Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The Sad, Sorry End of My World-Traveled Seagull Guitar – As a Dance Floor

March 23, 2016

destroyed Seagull 2

destroyed Seagull 2

PARIS – Some woman decided to use my Seagull S6 guitar as a dance floor last night. This fabulous guitar, which has been around the world with me 7 times, which just had all the frets replaced two weeks ago for 260 euros (so much do I love the sound of this guitar), which has a few battle scars that added to its charm and changed nothing of its fabulous sound, it is finally dead. I have debated for several hours now whether I can again help this Seagull rise from the dead, so great a guitar is it. But reading up on guitar repairs, and looking closely at the damage both inside and out on the table of this fabulous guitar, I have decided it must be time to put it up on my wall for retirement. (Note posted later: After many kind reactions on my Facebook to this post, I was encouraged to contact my luthier, who, in the end confirmed that the guitar was so badly destroyed it would never sound the same again if it were to be reconstructed, as it would be too full of glue and added parts to maintain its original integrity.)
Out of a Jam

Out of a Jam

In a way, it closes a chapter: The guitar was used as a dance floor by a woman who was told to watch out for it, while I was waiting to take a piss, in the the back room by the toilets at the Pigalle Country Club, where I was intending to play in the open mic. I had left the guitar in its case against a pillar where I always leave it. It was a soft case, and the guitar got knocked over and stomped on by the manic woman. The Pigalle Country Club is the bar where the guitar features on the cover photo of my CD. The CD consists of songs from my life over the last few years, all of which were composed on that Seagull S6. The guitar actually features on only four of the songs, however, with the rest of the songs being performed with my Gibson J200.
Johnny Borrell sings Vertical Women with my Seagull S6

What is certain is that I will attend even fewer open mics in the future with my J200. For if the Gibson had served as a dance floor to this drunken woman, then I’d be finding it even more difficult to be light-hearted about it. And come to think of it, I’m not really light hearted about my Seagull. I’m as broken as the Seagull is.
Daniel Haggis of The Wombats playing my Seagull S6

This is the Seagull that has been played at various times and in various countries of the world by people like Johnny Borrell of Razorlight; by Daniel Haggis of the Wombats; by one of the guitarists of The Cribs; by many of Paris’s former “baby rockers;” by Andy Flop Poppy of the Flop Poppies; and by countless other great musicians both known and unknown, around the world.
Andy Flop Poppy using my Seagull S6

Having said all that, I seek solace and attitude in the memory of my meeting with the great, wonderful and hugely human singer-songwriter Harry Chapin when I was 18 years old. I’ve frequently recounted the story of how this fabulous performer with the hit “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and I met while he was performing on a television show in which I was both performing and working backstage. Called “Bang, Bang, You’re Alive,” it was recorded in Ottawa, at the CJOH studios. I met Chapin backstage and we were talking in his room while he awaited his moment taping in front of the cameras and live audience. We learned we were both born on the same day – December 7 – although he was maybe 15 years older than me. We learned we both wanted to get into acting school.

another seagull shot

another seagull shot

Chapin reached out his hand and said, “Let’s make a wager to see who gets to acting school first!” I don’t know if he was just trying to encourage me, or what. But we shook hands. Soon, an assistant producer came and told him that he had to go on stage. He leapt out of his chair, grabbed his Ovation guitar, lost his grip, it fell on the floor and a rib broke inside the guitar. Where I would have been furious, and frustrated and sad, Chapin broke out into laughter and said, “Well, I’ll just have to use it like that!!!” And he ran off laughing to the stage….
destroyed Seagull 1

destroyed Seagull 1

After all, it’s just an object, right?!!!? Still, I could never imagine using someone’s guitar as a dance floor.

Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin

neck area breaks

neck area breaks

Busy Saturday: Buying and Playing My Gibson J-200

October 23, 2011

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.

Nice Buskers in Nice

May 25, 2011

Funny, I arrived last night dead tired from a disastrous train ride to Nice from Montpellier – after taking a couple of other trains before that from Barcelona – and had a meal in Nice and said, “Early to bed, don’t even bother looking for a place to play music.” But I said, “No, push yourself, and walk off some of that three course meal.” Mainly I did want to push myself. It was late, and the music scene for open mics and jams has not proven to be too fertile here in the south of France in the past, so every moment is valuable.

So I headed off to the old town in Nice looking to check out some of the places I knew of in the past. I knew that Johnny’s Wine Bar no longer existed, and that it was there where I had one of my best open mics in the south in 2009. But I dropped by there anyway, only to find a jazz club just up the street and the owner sitting out front. That led to what may tonight turn into an opportunity to play. I will write about that tomorrow once I see if or how it goes.

Then I headed down a street to the left right near this music joint and suddenly I saw a group of four or five buskers taking a break from their busking and snacking in the narrow street. They had a guitar, an upright bass, a saxophone and some percussion things – a drum, bongos. They said hello when they saw my guitar. So I stopped, we chatted, I noticed that the Takamine guitar had a crack on its table that looked like the problem on my Seagull, but not as bad. I commented on that and pulled out my Seagull to show it to them.

One of the guys then wanted to try my guitar, then another, so we had a little tiny moment of jamming in the streets. But they gave me a couple of ideas for further musical possibilities – including a bit of busking tonight, perhaps. I may or may not take that one up. But as the conversation progressed I ended up telling them I was a journalist specializing in Formula One and taking my guitar around the races to play around the world in open mics and jam sessions. One of the musicians then said that he had played in Eddie Jordan’s band before, and we got to talking about our experiences with Eddie Jordan, as I had written about my musical experience last year with this former Formula One team owner who is now a commentator on BBC television.

I knew that Eddie was using a busker from Italy in his band lately, and here it was it turned out he had used two of these buskers I was now speaking to in Nice. These guys were not French, by the way – or at least not the bass player who tried my guitar and did some really nice tapping with it as you will see in the video. But naturally, I thought, what a bloody small world, and what a cool adventure! And crap, there it was again, that message: When you’re feeling down and low and tired, push yourself to the edge of something better. Had I retired to my bed after a contented meal and a long day, I’d have missed out on all of the above!

The Amateur Musical Video Revolution, and a Harry Chapin Anecdote

March 16, 2010

It may be a pretty simple, straightforward musical video, but I’m putting it up on my site today simply because I’m so excited about the broader implications of what it all means for my upcoming open mic adventure….

Today I went to the Pigalle district of Paris, the city where I live. Pigalle is known mostly for two things: Sex shops/sex shows, and, for musicians it’s a gold mine of an area with guitar stores, music stores, home studio stores, musicians’ gadgets shops, etc. All contained in the same few streets. Literally, I musician’s candy shop.

I went there for a couple of things, one of which was a new bag to carry my Seagull S6 guitar with me on my adventure around the world, since last year’s worldwide adventure nearly killed the bag I have. As I sauntered along looking in one store after another I suddenly saw an object in a store window that had also been on my agenda, or wish-list, of gadgets for this blog.

I’m talking about the new Zoom Q3 “Handy Video Recorder.” I own a fabulous Canon HDV video recorder and some excellent video editing software, zith Adobe Premiere Pro. But is there anything more dissuasive than the idea of setting up a camera, capturing the video, processing and editing it – when you’re just talking about grabbing some cool musician on the fly at an open mic or jam in Kuala Lumpur or London or Sao Paulo?

As you might have seen on this blog, over the last weekend when I was in Bahrain I tried to avoid using my camera and instead used my iPhone to record music at the Bahrain venues. And produced absolute crap with sound like as if you were hearing something going on in a rhinoceros’s stomach.

I had read several great reviews about this Zoom Q3, and I also own one of the original Zoom H4 recording devices so I iknew that Zoom made very good products for cheap prices. And I thought, this is the thing that I need in order to bring another dimension to my blog and give full reports of my musical adventure around the world this coming year. I can carry the recorder in my guitar bag and just whip it out and do a video of some cool musician, or maybe even me with a band in some jam in Barcelona or Istanbul. And then, I can upload the file to the blog in minutes.

Yes, this Zoom Q3 is so easy to use it is disgusting. Press a button and it records in better than CD quality sound, with a very good image and the capability of uploading directly to YouTube and my blog. It runs on AA batteries and can hold many many hours of video if you put a 32 gig SD card in it. (It comes with a 2 gig card which holds 39 minutes of the best quality video and sound, but more than that with lower quality.)

So there we go, no more sideways videos, and no more sound overload. This is going to be very cool, and very much fun. And the thing only cost around 240 euros or so.  It will take a little work before I realize how to get the right sound and light.

Good hearted Harry Chapin

Above, is the first video of me using the Q3 and singing Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  Chapin was a wonderful singer-songwriter who had huge success in the ’70s, notably with “Taxi” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which was a No. 1 hit and was later covered by Ugly Kid Joe in the 1990s.  Chapin died in a car crash in 1981 – although there was some evidence to suggest he might have had a heart attack in the car, causing the crash, if I remember correctly.

I had the good fortune to have met Harry Chapin in 1976, when I was a teenager working on a TV show in Ottawa.  I spoke with him in his dressing room and I will always remember not just how kind he was, but also the nature of his easy-going character.  We learned we both had the same birthday, and we were talking about wanting to go to acting school – he said he wanted to do that in future – and suddenly he was called out to perform in front of the cameras.  He lept up from his chair and grabbed his guitar, but the guitar slipped out of his grasp, fell to the floor and a rib broke inside the guitar.  He looked in it, shook it, saw it was broken, and he broke out laughing and said, “Well, I’ll just have to play with it like that!”  As he ran off, I thought about how I would have been so angry had the same thing happened to me.

Dublin Club Bahrain Jam With SuperkatZ

March 14, 2010

It was the only open mic/jam session place I managed to find in Bahrain this trip, but it lived up to all my hopes – or almost. I found the Dublin club on my first day in Bahrain – on Wednesday – and set up a date to play at the jam session on Saturday. I spent the next two nights scouring through the streets and Internet and magazines trying to find another place to jam or do an open mic – as readers of this blog will have seen. But all the while, I had this idea of a date at the Dublin club ready to happen. And it did.

Saturday night is a bit of a down night in Bahrain for the bars, as it is the equivalent of our Sunday night, since here the weekend starts on Friday with the holy day. (Actually, it really starts Thursday night, of course.) But with the Formula One race in town, the Dublin bar – which I described in an earlier post – was really bopping with what seemed like a couple of hundred people at the high point.

The resident band is called SuperkatZ, and it originated in Australia (the next stop on my worldwide trip). The band leader is Mark Eaves, who is also married to the keyboard player. He organizes the band’s tours, and they go all over the world and play as a resident band for several months at a time. Mark told me they started at the Dublin in January and they’re there until Ramadan. So if you’re in Bahrain, go take in a few sets. This is a very cool and together cover band of six or seven members, with a great bass player, lead guitarist, the keyboards and Mark on drums. They do everything from the Cranberries to Led Zeppelin, and several of the band members sing quite well. In addition to the keyboard woman, Masha, there’s also another lead woman singer. The band has played in South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, for example. But Mark’s favorite area is the Gulf region, so they play often around here, in Dubai, etc.

But now on to the open mic/jam session. This is another of those evenings that calls itself a jam session but might almost call itself an open mic. The difference here is that in general the guest musicians play with the other band members, and the band does a full three or so sets, mixing in the guest musicians starting from the second set – or some time after 10 PM.

I arrived early in order to eat my dinner in the restaurant and watch the band play and just to settle in. The restaurant had a good deal offering a free half bottle of wine if you bought a steak. I ceased eating steak around 10 years ago, although I still eat most other kinds of meat. But with the temptation of a free half bottle of wine, I went for a sirloin. And I can see why they’re offering this. The steak was much better than the pork chop I had on Wednesday, and the wine was very good for a house wine served in a carafe (not in a half bottle).

But it turned out to be a good idea to go early just for the preparation for the jam session as well. They set up a detailed list for you to sign and even give your telephone number. Where it is different from most open mics, or even jam sessions, is that they only ask for you to do one song. Usually the standard is two or three. But this method means if you’re absolute crap, at least the evening won’t have a very big hole punched into it by a boring or embarrassingly bad musician. So on the list they ask for your name, the instrument you play, the name of the song and your telephone number.

I spoke to two or three members of the band after I signed up, as they wanted to know what I wanted to do, what they could do playing along, etc. It was very well organized that way, and it put me at ease. When I spoke to Mark early on and told him that I would do “Crazy Love,” by Van Morrison, he said the band didn’t do that one, and he was a little worried. Then he realized I had my own guitar with me, so he said it was no problem. He would play the drums and the bass player, Dean, would also accompany me. I told them both that the chords were very simple. Both the Dean and Mark asked me to sing the beginning of the song for them just in their ear so they could get an idea.

“It’s a little soul-like, not too slow, but not fast,” I said, adding that I did it faster than Van Morrison, though, and in simple 4×4 time.

I then mentioned to Dean that I had spoken to the keyboard player at The Warbler, who was his friend, and he was delighted to have the passing on of hellos, as it were. The connection.

They wisely asked if I wanted to open the second set, and they gave me several minutes to plug in the guitar and set up the microphone. I say “wisely,” because this gave me the chance to get comfortable, and while the DJ played some music and the crowd caroused, I was able to use the monitors to play the chords on my guitar for Dean. It was also wise for me to open the second set because I thought that “Crazy Love” with me on rhythm guitar and vocals and the drummer and bass would be a lot more downbeat, slower and quiet than most of what the band did. So it was a great way to start out the set, rather than poking a hole in the middle of it.

So I went up and the woman singer introduced me to the crowd. It was rowdy but respectful, and obviously passionate about the music that night. I did not get the feeling that the music was an intrusion for the crowd, despite the giant TV screen with a rugby match on it. I felt fully relaxed, partly thanks to the half bottle of wine, but mostly thanks to the cool and easy treatment by the band, the preparation, and I love playing in front of big audiences. It’s more difficult to play for five people than 500.

Another thing that made me feel immediately at ease was that the sound system and monitors were absolutely fabulous. I could hear myself and my guitar perfectly, and that is very important when you play and it is so often lacking at open mics or jam sessions. Actually, having played with so many horrendous sound systems over the last year and more since I started doing this again, I probably prepared myself all the better for the moment when I have a good system. It’s like when you spend a year driving a crappy four-stroke engine go-kart and then you suddenly have a thoroughbred two-stroke machine that actually handles the way you’ve been trying to get the four-stroke to do – but effortlessly.

So I introduced the song briefly, after asking how many people were there just for the race…. (Didn’t get a big response on that one, but I later learned that my colleague sitting next to me in the media center from an Italian racing public was staying in the Ramee Palace hotel in Juffair where the Dublin club is located and he had seen the band every night, but didn’t go last night when I was there!)

“I’m going to do a little Irish soul here,” I said, “because that actually exists, particularly when it is done by Van Morrison. Here’s “Crazy Love”….”

I started the simple chords and the drums and bass went right into it too, and I was told later they were very conscious of trying not to drown out my acoustic, as they do whenever someone plays acoustic with them.

In any case, we just flew through the song without a hitch, without a glitch, and I felt great. I flew. I could see the audience quite well too, as I did not have any particularly badly placed and blinding spotlights. So it was very cool to do the song with a band, hear it perfectly, and see the large audience before me, some of whom looked like they were swaying to the rhythm of the song. The only real problem I encountered with the performance came at the end. I did not want to stop the song. Didn’t want to quit. So I decided to play a full run of the chords and then leap in and sing the chorus a second time at the end, just to keep going and wind it down, adding again, “She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love. She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love.” But in adding this at the end, I both screwed up the chords a little, and I think took the other musicians a little by surprise.

But all in all it went great, and I had several of the musicians pat me on the back and shake my hands afterwards, and one gave me a calling card for the band as I left the stage. Another asked when I would be back in Bahrain, another said, “Come back any time!”

Afterwards, two of them and one of the other guest performers complimented the sound of my guitar, which they thought was astounding. They wanted to know what it was.

“It’s a Seagull,” I said of my S6. “A Canadian brand. Made by the Godin Company.”

I picked it up and showed it to them.

“I know it sounds great,” I added. “I get compliments all over the world for it. And today, these strings are even old and thrashed out strings. They’ve been on it for a month and have been played really hard.”

I didn’t tell them exactly how, but I lend the guitar for Earle’s open mic at the Mecano bar in Paris, and it had also been played by other people recently at another open mic in Paris.

I didn’t tell them this time that the guitar only costs 380 euros, and I was on the verge of telling them about a compliment I had in England last year when a guy told me after playing my guitar that it blew away a 10,000 euro signature Martin that he had just played a few days before.

Anyway…. this blog is not supposed to be only about me, me, me. The jam session had a few other cool musicians as well. In fact, they were all cool and entertaining. A young Saudi Arabian guy named Osama who lives in Bahrain played with the band, doing Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. A local guy played a weird metal tonal drum, the name of which I’m afraid I cannot remember. But it was very airy and acid, sounded very cool with the band playing light and airy stuff behind it. And then there was a bass player who played a song I have suddenly forgotten!!! But REM comes to mind, though I don’t that was it, and I’ll have to take notes next time. This guest bass player came up to me afterwards to tell me he liked my song and he also complimented the sound of my Seagull guitar and wanted to know what it was.

He told me he was here in Bahrain working in military intelligence. What?!?!?! And playing bass on the side. I liked that. It was in a way a defining moment of the open mic jam session scene in Bahrain. I will definitely return to play again next year, and once again, my feeling is that I have discovered a completely different Bahrain to the one I have been to for the race on the previous five occasions I came here. Goodbye airport, hotel, circuit, airport. Hello jam session!

One problem was that this was really a musical experience in the international world of expats in hotels – this was not an authentic indigenous Bahrain jam. I failed to pierce into that world. But maybe next time. And there will be many more of those to come, as in Istanbul, for instance. Or Sao Paulo….

And my only regret about the jam session – the down point I mentioned earlier – was that I only played one song. I’d have loved to have done more. In fact, the guitar player/singer, asked me at one point if I was going to do another. So that made me feel good – but for some reason it just didn’t happen. Still, the old show business dictum says, “Leave the audience wanting more.” So I can’t complain.

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