Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Where Was the Action? Tennessee, Galway or Coolin?

February 3, 2015

coolinPARIS – I’ll start by saying that my little crawl through the open mics of the Latin Quarter last night began with putting my name on the list of the Galway Pub open mic. It then went from there to dropping by at the Tennessee Bar open mic; and finished cool at the Coolin. And which was the best, hands down???

The Tennessee, I must say, was the worst. This place has recently died. The Tennessee, for years run by James Iansiti, was one of the best open mics in Paris. And one of the things that made it that was the amazing location of the bar, and the fabulous basement layout, its amazing stage, the possibility to go to the ground level or outside to talk and smoke. Then James left the place (now at the Café Oz, Denfert), and the Tennessee went through some kind of transition period using several different MCs, and this has now led to its current state of disaster and death. So if you want a really hideous night at an open mic in Paris on Mondays, drop by the Tennessee. Really, this fabulous bar and musical venue – potentially – must do something to save its current descent into hell.

If it looks like I was drinking some good whiskey while writing the above paragraph, then that’s right. But maybe I had better say something more concrete: First, there is no longer any ambience, the MC seems nice enough, but that’s not enough. There were five musicians present, it was a jam session not an open mic (which can be great, but there was no sense of cohesion here), and it seems that all those kinds of people who used to flock to this place to have a sense of home and fun, have abandoned ship. The stage is there, climb aboard and do what you want. Each musician for his or herself.

Next: So I spent only a few minutes there, grabbed a bit of video footage of some people playing – before THEY abandoned ship and turned up at the Galway – and I went to the Galway. The regular MC, All the Roads, Romain, was not there last night, and was being replaced. That meant an immediate downer, since Romain is so much a part of the vibe at the Galway now. The replacement was just fine, and is alway a regular musician at the Galway. But at least for as long as I stayed, I did not find the atmosphere I was looking for exactly, and I DID get to play early and therefore have the time to move on to the Coolin as I wanted.

In the meantime, I learned a response to the question I had posed to myself the last time I visited the Galway: The two tickets that every musician who plays now receives (that I mentioned last time) are worth Happy Hour prices for the drinks. This is a fabulous innovation at the Coolin, and really shows how much the pub respects and encourages musicians. My Kilkenny cost me five euros instead of something like seven euros fifty or so.

And Then Off to the Grand Finale of the Evening at the Coolin Pub in Paris

But I wanted to check out the Coolin in this last period of the pub’s existence. How horrible, the Coolin, after some 20 years, will be closing March after the market building in which it is based was bought out and kicking out all the businesses.

It was a relatively quiet night at the Coolin in terms of the numbers of musicians present – as it had been at the two previous joints (thanks no doubt to the cold weather) so despite arriving late, I got my name on the list.

I managed to play, got an encore, played again, then played another song at the end of an evening that ended at 1:30 AM or later! How can I describe the riotous musical fun at the Coolin last night? There were all sorts of talented, manic and crazy musicians, a great team running the show as usual between Ellen and Etienne, and a bar staff that is bounteous in its generosity. Oh dear, and each musician actually receives a ticket for an entirely free drink. (This is an old tradition at the Coolin, and possibly something the Galway heard about.)

Just check out the videos to get an idea of the fabulous atmosphere at the Coolin last night. And go every Monday until 16 March, the last night for the open mic – before the closing day of the bar with the final musical day of madness on the 21 March.

Coolin wins hands down last night in the Latin Quarter.

Glimpses at the Galway

November 8, 2011

Somehow I ended up at the Galway without my Zoom Q3 camera, and there were some musicians worth catching on video. One was All-The-Roads, who I mentioned in my previous post and of whom I have plenty of videos. The other was a new visitor, Justin Purtill, who has recently come to Paris for a while, and who found the Galway thanks to this blog. When I heard this musician from Chicago start playing, I knew I had to whip out my iPhone 4 and get some of it on video, even if the sound would not be as good as with the Zoom.

Justin is an excellent guitar player, as you can hear from the video I did of his song, and he is also a highly reputed bass player. After the evening was over we shared a taxi to our homes, which are not far away from each other. And during the trip shared our enthusiasm for Jaco Pastorius as a bass player. I pulled out the iPhone 4 again and played one of my favorite Jaco bits, from this 1977 Joni Mitchell album, the opening track of “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.” It is absolutely deadly:

Post-India Tourista and a Bit of Fun at the Galway

November 2, 2011

I did all I could to avoid eating things that would give me the famous upset stomach, tortured intestines and things I do not even wish to mention or hint at on this blog. But I failed. Was it the strange burger I ate the last night in India, or was it the crappy tomato and salad sandwich I ate on the Air India flight back to Paris? Whatever it was, it struck me down all day yesterday. Thus this blog a day late.

I returned, even so, to Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday night and went straight from there on the RER train to the Galway pub to have a fat, juicy, Imperial burger and play the open mic. There I met friends old and new, and managed to do quite a long set, with all the encouragement from Stephen Prescott and the audience and fellow musicians. So it was quite a celebration and quite enough to take a slight edge off the “tourista” the next day….

That’s all I will write about that tonight, so I can get off and play at the Highlander tonight, having by now made at least half a recovery from whatever it was I caught. They told me it was almost inevitable that one’s first trip to India would be blessed with an upset stomach – I guess I was just lucky it happened in Paris and not there….

A Classic Meeting at the Galway, and a Passage to India

October 26, 2011

Christine Haquet and Rouen piano solo

Christine Haquet and Rouen piano solo

I finally got back to my two regular Paris open mics after a couple of weeks away in Asia. And as it turned out, for this blog I ended up getting very little material from the music of the evening. I was too distracted, not by my new Gibson guitar that I played at these places for the first time, but by meeting a couple of interesting French classical music musicians.

One was a flutist, named Christel and the other was a piano player and composer named Christine Haquet, and she gave me a copy of her CD that has just come out. It is a fabulous set of piano compositions all based on aspects of and places in Rouen, where Christine lives. I listened to it immediately Tuesday morning as I did my exercises, and it reminded me in some ways of the kind of feeling I enjoy listening to Erik Satie’s piano compositions. But Christine’s touch on many different feelings and shades of style, with a very contemporary pop sound at moments, along with classical sounds. I am inadept at writing about such music, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it and know that I will be listening to it again. Furthermore, it made me want to return to Rouen, as it makes me see it in a completely different light to the only time I was there.

So it was that while I went to both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub open mics, and I played at both of them, I ended up filming only one performer. That was an interesting young Frenchman singing at the Tennessee Bar in a fairly traditional French popular music style. Sounded very interesting, and gave a lot of us a jolt.

I am currently going through another kind of jolt as I write these words, for I barely slept through the night flight to New Delhi, and then I got lost in the maze of streets of two completely different quarters as I sought my hotel. I am now sitting in my hotel room and I have been entertained for hours by the sound of exploding fireworks. They are non-stop. I mean, this is as bad as the music outside of the love motel in Mokpo, South Korea. It is, I suddenly remember shortly after I had thought the Indians were a mad people, quite simply a national holiday, and that is why there is all of these fireworks going off.

Tomorrow I will have my own concert at The Living Room Cafe in New Delhi, and I am really looking forward to doing and reporting on that!

From the Galway in Paris and the Alma Desnuda, to Tokyo, then Nagoya

October 5, 2011

This post will no doubt be little more than a postage stamp-sized marking of territory where it might have been quite fun and elaborate. But having played at the Galway Pub open mic on Monday night and then returned home and stayed up all night before catching a flight to Tokyo and then a bullet train to Nagoya, I must say that my intellectual capacities are a little dulled out.

The all-night thing was intended to help me beat jet-lag, and it worked to a good degree, but I’m still feeling it. (I slept on the airplane for several hours during Paris daytime hours, where normally… this is turning into a rambling nothing….)

The Galway evening was fun, and it was particularly well illuminated by an interesting couple of guys passing through Paris from a California-based band called Alma Desnuda. They were funny, light, and also capable of being heavy and emotional. I liked the stuff a lot, and a glance at their Alma Desnuda band web site shows they are invovled in all sorts of interesting projects, including educational ones.

They were passing through Paris, and happened to celebrate the birthday of one of the two of them. Their band, they said, was founded while they lived in Spain.

I am writing these words from my hotel in Nagoya, and fighting the fatigue but hoping that I will find an open mic here tonight anyway. I have seen all sorts of open mics in the city, but most take place on days I will not be here. I hope nevertheless that the one I attended two years ago is still running on Thursdays…. Keep posted…. and I’ll keep posting.

PS, if you are in France, it seems that tonight the France 3 television channel will be airing a report about the Ullmann Kararocke at the Bus Palladium that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Part of the report was filmed during the evening I took part in, as I had mentioned. Don’t know if there will be any moments of me in it, but check it out, it’s bound to be mad!

Summertime – and Brad – Returns to the Paris Open Mics

August 23, 2011

Paris is known around the world for its habit of closing down in the month of August, as all the French people migrate south or elsewhere for vacation. I had been thinking it was miraculous that any of the open mics remained open during this period, but as Stephen Prescott, the MC of the Galway open mic, pointed out to me, his expat pub gets a lot of foreigners, and they come to Paris in August. Still, several of the preceding open mics I had attended were just as well attended or better than usual. But last night, finally, the trend stopped and changed and it seemed finally that Paris had found its real August at the open mics. Both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub’s open mics were pretty empty, comparatively speaking.

On the other hand, that provided a chance to those who DID attend, to play more songs than usual. I did four or five at each one of them. I felt good and free and loved it. There were some new, visiting musicians whom I really enjoyed too, especially Barbara Breedijk from the Netherlands. Jesse Kincaid was back from another part of his European tour, and there was a Frenchman with an interesting guitar at the Tennessee. I had returned to the Paris open mics after my New York City sojourn, and the first playing I had done in public for nearly a week. All together, a reasonable evening in Paris, although it really felt like one of those dead sunny Sunday afternoons. Oh, check out Barbara’s “Summertime.”

Good Galway! And Another Karaoke….

July 26, 2011

After going through a slow period on its Monday night open mic, in recent weeks the Galway on the Quai des Grands Augustins has returned to its grands jours. (Big days.) It has been very crowded in recent weeks with both spectators and musicians, and last night was no exception. I returned from a long drive back from Germany to find that I was just slightly too late to try for my usual Tennessee Bar AND Galway open mics on the same night, so I did the Galway – and then dropped into the karaoke at the Pub St. Michel, just five minutes walk away.

Now that I think of it, that is a triple-header possible on every Monday night, as the karaoke goes on very late. After what I wrote about the karaoke in Cologne, some readers might wonder why I returned again to another karaoke. Karaoke is NOT my thing. But I am realizing that I can strengthen a lot of aspects of my musical delivery, playing, presentation, etc., by taking part more often in karaokes. I am WAAAAY out of my comfort zone when I am not playing my own guitar and doing songs MY way. The karaoke can help me get better, no doubt. But anyway…no, this blog will NOT turn into a worldwide karaoke adventure and source. But I suppose they deserve to be there once in a while.

The Pub St. Michel, by the way, had a predominance of men, and was pretty small and intimate, but good fun.

The Galway had some interesting acts, including another visit by Kensuke Shoji, the wonderful Japanese violin/fiddle player.

I played three songs with my friend Vanessa, our usual “Mad World,” “Just Like a Woman,” (in which she features as the “little girl”) and a song she insisted on doing AND learning with me last night. It usually takes me three months to feel secure enough learning and playing a new song, so there again I was out of my comfort zone as I played the chords – reading them from my iPhone – and she sang the lyrics. But it was essential that we do the song now, so she was right to force me to do this thing against my better judgement – and we pulled it off, much better than I expected. It was a homage to Amy Winehouse, with the song, “I’m No Good.” Unfortunately, no good as I am at videoing myself, I did not get a video of it.

The Inevitable Comedown After the Oxford High

July 12, 2011

It’s really the nature of human existence, isn’t it? We have an a amazing time one night or for a string of nights in a situation that we then try to repeat elsewhere and we are automatically let down, taken down to a more normal level. It’s why people get carried away with drugs…go on an amazing trip and you want more, and more, and higher and higher. Of course, that then leads to disaster and death. Well, that was the position I found myself in last night after four days in Oxford at four venues on three evenings, all of which were rounded out by the best evening of them all – at the Harcourt Arms. Back in Paris at two of my favorite open mics, it just didn’t match up.

That is in no way a reflection of the Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics on Monday night in Paris. It was just a question of a roll of the dice that meant I had an amazing time in Oxford, and then returning to Paris I experienced something I am very used to – and which was not, as it turned out, quite as outstanding as it sometimes can be…like just two weeks ago when I was raving about these same two open mics after a barren weekend in Valencia, Spain. So this is not a judgment on two of my favorite open mics in Paris, just an observation on the workings of my emotional interieur. Even so, there were some very high moments last night, and both open mics had a lot of people playing. Here are some videos:

The Gall of them at the Galway Pub – a Great Open Mic

July 5, 2011

This sometimes happens: I go to an amaaaaaaaazing open mic, I return home armed with a battalion of superbe videos of fabulous performers and atmosphere and everything you could ever hope for…and I have about five minutes to write about it before I head off – late – to the next open mic!!! That describes tonight. I may never get a chance to play tonight at Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance as I will arrive so late. But I absolutely HAVE to write about last night’s festival of music, especially at the Galway Pub.

I started by going to the Tennessee Bar’s open mic and saw some good and interesting musicians, and sang four of my own songs. But as usual, I was hungry for more, and left soon after for the Galway Pub, five minutes away from the Tennessee. No regrets, man. Last night after a few weeks of slightly down times at the Galway, it was an amazing open mic that attracted interesting musicians from around the world, and a very good crowd of people there to listen, celebrate and enjoy, both inside the Irish pub and on the sidewalk outside, opposite the Seine.

The big story of the night, though, was this couple I saw that appeared to have come into the orbit from another planet. I had arrived too late to see him play, but later on, the guy would go up again – and it was memorable. He was with his friend, and they were just on a weeklong trip to Paris and another weeklong trip to the UK. This was Woody Lissauer, a musician from Baltimore, and his friend. I saw Woody collecting people’s email addresses, people who had heard him. I was curious, offered my own, and learned a lot about Woody, bought his CD, and will not forget the night – especially his rendition of John Barleycorn.

I could not believe I was really hearing and seeing this guy from Baltimore play and sing this fabulous version of John Barleycorn, which was the title song of one of my favorite albums from my teenage years, “John Barleycorn Must Die,” by the band Traffic. Another of my favorite bands from that time also did it, and that was Steeleye Span. Woody recalled exactly the intro to the song by Steeleye Span. But Woody, it turns out, also mostly has a massive number of his own songs, and he sang some last night. I listened to the album today, and enjoyed it thoroughly – I was floored when suddenly I heard his version of Suzanne by Leonard Cohen, on the album in the middle of his own.

Woody has lived off music for 33 years and never held another job. He just did the open mic for fun, and it seems, to sell me the album. Worth it….

Ollie, as it turned out, showed up to play last night, and Stephen played with a bassist, and Ollie played with the bassist too, and generally it was just a wonderful celebration; now I have to run to have another!

An Italian Opera singer, an American Who Tries out Astral Weeks, and a Cellist – a Cool Monday at the Open Mics in Paris

May 3, 2011

I think that my headline should be longer than my story. But last night was a very cool one, despite the fact that I simply went to the same open mics as usual in Paris, the Galway Pub and the Tennessee Bar’s open mics. There is a back and forth between the two of musicians and moments. But last night, I must admit, I was more touched at the Galway than at the Tennessee. Of course, I didn’t hang around long enough at the Tennessee, no doubt.

There was a band I had seen before at the Tennessee and I did not catch their name, but it has a good singer and a wicked cellist, and that makes the difference. Check out the video; and if you like it, the band is doing its own concert at the Tennessee at some point soon.

At the Galway I walked in just in time to hear an American from Texas who looks like Steve Forbert but who belongs to a band called Superfly… no… Horslips… no… Horsefly… singing a song by Van Morrison that is one of the most difficult to tackle and comes from his Astral Weeks album. I ordered a beer and I was hearing this song and I suddenly realized this was a rare moment, because I have never heard anyone trying to sing this song before in an open mic – or anywhere else. So I whipped out the camera before taking the beer, and I got the final minutes or seconds of the song.

Then later in the evening we were surprised by the superb and inspiring performance of an Italian opera singer who had stopped by for a beer and decided after me to sing a single song – thank goodness it was AFTER me. Rony of the Romantic Black Shirts played guitar for the man.

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