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Five Musicians In Search of Nothing: Thriving in a Covid World

April 7, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.

And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!

1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)

The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.

2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.

First single from “Dusk,” the new CD from Paddy Sherlock

If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

3) The only musician on this short list who I did not meet at an open mic is Misja Fitzgerald Michel, one of France’s top jazz guitarists, whom I met through a mutual friend, a photographer. And what a discovery! I say he is a jazz guitarist, but he is pretty much an all-rounder, and never more so than now that I can tell you about his recent exploit. (Misja did a fabulous CD a few years ago playing guitar along to the singing of Hugh Coltman of cover songs all by Nick Drake. A kind of Nick Drake tribute album that got some great critical reviews.) In fact, he has had two very interesting projects in the past year or so since Covid, one being his CD with a vibrophone player named Franck Tortiller, but the one I wanted to draw your attention to now is astounding!

Making of the Elzbieta Sikora piece with Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.

Gaelle Buswel

Gaelle Buswel

4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”

Title song of Gaelle Buswel’s latest album.

I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….

5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….

Joe Danger singing his “Let’s Get Rich” song.

I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!

PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:

My own song, “What’s All This Talk!?”

Paddy’s Paris Songwriter Club at the Rebel Bar: One of Paris’s Most Intimate Open Mics

March 28, 2019
bradspurgeon

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

Paddy Sherlock and Singer

PARIS – I have written before about Paddy Sherlock and his fabulous Paris Songwriter Club open mic. But the last time I visited it was located on Sunday nights at the Tennessee bar in the Latin Quarter. Last September it moved to the O’Sullivan Rebel bar on the rue des Lombards, near Chatelet. I have now finally had the chance to attend, and I am happy to report that the move has done it some good. It is even more intimate than it was before, so much so that at the end of the evening it suddenly turned completely acoustic, and that much warmer still.

This bar used to have an open mic on the ground floor, run by Etienne Belin, who used to run the Coolin open mic, which was the bar where Paddy had a gig that lasted around two decades until they closed the place after Apple bought it and transformed it into an Apple Store. That sentence was purposefully a mess, as I write this blog item now a few days after attending Paddy’s open mic at the Rebel bar, and I continued to think about how I can sing its praises!

The new open mic takes place in the basement, vaulted ceiling room, and not on the ground floor, and this is a stroke of genius. Or at least a natural environment for it. The ground floor, in my opinion, was never quite right. Here in the basement room, there is just enough room to make it a packed evening of music and audience participation no matter how many people show up.

The only drawback to having it in the basement is that bar patrons from above must pass through the room of the open mic in order to get to the toilets. Having said that, this is a way to rope in some extra spectators who might have decided to drop into this popular bar without considering attending the open mic, and then they can get drawn in by the music.

There was an eclectic mix of music on Sunday, with everything from the usual singer songwriters showing off their new songs to even an actress showing off her new monologue. Frankly, it has been a long time since I have played in front of such an intimate audience, and it was challenging at first, but I eventually felt at home. And I will return as soon as I can….

An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

November 26, 2018
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Just a note to say that I have updated my open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

In fact, the only update is to bring back a listing for the fabulous Paris Songwriters Club open mic of Paddy Sherlock, which has already had five editions at its new location, O’Sullivans Rebel Bar. It had previously been at the Tennessee Bar before seeking a new home for many months, and finding this fabulous, intimate place. Check it out!

An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

January 21, 2018
bradspurgeon

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Just a note to say that I have updated my main open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

I added Sheldon Forrest’s Osmoz Café open mic in Montparnasse, I added the new Paris Songwriters Club open mic at the Tennessee Bar (run by Paddy Sherlock) and I added the Paris Spoken Word night at the Chat Noir, which I was surprised to discover I had not put on the list, since I had already performed there years ago!

Spoken Word Craziness and More, in Paris at a Couple of Open Mics

January 17, 2018
bradspurgeon

Paris Spoken Word

Paris Spoken Word

PARIS – It was time on Sunday night and Monday to visit the spoken word places in Paris again with Ornella Bonventre and our TAC Théâtre monologue routine. The only problem was that we could not find a spoken word event on Sunday night…until we realized that Paddy Sherlock’s fabulous new Paris Songwriters Club evening is also open to poetry and spoken word, as long as it is – like the music – original material. So we performed there with great pleasure, before trying out the Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for the first time….

At Paddy Sherlock’s event, we found a perfect stage and audience for spoken word, but I was a little disappointed that there were not more musicians, poets, spoken word artists or spectators present. Oh, it was a wonderful evening, and at maximum there might have been a dozen or more people. But Paddy himself put out a word on Facebook afterwards, trying to encourage more people to come for the next edition, or he risks losing the evening.
First at Paris Songwriters Club

My feeling at both of the evenings I have attended at the Tennessee Bar with Paddy was that this has the potential to be one of the best open mics in Paris, so I hope people discover it fast!

Ornella and Brad woman question

Ornella and Brad woman question

From the Tennessee to the Chat Noir and Spoken Word Paris

Although a few years ago I did try to sing a song at the Chat Noir bar’s Spoken Word Paris event on Monday night, there’s nothing like trying to do actual Spoken Word at this event, which is no doubt Paris’s most popular English-language spoken word event. So it was a natural place to try out Ornella’s monologue, with me providing the soundtrack on my guitar (and occasional vocals, and a few spoken asides).
Wayne at Paris Songwriters Club

It also proved to be as much fun as a spectator as it was as a performer. And in honor of this being a Spoken Word event, I decided (thanks also to forgetting to bring my phone or other camera) to paste together several excerpts from the evening in a 5-minute podcast. So listen to the patched together medley here and above of a few moments from Monday evening’s Spoken Word Paris event at the Chat Noir for a taste of the far out kind of thing you can expect to hear….

This new bit of activity in the spoken word open mics has given me a real feeling of refreshing the blog with something slightly new, but right in line with what it is all about. I hope you agree….

Paddy Sherlock’s Fabulous, Long-Overdue Paris Songwriters Club at the Tennessee Bar

November 27, 2017
bradspurgeon

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

PARIS – I could not go last month to the first edition of Paddy Sherlock’s open mic at the Tennessee Bar that he runs under the name of the Paris Songwriters Club. But last night, Sunday, I could get there, so I took the opportunity, because I had a feeling about this thing. My feeling was right. Paddy Sherlock, a longtime Paris musician from Ireland (who had a gig at the Coolin pub in Paris for 20 years!), really knows how to organize and run a great show. Last night might have been an open mic, but it was a great show – beginning to end. A fabulous addition to the Paris open mic scene.

The idea behind it is a slightly risky one, in that he basically demands that people play their own compositions and not cover songs. But that environment really pushes a musician with insecurities to go for the risk of playing their own song rather than falling into the safe zone of doing a crowd-pleasing cover that they know is a sure thing.
Second Paris Songwriters Club night compilation

What I found amazing last night – along with Paddy’s perfect MCing, and his own great music, and the good sound system, etc. – was that I really felt very often as if it could not be possible that everyone was playing his own song! Some of the stuff was just so good that I forgot for the duration whether I was listening to an unknown popular song, or a composition by an unknown songwriter.

In any case, it more than lived up to my hopes. And this is great news for the Tennessee Bar too – which has relatively new management – as it used to host one of the best open mics in Paris, with James Iansiti, but since that host left, the open mic has never been up to standard for long, if at all.

Paddy said he hopes to make this monthly open mic a weekly open mic, although that depends on its success. For the moment, one thing is for sure: The next edition is on 10 December. So I highly recommend you get your butt over there, songwriter or not!

PS. For the first time on this site, and in a baptising of my new camera, I have decided to make a compilation of short segments of all of the people I filmed during the open mic – which was far from the full number of performers.

PPS, I did not want to ignore that there is also a new open mic at the Tennessee bar on Thursdays, which is run by Etienne of Coolin fame, but which unfortunately the night when I went there, Etienne could not make it, so I decided not to stay as I wanted to see it in its real guise…. I’ll return again, for sure….

Another Great Night at the New Rebel Open Mic in Paris

May 18, 2015
bradspurgeon

O'Sullivans

O’Sullivans

PARIS – Great news last night at only my second visit to the Rebel bar open mic, that is hosted by Etienne Belin, who is trying to transfer the same magic from his previous venue at the Coolin, to this exceptional bar in the heart of the Chatelet-Centre Pompidou area, on the Rue des Lombards. It was an even better night that the first visit a couple of weeks ago, and to add to the mix, I recognized a number of people from the Coolin, some of whom worked behind the bar and now took to the stage, and even one was apparently there whom I did NOT recognize!

Yes, I went to the Rebel bar wondering if it would hold up to my first impressions, and the first thing that happened as I entered was I was greeted by so many friendly faces, like Paul or Sinead, the former bartenders. And later, I was quite interested in one of the acts, that it turned out I believe – but I’m still not sure – was the leading light of concert nights at the Coolin, Paddy Sherlock, but whom I had never actually seen there, since I attended only on Monday night open mic nights.

Even more satisfying, though, was meeting with Steve Kessler, a musician from Chicago, with a local band there called The Saturday June Band.” Steve, immediately upon seeing me, came to tell me that it was thanks to this blog that he had found the open mic. Another bit of personal satisfaction the blog has given. Steve, it turned out, was not just a great musician, and a nice guy, but very generous, as he offered a free drink to everyone in the open mic right after his set!

My own set by then, I felt, was far too emotional, but there are nights like that!

I shall return to the Rebel bar open mic with no questions asked next time….



Postpartum Holiday Blues at Paris Open Mics

March 6, 2012
bradspurgeon

You’d think everyone had the postpartum blues after the school holidays ended in Paris and the pub crawlers and musician students who all crowded the open mics last week returned to school and did not return to the open mics. It was a quieter than usual night at both the Tennessee Bar open mic and the Coolin pub open mic last night. But that was completely to my liking, as it meant singing more and have a more appreciative audience.

In fact, both venues had a nice atmosphere and enough musicians to bring variety, and just enough customer to have a decent sized audience in each – without having the madness of the week before.

I enjoyed the audience participation at the Tennessee, and the several different combinations of duets and trios at Coolin was a real pleasure. And for the first time last night at Coolin I got to see this guy I have been hearing about from several sources for several weeks: Paddy Sherlock, who hosts the only other regular live music night at Coolin. Check out the video of Paddy on the horn and vocals along with a guitarist.

Henry and I, after practicing the Dylan “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” a couple of times in jams at Coolin, decided to do it behind the mic yesterday. Someone caught a bit of that on video for me – picking up at the point where I had just thoroughly failed in my effort at playing lead.

We again had a post-open-mic jam session around the table, which again I enjoyed too much to make too many videos of, as I was too occupied playing myself (not with myself).

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