Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Great Open Mic, a Crappy Open Mic

March 5, 2015



PARIS – Oh the number of times I have written about the Baroc open mic on this blog goes beyond belief, really. It’s one of the longest lasting in Paris, and not at all one of the most hip, cool and young open mics. But sometimes it is. And always it is one to be counted on for passing an interesting evening, with kind MCing, and a certain moment of musical fun and diversity.

Yes, diversity is the keyword as always at the Baroc, with people ranging on Tuesday night from absolute beginners, a Hungarian passing through town, to Bernie the songwriter of a certain age, the sax player, and guess who? Vanina Michel, who specializes in putting the poetry of Jacques Prevert to music. She was one of the original cast of Hair in France way back a few decades ago, and on Tuesday she lulled us all into submission with a recitation of a text by Georges Moustaki, who died recently, and who she knew personally.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday? Last night? Let’s just say, “Let’s just forget about the Orphée open mic.” I’ve written about the Orphée open mic in Pigalle in years past. I think I’ve even said nice things about it. And clearly the Orphée is a venue that has more than just potential: Located across the street from the legendary Bus Palladium, in a ground floor apartment-like bar where you need to ring a buzzer to be let in, I’ve seen some nice and fun open mics there.

But last night was one of the worst experiences personally that I’ve ever had at an open mic anywhere in the world. I do not want to go into all the details about why I was so let down, but suffice it to say that everyone I spoke to last night as I enquired whether there would be an open mic responded to me in either the very much assured positive, or the “normally there is, but the MC is celebrating his birthday and we’re not sure,” to finally tracking down the MC of last night’s show, and hearing him tell me that it is NOT an open mic, but that he’ll make it an open mic.

Then as soon as he took to the mic he announced it was the beginning of the open mic night. I then approached again after several performers had taken to the mic, and I asked him if I could plug in the guitar and take to the mic. He again warded me off, saying, “Yes, sure, yes. But let me finish this set up, and then you can do something later on.” The set went on eternally from there, and eventually my young woman friend with whom I was attending the open mic decided she would ask if she could plug in the guitar and sing and play. The guy said “yes” immediately and she played two songs.

So after her second song, I went up and grabbed the guitar and the guy came up, and I said, “I’d like to sing a song if I can.” “Well, yes, but the boss wants ambiance here, there’s lots of people and we really need ambiance.” So it was that I realized why he had been pushing me off throughout the night, and preventing me from getting to the mic: Most of the singers had been young women, and most of the songs had been recent, well known pop songs that he felt gave ambiance to the massive crowd that was looking for a specific kind of ambiance.

It was the first time in my worldwide open mic adventures that I felt very clearly that because I was a lot older than the average age of 23 of the clients of the open mic, that I was being prejudiced against for my age! Just for the way I look! Hmm, some old fogey, must be boring!

So I said, “Yeah, sure, you want ambiance? Ambiance? Ok. Ambiance. I’ll give you ambiance.”

So I played “What’s Up!” by the 4-Non Blondes, and I created a little bit of ambiance. People sang along, as usual. I’ve seen much hotter crowds for that song when I do it, but the Orphée crowd is very, very specific in the context of the Orphée, and it is far from an “open” open mic as it stands at the moment – or as it was last night, in any case. Oh, the owner passed by as we were leaving and gave the thumbs-up on the ambiance we created briefly, so apparently an open mic MC cannot tell everything from appearances….

There were lots of good singers, and it was certainly an open mic of “ambiance,” but the open, free and true spirit of what makes the best open mics was clearly not there at the Orphée last night.

Internet Breakdown, Quick Touch of Base in Paris

October 19, 2012

Arriving back in Paris after 40 hours of travel from the south of South Korea, I got home to find my Internet broken down. So this means I have no Internet at home until Monday morning, and I head off again to India and Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. So there will be a short interruption in this blog, unfortunately. I am writing this after a day at the office, at the office…. But lack of Internet does not mean a lack of music and a lack of musical adventures. Last night I attended three venues in Paris, a new one, a recent one and an old one….

The first was a new open mic that takes place on the first and third Thursday of the month. I wish I had more time to write about all of these places, but I don’t. This new open mic takes place at a very cool bar called the Kolok, near the Bourse, not far from the Truskel. I found a very neat, young, with-it audience and the wonderful musician MC named Romain. I found good beer, a warm environment, a couple of mics, great service – and quite a loud audience….

I will give more information about the Kolok as soon as I have tried it again or got a better Internet connection.

From there I went over to the Orphee, which I have written about a couple of times recently on this blog. But this time I was hugely disappointed as the owner or manager of the bar insisted that I pay 10 euros to enter this place in order to entertain the large of audience of people who had shown up for the open mic. There are very, very few circumstances in which I will pay money in order to play my music, when I know I am bringing in people to listen to the music, and when I am also buying drinks for myself. After some discussion it was clear the man was not nice and not smart and not worth it. So I left.

I remembered that across the street at the every and endlessly genial Bus Palladium, I had a friend who was taking part in the musical talent “trampoline” event last night. So I decided to go in and give him my support. It turned out that he was not the only member of the talented bunch of musicians whom I knew. There was the band JFK, whom I ran into almost four years ago at the Truskel and/or Mecano. And it also turned out that I knew some of the judges of the competition, the band Gush. Gush is extraordinary, and if they had done the competition themselves, they would have won. So they were well chosen judges.

As it turned out, Rimed – the tapping guitarist – came in an equal second in the competition. Unfortunately, by the time the eventual winners played their set, I had run out of batteries on my recording device. So nothing to show here.

Revisited: Orphee and L’Arte Café

September 29, 2012

I keep on forgetting about putting the extra “e” on “Arte,” and I might well borrow one of those “e’s” from the no doubt unnecessary two “e’s” on Orphee. But one thing is sure: Both venues hosted their open mics on Thursday and Friday respectively, and while both were not quite so full as the last time I attended, both were still very much worth going to.

Having said that, I left early from the Orphee in Pigalle since I did not feel really entirely into the groove. But I stayed as long as I could at the Arte Café, which has never let me down. The Arte Café open mic, as I mentioned in the past, exists in this tiny, sandwich-shop-sized bar with barely room to sit down for the spectators and musicians. But each time I have attended, I have ended up having a great night, thanks to the people who run the bar and those who attend.

It’s also great there is an outdoor terrace where you can escape from the confines of the inner nest of a bar. Out there you can talk and drink and smoke and just let go a little, until closing time. Somehow, don’t ask me how, the neighbors have not called the cops. Actually, I think it has to do with the basic respect of the clients and people who run the Arte Café, and all closes down at a reasonable hour – late enough that I cannot remember precisely what it is.

I arrived a little late for the open mic and only saw a couple acts before it was my turn to perform. I took advantage of the quiet room and captive audience to sing three pretty quiet songs – all of my own, at the request of the great crowd. I sang, “Crazy Lady,” “Except Her Heart,” and “Lara, Lara.” Then, next up behind the mic was my friend Marianne BP, and so as we have done before, I accompanied her on my guitar. But since we had not done it for so long, I was a bit rusty and forgetful as to which chords precisely I should use. No problem, Marianne has an amazing way of singing around and through and in and out of anything you throw at her. As a reminder, I’m going to put her superb video up on this page again. She has a few others, and a new one soon coming out – so get ready….

Wonderful Discoveries at the Orphee Open Mic in Pigalle – Including the Male Josephine Baker

September 14, 2012

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

I think I said that it had to be uphill from here yesterday. And yet, wow, was I surprised last night to find myself in an open mic I had never heard of, never played in, never knew of, and found it to be a unique experience with different people. I’m talking about the Orphée club in Pigalle, where I had to ask a neighboring boutique – a karaoké bar – where the Orphée was. “I’ll show you, come this way,” said the woman; and she led me to the door of what looked like an apartment building right next to the karaoke, to show me the buzzer into the Orphee.

There, I found myself as if in someone’s living room – and for all I know, I was – and on the piano was my friend Vincent Lafleur, who had sent the invitation by Facebook. No wait, not quite. Someone else was on the piano at that moment, because it was indeed an open mic. And Vincent was off somewhere else as the other man played. Then Vincent returned and named the next act.

It was an open mic like none other, because it really was like someone’s living room. A long venue room, with a bar near the front, the piano along a wall, a separate smoking room, and darkness so dark that I looked ten years younger. And felt even younger than that. LOVED IT. This was a real feeling of a private club, a jam and open mic night in an almost 1930s Berlin kind of environment.

The music was mostly soul, though, so my own brand of stuff had a little bit of a hard time fitting in – but I didn’t care; there was a mic and I had my guitar, and there was an audience.

Thank goodness, though, that I got to do my songs before the mic and “stage” area were taken over by two American men with similar sounding names. One was Brian and the other Bryant. First Bryant took to the mic with piano and then guitar, and I heard this velvety smooth soul thing. Then the two suddenly stormed the floor and exploded the joint with a kind of gospel American hallelujah stuff and strutting and dancing that just drove the crowd of cocktail sniffers wild.

Bryant was from LA, and Brian was from Baltimore. I learned this after being impressed with their stuff and saying basically, “Where the hell are you guys from?!?” And I was very keen to figure out exactly what they were doing in Paris. But I did not get quite all the information before Brian, the rest of his name being Scott Bagley – ie, Brian Scott Bagley – took to the mic to perform his solo song, with Vincent on the musical side of things. This too exploded into a massive bit of choreography, an abandoning of the mic all together, and a finale with the splits.

No, no, wait. No. There’s something going on here, I thought. This is not just your regular open mic kind of performer. So I went to talk to Mr. Bagley, and what did I learn? Well, simply, that I had PART III to my tales of meeting at open mics the former famous candidates of television reality music competition programs. In this case, American Idol. Mr. Bagley, it turned out, was a star graduate of American Idol – after my meeting with those French twins named Twem, and that amazing woman at the Cavern, Sarah Manesse, of X-Factor.

But just like happened in the case of Sarah, I actually never learned from Brian that he had done American Idol. That’s something I learned when coming home afterwards and checking him out on the Internet. What I learned at the Orphee open mic was that Brian had moved to Paris seven years ago, that he had come working in a revue about the 1920s performer Josephine Baker, and that he had actually played the role of Josephine Baker himself. I recalled that the New York Times and International Herald Tribune had written a story about the play, and I learned that he was involved with plenty of jobs as a choreographer, dancer and singer, and he loves the “old school” stuff for what it has to say to us today.

I could go on and on, but the best thing to do would be to check out the links I’ve put in here. And to go off to see his one-man musical spectacle every Sunday at the Theatre la Cible in Pigalle, called “Cabaret Me – I’m Famous.” The guy is an enormous talent. I was soooo happy that I had not heard and seen him and Bryant perform BEFORE I went up to do my number.

But my huge, huge regret was that I had walked out of my apartment without my Zoom Q3HD recorder and so I had to depend on my iPhone for the videos – and both the image and the sound is crap. How can I keep doing that!?!

Powered by