Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Oxford Roundup, Paris End-Up, and a Gig at the Baroc Tomorrow

July 8, 2015

Brad Gig Photo

Brad Gig Photo

PARIS – I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was in Oxford over the end of last week and the weekend, and I posted only one item on this blog about my musical moments there. In fact, I actually played three nights out of the four that I was there, and just got lazy about posting…. So here’s the round up of the rest of it, and a little talk about things to come.

After the great night at Catweazle on Thursday, I got back to Oxford from Silverstone a little late, and I was pretty sure that I had missed the chance to take part in the Oxford Folk Club open night on the Friday. But I was staying in a pub-hotel – in the Cowley Road area – and decided that I’d have a small dinner and then walk over to the Oxford Folk Club anyway, just because you never say something is finished until it is.

It was about a 25 minute or so walk from the restaurant to the pub on the Abingdon Road, a when I arrived it turned out that they had already announced the last performance of the evening, and it was happening. I whipped out my camera and caught a bit of it. But this folk club being one of great spirit and openness, when the organizer saw me entering, she came right over and asked if I wanted to play. People in Oxford open mics know what time of year it is, by the way, by when I show up: “Ah, Brad’s here, we must be back in the summer for the British Grand Prix….”

So I went up and played a couple of my traditional folk songs and…thanks to my walk, my meal, my long day, and my lateness at the open mic, I immediately forgot the lyrics to not just one of the songs, but both songs, in the middle of the songs!!! I cannot remember the last time I was hit was such a memory lapse even once, let alone twice. No worry, I did manage to get enough out in each song – “Only Our Rivers Run Free” and “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” that I think it was still a pretty ok set….

The next open mic was not until Sunday, and that was the longstanding one run by Nigel, who also ran it at the Bookbinder’s pub down the street a few years ago, but moved to the Harcourt Arms – in the Jericho neighbourhood – since around 2011. This is a classic, warm, open mic, in a neat and friendly pub. It turns out that whomsoever decided not to run the thing in the Bookbinders must have regretted it, and now there is another open mic at the Bookbinders – although I think the pub has different name now – and so there are two open mics in the same neighbourhood on Sunday night – plus at least one more at the Half Moon -, which for a city the size of Oxford is amazing. Until you realize that this IS a student town….

There were some nice acts, including a group that calls itself the Oxford Beatles, and covers Beatles songs…but the musicians also do solo stuff and all sorts of different styles…. I played two songs, and my only complaint about this open mic – and it is the same for just about all open mics in Oxford – is that the damn things end by 11 PM or earlier! Please!!!! But how can you change the English mentality? At least pubs themselves no longer necessarily close at 11 PM as they did traditionally!!

Having mentioned the Half Moon pub, I forgot to mention in my post about Catweazle the other day that after the Catweazle open mic, and as my hotel was around the corner from it, I decided to drop in to the open mic at the Half Moon pub. I came in to find the organizer jamming lead guitar with a participant jamming rhythm guitar. It was pretty hodgepodge, and it went on for at least 20 minutes before I realized there was a list of names to participate in the open mic. So I got up from my table where I was sitting with my guitar right beside the jammers, and I asked the organizer if I could play, saying I just noticed the list. He said the open mic was now over, so I couldn’t, and he continued to jam with the guy for another 10 minutes.

So once it was finished, and having met someone else who wanted to play, I whipped out my guitar and played a couple of songs at the table, and so did the other guy who had arrived, also using my guitar. The MC of the open mic just nodded and left.


So that takes us to last night in Paris, as I did not play anywhere on Monday after my long travel. Last night I just dropped in to the Café Oz open mic at the Blanche metro and with no intention of playing, having also arrived quite late after a meal. But before I knew it, Brislee Adams, the MC, had my name on the list already, and I would play after maybe three other people. So I happily accepted.

There had been quite a raucous crowd, by the way, and so I decided to try using Brislee’s electric guitar – a Strat – and I did “I won’t back down,” “Mad World,” and my song, “Except Her Heart.” It was pure delight using the electric, and it’s getting me thinking about doing that more often!

In any case, I suppose I have had plenty of warm up time now for my gig at the Baroc, which takes place tomorrow night, in Paris, near the Colonel Fabien metro, or the Belleville Metro. Come along and give it a listen: I’ll be playing in a trio, with me on guitar and vocals, and Joe Cady on fiddle and lead guitar, and David Hummell on cajon and snare….

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Oxford Edition

July 6, 2013



For my ninth city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Oxford page. As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour. Unfortunately, due to lots of work and lots of travel and little time available outside of that, I did not manage to put up the Oxford guide while I was in Oxford last weekend, so I am putting it up this weekend – while I am in Cologne, Germany. Still, here it is – job accomplished!

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.

Oxford the Student Town is a Great Place for Open Mics

Oxford is an amazing city for open mics because it is obviously one of the most important university towns in the world and therefore has lots of young musicians from all over the world – as students are often in the midst of their man musical creativity as well as being students. But in addition to the students are the crazy mad professors, and some of these open mics are spoken word meetings too, and so you frequently have university professor poets reciting their latest works. It is easy to walk from open mic to open mic, or take a bus, as Oxford is not all that large either. So there is a high density of open mics in a small area. My only problem regarding this list is that I am never in Oxford outside Thursday to Monday morning – still, there’s a good number during that time

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on the venues – i.e., especially if they close down!

Too Late to Play, but Great Listening at the Oxford Folk Club

July 7, 2012

I would have thought I would have learned my lesson by now. I always push myself to the limit to seek every opportunity to play on an open stage. But last night, despite knowing there was an outside chance of playing at the Oxford Folk Club, I decided to decide that the announcement on its web site that it was a concert night meant there was no open stage. Of course, two years ago I attended on a concert night and was able to play in the first part of the evening. The same would have happened last night – but I missed the chance. I stayed at my hotel, dried my feet, changed shoes – a month’s worth of rain is falling this weekend in Oxford – and THEN went to the Oxford Folk Club, across the street. There, I nevertheless, heard a fabulous folk band called Telephone Bill and the Smooth Operators.

It was well worth hearing and seeing them, but I really regretted not going earlier to play a couple of songs myself in the first part of the evening along with the other people who took part in the open stage beforehand.

The Oxford Folk Club has been around for well over a decade and is located in a rustic pub on the Abingdon Road. It has featured some of the best folk musicians of the country but in a very intimate environment of an upper room of the pub. Last night the band, which has existed on and off since the mid-1970s, played its own folk songs and some American popular music as well. It was extremely together, and excelled in fun patter between numbers.

Rockin’ the Oxford Folk Club

July 9, 2011

The Oxford Folk Club was one of my favorite finds on the world tour of open mics and jam sessions in the last three years. It was the only place at which I really felt at home singing my traditional English, Irish and Scottish folk songs, and it was occasionally visited by some of my favorite musicians of my teenage years. Last night, however, although I did end up singing “Peter’s Song” by the Sands Family, because I was with Vanessa, and we only know popular rock-like songs, that’s we did: “Mad World” and the closest we could come to folk, “Just Like a Woman.”

In fact, I need not have worried. They applauded us warmly and sang and clapped along. And more than that, not only did two other people do Bob Dylan songs, but when I spoke for my open mic documentary to Lucy, one of the organizers, she told me that although the main sound is folk, all music is welcome. It is rarely sung into a microphone, or played with electric instruments, but she said that even there sometimes people bring their own mic and other equipment.

In any case, last night was another warm success on the Friday open night, which alternates generally with a Friday night guest night, every two weeks. There were folk singers from Britain, Spain, France, and it was just a very warm environment as usual. Located on the top floor of the Folly Bridge Inn, it is a nice occasion to have a pub meal below and then drink your draft and listen to the music and play upstairs. It ends early, too, around 11 PM, so you have time to do other things afterwards, if you want.

Of the acts I particularly enjoyed, there was a man who did a long but passionate and interesting version of the Roi Renaud, a great guitarist and Pam on her concertina, and a couple of great women singers.

P.S., Unfortunately, my internet connection has not improved since yesterday, so I am still stuck with a horrendously slow connection, and therefore I have problems uploading videos. I’ll do my best and upload later if possible.

From the National Theater to the Oxford Folk Club, Meeting Bill Caddick 32 Years Later

July 10, 2010

In the late 1970s I worked in the Green Room of the National Theater in London as a bartender to the actors. This was a job that lifted me out of the streets where I had spent four months earning my living as a busker – and living in a place I called the Repulsive Hotel in Notting Hill Gate (it was actually called the Rapallo) – because I had sworn never to earn money through any other method than my show business talents – such as they were.

I fell so low that I finally changed my mind as the tourism season died out and I no longer earned enough to live off. So I worked in the center of English theater and saw what the actor’s life was really like, and I decided I’d devote the rest of my life to writing….

At the National, however, I was thrilled not only to serve and/or meet the star actors and directors of the day – people like Albert Finney, Kate Nelligan, Ralph Richardson, Diana Rigg, John Gielgud, Harold Pinter, David Mamet, and even a glimpse of the ailing Laurence Olivier – but I was also astounded one day to discover myself serving one of my musical heroes. That was Martin Carthy, who had played in the band Steeleye Span and had done some great solo albums and albums with Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. He had even inspired Bob Dylan, Paul Simon (he took Carthy’s arrangement for “Scarborough Fair”) and Richard Thompson.

He was at the National playing in the Albion Band, which was playing in a production – I think it was Lark Rise To Candleford in 1978 – and when he came up to the bar to order a drink I recognized him immediately, and especially his distinctive voice.

Another member of the Albion Band was Bill Caddick, a singer and guitar player, who had a long history in the English folk movement as well. Caddick would end up spending nearly a decade at the National.

I have only vague memories of my time there, as it was so long ago and I was so young. But I remember the thrill and excitement of meeting such musical heroes, as I had since I was 15 years old listened to and sung the music of the English and American folk revival.

Last year when I came to the British Grand Prix I had discovered the Oxford Folk Club and I had played some of those songs at the open singer’s night, on the Friday. This weekend I was at first upset to discover that it was not an open night, that there was a guest performer doing a feature show instead.

But when I saw it was Bill Caddick, I got very excited and thought about how extraordinary it is that this musical adventure around the world with the Formula One races has led me into such unusual situations. Here I was about to go to a small English folk club in Oxford to listen to and meet a guy I used to serve at the bar of the National Theater more than 30 years before.

And things got even better when I emailed Pam Cooper, one of the organizers of the club, and she told me that there were a few people who would play in an open evening before Caddick played. She said I could do a couple of songs.

So I found myself in the Folly Inn Pub playing and singing in front of this enthusiastic audience – where a featured guest last year a week after I played, was Dave Swarbrick – and I was singing in front of a former member of the Albion Band, Bill Caddick.

Of course I jumped at the opportunity to tell the audience – and Caddick was there, of course – about how I had worked as a bartender so many years before at the National, and served the featured guest of the evening.

It was a blast. Last year I played “High Germany” and “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” and this year I played “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” and I was thinking of doing “The Unquiet Grave.” But something possessed me to ask the audience if I should do another traditional song, or one of my own. Someone, or perhaps a couple of people, suggested I do one of my own. So I did “Since You Left Me,” which is much more of a pop song. And afterwards I said to the audience that in fact it was my own “Unquiet Grave.”

Caddick was fabulous. He played his distinctive 12-string fingerpicking on his Framus guitar, which he said he has owned for more than 40 years, and he sang in his distinctive deep and sharp voice with a good touch of emotion. In fact, he played two sets of something close to an hour each, and his voice was as fresh at the end as at the beginning.

He also played a 17th century French version of a guitar, on which he played slide, and it was really very cool and effective. His songs ranged from his own compositions to traditional English and even a song by Lead Belly.

I was thrilled when he came up to me directly after the first set and said jokingly, “So you’re the one who poisoned me at the National.”

Yes, I did notice at my time at the National that there was a great tendency for the actors and singers to drink to their fill – and, of course, times have not changed. Well, no, Caddick only drank a couple of bitter shandies last night, and I suppose that’s why he looked as fresh at the end as at the beginning of his sets.

I know about what he was drinking because I decided the best way for this story to come full circle after 32 years was for me to serve Caddick a drink again, so I offered him whatever it was he was drinking, and he went for the shandy.

Powered by