Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Magic Returns at Coolin Open Mic in Paris

December 10, 2013

coolinPARIS – Well last night it was at the last minute that I decided to go to the Coolin open mic for the first time in months. I started the evening at the Tennessee open mic, and it was a nice quiet evening with lots of musicians despite there not being as many spectators as usual. And I may only have recognized two or three of the musicians at the Tennessee.

Ollie, the MC, who also MCs the Tireuse open mic on Tuesday nights, asked me if I was going to sing Cat’s in the Cradle, which I have not done for a very long time, so I decided to do it. I then did my song, “Except Her Heart,” and finished with “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” of Bob Dylan.

But I finished off feeling somehow restless, and decided to wander over to the Coolin to see what was happening, as it turned out that my musical friend Brislee Adams was hosting the evening instead of the regular host, who was apparently ill. Arriving at the Coolin, where I had not been for months, I found a place that has developed over the years since its first open mics, with now a wonderful sound system, a nice Persian carpet for stage, and various guitars standing up behind the stage.

I found a relatively small audience there, too, but they were quiet and respectful of the musicians, despite this being a usually massively lively Irish pub where often the musicians are little listened to unless singing loud, raucous crowd pleasers. On that subject, when it came my turn to sing, I decided for the first time in as long as I can remember at the Coolin to NOT do a crowd pleaser. Now that there is a decent sound system, and a respectful audience, I played “May You Never,” by John Martyn (minus his genius touch on the guitar, substituting my own fake version of the chords), and then I played my song, “Crazy Lady.” Both are quite and fingerpicked, and there too I decided to change by using a classical guitar instead of a folk steel string as usual. It was a real pleasure and I got some good responses.

A Return to the Magic of the Coolin

But the real magic came with the other musicians. It was the quiet end of the night, and people like Chiffre L, or Raphaëlle did some of their quieter songs – Chiffre L doing his Leonard Cohen – and then to finish off came the incredibly interesting Stephen James Newton, from Newcastle. Had I not heard him talk after his first song, I’d have thought Newton was from the deep south in the U.S. somewhere. His guitar playing is superb, and he graced us with some slide guitar after his initial deep south kind of song. You have to check out Stephen James Newton’s Soundcloud site too, to hear more of this interesting musician’s stuff. He’s living in Paris and seeking gigs.

So that was it, a touch of magic at Coolin, like those of the early days…or maybe I haven’t got a clue of what I’m talking about, and it was just all the travel I’ve been doing in the last several months that prevented me from getting there on Mondays that has put me out of touch with what is happening there every Monday…..

Quickie Touch Base in Paris Open Mic Thing

December 1, 2013

PARIS – This evening is a few days old, but I had to put something up. I’m at that ketchup moment of my life at the end of the year following an absolutely insane travel schedule – Paris Austin Austin Sao Paulo Sao Paul New York New York Paris – and DID DID DID get an open mic in under my belt last Thursday. But due to no time because of end of the year ketchup, no time to do anything proper on this blog.

If you have read this far, then please note, I did a great open mic at the Tennessee Bar on Thursday night and, then I went to the Reception #2 at the restaurant of the Bus Palladium to hear and see and feel the wild and crazy show of Charles-Baptiste Chanteur and his guests.

During this period of time, I was sort of filmed myself during my little moment in the open mic.

And now it is time to run off to do another, before I catch up (ketchup) on this blog and get back to the essentials (my page devoted to open mics in Austin, for example, or those in Sao Paulo, Toronto, NYC, Istanbul and elsewhere).

The New Combination at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 22, 2013

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

DUBAI – I’m back to that strange situation of writing about the Tennessee Bar open mic in Paris while in a completely different part of the world. a few weeks ago I was writing all about the end of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris from my hotel room in Mokpo, South Korea. Now I’m in the lounge at the Dubai airport on my way to New Delhi, and I’m writing about the Tennessee open mic again. But this time it’s from firsthand experience, that of my attendance at the “new” Tennessee Bar open mic last night.

After many years of the open mic being run by James Iansiti, the Tennessee Bar open mic is now run by Ollie Joe, who also MCs the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesday nights. Ollie has been doing it for a few weeks now, but last night was my first opportunity to attend the “new” open mic. And I am pleased to report that it is a live, well and really kicking.

Ollie has changed the format somewhat, as James used to have people play three or four songs or more, especially if they were new performers, while Ollie is doing the same thing here as he does at the Tireuse: two songs per performer, unless there is time afterwords for another round. The downside to James’s way was that sometimes people who came regularly found that there was no longer time for them to play by the end of the night.

Last night the place was just bursting at the doors with people, and it really felt to me like a cross between an open mic at the Tireuse and the old Tennessee itself. What really stood out for me was that it once again confirmed my belief that some bars are better than others for holding successful open mics, and the Tennessee is one of them. The fact of the basement being small, cosy, a great stage, but also isolated from the ground floor where people can go to talk, is one of the things that makes the Tennessee so good for an open mic.

Of course, Ollie’s superb moderating and MCing will also ensure that this place lives on.

One of the reasons I made sure I went last night despite having to pack up and get ready for my flight the next day to India was that Tim Menees was in town and intending to play. Tim wrote a fabulous article in the Pittsburgh Quarterly about his time playing at the Tennessee Bar last year while on a vacation in France, and I really wanted to meet him and perhaps play with him. I had a chance for both, and we did “Mad World” and “Wicked Game,” with me on guitar and vocals, and him on piano. And he is a mean piano player, as you will see and hear on the videos….

A New Open Mic at the Tennessee Bar in Paris

October 6, 2013

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

MOKPO, South Korea – (Note: Don’t skip the important update at the end of this post.) The news of Paris open mics coming from Mokpo, South Korea continues to develop and get stranger as it goes! Two days ago I updated my Thumbnail Guide to Paris open mics by re-instating the open mic of the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, which closed down in May and then opened again in September under the new bar name of “La Tireuse.” No sooner had I put that post up on the site than I saw a message on the Facebook page of the open mic at the Tennessee bar in which it seemed to say that the open mic and downstairs bar concept had both closed down. As it was impossible for me in South Korea to find out immediately whether it was just the end of the cellar bar concept or whether the open mic had closed as well, I published my story, stating clearly the reservation that it was not yet clear if the open mic had been discontinued or not.

I then wrote an email to the host of the open mic on Facebook, and he and his girlfriend confirmed to me overnight that the open mic itself had ended. So I updated the post accordingly. Some hours later, I have now received a message from someone within the management of the Tennessee Bar that tells me that the open mic itself has NOT come to an end, and neither has the basement bar it seems…. It is simply the end of James Iansiti’s time hosting the open mic, according to the Tennessee management. The bar will continue to run an open mic, starting with tomorrow night.

However, given that this open mic has always been indivisible in my mind, and in the minds of many of its other musicians, from the presentation and administration of it by James Iansiti, and given that the concept has perhaps changed, I have decided that I will keep the open mic off of my list of Paris open mics until I get to go and try it out myself so that I can write about it in the same way as all of the other open mics on my Paris list: from my own personal experience. I also often like to wait a few weeks before I incorporate a new open mic on my list in order to see if it is really going to stick around!

One thing I can say is that the Tennessee bar has a perfect layout for an open mic, with a great sound system and the ability of the musicians and spectators to listen comfortably in the basement to the music, or to talk on the ground floor. So if the presentation and hosting turns out to be as good as what James did, then I have no doubt this will continue to remain one of the mainstay open mics of Paris.

The one thing this has now clarified for me is that clearly, the managers of the Tennessee have not closed their eyes to the business to the bar that I thought the open mic brought it.

I can’t wait to see how this all develops!

UPDATE at 23:22 in Mokpo on 6 Oct.: As a reaction to this post, I have just learned that the new host of the open mic at the Tennessee Bar on Mondays will be none other than the exceptional Ollie Joe, who also hosts the open mic at La Tireuse on Tuesdays. This is an hilariously ironic point, as this chain of news posts from Mokpo all started by the reinstating of the open mic at La Tireuse! Anyway, this great news can only be celebrated by re-incorporating the Tennessee Bar open mic on my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music instantly.

Tale of the Tennessee Open Mic in the Pittsburgh Quarterly

June 19, 2013

Pittsburgh Quarterly

Pittsburgh Quarterly

PARIS – The thing that keeps me going on this blog is the connection I make with its readers, the people who write in to me about it, the people I meet in open mics who say, “You’re Brad, aren’t you? I found this open mic because of your blog!” Can there be anything more satisfying than that? Well, upon my return from Montreal last week I found waiting for me in the snail mailbox the hardcopy of a glossy and classy magazine called Pittsburgh Quarterly, which is the premier popular, general interest magazine of that part of Pennsylvania. And in it was a big article by a man named Tim Menees, who is an editorial cartoon artist, a painter, a musician and a writer. And his story was entitled: “Rainy Nights in Paris: Tim Menees Lands a Flat and Plays the Blues.” In the story, in highly readable prose, Menees writes of his adventures on a vacation in Paris last year in which he plays piano at the Tennessee Bar open mic on Monday nights. And he tells the tale of how he found the place – from my blog….

The story, in the Summer 2013 issue of the Pittsburgh Quarterly, avoids most of the usual clichés of writing about renting an apartment in Paris and discovering the City of Light. Of course, it has to have some of those, and one of the more flattering ones is how he ties the ethos of the recent Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris,” to the current situation that I and many of my friends now live, with the Tennessee Bar’s open mic as one of the gathering places for that. The description of his evening at the open mic is just great, and I can picture it all.

Here are two of the early introductory paragraphs from that section (the story is not online):

“It’s a tiny joint on a tiny street, sitting behind a red facade and a line of bicycles: A few guys are standing around having a smoke. Down in the cave below street level, someone tunes a guitar, and James is setting up shop. He’s an expat from L.A., with intense eyes and curly blond hair poking out from under a porkpie hat. He plays in a local rock band, speaks some French and runs Monday night’s open mic. He says, “You gonna play? Cool!”

“Many Paris clubs are in caves (cellars) because there’s nowhere else to put them. I found Le Tennessee via a blog written by Canadian Brad Spurgeon about open mics and Paris jam sessions. By day he covers Formula One auto racing for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune; by night he plays guitar and tracks down open mics around the world. It’s hard to sling a keyboard over your back, so I emailed him and he quickly named three clubs with pianos.”

There is much information about renting an apartment short term in Paris, and lots of wonderful description of the open mic itself – Menees went twice – and you can easily recognize the mood, and no doubt some of the musicians. It approaches its end with the most flattering and cool aspect of all:

“In the crowd is a sculptor from Philadelphia who lives and works in Paris. Brad Spurgeon. James. The Houston girl staying another two months to perform and write music.

“Expats and the arts. The beat goes on.”

That, of course, is referring back to how he started the piece by referring to the Woody Allen film and the expat artists of the 1920s and 30s.

Yep, the beat goes on, and on, and on. Tim, who also illustrated the story with his own artwork paintings of Paris, will be returning to Paris this October for another round, and an aim to visit more than just the Tennessee Bar open mic.

Tennessee Bar Thursday Night Open Mic in the Groove

May 3, 2013

PARIS – The Tennessee Bar and its MC, James Iansiti, seem to be a combination addicted to success, as far as open mics go. The Monday night one has for years been one of the most well attended and atmospheric of the open mics in the city. Now, as I mentioned last week, they are doing another open mic on Thursday nights as well. Last week it was OK, but yesterday it was great.

It was extremely well attended by both passersby and musicians, and this week, perhaps, it seems, having found that the plan of running a feature act was perhaps not the best idea for the rest of the musicians, there was no feature act. Suddenly the place was brimming with musicians.

Same Open Mic Style as Mondays at Tennessee Bar:

It was identical to the Monday night – except there were more people who wandered in off the street, I think (and witnessed) – and at one point I was saying to myself, “Hmm, if they held an open mic here every night of the week would it be so successful?”

Highlights of the Tennessee Bar Open Mic:

Among the standout acts for me were Geraint Jones, whom I have known and heard for a year or two. But now with his pianist and some new songs, it rocketed up to a different dimension for this Paris expat from the north of England.

I also enjoyed Shelita Burke, from the West Coast of the U.S. and the West Coast of Europe (Spain, where she lived for a while) – but who apologized at least twice for having lost her voice (apparently to laryngitis). And so, if that is Shelita with absence of voice – which was evident when she spoke – I can’t wait to hear her when she gets it back again!

I did my, “Crazy Lady,” and my “Gotta Shake Her,” and “Father and Son” – but I was a little late in coming and I was the last one up – or rather, the last one before the rappers took the stage for a second time….

A Few More of the Tennessee Bar open mic Videos from the Thursday Session:

Tennessee Bar Gets Smarter: A New Open Mic (and a Documentary about its MC)

April 26, 2013

The Tennessee Bar’s open mic on Mondays in Paris is one of the most successful open mics in Paris. Part of this is due to the location and style of the bar: It is in the heart of the Latin Quarter, near the Odeon metro, and it has a cozy small cellar with a good sound system and stage, and walls and ceiling that always remind me of the home of Fred and Barney Flintstone. But it is also a success due to its MC, James Iansiti, an expat American artist and musician. While I was away on my most recent travels around the world, James decided to introduce a second, new open mic at the Tennessee, which takes place on Thursdays – when there are practically no open mics in the city because they all want to be on the same days earlier in the week – and he has changed the format slightly.

The Thursday open mic has a feature performer or band that plays an extended set (last night it featured Jovanny Parvedy). That’s the only, but significant, difference between the Monday open mic and the Thursday open mic. Oh, and the audience is slightly different, James said: Since Monday is the day that most bars have little regular customers, they set up open mics to attract customers. The result is that most of the customers are the musicians and their friends. But on Thursday, James noted that regular customers, and customers passing through who hear the music, also make up the spectator crowd. So that’s nice.

James knows what he is talking about. With more than half a decade’s experience running the open mic, and a lot of music and “happening” experience before that in the U.S., he brings not only organizational experience, but his own singing and musicianship to the evening. So much so that a film company decided James was worth a short documentary himself, showing off his art, his world, his open mic. Called “Point Zero,” it tells things about James and his world that even I, after five years of regular attendance at the open mic, had no idea about. Check it out:

Good Sounds, Continuity, Liveliness and Risks at Two Paris Open Mics

March 5, 2013

I only managed to do two of my three usual Paris open mics last night, and even then, I only managed to play at one of them – Coolin. Still, there was some excellent music at the Tennessee Bar, the sound system is sounding better than ever, and the place was full.

Over at the Coolin, the sound system was the worst I’d ever heard it, but the place was full of its usual lively, happy clients, and lots of musicians – and some of them superb. I think the sound problem was a sudden, temporary thing related to some work going on in the place. But whatever, I always love going to the Coolin open mic not just for the music, but for the excellent way in which the open mic mixes with the regular clients. You get to meet people and talk to them, and lots of people go just for the bar, and discover the open mic….

There was a funny moment whereby when I left the Tennessee a musician was trying the most insanely difficult feat of singing “The End,” by The Doors, and when I arrived at Coolin, another musician was trying another Doors song. And then that same musician, Henry, sang “Mad World,” which, of course, readers of this blog know I sing all the time – too often, in fact. But Henry did the Gary Jules version of the song, using keyboards and following the slower approacher of Jules, as opposed to the faster, boppy Tears for Fears original. I enjoyed it.

Jim Bauer also did another amazing two-song set, especially the second song….
And a friend just put up on Facebook a video she did of me doing my “Wicked Game…”

New Stuff at Old Haunts

February 26, 2013

This blog has almost reached the turning point on the repetitive weekly open mic trail in Paris. What I mean by that is that in two weeks I will again begin my worldwide open mic and open jam musical adventure, the fifth year running, and with another 20 countries and most continents visited. That’s a way of saying, “Hold tight, the repetitive Mondays in Paris will soon be mixed in with Mondays elsewhere in the world – including in airports.”

But last night all the pieces fell in place on my triple header of the Tennessee Bar, Galway pub and Coolin pub open mics. And if it was the same three places, there were many new musicians, and I myself decided to try out some new songs.

It is often difficult to try new songs because as a performer, I always want to please my audience, and when certain songs “work,” it is always easier to stick with them. But last night I decided to play one I rarely do – my song “Sing It” – and I also played for the first time in these places this old Irish song by Christy Moore, that I have sung since I was around 16.

I had completely forgotten last week that I knew by heart all but two verses of the song. So I memorized those, and got the better of my usual aged, fading memory, and tried to inject new life into this song. I had always thought the song, “I Wish I Was in England” – I THINK that’s the title – was a traditional Irish song. But it was written by Christy Moore in the late 70s or early 60s.

Anyway, the OTHER acts were great. I liked the violin and guitar duo at the Coolin – and also saw them at the Tennessee before they played and before I cut out. I liked the young duet at the Galway, but as I had to play right after them, I went upstairs to tune my guitar and missed most of their songs. I liked the soul singer at the Tennessee.

I managed by a great bit of luck to play at each place thanks to: Arriving too late at the Coolin and signing only 14th on the list; arriving early enough at the Tennessee that there was practically no one there; arriving earlier than ever at the Galway after the Tennessee and before returning to the Coolin, and so the list was short enough that I got on almost immediately there too. I did a total of nine songs for the night.

Another good open mic crawl in Paris….

Scoring Two Times Out of Three at the Paris Places

February 19, 2013

I managed to score at two of the three open mics I went to last night.  No, no, I’m not talking sex.  I mean that I got to play behind the mic at two of the three open mics in the Latin Quarter in Paris. It went like this: Sign up at the Coolin, 11th on the list, go to the Tennessee, take in a few acts and realize I could miss my spot at the Coolin if I stayed to play at the Tennessee; so return to the Coolin, take in some acts and then play my songs; then head off to the Galway and play my songs there.

I have said it before, so I’m becoming repetitive, but what the hell: I am not going to remain loyal to any open mic as long as I can double or triple my fun by attending others at the same time or separately. I do NOT have the same philosophy in sexual matters – and in a way I wonder why not!? But ANYWAY….

I struck it lucky at the Coolin and then again at the Galway also by having Rony Boy accept to accompany me on his Godin guitar as I did my songs, or rather, some covers and my own Borderline. It was back up against the wall stuff, as we played songs we have never played together, including the “Miles From Nowhere” of Cat Stevens that I never thought I could adequately do with another musician since I tend to make a mess of the timing….

There were many other excellent musicians, including the superb singer/piano player at the Tennessee. So all in all it was a complete and indelible score for the whole evening….

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