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!)
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….
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
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.
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.
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….
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
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.
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
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….
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.
BARCELONA – No wonder lists of open mic venues are needed: I’ve been playing in Barcelona for five years and I’m still discovering new open mic venues. Just when I think I’ve found them all – and that there are not that many – I find a new one. As it turned out, last night’s open mic at the Samba Brasil, near the Horta metro station, was one I had heard about and forgotten each year, since I’m not usually here on Wednesday nights.
As it also turned out, I only learned of this open mic – which has been running for three years – thanks to having made a friend at the George Payne open mic three years ago and maintained contact: Run by Joe Psalmist, a Nigerian expat, the Samba Brasil bar open mic takes place every Wednesday, and because it is a little out of the center of the city, it is less visible than most in Barcelona. But it is well worth the visit, for the warm MCing by Joe, for his fabulous voice, keyboard playing, and repertoire, and above all, for the great warm treatment by the clients and managers of the bar.
Oh, and that name Samba Brasil, it has nothing really to do with the style of music at this open mic: There is no Brazilian theme to this. It’s part open mic, part jam and bar live karaoke – I mean, it’s whatever you want it to be, and Joe is always ready to play along with you on keyboards if you are a singer and cannot play an instrument. Actually, he even played along with me while I played a couple of songs on my guitar, and sang.
The neighbourhood may be outside the downtown area, but it is well worth the visit too, as it has a taste to it of small cafés and twisty old Spanish streets that is quite different to that of the downtown with its ramblas or dark Gothic section. And anyway, this open mic starts at the very humane and Spanish hour of around 11 p.m. So no problem with being limited by time in terms of getting there….
By the way, Joe tells me that he also runs a jam session at the same bar on Sunday nights. So that sounds worth checking out too….
PARIS – I managed to play a couple of songs at the JazzSi last night in Barcelona, and to record some great videos of the other performers at this mainstay venue of jamming in Spain. Then when I took the train back from Barcelona to Paris and worked the whole time on my Formula One work, and also transferred the videos from my Zoom Q3 to my hard drive, and then erased them from the Zoom chip… well, bad idea. Lost all of my work, all of my videos of the last 6 weeks, all of the videos from last night, ALLLLLLL sorts of stuff. Because the hard drive was either stolen or dropped or left behind despite three turns of my head to make sure I had everything from my seat in the train. Such was the cost of trying to cost cut AND do work on the train…. So no videos of the JazzSi night in Barcelona.
Suffice it to say that I had a great time, heard great music, and played with a drummer, bass player and harmonica player, in front of the packed house of the JazzSi, where you have to go if you are in Barcelona – for listening or playing, it is one of the greatest places left in the Spanish coastal city. Check my thumbnail guide to Barcelona open mics etc. to find out where it is.
Also lost my recorded song ideas from China and Bahrain. But a lot remains in my mind… and I will try to call the lost and found tomorrow to see if it was…. (doubt it.)
Sorry for the crappy post. But it’s necessary to have crap in life occasionally too – just not too often.
PS, I tried using some file undelete software to recuperate the videos, but it failed to get anything useable. The good thing is that it DID recuperate all my interviews from my work in Barcelona!!!! (But not the transcriptions I did on the train.)
The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.
More Experience Than Existing Open Mics
Unfortunately, given the ephemeral nature of open mics – and bars themselves – in virtually all of the cities in the guide my own personal experience of playing open mics in the city in question usually goes way beyond the number of venues listed, since they things arise and close very frequently.
Mostly Jam Sessions in Barcelona
There are far more jam sessions in Barcelona than open mics as such – but the jams act as open mics too, and this is a guide to venues of both philosophies.