Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Boat on the Quay, Three Down-and-Outs and a Coolin Definitely Not Dry

July 31, 2012

I made my way back from Budapest yesterday to Paris and then crossed town to the Batofar open mic, which happens so rarely that I decided I had to attend despite it being on the evening of the great Coolin open mic. Oh, and I must not forget to mention the last night in Budapest: Again I saw how open mics and open jams are such ephemeral things that from one year to the next you never know if they will still exist. The great and wonderful and extraordinary open jam session that ran on Sunday nights at Szimpla Kert in Budapest is no longer running. I went to Szimpla and met some musicians from Greece – one with an oud on his back – and they told me the jam no longer exists thanks to noise. They have to stop the music at 10 PM. These musicians, one of them said, had taken the jam slot for their group and they play there on Sunday nights. Anyway, back to Paris.

I was very happy that I made the most of my time at Becketts on Saturday, but I was really looking forward to playing again, having not played on Sunday. So I went to the Batofar, that great boat venue on the Seine, only to discover it was closed…but that the terrace of the Batofar located on the quay opposite the boat hosted the open mic. Or rather, it was the genial Vincent Lafleur on keyboards and vocals who hosted the evening.

The sound was clear and strong as I approached, and I found a nice duo of women singers with Vincent on piano. I bought a beer, then went up a few minutes later and played several songs, had a guy doing tambourine along with me, and one of the women singers joining in occasionally. Then I listened to a few more bits, including Vincent, and then I left for Coolin.

Oh, not far down the quay three clochards who had heard me playing and liked it, asked if I could sing them a song. So I sang, “Miles From Nowhere,” by Cat Stevens, which seemed appropriate, and then “Jealous Guy,” which was not appropriate, but they wanted a Beatles – and that was the closest I could come.

Took a cab to Coolin, listened to a few acts and then did my own. Just when I was certain Coolin would run out of steam and customers – it being right in the middle of the summer – I found the place just buzzing and jumping with customers and musicians. In fact, it got more and more raucous as the night went on, with people dancing all around the pub by the end. And for some reason, after they said the open mic was finished, someone then pumped up the house music and everyone continued singing and dancing to the recordings…. Another cool’un at the Coolin.

An Open Jam Session Like None Other Anywhere, at the Szimpla Kert in Budapest

August 1, 2011

It is Szimpla mad this weekly open jam session in Budapest, Szimpla mad! Before I went to Budapest I was very worried that I would encounter the first country of the year where I would not find an open mic or open jam session. I had barely managed to find a place to play last time I went, and even when I did it was a “possibly” open mic at Becketts Irish pub. Not something to get the Hungarian paprika juices flowing. But this time, oh my God, did I ever find a jam – and a half!

There was supposedly two jams on Sunday night but I decided to settle for one, once I saw how mad, manic and amazing it became. When I arrived at the Szimpla kert, which is a kind of beer garden with a massively alternative flavor to it, I had to ask around at 8 PM where the jam was. It was written up on the web site, and we eventually found a small stage area with instruments in their cases. I was sure this was going to be a jam that might not even take off. I was so wrong.

As the evening progressed the jam became a wild Bacchanal of music, rhythms, audience participation and audience dancing and free-for-all on the stage. Szimpla is owned and operated by a couple of musicians, and it is very hippie, as is the jam. There is a fabulous music studio on an upper floor, there is a VIP room – not very hippie, but cool – there are bars and narguile pipes and video screens and a full-fledged 16mm movie projector showing old arty films on the wall… there is an open air area, winding staircases, art works on all the walls, weird shell corpses of cars to sit in. If my prose feels muddy, it is because the atmosphere at Szimpla is muddy, and wonderful. Anything goes.

The jam consisted of people sitting around on the stage mostly in a circle, and playing all sorts of instruments in unison: guitars, drums, bongos, accordions, violins, triangles, a flute, singing, hand clapping, dancing. And some vocals. And at the same time, I was allowed – and Vanessa was allowed – to do simple songs, cover songs, formal songs. It is supposed to start every Sunday at 7 PM and finish at 10 PM. It actually starts closer to 9 PM and sometimes finishes as late as 3:30 AM. (I think it went until close to 2 PM last night.)

The feeling was as vibrant and chaotic as some of the moments I have felt in Istanbul and Sao Paulo; but there was something unique about this, particularly in the way the audience participated, and how the music although jammed and unprepared, held together. But freedom and free-for-all have to be the key words. And the crowd was young and hip and hippie and alternative. And other.

But I never did get to go and check out the other Sunday night jam at the other art space, called Cökxpon Café Theater. Maybe next year. But if you are there next week for the Sziget festival, be sure to check out the Szimpla Sunday night jam. Boy did this renew my faith in Budapest after a down year….

From Hungarian Dancing to Simply Madness at Szimpla in Budapest

July 29, 2011

I am caught in another bind of time in Budapest. A full night ahead, a full day behind, but last night was just so spectacular and promising that I have to put down a few words before I speed off again into the adventure of the Budapest night. We went looking for places to play music and that led us to all sorts of bars and clubs, with the most remarkable being this underground thing I forget the name of at the moment, but will put in later. There we found made Hungarian folk dancing that made me think the dancers had all taken LSD. But the greatest discovery was the vast underground – in a different sense – so-called-cafe known as Szimpla.

If I thought the folk dancers were on acid, Szimpla made me feel like I was on acid. It looks like a squat, but I do not think it is. It has a web site, an events calendar, and just too many little bars and businesses inside to really look like a squat. But it is so hip and cool and vast, with its music, wall decorations of every nature, infinite variety of private rooms, narguile pipes – chicha – and fashion statements, that this place cannot be defined in a few words here.

The greatest news, however, is that Szimpla has an open acoustic jam session every Sunday from 7 PM to 10 PM, so I have finally found a bona fide open mic or jam session in Budapest and I will definitely be attending. As it was, Vanessa and I sang several of our songs together last night, playing my guitar and singing in our corner in one of the many rooms, and a few people sang along, and we just had a great little private jam session going on. Despite the loud music that meant few people could hear us. But that is the free nature of this dynamic “cafe.”

Check it out!!!

Powered by