Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Not Amused, Brad Was A-Meused

August 27, 2011

Another night of negatives in Liege, as one of the city’s main jam session bars was closed for the summer – and opens in a few days from now. It was my second night in the Belgian city and the second night that I found jams closed for the summer, closed for good. I couldn’t take it. So I took my guitar down to the river Meuse at midnight and played “Mad World,” on a walkway as late-night pedestrians passed by clapping and stomping to the rhythm. It is indeed a mad world.

Check out at the halfway point of this video where a couple of guys show up in front of me clapping and stomping time with the rhythm before they head off:

Actually, I played four songs. It’s too difficult to go more than a day or two without music, and it was too late to play at the hotel. The Friday night jam takes place at a bar called the Surlet, and is apparently one of the best in the city.

Since I began this worldwide open mic adventure, I have always worried about the fact that a number of races happen during a period that many bars use to close down for the summer holidays. Fortunately I have never until now been affect by it. But since there is nothing left in Liege, I decided that I will go to Brussels for my final night in Belgium, tomorrow night. I know there are at least two jams there.

P.S. At 1 AM I decided to take my unicycle in go for a spin down the same walkway where I played – along with a few other late-night cyclists. It rained, of course, but it was easy to ride with the umbrella.

A Concert in Paris, a Catweazle in Oxford

July 8, 2011

As I write these words I am in rainy England, on another racing and open mic mission. Yesterday I made the mistake of taking the Eurostar instead of an airplane, so I lost so much time in my day that I could not post anything of the concert I did the night before in Paris.

(The Eurostar was fine, but the car rental operation was a failure as I ended up spending too much time driving from London to the Midlands, where the race is – in Silverstone – and my lodgings are, in Oxford.)

The concert was great fun, as I got to play along with my favorite lead guitarist, Felix Beguin, and even sang some songs with Vanessa, including our by now standard, “Mad World.” The concert was organized for me by Calvin McEnron, who also performed, and also had Felix accompany him on two or three songs. Felix really changes the texture of things, really gives drive and movement to the songs. Love it!

Oh, yes, and the concert took place at the Green Room bar in Paris, not too far from the Bastille. It is a very cool venue, a long room with a stage at the end and a not bad sound system – although in listening to the videos made of my stuff, I wish there had been more volume on the vocals (for the videos)…. 🙁

From there, it was right off to England the next day, and what turned out to be TWO open mics. I managed to do the Catweazle Club open mic at the Oxford Community Center AND the Half Moon pub open mic down the street. That was two completely different experiences. Catweazle is one of the most amazing open mics in the world, with a massively respectful audience that sits on the floor, on chairs, couches, and standing by the bar, and you can hear the proverbial pin drop. No joking.

The acts at Catweazle are often very original as well, and the open mic is done entirely in acoustic mode. Last night there were microphones, in fact, but they were there for a sound recording that was being done of the show. I was nervous as hell because this audience is so attentive, and because it is so rare for me to play without a mic that I feel less in control and aware of what I’m doing. But I got through my two songs, “Borderline” and “Except Her Heart,” and afterwards I received several compliments. So I felt I did okay.

I then went down the street and saw the Half Moon open mic in full swing and went inside and did a duet of two songs with Vanessa, “Mad World” and “What’s Up.” The Half Moon open mic is without mics too, and before we played, I said to Vanessa, “Listen, don’t worry and don’t pay any mind but no one will listen, and they will talk and make noise throughout. So just don’t take it personally.” I really felt it could be painful for her, as it is for me in those circumstances. Boy were we surprised when everyone shut up and listened and then began to sing along and clap and encourage and demand an encore after Mad World. They went through the same thing with What’s Up. And we were in bliss.

It just showed that there is always a right song and spirit for no matter what crowd, and we left there feeling like we had had the time of our lives thanks to the crowd at the Half Moon.

PS. I just realized that this year’s activity was almost a carbon copy of last’s year’s activity in terms of the concert and Catweazle for me and … Vanessa.

PPS. Unfortunately as often happens on these missions, my internet connection is slow as hell. So I may not get many – or any – videos up until late tonight or tomorrow. Please bear with me….

Happy World, Sad World, Mad World, at the Disquaires and Baroc

November 26, 2010

I started playing music in public again two years ago this month after decades away because of two main reasons: One is simply the pleasure and catharsis I feel in performing, in singing and playing, and in communicating with an audience through that. The other is in the compliments and applause I receive from an audience, when I have done a good job. Both took me by surprise two years ago when I started playing again, and both failed me last night!

Nothing too serious here, but I really let myself down last night at Les Disquaires by not feeling deeply enough into my own music – for several reasons – and just simply not being prepared. But that is ultimately the beauty of live musical performance. When you are not a performer you don’t often realize how much the same performer’s quality of performing can go up or down depending on the day. In other words, there are some good days and some bad days. That IS the reality and beauty of live.

Yesterday I had been looking forward to playing in Thanksgiving concert night at the Disquaires that was organized by my friend Baptiste, of Texas in Paris. It was planned well in advance, and I had already played at two or three of his evenings in the past couple of years at the Disquaires and it had gone very well each time. But for many reasons last night I ended up feeling like absolute crap and did what I thought was a lousy job. One of the main reasons – and this is no real excuse – is that I suddenly found myself having to play immediately after David Broad, and just after I videoed his wonderful performance that got the whole house going quite mad. I had not realized I was going to play after him, and I was not ready. In fact, I had not even selected my songs.

I will say nothing more about that, just check out the David Broad videos below that I did of him last night, and you will see how I could feel like my back was against the wall. I played my song Borderline, and I played Mad Word. In fact, with Broad, it was a happy world, with me it was a sad world, and then I decided to get out of the Disquaires as quickly as possible to go to another venue where I had been invited to play, and it truly became a mad world….

The other venue was Le Baroc, in Belleville. My friend Les DeShane was playing there doing a full gig and he invited me to show up to play two or three songs. I was so pissed off with myself about the Disquaires that I thought the best remedy would be to play again immediately. But when I got to the Baroc, I learned from Les that he had been double booked. He had invited a bunch of friends, other musicians, brought his equipment and he found as he arrived that another band was setting up to play for the night.

He managed to get the management to realize that it had made an error, and so he managed to get up there and play his gig while the other band sat in the back waiting all night for its turn. The result, however, was that the special invited guests – like me – did not get a chance to play. And unfortunately, I arrived so late that I even missed Les’s set. My evening was saved, however, by an intriguing young blond woman who was there intently watching all the musicians play and who told me in French that I was “tres beau,” and that I reminded her of someone who should be in the FBI, that I looked like an FBI agent…. On the other hand, she made it clear that she would be on the other side of the fence, the one the agents would be hunting, the bad girl. Oops, did I not say it was a mad world?

A P.S. update: I just heard back after posting this that after my performance at the Disquaires there were a number of people who said, “Who is that guy?” And they had, it turned out, enjoyed my performance. So that is also another phenomenon about performance that is very curious: The performer’s own perception of what he does and how he comes across is NOT always the most accurate, and sometimes when you think you totally blew it, you didn’t. Suffice it to say that I felt I could have done a lot better!

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!

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….

Mad World Chez Vanessa

April 23, 2010

I mentioned earlier on this blog that I had sung the Tears For Fears song “Mad World” with my friend Vanessa Cabaleira at a bar called Planete Mars. Well, some time between then and now we decided to fool around with the song in front of my Zoom Q3, and I’ve just got around to putting it up now because of all my recent travels and travails, etc. We had been searching around for the right lighting, and this video is not a definitive take, in fact, it has a little conversation about the lighting at the beginning, and a little mess up at the end. But I thought it was kind of fun, so I’m putting it up. Too bad also about the light right behind my head – but in any case, Vanessa’s the one to look at as you listen to us both….

No Mic Today, My Love Has Gone Away

March 26, 2010

Remember that song from Herman’s Hermits?  Well, all right, I changed a word in my headline for this post, of course.  Same difference.

I could not find an open mic in Melbourne tonight, so I just took the opportunity to restring my guitar.  I’d been wanting to do that for weeks, but never had the time.  Then I decided also to play a song in my room, as I did in Bahrain.  But this time, used my handy Zoom Q3 recorder to record it, and not my interview recorder as I did in  Bahrain.

I went ALL over the hotel room tonight trying to find the right angle to get enough light and some kind of backdrop but all I could come up with was the washroom, and I figured that was tasteless.  So I decided to record the song in the nearly complete darkness of the bad light available, because, after all, that suits mood of the song, which is Mad World.  I’ll put the video up tomorrow after it finishes processing in about an hour….  when I’ll be long since asleep.

Another Live Music Lesson

March 21, 2010

As I prepare for my departure on Tuesday for Australia and Malaysia, I have been trying to keep a little warm playing in open mics here and there. After more than a year of playing three to five times per week, in recent weeks I have been playing only around once a week while at home in France. And like when any habit breaks, it’s sometimes hard to get back in the groove of doing it all the time.

I had a couple of interesting experiences on Friday and Saturday that should serve me as a lesson. On Friday I was eating at a restaurant in the 17th Arrondissement in Paris where a house band played classic American folk rock, mostly Dylan. I was surprised to find that the main singer – there was a bass player, drummer, a couple of guitarists, a couple of people sang – sounded 100 percent American. He had the idiom down pat. So during one of the breaks, I spoke to him…and found out he was French. He had learned his English, said one of the other band members, from Bob Dylan. That is to say, from listening to Dylan. The singer then told me, “If I had it my way, I’d only sing Dylan. Nothing but Dylan. But the other band members wouldn’t like that, so we do other stuff too.”

The man saw my guitar, and he invited me to up to play. He said they frequently invite their friends, and some of the kids from the neighborhood go up and play guest sets too. I really wanted to play, but I didn’t. Earlier in the evening I had felt that it was not the sort of place I’d like to play, not the right time and place; and then afterwards, when invited, I chose not to because – ostensibly – I did not want to offend Vanessa, with whom I was having the meal at the restaurant.

After I left, however, I felt a sense of regret. I could have gone up there and belted out a Dylan, and it would have been perfectly at home.

The next day, Saturday, I again found myself with Vanessa, but this time we were at a bar near the Bastille, called Planete Mars. It turned out there was a punk band playing there earlier in the evening, but we missed that while dining at a Couscous place a couple of doors down the street. Vanessa knows the guy who owns the Planete Mars bar, and without me knowing it, she asked him if she and I could play a song. I had my guitar, and she and I have been working on singing “Mad World” together – although I have yet to memorize the words. (Actually, today I think I got ’em down.)

The bar owner said, “Sure!”

But I felt huge, huge wariness. After all, this was mostly punk-like and electro sort of music, hard, fast rhythms, etc. And the place was full of people drinking and talking and laughing and having fun, and there was no sound system. I thought we’d go over very badly – as I thought just about any acoustic duo would in that environment. Nothing to do with us in particular.

So I kept on throwing excuses at Vanessa; “You know, there is a time and a place for everything…. You know, people listen sometimes when it’s an open mic and all set up for amateurs….. You know, are you sure you really want to do this here?”

She just kept saying yes. So I went along with it. We rehearsed two or three times right out in the open in the bar sitting there playing for ourselves while everyone listened to the DJ. Then, finally, we agreed we were ready and Vanessa went over to tell the DJ he could turn off the sound now.

“Listen everyone, we’re going to have a little live music here with VANESSA! … and her guitar player,” said the DJ, getting everyone to cut down the talk a little. (But not entirely.) The small room had perhaps around 40 people in it, which in those tight confines was a very big crowd – especially without amplification.

In any case, we jumped right into the song. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I think we sang the song better than we ever have together – even if I messed up in a few places the planned exchange of moments where she sings and then I sing, etc. Eventually, a young guy began singing along with us. We received applause, and afterwards Vanessa was complimented copiously by several people. And I felt fabulous.

The moral of the story? There may be a time and a place for every kind of singing, but if you get the chance, don’t pass it up for anything in the world. Especially not the stage fright I was clearly feeling beforehand….

The one thing that I did regret and that Vanessa had said I should do, was to record our song on the Q3 video camera.  Again I thought it wasn’t the time or place, and again I was wrong.  I shot a few seconds on the Q3 afterwards, to show what the atmosphere was like, and so below you can see a little look around the bar from the vantage point of where we sang….

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