Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Late for the Mépris, Got Miggles, on Time for a Late Awakening at L’Arte Café

November 10, 2012

As everyone knows, stated start times for concerts on Facebook invitations are always from 1 to 2 hours in advance of the real intended start time of the concert. This is done to ensure that people do not show up late…. Oops, so easy is it to become skeptical of this practice that it becomes much easier to show up late. Last night was a case in point. Nevermind that I had as late as Thursday night thought that my friends’ concert at the Point Ephemere was to take place on Saturday. One of them informed me that it was in fact on Friday. So off I went an hour or so late for the stated start time on Facebook of the concert….

But as I arrived at the concert I was pleased to see that one of the people I came to see was in the middle of his set. This was Miggles and his band. Miggles is another of the people I met at Earle’s open mic four years ago. He was at the center of the whole scene, in fact, as Earle had met Miggles with Pete Doherty at the time that Miggles was in his band called The Parisians, and searching for places to play. Earle ended up starting the open mic at the Shebeen in order to give a place for The Parisians to play. That was the beginning of a crazy mad open mic that went on from then in 2004 right up to 2009 or 2010, moving from one venue to another and spawning all sorts of “Baby Rocker” bands in Paris.

I have mostly seen Miggles playing solo with an acoustic guitar. But last night it was with his band, and it made a difference. Actually, Miggles is very cool solo with his guitar. But also with the band, it gives another dimension.

The next band I was waiting to see was Le Mépris, which has members of the band Neimo in it. But as I hung out at the Point Ephemere, and listened to the next act, Call Me Señor, whom I had heard about often but never seen or heard, it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I had made a mess of things. I had, in fact. It turned out that Le Mépris had already played, as the first band that night! Holy crap, I’d missed them. Miggles and band were the feature act of the evening, Le Mépris had opened for him, and Call Me Senor closed for him and them….

So I listened to one more song of Call Me Senor and then I got the hell out of the Point Ephemere. I had a choice of two open mics and desperately wanted to play. I sent a message to the organizer of the one at l’Arte Café only to learn that it was about to end. It was my preferred venue, but I thought, “Damn, I missed Le Mépris, now I will have missed the open mic too!” Crappo night. So as I walked along to go to the other open mic, a 20 minute walk from the Point Ephemere, I suddenly received a message from the organizer of L’Arte Café open mic asking me how far away I was, because things were changing, there could be time to play after all. As it turned out, I was about five minutes away in a cab. So I went.

Am I ever glad I did, and even more thankful she texted me. The Arte Café has never let me down. Something makes it so that no matter how quiet it starts out, it develops into a cool, warm, fun open mic. And last night was the same. I did my little set of three songs, but I was barely warmed up, and not much of what I did was very good. But then when the jam happened afterwards, I led in with three songs everyone could sing along and play along to – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “What’s Up!” – and the whole thing was a massive, huge celebration of togetherness. That may sound suspiciously hippie, but it was really great. And after me, many of the other musicians picked up and led the jam, several using my Gibson J-200. An amazing, wonderful, cool night.

Just caught Miggles, missed the Mépris, and then nearly lost the open mic at the Arte Café, but got it. Amazing – and with thanks to the organizer who took the chance to see if I was near and interested….

Occulted August: Quiet Days and Quiet Nights in Paris

August 3, 2010

I have just entered into the Formula One August holiday period, after the Hungarian Grand Prix and before the Belgian Grand Prix in four weeks. It coincides with the August holiday in Paris, so I am now at home in Paris (read: a suburb) absorbing what many people think of as the finest month in Paris – because the city is empty of everyone except a few tourists. For me, however, I find it the worst month of the year because it also means there is far less nightlife, music, cultural happenings, etc. And that means boredom.

So I’m staying at home mostly and working on a few unfinished projects, including both musical and written. I will find the occasional open mic, I’m sure, and I will no doubt take a trip here and there to the countryside, starting possibly with Strasbourg in the coming days. But at the moment, it’s pure concentration on a chapter I have to finish by mid-August for a book about Colin Wilson, the British writer and one of the original Angry Young Men of the 1950s.

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider and The Occult

I wrote an interview book on Colin Wilson and have now been invited to write a chapter on his book called The Occult. This is no easy task, reading about the history of the occult and then being expected to write something intelligent about it. But it is fascinating, and ultimately the most interesting aspect I think I am finding is just how Wilson may be writing about the occult, but his theories expounded in the book are the same he has whether he is writing about literature, dance, religion, sex or other topics – as in right from his first book, The Outsider, which catapaulted him to fame at age 24.

I am also playing my guitar, thinking about new songs, sending off CDs of the songs I just recorded in the studio at the Point Ephémère, and cleaning up my apartment. The CD thing brings me back to the month of August: I just went out to send a CD to an important music business guy in the United States and when I arrived at my local post office, they told me that they could do no work as the computer system was down. It had been down for several hours, or all day, maybe even. It meant they could not provide stamps or weigh up the CD envelope or anything. And, of course, it being the month of August, there was no help on the way. So I went to another post office – it was closed, August hours had meant it closed early. So I went to a tobacco-dispensing cafe, as they also sell postage stamps. “Sorry, we ran out of stamps, and it’s the month of August, so we weren’t supplied with more….”

Great bloody idea, this month of August. I think I have no choice but to get out of town as quickly as possible, like all the other French people….

In the Recording Studio at the Point Éphémère

July 17, 2010

I had been going step by step towards a musical epiphany since I returned to writing and performing music after a several decades long hiatus, and the next natural step was to get into a recording studio and record with a band. And I wanted to do it live. I did not want to piece together every morsel bit by bit, or I could do that almost by myself at home in my living room.

But the idea was not entirely mine. It was Earle Holmes who first suggested to me that I meet up with Hervé Bouétard, of the band Control Club, that Earle’s BPM company manages. Hervé had worked with another one of Earle’s musicians to do some good recordings in his studio at the Point Éphémère, and Earle thought there could be a good vibe for me to try working with Hervé too. Earle was right.

It was a dream come true my sessions on Wednesday and Thursday in the studio with four other musicians – three per day – and all of us recording live four of the songs I have written since my musical adventure really began in November 2008.

It took months for me to move on it, and it took another couple of months for Hervé to move on it – i.e., get the time – and then it took me a while to get together my dream group of musicians – including Hervé on drums – to record the four songs I decided to do. But it all came together on Wednesday and Thursday, and thanks entirely to Hervé and the generosity and professionalism and talent of the musicians that accepted to play with me.

Hervé was very cool in not only playing drums on all the songs, but also working the sound in the small studio in the back of the art/concert/cafe/restaurant space on the Quai de Valmy in Paris. Hervé used to be drummer for a very cool and successful French band called A.S. Dragon, that was formed as a back-up band for the iconoclastic French novelist, Michel Houellebecq. The band decided it wanted more than just to be that writer’s backup band when he went on tour with some songs, and they added a gorgeous woman singer and did very well after that….

I had a real conundrum to solve with the lead guitarist, though. I had two guys I knew I wanted, both for different reasons. So in the end I decided to do two days of recording and do two songs with each guitarist, if they accepted. Thank goodness they did. One was Félix Beguin, with whom I had played many times at Earle’s open mics since the beginning. Félix also plays in a band called The Wasters and another called The Burnin’ Jacks, and he is in his early twenties, and a bloody natural born genius guitar player. He is also studying sound engineering now and music will be his career, one way or the other. So Félix played with me on the first day, and we did “Memories” and “Except Her Heart.” The latter, remember, is the song that Félix so kindly arranged for me a few months ago with a midi system and added guitar lead, piano, bass, etc.

The second day my guitarist was the neighbor I’ve been working with for the last year and a half intermittently, who goes by the stage name of Zarby. He wrote the chords for “Let Me Know,” and asked me to do a melody and lyrics, and we were both happy with the result. So there was no question but to have him play on that, and I enjoy working with him anyway, so there was just no question of NOT doing it. We also did “Since You Left Me,” both of these songs on the second day, the Thursday. What was very cool too is that Zarby started his musical career as a jazz drummer, and so with “Let Me Know” he not only had an idea of what kind of drumming would sound good with it, but he was able to show on the drums to Hervé what he meant. The song, written about a Turkish woman I know, has a very Middle Eastern music sound to it, and indeed, Hervé’s drumming just gives this hypnotic, trance-like, mantra-like feel to it.

The big problem from the beginning was to find a bass player, and I had all sorts of ideas, but nothing was panning out. Until my son, Paul, said, “Why not the guy from Natas Loves You?” In fact, I had thought of him myself, but I had only ever heard this fabulous young band from Luxemburg live doing acoustic performances. Paul had heard them electric, however, and said the bass player was good. So I wrote Virgile on Facebook, and he immediately responded that he would do it. And am I glad he did. I had met the band during their first week in Paris almost a year ago when they performed at their first open mic here, at the Truskel, in Earle’s open mic. I immediately thought they were great and I spoke to them. Only 20 years old, Virgile is not only a very cool guy to work with, but his bass playing was really good for what I needed and wanted, and I got the added bit of icing on the cake when this master of harmony – all of Natas Loves You are great at singing and harmonies – accepted to add some harmonies on “Since You Left Me,” which gives it a sudden completely different life in spots, and even, dare I say it, a little addition of youthful something.

What can I say about these two days in the studio? I think ultimately the statement will be in the sound of the music that resulted from it. And I will make that available as soon as Hervé has finished tweaking it. But the idea behind it was to do four recordings of four musicians playing live in the studio. This was not an overdubbing exercise, and it was very important for me to recapture the essence of my musical and emotional journey of the last year and a half and more as I have travelled around the world and played in open mics and jam sessions. It was essential to capture these four songs – at least – that speak my heart at this period in my life (even if much has changed since I wrote some of them), and to do that best, I wanted a live performance.

It was NOT easy, but it was smooth, and in the end, I was happy with the result. I don’t know if I will say the same thing next week when I hear the recordings after a while away from the studio, and a while away from listening to them – with a new perspective – but whatever may be the summation, it is clear that I spent two excellent days in the studio. Even if it was exhausting and I did not even sleep the night between them!

I’ve put up a couple of short videos of some quiet moments of taking a break in the studio on the first day with Félix playing my acoustic guitar with a couple of soft melodies, and then Félix on bass and Virgile on my guitar and Hervé on drums, just jamming away, the three of them. I had gone off to take a leak, what with all the water I had to drink in the heat of the studio and to protect my voice from breaking. And when I returned, there they were jamming away this funky tune, as if they desperately wanted to get away from my sad songs!!!! But the key point is, even when we weren’t working, all these music lovers were playing music for fun and amusement, which was for me also one of the biggest points of the whole exercise. And in that, it was a success.

The two days in the studio last week were the musical epiphany I had been working toward. But I’m now fired up for having many more….

From Earle’s Ultimate Open Mic to the Studio and Some Music Less Than Ephemere – I Hope

July 17, 2010

I have been away from the blog since Sunday in Oxford – probably my longest hiatus so far – but that is not because I’ve been away from music. On the contrary, I’ve had a phenomenal week I will never forget, and I wanted to get a few words and videos down before it was too late.

First, briefly, the last night in Oxford I did go and play at the Old Bookbinder’s pub. Played four songs in two sets. There were some interesting muscians there as well, including one I had met last year, and one I had heard at the Catweazle Club three nights earlier. ‘Nuff said.

Monday back to Paris and a quiet evening listening to a new stock of LPs that Vanessa bought – some cool 80s stuff and some 70s stuff too.

Tuesday was the beginning of the musical adventure of the week. It was announced as the last of Earle’s open mics, and it was being held at The Panic Room, on rue Amelot, near the Pop ‘In. It was meant to be a celebration of the end of Earle’s open mics, which had ceased to happen for the last couple of months or so. The list of potential guests on Facebook had grow to more than 170 people by the day of the event, and that was a lot more than ever signed up for the regular open mics. So I had great expectations.

I had never been to the Panic Room before and found it to be a fabulous venue. It had a spacious upper bar on two levels with clean painted walls and a nice shiny bar. The basement room was a cave with a vaulted ceiling – typical Paris thing – and a big fumoir. The stage was small by most standards but big for an open mic, and the sound was good for the listeners and for the musicians.

Upstairs, part of the evening was not just that it be an open mic, but it was also a photo exhibition of photos done by Olivier Rodriguez and Céline LiLi Faye, two friends who took photos at Earle’s open mic for years. They decided to organize this last open mic and do put up a photo exhibit of the ones in the previous years, and they did a great job both of the photos and the organization of this open mic. I’m putting in a video below that takes a brief tour of the photo display and includes a moment where we see Olivier looking at me with a face that said, “Camera shy.” Sure thing, Olivier! In the video there is a moment at which you will see the oldest of the musicians looking a little like Jacques Brel, c. 1966 at the Olympia, in a white shirt, face in a grimace behind glasses, and that’s me. Just below that you will see a photo of a young man with long hair and a similar face to mine – that’s my son Paul. Yep, Father and Son.

And it was in reference to those two photos that I sang Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” when I went up on stage. I was the second person up. First was my friend – and my son’s friend – Calvin, whom I have mentioned here before. I also played “Just Like A Woman” and “Since You Left Me” and “Except Her Heart.” I know that I did a good job for two reasons: One was that I felt good, in the groove, and really delighted to be up there and singing for the audience. The second reason was that a few of the women who listened told me afterwards that they had been brough almost to tears by my songs. Sheesh!

The evening progressed at a nice cool pace, and Earle was at his best, promoting the singers, singing along, enthusiastic as ever. In fact, he said to me that he thought he might like to continue doing open mics, but perhaps only once a month. He just loves it. Despite this being the so-called last one.

A few of the big names of the many years the open mic has existed showed up to play and honor Earle and the audience. They included François, who is the singer from The Agency, and Stevan, the singer from The Parisians, as well as Xavier, the guitar player from the Parisians who backed Earle on “Teenage Kicks,” and Syd from The Burnin’ Jacks was there, as were other members of that rising band in the Paris music scene.

Among the aforesaid was the brilliant lead guitarist from the Burnin’ Jacks, Félix Beguin. I have played with Félix on and off at Earle’s since November or December 2008, when I first started playing at his open mics. And we were supposed to play my set together, not only as a tribute to the Earle scene, but also as a warm up for the following two days in which we were going to live out the next step of my week’s adventure, my time recording four songs in the studio at the Point Ephemere. This post has become so long that I have decided to do a separate post for the studio days. Coming right up… up there, up above this one…. î

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