Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Magic at Menil’Fest, in Menilmontant, Paris

September 28, 2014



PARIS – Menilmontant is a funky cool quarter of Paris, and this weekend it celebrated a funky cool arts festival on the boulevard, with artists and artisans displaying their wares in the middle of the boulevard, and musicians playing on two different stages at either end. I was invited to play in the festival by a musician I met at the open mics, who calls himself She-Me, and who was organizing the talent on the stages.
Joe Cady and Brad at Menilmontant festival
I leapt at the opportunity of playing outside on this open-air, middle of Paris, middle of Menilmontant stage, and as it turned out, the day would be one of the sunniest and hottest of recent weeks, and probably the real end of summer too. In any case, it seemed like the sun had come and the clouds had parted in order to create the absolute perfect weather for a street festival in Paris. And that ensured a large number of people talking part, passing by, and generally giving an atmosphere of a country fair to the center of Paris.

I made discoveries amongst the artisans, the musicians and the local businesses all afternoon long. The festival is just winding down as I write these words, and it had started Friday evening. I was a little jealous when I saw the big stage, but once I got to performing on the smaller stage, I realized that I had perhaps got the better deal. It was much more intimate, the passersby could stop if they wanted to – without making the commitment of standing in front of the big stage, but just sort of stopping at the edge of the small stage and checking it out, and I had better eye contact with the audience.

The small stage was also set up in a spot where I could look off at the facing cafes and the place where the Métro exit sits, and feel really as if I was kind of floating around in Paris playing my music to all who cared to listen, and even those who did not. Helping me out on that was my friend Joe Cady, backing me up with fiddle and lead guitar, just as he has done in Paris open mics for several years now, and at the F1 FanZone concert that we did at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London in July. Joe’s fabulous accompaniment was just what I needed to feel completely at ease in providing the passersby with a full musical experience.

Of course, that was helped by the good sound system also, that ensured a crisp and clear sound to my vocals and some adequate mixing on the rest. The festival was organized by an association called ArtMachine, that has as a goal to help artists, artisans and musicians show off their creations.

Now, if only every quarter in Paris could come up with one of these. The free meal ticket providing food at a local North African restaurant was absolutely insanely good, as I found all the main dishes cost the price of the ticket of a measly 7 euros, and the food was amazing! My lamb chops and french fries beat just about any I’ve eaten recently in other French restaurants for twice the price. Menilmontant really feels like a village within the bigger Paris, and I would live there at the drop of an equally cheap apartment!

A Second Open Mic at the Baroc, in Paris – Just as Cool as the Other One

June 17, 2014

Le Baroc open mic

Le Baroc open mic

PARIS – I have written frequently about the open mic at the Baroc bar in Belleville in Paris, and how neat and unexpected and unpredictable it may be. Well, last night, interestingly, suddenly, there was another open mic at the Baroc, not the Tuesday night open mic, but a Sunday night open mic. And it was just as cool, interesting and warm and laid back as the one on Tuesday, despite being run by someone else….

It may or may not continue, it may or may not have been a one-off. But what the evening proved to me was what I always thought: That a big part of the success of an open mic lies not ONLY in the person who is MCing it, but in the location and layout of the bar, and also very importantly, in the perception of the open mic by the manager/owner of the bar.

Clearly, the Baroc has all the necessary ingredients. Sunday’s open mic was run by a French musician who calls himself She/Me and I have written about him before on this blog, as I have attended open mics for five or six years in which he has appeared as a musician. I was delighted to see him open the stage at the Baroc for a new open mic, and I hope it returns – it seemed not to be decided yet….

A great, wonderful alternative to the Pop’In, in any case….

In the Warm Lobby of the Chansonniers in Menilmontant

January 23, 2014

hotel les chansonniers Paris

hotel les chansonniers Paris

PARIS – I seem to be on a roll of attending and writing about open mics in Paris that are off the beaten path of the Latin Quarter. Last night for the first time in at least a year, I attended the open mic of the Chansonniers, which takes place just once per month, on the third Wednesday of the month. And I am so happy I did so….

The Chansonniers open mic is quite original, as it takes place in the nice, cozy, warm lobby of a small hotel, which I would not classify as seedy, since it does have this nice lobby, and this superb open mic. On the other hand, I don’t know what lies behind the lobby door… maybe I should find out….

Having said that, I first attended this open mic five years ago – already!!!!! – and made some of my first steps into the French open mic world there, and have some very warm recollections. But for various reasons, I have not been going in recent years. Part of the problem is its “once per month” angle. You tend to forget when you hit the third Wednesday….

Menilmontant is a very cool quarter of Paris in the 20th Arrondissement that has a real workers’, bona fide “lived in” neighborhood feel too it, but that is growing into an artistic center of the city. I love the area. So why am I not going back more often? The open mic is now hosted by Franck, whose stage name is She/Me, and it seems to me that this is probably the open mic in Paris that takes the title of being the most French of the open mics. I think the only acts that sang in English last night were my own, and the couple of songs that Raphaëlle did – both of which were recent ones for which I wrote the lyrics (so that makes my English omnipresent there last night) – excepting her fabulous Spanish song.

I managed to get a good video of her Spanish song, and she got a video of my Borderline. So those are both going up here. There were many more worthy acts last night, but I again have had a very slow internet connection today, so I will be unable to put up a full selection.

Oh dear, I almost forgot! There was indeed the interpretation – quite different – of Moriarity’s “Jimmy,” with Franck on guitar, and a friend of his doing the vocals. I got that up….

It’s three songs per performer at the Chansonniers, and it starts early, so if you do want to play, get there early. The sound system is not bad, but the guitar amp is behind your feet and the vocals come out of speakers in the back of the lobby – I’d have got some better vocal recordings otherwise….

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