Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Creation of my 25th Thumbnail Open Mic Guide: Madrid

June 18, 2016



I have just created my 25th open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Madrid Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I have only managed to list two open mics on this guide, as I have only so far attended two in the city. But I hope to update as I go along, and you have to start somewhere!

And when you are passing through a city and need to find a place to play in an open mic, you don’t care how many listings there are, as long as you find a place the night you happen to be there, right? So here is my 25th city thumbnail open mic guide (Madrid), representing most – but not all – of the cities around the world where I have played in open mics and decided to share my findings. (Let’s see, I’ve also played in Nairobi – years ago – New York, Toronto, Ottawa and London, and maybe some others – without making guides for those cities. Maybe I should!)

Thursday Night at the Triskel Tavern in Madrid

June 8, 2016

Triskel Tavern

Triskel Tavern

If it is Thursday, I must be in … Madrid? No, well, yes, well, was there. Now in Wakefield, Quebec. But that’s another story. I want to leap back by one week to the Thursday night I spent at the Triskel Tavern open mic in Madrid, Spain. This is one of the biggest, coolest open mics in Madrid. It can also have its drawbacks.

Let me backstep for a moment more: I left off with the very cool, laid back, quiet and hip open mic at the Collage in Madrid for its Tuesday night open mic (now on Wednesdays). Fast-forward two days and you find me at the Triskel Tavern open mic. The Triskel is in a fabulous neighborhood at the Tribunal metro station where there is one hip bar after another, one hip little concert venue after another, rock ‘n’ roll, people playing guitars in the park, Mexican restaurants and tiled facade joints in the dirty, tiny streets of an old part of Madrid known for its nightlife.

Enter the Triskel Tavern, an Irish pub of the most traditional kind, and you find, an Irish pub of the most traditional kind. It has been there more than 20 years and it has a great long bar, snug sitting areas, sports television, darkness… everything you expect in an Irish pub, including a large number of Irish people drinking pints. A good sign.

Then, you descend the stairs to a basement room that is quite large, multifaceted, brick and stalactites – or it is the other ones – hanging from the ceiling. A large stage kitty cornered, another little bar, and a vastly full couple of rooms with spectators listening to the open mic.

No, let me step back a bit for the one little difficulty of this mainstay open mic of Madrid: It’s fabulous to have massive numbers of spectators, but the environment here at the height of the evening – two songs per performer – is mostly one of chatter, talk, yelling, carousing. Listening to music? Well, if the performer is friends with a large number of spectators, then they will quiet down and listen. I took to the stage, a complete unknown, and after doing my Mad World, which was a little raucous – to match the talk and chatter – I decided to see if I could quiet the spectators with my Bob Dylan, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” No chance. No amount of waiting for quiet, no amount of playing the guitar softly with some nice quiet fingerpicking would calm the ardour of the chatterers.

Who cares? I just had fun playing to a full house, on a fabulous stage, with great host – Richard Harris, of England – and to hell with all the rest. As the room cleared out through the evening, the chatter died out, and soon there was a devoted group of spectators there to listen.

In any case, I cannot recommend this open mic enough, if you happen to be in Madrid – but be prepared for the chatter!

Oh yes, and keep posted for the reason I’m in Wakefield, Quebec. A report from an open mic here in the coming days….

Playing at the Collage Micro Abierto in Madrid

June 1, 2016

Collage Micro Abierto

Collage Micro Abierto

MADRID – I cannot imagine that I could have done much better than the Collage “Drink & Arts” bar in Madrid as a location for my first ever open mic in Madrid – or what they call here, “Micro Abierto.” I had been in Madrid a couple of weeks ago, and just failed to attend any open mics. Last night, I found a couple that were happening – Tuesday being a great day for open mics in almost any major city around the world – and I chose the Collage because it was within 15 minutes walking distance from where I am staying. But the world I found, and the musicians I heard, really made me feel it was the right decision.

I have written extensively about my open mic experiences in Barcelona, but this is the first time I’ve done one in Madrid – the biggest city in Spain. When I arrived at Collage, there was an almost entirely empty ground floor – just five or six people waiting to be served a meal at a table – and I thought I was in the wrong place. But then I noticed the staircase to the basement, went down, and was immediately greeted by the MC, Lui Sinese, in a warm manner, and saw that someone was already up on the fabulous stage playing music and singing.
Third at Collage open mic in Madrid

This is a unique basement room. It’s in the style of so many in Paris, a vaulted cellar ceiling, bar at the back, stage at the other end. But the room is so big, the ceiling so high, the room so long, that it feels almost like a cathedral. And a cathedral of open mic music it is indeed. The stage is actually reminiscent of some New York comedy or music open mic place – the Improv, the Bitter End – with its brick wall backdrop. The sound system was great for the spectators, but a little more difficult for the performers, in terms of the monitor.
Sixth at Collage open mic in Madrid

I was most delighted, though, by hearing so many Spanish performers! In Barcelona it has been rare for me to hear as may Spanish musicians singing in Spanish as here in Madrid last night. And they were all quite unique. There were two or three expat who sang in English, of course, and a fourth counting me. In fact, I got so excited and nervous that when I decided to start with Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” I completely began screwing up the chords, and then forgetting the lyrics as a result of that. I stopped after just two verses, it was so painful.
Lui at Collage open mic in Madrid

The only drawback is that each performer has only two songs to do, so once I’d thrown away those two verses, I was very worried that I might find myself having only one song left. And that’s what happened, as the MC came towards the stage. But when I asked if I could please do another, since I’d only done two verses of the first, he took a vote with the public, and I was allowed to do another song.
Fourth at Collage

Another reason I was so nervous was the quality was so consistently high – that fingerpicking guitar player singing the American old time stuff with a Spanish accent, was great – that I felt I fell far below the required level. In the end, I was told it went well.
First at Collage

Anyway, I highly recommend this Collage open mic … sorry, Micro Abierto….
Fifth at Collage

Second at Collage

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

May 27, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

I have updated my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. I was most delighted to find that the Big Bang Bar has reinstated an open mic – of a different kind to the one it used to host, and which I had taken off the list after it was done away with. There are two or three other updates, including great Facebook page for finding open mics.

So take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

Three Open Mics in Barcelona in Four Days? I Must Be Dreaming!

May 17, 2016

Big Bang Bar Barcelona

Big Bang Bar Barcelona

BARCELONA – PARIS – I just got back to Paris from five nights in Barcelona, and it was such an active five nights and days that I relegated reporting on it in this blog to the back shelf of my life. Arriving in Paris at dinner time, I decided to come directly from the Gare de Lyon – I took the train to Barcelona – to the Latin Quarter, a meal in a brasserie, and now directly to the Galway Pub, the upper floor of which is my office as I write, the wifi of which is my connection to the Internet. But whatever tonight may bring, the five nights in Barcelona were sublime. Something is happening in Barcelona now….

I remember in my first years in Barcelona I had a hard time finding a decent open mic of the kind where a musician goes up on stage and plays his or her songs with their instrument and has an audience listening with silent worship-like regards. In the last five nights, I did three of those classic open mics, and I could have done more. I did not attend a single jam session, which Barcelona specializes in, and which I used to do regularly here – at Jazz-si and elsewhere.

Nick at the Big Bang Bar Barcelona Open Mic

As it turns out, one of the best venues I used to attend for its back-room jam session now has a classic open mic, and I attended this on both Thursday and Sunday night. I’m talking about the Big Bang Bar, located in one of the coolest parts of the city, with all its old, winding, dirty streets, and the name of which I do not know. Laziness and the fact this blog is a blog means I will not look up the name of the area.
Last One at the big bang

But the open mic was much more to my taste than the former jam session. I’m of mixed feelings that the back room where the jam took place has been closed off. As I understood things, that jam session had to be closed because the neighbors were complaining too much about the noise. So now they have set up a stage at the back of the main bar area – opposite the photos of famous jazz musicians – and put a piano and small drum set there. And started an open mic of the classic kind we know, and which attracts more calm, quiet music than that of the typical jam session.
Another Amy at the Big Bang

The evening was hosted by Oscar, a Spanish singer songwriter, and I was pleased that there was a mixture of people singing in both Spanish and English. It was by no means just another anglo thing.
Oscar Closes at the Big bang

I could have attended another open mic on Friday night, late after a concert, but I decided to do one on Saturday night, at another very cool venue, called Belchica, near the Urgell metro. This had a fabulous high stage in a back room, with, guess who, Oscar again running the show. What makes the venue a great one for an open mic is the back room with the stage is intimate, but then there is the front room where people can go to talk. So you really have those who want to listen, listening, and those who want to talk, talking….

Another at the Big Bang

By the way, it is now Tuesday, and I ended up stopping writing this post in order to meet with a friend and then to perform at the Galway. It turned out to be a great night too, especially since there was a lead guitar player from the U.S. who joined me on stage and played the hell out of the place to my songs, “Mad World,” “Crazy Love” and “Borderline.” Huge fun!
Second at the big bang

But back to Barcelona, in fact, the last night, Sunday, I returned to the Big Bang Bar, since there is also an open mic on the Sunday night! And guess what? It was even more full of participants and spectators than the Thursday night open mic. Barcelona is just kicking big time with open mics. Even worth the trip down for a week to do them all, if you’re trying to figure out which European city to go to for an open mic experience….
Third at the Big Bang

Another at Belchica in Barcelona

Last at Belchica

Jamming With(out) Groucho, in Freedonia

May 8, 2015

Freedonia (Barcelona Association)

Freedonia (Barcelona Association)

BARCELONA – I was expecting to run into Rufus T. Firefly last night as I entered the underground-looking open mic venue, and I heard the laughter from the stage beyond the front hall. After all, this was called Freedonia, and it was a stand-up comedy open mic. I was actually disappointed at first, since I was looking for a musical open mic. But it took only a few seconds for the guys at the front desk to tell me that there were two venues in Freedonia, and one was a stand-up comedy open mic and the other was a musical open mic. So I had come to the right place after all. But I made my way so quickly through the front room venue to the back room venue that I never did see if Groucho was there.

I was just too excited to have found a really amazing and true open mic in Barcelona that I had not expected to find at all. I’ve had so much more experience in this city with jam sessions than with classic open mics, that I had begun to despair. But last night, in my desperation, I did a search on the Internet employing the Spanish term, “micro abierto,” and there I managed to come up with something at Freedonia that looked as if it really was an open mic, and it really was last night.

The even more amazing thing was that I could walk all the way from my hotel down to the venue in central Barcelona, not far from the St. Antoni metro station, and I could play until late and walk back again, within 20 minutes. But the best thing was the actual open mic. The back room is far enough away from the front room – and there is an empty room between them – that the music can be loud and no one seems bothered in the front room. Having said that, I imagine if there is a really bad comic on stage and no one is laughing, then the music coming from the open mic would be a relieving distraction. As it was, when the music stopped, I could hear lots of laughter.

Groucho as Rufus in Duck Soup

Groucho as Rufus in Duck Soup

The Freedonia Association is behind the open mics in Barcelona

Freedonia, in fact, is an association. So in order to take part or even watch as a spectator, you have to sign up your name and information. But that membership process lasts a year, and in exchange, you’re invited into a kind of wonderful private club, with a bar, lots of cheap beer – 2 euros 50 centimes for a bottle – and lots of musicians, comics and spectators.

The back room has a few tables, a few chairs, high and low, and a large stage – for an open mic. It is a basic rectangle shape, with a large set of speakers, a mix table, and people trying to make sure the sound is good – even when it isn’t! (I had a problem with the second mic on my third song, but aside from that (and that the quality of the mics was not great), it’s a wonderful setup.) It is a classic open mic, as opposed to a jam, with each person signing a list and playing three songs.

No doubt one of the reasons this place is different from other Spanish jam sessions/open mics/micro abiertos, is because it is run by a delightful Englishwoman with an Irish name: Bronagh Ni Laoi. You can also catch a glimpse of her playing in the wonderful high moment of the night, the all-girl band, whose name may or may not be the Ukaladies. (I find another such band on the Internet, in Canada, so I’m not sure about who really has that name….) Four or five women with ukuleles and a cajon and singing and … just check it out….

There were one or two singers in Spanish as well, thank goodness! And a high Spanish-spectator content…. The comedy open mic in the other room seemed to be only in Spanish, by the way.

All in all, a fabulous surprise, in a very cool, very hip, very open open mic. Oh, and I forgot to mention just how neat the neighborhood is, also, all alleyways and narrow streets, hidden away off the Ramblas. It seems to be tucked into a little bit of a Little India too. Oh, and on my way back to the hotel, I got dragged in to jam a little on my guitar in a sort of garage-loft by a half destroyed Colombian and his friends…. You had to be there…. It seems to be run every second Thursday – but I’ll confirm that before I put it on my Thumbnail Guide to Barcelona open mics, jam sessions and other live music….

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Barcelona

May 11, 2014

Sagrada Família

Sagrada Família

BARCELONA – 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 Barcelona since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Blog at