Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Last Stop at the Open-Mic Friendly Harcourt Arms, Despite the “Football”

July 12, 2016



Britain may be imploding – and my last five days in England confirmed to me that it has indeed lost its significance – but I do leave the formerly great Britain feeling that at least they do know how to hold an open mic during a major soccer match. My last night in Oxford I had to stop by the Harcourt Arms open mic, which I have been attending for the last five or so years – and before that it was at another pub down the street – and I entered the place finding the open mic in high gear on one side of the pub, and the soccer match final between France and Portugal being screened on a television on the other side of the pub, with no volume. And so unlike so many other pubs that do not understand how to double their clientele – rather than just dropping the open mic in order to hear a bunch of fans singing out of tune at the event over the TV, the Harcourt managed to keep two things going at once.

Having said that, as the English had already long ago performed their Brexit in the soccer tournament – unlike the victories of Lewis Hamilton in the Grand Prix on Sunday just a little before Andy Murray won at Wimbledon – there was little enthusiasm for the soccer game amongst the viewers in the pub, after all.

second at harcourt

That left room for much enthusiasm amongst the open mic participants, but unfortunately, there were so many of them that it ended up being just one song behind the mic, as quickly executed as the EU would like to see the departure of Britain. So I then decided that I would go down the street to see if for once I could take part also in the open mic of the Bookbinder’s pub, which I have always been too late to attend in years past.

I arrived to find that it was not – exceptionally running – and the pub was closing down for the night. And soccer was not to blame. It had something to do with an annual carnival that happened earlier that day in Oxford…. whatever that might mean.

first at harcourt

So it was that left the weekend nevertheless slightly frustrated at trying to cram everything in, and finding not enough time or room. I also discovered that I had left my recording device at the hotel and my phone was practically uncharged, so I could only films a couple of quick bits at the Harcourt to let the readers of this blog see and hear for yourselves….

Next stop, Budapest…. (Well, after a bit of time at home in Paris.)

Oxford Roundup, Paris End-Up, and a Gig at the Baroc Tomorrow

July 8, 2015

Brad Gig Photo

Brad Gig Photo

PARIS – I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was in Oxford over the end of last week and the weekend, and I posted only one item on this blog about my musical moments there. In fact, I actually played three nights out of the four that I was there, and just got lazy about posting…. So here’s the round up of the rest of it, and a little talk about things to come.

After the great night at Catweazle on Thursday, I got back to Oxford from Silverstone a little late, and I was pretty sure that I had missed the chance to take part in the Oxford Folk Club open night on the Friday. But I was staying in a pub-hotel – in the Cowley Road area – and decided that I’d have a small dinner and then walk over to the Oxford Folk Club anyway, just because you never say something is finished until it is.

It was about a 25 minute or so walk from the restaurant to the pub on the Abingdon Road, a when I arrived it turned out that they had already announced the last performance of the evening, and it was happening. I whipped out my camera and caught a bit of it. But this folk club being one of great spirit and openness, when the organizer saw me entering, she came right over and asked if I wanted to play. People in Oxford open mics know what time of year it is, by the way, by when I show up: “Ah, Brad’s here, we must be back in the summer for the British Grand Prix….”

So I went up and played a couple of my traditional folk songs and…thanks to my walk, my meal, my long day, and my lateness at the open mic, I immediately forgot the lyrics to not just one of the songs, but both songs, in the middle of the songs!!! I cannot remember the last time I was hit was such a memory lapse even once, let alone twice. No worry, I did manage to get enough out in each song – “Only Our Rivers Run Free” and “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” that I think it was still a pretty ok set….

The next open mic was not until Sunday, and that was the longstanding one run by Nigel, who also ran it at the Bookbinder’s pub down the street a few years ago, but moved to the Harcourt Arms – in the Jericho neighbourhood – since around 2011. This is a classic, warm, open mic, in a neat and friendly pub. It turns out that whomsoever decided not to run the thing in the Bookbinders must have regretted it, and now there is another open mic at the Bookbinders – although I think the pub has different name now – and so there are two open mics in the same neighbourhood on Sunday night – plus at least one more at the Half Moon -, which for a city the size of Oxford is amazing. Until you realize that this IS a student town….

There were some nice acts, including a group that calls itself the Oxford Beatles, and covers Beatles songs…but the musicians also do solo stuff and all sorts of different styles…. I played two songs, and my only complaint about this open mic – and it is the same for just about all open mics in Oxford – is that the damn things end by 11 PM or earlier! Please!!!! But how can you change the English mentality? At least pubs themselves no longer necessarily close at 11 PM as they did traditionally!!

Having mentioned the Half Moon pub, I forgot to mention in my post about Catweazle the other day that after the Catweazle open mic, and as my hotel was around the corner from it, I decided to drop in to the open mic at the Half Moon pub. I came in to find the organizer jamming lead guitar with a participant jamming rhythm guitar. It was pretty hodgepodge, and it went on for at least 20 minutes before I realized there was a list of names to participate in the open mic. So I got up from my table where I was sitting with my guitar right beside the jammers, and I asked the organizer if I could play, saying I just noticed the list. He said the open mic was now over, so I couldn’t, and he continued to jam with the guy for another 10 minutes.

So once it was finished, and having met someone else who wanted to play, I whipped out my guitar and played a couple of songs at the table, and so did the other guy who had arrived, also using my guitar. The MC of the open mic just nodded and left.


So that takes us to last night in Paris, as I did not play anywhere on Monday after my long travel. Last night I just dropped in to the Café Oz open mic at the Blanche metro and with no intention of playing, having also arrived quite late after a meal. But before I knew it, Brislee Adams, the MC, had my name on the list already, and I would play after maybe three other people. So I happily accepted.

There had been quite a raucous crowd, by the way, and so I decided to try using Brislee’s electric guitar – a Strat – and I did “I won’t back down,” “Mad World,” and my song, “Except Her Heart.” It was pure delight using the electric, and it’s getting me thinking about doing that more often!

In any case, I suppose I have had plenty of warm up time now for my gig at the Baroc, which takes place tomorrow night, in Paris, near the Colonel Fabien metro, or the Belleville Metro. Come along and give it a listen: I’ll be playing in a trio, with me on guitar and vocals, and Joe Cady on fiddle and lead guitar, and David Hummell on cajon and snare….

Wait, Now Where Was I Again? Oh, Yes, From Oxford and the Harcourt to Paris and the Sous Marin on the Mouffe

July 15, 2014

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

The world has been too much with me of late as I spent my last evening in Oxford playing at the fabulous Harcourt Arms open mic on Sunday night, and then coming to Paris where I got caught up in life of a different kind before stumbling into the open mic of the Rue Mouffetard on Friday night that I had never attended, and then….

Well, getting robbed of my new, three-day-old iPhone 5c as I took a cab from the open mic on the rue Mouffe to an historic mansion in the Marais where I then jammed for a while with interesting new acquaintances before I left and returned the next day to buy an iPhone 5s, since I would not accept that my quality of life be reduced by a thieving taxi driver!

And then yesterday as I wrote my articles for my newspaper in the park Montsouris by using the iPhone 5s as an Internet connection for my MacBook Pro, I then realized tonight – too late – that this fabulous discovery comes at my own expense as I just uploaded the videos you see on this page from the iPhone connection and…used more than two thirds of my annual 4G free Internet connection from Orange France in order to do so!!!!!! (And will have to pay soon to continue using Internet via 4G!!!) So I hope you enjoy these very costly video uploads!


(that’s a smiley of desperation in the guise of a headline, even if it may not appear to be such)

Yes, so, let’s take a step back for a moment after that load of yelling and ranting.

The Harcourt Arms is a fabulous, down-to-earth open mic in Oxford run by the same man who ran the open mic at the Bookbinders Pub for many years, and who has been running another at a pub next to the bus station in recent weeks. It is a classic open mic in a classic British pub, and after now having attended for several years, I can only say that I will return every chance I have. Two songs to start with, and a third if there is still time.

I had discovered the open mic at the Sous Marin bar on the rue Mouffetard a couple of months ago, but I had never actually managed to get there until Friday. It runs every Friday from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and it turns out to be a fabulous open mic in the great spirit of “anything goes” and “let’s not worry about the quality of the sound, but just have fun.”

The Sous Marin is a tiny bar with tables against the left wall as you enter from the front door to the tiny bar in the back. You can barely find a place to stand or sit, and it’s everyone shoulder to shoulder and chatting away like mad. But the ambience is absolutely perfect for a “let’s have fun” open mic, and that’s exactly what I did.

The “stage” area is right in front of the door by the street with the big front floor-to-ceiling pane glass window leading into the rue Mouffetard, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris and full of people passing all the time. So it is that the pedestrians and passersby will see the musicians all night, and the bar may thin out but it will never empty out. In short, you feel like you are singing in the street – and you might as well be.

A great new addition to the open mic world of Paris!

The Human Open Mic of the Harcourt Arms

July 1, 2013

LONDON – I have a few minutes in a Starbucks in St. Pancras station on my trip back from Oxford to Paris to write a few words about last night’s open mic at the Harcourt Arms in Oxford, where I played after the F1 race.

It was a bit of a race to get there and when I did I found a very human feel to the Harcourt Arms pub, its staff, spectators and musicians. I had to eat, ran out and got the world’s worst french fries with a passable fish, from a fish and chips joint that calls itself something like “posh.” And I returned to the Harcourt, having found that Nigel Brown had already put my name on the list, knowing I was attending.

I have attended Nigel’s open mics every year since I started staying in Oxford, but the first time it was located down the street from the Harcourt, at a place called Book Binder’s Pub. Book Binders still exists, but it changed management and closed down for a while and during that period, Nigel moved his open mic to the Harcourt. Last night the musicians of the open mic expressed their gratitude to Nigel by presenting him with a bottle of bubbly wine – I don’t think it was French, so I cannot legally call it champagne. It was a celebration of the two-year anniversary of the open mic at the Harcourt.

I decided to run down the street after the Harcourt open mic because I had heard that the Book Binder’s had started up a new open mic and was running it on Sundays too. I was not at all surprised to look into the windows at just after 11 PM and find the pub deserted and the manager putting chairs on the tables to close up for the night. I ran back to the Harcourt and continued to take part in the festivities of speaking with musicians and spectators, and to finish my beer.

Needless to say, I think probably Nigel has won the battle of popularity between the two open mics, if there is such a battle, and I’m not surprised if that’s the case: His MCing is warm and unassuming and enthusiastic, and the musicians range from complete beginners to very good groups of what sound like pros. Unlike the Catweazle club that I wrote about the other day, the Harcourt allows talk in the pub, but nevertheless the audience is receptive to every musician, pretty much.

It’s a great environment, and I will continue to return whenever I’m in Oxford. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, with my own turn behind the mic I had an incredible moment where I could not remember even a single verse of my song, “Crazy Lady,” which I had sung only days earlier at Catweazle, as well as in my hotel. I have no idea where that blank came from as it never happened with that song before – but I decided simply to do my song “Borderline” and then “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” of Dylan. It worked out fine.

Coming next on this blog, a little late, as I will be in Paris, my Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics in Oxford. Also, I will post the videos from Oxford, since I think I will not get any up here in St. Pancras on the train station wifi.

A Three-Part Blog Item to Make Up For Time Lost in Travel Warps

July 10, 2012


I just hate letting the blog slide, but things were just way beyond my control over the last couple of days, and I do not want to leave the impression that either I was not doing anything interesting, or not doing music, or not taking risks in life to live my dreams. OK, now that I have that dramatic lead out of the way, let me get on with a three-part blog item, which is the only way I can figure out doing justice to the last three nights of musical levity and profundity.

I left off with my last Oxford blog talking about the lost opportunity at the Oxford Folk Club. Well, Saturday night I had nothing lined up for playing music when suddenly a Formula One racing journalist colleague and I discovered after many years of knowing each other that we had a passion for music, and on his side especially jazz. It was clear we would hit it off when I told him I could never sing jazz, but loved it. But I added the singer HAD to be astounding for me to like it, as most amateur jazz singers sound to me like cold porridge – or flat champagne.

So he said, “Who is a great jazz singer?” I said, “Jimmy Rushing.” He said, “Guess who I was listening to in the car on the way to the circuit this morning?!?!” Yes, Rushing. So later in the day, this colleague told me he had been invited to a barbecue of a mutual colleague of ours – a photographer – and I was now invited and should bring my guitar to entertain the guests. I felt great relief telling him my guitar was in Oxford, that I could not return there and then back to the circuit. For the location of the party was in a small village next to the circuit. “Bad news, Brad. It turns out our colleague’s daughter has a guitar,” he said to me.

He must have picked up on my relief that I would not be found out as a fake, since I had spoken a lot about my musical adventure – as had some others of our colleagues to him. I was scared shitless that I would not be up to his expectations. But music comes first, emotions come first, the real reason for playing and singing, come first: expressing inner emotional truth, and who gives a fuck what others think.

So I went to the party, drank enough to relax, ate, and met the 25 or so guests. Then at the right moment, I got the daughter’s guitar out and began playing. It turned into about one hour of singing along, clapping, fun, emotion, and a general huge success. I had an astoundingly good time, and reports back the following day confirmed that I was not alone to have fun. So it was yet another example of, “Push yourself towards expanding the boundaries and doing what you love and taking chances.”


I ended up sleeping over at this person’s home, in the swimming pool room, and so thereby avoiding traffic and getting to the circuit early for an interview and then the race. I then returned to my hotel in Oxford, went out to dinner and then went to the Harcourt Arms pub’s open mic, which I also attended last year in its first weeks of its existence. Remember, this one came out of the Bookbinder’s open mic down the street, which was organized by Nigel Brown…. A year later, with Nigel still running the Harcourt Arms open mic, I was greeted warmly as I entered, by both Nigel AND the publicans. Wow! It is like a second home. I have a lot of those now around the world.

It turned into a perfect open mic evening with a wide cross-section of performers, wonderful meetings with musicians, locals, tourists and three drop-dead gorgeous German women students all studying biochemistry! (I now realize I should have gone into science….) There was a fabulous pub atmosphere as usual in this consummate neighborhood English pub, with the added attraction of it being located in the great university town.

But the adventure here would become for me yet another case of following instinct, desire and ambitions as I performed a set of two songs alone, and then got another chance to go up, and I asked Nigel a question.

“This year,” I told him, “as I travel the world, I am trying to play and record myself playing, in each country with a local musician. Would you like to play with me?”

He said fine, but added that I would be better off with a guitarist named Johnny Hinkes. So I asked Johnny, and he agreed to play with me. I had not really been very motivated to ask, as it really is like leaping across a big canyon to go out and put yourself forward and say, “Can someone play with me?”

But when I got up to play with Johnny, I realized that I was with a lead guitarist like none I had ever played with before. I started with “Mad World,” because I thought it suited the moment, and would be easy and good for him to play along to. But he did such an amazing and different job with it, that I decided to be ambitious and do my song, “Borderline.” He was even better with that, and had never heard it before. It was a fabulous success, I had the time of my life, and I got it recorded too – although not on video. The Harcourt Arms and Nigel Brown came through again – better than ever! (I was then offered a cab ride back to my hotel by someone going that direction, which was a fabulous time saver for my Monday travels.)


It was a long, long, long day from Oxford back to Paris. I had to drive my rental car to Avis in London, then go to the St. Pancras station and take the Eurostar. Just before entering the Channel Tunnel, the train stopped at a station and we sat there for 2 hours!!! That is 20 minutes short of what the whole trip is supposed to take. The train had a technical problem and could not go through the tunnel. Would we have been suffocated or something?

Finally, we switched to a new train, and I arrived in Paris at 20:15. It was too late to return home and THEN go to the Coolin open mic as I planned. So I just went directly to Coolin with all my luggage and my guitar and ate a meal there – English fish ‘n chips – and I waited for the open mic. I was not feeling particularly inspired about the evening, but it began to grow on me, I saw friends, I heard great music, I got into the vibe, did my bit, and then saw some people I met last week – the trio with Alix, Anzaya and Leyone, whom I had met last week when I hosted the Galway open mic.

Suddenly, I found that I was having the greatest evening, totally into it, loving every moment. It was yet another cool Coolin, and I was again on top of the world. A fine end to a busy weekend.

Harcourt Arms Other Views

July 15, 2011

A few days ago I put up an item about the open mic at the Harcourt Arms in Oxford with some of my videos of it. It turns out that Nigel Brown, the organizer, also took some videos, including me doing my Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Rather than putting them up on my previous post, I thought I would put them up here. I thought it was cool to see some of the same stuff I videoed too, but from a different angle and with a different device. Like especially the Sam Quill song of John Martyn:

And my Chapin:

I think there’s more to come from Nigel, but here’s another I did but did not get up in my original post:

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:

Deadly, Deadly Night at the Harcourt Arms in Oxford – Art Sketchers, Students et al….

July 11, 2011

This is Oxford, right? So the fact of going up to perform in an open mic and finding yourself facing a battery of art sketchers and writers, and why not professors, is not really that surprising, right? Well, last night at the Harcourt Arms pub in Oxford, I was a little taken aback by it all. And I had the greatest time in the world. Not just singing, speaking to the artists – who were sketching the musicians – and taking in the local beer, but also listening to a nightlong lineup of wonderful musicians.

This IS Oxford. It means it is full of interesting people, loads of musicians, open mics, and great pubs. The Harcourt Arms is a mainstay, located in the highly sought after Jericho – I’ll have to check that spelling – district of Oxford. A friend of mine told me they used to have a weekly or monthly Gothic night there, but lately the pub was bought by a new owner and it happened at just the same moment that the Bookbinder’s Pub around the corner went through some change of hands or renovation and got rid of its four-year-old open mic. That highly successful open mic was run by Nigel Brown, and somehow he and the new owners of the Harcourt Arms connected and came to an agreement about having an open mic on Sundays. Thank goodness they did. This was very cozy, warm, well run, and there is even a backyard area where you can escape to think of other things, if you want.

But you won’t want. If you like open mics. The sound system is great, the room is convivial, and the night was full of musicians and spectators. And as it turned out, I felt like I was an art school model, but when I asked the artists if they were a group belonging to a school, they said “No.” They were just there for the fun of it. I also noticed a novelist or memoirist writing during the music; so it was that I felt more at home than ever doing my videos of the performers and then my interviews with spectators and Nigel Brown, for my documentary.

Loved some of the performers, the last two – Sam Quill doing a John Martyn song and Kasra – being particularly interesting, but also Jon Soul of the JJ Soul Band, with his Tom Waits voice….

Oh, and someone very kindly offered to do a video of me singing Borderline – second time in a week – and I accepted, and I’m glad I did. We get the artists here too, and it’s not a bad video….

Powered by