Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

August 8, 2018
bradspurgeon

Oxford

Oxford

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I’m happy to be able to say that I did not remove any open mics from the list, as all the ones I know are still running. The main addition is for the open mic at The Old Bookbinders pub, which I was finally able to attend in July after years and years of trying!

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

July 13, 2016
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I’m happy to be able to say that I did not remove any open mics from the list, as all the ones I know are still running. On the other hand, I’d have liked to add one or two that I know about but have never been able to attend, and that remains the case.

But I did do a considerable amount of housekeeping on the page, and added links of stories and items that were not there before, and I updated information as my knowledge and understanding of certain open mics grows….

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

A Last Stop at the Open-Mic Friendly Harcourt Arms, Despite the “Football”

July 12, 2016
bradspurgeon

Oxford

Oxford

Britain may be imploding – and my last five days in England confirmed to me that it has indeed lost its significance – but I do leave the formerly great Britain feeling that at least they do know how to hold an open mic during a major soccer match. My last night in Oxford I had to stop by the Harcourt Arms open mic, which I have been attending for the last five or so years – and before that it was at another pub down the street – and I entered the place finding the open mic in high gear on one side of the pub, and the soccer match final between France and Portugal being screened on a television on the other side of the pub, with no volume. And so unlike so many other pubs that do not understand how to double their clientele – rather than just dropping the open mic in order to hear a bunch of fans singing out of tune at the event over the TV, the Harcourt managed to keep two things going at once.

Having said that, as the English had already long ago performed their Brexit in the soccer tournament – unlike the victories of Lewis Hamilton in the Grand Prix on Sunday just a little before Andy Murray won at Wimbledon – there was little enthusiasm for the soccer game amongst the viewers in the pub, after all.

second at harcourt


That left room for much enthusiasm amongst the open mic participants, but unfortunately, there were so many of them that it ended up being just one song behind the mic, as quickly executed as the EU would like to see the departure of Britain. So I then decided that I would go down the street to see if for once I could take part also in the open mic of the Bookbinder’s pub, which I have always been too late to attend in years past.

I arrived to find that it was not – exceptionally running – and the pub was closing down for the night. And soccer was not to blame. It had something to do with an annual carnival that happened earlier that day in Oxford…. whatever that might mean.

first at harcourt


So it was that left the weekend nevertheless slightly frustrated at trying to cram everything in, and finding not enough time or room. I also discovered that I had left my recording device at the hotel and my phone was practically uncharged, so I could only films a couple of quick bits at the Harcourt to let the readers of this blog see and hear for yourselves….

Next stop, Budapest…. (Well, after a bit of time at home in Paris.)

Tales of Indian Food, Catweazles, Disappearing Money and Half Moons – First Night in Oxford

July 8, 2016
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – For the first time since the first time, I was too late arriving in Oxford last night after working at the circuit to be able to sign up for one of my favorite open mics in the world. That is the Catweazle open mic in Oxford, which is unlike any other open mic anywhere. The only problem it you really have to be there around 7 PM to be sure of getting a spot on the list, lining up in the front hall and waiting half an hour until the real sign up time – and I got to Oxford after 8 PM. But I nevertheless made a short visit to the open mic, had 20 pounds stolen when I lost my wallet for a couple of minutes, and then I went on to the Half Moon open mic down the street and had the best time I’ve ever had there before….

And I must mention that I also ate one of the best Indian food meals I’ve ever had, with his huge prawn or gambas or whatever it was in some kind of Bangladeshi dish, and some nice Indian red and white wine, and great rice and wow! This must be the UK.
First at the Catweazle

Right after the Indian meal on the Cowley Road just around the corner from the East Oxford Community Centre, where Catweazle takes place, I decided to see if I could drop in for a bit to the open mic. I arrived precisely at the end of the mid-show break, and so I got in easily. In taking out my camera to make a couple of videos – you’ll see the uniqueness of the place – I dropped my wallet from my guitar bag without realizing it. Or maybe it dropped out as I left. In any case, I left without my wallet and noticed that it was gone, and then returned before leaving the place, and the wallet had been found and was returned to me. Minus 20 pounds! Damn! But thank goodness the pound went down so massively last week. I mean, had they not voted for Brexit, I’d have been out a lot more euros than I was! 😉 And anyway, I was so grateful the wallet was returned. Imagine if I had lost everything.
Second at Catweazle

And from Catweazle on to the Half Moon with ITS open mic

So, I decided to go on to the Half Moon pub just down the street that I knew also had an open mic on Thursday nights, and although I’ve probably been there almost every year since I started this open mic journey in 2009, it was the first time that the man who runs it was actually present. That is the cool lumberjack, Sparky, and I can tell you that when Sparky is there, the open mic is another affair…. Cool sound, nice ambience and a man who cares about his open mic – and who has been running it for maybe 15 years….
his mama at half moon

I came late, but he still managed to find a spot for me near midnight, and I was the last guest. A really funky pub, by the way. Really feels like someone’s living room. Oh, and back to Catweazle, what makes it so different? It’s a vast room, everyone is sitting on pillows on the floor or the few chairs and couches available, and there is a backdrop to the stage, and there is complete silence amongst the spectators. A religious appreciation of the acts, you can hear the proverbial pin drop. And a vast cross-section of talent from this great university town. Still one of the top of my list. Unfortunately, Matt Sage, the usual witty and fantastically adept MC was not there last night, and I much enjoy his patter. But the replacement was excellent, and obviously following to some degree the role model of Matt….
sparky poem at half moon


first at half moon

P.S. By the way, the first time of the first time was the time in 2009, which was my first time…. (Does that sound like a sentence that Gertrude Stein might write?)

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

July 8, 2015
bradspurgeon

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.

OK!

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….


21 Years into it, Catweazle Open Mic Still Going Strong in Oxford

July 4, 2015
bradspurgeon

catweazle

catweazle

OXFORD – It has become my main goal when I come to Oxford to not make a wrong move to miss a chance to attend and play at the Catweazle open mic in the East Oxford Community Centre on Thursday nights. I got ever so slightly lax on Thursday, my sixth time attending, as for once I had a hotel almost across the street from this Oxford institution that is celebrating its 21st year in existence, and in my final few minutes of preparation I decided I could take my time. My heart dropped to my toes as I entered the building at 7:20 PM to find nearly 20 performers already standing in a line up to sign up for a slot.

But I was underestimating the savvy, flexible, sensible approach of Matt Sage, who founded and has MCd this dynamic and unusual open mic all those years; he decided that he could get around 18 of us up on the stage area in the limited time available if we were all reduced to doing just one song – or poem or whatever it was we were doing – each. I felt a sudden relief that having arrived around 10 minutes later than last year I had not jeopardized my moment in front of the Catweazle audience. There were, unfortunately three or four performers behind me that did not make it this time. (But my suspicion is that they did not come from Paris, like I did, on my once-a-year visit!)

So off I was again on the adventure of Catweazle. And once I got up to the performance spot – it is not a stage, and there is no microphone – I suddenly wondered why it was that I so avidly seek out this thing every year! Catweazle ranks as one of the scariest, most nerve-wracking open mics I have ever done, and it does not become any easier.

Why? Because the audience is just so good, so quiet, so attentive, and always so full. There must be close to 100 people in the Catweazle performance space every week, all sitting on the floor or sofas or chairs in that room that is barely large enough for them all, and they are there for one thing only: To listen to the performer.

I reviewed all of my personal songs – my own songs – that I must have done over the years, and I thought about all sorts of possibilities in cover songs, but finally, I decided that perhaps the best way to give the audience something that they did not already have in spades last that night was to sing a song in French. I only know one song in French, so I did Raphael’s “Et Dans 150 Ans.” As it turned out, not even my decision to keep my eyes closed much of the song to concentrate on remembering the words was enough, and I realized instantly that I began singing the third verse after the first verse. But I soldiered on, and decided that three verses of French instead of four was probably enough, and I just excluded the second verse.

It went O.K. otherwise. But some of the talent throughout the rest of the night was fabulous, including a stand-out poet, named Rachel McCarthy, 30, who has been named one of the top young poets to watch – or read??? – in England at the moment.

So if ever you’re in Oxford and want to take part in a very cool, acoustic – no mic – performance space open mic for theater, poetry, music, or whatever you want, do, do, do show up at 7 PM to sign that list, you won’t regret it. It’s not for nothing that it is now celebrating 21 years of its existence.

Wait, Now Where Was I Again? Oh, Yes, From Oxford and the Harcourt to Paris and the Sous Marin on the Mouffe

July 15, 2014
bradspurgeon

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

Sous Marin bar Mouffetard

The world has been too much with me of late as I spent my last evening in Oxford playing at the fabulous Harcourt Arms open mic on Sunday night, and then coming to Paris where I got caught up in life of a different kind before stumbling into the open mic of the Rue Mouffetard on Friday night that I had never attended, and then….

Well, getting robbed of my new, three-day-old iPhone 5c as I took a cab from the open mic on the rue Mouffe to an historic mansion in the Marais where I then jammed for a while with interesting new acquaintances before I left and returned the next day to buy an iPhone 5s, since I would not accept that my quality of life be reduced by a thieving taxi driver!

And then yesterday as I wrote my articles for my newspaper in the park Montsouris by using the iPhone 5s as an Internet connection for my MacBook Pro, I then realized tonight – too late – that this fabulous discovery comes at my own expense as I just uploaded the videos you see on this page from the iPhone connection and…used more than two thirds of my annual 4G free Internet connection from Orange France in order to do so!!!!!! (And will have to pay soon to continue using Internet via 4G!!!) So I hope you enjoy these very costly video uploads!

🙂

(that’s a smiley of desperation in the guise of a headline, even if it may not appear to be such)

Yes, so, let’s take a step back for a moment after that load of yelling and ranting.

The Harcourt Arms is a fabulous, down-to-earth open mic in Oxford run by the same man who ran the open mic at the Bookbinders Pub for many years, and who has been running another at a pub next to the bus station in recent weeks. It is a classic open mic in a classic British pub, and after now having attended for several years, I can only say that I will return every chance I have. Two songs to start with, and a third if there is still time.

I had discovered the open mic at the Sous Marin bar on the rue Mouffetard a couple of months ago, but I had never actually managed to get there until Friday. It runs every Friday from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and it turns out to be a fabulous open mic in the great spirit of “anything goes” and “let’s not worry about the quality of the sound, but just have fun.”

The Sous Marin is a tiny bar with tables against the left wall as you enter from the front door to the tiny bar in the back. You can barely find a place to stand or sit, and it’s everyone shoulder to shoulder and chatting away like mad. But the ambience is absolutely perfect for a “let’s have fun” open mic, and that’s exactly what I did.

The “stage” area is right in front of the door by the street with the big front floor-to-ceiling pane glass window leading into the rue Mouffetard, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris and full of people passing all the time. So it is that the pedestrians and passersby will see the musicians all night, and the bar may thin out but it will never empty out. In short, you feel like you are singing in the street – and you might as well be.

A great new addition to the open mic world of Paris!

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