Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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At McCarthy’s in Monaco With Jaspa and Band

May 28, 2012

My last night in Monaco was the grande finale to the grand prix weekend, and I had been looking forward to it immensely, as I have had such great times at McCarthy’s Irish Pub in Monaco in the last two years, and after Jaspa invited me to come along to do a little jam during her gig, I was ready for another great time. And had it!

I was actually dead tired from a long day, a lot of work, a lot of travel, bad weather, and a lot of walk through Monaco. I then had an excellent meal with a Monaco specialty and I was not so sure I’d make it through the musical part of the night.

Then I met some Formula One people at the pub, then Jaspa came and immediately welcomed me and then she started playing with her percussionist and wonderful guitar player. Then she invited me up quickly, and by then I was all pumped up. I was also slightly left adrift as to what to play, as she did “Mad World,” which I had planned!!! So I did what else? “What’s Up!” and “Wicked Game.” Yeah, repetition of the same thing over again, but it seemed to the best stuff to play with the band and in the pub where the crowd was not too big, but big enough to want to feed with popular, well known songs.

I ended up leaving pretty early, at 1 AM…. But listening to Jaspa and the band, and taking in the warm environment of this bona fide Irish pub – with some Irish bartenders – was a great way to end the weekend.

Playing With Jaspa at McCarthy’s Pub in Monaco

May 30, 2011

I learned my lesson again on my last night at the Monaco Grand Prix. My worldwide tour of open mics and jam sessions is supposed to be something whereby I play in every country I travel to for the Formula One races. It’s a challenge, because I’m not choosing where I go – my job as a journalist is parachuting me into the countries where there are races. I must then work within that constraint to find a place to play. Well, in all the years I have covered the Monaco Grand Prix, I have never stayed in Monaco. I have always stayed in places like St. Jean Cap Ferrat, Menton and especially Nice. This last couple of years due to the musical adventure, I have stayed increasingly in Nice. And this last week, I made so many musical friends and discovered so many places, that I got comfortable. (Rather than the usual sense of panic as to whether I would find a place to play or not.)

Well, yesterday morning on my last day down there, I awoke early and set out to the track knowing that in the night I would be able to return and go and listen to Jake Hall, one of the musicians I mentioned earlier from Hobo Chic, who was to play at Shapko’s bar Sunday night. But I suddenly realized that I had made NO effort to find a place to play in Monaco itself, despite playing twice in Nice. So I was faced with the horrible decision: Return to the hotel and grab my guitar and explore Monaco after the race and my day’s work ended and miss out on a comfortable and fun night at Shapko, or go back and get the guitar and pursue my dream and my challenge and try to find a place to play in Monaco. After all, it really would be cheating to say I played in every country there was a race if I just decided that Nice was a substitute for Monaco.

But I yearned for the comfort of a fun night in familiar surroundings. And the only chance that I felt I had in Monaco was at McCarthy’s pub, where I played last year. But that was a long walk to the other side of Monaco, there would be a limited choice of restaurants, and I had called the place up on the phone a couple days earlier only to hear that there was no jam session, open mic or other thing but a house band that might or might not let me play. Still, as I walked toward Nice station in the morning heavy footed at the indecision and the thought that I would let myself down, I suddenly said, “No, this is a challenge, I must face it and sacrifice a potentially comfortable fun evening.” So I turned back, got the guitar – which, by the way, I also did not want to carry into the media center in Monaco, looking like a pretentious idiot – and then I set out again for my day. But I noticed that there was a newly found bounce in my walk, a sense of purpose, and a general feeling of contentedness.

So I did my day, then walked to McCarthy’s and found the place empty. But I was early. Still, the music would not start until 11 PM, and again I had to go through all the thought processes of the morning. I arrived at the same conclusion. I went out and ate a Mexican meal across the street in the only cheap restaurant on the street – one pizzeria was cheap, but once inside I was handed a menu that had items costing around 4 euros more than on the menu outside, because, I think, it was a Grand Prix weekend and they wanted to get all they could…so I left before ordering. Anyway, I ate the meal, returned to McCarthy’s, waited around for the musicians and had a great conversation with a fellow Canadian at the bar.

The musicians arrived, it was a band called Jaspa, of French and British musicians (the signer is English), and I listened to their first set and made some videos. They played so many popular recent songs and in such a lively manner that I was again putting myself to shame on the limits of my own repertoire. But at the break, I approached, and the singer immediately started chatting to me about the videos. I then told her about how I travel the world and like to play in different spots as I travel for my job, and she immediately and delightedly invited me to play with them in the next set. So I set up the guitar, and I opened the set with them, doing three songs. We all played together, the audience loved it, my Canadian friend complimented me, and the band invited me back to do more songs later. I agreed, but then realized the time was really passing and I had to get up early to travel back to Paris. So I left.

But I had sooooo much fun singing and playing with this band, and having the audience sing along on “Unchained Melody,” and I had such a feeling of pride and happiness at having actually pissed on my territory in Monaco itself, and adding a sixth country to the adventure this year, that I realized I had once again learned the lesson for life through the adventure: Push yourself and don’t get too “comfortable” because the true comfort is the thrill and pleasure of following your dreams. But of course, none of it would have happened without the open arms and humanity of McCarthy’s, and above all, the band Jaspa. A lot of bands jealously guard their territory, but the ones who seem to have the most open spirit in both human and musical terms, are often arms open and curious when it comes to inviting other musicians they have never heard to play during their gig.

Last Night in Monaco Jackpot at McCarthy’s Irish Pub

May 18, 2010

Monaco may be known for its casinos, but I felt I won the jackpot in the music stakes on my last night in Monaco on Sunday when I finally found a place to play. It would have been my first Grand Prix since 2008 that I did not sing and play at had I not found the place on Sunday night – and taken the risk to go to a place that was not, strictly speaking, holding a jam or open mic.

After learning that BOTH of the open mics I attended in Nice last year no longer existed (Johnny’s Wine Bar and Ma Nolan’s Pub on the old port in Nice), I decided to make one last attempt at finding a place to play, after the race. I had, yes, rocked on the rock, as I said in my previous post. But that was playing in private at the home of a friend of Vanessa’s. It was not playing in public, the way my quest is supposed to be done. But that friend, Jasmine, had told us that her favorite pub, McCarthy’s Irish Pub, was a very convivial place that had a kind of open jam night and that was very open to letting others play and that I should try it.

So after the race ended and I wrote my story on Mark Webber’s victory, I called McCarthy’s and asked if the had live music tonight.

“Yes,” said the man with an Irish accent, “we have a cover band.”

I told him I’d heard they sometimes let people go up and sing a song, and asked him if it would be possible for me to do that. He said I probably could, but he was slightly cagey: “If you CAN sing, and CAN handle it, yes.”

Clearly he did not just want a drunk going up and making a mess of things, and that was a signal I would receive later when I got to the pub and asked again.

But that’s jumping ahead. I took my guitar and computer and walked over to McCarthy’s Pub, since it was only around 25 minutes walk from the paddock, located on the other side of the tunnel where the Grand Prix cars race. You almost always end up walking along the race track in Monaco during the race weekend, and going to McCarthy’s was no exception. Last year I never did find a place to play in Monaco itself, and thought that such a thing was impossible. It turns out that Monaco is very alive musically during the race weekend, and on several occasions I felt I was walking through Istanbul with music coming from all directions in a cacaphony of different genres and styles and sounds. It made me drunk with feelings.

The walk to McCarthy’s was no exception as I heard and saw music being performed all along the periphery of the harbor, including at the Rascasse and a little farther down the track from there where a couple of crooners sang in the street outside a restaurant.

Once I got there, I could see why McCarthy’s was Jasmine’s favorite hangout in Monaco. It is very laid back, very Irish, very pub, and musically it was also a pleasure, and relaxed. I had feared when I heard there was a cover band that it would be a giant stage with a huge setup including drums, keyboards, flashy spotlights, the whole deal, and that any effort I might make to sing would be received very coolly, and I would not be very comfortable. What I found was two or three ampliphiers, a couple of mic stands and this all set up beside the bar against the wall. The band would not start until around 11 PM, and that gave me time to go eat dinner in an Italian restaurant nextdoor.

When I returned the band was setting up. It would be an electric bass, two acoustic guitar players and a singer who occasionally played the bongos – as did the bassist, who also played acoustic between sets. The band was a new one, having only practiced together for a few hours on three different occasions before doing the gig. Three of the men were Italian and one – the lead guitarist and sometime singer – was French. They all lived in France.

It was indeed a cover band, but it was very laid back, low key and friendly. They called themselves, appropriately for the weekend, The Petrol Heads. They sang all the usual stuff: Mustang Sally, Smoke on the Water, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the usual Nirvana stuff, and Beatles, and others. The lead singer had a very good voice with some emotion and grit and grain to it.

The bar became increasingly crowded with people from all nationalities – including a number of Irish people – and they were warm, outgoing and loved to dance. But they were never too rowdy.

I made a lot of videos as every time I heard a new song I knew it and wanted to do something with it on video. But it would be far too heavy here, especially considering the darkness of the videos, to put up that many.

In any case, after their first set I asked one of the band members if I could play and sing a song or two. He accepted immediately, and I plugged in and went up to the mic and introduced myself. Since this was not an open mic, I decided to tell the audience that I was actually a journlist present to cover the race, not a musician, but that I took my guitar with me to all the races to play. Normally I don’t mention that, but in a situation like this one, I felt I should give an explanation, and I also pointed out how nice it was for the band to allow me to play, as they had never heard me before.

The manager, as I said, was actually a little worried, as he had no doubt had some pretty bad people trying to sing and breaking the atmosphere in the past. But it worked out. I sang two songs and decided not to push it, since I was up against a very together group and me with just the guitar…. During my first song, though, (yes, Crazy Love), the singer from the band came up and started playing bongos with me. He continued for the second song.

I thanked the band and the audience and then sat and listened to the band’s second set. After the second set, they let a guy from the audience grab one of the bongos and he sat in front of the playing area on the floor and began to bang out a pretty primal rhythm. The bass player took the other bongo and joined in, and the guitar player played a rhythm to it, and people began dancing. It was a pretty Bacchic moment, but amongs the fishing boat decor, the wooden panel walls, the long bar and the sports on television, it was a true moment of controlled mayhem in the Irish pub that showed they really are open to the jam situation, and audience participation, and in a way this could definitely be categorized as a jam.

By the time that ended it was around 1 AM and I decided to leave. On my way out I said goodbye to the band members. They all told me they enjoyed my stuff. One of the guitar players said the only problem was that it was too short. Another band member agreed on that and said, “If you want to play again, go ahead.”

So I accepted, returned to the pub, took out my guitar and did another two songs. I was in heaven. And I had achieved something I had not been able to do the previous year, to play in Monaco and not just close to it….

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