Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Le Cavern Relaunches an Open Mic Night in Paris – or Maybe….

July 8, 2017

Simon Ferrante helping a singer at Cavern open mic in Paris

Simon Ferrante helping a singer at Cavern open mic in Paris

PARIS – A few years ago one of the best vocal jams in Paris took place at a bar fabulously well-located, on the rue Dauphine in the Latin Quarter. Better than the location was the extraordinary basement room where the jams took place it wore its name perfectly: Le Cavern. The bar seemed to have done everything perfectly for the vocal jam, with a great group of musicians backing anyone who wanted to come on stage and sing the rock and pop standards, the great room, a bar owner that must have loved the jam. Everything was there for several years. Then suddenly I went one day to find it had ended. No idea why. Anyway, the Cavern still exists, it still has its great little stage in the comfortable cavern cellar room, and on Thursday it tested out a new open mic format. Run by Simon Ferrante, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from the north of France, but who has lived in Paris for years, the night was a kind of “anything goes” evening mix open mic and open jam. I went, and I’ll probably go again….
Simon at Cavern open mic

I immediately fell back in love with being in the Cavern, but I also immediately had the same sense of stagefright on the stage that I always had there. This time, though, I was much more in my own personal element as it was possible just to play the acoustic guitar and sing – with the previous jam, you virtually had to play with the band, and an acoustic guitar – or even playing the instrument yourself – was not hugely encouraged.
Rockin blues at Cavern open mic

That said, the open mic on Thursday welcomed all kinds of band formations, there is a drum set, and electric guitars in addition to the acoustic, and I was allowed to call up a drummer once I decided to get a bit of movement into the playing – after much of the stagefright had subsided.
first at Cavern open mic

In the end, it was quite a successful night in terms of the number of musicians and spectators. So I hope the Cavern will continue the gig. Ferrante, whom I met the first time at the Highlander open mic around the corner a few years ago, said that Thursday’s was just a trial gig and he would have to wait to see what happened.
Duet at Cavern

So I will keep my fingers crossed.
another at cavern

bit o bob at cavern

Ambience at Mazet and Cavern

February 17, 2012

It was a little like a Wednesday night, when it is possible to attend both the Highlander open mic and the Cavern open vocal jam session. Last night I had a great time at the Mazet open mic and then took a three minute walk up the street to the Cavern to listen to the acoustic night with some Cavern regulars and a bunch of acoustic guitars.

I decided to go out and play at the Mazet despite feeling like the never-ending cold was finally going to get the better of me. I played immediately, and with the whiskey and the emotion of the singing, I thought I managed to get rid of all the sweat I needed to wake up the following morning without the cold. Wishful thinking.

There was an original act at the Mazet, a kind of young electro duo called “Save the Radicals,” that played a cool and unusual set. Other highlights were the visit by James Iansiti, the MC of the Tennessee bar open mic on Mondays, who came and played – can’t keep a good musician down.

Speaking of which… I had noticed on Facebook that Gaelle Buswel was playing in an evening of acoustic music at the Cavern, just down the street from the Mazet, so I decided to stop in and give it a listen. Along with Gaelle – whose rendition of What’s Up! had inspired me to try the same song last year – there were Cavern regulars like Jon Du, and Allison Maarek.

With sometimes four acoustic guitars going at once, the evening was very interesting and fun and fresh. And Gaelle was sounding strong as ever – check out her Janice Joplin rendition – as were the others. Totally fun and interesting, and I was pleased that despite the deathly cold I could have a decent night out. Going for the same thing tonight….

From the Cave of the Highlander to the Depths of the Cavern

February 9, 2012

The cold weather in Paris finally had its effect on the open mics, as the Highlander open mic was very thin when I arrived. That, on the other hand, was just fabulous! There were enough musicians and spectators to make it nice and warm and comfortable. There were some good, interesting, fun and new musicians, and I was able to arrive late and still go on. And then I STILL had the time to drop in at the Cavern, just up the street, in order to give myself another punishment.

The Cavern, on the other hand, did not suffer quite as much by the cold, but there were fewer than last time I went a couple of weeks ago. It was wonderful to see Maddie Speed there trying out the live karaoke thing after visiting so many open mics lately with her guitar. And SHE did a great job. I, unfortunately, seem to be a glutton for punishment. Last time, as I noted on this blog, I made a horrible mess of “What’s Up!”, getting the key entirely wrong and delivering a lifeless rendition of one of my best songs I do with my guitar all by myself.

So last night, Guillaume, the genial bass player and leader of the band at the Cavern’s vocal jam open mic, saw me and asked if I wanted to sing. I had not enough courage to make that fact known myself, but when invited, I leapt at the opportunity. This time, I worked very carefully and closely with the guitarist in advance and we got the key right. And so… I found myself entirely and totally confounded by the tempo…. and made a massive, horrendous mess of it for the second time in a row.

I am going to have to find some little Chinese restaurant somewhere and practice at a karaoke until I feel comfortable singing songs in their orginal tempo and rhythm.

Highlander on the Move Too

January 19, 2012

This could be considered Part III in the series of Paris open mics coming back into the usual high level of attendance and action, as the Highlander open mic was bustling full of performers and spectators last night. Thomas Brun, the founding MC of the open mic, had also returned from his winter holidays, and was in great singing form.

I managed to get there at a reasonable hour for once, signed up and got on in about the middle of the evening, so that was great. Even greater was having an upright bass accompany me on all three of my songs. I started with “Crazy Love,” since I wanted to do a kind of “Irish” soul song, to try to match Conn Bux’s Irish soul…. I had met Conn last week at the Galway, and then on Monday at the Galway, and then there he was at the Highlander.

I did my song, “Except Her Heart,” and then “Mad World.” It was great fun playing with the acoustic upright bass!

Conn was great, and I particularly enjoyed his song he wrote when he was 16 years old, about some rotten boss he had in a sandwich joint.

There were several new performers and a few more established ones, including All the Roads, who did his wonderful Irish song by Damon Rice, with some French in the middle of it – but my recording device was not turned on or died out or something, during that one….

After the Highlander I popped in to the Cavern to find its open mic – or live karaoke – just bursting at the seams with musicians and spectators, including Dr. Chouette, whom I videoed at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance a few weeks ago. And he invited me to his concert this Friday at the Abracadabra bar….

But I had by then drunk a little too much to go up on stage and try to repair my damaged reputation on the ill-fated rendition of “What’s Up!” a few weeks earlier, so I decided to return home after listening to a few fine songs…. I especially liked the Peter Gabriel one they did with one of the regular guitarists doing the singing, and the bass player doing the Kate Bush part of the song… Don’t give up….

Comfortable Christmas Highlander Open Mic – No To Cavern Comeback

December 29, 2011

I went a little late to the Highlander open mic last night and worried I’d never have a place on the usually packed list. But it turned out that because it fell between Christmas and New Year’s, the usually full, even outrageous, evening and list at the Highlander was just a nice comfortable situation. I got to play almost as soon as I arrived, the audience was warm and receptive and spoke less than usual during the performances, and there were some new musicians and old ones sounding great.

I even had a request from an audience member to sing my “Borderline” song, which is always nice to have requests of one’s own music.

I then went over to the Cavern to see if I could face down the failure of the previous week, and see if I could get the band to play the song with the capo on the sixth fret of the guitarist. But once I got there and listened to a few songs I backed down; it was a different guitarist this time, and I just decided that I could try it another time. So I watched a few of the acts and then went home. A very quiet night in Paris during the winter festive week…. It was very much the same kind of atmosphere as the night before at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and I await the re-awakening of Paris with excitement nevertheless….

Nightmare in the Cavern, Revenge at the Highlander

December 23, 2011

I went to the Highander open mic last night too late, finding I was last on the list, which meant playing near 1 AM. So I went after a while up the street to the Cavern, thinking I could take part in the vocal jam, which is like a live karaoke, ie, with a live band. I’ve gone there many times but only had the courage to sing about twice before. Last night, I gave up, lost courage, went to the metro and was about the catch the metro home…when I said, “You’re depressed as hell! No playing at the Highlander, no playing at the Cavern.” Go back, go back and sing with the band.

So I returned to the Cavern and asked to sing “What’s Up,” which is one of only two songs I feel I can do with that band. The band is very, tight, very cool, very nice, very professional. But I still feel very threatened by getting up in public and doing a karaoke, be it with a live band or a recording. When I sing a cover song, I do it to a great degree my own way, not the way it was recorded by the original band. So I got on stage at the Cavern all delighted with myself about having the courage to return and sing with the band. The bass player asks what key, “just like the original?” I say yes, of course, why not. I had, after all, done it there to moderate success once before, and done it at the Bus Palladium, to much more success. I had also done it in a karaoke in Mokpo, South Korea, and worked very well. So of course I thought I could do it in the original key – despite that I knew that when I did it on my guitar I put the capo on the sixth fret and that was what I needed to suit my voice.

The result? I was totally, completely and irreparably LOST. I sang in this low, low voice as the guitar player did the song with no capo, in G I imagine, but I’m not sure. My timing was off, I had no energy in my voice, it looked like it was the effort and result of a complete amateur who apparently did not even have any singing talent whatsoever. I sounded like complete crap, singing in this low voice with no power and energy, no conception of what the song was supposed to be. While I sang I made faces at the musicians of – “I’m so sorry, I’m lost, what a fuck up!” – and then I began to ask the audience for help with expressions of the same lost worthlessness. Some tried to help, but basically, I was the worst performer of the evening, and it was a complete and total mess. And if anyone saw me that night and only that night, they would laugh and say, “How could this guy get up there and do that when he obviously has not a shred of singing talent?”

I actually apologized to the audience afterwards and told them when I played it myself, I put the capo on the sixth fret – to which the bass player said, correctly, that I should have told him this myself…. Yes, but I didn’t. I was feeling out of control the moment I went on the stage, but also certain that things would take care of themselves…. Makes me feel like never returning to do such a thing again.

But what I did do was to go back to the Highlander and ask Thomas Brun if I could please have my slot back again and play just one song: “What’s Up.” And I told him why and how badly I had done at the Cavern. So Thomas, bless his soul, made room for me, I went up and I did the song, and I put the capo on the sixth fret and I had the whole room clapping, singing along and wanting more! “Why only one song, Brad!?!”

Is it not amazing how the same person, depending on the circumstance, can be considered a complete non-talent wipe out, or a star of the evening? My lesson? Probably nothing more than making sure I get the key right before doing a karaoke, and stopping the band if I haven’t got it right. Still, it would have been soooooo much better if I had been allowed to play the guitar at the Cavern; not just for me, but for the spectators, who would have had a real musical moment and not that embarrassing farce. My fault, however, not the band’s fault.

PS, aside from that, on Tuesday night I attended the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic as usual and heard some very cool and unusual musicians as usual, for which I will just put up a few videos and not go into detail, as I am about to run out to another open mic tonight.

High Times, Low Times in Live Times

November 3, 2011

I have said this before, and I will probably say it again: The beauty of live performance is that sometimes it just goes bad. And that makes the great stuff that much greater. If it was not that alive, it would not be live. Last night I returned to the Highlander and used my new Gibson J200 for the first time, and I had planned to do three songs I rarely do there, as I do not like to only do what “works,” as I do so often the same songs. Well, guess what? It did not “work.” At least, that’s how I felt personally. The J200 gave feedback throughout, sounded like crap – only because I have not mastered the complicated controls of the Fishman pick-up – and I was continually trying to feel comfortable, between the guitar and the monitor and the songs I do not usually sing. In the end, though, at least one other performer told me it was “good anyway.” So I slept okay.

Of course, it did not help that there were some fabulous performers there after me! The one that stood out the most while I was there was Joe, who I have recorded before from his stint at the Cavern Club vocal jam open mic a month or so ago. This time Joe played his guitar and sang, and boy did he ever. It was great – especially his first and last songs, the last being Bob Marley….

So I decided to go off to the Cavern and maybe do something there in the vocal jam to save my sense of the evening. But there were a lot of performers and a lot of them were superb, and the tone was sort of soul-like, sort of nightclub ballroom Las Vegas like, as it often is, sort of professional and polished. So I sort of left after a single set – but loved most of what I heard.

Better luck tonight at the Mazet. And in the next few days I know there is something absolutely super cool and great coming up, which I will speak about when the right moment comes – probably after the show!!!

Oh, and to conclude: After a night when you feel like things went crap during a live performance, you HAVE to say, “Thanks so much! That gives more value to when it works! And that is precisely what makes ‘live music’ so special.”

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