Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

2 Open Mics and a Traffic Jam at a Jam in Paris

December 3, 2013

PARIS – I finally feel really back in Paris. After so much travelling the Paris I feel back in has moved into full swing in the open mics and jam sessions. In fact, last night I decided to visit a jam session that I went to a few times in the past, but have not been to for a long long time, and found so full that it was impossible to get down into the basement room from the groundfloor bar to hear – or play. But I’m jumping ahead.

The jam crawl started Sunday night with my visit to the Lizard Lounge open mic, which had been closed down for several months as they sought a new group of people to run the open mic. This is one of the longest standing open mics in Paris, and it is run only on the first Sunday of the month. I was not in Paris for the first one last month, the first of the return. But I was there on Sunday, and the place was bopping when I arrived a little late.

The format has not really changed: The basement room of the Lizard Lounge lends itself perfectly to music and an open mic, and thank goodness they have started again. There is a drum set, a couple of mics, and you can play solo or with a group. I was lucky to arrive late and still get a spot on the list, playing second last or so.

From there I went home and nursed my jet lag and then decided to change things on Monday night and instead of going to the Tennessee Bar or the other open mics in the St. Michel area, I decided to go up to the jam session at the Cariatides bar that happens every Monday night and is run by Doréa SisDee, who also has a great Facebook page on Paris jams and open mics. I had been to her session once at the Cariatides, but the previous times I went it was somewhere else. So last night I was completely taken by surprise to find the Cariatides absolutely bursting with spectators and musicians.

It was impossible to get down the stairs and get a chair to listen or play. So I settled for recording a few minutes of the jam over the speaker on the groundfloor bar, just to give you a taste and mark my territory with the video camera.

Realizing quickly that it was gig over at the Cariatides, I headed on over to the mainstay Galway Pub open mic. There I find it equally kicking up a storm with copious musicians and spectators. And I managed to get a table and listen to a night of music, with some very inventive stuff, and I got to do four of my songs. The only downer was that I did not have enough charged batteries for my Zoom Q3HD recording device and had to revert to my iPhone for a couple of the songs – and the rotten sound quality that entails….

In any case, it was a fine, fine night at the Galway, and I was pleased all in all to see so much life in the Paris open mics after I’ve been gone so long….

Micro-Post: Update of the Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics in Paris

August 18, 2013

PARIS – As I start to prepare for my trip to Belgium later in the week, I thought I would just update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, with a couple of new listings – and the removal of the Lizard Lounge listing, as that one seems finally to have died a lizard’s death. I have added the Escargot Underground listing – under Thursdays – and the Caveau des Oubliettes, which I have long known about and played at a couple of times, but for reasons beyond my understanding, I have not until now got around to putting on the list!!! Despite it being one of the mainstay open jam sessions of the city….

Change of Gears at Lizard Lounge Open Mic in Paris

April 8, 2013

The Lizard Lounge open mic is one of those that break the rule that an open mic has to be every week in order to be successful and last for years. Having taken place once a month for something like close to a decade, this open mic in a cellar of a bar in Paris near the Hotel de Ville has always been successful. Or at least since I have attended in the last two or three years. Taking place on the first Sunday of the month, somehow it has always been a great evening with a good audience and enough musicians to play through two or three hours. Now, though, it is heading for a test: Last night was the last night of the open mic as MCd by a group of close friends who have run it for five years.

It is scheduled to continue, but there is no final decision yet as to who will MC it. Before the current group of MCs, there had been another person, and it had lasted through it all – probably because the cellar is so appealing, the neighbors are not affected by the loud music, and there is a drum set and the possibility of having a full group, and not just a single musician.

So the Lizard Lounge has everything going for it. This Sunday night open mic even survived the brief period when Earle Holmes ran his open mic there on the Monday – for a few months in 2008 after he closed the Shebeen bar and its wildly successful open mic.

Last night the MCs did announce the end of the line, thanked people, hoped it would continue in a new life – but apparently they have had enough.

Long live Lizard Lounge open mic….

From the Little Temple to the Lizard Lounge – and a Musing on Changes

March 4, 2013

I had a feeling of beginnings and endings last night as I walked down the Rue Princess past the closed up shop of the Village Voice bookstore, which had been on that street for 30 years, and where I went regularly – if much less in recent years than in the early years – during most of that time. I had expected to see a sushi shop in its place, but I was surprised to see the eerie storefront of the bookstore still there, but with the windows whitewashed. In fact, before I arrived on the street, I had suddenly thought that, “Oh hell, maybe the bar I am heading to play at is in what used to be the Village Voice!”

As it turned out, the Little Temple bar was NOT in the place of the Voice, as I mentioned, but slightly up the street and on the same side of the road. I had been invited by Jake Weinsoff, my friendly violin player with whom I played a couple of times in recent weeks. Jake has been hosting a musical evening at the Little Temple bar for a few months (it seems), and while it is not an open mic, Jake opens the mic and invites friends to play occasionally.

So for me, it WAS an open mic. It was also something new! I have not been doing enough new things in Paris lately, so I was keen to try this. It was also “new” because Jake injects new life into the musical evening, and just about everything he plays. I came a little too late to see his singing set in the beginning, and by the time I left to go to an old open mic, he was about to go up again – but I had to move on.

The Little Temple, by the way, is a very cozy Irish pub kind of place, with typical wooden walls, and all sorts of cubby holes and table and tall chairs all over. Very comfortable, and a fun night.

But I had heard that the MC team is changing at the once-per-month Lizard Lounge open mic near the City Hall, and so I did not want to miss it yesterday just in case the thing no longer exists in another month. I was told I need not worry about that, as it turns out the bar owner really wants to keep the open mic running, and there may even be a chance it will run more often than just the first Sunday of the month.

The same team of MCs has been running this open mic for five years, and it actually existed even before that. So this is a real long-running Paris institution of an open mic. I love it too because it takes place in the same basement – cave – room where I did my first ever open mic in Paris, on the Monday night in 2008, when it was run by Earle Holmes. (That one ran simultaneous to the Sunday night event – ie, two open mics on certain weeks.)

I got there a bit late, of course, last night, and so I only saw two or three acts. And I did my own songs. But I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and was glad I didn’t miss it, and glad to get the news of what the future may hold….

Having recently discovered that the Shakespeare and Company bookstore has recently moved to a new address around the corner from its old one facing Notre Dame Cathedral, I also began thinking about that, of course, on this theme of new and old and changing of the guard, and in the context of the Village Voice. Life changes.

A Night Not Like the Others at the Lizard Lounge in Paris

February 4, 2013

The Lizard Lounge open mic happens once a month, on the first Sunday of every month, and it has survived for years because it is a great, and different open mic. A drum set, enough of a sound system for several guitars, bass, and last night violin with a couple of different performers. I had an excellent time – even if I made a fool out of myself.

I had seen a great documentary on Louis Armstrong the night before and I envied how he was able to sing all these songs with a smile in his voice and on his face. Most of my songs tend to be sad, down, and even if sometimes optimistic, the emotion is often low. So last night after I did my three songs – including a new one I have not finished and never should have tried – I did my Louis Armstrong, “Hello Dolly” imitation. Oh man, it sounded so much better at home!!!! I will blame the amplification.

But it was a fun night, and I think I learned something about my new song in the making – but I’m not sure what.

Also heard some good stuff, and listened to Brislee Adams do his great Neil Young song and dedicate it to THIS old man….

From the Snug in Nice to the Lizard Lounge in Paris, by Way of….

January 7, 2013

snug pub nice

snug pub nice

Despite the effort and discipline it takes to write a personal blog every day – or almost every day – I think it is really more difficult to write one intermittently. When I write my posts on this blog it is usually fresh from the emotion and excitement – or letdown – of the event or experience. So it is that I have not made a single post on this site since my amazing New Year’s Eve experience. That, however, has nothing to do with not living other amazing experiences in the meantime…in fact, it has to do with living TOO MANY other amazing experiences in the meantime.

It is for that reason that I will keep the wordage on this post to a minimum and rather sum it all up as best and quickly as I can. I left for Nice, in the south of France, in order to meet three people for three completely different reasons, and ran into a fourth on the same trip. The first night I arrived, I headed directly over to the Snug and Cellar pub in the old town of Nice where on Monday nights my friend Peter Cogavin holds an open mic. I had contacted Peter that very day – I think – as I took the train from Paris to Nice and asked him if he had any idea where there was any interesting music going on.

Peter knows I like to play wherever I go, and so although I had not explicitly asked for that, he told me that if I went to the Snug there was a cool band playing and they would probably let me play a song or two. So that is precisely where I went upon arrival in Nice. And no sooner did I step into the door of this tiny little Snug pub than the singer of the three musicians of the band The Substitutes saw my guitar case on my back and asked if I wanted to play a song! He had not been in touch Peter, he knew nothing about me or my abilities as a musician. But this was a true Irish-style pub – run by an Englishman – with a great atmosphere and a wonderful band with an open attitude to music and the musical spirit.

So after ordering a pint of beer I played a couple of songs, along with the bass player and percussionist. The band took a break and I was asked to play a song in the second set too. In the meantime, I had a little tour of the Snug, and found that the open mic usually takes place in the cellar room, and it is one of those classic, vaulted French “caves” with exactly the right dimensions and size for an open mic. And I know Peter is a great host, having seen him in action at the Shapko bar across the street and elsewhere in Monaco. So I highly recommend the Snug, either for the Monday night open mic, or for the music on Thursday – or just a drink.

My trip to Nice took in other experiences, in Vence – where I discussed a musical documentary film idea with an amazing Finnish documentary film director – and in Valbonne, where I met an amazing photographer (whom I will talk about at some future date in a bigger way) and then in Cap d’Ail where I dined with an amazing woman I met in Abu Dhabi this year. I then dine on Sunday night in an amazing apartment overlooking all of Nice and the ocean with an F1 colleague. Amazing was the operative word for the whole three days in Nice….

I returned yesterday in time to go to the once-per-month open mic of the Lizard Lounge, near the Hotel de Ville in Paris, and I had a great time there too, staying quite late in the end, and playing a couple of Irish songs – Only Our Rivers and Peter’s Song – for an Irishman who showed up late, after I did my own set during the open mic. More amazingness!

And hey, I guess I got through this difficult task after all, despite several days away from the computer keyboard…. (Oh, I continued working on my book in the 5 hour and 30 minute train ride to and from the coast, but with a pen and paper.)

An Unexpected Kindness and Coolness at the Freedom Pub and a Great Open Mic at the Lizard Lounge

December 10, 2012

Here is the story as I see it, without doing extensive research: This guy shows up at the Coolin open mic last Monday and hands me a “VIP Invitation” to “The Soirée,” presented by FC Freedom at the Freedom Pub, a popular sports bar off the Champs Elysées. The guy sees I have a guitar – although he has not heard me sing – and asks if I want to take part in the “X-Factor” part of the evening. I am always looking to follow the music, so I agree to do so.

That was for last night, but it also turned out that there was the once-per-month open mic of the Lizard Lounge, and I did not want to miss it. Anyway, I learn afterwards that this so-called X-Factor evening at the Freedom Pub, in fact, has nothing to do with any TV show or talent search. It is an annual fund raising event held by a soccer team, FC Freedom.

Okay, that was not exactly what I had thought this thing was going to be about, considering the way it had been presented. The guy had sought other musicians too, by the way, at Coolin. Anyway, because I had already agreed to go with the guy giving out the invitations and also with another one or two people who contacted me via telephone – it sounded all very heavy and official even so, right? – I thought I would definitely have to go. By the time last night happened, I was beginning to feel tired and not inspired, and it was raining and I had lots of things to do. Then I thought, “But you said you would go.” Furthermore, I realized I could go to the Freedom Pub, check out the show and then take the same Line 1 metro on to the Lizard Lounge.

So I arrive at the Freedom Pub – across the street from the longtime home of the International Herald Tribune from the 20s to the 70s – and I walk in to hear some kind of amateur rapping on the mic and I see a place that is pretty sparsely inhabited, and it did have a fairly “football club”-like feel to it. The sound system was not great, and after my friend with the invitations greeted me – I was late on the agreed upon hour, by the way – I quickly inquired if it was possible for my guitar to be plugged in. It was not. Only a mic.

I was immediately thinking about my second possible date, the Lizard Lounge. Worse, the man organizing the talent show said I could go on as the first person in the second part of the show, after another three acts. I thought my night would be gone, and I tried to back out. But my man with the invitations insisted to the man organizing the talent to let me go up immediately, if I wanted to. I said I could go with only my guitar in acoustic mode and the mic for my voice, and I’d be happy to do it immediately.

So I went up, sang two songs, got a few people singing along, they seemed to enjoy it – What’s Up and Mad World – and then I started packing my guitar and told the guy I was sorry I wouldn’t stay but I had this other event to attend. He immediately offered me a fresh new bottle of Smirnoff Eristoff Black premium Vodka based spirit as payment for my attendance and performance! I could not believe the gesture, especially as I was not hanging around and had bought nothing to drink myself. It made me feel really good about him, about the FC Freedom and about the Freedom Pub off the Champs Elysées. And I also had a thought for the other people who had withdrawn at the last minute, did not show up and did not follow the music. Do it! Follow the music.

Anyway, I went off to the Lizard Lounge and had a GREAT open mic. Lots of cool musicians, some friends, a nice environment and an absolutely deadly sound system. I was feeling so good that my music went well too, and I actually got an encore and a request for a second Cat Stevens song after I sang a first – so I did Miles from Nowhere and Father and Son. A wonderful, wonderful evening. Thanks music.

The Wide-Ranging, Long-Lasting Lizard Lounge Open Mic

July 2, 2012

Last night was the last Lizard Lounge open mic of the summer. It was as cool as usual, with a large crowd of spectators and a lot of musicians – but not too many. The most interesting aspect of this open mic is just how many different style of musician and group are accepted. From the soloist to the full band with drum set, anything goes. That has its drawbacks too, of course, if you are a soloist and you go right after an amazing full sounding band.

I decided not to do my crowd pleasers last night, and felt it. But some people complimented me afterwards, so I assume it passable. I played my Crazy Lady, and Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” There was a fabulous group playing Depeche Mode, the closing group with its sax and two cool guitar players, and one or two other neat things – like the ever cool John McNulty and band.

But I ultimately left the open mic with the most interesting moment for me personally coming as I left and a couple of the organizers pointed out to me that this open mic has been around now for 10 years! Since I did not even hit the open mic road until three and a half years ago, and the first place I played in Paris was the Lizard Lounge’s Monday night open mic with Earle Holmes, I always connected the Lizard Lounge with Earle’s Monday night open mic which ended there in around early 2009 – if not earlier.

But the Sunday monthly open mic and jam session at the Lizard Lounge in its comfortable basement room was going even at that time. And although only once per month, it has its regulars and has never stopped. It’s easy to see why – it is very musician and spectator friendly. Last night’s session was the last for the summer – that means there will be no Lizard Lounge open mic until either the first Saturday of September or the first Saturday of October, it has not yet been decided which.

Now I have to run off to go and host the Galway Pub open mic just off the Place St. Michel, taking duties for one night as the regular MC takes a break.

From Crap to Crazy to Super Cool – Two Paris Open Mics

June 4, 2012

I arrived at the El Tonel bar near the Louvre where I have had one or two wonderful evenings in the new open mic there, and I had no expectations. I knew it was the first Sunday of the month, though, so I’d have the Lizard Lounge to attend down the street afterwards near the Hotel de Ville, if needs be. Needs beed….

The Tonel ended up being completely uninspiring – except for Scott Bywater’s superb song, and friendliness – and I played three or four songs and found a nearly completely unresponsive audience. One of the problems was there were simply not enough people there to really find a way into things. And those that were there were with other musicians and so there was more talking than listening. Then again, I may be entirely unfair, and I may have had higher expectations than what were delivered, but that all was really just fine.

Whatever may be the truth of the situation, I got out of there as fast as I could and walked down to the Lizard Lounge. There I found myself in the exact opposite situation to the El Tonel. It was a blood madhouse! There was a crazy mad rhythmic group putting on some kind of trancelike performance, and the brick cellar room was so full of riotous people that it was difficult to move or breathe! Fortunately, I found some friends there too, and that forced me into staying what otherwise felt too crazy and too much of a contrast for me.

Then, slowly, or maybe quickly, the mood changed, the crowd thinned a tiny bit, the music varied – with some wonderful performers -, and the whole thing began being a classic and wonderful evening at this amazing once-per-month open mic that has managed to survive extremely well for a few years despite being only once a month. Then I went up to play at the end, and I felt by then really good, the crowd was even thinner, but a lot of people who had been up in the street smoking cigarettes returned, and in short, my first song – my “Except Her Heart” – went extremely well, with clapping and a clearly engaged audience, and then when my second song, “Year of the Cat” went less well, I though, “O.K., I’m going to have to pull out the heavy artillery now.”

So I told them that despite my desire not to always sing the same songs, I would do one that I did every month there. That actually drew applause and cheers, even though I don’t know if they knew which it was! So I dived into “What’s Up!” I was feeling so akin the lyrics and primal scream aspect of that song that I just belted it out, and they clapped along and sang along in unison, in a brilliantly wonderful communication between performer and audience – at least from my side. Wish I had written that song!

So I decided I had better quit while ahead, and I have a flight tomorrow to catch for Montreal. So I left after my slot, and did not hang around for the jam with several musicians that has become a mainstay event at this warm, crazy and fun open mic.

Unexpected Fete at the Lizard Lounge

February 6, 2012

The Lizard Lounge bar near the Hotel de Ville in Paris is the place where it all started for me three years and three months ago, when I decided to try an open mic in Paris for the first time playing in public in nearly 30 years (with the exception of a night in Shanghai the previous month). And there I was greeted by Earle Holmes, who then ran the Lizard Lounge open mic on Monday nights. My slot went over really well and Earle showered me with compliments and it was the beginning of playing at open mics from three to five nights a week ever since – well, with the occasional reduction of attendance during periods of personal contentedness in my love life when I had far more inspiring things to do….

So, then Earle’s open mic moved on to the Truskel, which I revisited last Friday, by coincidence, and the Lizard Lounge ceased hosting open mics. It then eventually picked up again, but only on the first Sunday of every month. I never managed to get there – usually because I would forget about what day it was on, or what day it was – until last night I screwed in my courage and decided to brave the cold of the Paris winter the way I had said in my previous post I had decided to do on Friday and Saturday. IE, I had learned my lesson. And boy did I ever! For the evening at the Lizard Lounge was a fabulously fun one, complete with individual musicians playing behind the mic and then a jam at the end to which I was invited, with a drummer, a bongo player, a lead guitarist and vocalist and me on acoustic and vocals too.

There was quite a good crowd, the basement “cave” room of the Lizard Lounge was as cool as ever, and Ujji the barman – who was there in Earle’s day too – was as friendly as ever, and also a wonderful addition to several little jams on his bongo.

An evening to remember, and to go to again…. Above all, personally, it made me realize that in the three years since I so nervously and uncertainly took to the mic – and played for the first time with Félix, whom I mention in my previous post – all those open mics and intervening years have made me a different musician since then. Or at least one who has grown, thank goodness.

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