Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

In Remembrance of Zara Sophia

June 25, 2013

zara sophiaPARIS – Today I learned the news of the tragic death of Zara Sophia. I, like most of the people who heard her in open mics in Paris a couple of years ago, met her only a few times. But her voice, her music, her emotion and her presence were something we would not, and will not forget.

Zara has died at the age of 28 years, although the exact circumstances of her death have not yet been revealed from what I have been able to find out through various sources. She went missing on the 30th May and was only found on 7 June, on a beach in England. She had no cell phone or money with her, but her car was parked near by. Although early reports said there was no suspicion of foul play, a police inquest was later carried out.

I wrote about Zara at least twice on this blog, because she touched me immediately from the moment I first saw her in the Highlander open mic when I wrote a post saying: “It was Wednesday, so it was the Highlander. I had been intending to sign up early at the Highlander, and then run over to the Tennessee to see Rafa and his band, with Les DeShane on lead. But in the end, I immediately signed up for the Highlander and met a newcomer, Zara Sophia, from England, so I just had to sit and talk and learn about her, as I had a feeling that she might have some talent. How can one have that feeling? No idea. But I did, in fact, enjoy immensely what Zara did, so give it a listen and see if you agree – in the video below.”

That was the beginning of December 2010, and I was doing my Mecano bar brunch at the time with my open mic on Sunday afternoons. So I immediately told Zara about it, and she was there for the following Sunday, which ended up being one of the best of them all – thanks to her and the American anti-folk musician Viking Moses. Fortunately, I was able to make some much better videos of Zara in the good lighting of my open mic, so I made several. I only put two or three up on my blog at the time, but I’m taking the opportunity of putting all I have up on this item, in Zara’s memory. There is one in particular, the shortest of them all, just an end-of-song thing where we catch a glimpse of Zara looking over at me, and her smile says it all about her personality.

On my blog item at the time I wrote a little about my conversation with Zara and my sense of her as a musician, and she responded in a way that surprised me, making me realize my impressions were grounded in reality: “Zara has just arrived in Paris from her homeland of England, and I had listened to her songs on her Myspace and found that with one of them she reminded me a little of Sandy Denny, the late singer for the band Fairport Convention, who also put out several solo albums. When I spoke to Zara yesterday I learned that, hey, guess what? Growing up she heard her parents listening to Sandy Denny all the time, and her mother even sang some of the songs to her. I got Zara to do one yesterday, as well, the wonderful “Matty Groves.” But Zara’s voice is anything but a imitation of Sandy Denny. In fact, there are some clear touches of it, but the rest is Zara….”

I recorded her version of “Matty Groves” at the time, but I did not put it on the blog. Now I am doing so.

Today as I read around through various sources about Zara’s life from other bloggers and friends and newspaper articles in England, I learned that she had actually once performed as an opening act for Pete Doherty, in 2008, who had clearly recognized her obvious talent as well. She had also travelled to India – which I recall her telling me – and affected an interesting collection of people there as she had all who met her in Paris at the open mics.

She will not simply be missed, but she will remain an example of great purity and talent for anyone who knew her.

A Canadian Voice Without a Mic and an Irish Pub With a Mic

June 21, 2011

On my way to the Galway Pub open mic, I made a brief visit to the Mecano last night to take in a song or two of a guy that Earle had been telling me about. In fact, I had spoken to the guy on the phone because he had ended up at the Mecano looking for my brunch, and of course I wasn’t there, since I’m no longer doing the brunch.

As I entered the Mecano I saw that the guy, whose name is Adam Farnsworth, sat on a stool in the spot where I used to sit, near the front door. But there was no mic, and his lousy acoustic classical guitar was not plugged into an amp. Adam, it turned out, does not need an amp or a mic or anything else, as he fills up a whole room with his powerful vocal prowess, which sounds like a cross between Axl Rose, Tom Waits, Robert Plant and – Adam.

Adam has been in Paris for a month working one of his regular gigs with the C.R. Avery & the Special Interest Group, which has played some top Paris venues. Too bad I didn’t get there earlier to get some of Adam on video.

But after speaking with Adam and Earle for a while, I moved on to the Galway. There I met up with Kim from Detroit, again, whom I had first seen at Ollie’s open mic a month or so ago. There were some other interesting performers as well, and I got to try out one of my new songs for the very first time.

As I said to Stephen Danger Prescott, the MC, it was the perfect environment for me to try out the song because no one seemed to be listening. There’s nothing like singing to yourself but with an audience present in order to shake off the fear of the first presentation of a new song. I got some compliments afterwards for some of my other songs – a couple of Dylan songs and What’s Up – so I know that some of the people were actually listening. But for a while it was nice to pretend to myself that no one was.

A Wombat Plays Brad’s Brunch

April 4, 2011

a Wombat

The Australian marsupial known as a Wombat.

After a couple of quiet Brad’s Brunches at the Mecano bar in Paris, I returned home from Australia to host a great musical brunch, with the return of several musicians and friends like Tory Roucaud, Olivier Rodriguez, Rym Faraday de la Casa Blanca de la Chuca Chuca Mañana del Sol Rojo and Calvin McEnron. But the surprise visit of a star came in the form of a Wombat. No, and I do not mean that I brought back from Australia with me one of those not one of those weird, fury marsupials with the strange eyes. I mean Dan Haggis, the drummer of the British band, The Wombats.

Dan once attended the brunch as a spectator, but yesterday he returned and decided to drop the drums and get behind the mic and sing some songs of both The Wombats and others, and even one of the Wombats. It was the high point of the brunch, and I was not simply delightfully surprised by the mixture of his singing voice and guitar playing – ie, minus the drumming and full group effect – I was also very pleased that I had done my own musical intervention before Dan went up. He was so good. So musical, so coolly relaxed and hip in his playing in this casual open mic environment. By the way, he also spoke warmly about his days playing with The Wombats at Earle’s open mic at the Shebeen – which is why, by the way, he showed up for mine, what with Earle present….

Later in the day he also gave me a chance to interview him for my open mic documentary, and that was a very wonderful interview, too. Dan pointed out how for a musician it can be just as nerve-wracking to play in front of a few people in an open mic as in front of thousands in a big concert – in fact, he said, sometimes it is easier playing in front of thousands because it is less personal in some ways. But he had friends present yesterday too, and he was in great shape and it was clear he was having as much fun as were the spectators.

If you don’t know the Wombats, check them out, because this is a very cool British Indy band – oh, and the fact that Dan gave this four or five song concert for us was quite extraordinary, given that he is alreay back in the UK today doing a show with the Wombats somewhere in London. Musicians just never stop. Speaking of which, The Wombats head off to Australia in May for a nice little tour, including a gig in Melbourne at the Palais Theatre on 11 May. Maybe I can send them off to an open mic while they are there….

Worst Brad’s Brunch Yet

March 14, 2011

A while ago I wrote about the best Brad’s Brunch that I have hosted, and then for several weeks in a row – up to last week – they got even better. So in order to make sure that people believe that what I write here is what I really feel, I will now write a post about the worst Brad’s Brunch ever.

I don’t know what happened yesterday but the weekly brunch I have been hosting at the Mecano bar since October just failed to attract many spectators or musicians. To top it off, there were not as many regular clients in the Mecano during the brunch hours as there usually are. So it just fell flat, it felt empty, and I felt terrible for the few people who did show up – especially those who came for the first time – and who must have thought that all the sound and the fury that I might have put on this blog in the past was for nothing….

Having said that, I WAS delighted that a few regulars showed up, we had some new sounds, one great discovery, and actually played until 8:30 PM for a brunch that is scheduled to finish at 6:00 PM. And I have not lost faith in the thing – it takes a worst ever to have a best ever, after all.

But as I said, there were discoveries. Tory Roucaud did a new song she has just completed, and it sounds good and different. And the biggest surprise for me was Felix Beguin, the lead guitar player of The Burnin’ Jacks – who, more importantly for me, was my lead guitar player on my recordings and at my concert at the Disquaires two weeks ago – not only played my acoustic guitar like a folk guitarist, but he also sang some songs. I had never heard Felix sing, outside the harmonies he has done on my songs, and I was massively impressed with his voice. He has a naturally good sounding voice and can hold a note. A little more work and experience and he’ll wipe us out.

Finally, I got to sing a duet with Felix – Cat’s Cradle – and a duet with Tory – Mad World – and both were fun and different to do. It was weird how I made a mess of so many of the lyrics on Cat’s Cradle while singing with Felix, since I never have a problem with the lyrics when I do it on my own – but that was fun too…

Johnny Borrell of Razorlight Plays Brad’s Brunch at Mecano Bar

February 21, 2011

It was a slightly slower day at my Sunday brunch at the Mecano bar yesterday as we were right in the middle of the French school holidays and lots of people were out of town. But it turned into a monumentally memorable brunch as we suddenly had a special guest appear to play a couple of songs: Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the British band, Razorlight.

Razorlight is in town to play a couple of gigs at the Fleche d’Or, tonight and tomorrow, if I understand correctly. And it turns out that, as regular readers of this blog will know, that Borrell is a friend of Earle Holmes, the man responsible for setting me up with this brunch in the first place. So Borrell dropped by to say hello to Earle and his wife, Eve. Borrell had actually played at Earle’s open mic at the Shebeen a few years ago, and so here he was yesterday at the brunch, and there was the mic, there was the guitar, and there went big-hearted Johnny to play a couple of tunes – an old one and a new one.

Oh, as you will see in the videos, Borrell has changed his look somewhat – growing whiskers here and there. It was not evident that this was the same man I had seen play at the Sziget festival in Budapest in 2007. Not evident, that is, until he started playing his music and singing, and then the voice was unmistakably that of the man who sang so many of the songs I like, (my own favorite being “America,” which hit No. 1 in the UK a few years ago). It was very cool. I don’t know if the whiskers will stay there for the concerts at the Fleche d’Or, but you can perhaps try to check that out if you happen to be in Paris – and if there are any tickets left….

I learned from him that he had been present at the Monaco Grand Prix last May, as a guest of the Red Bull team. So I might have run into not only Mick Jagger on the starting grid at that race, but also Johnny Borrell – had I been able to recognize him!

An Amazing Brunch, and Checkmate: Finally a Different Open Mic in Paris

February 7, 2011

First I have to talk about Saturday night, since Robert Kubica’s accident in rally racing yesterday meant I had no time for this blog before I sped off to the brunch at the Mecano bar. (I had to do a blog item and update on my F1 blog on the NYT site.)

But what a Saturday and Sunday! Saturday I attended a jam/open mic that I had discovered existed one day as my eye was attracted to a bar on Rue St. Maur – the street where I got my head kicked in on New Year’s Eve – with the name in French of L’Echiquier. That means chessboard in French. So that, as deep readers of this blog will know, would be of interest to me since I love chess. But then I saw a sign on the window about an open mic. And that, well…

It turns out that the bar has a theme of chess, with matches played there occasionally, with chessboard tiling in the toilets, and drinks named after chess themes, etc. And this is because Djamel Grine, who owns the place, likes chess too. But he told me his original idea was that he wanted the bar to be public place open to everyone: the King, the Queen, the bishop (which in French is called a “fou” and also means “crazy person.”)

He also loves music, so he started the jams and open mics. There is no set date for it, but they manage to do one at least once a month, on a Saturday. So best to call l’Echiquier beforehand to see if there is a session.

It was a very warm open mic, and I was pleased that although it started like a typical bluesy sort of jam session with full band, it was also possible and welcome for an individual musician to go up and sing and play guitar, cover songs or originals. I played with the band, since I like that challenge and it is more fun and “big.” We played “Crazy Love,” because it was easy, “Father and Son,” because it was more difficult but well known, and my song “Borderline,” just because. I finished off with “I Shall Be Released,” since it is three chords and really well known.

Having had that magnificent Saturday evening, I worried that my own brunch would never match it. I was wrong. It must have been the Sunday of all my brunches where I had the largest number of other performers who wanted to play – and who did play. There were seven of us in all. I played a lot less in order to allow for the others, and that was great, because it meant I could talk to the others and listen to them.

And Olivier Rodriguez, a friend and amazing photographer, showed up for the second week in a row to play his songs and this time he brought his camera and did some great shots of us and said I could put them up on this blog.

Now, with the new Q3HD, my videos will be visible!

January 31, 2011

It’s true, I finally managed to buy the Zoom Q3HD video camera and it has all sorts of improvements over the Q3 that I have been using since the beginning of this blog, nearly a year ago. If that sounds like a television commercial, it’s not. But why not? I love the thing.

I bought it Saturday, used it Sunday for the first time, at my brunch at the Mecano and at the Be There open mic. So check out the videos below. Finally there Q3 has a control that allows it to see in the dark, more or less, so that horrible problem I have had of the nearly invisible videos has disappeared. They are now grainy, yes, but at least you can see the musicians as well as hear them. And the sound quality has also been improved with this Q3 going up to 98,000 hz and 24bit sound. (The other was 44 or 48 hz.)

The brunch started quietly, but picked up and there were a few new performers, and it was a great pleasure. At Be There I managed to get some videos where you can actually see this dynamic, young new band called La Ronge, that I already mentioned a few weeks ago.

A Squat, a Brunch and a Be There

January 17, 2011

I have reported in the past about a squat art space in Paris, it was called 0XIII and it ended up being raided by the cops and closed down. Well, it seems the same gang found another location, much more chic, much more private, and much more music-friendly.

This one is called 08, and it is located near the the Place de la Madeleine and Place de la Concorde. It is on several floors, and in the basement is a great area for bands to play, with even a way of people in the upper floors to look down and listen – as you can see from a few seconds of video I took of the drummer from above.

Among the bands were one of my favorite young bands in Paris, Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes. And last time I wrote about these guys – playing at the OPA – I said every time I see them they improve. It has happened again. They’re getting some faster tunes and sounds in with the slower more romantic stuff – something I need to do myself. And they sound generally more together than ever. So what do they need to do now to advance? Well, as one spectator said to me, “the smiling tomatoes never smile….” No problem!@!!

There was another cool duo, a guy on drums and a man on vocals and guitar – very primitive drum beat manic stuff.

And I enjoyed – for a minute or two – the gypsy jazz trio just jamming on the first floor. In fact, I managed to borrow the guitar for one song of my own, which I apologized would not be manouche, and not manically fast…. But the lead guy played along with me, and I enjoyed blasting it out.

That was Saturday night. Sunday turned into a double-header as I did my brunch from 3 PM to near 7 PM and I then went to an open mic I had long heard of but never visited. The open mic was quieter than last week, but I enjoyed hearing Rym and Elise doing a duo, among other songs. I also enjoyed using my new vocal harmony machine, which splits my voice into three-or-so-part harmony, and adds some sorely needed depth on certain songs.

The open mic I mentioned runs on Sundays and starts around 8 PM, and it is in a bar called “Be There.” It is located on the Ile St. Louis, which makes going to it a certain pleasure if you are not in the habit of going to the Ile St. Louis – which is sort of out of the way, despite being right in the center of Paris.

The small bar on two floors is very open and kind to musicians, and I felt great and relaxed – and well-oiled after my brunch – and so I followed a full-fledged band with no problem at all. This open mic is interesting in that it DOES allow full-fledged bands. There is a drum set read at hand, an amp, PA system, a perfect set up for bands. And although the place is mostly about rock & roll, the open mic accepts all kinds of music, acoustic and other.

The one constant, however, is that “Be There” insists that musicians play their own compositions, not cover songs. I liked that, and I played “Since You Left Me,” “Borderline,” and “Let Me Know.”

For me the revelation of the evening was a band of young musicians from various suburbs of Paris. Called, La Ronge, the band had some original sounds, and some charisma. I thought this band could go places in the young band music scene in Paris. The keyboard player sang most of the songs, and had some charisma, but one of the guitarists who also sang was a little disadvantaged by less sound on his mic. A band to watch.

Best Brad’s Brunch Yet, in a Weekend Roundup

January 10, 2011

It feels somehow not right to make such judgments, and in many ways it is difficult to do anyway: But yesterday’s musical brunch at the Mecano, my first of the new year, really felt like the best one I’ve ever had since starting them last fall.

I had more musicians dropping by and playing than ever before, and a great level of quality, and I also had a large audience of intent listeners, coming from all over the place, including a couple of women visiting from Belgium.

Amongst the surprises were picking up for the show the wonderful Vessna Scheff from San Francisco. Vessna had intended to go to the Pop In open mic, but she said the Pop In was closed and there was no open mic there last night. So she ended up finding my brunch, and she ended up entertaining us with her lyrical and melodious music and voice. Rym also played some of her songs with her ukelele, and then gave the instrument to Vessna for her last song.

Two members of the band Black Butterfly played several songs, and Vincent Barriquand, the singer of the group, also did some solo stuff with the guitar and his voice. He also played with Sven Cosnuau, who came to play and sing on his own.

A young Frenchman who lives down the street from the Mecano also discovered the brunch yesterday and rushed off to bring his guitar to play and sing some songs. So all together, the vibe, the crowd, the musicians, it was all fabulous and a great beginning to 2011. In fact, Vessna may not like me to quote her here, but she said it was the best Sunday open mic she has ever done. Of course, it is not entirely an open mic as such – but as it turns out, the mic is always open….

Because the brunch was the closest thing in my memory, I started writing about that. But I did not blog for the last couple of days, so I want to move backwards and continue telling the musical adventure: On Saturday night I went to the Baroc and heard The Romantic Black Shirts, the band of my friend Joe Cady. As a special guest they also had Chris Kenna do a set. I first met Chris in 2009 at the Biz’Art open jam. He is a wild Australian with the voice of a Tom Waits. He played on Saturday with Melissa Cox on violin. A big moment, with both of these bands. I loved the Daniel Lanois cover that the Romantic Black Shirts did, and Chris’s voice and the violin were mesmerizing.

Friday night I went to a party hosted by Sister Fay, who is from Sweden and sings a lot at the open mics in Paris these days. There I met both Stephen Prescott and Ollie Fury, both of whom host open mics. And there was also Pierre Doucet, who plays violin with Stephen at the Galway Pub and elsewhere. I got Pierre on video with a bit of fiddle music in the middle of the party, though no one was really listening. It was a nice moment – but too dark for the video.

I then went off to the Planete Mars bar and listened to some DJ music mostly and spoke with a friend. A high moment with the DJ music was when he played a song from the last – or second last? – T. Rex album, Dandy in the Underworld, that I had bought at the time. Hadn’t heard anything from that for along time.

Last Brunch of 2010, with Broad and Koen & Victor

December 20, 2010

It started off slowly, but my last brunch at the Mecano bar for 2010 again lived up to its past: David Broad showed up to play his exceptional fingerpicking Americana. Broad is from Leeds, England, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Earl Scruggs invite him for the two to play together. Check out Broad’s Hank Williams number.

On the same theme, coming for the first time to watch and play were Koen from Holland and Victor from France, who played some Django-inspired stuff. They whipped up a storm with their guitar and mine, and I hope they return for more hot picking. Victor has a group that he said has been in hibernation lately, but you can check it out the band’s myspace, under the band’s name: Mome Raths. But don’t expect Django – this is psychedelic rock.

My next brunch at the Mecano is on Sunday, 2 January – in other words, the second day of post-New Year’s recuperation…

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