Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Across the English Channel From Gudule to Catweazle

July 9, 2010

Wednesday night in Paris, Thursday night in Oxford. I have had a busy couple of days, no time to think let alone sleep. But I have had time to play music, as usual, and the last two nights have been rich in discovery of new experiences at new venues, and a lot of fun.

Vanessa and I had signed up a couple of months ago to sing together at Chez Gudule bar in the Guduleries of the Bande a Gudules. (Gudule is the patron saint of Belgium, by the way.) It calls itself an open mic, but it is much more a cafe theater kind of thing, with a mixture of the regular actors and comedians of the Gudule group and four or five featured guests in the open mic part of the night. We had dropped by on a Wednesday only to find out that you had to sign up far in advance. So we did. Each night there is usually a mixture of one music act, a comedian, an actor, a poet, etc.

Each performer has five minutes in the first part of the show and five minutes in the second part, so for us that meant a first song and a second song. We did “Just Like a Woman” in the first part, and “Mad World” in the second part. The audience sits at tables, and there is a proper little stage with spot light and microphone and a red backdrop curtain. A lot of fun, and very much NOT a classic open mic.

Best of all, the spectators are there to watch and listen and be entertained. The room is above the bar on the first floor, so it is really a private theater-like set up, and Candice, who organizes it, takes it very seriously and insists on a certain protocol. It’s really fun to stand in the wings, in the dressing room and rehearse, etc. For an open mic!

At the end of the show the audience votes on the best act of the evening. I was surprised when we arrived to find Emeric Degui there to do a comedy routine. Emeric is the radio DJ at the station where I took part in the song contest a few months ago, and I ran into him again at the Culture Rapide Cabaret that I mentioned before on this blog.

Singing with Vanessa was just such an incredible pleasure with both songs and for different reasons each time. With the first song, it had to do with singing “Just Like a Woman” to a great woman, and feeling the woman in the song in her. I had to shake myself to not ignore the audience and turn away from her occasionally. I have not heard the song done as a duet before, but it is made for it, and although for the moment Vanessa sings mostly only the lines “just like a woman” and “like a little girl,” she also joined in with harmonies on other parts that really make the song so much more full and complete as a duet.

On “Mad World,” we’ve had more practice on it now as the months pass, but we’re still exchanging lines a little at random, probably each of us fighting to express the ones that suit our own particular feelings of madness and world view the song expresses so well…. It was probably an advantage to have only one microphone at Gudule, since it was a little easier to balance our voices, but I was again guilty of singing more loudly than I should have…. Vanessa has a great voice, and our voices go really well together – they complement each other – but I tend to blast it out louder than I should and sometimes I drown out her voice… But Candice said she played with the sound settings to get us both right. I’ll get it right myself someday, I hope.

Barely had enough sleep and I was off on a flight to Birmingham the next morning with my guitar in the hold of the small Avro airplane of Air France operated by City Jet. The cabin really was almost too small for the guitar this time, and I just offered it up at the luggage trolley at the base of the stairs leading on the flight.

Had a good productive day at Silverstone, where the British Grand Prix is taking place, and then went to Oxford to seek out the one open mic that most frustrated me last year as I arrived a few minutes too late to take part. I was frustrated because I had heard that this open mic – with another name as weird as Gudule – was the coolest, hippest open mic not only of Oxford, but almost of all Britain.

I had learned about the Catweazle Club, as it is called, through Anton Barbeau, the American with the French name who lives mostly in England. Anton had told me Catweazle was a fixture of the Oxford music scene, that it had a special ambience, an almost hippie-like vibe, and that the audience was so quiet you could hear a guitar pic fall. (Actually, I think he might have said a “pin drop,” but I’m trying to avoid cliches these days.)

That prospect filled me with both delight and fear, as when an audience is that quiet it means you’re really being listened to! In any case, as I said, I had missed the list last year. But this year, I got on it. Run and founded by Matt Sage since 1994, the evening and concept has become such a success that there is now a regular Catweazle Club night in London once a week, in Brighton, and most recently in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, on East Third Street, which of course is where Gerde’s Folk City used to be….

Catweazle has had many homes in Oxford, but Matt said that he is happiest with the most recent one, at the Oxford Community Center, where it has been located for several years. Indeed, the room is big but not too big. There must have been a hundred people in it last night, sitting on living room sofas, on cushions on the floor, on chairs, and standing against the walls or by the bar – yes, there is alcohol served.

It is difficult to say what makes it unique, but I think it’s the vibe, it’s Matt – he has a very good sense and talent for patter, and a mixture of slightly catty jabs and snide comments with good humored banter. The evening is not confined to music only, but to “music, poetry, story, song and all manner of acoustic artistry,” as a story in the current edition of the East Oxford Community News says.

There is no microphone and no amplification, indeed. But the other aspect of this that is unique is that the audience is invariably quiet as hell. I enjoyed standing under the spotlights, looking across the room at the young and old, hippie and conventional, student and worker. And I enjoyed many of the other musicians and performers and poets.

My only frustration was that I had the right to sing only one song, and usually it takes one song to warm up and by the second things go better. I had hoped to do a cover song and then one of my own. As it was, given the creative accent to the Catweazle evening, I decided just to do my own song, “Since You Left Me.” It went over well, and I had some nice compliments afterward. But it is very difficult to go from using a microphone to singing to a crowd of a hundred people without a mic.

I told a little story beforehand, saying I had never seen a place like Catweazle in all my travels to open mics around the world, and that was received with a few exclamations of agreement and appreciation. But it was entirely true. Afterwards I was thinking of a line that the jazz saxophone player Stan Getz used on one of his recordings – I think it’s on “Serenity” – in Copenhagen or some such place, where he compliments the venue and the crowd and they applaud and then he says, “I said the same thing last night in Stockholm….” to more laughter. But my words about Catweazle’s uniqueness were true. Try it out and see!

A Lucky Night Au Ptit Bonheur La Chance

June 2, 2010

On a day when I was feeling anything but lucky, I suddenly recalled that it being a Tuesday, I could go to one of my favorite open mics in Paris. I don’t know where to start in talking about Ollie’s open mic at the bar near the Panthéon in Paris called Au Ptit Bonjeur La Chance.

What was lucky about it last night was that I was not ready to go out very early, and this open mic starts at 9:30 PM and Ollie is very equitable and agreeable in the way he gets people up to play in good time. But the other thing that made it lucky last night was a sudden feeling of several different connections to this bar on Rue Laplace, which is also near one of my favorites streets in Paris, the Rue Mouffetard.

Ollie Fury has been running the open mic for several months, and it’s always nice to have a good guy like him running and open mic, and it was particularly cool that we met each other long before he started the open mic as performing musicians both of us. In other words, I met Ollie playing at other open mics as a musician himself, and we bumped into each other many times before he opened his own evening. (He starts each evening by playing himself, and he has a very cool voice, doing some amazing interpretations of classic folk rock and others, and many of his own compositions.)

But my introduction to this cool bar was not through Ollie, but rather it happened to be the first bar at which I played my own musical gig – as opposed to open mic. It was in December 2008, near Christmas, and Earle Holmes set up for me a set at the same bar, when it was called the Rhubarbe. This was only two months after I had returned to playing music in public, and I must say that my set was pretty bad. I didn’t know what to expect, or what to do – except sing and play, but I did it while reading the lyrics in a book and on papers in front of me, and with a little lamp over the words so I could see them. Needless to say, I was somewhat upstaged by the Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes, who played after me – and for whom, in any case, I was only really acting as a warm-up act.

I knew this before. But last night I discovered something else that ties me to this little bar: I learned that the man who has for several months – the time I’ve been attending the open mics – been very kind and convivial with me behind the bar went to high school (lycée) and was very good friends with the son of one of my Formula One reporter colleagues. The reporter is one of the regular F1 reporters for a French radio station, and as if to add to the coincidence, it turns out that he is a guy who has followed my musical adventures on the F1 road for a while and has been trying to link up to see me perform at a race. But my F1 music playing patterns are very difficult to follow, and so we have not yet been able to jibe on that. (He was supposed to go to the Hard Rock Café night in Malaysia, but I called him up to say not to come.)

Anyway, the Ptit Bonheur de la Chance open mic is a beauty for many reasons, and the above mentioned owner and bartender, whose name is Pierre Gonnet, has done a great job renovating it. The bar is fabulous because upstairs you can get away from the music and talk if you want, while in the open mic area proper, in the basement, people listen. It is very cosy, with a very low ceiling and circular tables and stools spotted all around the room. The sound system could be improved on, however, as the mic and amps kill the voice – sounds like the mic is covered with tissue paper or something – and, yes, the amps are as basic as you can get.

But Ollie does such a great, low-key, friendly and cool job of giving people a spot to play, and the crowd is almost always a nice one, there for the music and nothing else. And I don’t know how it happens, probably it’s Ollie’s efforts to promote the evening, but it has almost every week at least one standout performer, and often several. I particularly liked both the first and the last performers last night, both Americans. I’ll put up the videos I did – but I must apologize first, since the videos are almost entirely black. But the sound is great on this Zoom Q3. So that’s what it’s there for. And both of these performers were authentic. Check them out. (Oh, me? I told the story of how in Istanbul you can be asked to play everywhere on the streets, in the bars, etc., with just the sight of the guitar on your back – but then I played in that apartment and was stopped by a neighbor after one song, as in my previous post. So I said I was there at Ollie’s to finish “Just Like A Woman,” which I did. I then sang “Mad World,” and without Vanessa with me on that one I was totally lost. And then I did my song, “Since You Left Me,” and I left out a verse, but I also felt like I had repeated another verse. Ah well, that’s live performance for you.)

Cold Turkey Music Lesson

June 1, 2010

Can this really be classified as a lesson? Or was it a freak occurance? In any case, what happened on my last night in Istanbul seemed to go counter to every other musical lesson I learned in that magnificent city, so there might be a lesson there somewhere.

As I think I made clear in the previous entries in this blog about my musical adventures in Istanbul, the city is certainly the most music friendly city I have found in the world. As you walk through the streets with a guitar on your back you are importuned everywhere to take it off, enter a restaurant, bar, sidewalk cafe or wherever, and play music. I learned last year that most of the musicians who play in the bars throughout Istanbul – and it seems that nearly every bar has live music – are from a slightly different caste of people. There is something gypsy-like about them and the way they are regarded.

So is it in that fact that my lesson the last day may be learned? After the race I returned to Istanbul and with a friend and a couple of his associates had a drink on the terrace of a hotel overlooking the Bosporus. This friend likes my music and knows that I am on this musical quest around the world with the races, and he knew that I had not found or set up a venue for Istanbul on Sunday night. He decided to set up this meeting with his associates for fun and so that after the drink we could return to his associate’s nearby apartment and I could play a few songs for everyone.

It turned out that the apartment was a large penthouse with a terrace encircling the full floor – or at least most of it, from what I could see – and it too had a view of the Bosporus. In short, a beautiful apartment above Istanbul in a relatively luxurious building with a view. It was a kind of venue I had not played, and obviously it fit in wonderfully when you think that I’d played in a prison and in the streets, and last year in several different bars. Playing in a private home was one more link in the chain covering the gamut of possibilities in Istanbul.

So after hours of drink and talk at the hotel we arrived at the apartment and our host opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, served us glasses and I was very quickly importuned to play – it was already close to midnight.

So I prepared my guitar, the three others sat on the couch and in an armchair, and I stood in front of them and decided to sing “Crazy Love” to start with, simply because I find it a good one to warm up my voice and my emotions and my guitar playing. I started tapping my foot and realized that I was tapping on a wooden floor – a thick, hard wooden floor – and I moved over a couple of steps to a thick carpet in order that the tapping not resound too loudly for my audience.

I finished “Crazy Love” and launched into “Just Like a Woman.” I got through a verse of that and I heard the doorbell to the apartment ringing. I kept singing, but I had a bad vibe telling me something was going to happen. The host returned and shrugged and said, “Sorry, we’re bothering my neighbor downstairs. We have to stop.”

That was it. One song and one verse and the woman who lived below had decided that the foot tapping was too strong and not to be had – at least that was the excuse I heard. But when you consider that the floors between the apartment were thick, and that this was a well-built, fairly luxurious building and that we were not yet past midnight and had done only one song by the time she set out up the stairs – it is all very surprising for any city, and even more surprising for Istanbul, where I people love musicians more than in any other place I have been.

The lesson? Was this neighbor a freak? Or was it to do with the lowness of having a gypsy like me playing and singing in a respectable Istanbul apartment rather than in the street or a bar or a restaurant? I don’t know if I will ever learn. But it was a situation that proved the cliché that Istanbul is a city of contrasts.

Istanbul Prison Concert – or a Visit to Galata House

May 28, 2010

A musician usually has to have the stature of a Johnny Cash or a criminal in order to be able to play guitar and sing in a prison. Thanks to Vanessa and her guidebooks, I found myself with the opportunity to confront our Western preconceptions about Istanbul face on while performing some of my favorite songs in a prison in the country of Midnight Express.

While I was out at the race track working yesterday, Vanessa made her way around town with the help of a couple of guide books and the advice of the many people she met on the way. One of these people was a salesperson who recommended to her a restaurant in the Galatasary Tower area.

The restaurant, Vanessa was told, was not to be missed. Run by a Georgian couple, it was called Galata House, and it specialized in Georgian food. The couple consisted of Mete Goktug, an architect, and his wife Nadire, who we would discover not long after entering the restaurant, was a musician who played piano and sang. Throughout the first part of the meal we had as background music, her CD of popular and traditional music, with her on piano and singing. She often plays the piano live at the restaurant, but has been suffering a little tennis elbow of late and so did not play live last night.

We were warmly greeted at the front door of the building, and directed in to find an unusual series of rooms, the details of which I will get to in a moment. First, I would like to jump ahead to the food to say that it was indeed a fabulous experience, as we ordered the unique meal of Georgian and Tatar dishes. For the appetizer we took a mixed dish consisting of samples of several of the appetizers – chicken in yoghurt sauce, beans in another sauce, beets in another sauce, rice wrapped in leaves and marinated, and a slightly spicey walnut spread.

Vanessa took a veal stew with stewed potatoes and rice, while I was tempted for the first time in a while to not go with an entirely meat dish, and I ordered a pasta dish – although there was meat in the pasta. The woman said that it was her mother’s recipe, and that it was Tatar. Vanessa tasted one of my pieces of ravioli pasta – which looked like tortellini – and remarked accurately that it did not taste like Italian past.

“For once a pasta that does not taste like Italian pasta,” she said.

I agreed and said it tasted more like dumplings. It had some kind of light cream sauce in the middle of it that I chose not to mix up with the pasta but to dip the pieces into the cream.

We ate the whole with a Georgian wine that was not bad at all, and was the first time I have had Georgian wine.

For desert I had the biggest discovery of all: A chocolate cake with a meringue top to it. In fact, three quarters of the top of the cake was made of this fluffy white meringue with a little chocolate sauce on top of it. The chocolate part of the cake was also light and fluffy. All my life I have eaten Lemon meringue tarts primarily in order to have the meringue. But I love chocolate more than any other sweet, and this combination of fluffy white meringue with the light and rich chocolate cake was absolutely stupendous!

At the beginning of the meal, even before we began eating, Mete had asked us about our music. He was intrigued by Vanessa’s Portuguese roots and invited us to sing if we wanted to. We were both feeling a little shy about that, since there were not many people in the restaurant and it was not an open mic or jam situation, so it would mean that playing and singing would assume a certain amount of pretension to quality.

But throughout the meal as I listened to the music of Nadire, and later some classical music, I was bubbling and boiling and hot to sing in this restaurant. And that takes us back to the interesting physical aspect of the building that I mentioned. We had entered the front door and glanced to the left and thought at first that the restaurant was in the room to the left, which looked like someone’s living room, and indeed, I think it was the owners’ living room.

That we found boring, but we had looked beyond and down the hall to an exterior courtyard with a table, and we had wanted to eat there. But Nadire had told us we could eat outside on the terrace on the first floor. So we went up the stairs to find two more interior rooms, one in the front of the building overlooking the street, and the other in the back and with a piano, the stereo and photos of Nadire as a child and young woman sitting at the piano. The whole thing was very homey, but classy and restaurant-like as well.

Then we looked out in the back to see the horse-shoe shaped terrace that overlooked the courtyard. It had four or five tables on a narrow walkway around the courtyard, and the whole was surrounded by either dark brown brick walls or the wall of the building itself.

The windows everywhere on the building, I noticed, were covered with iron bars. I soon learned from Vanessa and the menu that the building, in fact, was built as a British prison, and served as such from 1904 to 1919. The Goktugs had bought it in 1999, at which time they made the restaurant out of it.

So it was that we ate our meal overlooking the building and the courtyard, where I could see and imagine the prisoners out for their daily exercise. The whole thing was frightfully small when you think about the amount of time prisoners must have had to spend living there, and there were some very strong feelings of the ghosts of the past.

Overlooking the courtyard I imagined myself playing my guitar and singing, either on the terrace into the courtyard and to the other table of guests, or down in the courtyard itself.

We finished the meal and began to leave, paying the bill and talking a little at the end to Nadire and Mete. Nadire said, “Maybe next time you come you can play your music.”

That was it, my queue. I could not let drop an opportunity to do a concert in a prison in Istanbul. I was shy, all right, and Vanessa said she did not want to join me singing. But the opportunity was just too great for me to miss. So I swallowed my fear, and said, “I could do a song right now. Would that be okay?”

“Please do!”

So we went into the courtyard – where I saw that the cook was in a kitchen in a back room – and I pulled my guitar out of its bag and tuned it by ear, not wanting to waste time with the tuner. Mete offered me a chair, but I said I could stand. My feeling was that I would be most comfortable singing “Crazy Love,” and singing it to Vanessa with her in mind.

So I started with that. I received some compliments from Mete, and I began to put the guitar down. But I still had one regret, and that was that I had not recorded me singing the song in the prison. So as we spoke, and Mete told me they had had concerts in the restaurant and had done a lot to create festivals in Istanbul to help make it more culturally popular and vibrant – which worked, as I pointed out that Bob Dylan was playing the day I left, that Eric Clapton was playing the following month, that John McLaughlin had played in Nardi’s jazz club around the corner from the prison a few weeks earlier – and all the while I thought about how I should perhaps force another song on them and get Vanessa to record it. So this, eventually, is what I did.

We had spoken about “Just Like A Woman” over dinner, as we both agreed that some people might associate the women with the prison. So that is what I decided to do. Part of the song I sang in front of the barred windows of the main building, another part in front of what looked like a prison cell door. Occasionally you can hear Vanessa singing, as she held the camera and filmed, and occasionally you can also hear the classical music playing in the background. A true Istanbul mélange. And a great Istanbul experience in both food, environment and music – like none I’ve had before.

Brad and Vanessa Breakin’ the Baroc

May 19, 2010

Vanessa and I decided to go to the Baroc open mic last night. Every Tuesday in Paris, near Belleville, this cool bar hosts an open mic. It has been run for around a year by Leander Lyons, an American in his twenties who plays guitar, percussion and sings. He’s also got a degree in music from some U.S. university, and his whole life revolves around music – a cool, nice man.

And last night we were pretty thankful to him for getting us up early behind the mic at the Baroc, as we both had other things to tend to today, and so could not stay too late. The place was just beginning to really get going, too, when we left around 11 PM. The open mic was as usual, very open in approach too. The first guy who went up sang/talked a couple of songs and then did a theatrical piece – enunciating like a trained actor – that I did not really listen to as Vanessa and I were trying to figure out which songs to do and how to do them. There was a woman singer with a guitar and a percussionist, and a trio of musicians who played some kind of rap/hip hop thing just before us.

The crowd is consistently, but not only, young. The musicians are mostly young too, and the vibe is cool, innovative, open – as I said. So when we got up to play, having finally agreed that we were not yet ready to do “Where the Wild Roses Grow” – since I have not yet memorized either the words or the chords, we had decided to do our “Mad World” and “Just Like a Woman.” At the table we had worked out how we’d attack “Just Like a Woman,” with Vanessa coming in at strategic points – ie, “…just like a woman…” – and me cutting out there, and I worried I’d forget the plan. But as I said to her – and to myself -, “We should just go up there and have fun.” I thought even off-the-cuff stuff would be effective, since people want a “live” show, not a memorized, regurgitated recitation.

Vanessa had put on some make up and looked young and great. I looked old and tired, probably. But I felt great by the time we got up and began. We started with the Dylan, since we are fuller and more together on the “Mad World.” We went through them both with few errors, a bit of back-and-forth laughing chatter and kidding, and basically I think we looked all right. But the Baroc is one of those crowds where there is a lot of talking at the tables, there is eating, there is gossip, and some listening to the music too. So I was far from convinced we’d reached many people.

But to throw it all together in no particular order, the general impression was that we brought the house down – as much as you can at the Baroc. Several people, including the manager, asked us where we were playing around town, what gigs we had lined up, etc. From the mic after we left the stage area, Leander asked if we had any announcements to make – ie, gigs lined up that we wanted people to go to.

Needless to say, we were both in seventh heaven and surprised, and inspired to go on. Sure, why not? A beautiful young woman and an older, world-weary guy – nice combination. Serge Gainsbourg exploited that one several times…. 🙂

Anyway, will update on the further adventures of Brad and Vanessa as, and if, they happen….

All Nations Hostel U-Bar Open Mic Melbourne

March 25, 2010

Don’t bother trying to figure out the real order of the words of the headline I put on this post. Just go to 2 Spencer Street in Melbourne, Australia, on a Thursday night. There you will find one of the coolest open mics down under, I’m sure of that. I am the happiest man alive after showing up there tonight and playing my three songs and listening to the other open mic singers and the house band.

And it proved a thing to me again: Go off the beaten path, break your habits, try something new, force yourself! Last year on the Thursday of the Formula One weekend I played in the open mic of the Spleen Bar on Bourke Street. So being like most people a man of habit, I decided to try it out again this time.

But then life got in the way – thank goodness! I ended up staying late at the track, well not that late, but until 7 PM. And could not find any indication that the Spleen Bar was still doing its musical open mic night. And this being Comedy Festival month in Melbourne and the Softbelly having canceled its musical open mic, I feared the Spleen might have canceled its musical open mic too, since the Spleen is more known for its comedy open mics on Monday or Tuesday (can’t remember which).

So it was that I stumbled across this open mic announced for the U-Bar at the All Nations Hostel on 2 Spencer street. It looked pretty certain to be happening, and on my way back from the track, I happened to find it on the corner of Spencer street where I got off the tram and where I had to head uptown on another tram to my hotel. According to the Internet it would start at 8 PM, and I was there at 7:40 or so. So I popped into what looked like a dreary bar with few people in it, and I asked if there was an open mic.

“Yes, it starts at nine,” I was told by a young man behind the bar.

The walls were painted graffiti-like with strange cartoon drawings and other graffiti-art like stuff. Very colorful, but my main impression was of potential dreariness. And I noticed a crappy looking amplifier against a wall near the bar and the pool table. It looked as if the open mic would be an afterthought.

But it was so late I decided I had no choice but to take the tram to the hotel and then return to the bar, since I now had plenty of time as it started at nine, not eight.

Returned to the hotel, warmed up my voice with a song on the guitar – ‘Father and Son’ – and then ate a very quick meal at the buffet in the hotel before taking a tram back down to the U-Bar or whatever it was called.

Went into the place to find a lot of people and a dreary, quiet singer at the dreary amp. I was guided by the bartender to a woman named Emily Brown, and told she ran the open mic. There was so much talking in the bar that I could barely hear the singer or Emily. But I gave her my name and she said she’d get me up. “Three songs each,” she said.

Turned out to be a nice crowd of young people, and very international. That clearly had to do with the hostel next door. I spoke to a Dutchman, and one of the performers was from Canada. A man named Brandon, who was from Burlington and there with his girlfriend as they were spending a year in Australia traveling all over the country.

Emily reminded me instantly of Bea, the 23-year-old woman from Sydney who ran the Softbelly open mic last year. I would learn that Emily was 22 years old, she had studied music at “uni” and she had run the open mic here since last August or so. She also had a band that would play in the middle of the open mic evening for a full one hour or so set. She taught singing in the Melbourne school system and also had a few other music gigs to keep her going. She was very enthusiastic and friendly. This was classic open mic stuff here!

And guess what? The music just got better and better, and the crowd got thicker and thicker and the atmosphere just grew stronger and stronger. Sure, there would be talking throughout the night, and there would be some people playing on the pool table, and you would have to move aside while singing a song to occasionally let the man hit the pool ball because the performer was too close to the table. Oh, and the sound system was indeed crap.

But this would prove to be so much fun, with such an eclectic group of musicians, mostly young, that I was very quickly persuaded that it had a real atmosphere. Several of the musicians came from local bands, too, and played acoustic for fun. A lot of what I learned about the evening came from a couple of the musicians, one named Jim, and the other named…Jim.

One of the Jims described the other Jim’s music as being very eclectic, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of his hero.

“Who’s that?” I asked.


I expected him to say, “Townes Van Zandt,” but decided to get him to say it.


“Townes Van Zandt.”

“Yeah,” I said. And the other Jim was surprised.

“What do you think of him,” asked the Jim who sang Townes’s songs.

“A genius,” I said. To which the other Jim just walked away in disgust and let us talk about Townes Van Zandt.

So it was cool indeed to be in Australia talking about Townes Van Zandt.

The Canadian Brandon played some blues of his own making, and had a nice strong voice and a nice fingerpicking style. A local rock musician who had given out his self-produced record played three or four songs that were fast moving and hard hitting, and perfect for the crowd. And he showed a wonderful attitude as several drunks joined him during his song and he stopped and spoke to them and at one point said:

“I’d like to introduce you to my band, I don’t even know their names, but here they are.”

I did not have to wait very long before I went up, in fact, I went up after that guy. I had planned to play Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” a song of my own, and Cat Steven’s “Father and Son.” But in the end, given how much noise there was and how the crowd felt, I did not do my own song, but instead did “Just Like a Woman,” by Bob Dylan.

It was one of those evenings where you wonder how much you’re really reaching people. But when both of the Jims told me afterwards how much they loved my songs, especially the Cat Stevens, I knew I had reached the people. In fact, one of the Jims actually gave me the biggest compliment I ever had with “Father and Son.”

“I was just saying to Jim,” said Jim, “that I actually liked your version of ‘Father and Song’ more than the original.”

No compliment can be better.

The singers varied a lot, from rocking to quiet and from singing originals to singing covers. One of them who got up just before Emily’s band was in fact the guitar player from her band, and he sang some very nice covers quietly but strongly.

And now to Emily’s band, called “My Favourite Emily.” This was fabulous. Emily sang, she had a female bass player, she had a 23-year old sax player who Jim told me had begun to play at age eight, and she had a drummer and the guitar player. They had some very nice jazzy stuff, and the sax player blew me away. I loved Emily’s voice too. I made videos all night with my new Zoom Q3 toy, and I will post something here:

In addition to the great musicality of the band, Emily had a nice way of communicating with the audience, and she frequently went into the crowd to get some audience participation in the songs – ie, holding the mic up to spectators to sing along.

Oh yeah, and Emily told me she took a couple of photos of me and will put them up on the open mic’s Facebook page, so I’ll link to them as soon as I see them.

This was a very moving, swinging, cool and hip open mic format, and Emily was all the things a great open mic host should be: Friendly, encouraging, nice, warm and enthusiastic. And on top of it, she is a talented musician herself. I’ll go back again – unless my desire to break all habits gets me finding another place on Thursday in Melbourne next year….

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