Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

An Open Mic, an Intercontinental Meeting and a Free Pizza at Bertha Brown in Melbourne

March 21, 2012

My intention today had been to report on both the Monday and Tuesday night open mics that I did in Melbourne. But time has caught up with me, I am now sitting in my hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and while I have a great Internet connection again FINALLY – after a week of crappy connections in Australia – I also now have a gig to perform tonight at the Backyard Pub in Kuala Lumpur. So time presses and I will only be able to report on my Monday open mic at Bertha Brown in Melbourne – but it’s worth it!

Interview with Shane Walters, MC of Bertha Brown open mic in Melbourne:

Had it not been for the slow Internet connection in my Best Western hotel in Melbourne I’d have had this up long ago…. But anyway…. I learned about the Bertha Brown open mic when I was performing at the Felix Bar open mic. That is the way these things go. You do one, you meet people, they tell you about other ones. One of the fabulous things about the Bertha Brown open mic is that they are VERY musician-friendly: They offer the performers a glass of beer and a wonderful pizza that makes a full meal.

The stage is wonderful, fairly large and high and well-lit; the bar/restaurant is huge, with two different wings; and the sound system is great. The open mic is run by a different person every month, but all the people who run it – the guest MCs – belong to a kind of musicians’ cooperative called Songwriters in the Round.

I did an interview with the MC, Shane Walters, as part of my series of interviews with the people involved in open mics around the world. But it was only after the interview that we made a connection. Shane had been practicing his French with me several times through the evening, even when presenting me on stage. And later I told him that one of my good friends in Paris was an Australian from Melbourne who ran an open mic, a guy named Stephen Prescott. (I added that Stephen had since moved to another European city.)

“Was that in an Irish pub?” said Shane.

I said it was, it was in the Galway. Shane then said that he not only played in the open mic at the Galway a couple of years ago when he went to Paris, but he stayed while in Paris at the home of a friend of Stephen’s. Man, talk about a small world!

And there were a lot of interesting acts, including an original guy who I had to equate in my mind as a “punk Bob Dylan.” That was Jack Gramski, and his songs for the most part were incredibly influenced by Bob Dylan, but with a cool angry punk delivery. (Just realized that the video I put up is not the most representative of that, though!)

Last Time: Stephen at Galway, and Reflection on Hit Songs and Big Bux

January 24, 2012

Last night was Stephen Danger Prescott’s last time presenting the open mic at the Galway Pub in Paris after three or four years on that job. He will be hugely missed, but he has decided to go as far away as Berlin in order to avoid being lured into the job again.

It was a good night there, and also at the Tennessee Bar open mic a few minutes walk away, under the aegis of James Iansiti. I only stayed a short time at the Tennessee, though, and did not sing there since I arrived too late to do that AND the Galway, and I had to attend Stephen’s last time.

And speaking of “Last Time,” that is the second theme of this post. Readers will have noticed that I have buddied around over the last week in Paris at the open mics with an Irish singer named Conn Bux. Last night as the two of us attended both open mics there was one singer who went up and I told Conn how much I liked the singer’s voice but that I felt all the songs sounded the same.

“All you need is one,” he said. He meant, of course, that all any group or singer really needs to break out of the lowest levels of the music business is one hit song. Of course, a load more of them than that would also be welcome.

But his words reminded me that over the two previous days I had been saying to myself that this was precisely Conn Bux’s own situation. I did not tell him that last night, but he had given me his three CDs last Friday – made over the last decade – and I had been listening to them in the mornings during my morning exercise.

One of things I thought as I heard Conn sing in the various open mics over the last week, and as I listened to his superb CDs, was that this Irishman is so good he just needs one hit song and he’ll break out. He’s got his own voice, a strong voice, musical talent and skill, and he plays well in cool bands.

This morning as I listened to Conn’s third – most recent CD-, called The Old Reliable, as I did my morning exercise, suddenly, it seemed to me that Conn’s hit song had just popped out of the laser and into my head. It was a song that I had listened to several times over the last week, and he sang it again last night at both the Tennessee Bar and the Highlander. It is called Last Time, and it has been ringing in my head all day. The version with the band brings yet another level to it, but this song is for me clearly a hit. It has memorable words, theme, melody – it rocks, it rolls, it souls….

So why is it NOT a hit? That then got me to thinking that NOTHING in the music business actually makes sense and that there are probably a lot of hit songs in existence that are NOT hits because of totally obscure reasons, and things like simple luck. Things like being in the right place at the right time, etc. Cliches.

Having said that, Conn is only around 35 years old, and I can see through his three CDs that he is developing as a musician too, and that no music careers follow any precise plans or routes. Some careers have exploded several decades in and suddenly the singer gets noticed, has a hit and starts earning the big bux.

So check out the Last Time performance at the Galway by Conn Bux, so appropriate on the last time Stephen acted as MC.

Mazet True to Itself

January 20, 2012

I attended my first open mic at the Mazet since it took a brief break for the festive holidays, and found that it was back to its regular ways. That means that it tends to start out fairly slow and discrete, and then it wakes up and becomes more intense, and often turns into a jam session at the end of the evening.

I met up with Conn Bux again, and he played some of his great songs, cutting through the chatter to have plenty of the many spectators applaud even during the middle of his songs. The Irishman was well received, to say the least.

I was pleased – if a little intimidated – that this time Conn’s friend, Saray, from Spain, asked if she could film me with my Zoom Q3HD recorder. I happily accepted. So I have more recordings here than usual of me….

During my set suddenly as I was singing “Mad World,” my upright bass player from the night before at the Highlander suddenly arrived, parked in front of the stage, and added another dimension to the song – injecting me with an instant fix of added energy as well. He then played with me on “Runaway Train” as well, and that was the end of my set.

Rimed showed up and played some of his sensational tapping, and there were a few other regulars who also played some lively and fun stuff.

I ended up cutting out at midnight, however, to go to Stephen Danger Prescott’s final Thursday night gig at the Galway before he heads off next week for Berlin. He will have one more open mic at the Galway, on Monday, though.

So all in all, it was a good evening at the open mic….

Ever Shifting Flow of Open Mic Attendance

January 17, 2012

I went to the Tennessee Bar’s open mic to start with last night and found the place almost entirely empty. I think that aside from the three or four musicians there were only there non-musician spectators. For the Tennessee Bar, that is very rare. It turned out that James was absent as MC, but I doubt many people knew that…. It gave me a chance to play early, however, and go to the Galway open mic a little earlier than usual, and there I find a huge crowd and lots of musicians….

I heard this guy named Connor from Ireland for the first time, and he had a great voice and delivery. Very inspiring. He had been there last week, and had complimented my songs, but I had not heard him play. So last night I was inspired by his voice to do my Gary Jules cover, “Andalucia,” and because I was not otherwise prepared to play it, I promptly forgot the words to the second half of the song and had to abort….

The evening ended with the wonderful duo of two former bandmates from Australia, Stephen Danger Prescott, the MC, playing with his friend from Melbourne, who sang in German and played a miniature synthesizer. This was an act from outer space – well worth watching, at least for a little…. Especially since next week will be Stephen’s last time MCing this great evening after three years – before it continues under the direction of Romain of All the Roads.

Galway Vibe Returns Again

January 11, 2012

Monday night was a wonderful Galway Pub open mic again, as the year begins to move into gear and leave behind some of the slow nights there and at the other open mics in Paris as well. Unfortunately, I did the Galway, then went home and promptly got a terrible cold that I am still trying to recover from, and I cannot sing! So no open mics for me last night or tonight, and probably not tomorrow either. But in the meantime, here are some videos of the fun times on Monday at the Galway.

Stephen Prescott has only two more nights hosting the Galway open mic before Romain of the All the Roads moniker takes over. But on Monday there was an atmosphere of fun and celebration at one of the best open mics in Paris – especially from the Swedish a cappella contingent….

New From New Year of Open Mics

January 3, 2012

It was a wonderful return to two Paris open mics last night for several reasons, not the least of which personally was the absence from behind the mic for four nights for me…. But I have a little news and a little observation to make. Oh, and I was clearly not the only one to be happy to get to the open mics again: There were lots of people at both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub.

The bit of news I learned last night at the Galway was that Romain Bretoneiche, who performs under the name of his band All the Roads, will be taking over the MC job at the Galway Pub open mic every Monday. Stephen “Danger” Prescott, who has been doing it for three years is leaving the country. It is a sad moment in that regard, but great that Romain is taking over, too, as he is a great singer, a nice guy and very enthusiastic. So it will be very interesting to follow…. I got a couple of videos from last night of each of them, one with Stephen doing a Dylan duet with Julia Lins-Gordon, who works behind the bar – and is also a writer – and another of All the Roads doing a Damien Rice song, really well, as usual….

I found myself having fun when an Irish spectator sitting at the bar in front of the stage made a request to me during my set: “Do you know any Christy Moore songs?” Wow! I couldn’t believe that for once I could actually fulfill a request, and this time on a performer who is not obscure, but not mainstream pop, rock, folk either. Or rather, pretty much a mainstream kind of guy in Ireland in the folk area, but a million miles from being a household name elsewhere in the world. He was the singer with the band Planxty, and part of the traditional folk revival of the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, I was so stunned by the request that it took me a while to find a song I should do, and I missed the most obvious one. I started by trying to do his own beautiful “January Man,” but I forgot the lyrics, which I have barely ever memorized. I then realized that although he did not write the “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” he certainly sang it with Planxty, and so I did that one, which I have done for years. It was only after I left the pub that I recalled that I should have done “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” which Moore did, although it was written by Mickey McConnell, and I also do it occasionally.

At the Galway we were also treated to a performance by Tory Roucaud, who was on a Christmas visit to Paris from her new home of Switzerland, where there are not enough open mics for her in Zurich….

At the Tennessee I was immediately treated to two songs by James Iansiti, the MC, who when I arrived was playing one of his own songs – This Next Song – with his bass player. Then he joined another guitar player singing a song by the Police.

There were a lot of interesting bits going on at the Tennessee but the one that probably took my attention more than any was the combination of two people I met separately but who have written some songs together and travelled together and developed into an interesting and cool duo…. This was Zoe Kelly from Australia and Jamie Turner from England. They travelled in Ireland and wrote a song about being stopped on the highway by the police – and they wrote another song together as well. It was nice stuff, and very cool to see how open mic relationships can develop into something. Unfortunately, Zoe is about to return to Australia after many months in Europe….

Old Time Stuff at the Galway

December 27, 2011

One of the things I like about Stephen Danger Prescott’s MCing at the Galway Pub open mic in Paris is that this young punk not only sings down and dirty dark punky mean songs with a deadly look in his eye, but he also does some classic Celtic trad songs. And he does them with real belief, not just a show for the Irish pub atmosphere. Last night, for instance, he did “The Wild Rover,” a classic. Of course, even the punky Pogues did that one, so I suppose there is a link between the down and dirty punk and the classic Irish thing….

Unfortunately, for the second week in a row I walked out of my home with my guitar, but without my Zoom Q3 HD recording device. So all I had to capture the video was the iPhone 4, and it may do a decent image, but the sound does not compare to the Zoom. So I have only a small amount to show of that song mentioned above. There were other acts, and I played around six or seven songs, but all I managed to get down was the “Wild Rover”…. Oh, yes, I must add, it is important to get to the Galway as often as possible in the coming weeks, as I heard a rumor that Stephen will be leaving the country to live elsewhere very soon….

Three Nights in One, from Singapore Gig to Jam to Paris Open Mic

September 27, 2011

When I awoke at 3 P.M. Sunday in Singapore I knew I was going to have a long haul of a day and night on my last night in Singapore; the travel back to Paris; the open mic at the Galway. But I had no idea just how rich and full it would be, and that it would range from what amounted to a personal gig at the Crazy Elephant in Singapore, to a jam with Formula One team personnel at an all-night restaurant in Singapore, to a great open mic at the Galway with a family feel to it. All without any sleep to speak of….

I had only one musical venue still to do in Singapore and I had decided I would forego it and go directly to Actors’ bar to jam some more with my friends there. But walking along Clarke Quay I passed in front of the Crazy Elephant bar where the jam takes place every Sunday night. Last year I had played one song there, but it was primarily a blues jam, so I did not really fit in. Passing by I noticed there was no music, but lights still lit up the stage and instruments. So I went in an asked if the jam was still going. John Chee, the organizer of the jam, who also plays in the house band, asked me if I wanted to go up alone with my guitar and play some songs. I just leapt at that opportunity. And through his encouragement and audience encouragement, the 2 to 4 songs initially envisioned turned into a full set probably close to 1 hour long and with maybe 10 songs.

I was in heaven. I mean, here it was in Singapore, 1 AM, got all my day’s work done, had myself a gig! Nice audience reaction, and this wonderful bar with an open front out onto the quay, a good sound system. What more could I ask?

Well, outside on the quay I met several musicians from the house band and others who jam in the jam, and I interviewed them for my open mic and jam film. I also filmed another guy who asked if he could use my guitar to sing after me, which I let him do, and he had a great voice. I think his name was Rama….

I went on from there afterwards to the Actors jamming bar, but arriving at 2:30 AM, I found it closed and none of my friends around. So I went around the corner to have a dinner at a nearly all night restaurant where I had eaten on the previous night. There I met personnel from a couple of Formula One teams, and we ended up eating the meal together. I was asked to play a song for them, and that would eventually turn into a jam amongst us all. I played the guitar, we all sang, they used chopsticks to beat the rhythm on the table. And soon I noticed at the next table were a couple of the guys I interviewed at Crazy Elephant. It was particularly funny that they were the drummers, and here we had this whole bunch of Formula One personnel playing drums on the table with chopsticks.

We all went over to the Chijmes bar after that and then at 5:30 AM I returned to my hotel, showered, packed and took the MRT to the airport and caught my flight to Dubai, then Paris, where I took the RER to the Galway Pub and arrived there at 10 PM just as the open mic began. There I met my friend Calvin, and of course Stephen ‘Danger’ Prescott, who MCs the open mic. He introduced me to his dad, Ged, and his sister, Hannah, who would go up and sing with him. They are in Paris from Australia, for a holiday. The evening turned out to be a reunion amongst many other Paris open mic musicians, including Ollie Furey, who has left the MCing job at the open mic of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance for a life in music and acting in Berlin. But he just returned for a bit, and sang this Van Morrison song I love and did a great song.

I did five or six songs, and could not believe that I could hold a tune after nearly 40 hours without sleep at that point. But it was all worth it…. I let out my breath and returned home and slept soundly for 8 hours….

Summertime – and Brad – Returns to the Paris Open Mics

August 23, 2011

Paris is known around the world for its habit of closing down in the month of August, as all the French people migrate south or elsewhere for vacation. I had been thinking it was miraculous that any of the open mics remained open during this period, but as Stephen Prescott, the MC of the Galway open mic, pointed out to me, his expat pub gets a lot of foreigners, and they come to Paris in August. Still, several of the preceding open mics I had attended were just as well attended or better than usual. But last night, finally, the trend stopped and changed and it seemed finally that Paris had found its real August at the open mics. Both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub’s open mics were pretty empty, comparatively speaking.

On the other hand, that provided a chance to those who DID attend, to play more songs than usual. I did four or five at each one of them. I felt good and free and loved it. There were some new, visiting musicians whom I really enjoyed too, especially Barbara Breedijk from the Netherlands. Jesse Kincaid was back from another part of his European tour, and there was a Frenchman with an interesting guitar at the Tennessee. I had returned to the Paris open mics after my New York City sojourn, and the first playing I had done in public for nearly a week. All together, a reasonable evening in Paris, although it really felt like one of those dead sunny Sunday afternoons. Oh, check out Barbara’s “Summertime.”

Family Day at the Galway and Elsewhere; or Jamming With a Last Waltz Band Member – my Son

May 31, 2011

Going to the Brasserie Lipp to celebrate my daughter Emily’s 18th birthday, I decided nevertheless to take along my guitar, since that legendary brasserie is located in the same Latin Quarter neighborhood as the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub and it was Monday night and that meant the two open mics;

So we had a great meal at Lipp – with my son Paul and daughter eating the same dish of pig’s foot, not for me, and I had the famous choucroute – and of course we all had a nice Beaujolais to go along with it, since the legal drinking age in France is 18 and we had to celebrate that. We finished eating and got out of their at around 10:30 and headed over to the Tennessee Bar where the action was hot, the room was full, and some hard hitting and hard singing guy was on the stage. I took one look around the room and knew that I’d probably not get on – too many performers – and anyway, I had known that from the beginning but just wanted to show my son and daughter the Tennessee joint where I hang out so often.

So we stayed for a bit of this guy and then went to the Galway. My timing was perfect, as Stephen Prescott put me up as soon as we arrived and I did four or five songs. Then Stephen spent much of the rest of the night trying to get my son up on the stage, as I had told him before that Paul has a group, called The Last Waltz, and that he plays guitar and sings. In his band, in fact, he only does the occasional backup vocal, so he is not really used to singing in public – having only done it once or twice before. (To my knowledge.) Eventually, at the end of the evening, with Stephen, me and my daughter pushing Paul, we decided that he and I would go up together and jam a bit. Or rather, I’d sing some songs and he would do lead, some rhythm guitar, whatever.

He and I never play together at home. His music is his music, mine is mine. We did jam a little in the early days, but never seriously. And we never learned the same song. So this was not just our debut performance in public at an open mic, it was our first time playing what ended up being four songs together without break or practice, from beginning to end. We started with Marc Bolan’s “Cat Black, the Wizard’s Hat.” Then we did “Unchained Melody,” then we did, “I Shall Be Released.” By that last song we were starting to get the feel for things, and afterwards we would be complimented on that one. But none of it really showed off Paul’s best talents – he writes his own songs and learns the classics note by note -, and just before we left the stage he started playing “Little Wing,” and I said, “Crap, you should have played that and I’d do and improvise the singing.”

But there it was, a birthday and a birth – of a father and son duo. Well, probably not. But he might go again with The Last Waltz.

Too bad we didn’t get any of it on video, but there were some other high moments in the night – like Stephen’s “Common People,” and Sven Cosnuau singing with Pierre Doucet playing backup guitar.

Powered by