did four or so others after me. Yaco told me his record for sign ups is 21. We must have got close last night.

Today, it turns out, is the 6th anniversary edition of the open mic at the Highlander, but I will miss it, thanks to a concert by my guitarist Félix Beguin with his band at the Truskel – which I would not miss for anything. The band, by the way, is his new band, “Velvet Veins.” After that I may try to drop over a couple of blocks east to the new open mic at the Vieux Leon – since it is so close. It is the inaugural open mic there. I heard from someone else that he will be hosting an acoustic night on Wednesdays at the Starbucks at Gare St. Lazare on Wednesdays as well. So Wednesday in Paris this year looks awfully crowded for open mics – there’s also the Orphee club jam on Wednesdays and a few others.

So here I am once again saying very little, and being terribly pressed for time to get out to that concert. Best to let the videos from last night do the talking.

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….

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