Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Paddy Sherlock’s Fabulous, Long-Overdue Paris Songwriters Club at the Tennessee Bar

November 27, 2017

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

PARIS – I could not go last month to the first edition of Paddy Sherlock’s open mic at the Tennessee Bar that he runs under the name of the Paris Songwriters Club. But last night, Sunday, I could get there, so I took the opportunity, because I had a feeling about this thing. My feeling was right. Paddy Sherlock, a longtime Paris musician from Ireland (who had a gig at the Coolin pub in Paris for 20 years!), really knows how to organize and run a great show. Last night might have been an open mic, but it was a great show – beginning to end. A fabulous addition to the Paris open mic scene.

The idea behind it is a slightly risky one, in that he basically demands that people play their own compositions and not cover songs. But that environment really pushes a musician with insecurities to go for the risk of playing their own song rather than falling into the safe zone of doing a crowd-pleasing cover that they know is a sure thing.
Second Paris Songwriters Club night compilation

What I found amazing last night – along with Paddy’s perfect MCing, and his own great music, and the good sound system, etc. – was that I really felt very often as if it could not be possible that everyone was playing his own song! Some of the stuff was just so good that I forgot for the duration whether I was listening to an unknown popular song, or a composition by an unknown songwriter.

In any case, it more than lived up to my hopes. And this is great news for the Tennessee Bar too – which has relatively new management – as it used to host one of the best open mics in Paris, with James Iansiti, but since that host left, the open mic has never been up to standard for long, if at all.

Paddy said he hopes to make this monthly open mic a weekly open mic, although that depends on its success. For the moment, one thing is for sure: The next edition is on 10 December. So I highly recommend you get your butt over there, songwriter or not!

PS. For the first time on this site, and in a baptising of my new camera, I have decided to make a compilation of short segments of all of the people I filmed during the open mic – which was far from the full number of performers.

PPS, I did not want to ignore that there is also a new open mic at the Tennessee bar on Thursdays, which is run by Etienne of Coolin fame, but which unfortunately the night when I went there, Etienne could not make it, so I decided not to stay as I wanted to see it in its real guise…. I’ll return again, for sure….

Finding Warmth in the Cold Night at the Café Oz Denfert Open Mic

December 29, 2014

Café Oz Paris

Café Oz Paris

PARIS – Winter finally came to Paris, the temperature was below zero – or certainly felt like it! – and on a Sunday night I could not imagine finding life, warmth or music in any of the open mics.

It turned out I found all three and more at the Café Oz Denfert open mic, finding myself not only surrounded by musicians at this great relatively new open mic – with the former MC from the Tennessee Bar, James Iansiti – but also finding a very big audience of spectators and imbibers all coming in from the cold to take in the music and drink some warming alcohol.

There were a few surprises amongst the musicians, including one whose really cool songs I have written about in years past, but who dislikes having videos put up on my site, so I won’t say anything more on that. But there were some regulars as well, like the fabulous Alvaro, who turned his set into a jam, as well as at least one person who came without musicians but managed to band them all together for a few popular and well-received songs….

I played around five or six songs, mostly covers, and then left as quickly as I arrived, back into the cold. Cold. Cold.

Doing This Backwards at Brad Spurgeon’s Blog – a Two-Week Log-jam

December 1, 2014

Café Oz Paris

Café Oz Paris

PARIS – I have been so busy in the last two weeks winding up my sixth worldwide open mic adventure with a visit to Abu Dhabi that I never did get back to the blog to talk about all the musical and other things I have been up to since my last post, two weeks ago. That is VERY unlike this blog. And I have no excuses – because I don’t believe in using “overwork” as an excuse, since we can ALWAYS do more.

Having said that, I’ve got stacked up in my brain of experiences and plans and projects over the last couple of weeks a bunch of different things and evenings and musical experiences to talk about. And I hate the idea of writing about them all at once on a single, never-ending post. So instead, I’ve decided to talk about the things freshest in my mind and memory first – i.e., the stuff I did yesterday – and each day when I come back (provided no new experience has been got) I will write about the experience of the day before.

That is the beauty of a blog: Anything goes!!! To hell with chronological order and the tyranny of time!

Visiting the New Open Mic at the Café Oz, Denfert in Paris

It has been running for a few weeks now, but I somehow only managed to get to the new Sunday-night open mic at the Café Oz at Denfert Rochereau in Paris last night for the first time. It’s even more surprising since I have been jogging past this pub for a year and a half on my nightly – ok, sometimes fortnightly – jog around the neighborhood. But what was even more surprising, in a pleasant way, was to discover that this new Café Oz open mic in this voluminous Australian pub, is run by the same guy who made the Tennessee Bar open mic such a great success for so many years, along with one of the regulars at that open mic night.

Yes, James Iansiti is the guy behind it, and he works with Chardes on the MCing, on musical backing, on announcing and organizing. And here we have an open mic with a difference in Paris: It may be the same format that James ran at the Tennessee Bar for so many years – until he did not do that anymore, a year ago??? – but this bar is such a different kind of place that the feel is quite different.

It confirms my feeling again that the success of an open mic is the sum of its parts: attitude of bar owner, size and shape of bar and stage, location of bar, MC, sound system, whatever. So this may be James and the gang running this Café Oz open mic at Denfert Rochereau in Paris (not to be confused with Brislee Adams’ open mic at the Café Oz at the Metro Blanche), but the feeling is different.

I personally just loved playing on this big raised stage area in front of the voluminous bar room, with hugely high ceilings, and a friendly staff. I even enjoyed the fact of the sports televisions showing their imagines as I played. All in all, this is one to recommend, and breaks a little the stranglehold of the Pop In on Sunday nights in Paris….

Life Goes on at the Tennessee Bar Open Mic in Paris – And Bursts Forth at the Galway

August 14, 2014

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

PARIS – As with my report from the Highlander open mic last week, I made a visit to play music at the Tennessee Bar open mic the other day for the first time in many months. But unlike at the Highlander, the Tennessee does not have the same long-standing MC running the show, but has gone through a few changes in the last year.

The first thing that happened was that the longtime MC and Tennessee bar open mic organizer, James Iansiti, left the job after something like six or seven years running the thing. He was immediately replaced by Yaco, the organizer and MC of the Petit Bonheur la Chance/La Tireuse open mic, which was one of the best in Paris. Yaco went on to run the Tireuse on Tuesdays and the Tennessee on Mondays and Thursdays. That was a lot of Yaco, and for reasons I have not found out, he left the Tennessee job and the Tireuse ceased to exist as an open mic.

That brings us to today. I didn’t catch the name of the new MC and like every good journalist, I didn’t bother asking him his name. Some day I will, no doubt! But he was doing a pretty good job – except for the occasional mystery disappearance – and it is safe to say by this one experience that the Tennessee Bar open mic seems to have reborn, somehow, into something similar but different.

But then, up the street from the Tennessee the Galway was overflowing with musicians….

I had the feeling it was a younger crowd, and I had the feeling that the new MC is a hands-on guy, playing with other musicians on guitar and percussion when they want. He makes a list, and basically gives musicians more than just three or four songs if it feels like they are being well-received – he asked the crowd a few times if they wanted more from musicians….

All good so far. The Tennessee may have found its way into a new territory. Having said that, I really only ended up at the Tennessee because the Galway – near by on the Quai des Grands Augustins – was overflowing with musicians and I’d be about No. 25 on the list despite not really being that late to sign up. So, keep an eye on these two Monday night open mics in Paris and let’s see where they go….

The New Combination at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 22, 2013

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

DUBAI – I’m back to that strange situation of writing about the Tennessee Bar open mic in Paris while in a completely different part of the world. a few weeks ago I was writing all about the end of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris from my hotel room in Mokpo, South Korea. Now I’m in the lounge at the Dubai airport on my way to New Delhi, and I’m writing about the Tennessee open mic again. But this time it’s from firsthand experience, that of my attendance at the “new” Tennessee Bar open mic last night.

After many years of the open mic being run by James Iansiti, the Tennessee Bar open mic is now run by Ollie Joe, who also MCs the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesday nights. Ollie has been doing it for a few weeks now, but last night was my first opportunity to attend the “new” open mic. And I am pleased to report that it is a live, well and really kicking.

Ollie has changed the format somewhat, as James used to have people play three or four songs or more, especially if they were new performers, while Ollie is doing the same thing here as he does at the Tireuse: two songs per performer, unless there is time afterwords for another round. The downside to James’s way was that sometimes people who came regularly found that there was no longer time for them to play by the end of the night.

Last night the place was just bursting at the doors with people, and it really felt to me like a cross between an open mic at the Tireuse and the old Tennessee itself. What really stood out for me was that it once again confirmed my belief that some bars are better than others for holding successful open mics, and the Tennessee is one of them. The fact of the basement being small, cosy, a great stage, but also isolated from the ground floor where people can go to talk, is one of the things that makes the Tennessee so good for an open mic.

Of course, Ollie’s superb moderating and MCing will also ensure that this place lives on.

One of the reasons I made sure I went last night despite having to pack up and get ready for my flight the next day to India was that Tim Menees was in town and intending to play. Tim wrote a fabulous article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly about his time playing at the Tennessee Bar last year while on a vacation in France, and I really wanted to meet him and perhaps play with him. I had a chance for both, and we did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” with me on guitar and vocals, and him on piano. And he is a mean piano player, as you will see and hear on the videos….

A New Open Mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 6, 2013

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

MOKPO, South Korea – (Note: Don’t skip the important update at the end of this post.) The news of Paris open mics coming from Mokpo, South Korea continues to develop and get stranger as it goes! Two days ago I updated my Thumbnail Guide to Paris open mics by re-instating the open mic of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, which closed down in May and then opened again in September under the new bar name of “La Tireuse.” No sooner had I put that post up on the site than I saw a message on the Facebook page of the open mic at the Tennessee bar in which it seemed to say that the open mic and downstairs bar concept had both closed down. As it was impossible for me in South Korea to find out immediately whether it was just the end of the cellar bar concept or whether the open mic had closed as well, I published my story, stating clearly the reservation that it was not yet clear if the open mic had been discontinued or not.

I then wrote an email to the host of the open mic on Facebook, and he and his girlfriend confirmed to me overnight that the open mic itself had ended. So I updated the post accordingly. Some hours later, I have now received a message from someone within the management of the Tennessee Bar that tells me that the open mic itself has NOT come to an end, and neither has the basement bar it seems…. It is simply the end of James Iansiti’s time hosting the open mic, according to the Tennessee management. The bar will continue to run an open mic, starting with tomorrow night.

However, given that this open mic has always been indivisible in my mind, and in the minds of many of its other musicians, from the presentation and administration of it by James Iansiti, and given that the concept has perhaps changed, I have decided that I will keep the open mic off of my list of Paris open mics until I get to go and try it out myself so that I can write about it in the same way as all of the other open mics on my Paris list: from my own personal experience. I also often like to wait a few weeks before I incorporate a new open mic on my list in order to see if it is really going to stick around!

One thing I can say is that the Tennessee bar has a perfect layout for an open mic, with a great sound system and the ability of the musicians and spectators to listen comfortably in the basement to the music, or to talk on the ground floor. So if the presentation and hosting turns out to be as good as what James did, then I have no doubt this will continue to remain one of the mainstay open mics of Paris.

The one thing this has now clarified for me is that clearly, the managers of the Tennessee have not closed their eyes to the business to the bar that I thought the open mic brought it.

I can’t wait to see how this all develops!

UPDATE at 23:22 in Mokpo on 6 Oct.: As a reaction to this post, I have just learned that the new host of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar on Mondays will be none other than the exceptional Ollie Joe, who also hosts the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesdays. This is an hilariously ironic point, as this chain of news posts from Mokpo all started by the reinstating of the open mic at La Tireuse! Anyway, this great news can only be celebrated by re-incorporating the Tennessee Bar open mic on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music instantly.

The End of the Tennessee Bar Open Mic in Paris

October 5, 2013

tennessee bar open mic closing

tennessee bar open mic closing

MOKPO, South Korea – For the second day running, the news from Mokpo is about Paris! Mokpo is the little “bled” – to use a French word – where I am located this weekend in my worldwide musical adventure. There’s no open mic from what I can see – or have seen in the past. But lots is going on in Paris. No sooner did I yesterday update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, by reinstating the existence of the former Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic now reborn as La Tireuse, than I learned through a Facebook announcement that the longstanding and great open mic in Paris at the Tennessee Bar has just ended.

I have tried to contact the person who maintains the page to confirm that the statement they made means there is no longer an open mic, but I have not had a response (on my accelerated South Korea time). But that the open mic is finished is the way everyone else who has written in queries has interpreted the statement, and it is the way I think the statement has to be interpreted. (Note: Today, the following day in South Korea, Oct. 6, I received confirmation from Valerie and James that both the downstairs Whiskey bar concept and the open mic itself have now ended. Later in the day, however, I then received a comment on this post telling me that the open mic will continue on Mondays, but with a different host. As James Iansiti and the Tennessee Bar open mic have been part and parcel of the same thing, I will henceforth treat this open mic as a new one. I’ll put it back on my open mic list once I see that it is really here to stay, and once I get a taste of it myself, like all the open mics on my list in Paris.)

Here is what they said on the Tennessee Whiskey Bar Facebook page: “The Tennessee Whiskey Bar regrets to inform you that we are now closed. The owner and manager of the Tennessee Jazz Bar were not happy with the project. Thanks to all of our musicians and guests for sharing the bar we created.
James and Valérie love you!”

So what else can that mean? If it is not closed (see above note), I’ll update as soon as I get the news. But for the moment we have to assume the open mic has ended after many years. This is one of the best open mics in Paris, it was run by James Iansiti, and I have written about it extensively on this blog. After James and his girlfriend, Valerie, redesigned the fabulous basement room of the Tennessee bar over the summer and re-opened the open mic under the name of the Tennessee Whiskey Bar, it seems the experiment has ended, the owner and manager of the Tennessee Bar having decided that he did not like the new deal.

And so ends what I can only imagine was a great business deal for the Tennessee bar. But what do I know about the economics of running a bar in Paris and its open mic. It is not the first time I have seen an open mic just bubbling over with clients, bursting at the seams, incapable of holding all the spectators and musicians, and then seeing the bar owner say that they don’t like the business the open mic is providing them with. But why now? The Tennessee Bar open mic has existed for at least five years, and earlier this year it was so popular it became a twice-a-week event, putting on an open mic on Mondays and then also on Thursdays.

Of course, the last time a mainstay open mic in Paris collapsed, it rose from the ashes again – as the new owner saw the business and community value in it – and that was the very one I mentioned at the top of this post, now called La Tireuse. Well, the only good point to this loss of another great Paris open mic is that there were already two others in the neighborhood, and now musicians will no longer have to toss a coin to decide which bar to give their business to: The Coolin or the Galway.

Bye, bye Tennessee, and thanks for all fun years. May you rise up out of the ashes too!

Tale of the Tennessee Open Mic in the Pittsburgh Quarterly

June 19, 2013

Pittsburgh Quarterly

Pittsburgh Quarterly

PARIS – The thing that keeps me going on this blog is the connection I make with its readers, the people who write in to me about it, the people I meet in open mics who say, “You’re Brad, aren’t you? I found this open mic because of your blog!” Can there be anything more satisfying than that? Well, upon my return from Montreal last week I found waiting for me in the snail mailbox the hardcopy of a glossy and classy magazine called Pittsburgh Quarterly, which is the premier popular, general interest magazine of that part of Pennsylvania. And in it was a big article by a man named Tim Menees, who is an editorial cartoon artist, a painter, a musician and a writer. And his story was entitled: “Rainy Nights in Paris: Tim Menees Lands a Flat and Plays the Blues.” In the story, in highly readable prose, Menees writes of his adventures on a vacation in Paris last year in which he plays piano at the Tennessee Bar open mic on Monday nights. And he tells the tale of how he found the place – from my blog….

The story, in the Summer 2013 issue of the Pittsburgh Quarterly, avoids most of the usual clichés of writing about renting an apartment in Paris and discovering the City of Light. Of course, it has to have some of those, and one of the more flattering ones is how he ties the ethos of the recent Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris,” to the current situation that I and many of my friends now live, with the Tennessee Bar’s open mic as one of the gathering places for that. The description of his evening at the open mic is just great, and I can picture it all.

Here are two of the early introductory paragraphs from that section (the story is not online):

“It’s a tiny joint on a tiny street, sitting behind a red facade and a line of bicycles: A few guys are standing around having a smoke. Down in the cave below street level, someone tunes a guitar, and James is setting up shop. He’s an expat from L.A., with intense eyes and curly blond hair poking out from under a porkpie hat. He plays in a local rock band, speaks some French and runs Monday night’s open mic. He says, “You gonna play? Cool!”

“Many Paris clubs are in caves (cellars) because there’s nowhere else to put them. I found Le Tennessee via a blog written by Canadian Brad Spurgeon about open mics and Paris jam sessions. By day he covers Formula One auto racing for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune; by night he plays guitar and tracks down open mics around the world. It’s hard to sling a keyboard over your back, so I emailed him and he quickly named three clubs with pianos.”

There is much information about renting an apartment short term in Paris, and lots of wonderful description of the open mic itself – Menees went twice – and you can easily recognize the mood, and no doubt some of the musicians. It approaches its end with the most flattering and cool aspect of all:

“In the crowd is a sculptor from Philadelphia who lives and works in Paris. Brad Spurgeon. James. The Houston girl staying another two months to perform and write music.

“Expats and the arts. The beat goes on.”

That, of course, is referring back to how he started the piece by referring to the Woody Allen film and the expat artists of the 1920s and 30s.

Yep, the beat goes on, and on, and on. Tim, who also illustrated the story with his own artwork paintings of Paris, will be returning to Paris this October for another round, and an aim to visit more than just the Tennessee Bar open mic.

Tennessee Decompression and Nerves and Sounds and Reflections

June 14, 2013

PARIS – So there I was at the Tennessee Bar’s Thursday night open mic last night a night after hosting the somewhat ill-fated (at least in the beginning) open mic I mentioned in my previous post. And I was sitting there with around three main themes going through my mind. The first was just how good a job James Iansiti does hosting his open mic, one of the most successful in Paris. It is so successful, in fact, that James and the Tennessee recently decided to host the Monday night open mic on the Thursday AND the Monday. And so last night as I sat there and saw some 15 or more acts ready to play on this second night of the week, I inhaled and thought: This is insane how popular this place is, how popular an open mic can be in the same city twice a week.

The next thing that was floating around in my mind was just how easy it was, how non-stressful, how laid back and cool to attend the open mic as a musician only and raise my hand to get on a list – I was No. 9 – and just sit there and drink a beer and listen to the other musicians and make videos. The contrast to the night before with all its trials and stresses and worries was just enormous. So there I was in my own little bubble of a world thinking about what a cinch it all was, and life was good, when… something that has not happened for a long time happened.

I may have been stressed out at the open mic of the night before, but when I opened that show and when I closed it, I was really, really relaxed and grooving behind the mic and playing my music. There was some sense of fatalism, perhaps. Or perhaps it was the full control and responsibility that I had as the MC of the evening. Well now here at the Tennessee, for reasons I cannot fathom, I suddenly got terribly nervous on stage, right from the start. My fingers did not react the way they should on the guitar, my voice and body language were in another realm and not in the groove or in the flow or in the zone. And I had to constantly work at trying to come down to earth and reach that place that makes performing so much fun.

That was immediately broken even more when I sang a song by Bob Dylan from the “Blood on the Tracks” album – my first song of the night – and at the end of the song just as I was finishing the last verse a string on the guitar broke! There was some very odd spiritual or supernatural thing going on perhaps, as I had chosen to sing the song at the last minute since a guy who played before me, Murray, had sung “Idiot Wind” from the same album, which I have only heard in an open mic one or two times before. And in the last verse, he broke a string on James’s guitar! So there we were, both of us being cursed by Blood….

I had to move on to James’s guitar, and frankly, that got me totally lost, added stress, and I chose to sing a song on which I am capable of doing some fine picking…but with this alien object in my hands and my nerves affecting my playing, the guitar strumming was brute, horrible, and out of tune to boot! I finished off with my song “Crazy Lady,” and by then, and with the confidence of doing my own material, I did manage to start getting into the zone. Thank goodness. But I will never understand live performance and why it works sometimes and not others, and worse, how I can still have fits of nervousness after playing in public for several days a week for several years….

Thank goodness there were some great musicians to distract me, although I did not stay long after my catastrophic set….

Tennessee Bar Thursday Night Open Mic in the Groove

May 3, 2013

PARIS – The Tennessee Bar and its MC, James Iansiti, seem to be a combination addicted to success, as far as open mics go. The Monday night one has for years been one of the most well attended and atmospheric of the open mics in the city. Now, as I mentioned last week, they are doing another open mic on Thursday nights as well. Last week it was OK, but yesterday it was great.

It was extremely well attended by both passersby and musicians, and this week, perhaps, it seems, having found that the plan of running a feature act was perhaps not the best idea for the rest of the musicians, there was no feature act. Suddenly the place was brimming with musicians.

Same Open Mic Style as Mondays at Tennessee Bar:

It was identical to the Monday night – except there were more people who wandered in off the street, I think (and witnessed) – and at one point I was saying to myself, “Hmm, if they held an open mic here every night of the week would it be so successful?”

Highlights of the Tennessee Bar Open Mic:

Among the standout acts for me were Geraint Jones, whom I have known and heard for a year or two. But now with his pianist and some new songs, it rocketed up to a different dimension for this Paris expat from the north of England.

I also enjoyed Shelita Burke, from the West Coast of the U.S. and the West Coast of Europe (Spain, where she lived for a while) – but who apologized at least twice for having lost her voice (apparently to laryngitis). And so, if that is Shelita with absence of voice – which was evident when she spoke – I can’t wait to hear her when she gets it back again!

I did my, “Crazy Lady,” and my “Gotta Shake Her,” and “Father and Son” – but I was a little late in coming and I was the last one up – or rather, the last one before the rappers took the stage for a second time….

A Few More of the Tennessee Bar open mic Videos from the Thursday Session:

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