Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Breath-Holding Moment: From Japan to Paris to Milan to Austin, and from TAC Theater to Ligera to Stay Gold to the White Horse to Dozen Street

October 21, 2016
bradspurgeon

Tac Teatro

TAC Teatro

AUSTIN, Texas – In the last week and a half I have travelled from Japan to Paris (leaving out Dubai) to Milan and then back to Paris and then to Austin (leaving out Atlanta) and here I am in the sun in Texas after two musical nights with my friend from Paris who used to run the amazing Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic…. Wait, let me backtrack. That’s the problem with these blog posts that cover a week and a half!!!!

So it all started off with the return from Japan, and a couple of nights Paris before I took a train to Milan to visit a friend. And there, two fabulous cultural experiences, one in the really cool TAC Teatro, founded and run by the amazing Ornella Bonventre, whom I met on my last trip to Milan in early September, and while I visited the Spazio Ligera! I wrote a big story about that fabulous night at Ligera, but had no idea it would lead to another visit, and the experience at the TAC Teatro, which is now located right next-door to Ligera.
Improv group at TAC Teatro

Last week, at the new location of TAC I arrived just in time to see the presentation of the teachers of the TAC of their upcoming year of instruction in the theater arts at TAC. There was a fabulous and fun improvisation group, that teaches improvisation, and which put on a small show that I caught bits of in video. Anyway, I’ll probably write more about TAC in the future, suffice it to say that probably this all-purpose theater is best summed up in the name, which is short for Teatro a Chiamata, which basically has to do with the “calling” of the theater. For Ornella, theater is not just about a stage and actors facing an audience; for her the stage, the actors and the audience are all one. And the brief look I had at TAC confirms that concept.
A Dario Fo moment at Ligera

After the evening of presentation of the upcoming courses, some of us went across the street and visited Ligera again. I had not been back since early September, and despite feeling quite wiped out, fatigued from a cold, I had my guitar with me, and although I didn’t really feel like playing, and the evening was more about drinking, carousing, and talking, suddenly, someone pulled out a guitar, and suddenly, there was again an ambience of music in the Spazio Ligera. A “pop-up jam session” dare I call it? It became absolutely impossible to refuse the idea of playing.
More of jam at Ligera in Milan

And this, by the way was the day after the death of Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize winning Italian dramatist, and the same day after the winning of the Nobel Prize by Bob Dylan. So after some of the people in the bar – including one of the owners – played a tribute to Dario Fo, it seemed normal, or inevitable, that I would play a Dylan song…. And that was the beginning of many more songs, and much more fun. I absolutely love the Spazio Ligera.
Another moment of the improv group at TAC Teatro

And then back to Paris before flying off to Austin and the meeting with Sundown

I took a train from Milan back to Paris, packed, then caught a very early morning flight to Atlanta and from there on to Austin, and no sooner had I got my rental car on Wednesday night than I drove off to meet up with my friend Ollie Joe Yaco of Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of “Some Girls” open mic fame in Paris. Oh, and of Sundown fame all over the world. I’m referring to the guy who I have mentioned for years on this blog, who ran those open mics, and who now has his band called Sundown. It turned out that Ollie was in Austin travelling around on what seems like his once or twice a year visit to the U.S. for playing music in some great cities like Austin and L.A.
First at Stay Gold

I think I had just missed him in Austin last year, so I was determined not miss him this year. He was doing a gig at a place in the east end of town, called Stay Gold. So I showed up for that, and from there he led me off to a very cool bar called the White Horse, which could not sound more British, or be more Austin-like. More on that place later, I think, but hearing and seeing Ollie playing his music in Austin was a fabulous moment – although in fact I arrived too late on Wednesday to catch his set.
Second at Stay Gold

But that was fixed by him inviting me to his next gig, at a place on East 12th Street, called Dozen Street, last night. In fact, Ollie got the stage for himself last night, and decided in his typical way to share it with friends. So it was that he did a nice set with both solo stuff, and guy on the spoons, and then the French barman at the Dozen Street bar, who played lead guitar for him. I played a short set, and two fabulous women singer songwriters played sets as well. Those the completely opposite style performers Alison Gail Self and Cari Q.
Four handed piano moment at the White Horse in Austin

The Dozen Street bar has existed for about two years, and it is one of the many long, long bars with a back stage and a back courtyard of a type I’ve seen spotted all about Austin. The evening finished off with another band that had nothing to do with the rest of us, and which went on until quite late, I think. Very cool, all together, very very cool. A kind of evening that really makes you realize just how unique and cool Austin is musically. This kind of thing is just going on all over the city. It can take a while to find the hot spots, in fact, but once you do, you realize they are all over the place.
Sundown and spoons


Sundown and spoons and lead

Sundown solo

duet with ollie sundown at Dozen Street

fourth at dozen street

Third at dozen street

Group at Dozen street

Great Vibes, Great Music, a New Haven Discovery and Just Plain Great Fun on the Rue de Lappe in Paris

January 26, 2016
bradspurgeon

Some Girls

Some Girls

PARIS – For a while last night I felt I had stepped back in time three years to the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic in Paris. That was one of the best open mics in Paris until it closed in 2013, and since then, the city has not matched anything quite like that intimate and hip vibe. I’m not saying there are not lots of fabulous other open mics, but nothing quite like that one. Last night, still in the opening stages of this new open mic at the Some Girls bar on the Rue de Lappe, near Bastille, suddenly, it felt like the Ptit Bonheur. Of course, the fact that it’s the same Ollie hosting this one who hosted that one might have something to do with it.

Greg Sherrod Album

Greg Sherrod Album

Other things that have to do with it are the perfect mix of the small size of the bar, the clients who come not for the music but for socializing – but who like the music – and the clients who come for the music. And then, there were the musicians. Oh, yes, last night was a great one. Some of the people from the Ptit Bonheur came around, now having learned of Ollie’s new joint, and then there were the unexpected guests, the discoveries, the people from out of town who just suddenly show up on their European tour to take in a Paris open mic and have some singing fun. That was the high point of the night, was that: Greg Sherrod, a blues, soul, rock singer from New England. Having come to Europe to play in England, Belgium, France and the Netherlands – did I miss anything? – Greg was on the last leg of his journey, visiting Paris. And the people in the Some Girls bar last night were in for a treat.
First Greg song at Some Girls

When he told me he sang the blues, I prepared myself to hear the usual guttural howl of the blues voice we know all over the world that is transmitted like some kind of disease for which there seems to be no cure. But then I heard Greg, and suddenly the room lit up, and I knew I had to get a bit of him on film, and I knew he was a bona fide original.
Girls duet at Some Girls

When we posed for a photo afterwards, Greg and Ollie and I, I said to him, “I feel like I’m about to get my photo taken with Jimmy Rushing.” Actually, it’s not really true. I’d say, Greg’s voice falls somewhere between Rushing and Joe Williams. But really neither. He’s got his own voice.
Girl at Some Girls

He sang a couple of classics, with Ollie on the guitar, he invited Aurelia to join him, and today as I looked up a few details about Greg on the Internet, I found that he was just doing what he does all the time: Tying together the band and the public in a single bond. Great and cool surprise at the open mic, in any case, was this Greg Sherrod of New England, a local legend in New Haven.
Another at Some Girls

I had intended to take part in two or three open mics last night, but the vibe was so good at Some Girls on the rue de Lappe that there was nowhere else to go….
First one at Some Girls

Another bit at the Some Girls

Pub Crawl to Three New Open Mic/Jam Sessions in Paris on a Monday Night

January 6, 2016
bradspurgeon

Some Girls

Some Girls

PARIS – Some people may hate Mondays, but in Paris and many other cities around the world, Monday is the day of choice for open mics. Less business from the regulars means the bar owners use the open mic ruse to get clients. I have frequently in years past written about three open mics in the Latin Quarter that I would make the rounds of on Mondays. Only one of those really remains in its usual form – the Galway – while the Coolin has closed down. But now, on Monday, I did a crawl from pub to pub all within walking distance of the Bastille to three different open mics and jam sessions.

So Monday is not just alive and well in open stages in Paris, but thriving. At least two of these open mics encourage either solo or jam styles on the stage, while the last one has the same musicians on stage joining the clients with bass and lead guitar added to your own instrument, or you just join them and do live karaoke….
First at Madame Louis in Paris.

The first of these places I attended was Madame Louis on the Ile St. Louis, on the Quai de Bourbon. I did not have any expectations for this place, but the moment I arrived I knew I had come to a unique location for an open mic/jam. The ground floor is on the quai near the Seine at the Pont Marie. You can drink or nibble up there, but the open mic is down…. Down down. Down two floors. Actually, you go down a ramp, then take the stairs to the first floor underground and on that floor there is a balcony looking down into the pit of the final floor under.

The balcony, in fact, overlooks the stage itself. So this is a fabulous way to watch an open mic: You can be right in the pit on the second basement floor or on the balcony floor. And the stage is a wonderful kitty-cornered thing with pretty OK sound system and a piano…. The approach is two songs for each musician, and if you want to play with other musicians, then they can join you. Those musicians also rotate, and so everyone gets a chance on the stage.
Singer at Yellow Mad Monkey open mic in Paris.

And the place was packed! I don’t know where they got all these spectators, but they did a great job, and I will be returning to Madame Louis.

From there I walked to the Place de la Bastille to try out the new open mic of the former presenter from the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, Ollie Joe. This was on the famous Rue de Lappe in a cubbyhole bar of the kind that are perfect for open mics. The theme of the bar is the Rolling Stones, which you kind of understand very quickly, as it is called “Some Girls” and there are photos of the Rolling Stones everywhere.
Ollie and sax player at Some Girls open mic in Paris

This open mic has great promise if the atmosphere I found continues. Lots of clients, regulars and new people there just for the open mic. And Ollie Joe’s great hosting. Will this be the beginning finally of a new era of Ptit Bonheur la Chance-like intimacy in an open mic in Paris? Let’s see!
Turning his coat at the Some Girls open mic

Just up the same street, the Rue de Lappe, was the final open mic of the night, taking place in a sprawling bar called “Yellow Mad Monkey.” I expected something of a yellow mad open mic, and I was rewarded. This seems to be the same crew running this one who let me down so much at the Belushi’s bar open mic on the rue de Crimée last year. But here the deal was impeccable.
Second at Madame Louis open mic

I arrived late, but got my name accepted on the list, and I was the last performer of the night. We did our two tunes, “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” in a really inspiring trio – at least for me it was inspiring, but I’d had so much to drink by then that perhaps anything would have been inspiring – and closed off the night with a nice jam feel to Wicked Game….
Third one at Madame Louis open mic in Paris

Again, I will no doubt return. In fact, I’m likely to return to all three, yes. No question….

Tales from Tennessee to Galway

December 17, 2013
bradspurgeon

Wild life in Tennessee

Wild life in Tennessee

PARIS – I guess that headline is meant to be a little misleading, since the Tennessee refers to the Tennessee Bar and the Galway refers to the Galway pub, and not to the places in the U.S. and Ireland. But for all the different nationalities of patrons and musicians present at the two open mics in Paris last night, it might as well have been the real Tennessee and the real Galway.

The highlights of it all? Well, the Tennessee open mic seems to be attracting more and more French performers, singing often in French, and that’s refreshing. I loved hearing Audrey’s voice again, after I met her and jammed with her at the open mic of the Arte Café in Paris, which is no longer running. Audrey has a tremendous blues feeling to her strong voice.

And speaking of French, Ollie, the MC, did a new French language song, and it was massively cool! It reminded me ever so slightly – or more – of Jean-Louis Aubert of Telephone, the French rock band of a generation ago. And speaking of blues, there was this guy at the Tennessee who sat as an observer, and then came along with us when we headed over to the Galway, and he ended up telling me his story. He lives in New York City and just came for a short trip to Paris to check out the music scene and have a holiday.

He calls himself Blues Buddha, and plays all over NYC. He has some interesting videos up on the web on his cool web site, and when we got to the Galway, I decided to ask if he wanted to join me for a song or two. Unfortunately, although I love the blues – the best of it – and so much rock it based on the blues, I do not myself play any pure blues song. But we managed to find a song on my repertoire that we both know, and that was the classic “Stand By Me.” Even, there, though, I play a pretty bad, bastardized version of it.

In any case, the Blues Buddha joined me for that one and sang. Other than that, I had another American, Max, join me on violin for my other three songs at the Galway, and he added a few backup vocals too. All in all, a great evening at the two mainstay open mics of Monday in Paris (not counting the Coolin).

PS, unfortunately I’m in a place with an internet connection that is not as fast as my fibre optic connection and it is taking forever to upload the videos. So I’ll have to upload more later.

Magic Returns at Coolin Open Mic in Paris

December 10, 2013
bradspurgeon

coolinPARIS – Well last night it was at the last minute that I decided to go to the Coolin open mic for the first time in months. I started the evening at the Tennessee open mic, and it was a nice quiet evening with lots of musicians despite there not being as many spectators as usual. And I may only have recognized two or three of the musicians at the Tennessee.

Ollie, the MC, who also MCs the Tireuse open mic on Tuesday nights, asked me if I was going to sing Cat’s in the Cradle, which I have not done for a very long time, so I decided to do it. I then did my song, “Except Her Heart,” and finished with “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” of Bob Dylan.

But I finished off feeling somehow restless, and decided to wander over to the Coolin to see what was happening, as it turned out that my musical friend Brislee Adams was hosting the evening instead of the regular host, who was apparently ill. Arriving at the Coolin, where I had not been for months, I found a place that has developed over the years since its first open mics, with now a wonderful sound system, a nice Persian carpet for stage, and various guitars standing up behind the stage.

I found a relatively small audience there, too, but they were quiet and respectful of the musicians, despite this being a usually massively lively Irish pub where often the musicians are little listened to unless singing loud, raucous crowd pleasers. On that subject, when it came my turn to sing, I decided for the first time in as long as I can remember at the Coolin to NOT do a crowd pleaser. Now that there is a decent sound system, and a respectful audience, I played “May You Never,” by John Martyn (minus his genius touch on the guitar, substituting my own fake version of the chords), and then I played my song, “Crazy Lady.” Both are quite and fingerpicked, and there too I decided to change by using a classical guitar instead of a folk steel string as usual. It was a real pleasure and I got some good responses.

A Return to the Magic of the Coolin

But the real magic came with the other musicians. It was the quiet end of the night, and people like Chiffre L, or Raphaëlle did some of their quieter songs – Chiffre L doing his Leonard Cohen – and then to finish off came the incredibly interesting Stephen James Newton, from Newcastle. Had I not heard him talk after his first song, I’d have thought Newton was from the deep south in the U.S. somewhere. His guitar playing is superb, and he graced us with some slide guitar after his initial deep south kind of song. You have to check out Stephen James Newton’s Soundcloud site too, to hear more of this interesting musician’s stuff. He’s living in Paris and seeking gigs.

So that was it, a touch of magic at Coolin, like those of the early days…or maybe I haven’t got a clue of what I’m talking about, and it was just all the travel I’ve been doing in the last several months that prevented me from getting there on Mondays that has put me out of touch with what is happening there every Monday…..

The New Combination at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 22, 2013
bradspurgeon

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

DUBAI – I’m back to that strange situation of writing about the Tennessee Bar open mic in Paris while in a completely different part of the world. a few weeks ago I was writing all about the end of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris from my hotel room in Mokpo, South Korea. Now I’m in the lounge at the Dubai airport on my way to New Delhi, and I’m writing about the Tennessee open mic again. But this time it’s from firsthand experience, that of my attendance at the “new” Tennessee Bar open mic last night.

After many years of the open mic being run by James Iansiti, the Tennessee Bar open mic is now run by Ollie Joe, who also MCs the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesday nights. Ollie has been doing it for a few weeks now, but last night was my first opportunity to attend the “new” open mic. And I am pleased to report that it is a live, well and really kicking.

Ollie has changed the format somewhat, as James used to have people play three or four songs or more, especially if they were new performers, while Ollie is doing the same thing here as he does at the Tireuse: two songs per performer, unless there is time afterwords for another round. The downside to James’s way was that sometimes people who came regularly found that there was no longer time for them to play by the end of the night.

Last night the place was just bursting at the doors with people, and it really felt to me like a cross between an open mic at the Tireuse and the old Tennessee itself. What really stood out for me was that it once again confirmed my belief that some bars are better than others for holding successful open mics, and the Tennessee is one of them. The fact of the basement being small, cosy, a great stage, but also isolated from the ground floor where people can go to talk, is one of the things that makes the Tennessee so good for an open mic.

Of course, Ollie’s superb moderating and MCing will also ensure that this place lives on.

One of the reasons I made sure I went last night despite having to pack up and get ready for my flight the next day to India was that Tim Menees was in town and intending to play. Tim wrote a fabulous article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly about his time playing at the Tennessee Bar last year while on a vacation in France, and I really wanted to meet him and perhaps play with him. I had a chance for both, and we did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” with me on guitar and vocals, and him on piano. And he is a mean piano player, as you will see and hear on the videos….

A New Open Mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 6, 2013
bradspurgeon

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

MOKPO, South Korea – (Note: Don’t skip the important update at the end of this post.) The news of Paris open mics coming from Mokpo, South Korea continues to develop and get stranger as it goes! Two days ago I updated my Thumbnail Guide to Paris open mics by re-instating the open mic of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, which closed down in May and then opened again in September under the new bar name of “La Tireuse.” No sooner had I put that post up on the site than I saw a message on the Facebook page of the open mic at the Tennessee bar in which it seemed to say that the open mic and downstairs bar concept had both closed down. As it was impossible for me in South Korea to find out immediately whether it was just the end of the cellar bar concept or whether the open mic had closed as well, I published my story, stating clearly the reservation that it was not yet clear if the open mic had been discontinued or not.

I then wrote an email to the host of the open mic on Facebook, and he and his girlfriend confirmed to me overnight that the open mic itself had ended. So I updated the post accordingly. Some hours later, I have now received a message from someone within the management of the Tennessee Bar that tells me that the open mic itself has NOT come to an end, and neither has the basement bar it seems…. It is simply the end of James Iansiti’s time hosting the open mic, according to the Tennessee management. The bar will continue to run an open mic, starting with tomorrow night.

However, given that this open mic has always been indivisible in my mind, and in the minds of many of its other musicians, from the presentation and administration of it by James Iansiti, and given that the concept has perhaps changed, I have decided that I will keep the open mic off of my list of Paris open mics until I get to go and try it out myself so that I can write about it in the same way as all of the other open mics on my Paris list: from my own personal experience. I also often like to wait a few weeks before I incorporate a new open mic on my list in order to see if it is really going to stick around!

One thing I can say is that the Tennessee bar has a perfect layout for an open mic, with a great sound system and the ability of the musicians and spectators to listen comfortably in the basement to the music, or to talk on the ground floor. So if the presentation and hosting turns out to be as good as what James did, then I have no doubt this will continue to remain one of the mainstay open mics of Paris.

The one thing this has now clarified for me is that clearly, the managers of the Tennessee have not closed their eyes to the business to the bar that I thought the open mic brought it.

I can’t wait to see how this all develops!

UPDATE at 23:22 in Mokpo on 6 Oct.: As a reaction to this post, I have just learned that the new host of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar on Mondays will be none other than the exceptional Ollie Joe, who also hosts the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesdays. This is an hilariously ironic point, as this chain of news posts from Mokpo all started by the reinstating of the open mic at La Tireuse! Anyway, this great news can only be celebrated by re-incorporating the Tennessee Bar open mic on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music instantly.

Blog at WordPress.com.