Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Downs to Ups at Vieux Léon, Paris

April 4, 2013

When I set out on the open mic tour last night, the idea was to do the Vieux Léon, then wander over to the Highlander, then maybe go to the Cavern. When I arrived at the Vieux Léon, I was a little disappointed – a lot, in fact – to find not a whole lot of musicians and spectators. Such things fluctuate. But I ended up staying the whole evening and foregoing the others….

The point is that there may not have been a lot of people, but those who were there were fun and interesting to talk to, and it also and above all meant being able to go behind the mic twice, sing six songs total, and play songs I do not normally play. When it is quieter, you can try different things out, plays less played songs, and have a completely different kind of evening.

That I did. So it was that among the songs, I decided to sing “May You Never,” by John Martyn, a song I’m just learning now and had to read from the printout of the lyrics I had. I have a lot of work to do on it, but each time you try a new song there is always that first try where you have to break the ice with yourself in front of an audience. That happened a bit last night. A wonderful song, by the way….

Michelle Blades did one of her songs that I haven’t heard before, and which she normally does with a band. But you can hear its originality as is – and as with most of her songs. So maybe she did the same bit of different effort that I did….

In any case, by the time the open mic ended at midnight, I felt I’d had a great, fun, comfortable laid-back evening, and I returned home. Thanks Vieux Léon….

Perfectly Compatible Contrasts, from Lou Pascalou Open Mic to La Java Midnight Special

February 15, 2013

I had a difficult decision to make last night. I had been invited personally on the two previous months to attend a new open mic – that is monthly – at the Lou Pascalou bar and I wanted to go each time, but always had something preventing me from going. But I also, last night, had a personal invitation to attend a launch of Midnight Special Records‘ collection of artistes in a special showcase at La Java. This included the exceptional Michelle Blades, whom I have shown videos of from the Vieux Léon open mic. But when I found that the Lou Pascalou bar open mic started very early and ended early, and that the two venues were about 10 minutes walk away from each other, I realized the choice was a no-brainer. I would do them both.

The only risk spot, the only drawback, was that my third favorite meal of the day – after breakfast and lunch -, that is, dinner, would potentially be compromised if I were to arrive at 8 PM for the open mic in order to play and leave early for the concert. But then I learned that the Lou Pascalou has food. When I arrived, I found this splendid bar of old, classic, French proportions, with a high ceiling, bistrot sort of tables, a wonderful stage and sound system, and, as I would immediately learn, a fabulous plate of charcuterie and cheese!!!! And the St. Emilion was fabulous too!

So ANYWAY…. I ate my meal, listened to the performers in the open mic, took in the atmosphere, met and talked with some friends, then mounted the stage myself and took MY turn trying to wrestle the bucking bronco of the loud, loud, happy crowd of the Lou Pascalou that last night, at least, was there more for the nibbles and drink than for the music. I felt I reached a few of the people – which was great – and the stage itself was so wonderful to sing on, that I actually thoroughly enjoyed the open mic. I WILL return.

I began to feel I would be too late for the the Midnight Special records concerts at La Java, but I really wanted to go to that too, so I wrenched myself away from my friends and the bar of the Lou Pascalou – the only real fault of this open mic is that it is only once a month – and I walked over to the Java. There, I was immediately greeted by friend after friend, and I descended into the basement area of this large underground concert hall, to feel absolutely just as much at home there as I had at the Lou Pascalou. And the fact that I could not play here, little mattered.

Midnight Special records is a minuscule label operated by Victor Peynichou, but his bands are very original and great – judging by those I know of in the past and those I heard last night. But for me the highlight of the night was Michelle Blades, who was also the last band of of the night. I have put up videos of her at the Vieux Léon, Michelle with her strong stage presence and her inimitable voice and interesting melodies and songs. I’d only seen her perform with acoustic guitar or ukelele, but last night it was with bass – Victor, in fact – and drummer, and with her on keyboards, vocals, electric guitar. And another woman and Victor who added some background vocals occasionally.

One of the great things about Michelle is her fabulous range, both vocally and in terms of musical styles. Watch all the videos I did of her act, right to the end. The final number of night starts fairly slow and relatively quiet, and then explodes into this punk magic.

Quiet, but Inventive Night at the Vieux Léon

January 31, 2013

The last few weeks at the Vieux Léon open mic have been fun, but have also had open mic nights with so many people in the bar not there for the music that the noise level has been frequently overpowering for the musicians. Last night, suddenly, the crowd seemed – with only minor exceptions – to be there entirely for the music. And the result was that it was possible to see how inventive and interesting some of the musicians are at this new Paris open mic rendezvous.

I somehow got to go up first of the evening – invited by the host Kim, after several weeks of Avalanche hosting the evening – and I did a couple of songs feel less than inventive, doing my song “If I Only Had You,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I jumped on doing that one due to the aforesaid calm of the spectators, who were there to listen to music, not just talk and drink.

But among the interesting surprises of the night were, especially, Michelle Blades taking to the mic this time with her ukulele. She had previously played with a guitar, but I learned last night that the ukelele is the instrument she started with, and returns to much of the time. In any case, the playing was different than your typical ukelele number, and it made me realize that her guitar-playing DOES have the mark of her ukelele playing on it. She said she composes her songs on the ukelele too….

Moving Into Overdrive at Two Open Mics

January 24, 2013

I managed to take part in two open mics again last night, which was good since I missed doing any at all on Tuesday night for reasons previously described. It was Wednesday night in Paris, and that meant the Vieux Léon open mic near Chatelet, and the Highlander, in the Latin Quarter. Talk about two completely different atmospheres!

The Vieux Leon was a lot louder than usual with clients, until I went on and a lot of them walked out. 😉 That was great because it gave me a chance to sing a couple of quieter, non-crowd-pleasing songs, my own “Let Me Know,” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” For the second night in a row someone took videos of me without me knowing it, this time using my Zoom recorder that I had left on my table…. So I am putting up the videos of me doing the two latter songs I did.

The Vieux Léon has now become a regular visit, it seems, for Wayne Standley, too, and last night he played along with Tex from Italy, who you would never know was from Italy….

Michelle Blades of Panama was back too, but unfortunately the clients were sooo loud at that point that they missed one of the best acts of the night, as Michelle sang a couple quieter songs. My Zoom recording device too seemed to want to chat with my telephone – or vice versa – at that time, so my recording of Michelle is a bit flawed.

Then there was the very cool Marie Mantacheff on vocals with Emile Feltesse on guitar, adding a new “variety” sound to the evening.

I walked from the Vieux Leon over to the Highlander and managed to get a spot as the second last performer of the night, thanks to the cold and wet-ish weather making that list a bit shorter than usual. I played three songs – Mrs Robinson, Crazy Love and my Borderline – and made some new discoveries of other singers too. It was a great evening.

Wicked Open Mic at Vieux Léon, With Some Wickedly Good Singers and All the Rest

December 20, 2012

Every time I feel like I have gone to too many open mics, what’s the point, why not stop, I end up in an open mic where everything seems to come together: Friends, talk, music, vibe, atmosphere, my own moment behind the mic – and above all, some musician who just electrifies me and wakes me up and makes me say, “Am I ever glad I came here tonight.” That is the complete description of the Vieux Léon open mic last night, for me, in any case, and among the really neat and cool musicians the ones that startled me the most were Michelle Blades, from Panama, and the trio Bobine, from France.

I had noticed Michelle upon entering the bar, because she’s kind of striking looking. And had I noticed the others a little farther back in the room, I’d have noticed them too…to put it succinctly. But anyway… there was something trancelike, and true to Michelle’s performance. If you listen to the recording of the video of the first song she did, that I put here, you can hear the many variations in the sounds of her voice and emotion, the constant changes in attack on the guitar, in song melody themes, and then there is that “regard” looking at the audience as she sang, both piercing it, and in her own world. Great stuff. She’s in Paris for a while, and has visited a few times before, having played at L’Internationale – although that was the first time I saw her.

Then Bobine was this wonderful harmony of these two amazing women singers, and their backup guitarist. I was trying to decide as I watched and listen which of the two women’s voices I liked more. But I could not come to any such conclusion, as the whole performance was indeed a whole…. and later, upon returning home, I saw that they are, in fact, sisters – so no need to decide, take the package! Bobine, from somewhere in the south of France – I always get Toulouse and Toulon mixed up, and can’t quite remember which it was….

I loved the heavy reverb on the vocal mic, so while listening to the others, and as a counterpoint to the gypsy jazz of the trio before me – one of the liveliest groups of the night – I decided that I would go heavy into “Wicked Game” as my first song. I was kind of nervous after such great musicians, but I decided it would be a piece of cake: Just think of my most wicked ex-girlfriend ever and sing those lyrics to that memory. In the end, while the reverb was strong, the guitar was barely audible to me – although fine to the room – and so I at first had a wicked game of it trying to find the key to sing to the guitar chords. But in the end, I was told – and felt – that it all worked out O.K.

A wicked night at the Vieux Léon….

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