Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Ladies’ Night at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance

April 27, 2011

Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance practically never fails to provide me with a theme for this blog, and yesterday was no exception – despite that Ollie was off somewhere else neglecting his duties to us and leaving his MC job to Tristan, who did great job of it. But despite Ollie’s absence, and despite a slightly quiet start, the evening picked up steam very quickly. And there was something about it that seemed to be inspiring the women performers of the night because that was where I saw all sorts of fabulous new things, and great sounds and emotions.

For that reason, I will not put up any of the men in videos – although I was tempted to put up Tristan’s great “Tickle Me Pink.” (And I thank Tristan for doing videos of my three songs, too!)

No, the show belonged to the women and their songs and voices: I was touched by them all (I wish) and unfortunately one who hit me most I did not record, since I was submerged in emotion. (That was Aurore Clement’s second song.) But check out these performances. Victoire’s a cappella song in particular was great, and the first time I heard her voice – on the first song – I immediately thought of Melanie from the 1960s/70s (Look What They Done to My Song, Ma…). I told that to Victoire afterwards, and I’m hoping she will try the Melanie song, because the couple of bars she sang in the street made my feel goosebumps.

Then there was a young woman from the United States somewhere, Honor. She had a very nice voice too and did a nice song and then a duo with another woman. And then there was Kerry from Alabama, who was really in good form. And Fannie, who is French but also Swedish, and she who does a very mean “Chelsea Hotel” this time decided to do a Swedish song. Beautiful. Was it that that inspired Ayse Ayhan of Turkey to do a Turkish song after her English one? Very nice there too. And I was thinking that was a good preparation for my trip to Istanbul next week….

All in all, then, the woman OWNED Ollie’s joint last night. No question about it.

Great Use for Crap Guitar and other NEW things

February 8, 2011

martin travel guitar

martin travel guitar

At the Tennessee bar and the Galway last night I spotted some new things to write about: First was the great use of one of the worst guitars that exists in the world. When I started travelling around the world two years ago playing music I decided to check out all the travel guitars, and I quickly concluded and discovered that it didn’t matter what size the guitar was, the airplane would let you on board or not. So I stuck with my regular guitar, my Seagull S6. But one of the guitars I had tried was a piece of shit, and I could never understand how anyone could buy one for the crap sound it gives off…until last night I saw someone at the Tennessee doing a fabulous thing with it: Slide guitar. Check out the video. And the most mystifying thing about this piece of crap is that it is a Martin!

Then after that came Rony Boy playing this jazz standard on his Godin electric – same company as the Seagull – and he did a mighty fine job of a song that I know well for having been played by Lenny Breau on an amazing recording as a young man, at 20 with Levon Helm on drums and Rick Danko on acoustic bass – both of whom would later make up The Band and play with Bob Dylan.

After that, over to the Galway where for the second time that night Ollie Fury played his wonderful new song, and both he and Stephen Danger Prescott for a change played Dylan, and did it in their own ways, as you can also see from the video. All in all, a satisfactory “new” night.

By the way, Rony Boy will be playing on the same bill with me in his band The Romantic Black Shirts, at the Disquaires on 27 February in Paris when I perform with my little band of gypsies for the first time, and Calvin McEnron will also play a set.

An Amazing Brunch, and Checkmate: Finally a Different Open Mic in Paris

February 7, 2011

First I have to talk about Saturday night, since Robert Kubica’s accident in rally racing yesterday meant I had no time for this blog before I sped off to the brunch at the Mecano bar. (I had to do a blog item and update on my F1 blog on the NYT site.)

But what a Saturday and Sunday! Saturday I attended a jam/open mic that I had discovered existed one day as my eye was attracted to a bar on Rue St. Maur – the street where I got my head kicked in on New Year’s Eve – with the name in French of L’Echiquier. That means chessboard in French. So that, as deep readers of this blog will know, would be of interest to me since I love chess. But then I saw a sign on the window about an open mic. And that, well…

It turns out that the bar has a theme of chess, with matches played there occasionally, with chessboard tiling in the toilets, and drinks named after chess themes, etc. And this is because Djamel Grine, who owns the place, likes chess too. But he told me his original idea was that he wanted the bar to be public place open to everyone: the King, the Queen, the bishop (which in French is called a “fou” and also means “crazy person.”)

He also loves music, so he started the jams and open mics. There is no set date for it, but they manage to do one at least once a month, on a Saturday. So best to call l’Echiquier beforehand to see if there is a session.

It was a very warm open mic, and I was pleased that although it started like a typical bluesy sort of jam session with full band, it was also possible and welcome for an individual musician to go up and sing and play guitar, cover songs or originals. I played with the band, since I like that challenge and it is more fun and “big.” We played “Crazy Love,” because it was easy, “Father and Son,” because it was more difficult but well known, and my song “Borderline,” just because. I finished off with “I Shall Be Released,” since it is three chords and really well known.

Having had that magnificent Saturday evening, I worried that my own brunch would never match it. I was wrong. It must have been the Sunday of all my brunches where I had the largest number of other performers who wanted to play – and who did play. There were seven of us in all. I played a lot less in order to allow for the others, and that was great, because it meant I could talk to the others and listen to them.

And Olivier Rodriguez, a friend and amazing photographer, showed up for the second week in a row to play his songs and this time he brought his camera and did some great shots of us and said I could put them up on this blog.

Community Center Music Night Near the Place de la Nation

January 29, 2011

Open mics take all sorts of forms, and one that I have barely explored is that of the local community center. Last night in the Centre d’animation Montgallet, near the Metro Montgallet, in the 12th Arrondissement in Paris, near the place de la Nation, there was such an open show. Actually, it was first a concert by Mat Hilde, an acquaintance of mine from a few Paris open mics, then some other performers from the community center, then an open jam.

Unfortunately, I arrived too late for Mat Hilde’s concert, as for the third or fourth time this week I found my line 13 metro was not going to operate. (This time, unfortunately, we were told it had to do with some accident involving a person, whatever that means exactly.) In any case, I arrived late and after taking a taxi. But there was a nice mixture of musical acts, and Mat Hilde went up to sing that Jeff Buckley/Leonard Cohen song we all know so well, with a few other musicians.

The music ranged from completely amateur to very accomplished. The atmosphere was very warm, the sound excellent, the lighting wonderful, and there was free wine and snacks! Now that is the difference between a community center open mic/jam session and a regular bar music session.

Having said that, I did not get to play at all myself, since I could only play in the jam session, and it was a typical blues jam free-for-all, and I am completely and utterly lost in that kind of thing, so I did not bother.

After that, I went on over to the barman’s open mic at the Cabaret Culture Rapide for the first time in weeks. I have been attending the blues session there on Thursdays lately, and I have been having a great time. But last night I decided I would never return for the Friday night session. When there is a good sized audience – what you want – you find the absence of a microphone or amplifier is far too big a handicap to overcome. You blow out your voice, and soon the voices of the “spectators” begin to mount as most people realize they are there for drinking and carousing and not for the open mic. It is a far better event for comedians, actors, poets and prose readers. With no mic, and a mixed bag of performers, the musician becomes the odd man out, and the one everyone loves to talk during.

In any case, the blues jam evening, with a mic and sound system, is well worth the visit for musician wishing to play – and be heard.

The Swedish Girl Invasion and a Fiddler

January 19, 2011

The two highlights of Ollie’s open mic at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar last night were for me the three Swedish women (actually there was a fourth in the audience) and the fiddle playing of the Englishwoman, Georgia.

But even Georgia’s participation was with one of the Swedes, Sister Fay (who should not be confused with Sister Ray). It turned out that the two groups of Swedish women were not even connected, it was just happenstance that they both showed up.

In any case, Georgia played a jig to start with. Then she played with Sister Fay, who sang and played guitar, on a song from the 1930s – Dream a Little Dream of Me – that was also famous in the 1960s when sung by the Mamas and the Papas, one of whom knew the co-writer of the original song…. They also performed a song that I immediately recognized the music to, which was Shady Grove. But I knew it as Matty Grove, primarily through the Fairport Convention version (and recently the version sung by Zara Sophia at my Mecano brunch. I spoke to Georgia about it, and she said the two were similar. She has classical training on the violin, but has had much experience in folk and bluegrass bands.

The next highlight was when Sister Fay and her Swedish friend – whose name I do not remember – got up to sing a Swedish song. It was very beautiful, and another case of great music not really having to be understood literally to be appreciated.

I almost forgot, there really was another highlight to the evening, and that was Vincent Barriquand from the band Black Butterfly, who played solo with a guitar and no microphone. His strong voice carried with no problem through the small room, and without the mic we got to appreciate all its qualities. He too sang at my brunch, just a week and a half ago.

Stage Panic at the Abracadabrabar

January 18, 2011

I discovered another stage illness last night, which I would not call stage fright, but rather stage panic. I was doing an open mic I have never done before, at the Abracadabrabar on Avenue Jean Jaures, in Paris’s 19th Arrondissement. I just got up on the stage, and I had felt really good about the bar and really pleased that my turn was only the third of the evening.

It was a warm place, a big stage area, bright lights, an excellent sound system, and a man adjusting the sound to make sure all was good. There were a reasonable number of spectators too. And given that it was a new open mic for me in Paris when I thought I’d done them all, I was just plain excited to be there.

But once I got up on the stage I was immediately struck by a situation that I had not had for a long time: The stage lights were so bright that it was impossible to see anyone at all in the room. The whole situation reminded me much more of a professional concert situation than a casual open mic. The audience had been polite with the other performers, but there had been some chat building up. And when I launched into my Gary Jules cover, “Andalucia,” which I have now sung many, many times in public – even at my brunch the previous day – I was absorbing all of this set up, and noticing that slowly the voices began to die out too. Had I grabbed the audience? Or had they all quietly left the room? I had no way of knowing, I could see no one and nothing – except the bright lights (yes, and the big city through the windows way far off on the other side of the bar, perhaps).

In any case, this situation threw my brain into action and I began asking questions, wondering about things, and suddenly, after the first chorus, I realized that with all this supplementary thought and lack of concentration – although I miraculously think I was doing real justice to the song – I completely forgot the words to start the second verse. I had actually been wondering as I went through the first verse if I had made a mess of that, too, although I didn’t. So there I was with the bright lights, and the possibility that I had captured the audience and got them to be quiet, and I had gone entirely and completely blank in my mind with lyrics that I know by heart and sing all the time!!!!

This video doesn’t exist

I tried playing a few chords and the little lead ditty thing a little more as I tried to remember the words to start the second verse. I could not. I then began to panic at the thought that it was impossible to find the words and soon my audience would leave me behind…. So I had no choice but to finally do what I have not done in as long as I can remember. I stopped playing and said, “Sorry, I’ve forgotten the rest of the words!!!”

I made a feeble excuse about it being the bright lights and all, the change of situation for me, and I launched into my own song, “Borderline,” which I knew I would not forget the words to. But truth be told, by the time I finished that one it seemed to go by so quickly that I wondered if I HAD left out lyrics there too.

In any case, I had no further problems, and I did two more songs, then sang three songs later in the evening. All had settled, and I felt very comfortable, and in fact, thrilled to be playing under the bright lights. The funny thing is that I absolutely LOVE that kind of true stage situation. It was partly that, I think, that made me lose concentration and panic – it had been so long since I found myself on a real stage kind of situation.

Such, in any case, are the trials of the further adventures of Brad in the open mics of the world….

I highly recommend the Abracadabrabar as a venue, and I have added it to my list of Paris open mics. It takes place only once per month, the third Monday of the month. You must write to the MC in advance to get on the list.

Amongst the performers was a friend, whom I have heard mostly at the Galway and Highlander, but whose voice at the Abracadabrabar had even more qualities and depth than usual. (Years later she asked that I remove all videos from the site, so I have.)

This video doesn’t exist

And my songs were, once I got past that first disaster, quite nicely appreciated. One man who had no intention of playing that night approached me and asked if I could improvise guitar playing so that he could sing. So we went up and did three improvised songs, which is not one of my strong points – but with the exception of the reggae song, it worked out pretty well, and the man got the audience clapping and singing along.

A great evening all together – along with a learning experience about stage panic….

Another Wednesday Double-header, this Time with Joe on Violin

January 6, 2011

I was sitting in the Highlander last night when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Joe Cady and his violin case. It was the first time I’d seen Joe at the Highlander. Joe and I have had a funny criss-crossing life in Paris. Joe works in computers by day and on the violin, guitar and voice by night. He’s from somewhere in the U.S. where the accent is noticeable. He plays a mean violin, but his main instrument is the guitar.

We met at Norman Spinrad’s 60th birthday party in 2000 in Paris near Notre Dame. We then ran into each other a couple of years ago at the Biz’Art jam session near the place de la Nation, where we saw each other a couple more times. We then met up again at Norman Spinrad’s 70th birthday party in Paris in September. Then Joe came and played along with me at my brunch at the Mecano, where he also joined up with David Broad, and went on to do a gig with him.

Joe was at the Highlander with Rony Boy on guitar and vocals in order to warm up for a gig they are doing at the Baroc this Saturday in their band, The Romantic Black Shirts.

As a warm up for his warm up for his gig, Joe offered to play violin along with me at the Highlander. I was to perform just before them. I agreed to this whole-heartedly, as it is always a pleasure to play with Joe, and it is always nice to have the weapon of a bigger wall of sound at an open mic aside from just the voice and guitar. But I had to change song choices to suit this, and I decided to go with “Crazy Love,” which Joe suggested, with “Not Much in the Mood,” the song I wrote at 16 about losing a lover and being in the mood for nuthin’ (and which I have now given a name after X decades), and “Just Like a Woman.”

It went over very well, I felt good, felt into the music, wore no sun glasses, made no explanations about my black eye, and the three songs were filmed by some guy with a pretty professional video camera, and he may be sending me the results eventually. It felt right on.

Joe and Rony Boy then played and they were really together, and they got the whole room moving and shaking and tapping the tables with the Johnny Cash song I recorded…..

There was the interesting 73-year-old British “chap” who played before me, and for a while I was worried that I might be overshadowed by him – but in the end, the contrast proved helpful. I’d heard of this man doing the open mics – and apparently he uses my list of open mics to find places – but this was the first time I had seen him.

After Joe’s performance I suggested to him that we go to the Cavern, which had its open vocal jam just around the corner. I had a hunch I could get Joe up there playing with the band and with his violin, and I was right. And it proved to be the longest jam I’d seen at the Cavern’s open mic, and it was very cool – “Sympathy for the Devil,” with Joe singing and playing violin…. (oh, and reading the lyrics too….)

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