Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Paris

December 26, 2014
bradspurgeon

Paris Skyline

Paris Skyline

My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Paris since I first started.

Busy Saturday: Buying and Playing My Gibson J-200

October 23, 2011
bradspurgeon

Gibson J-200 Standard

Gibson J-200 Standard

As regular readers of this blog know, I love – and many other people love – my Seagull S6. But the Seagull has become very war-weary and battered in my round-the-world travels, and the latest incident – smashed on a flight to Singapore – made me decide finally to splurge my life’s non-savings on a new guitar that will remain with me in Paris, while the Seagull goes off to battle around the world, but carrying less weight as my main axe. So yesterday, after more than a year of zeroing in on Gibsons, I finally bought a J-200 Standard.

The thing that really, finally clinched it for me was that earlier in the week I had gone to the store in Paris and tried three or four of the J-200s and others, and I had found one that I kept saying I liked the best. Yesterday, I returned to the Pigalle area and visited all the music stores that sold the J-200s and I tried them all out. I even tried some 1965 Gibsons, although mine is a new one. I then returned to the same shop where I found the one I liked, and where I had noted down the serial number two days before. Playing the guitars, I almost immediately found the one that I was sure was the same one: I checked my noted serial number for the guitar in my iPhone, and yes, it was the same one. So I bought it.

It was not THAT easy. This is a natural wood – as opposed to Sunburst – Gibson J-200, and it cost a fortune. But it matched my playing and my needs and was sufficiently different to the sound of my Seagull, that I had to have it. But the other thing that decided me on buying this particular one at this moment was that I felt very much at ease in the store where I bought it, as opposed to several of the other places. It is a shop called “Acoustic Guitar,” at 18 rue de Douai, and the service is fabulous. They recently refurbished the store, and all the people I have dealt with there are very agreeable, honest, and provide all the explanations and information that you’re looking for. I had been showing up occasionally for more than a year and there would be plenty of reason for them to think I was not going to buy a guitar, but they let me play for an hour or more early in the week, and then again a few days later. A young woman named Aurélie also dropped by and wanted to play a Gibson and they let her, and she asked if she could sing while playing – since that was the best way to know if she liked the guitar – and they allowed that too. I filmed her. (I had also sung the previous day.)

Another example of the great work they do is two different salesmen said to me that every Gibson J-200 sounded different and you really had to play them and compare and find one you liked. At another shop on the same street, the salesperson told me they all sounded alike, so there was no point in her going to get the natural colored one if I liked the Sunburst…. Sure. Okay.

Having bought the guitar – and having fallen in love with it – I immediately rushed home to play it, but then saw on Facebook that there was an open mic last night on Rue St. Maur, near the Metro Colonel Fabien in a bar called O’kubi Caffé, at 219 rue St Maur, that does not usually host an open mic. So I ate quickly and decided I had to baptize the J-200 immediately. I went to the open mic, was immediately welcomed by some musicians and the woman who ran it – Ajahlove – and then played, and played and played and let others play my new Gibson too, as there was no other real acoustic guitar set up. I was a little nervous about that, since I have decided this will not be a guitar for everyone and anyone the way the Seagull was – and is – but it was a pleasure to see it played. And most of all, it was a pleasure to play it. The open mic turned out to be more of a jam session, but with the J-200 I dived right into it and had the time of my life.

I bought this guitar for the deep bass and beautiful high strings as well. They describe the sound as being in something of a form of a V, with great bass, great highs, and in between, space for the singing voice. It is also a great guitar for strumming, which is what I do most of. Needless to say, I have been watching videos of great moments on the J-200, like Elvis Presley during his comeback in the late 60s (he used it before that too), like Pete Townsend of The Who, like the Everly Brothers, like Neil Young on “Hey, Hey, My My,” like so many of the Oasis songs, and like others too numerous to mention. I am not let down. And while I have grown so used to my grunge look and feel with the Seagull, I got so much into the playing of the J-200 last night behind the mic in public, that I felt totally at one with the guitar and didn’t care how it looked – which was probably pretty cool, when you think of it.

From Tony’s Aussie Bar in Seoul, to the Interesting Flight to Paris, to the Highlander – Catch-Up Time

October 20, 2011
bradspurgeon

Here goes: Sometimes life runs away with us and we cannot seem to catch up. That is how it has been for me since Monday. So this will be a catch-up post, or rather a “ketchup post” for its fast-food writing style. It starts at Tony’s Aussie bar in the Itaewon neighborhood in Seoul, and finishes at the Highlander in Paris. But one of the most interesting parts was one of the flights – or, rather, the guy sitting next to me.

So anyway… I went to Tony’s Aussie bar last year while at the Korean Grand Prix, and so I returned this year to find the same place, but better. Tony’s is a cool expat bar/restaurant, run by cool Tony, who is a drummer and entertainment tycoon in the making. The bar was an afterthought, something that grew out of him sitting in this place and practicing his drums and finding people dropping by and wanting to jam, and drink and eat and, hey, presto, there it was and is: One of the greatest places for jamming in Seoul. He also has a standup comedy night and another kind of open mic night on Sundays.

What made it better even than last year was that there were more people present, more Koreans, and other nationalities – British, Australian, American, Canadian – and some absolutely wonderful musicians and singers. During my three-song set – Mad World, I Won’t Back Down, and Borderline – I was joined on the first two by Vadim Scott, a Ukraine/Canadian who lives in Seoul and works as a musician and actor. He just climbed up behind the mic and joined in with me. That’s the spirit of Tony’s, and I loved it. Especially playing with Tony on the drums, with the bass player and violinist. Check out the Hendrix bit and the guitar solo bit too. Great stuff.

I left Tony’s at 1 AM, went to bed at 1:30 AM and then got up at 4:30 AM to go to the airport, catch a flight to Tokyo and from there a flight to Paris.

The second I sat down in the Air France A380, the guy sitting next to me said, “You are a guitarist?” He had seen me put my guitar in the overhead compartment, and he was smarter than most of the Japanese customs people who thought it was a set of golf clubs. In fact, he was much smarter, and when we were not both trying to catch up on sleep during the 12-hour flight, we were talking music. Because it turned out that this was Paolo Alderighi, one of Italy’s most promising and finest jazz piano players on the international scene. He plays a wicked stride piano, mostly American jazz from the ’30s and ’40s, but he is classically trained, and mixes the traditional jazz with a classic feel too, and his own feel from growing up with a dad who loved and played jazz music around the house.

But part of our conversation also centered around how to mix and live a life using different talents, multiple approaches and points of view and careers. Paolo, for instance, is a pianist, but he also took a degree in management and economics, and he is now teaching a course in musical culture at a university in Italy. I spoke, of course, about how I write as a journalist about Formula One racing, I do other more literary writing pursuits, the music, the open mic adventure, the film. We listened to each other’s music on our iPhones, and I was humbled by the quality of his, which I will put below from YouTube.

What really fascinated me too discussing his life and career, was how it came about in an interesting step-by-step manner with one thing leading to another without a master plan. He did a gig here and a gig there since he was 16 or so and the pieces all began falling together, the connections were made, other musicians met, and now he travels the world and plays his piano from Japan to the United States, Australia and almost everywhere in between.

So I returned to Paris late Tuesday, missed open mics and crashed out in bed for the night. Woke up, tried getting things done, was swamped, but then did that ridiculous small space-holder post here before doing the Highlander open mic, where it was life as usual, lots of fun, some good musicians, some less so. And I enjoyed trying to get the audience to sing along with “What’s Up!” which they did. But I was thinking I have to find something new since I’m doing the same songs week after week now at the Highlander….

It is still taking so long to upload all the videos over this period of time that I will just now put up a few, and add more later….



Eve of Bastille Day at the Highlander

July 14, 2011
bradspurgeon

Last night was a little weird at the Highlander and elsewhere as it was the eve of the national Bastille Day holiday in France. That meant a different atmosphere, some of the regular places not doing the regular thing – ie, no vocal jam at the Cavern club down the street from the Highlander, and there seemed to be no open mic at the Mazet either, although there was a sound board.

Still, there were some interesting acts at the Highlander open mic, and I got to play without any long wait despite arriving around 9 PM, which is normally too late.

I enjoyed the Hungarian musician, Marton Felszeghy, and I hope he can suggest a place for me to play in Budapest later in the month, as he said he might be able to do.

Thomas Brun was in his usual good form, and I loved the “Psycho Killer” by Chris O’Connell, an American lawyer who was in Paris for work, but who decided to play the open mics since he used to live here and knows the terrain well.

Playing at the Anthracite in Paris

June 3, 2011
bradspurgeon

I am always ecstatic when I discover a new open mic anywhere, but when one pops up in Paris that I did not know about, it always seems even more miraculous. Yesterday I learned of an open mic at a cool, chic club/bar called Anthracite, in the 4th Arrondissement in Paris.

I don’t know how long it has existed, but there it was on the Anthracite web site, and on a day, Thursday, when there is little else available. So I took my guitar and went. When I arrived, I found out quickly, however, that it is not a classic open mic of the kind where musicians go up with their instruments and sing cover songs or their own songs, both their own way. It is the kind of open mic/jam session thing that the Cavern bar has in Paris, and several other places around the world also do: Where a house band plays the music, and members of the audience go up to sing songs from the band’s set list.

In other words, it is a kind of live karaoke. It turned out also, however, that the drummer in the house band at the Anthracite is a friend, and member of the Natas Loves You band, and he saw me with my guitar and told me that they occasionally have people go up with their own instruments too. This lit things up in my head, as I have never felt comfortable in the Cavern kind of situation, or even in the real karaoke situation. In fact, I’m usually pretty bad at it.

But when I play my guitar and do my songs my way along with a band, I really enjoy that now (although even that took a while to get used to), and on top of it, there were at least three songs no the regular set list that I do in my repertoire: Jealous Guy, Mad World and What’s Up.

I opted for What’s Up, even though I had learned it only a couple of weeks ago and still do not have a really solid hold on the rhythm. But the band played along, sang along, and I had the time of my life. And afterwards I was stunned to find several audience members complimenting me. I knew I screwed up in a couple of spots, but it did seem to hold together.

The other performers had a wide range of styles and approaches, but as I find at the Cavern, most of the stuff had a soul feel to it. I enjoyed a lot of the songs, and am putting up a few of the videos. This is a really different kind of audience, a high class kind of place, and the band was tight and cool.

Above all, however, I have to give the Anthracite full marks, compliments and heartfelt kudos for allowing a musician they do not know to go up and plug in his guitar and play along and sing. The Cavern won’t allow that with guitarists – although I have seen sax players.

That said, I will be delighted when I manage to raise my game high enough to be able to play by the same rules as all the other singers.

Family Day at the Galway and Elsewhere; or Jamming With a Last Waltz Band Member – my Son

May 31, 2011
bradspurgeon

Going to the Brasserie Lipp to celebrate my daughter Emily’s 18th birthday, I decided nevertheless to take along my guitar, since that legendary brasserie is located in the same Latin Quarter neighborhood as the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub and it was Monday night and that meant the two open mics;

So we had a great meal at Lipp – with my son Paul and daughter eating the same dish of pig’s foot, not for me, and I had the famous choucroute – and of course we all had a nice Beaujolais to go along with it, since the legal drinking age in France is 18 and we had to celebrate that. We finished eating and got out of their at around 10:30 and headed over to the Tennessee Bar where the action was hot, the room was full, and some hard hitting and hard singing guy was on the stage. I took one look around the room and knew that I’d probably not get on – too many performers – and anyway, I had known that from the beginning but just wanted to show my son and daughter the Tennessee joint where I hang out so often.

So we stayed for a bit of this guy and then went to the Galway. My timing was perfect, as Stephen Prescott put me up as soon as we arrived and I did four or five songs. Then Stephen spent much of the rest of the night trying to get my son up on the stage, as I had told him before that Paul has a group, called The Last Waltz, and that he plays guitar and sings. In his band, in fact, he only does the occasional backup vocal, so he is not really used to singing in public – having only done it once or twice before. (To my knowledge.) Eventually, at the end of the evening, with Stephen, me and my daughter pushing Paul, we decided that he and I would go up together and jam a bit. Or rather, I’d sing some songs and he would do lead, some rhythm guitar, whatever.

He and I never play together at home. His music is his music, mine is mine. We did jam a little in the early days, but never seriously. And we never learned the same song. So this was not just our debut performance in public at an open mic, it was our first time playing what ended up being four songs together without break or practice, from beginning to end. We started with Marc Bolan’s “Cat Black, the Wizard’s Hat.” Then we did “Unchained Melody,” then we did, “I Shall Be Released.” By that last song we were starting to get the feel for things, and afterwards we would be complimented on that one. But none of it really showed off Paul’s best talents – he writes his own songs and learns the classics note by note -, and just before we left the stage he started playing “Little Wing,” and I said, “Crap, you should have played that and I’d do and improvise the singing.”

But there it was, a birthday and a birth – of a father and son duo. Well, probably not. But he might go again with The Last Waltz.

Too bad we didn’t get any of it on video, but there were some other high moments in the night – like Stephen’s “Common People,” and Sven Cosnuau singing with Pierre Doucet playing backup guitar.

An Italian Opera singer, an American Who Tries out Astral Weeks, and a Cellist – a Cool Monday at the Open Mics in Paris

May 3, 2011
bradspurgeon

I think that my headline should be longer than my story. But last night was a very cool one, despite the fact that I simply went to the same open mics as usual in Paris, the Galway Pub and the Tennessee Bar’s open mics. There is a back and forth between the two of musicians and moments. But last night, I must admit, I was more touched at the Galway than at the Tennessee. Of course, I didn’t hang around long enough at the Tennessee, no doubt.

There was a band I had seen before at the Tennessee and I did not catch their name, but it has a good singer and a wicked cellist, and that makes the difference. Check out the video; and if you like it, the band is doing its own concert at the Tennessee at some point soon.

At the Galway I walked in just in time to hear an American from Texas who looks like Steve Forbert but who belongs to a band called Superfly… no… Horslips… no… Horsefly… singing a song by Van Morrison that is one of the most difficult to tackle and comes from his Astral Weeks album. I ordered a beer and I was hearing this song and I suddenly realized this was a rare moment, because I have never heard anyone trying to sing this song before in an open mic – or anywhere else. So I whipped out the camera before taking the beer, and I got the final minutes or seconds of the song.

Then later in the evening we were surprised by the superb and inspiring performance of an Italian opera singer who had stopped by for a beer and decided after me to sing a single song – thank goodness it was AFTER me. Rony of the Romantic Black Shirts played guitar for the man.

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