Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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….

Blanchisserie Open Mic, Like Going to Brooklyn for an Evening of Laid Back Whatever

May 4, 2012



I was sitting at the Blanchisserie art gallery, performance space, bar and myriad other venues contained in one, when I turned to my friend Adam Hay-Nicholls, a fellow Formula One journalist and friend, and said, “This is really kind of cool here, this open mic. But at the same time, we’re way the hell out in the middle of nowhere!” I was worried about how this new open mic on Thursday nights would fare, being located in Boulogne-Billancourt, so close to Paris yet so far at once from the center of town. Adam, with his usual perspicacity and world traveler’s knowledge, said: “Actually, it feels like we’re in a performance space in Brooklyn.” He got it! And then pointed out how a lot of NYC’s alternative cultural life is moving to Brooklyn – and people are going.

So bury my thought for the moment. In fact, the Blanchisserie is indeed a very cool location for an open mic. Just look at videos to see who showed up and what backdrop they played against. It was a great idea for the Blanchisserie to use the main room for the open mic, instead of the concert room where I have seen bands in the past. This way, like at any open mic, people can hang around the bar and listen to the music at the same time. Had they held it in the concert hall, no doubt it would clear out whenever there is an act people don’t want to focus on.

The loft feel to the place is very neat, the terrace a great place to go for a break, and the organization and people it attracted were cool. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In, fact, as it turned out, if it had not been for Adam, I was ready to drop the long trip to the Blanchisserie at the last moment and go to my usual haunt of the Mazet. I had been severely distracted around dinner time and so ended up being very late, not arriving until 10 PM. But I checked out the situation with Adam on SMS, and he encouraged me to show up and he got me signed up on the list.

Boy was I happy to discover that my favorite lead player, Félix Beguin decided to show up with some of the other members of his band, The Burnin’ Jacks. I immediately asked if he would accompany me on lead, and he immediately agreed. We had a great time doing, “Mad World,” “Wicked Game” – for only the second time together – and my song, “Except Her Heart.” I loved it, and Félix encouraged me to book some dates so we can continue the jam more often.

There was quite a great mixture of musicians, but it was hardly overflowing with them, either, with probably around 8 to 11 acts total. A comfortable, fun and laid back night – and great to hear the Burnin’ Jacks in acoustic mode again. Definitely a Brooklyn-like evening in Boulogne-Billancourt.

Jamming Time at the Mazet and Don’t Miss My Concert Tonight!

March 9, 2012

This is a double post, two for the price of one…. I attended the Mazet Pub open mic last night and it was being run by a different man, as David Oxxo was off somewhere else. The result was a different vibe, of course. But it was a fun and interesting one, much more about jamming and a free-for-all on the stage with some fabulous musician friends of Raphael Moraine, the replacement MC.

I played a few of my songs, there was a man doing rap, an electro duo, and Raphael and his band and friends. I also got to play as part of a little trio with one and then two wonderful women singers, reminding me that it was my second night in a row of that after the Highlander. A real pleasure, and once again because it was such a pleasure and I was so active playing or putting new strings on my guitar, I got very little video footage. I will only put up one video, in fact. But you get the idea. Wait around long enough with that video to hear the singer’s fabulous voice….

Meanwhile, I am in a rush to get of here as I have a gig tonight in Paris and I will play with my lead guitarist, Félix Beguin, of the Burnin’ Jacks. It takes place at:

Evidence Bar
132 bd de Charonne
75020 Paris
Métro : Alexandre Dumas (ligne 2)

In principle I will play for an hour somewhere between 8:30 and 10 PM. So don’t hesitate in showing up and joining in, before you head off to some other more nocturnal affair in Paris on a Friday night….

Two Stars Are Born at the Bus Palladium; and the Truskel Revisited

February 5, 2012

Had to force myself out last night in the extreme cold of Paris, with the lingering cold in my head, but force myself I did, since I knew it was the once-a-month Kararocké at the Bus Palladium. I said to myself that there was little chance I’d sing, thanks mostly to my cold. But I didn’t really want to miss the Kararocké and see what I might discover this time – there’s always something new to discover…singers, an approach to the show, craziness. Whatever. So I was really, really saying to myself in the early stages of the show, “Crap, what the hell is this? This is NOT so cool as usual.” And then, suddenly, like some kind of electric shock suddenly shot through the Bus Palladium, the Kararocké woke up and the room filled with life, and discoveries.

The first electric shock came in the form of a Filipino singer of a certain age, who called himself either “Bond Jovi,” or “Bong Jovi.” He went up and took his time to get ready, then he went absolutely nuts on a Queen song, and he drove the crowd into frenetic madness at the joy of the situation. So crazy went the crowd, in fact, that for the first time in my experience, I watched them chant for an encore from Bong Jovi. I managed to catch that on video, as well as his first song. Crazy stuff. I was pretty surprised when I discovered later in the day that this man’s face showed up on my Facebook this morning, and I realized that I had Mr. Bong Jovi – under his real name – as a friend on my Facebook, and that he had recently asked me where he could find a place to sing in Paris!!!!!

Well, that was the first electric shock. The second was another guy on my Facebook, but who actually is a lot closer than just a Facebook buddy. Nicolas Ullmann, the MC, announced that Félix Beguin would make his singing debut. Félix has often played lead guitar at the Kararocké, but more importantly for me, he and I have played together live and in some of my recordings, for the last three years. I love Félix’s guitar playing, and lately he had sent me some really great recordings he had done of him singing nice soft stuff like Paul Simon. And he had actually played some nice quiet soft stuff that he sang at my brunch at the Mecano bar last year, where he had, if I recall that particular day, a fabulous audience of three….

So I, and just about everyone else who knows him, was last night shocked to find him rock the Bus right down to the ground with his interpretation of the French rock song Antisocial from the band Trust. In short, Félix went crazy, and he injected the room with real rock ‘n roll for the first time last night. And his showmanship was sublime as well, as he got the audience to participate. I’m wondering how much longer I will have Félix playing lead for me before he ends up in too high demand elsewhere. His regular group, the Burnin’ Jacks is moving on up, but Félix has recently also let me hear some tracks from a new band he is putting together that is…burnin’ like hell too….

There were some other cool acts as well; I loved the duo with the singer guy and his wicked woman bass player doing a Stones number.

Well, ANYWAY….

It was actually the day before that – Friday – where I had some equally strong emotions as I returned to play in the open mic of the Truskel bar for the first time in more than two years, I think. The Truskel was the last place that Earle’s open mic was a real success, and it was rockin’. (I played there a few times with Félix, in fact.) In recent months the Truskel decided to relaunch an open mic, although only once a month, and on Fridays, not Mondays. I finally got the chance to go on Friday, and it was amazing to play on that stage again.

And I was lucky there were not that many bands, as the open mic, in fact, lasts only from 8 PM to just after 10 PM, and I was late in arriving. But I managed to play around five or six songs, and I even had one of the other musicians – from Watermelon Man – come up and sing with me on “What’s Up!” I had wondered how the Truskel could do an open mic on a Friday, as this joint is so full on Fridays you can barely get in. But I realized that in running the open mic early, they are getting more people in earlier, as most of the business starts around 10 PM or later, and goes all night. Worth the visit!

But to come full circle, I must say that I had to force myself out of the house on both nights because of the cold and the cold (head cold), and on each occasion, I found myself returning home absolutely delighted at having forced myself. And there’s a lesson there somewhere…. but crap, it’s cold again tonight…..

PS, I almost forgot the nice little concert at the Bus Palladium by Gaspard Royant. I enjoyed his story about a crazy murder that happened near his childhood home and about which he wrote a song, one of the videos herewith….

A Yes Concert, a Brad Concert, a Cool Meeting and a Mini Memoir in GP Week

November 21, 2011

The above headline could be the worst I ever wrote on this blog as I try to cram in so many words and ideas that it makes no sense at all. But in that way alone, it is probably appropriate for this post which will be a round-up of my weekend. I was so busy that I had no time to update the blog for a day or two or whatever it was. So now I have to roll all the bits and pieces into one – and I will start with the freshest and work back.

Since the last Formula One race I had been working on a story about my musical adventures along with the race travel – the stuff this blog is mostly all about. And today that tiny little “memoir” – of 1700 words – of my last three years traveling around the world and playing in open mics, has been published in a neat racing magazine called GP Week. You just click on the link and go to the site and start clicking on the pages until you find my story on pages 30 – 31, and it has photos too….

The other bit of news was my concert last night at the HideOut bar on the rue du Pot de Fer in Paris, just off the rue Mouffetard. I was invited to play an acoustic concert- along with any other band members I might want to bring – as part of the first of a series of Lazy Sunday afternoon concerts that the bar will host between 19:00 and 21:00 every Sunday.

The bar is a cool, long, place with wooden tables and chairs, sports television and music. It’s cosy, and has a friendly atmosphere. I was invited to play by the organizer of the concerts, Syd Alexander, who is the lead singer of The Burnin’ Jacks. My lead gutarist, Felix Beguin, is of course none other than the lead guitarist of the Burnin’ Jacks. I also invited Justin Purtill to play bass, as I jammed with Justin at an open mic earlier in the week and found not only that we could do some really convincing stuff off the cuff with no preparation, but that we got along well and there was a great vibe. In fact, Justin is an astonishingly good bass player, and he is also a sometimes quite shockingly good singer songwriter.

For last night, Justin and I did go over most of the songs we played beforehand, to ensure some sense of professionalism…! And it worked, with Justin and Felix and me on vocals and guitar, I had fun and got some good reactions from the audience. It felt warm and nice…. I also loved the moment Felix put down the guitar and joined me on vocals in Cat’s in the Cradle.

Just before going into the HideOut I was walking up the street and wondering aloud where exactly the venue was located when a voice came from a restaurant terrace table: “Just keep going up the street there, Brad.” I turned around to see a woman whom I had noticed momentarily before but did not recognize, and she rose to her feet and introduced herself: “It’s Heather Munro,” she said.

Of course! It was my fellow blogger of HeatherBlog, who reads this blog and does a fabulous blog of her own about her life, her photography and writing. (She touches amazing chords of common experience….) And she had come to Paris for a holiday and had come to hear my concert yesterday. It was a wonderful meeting and would never have happened without the blogosphere. Today Heather wrote about our meeting and the concert as part of her round-up of her day in Paris yesterday – along with some of her photos of Paris, and of me and the band….

Finally, Saturday night I went for the first time in my life to see the progressive rock band, Yes, at the Olympia in Paris. I had listened to them since I was about 15. Seeing them for the first time – I had seen Rick Wakeman solo in the mid-70s – was a revelation. Jon Anderson, the singer, was not present. But they have another singer, a Canadian, who used to play in a Yes tribute band and who does a great job on singing the band’s stuff almost the way Anderson does. That’s hard to believe until you see it live. Still, I sometimes preferred to close my eyes to pretend it was the real Jon Anderson… but anyway….

The Burnin’ Jacks (and Niki Demiller) Burn Up the Bus Palladium in Paris

September 17, 2011

I am still trying to catch my breath from last night’s concert at the legendary Bus Palladium in Paris. The praise I am about to give has nothing to do with the fact that I have known and watched the Burnin’ Jacks grow for three years, since they played at Earle Holmes’s open mic at the Lizard Lounge in Paris, and since I first started playing with their lead guitarist, Félix, at the same time. Just looking at any of the videos I put up on the site will strike out all thoughts of bias. No, I was blown away as was the audience in the main concert hall of the Bus Palladium, where so many of France’s stars – and international ones – have played since the place was founded several decades ago.

I kept thinking to myself throughout the evening about how I had watched this band evolve from the time it was just a few guys doing their acoustic rockin’ rollin’ at Earle’s to this full-fledged band with its own sound and a real rock ‘n roll attitude. There was something very Stones about it. Every time I see the Burnin’ Jacks they are better, more together. And the solo that Félix and Antoine did together, oh man, that was an absolute classic. Félix came out with some screeching, crying Hendrixy sounds and then suddenly Antoine joined him and the two did a little chatting back and forth with their guitars and then they segued into Antoine’s country-like song – a favorite of mine – called “Baby Please Turn Round.”

And Syd Alexander’s singing and front-man performance whipped the audience into a frenzy. Scared the hell out of me as he lept endlessly into the crowd and I feared for his safety.

There was even a fabulous drum solo – at the end of the video I put up here – and much, much more (as they say in crappy fanzines).

The room was really full of spectators – including many older ones – and they loved the show, playing along at every move.

But the Burnin’s Jacks were not the only ones I enjoyed or knew or had watched progress. There were two acts before the Burnin’ Jacks. It was the second of the two that I liked the most, and that was actually on the same level as the Burnin’ Jacks but in a completely different way. This was Niki Demiller, whom I have also known through the open mics in Paris for somewhere near three years. Niki, however, unlike the Burnin’ Jacks, has not been on precisely the same road of development since that time. Niki was the leader of a punk-like band a few years ago called The Brats. It was one of the first of the new wave of young bands in Paris in the last decade, and it had some pretty good breaks. I mean, crap, they once opened for Iggy and the Stooges at the Zenith in Paris!

But Niki in the last year or so has buried himself away to write new songs and transform himself into something completely new. He has become a kind of next in line of the tradition of the French crooner or music hall pop rocker, like a cross between Charles Aznavour, Johnny Hallyday, Jacques Dutronc and Eddie Mitchell. Last night was the first time I have seen him perform anything like these new songs with the backing of a full group. And it was very cool indeed. A cool stage persona and an original sound, and about as far from the punk rocker as you can image…yet with some of the edge and anger still there just as it should be.

All together it was a very surprising evening.

Brad Concert at the Cabaret Culture Rapide

September 5, 2011

Cabaret Culture Rapide

Cabaret Culture Rapide

One of my personal objectives this year from the outset was to do more and more concerts as opposed to open mics. Given that I have about three or four different careers or big projects going on at the same time – Formula One journalism and travel, open mic book, open mic film documentary and the learning and writing of my music itself – taking the time to get concert dates and work with the other musicians I play with is a very difficult thing. But I have already succeeded in doing more concerts than in the previous two years since I started playing music again. I did a concert with the band at the Disquaires in February, another at the Green Room in July, and yesterday afternoon I did one with Felix Beguin, of the Burnin’ Jacks, on lead guitar at the Cabaret Culture Rapide in Paris near the Belleville metro.

With all that going on I entirely forgot to make any sound or video recordings of the concert! So you will just have to trust my word here. It started badly, or at least with a lot of stress, when I found that my microphone did not work in the sound system that Culture Rapide had to offer. So the first set of 45 minutes or so was entirely done without a mic, but with my guitar in acoustic mode and Felix doing his lead at a lower volume than usual.

Every song I sang I feared ripping my vocal chords apart as I desperately wanted to be heard by everyone in the bar. Even if I was told on several occasions that I could be heard, the urge is to belt it out louder than you should just to ensure that you ARE heard.

But later, just as I began my second set, Calvin McEnron, the friend who invited me to sing at his gig the night before, arrived with a microphone. It worked, and henceforth I could relax completely and do my music in full peace. There is a massive difference when you can let go completely and submerge yourself in the music compared to when you have some horrible concern on your mind about the delivery of the music. (Having some horrible concern about life is something else and can actually fuel and fire up the music and emotion.)

So the second and last set of 45 minutes or so went very well, was lots of fun, and I enjoyed the concert thoroughly. Felix played his usual fabulous lead, worked in his usual relaxed manner, accepting my errors and minor changes in structure of the songs here and there as I decided on the spur of the moment that we needed a long musical interlude or I just plain forgot something. We also improvised very well for certain songs we had not played together on before, such as “Year of the Cat” and “Runaway Train.”

Powered by