Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Three Sunday Adventures, one common thread

December 13, 2010

I’ll start immediately by saying the common thread between the three musical venues I want to talk about here was Stephen “Danger” Prescott, the Aussie musician of Paris. There may be others, but Stephen is the inimitable one.

My Sunday brunch was a surprise, massive, incredible, jubilant success…there was a salsa lesson and dance going on in the back end of the Mecano at the same time. So that meant that those who REALLY wanted to hear the laid back music of the brunch, got to bunch up in the front of the Mecano bar to listen to me and this week’s guest.

This week’s guest, if you have not guessed (sorry, that’s almost a pun), was Stephen Prescott, of Melbourne and Paris. Who would have thought that one of the audience members would be another Aussie in off the street – but that was good timing, since she knew several of the songs that Stephen sang, and requested more. In fact, Stephen has a vast and varied repertoire, from Aussie songs to the Pogues to Stan Rogers. Because of the salsa dancing and its accompanying music, at Stephen’s suggestion, after he and I did a couple of sets, he suggested we bring the guitar into the room at the front of the Mecano and sit down and just sing a few songs like that, at the table.

That’s when the brunch turned very cosy and informal, and Stephen and I shared the guitar and hammered out songs that are perhaps not always on our repertoires. We even had the visiting Austrian, Wolf, play and sing the Hank Williams song I do, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” And I thank Wolf for doing a vide of me when I sang my song, “Borderline.”

From the Mecano we all went over to the Disquaires, where Ollie Fury was set to play. But his set did not play until near 10 PM, so in the end we stayed only for Yaco and his band’s set.

Then we headed off to the Galway, where Stephen plays MC every Monday night at the open mic. There we listened to the amazing German phenomenon named Yann, who looks, dresses, speaks, acts and sings like an Irishman. Please don’t ask me to explain. But I think I liked best his Richard Thompson song, and the song he did with Stephen – the Stan Rogers one.

A long brunch, in the end, that went on from 2:30 to 12:30. Fun for a Sunday afternoon and night.

Viking Moses and Zara Sophia at the Brunch

December 6, 2010

I don’t know how this is happening, really, but my weekly brunch has continued to prove entertaining and surprising week after week, despite occasionally seeming as if… it won’t. Now, if that is not a very original line, and sounds kind of oddly forced, let me say that the two performers I had at my weekly brunch at the Mecano bar in Oberkampf in Paris yesterday were anything but forced or un-original. In fact, if you can define a kind of genius in popular music as being a singer songwriter who grips you with the originality and the interest of their voice, emotion and the stories they tell without sounding like anyone else but themselves, then both of these performers were touched a little by that genius.

I first saw Zara Sophia at the Highlander last week and immediately invited her to my brunch. The microphone at my brunch being about 10 times better than the mic at the Highlander, her voice was a real treat of emotion, texture and highs and lows of melody.

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….

To my horror, however, I found out that for perhaps only the second time since I have started recording with my Zoom Q3 portable video and sound recorder for this blog, I left it at home. Fortunately I at least had my iPhone 4 to record in HD, but the sound is NOT what my Zoom would have provided. So I’m sorry to let down on getting some of the great textures of these voices across.

That is particularly noticeable with the other guest, the extraordinary Viking Moses, who was in Paris to play a show at the International, and who dropped by for the brunch, thanks mostly to the fact that his friend Earle Holmes was there and invited him to come along.

It took a considerable amount of chatting him up, but I managed to get this Missouri-born Appalachian world travelling minstral to sing a few songs. The brunch, thanks to his sudden appearance, went on until after midnight. From its more or less 3 PM start time (I was actually eating my brunch at that time, and went on a little late). Now Viking Moses was a discovery for me. But anyone who has heard of the term “anti-folk,” will probably have heard of him. He’s in there with people like Adam Green, who once opened for Viking Moses. And oddly enough, he reminded me a little of Stan Rogers, the Canadian folk singer from the Maritimes whom I have mentioned before, and who died in the early 80s in his early 30s.

Viking Moses has a very unique sound to his voice, he plays a mean understated guitar – the singing is often understated too – and his lyrics are dynamite stories both personal and fictitious. There are also touches of Tom Waits to this, although not in the sound of the voice – just in the music, some of the feeling and general zeitgeist of it. I came home and today listened to two of the three albums I picked up from him yesterday, and found it really fabulous. One of them he wrote with the idea that it should be sung by Dolly Parton. And how strange is this, he threw in a song by Dolly Parton that he sings himself on the CD: “I Will Always Love You.” Yes! And unfortunately for me, I happened to have been doing my push-ups at the moment that he began singing that, and I was close to tears and could not complete my full number of daily push ups, despite trying to block the lyrics out of my mind, and his plaintive take on this song.

Viking Moses is also a fabulously interesting troubador who travels the world on a shoestring budget and plays small concerts everywhere, from London to Budapest and elsewhere, often in mini concerts for 20 to 30 people in their living rooms. This, of course, reminded me of my own adventure playing music around the world – except his takes much more guts.

His sound appeals to me because it is real, it is true.

And by the way, when the term “anti-folk” came up, he scoffed at it a little and said something to the effect that, “I don’t write anti-folk, I just write songs.” The label had been foisted on him, it seemed. A real discovery, and yet again another surprise day at the brunch.

More videos of Zara and Viking Moses:

Weekend Catch-up: Neimo in Concert, OXIII in Riot Gear, Le Tigre, Mecano Brunch and Cajun Music With Sarah Savoy at an Irish Pub in Paris

November 29, 2010

The weekend was SOOO busy that I have had to do a roundup, instead of a day-to-day report as usual. It started with a chess tournament at my club on Friday night, which it would be far better not to talk about. End of that report.

Saturday I had three things planned: A concert with Neimo, an open mic at an art space known as 0XII and an after show thing at Le Tigre, for the Neimo show. Now listen to this!!:

The concert with Neimo was fabulous. I first heard of Neimo while performing at Earle’s open mic for the second time two years ago. One of the regular performers at the open mic was Bruno Dallesandro, the lead singer from Neimo. Over the next year at Earle’s open mic, there would barely be a week without Bruno showing up with his friends to sing and pay their dues back to Earle and his open mic, since they had developed their act in important ways at Earle’s first bar, Le Shebeen, which had spawned all sorts of French groups.

Saturday night Neimo was the lead act at the cool venue known as La Flèche d’Or, which is a concert hall made out of an old train station. This was the first time I had seen Neimo in action as a complete band, playing their songs, electronically. And man was it cool. Even the fact that they played a vast amount of new material did not put me off – I had listened mostly to their last album, Modern Incidental, released by theShangri-La label in the United States. But the new material was really good, and I don’t know if it was just the location of the concert or seeing them for the first time live, but I felt it came across as much more of a “progressive” kind of rock than the previous stuff. I may be wrong.

In any case, Bruno was wonderfully charismatic, a little Bowie-like, including the makeup and furs…. But just take a look at some of the videos I did to see what I mean.

Next up was the 0XIII art space. I mentioned this place before on this blog, maybe even twice. What made me really desperate not to miss it on Saturday night – despite the two Neimo events – was that I learned there would be an open mic on the second floor. So I HAD to get there. I knew of no other open mics on Saturday night, and this one would go on all night. Yes, in fact, it was also announced as the last night of the 0XIII. This, I did not realize before, was because the building was in fact a squat!

Anyway, I was with a fellow Formula One journalist friend, and I told him about the 0XIII and said that I really wanted to show him the place, adding, “I guarantee you will not be let down.” I felt I had to push a little, since he was keen on going to the Tigre after party and then he was going on to another place after that. But he was very amenable to the OXIII, and he had faith in my assurance that he would not be let down.

So we took a cab over to the Rue d’Enghien from the Fleche. The cab driver got a little frustrated when two streets before our destination he found the roads all blocked up. So we got off to walk the rest of the way. We rounded the corner and found the roads blocked because there were cop cars all over the place at the end of the street of the 0XIII.

“Hmm,” I said, “I wonder if they are there for the 0XIII.”

We rounded the next corner and found that indeed, the street was blocked off by the cops and they were there for the OXIII. There were about 200 people of the squat standing out in the street drinking and talking and it sounded like a mob scene, with people bending out from the windows of the art space as well, and talking to people in the street, with loud music, and general mayhem. At least, that would be how the neighbors interpreted it. And how the cops would interpret it.

We continued to approach and I decided to stop and ask some cops what was going on.

“It’s got out of hand,” said one. “Don’t go there.”

“Thanks for telling us,” I said. “Because that is where we had intended to go.”

“Don’t,” he repeated. “In any case, it’s a squat.”

That’s when I learned that fact.

I thought I recognized some friends in the crowd in front so I did approach closer with my journalist friend. We saw it was a madhouse and impossible to get in the front door without a battle, and I said, “Anyway, there’s not going to be any open mic in that place….”

So we decided to leave and go to Le Tigre. As we walked back up the street to leave we found ourselves crossing through several armed and riot police known as CRS, and my friend noted the guns with rubber bullets. They had shields and other various anti-riot gear – including tear gas – and they were coming right at us like as if we were in a battlefield, slow, cautious pace, a march, a readiness for action.

We got through them no problem and went on our way. The next thing I heard was via a few friends on Facebook that the CRS stormed the place, threw teargas, and generally broke up the group in a rather violent manner. I checked the Internet and found that the Parisien newspaper had reported that the cops had been forced to use violence because the crowd had got violent and begun to throw things at them. The article also said that 10 people had been arrested. The raid had begun around 1:30 AM, and I think the place was cleared out by 3.

I doubted the violence by the crowd, but I later also heard that one cop started getting violent with a young woman and so some people in the crowd attacked him. There may also have been some beer cans thrown at the cops. Well, that, in any case, is the end of the OXIII on Rue d’Enghien. Too bad. I really wanted to play in that open mic, and it was a cool place. On the other hand, my promise to my friend that he would not be let down by going to the place was indeed honored….

So we went off to the Tigre and spend a couple of hours there, and it was all very cool and controlled….

On Sunday, it was time for my brunch, and at least one of my friends who had said she would see me and play some music on Sunday did not show up. As I knew that she had also intended to go to the OXIII the night before, I got worried. But it turned out to be only a sore throat. The afternoon was nice and relaxing at the Mecano for my brunch, and I had my friend James Cordoba Jr. from Colombia play a few songs. That made for a very nice change to the usual stuff – not that there really is a fixed theme on my brunch….except for fun and good music….

Oh, yeah, and finally, just to give a complete different turn to the musical weekend, I went on Sunday night after the brunch to attend a set by Sarah Savoy and the Francadians at the Corcoran pub on blvd de Clichy. This American woman from Louisiana and her at least half-American band play the coolest Cajun music you can imagine, and they live in France. I was presented to them by one of my regular listeners at the Mecano brunch. It was a real eye-opener of the kind of musical diversity Paris has to offer – thanks to Irish pubs and expats….

Off Track, on Track With the Between the Seasons Waltz

November 22, 2010

That is a very convoluted “headline” just to say that after a full week or more of silence I have returned back on track with my blog. I don’t think I have had too many such silences, but basically it comes down to the Formula One season having ended, and me having a short little illness without consequences to coincide with that end.

Readers of this blog will have noted that I spent the previous nine months traveling the world and playing in open mics and jams and busking all over the place in some 15 or so countries and most of the continents. It was my second year doing that, and with a little luck, I will continue again next year. For the moment, I have entered into what is known as the winter season, or the off-season, in Formula One, where journalists like me tend to tend to other projects and to take holidays and prepare for the coming season.

I will mostly be sticking around Paris, playing gigs (don’t miss the Texas in Paris organized Thanksgiving evening I’m playing at, at the Disquaires on Thursday), open mics and jams. And at the moment I plan a weekly brunch musical afternoon show at the Mecano Bar in Paris, every Sunday. For the past couple of months I’ve been hosting this every Sunday that I have been in town and not writing about the Formula One races. I play two or three sets of my music and cover songs, and I invite guests to play a set too. The guests are my friends and acquaintances in the musical world that I have met, mostly in Paris. The brunch starts at 3 PM and usually ends at 6 PM, although on one particularly lively Sunday with David Broad on guitar and vocals and Joe Cady on fiddle, we stayed until 7 PM.

Yesterday I started up the brunch again and had Calvin McEnron and Rym playing a set each. It was a cold, rainy day in Paris, and I can’t think of any better place to be if you like brunch (it’s good food), music and relaxation. So check it out!!

Paris Wrap Up, Brazil On the Horizon

November 2, 2010

Just have to do a really quick wrap up of the last couple of days before I fly off to Sao Paulo tomorrow. I did not want to forget to note that the No. 4 Brad’s Brunch at the Mecano Bar in Paris was another success, despite a little bit of a slow start, and I wanted to mention the open mic night at the Tennessee Bar last night.

The Sunday brunch at the Mecano was not really a Sunday brunch since France was in the middle of a holiday weekend, as November 1 is the day to think of the dead…. Weird, of course, that Halloween precedes this day…and that was another reason I think things began quietly at the Mecano, as the country was preparing Halloween festivities for the evening. Yes, it is becoming a big celebration here, that one too.

But slowly business picked up, and thanks to wonderful performances by Les DeShane (including a great duet with his partner, Peggy) and with my friend Rym playing her ukelele and doing a full set of probably nearly 45 minutes, the brunch turned into a lot of fun and excitement. Thanks to the people who showed up, mostly, of course.

Last night at the Tennessee bar turned into another Les DeShane experience. Not only did he play a nice one of his own compositions and a Bob Marley song I had never heard him do, but he also took advantage of the piano to go and play and sing an Elton John song. He had us all spellbound, and you will hear why in the video below (although the image is bad).

I sang a song I wrote when I was 16, which I have recently revived. I also just recently transposed the chords since my voice has dropped an octave or two since I wrote the song and I found I had to strain to sing it today with the same chords. I just realized that the song has no title! But, as usual, it’s about love and a woman….

Now I have to iron and pack for Sao Paulo, and what I hope will be as fruitful and interesting a musical adventure there this year as last year….

Extraordinary Atmosphere and Music at the Mecano Brunch #3

October 18, 2010

I just had to write this down, as I prepare to fly off to Korea tomorrow for the Formula One race (if the Paris strikes do not prevent me from going). Yesterday was the third week in a row that I hosted my own brunch afternoon on Earle’s invitation at Le Mecano bar and restaurant in the Oberkampf area of Paris. And it was another wild and fun time. In fact, this time the music got really exotic and crazy, and the whole thing went on until after 7 PM, after starting at 3PM.

In addition to my sets – using my SE Electronics microphone, so really getting nice, pure sound on the vocals – we had Les DeShane doing a short set, and then my invited guest, David Broad, whom I introduced on this blog a couple of weeks ago after discovering him at The Highlander. This British guy from Leeds, England, out-does many an American singer/guitar player, on their own songs.

And what a great delight it then turned out to be when long after David had finished his set and I had finished my last set, suddenly Joe Cady showed up. I mentioned Joe on an earlier blog item too, as he plays frequently at the Bizart jam session on Tuesdays. So I didn’t give Joe a chance to even sit down before I asked if he brought his violin with him.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “It’s out in the car.”

I told him to go get it, and I immediately asked David if he had some songs that would go well with a violin, and he said he thought he might. Indeed. We ended up being treated to another hour of fabulous music by David, Joe and a friend of David’s who came in and provided harmonies on a number of the songs as well.

It was pure bliss for an hour, and promises great things for the future. In the middle of my second second set we also had a nice moment with me doing “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Ring of Fire” with my friend Rym, and a solo number with our friend Elise, who played guitar and sang in what she said was her first ever appearance behind a mic. It will not be her last, I’m sure of that.

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