Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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An Update to My Paris Open Mic Guide

March 29, 2017

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Just a note to say that I have updated my open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, for the first time since last June.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest open mics and jam sessions in Paris has now ceased: Caveau des Oubliettes. How such and institution could disappear is beyond imagining. I have also updated information in Brislee’s open mic at the Café Oz at place Blanche, as the bar has changed its name to La Fabrique – and I’ve updated the times Brislee runs the evening, since I realized it was slightly out of date – and I have also now shifted over, yet again, the Tennessee Bar open mic from the Thursday back to the Tuesday – and apparently we can forget its traditional date of Monday! I have also updated the shifting scene at the Oasis 244 bar, with its three open musical nights per week. There are other open mics in Paris, of course, that I have not even put on the list, as I only put those I attend, and there are several new ones I have not attended….

But The Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, remains the most extensive and up-to-date guide of the Paris open mic scene. Check it out!

Three Completely Different Musical Experiences in One Night in Paris – for a Compleat Musical Experience

November 8, 2013

Touched by Grace

Touched by Grace

PARIS – As it turned out, I could have played in all of the three musical locations that I visited in Paris last night – but I played in none of them. And as it turned out, I was just as happy with that situation as going somewhere to play myself, as my real idea was to take in three in one night for a completely different cultural experience each time.

The first was the one where, I will admit, the idea of playing there myself is greatly exaggerated. The only reason I mention it at all was that when I arrived at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore to hear Gary Lucas play his guitar and talk about and read from his book, Lucas actually had a guy singing with him in a vaguely Jeff Buckley manner. The guy, it turned out, was just someone Lucas did not know or had never heard sing, and he had asked in advance if he could join in and sing along when Lucas performed at the bookstore. Lucas agreed, and it was a cool effect and a nice little addition to a very cool presentation. So it occurred to me that perhaps if I had asked, too, he’d have given me a chance – even if it was a longshot….

Gary Lucas was at Shakespeare and Company to promote his book “Touched by Grace,” which recounts his experience working with Jeff Buckley, with whom he wrote a dozen or more songs, including the famous “Grace,” and “Mojo Pin.” But Buckley is not his only claim to fame as a collaborator. Lucas has played guitar or otherwise collaborated with a Who’s Who of popular musical geniuses – to say nothing of Leonard Bernstein – from Captain Beefheart to Patti Smith to Lou Reed to Iggy Pop…oh and even people like Peter Stampfl, of the Holy Modal Rounders….

Lucas played his Gibson J-45 in opening tuning, filling the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and its full-house of people with the ethereal sounds that are his trademark. I bought one of his CDs, which I will be including in my next Morning Exercise Music review. Oh, and I must add that I was just delighted that although I arrived a little late, and the bookstore was entirely full to the point that the front door could not be opened, I was ushered up through the first floor library by another door into the building, and led down to the back of the “stage” to listen to Lucas. That, by the way, is why you only get my videos of Lucas from off to the side of the musician, and from behind.

From the Books to the Taps, it Was Time for a Beer at the Open Mic of the Tennessee Bar

From Shakespeare and Company I headed over to the Tennessee Bar to check out the open mic. There, of course, I’d have been able to play if I wanted to. But I had that third date of the night coming up, so I just stayed and listened to a few songs – including by the mainstay of the Tireuse open mic, Wayne Standley – and also by someone else using a Gibson, similar to the J-45 of Lucas, but which was either a Dove or a Hummingbird, and they were also using it in a similar manner. But to slightly less effect. Still, it was an incredibly beautiful sounding guitar and nifty playing. Once I had assured myself that my favorite Thursday night was going strong, I finished my beer and went off to the third location.

This final stop of the evening bore no resemblance to the first two. I was invited to this one by a Brazilian friend, who said that she had a Brazilian friend playing Brazilian music in this hotel – the Hotel Athenee. I was a little confused when I got there, as I had for mixed it up in my mind with the Plaza Athenee, or whatever it is. But this was quite a posh joint as it turned out, with a long lobby cocktail bar room in plush furniture and walls covered with casting photo portraits of famous Hollywood stars from the past.

With a Final Glass of Wine at the Hotel Athenee and Brazilian Music

The Brazilian music was guitar and vocals, mostly bossa nova stuff, and it was a very cool and relaxed evening and foretaste of my imminent trip to Sao Paulo. My friend got up and did a song too, by the way, and she invited me to play, saying the mic was open…. So that’s how I tie in that final unforeseen possibility of being able to play in all three venues, had I wanted to. But there at the Athenee, I felt that the atmosphere was so laid-back Brazilian bossa nova style stuff that my own songs or covers would be far too big a contrast, although I was definitely tempted.

In any case, it was a really cool evening, kind of like an all you can eat buffet of different foods and sauces, on the Paris plate….

PS, It turns out that in arriving late at the Shakespeare and Company performance by Gary Lucas, and hearing him talk about about his singer as someone who just contacted him and he’d never heard of him before, I had no doubt missed a more correct introduction beforehand. I’ve since learned from a reader of this bog – as you can see in the comments below – that the singer was Tim Watt, and he is a musician who was already known to Gary, and the two prepared together in advance… So the very premise of this whole blog post was faulty, as I’d never have been able to play at Shakespeare and Company after all!! 😉

The End of the Tennessee Bar Open Mic in Paris

October 5, 2013

tennessee bar open mic closing

tennessee bar open mic closing

MOKPO, South Korea – For the second day running, the news from Mokpo is about Paris! Mokpo is the little “bled” – to use a French word – where I am located this weekend in my worldwide musical adventure. There’s no open mic from what I can see – or have seen in the past. But lots is going on in Paris. No sooner did I yesterday update my Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, by reinstating the existence of the former Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic now reborn as La Tireuse, than I learned through a Facebook announcement that the longstanding and great open mic in Paris at the Tennessee Bar has just ended.

I have tried to contact the person who maintains the page to confirm that the statement they made means there is no longer an open mic, but I have not had a response (on my accelerated South Korea time). But that the open mic is finished is the way everyone else who has written in queries has interpreted the statement, and it is the way I think the statement has to be interpreted. (Note: Today, the following day in South Korea, Oct. 6, I received confirmation from Valerie and James that both the downstairs Whiskey bar concept and the open mic itself have now ended. Later in the day, however, I then received a comment on this post telling me that the open mic will continue on Mondays, but with a different host. As James Iansiti and the Tennessee Bar open mic have been part and parcel of the same thing, I will henceforth treat this open mic as a new one. I’ll put it back on my open mic list once I see that it is really here to stay, and once I get a taste of it myself, like all the open mics on my list in Paris.)

Here is what they said on the Tennessee Whiskey Bar Facebook page: “The Tennessee Whiskey Bar regrets to inform you that we are now closed. The owner and manager of the Tennessee Jazz Bar were not happy with the project. Thanks to all of our musicians and guests for sharing the bar we created.
James and Valérie love you!”

So what else can that mean? If it is not closed (see above note), I’ll update as soon as I get the news. But for the moment we have to assume the open mic has ended after many years. This is one of the best open mics in Paris, it was run by James Iansiti, and I have written about it extensively on this blog. After James and his girlfriend, Valerie, redesigned the fabulous basement room of the Tennessee bar over the summer and re-opened the open mic under the name of the Tennessee Whiskey Bar, it seems the experiment has ended, the owner and manager of the Tennessee Bar having decided that he did not like the new deal.

And so ends what I can only imagine was a great business deal for the Tennessee bar. But what do I know about the economics of running a bar in Paris and its open mic. It is not the first time I have seen an open mic just bubbling over with clients, bursting at the seams, incapable of holding all the spectators and musicians, and then seeing the bar owner say that they don’t like the business the open mic is providing them with. But why now? The Tennessee Bar open mic has existed for at least five years, and earlier this year it was so popular it became a twice-a-week event, putting on an open mic on Mondays and then also on Thursdays.

Of course, the last time a mainstay open mic in Paris collapsed, it rose from the ashes again – as the new owner saw the business and community value in it – and that was the very one I mentioned at the top of this post, now called La Tireuse. Well, the only good point to this loss of another great Paris open mic is that there were already two others in the neighborhood, and now musicians will no longer have to toss a coin to decide which bar to give their business to: The Coolin or the Galway.

Bye, bye Tennessee, and thanks for all fun years. May you rise up out of the ashes too!

Tennessee Decompression and Nerves and Sounds and Reflections

June 14, 2013

PARIS – So there I was at the Tennessee Bar’s Thursday night open mic last night a night after hosting the somewhat ill-fated (at least in the beginning) open mic I mentioned in my previous post. And I was sitting there with around three main themes going through my mind. The first was just how good a job James Iansiti does hosting his open mic, one of the most successful in Paris. It is so successful, in fact, that James and the Tennessee recently decided to host the Monday night open mic on the Thursday AND the Monday. And so last night as I sat there and saw some 15 or more acts ready to play on this second night of the week, I inhaled and thought: This is insane how popular this place is, how popular an open mic can be in the same city twice a week.

The next thing that was floating around in my mind was just how easy it was, how non-stressful, how laid back and cool to attend the open mic as a musician only and raise my hand to get on a list – I was No. 9 – and just sit there and drink a beer and listen to the other musicians and make videos. The contrast to the night before with all its trials and stresses and worries was just enormous. So there I was in my own little bubble of a world thinking about what a cinch it all was, and life was good, when… something that has not happened for a long time happened.

I may have been stressed out at the open mic of the night before, but when I opened that show and when I closed it, I was really, really relaxed and grooving behind the mic and playing my music. There was some sense of fatalism, perhaps. Or perhaps it was the full control and responsibility that I had as the MC of the evening. Well now here at the Tennessee, for reasons I cannot fathom, I suddenly got terribly nervous on stage, right from the start. My fingers did not react the way they should on the guitar, my voice and body language were in another realm and not in the groove or in the flow or in the zone. And I had to constantly work at trying to come down to earth and reach that place that makes performing so much fun.

That was immediately broken even more when I sang a song by Bob Dylan from the “Blood on the Tracks” album – my first song of the night – and at the end of the song just as I was finishing the last verse a string on the guitar broke! There was some very odd spiritual or supernatural thing going on perhaps, as I had chosen to sing the song at the last minute since a guy who played before me, Murray, had sung “Idiot Wind” from the same album, which I have only heard in an open mic one or two times before. And in the last verse, he broke a string on James’s guitar! So there we were, both of us being cursed by Blood….

I had to move on to James’s guitar, and frankly, that got me totally lost, added stress, and I chose to sing a song on which I am capable of doing some fine picking…but with this alien object in my hands and my nerves affecting my playing, the guitar strumming was brute, horrible, and out of tune to boot! I finished off with my song “Crazy Lady,” and by then, and with the confidence of doing my own material, I did manage to start getting into the zone. Thank goodness. But I will never understand live performance and why it works sometimes and not others, and worse, how I can still have fits of nervousness after playing in public for several days a week for several years….

Thank goodness there were some great musicians to distract me, although I did not stay long after my catastrophic set….

September on the Horizon as Paris August Winds Down

August 28, 2012

I have no huge story I have to get off my chest or mind today about last night’s open mic crawl. Let’s just say that there was a feeling of Paris coming back to life towards the end of the miserable month of August when the city goes to sleep. I found both the Tennessee bar and the Coolin pub open mics to be quite well attended and lively. And I was delighted to meet up with my friend Joe Cady, who accompanied me on my two songs at Coolin on his violin.

I also met some older friends and made some new ones, and found myself so busy singing along to music or talking to people or doing my own number, that I completely failed to make any videos of Joe playing either with me or anyone else – as he later accompanied some other musicians at Coolin. I did get a video of Joe being accompanied, though, as he played guitar and sang….

So what more to say? I think I will save on screen space – the virtual equivalent of saving paper – and cut off today’s blog item right here, rather than stretch it out any longer and risk losing readers as well…. I can simply sum things up with a feeling of optimism about the departure into the past of the month of August in Paris. (Of course, there are worse places to be!)

Postpartum Holiday Blues at Paris Open Mics

March 6, 2012

You’d think everyone had the postpartum blues after the school holidays ended in Paris and the pub crawlers and musician students who all crowded the open mics last week returned to school and did not return to the open mics. It was a quieter than usual night at both the Tennessee Bar open mic and the Coolin pub open mic last night. But that was completely to my liking, as it meant singing more and have a more appreciative audience.

In fact, both venues had a nice atmosphere and enough musicians to bring variety, and just enough customer to have a decent sized audience in each – without having the madness of the week before.

I enjoyed the audience participation at the Tennessee, and the several different combinations of duets and trios at Coolin was a real pleasure. And for the first time last night at Coolin I got to see this guy I have been hearing about from several sources for several weeks: Paddy Sherlock, who hosts the only other regular live music night at Coolin. Check out the video of Paddy on the horn and vocals along with a guitarist.

Henry and I, after practicing the Dylan “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” a couple of times in jams at Coolin, decided to do it behind the mic yesterday. Someone caught a bit of that on video for me – picking up at the point where I had just thoroughly failed in my effort at playing lead.

We again had a post-open-mic jam session around the table, which again I enjoyed too much to make too many videos of, as I was too occupied playing myself (not with myself).

A Classic Meeting at the Galway, and a Passage to India

October 26, 2011

Christine Haquet and Rouen piano solo

Christine Haquet and Rouen piano solo

I finally got back to my two regular Paris open mics after a couple of weeks away in Asia. And as it turned out, for this blog I ended up getting very little material from the music of the evening. I was too distracted, not by my new Gibson guitar that I played at these places for the first time, but by meeting a couple of interesting French classical music musicians.

One was a flutist, named Christel and the other was a piano player and composer named Christine Haquet, and she gave me a copy of her CD that has just come out. It is a fabulous set of piano compositions all based on aspects of and places in Rouen, where Christine lives. I listened to it immediately Tuesday morning as I did my exercises, and it reminded me in some ways of the kind of feeling I enjoy listening to Erik Satie’s piano compositions. But Christine’s touch on many different feelings and shades of style, with a very contemporary pop sound at moments, along with classical sounds. I am inadept at writing about such music, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it and know that I will be listening to it again. Furthermore, it made me want to return to Rouen, as it makes me see it in a completely different light to the only time I was there.

So it was that while I went to both the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub open mics, and I played at both of them, I ended up filming only one performer. That was an interesting young Frenchman singing at the Tennessee Bar in a fairly traditional French popular music style. Sounded very interesting, and gave a lot of us a jolt.

I am currently going through another kind of jolt as I write these words, for I barely slept through the night flight to New Delhi, and then I got lost in the maze of streets of two completely different quarters as I sought my hotel. I am now sitting in my hotel room and I have been entertained for hours by the sound of exploding fireworks. They are non-stop. I mean, this is as bad as the music outside of the love motel in Mokpo, South Korea. It is, I suddenly remember shortly after I had thought the Indians were a mad people, quite simply a national holiday, and that is why there is all of these fireworks going off.

Tomorrow I will have my own concert at The Living Room Cafe in New Delhi, and I am really looking forward to doing and reporting on that!

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.”

88 Year Old Harmonica Player, Japanese Bluegrass Fiddler, More Songs From Jesse and Other Cool Stuff at Paris Open Mics

July 19, 2011

After a couple of slow weeks for me at my two favorite Monday night haunts in Paris, the Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics fired up my imagination and fed my own musical needs quite well last night. It was uncharacteristically quiet for a while at the Tennessee because of the summer holidays, but it was as busy as usual at the Galway. The Tennessee open mic became very interesting with the music of Kensuke Shoji, a violin player from Tokyo who plays some mean bluegrass as well as other interesting stuff. In fact, the high point there was certainly when Jesse Kincaid of the New Rising Sons invited Kensuke up on the stage to play with him while he did some of his songs.

Prior to that Jesse made my own night there and later at the Galway as well, when he played harmonica and lead guitar with me on some of my songs. But we were all blown away by Tony, the 88-year-old vaudeville-like performer from England who occasionally shows up at the Paris open mics. He did his usual guitar bits, his pianos stuff and his harmonica number. Tony is a consummate showman, old time. But he never fails to get people laughing and enjoying his abilities and dreaming about if we will ourselves be so bold and active as to do the same at his age – if we even make it that far.

The Inevitable Comedown After the Oxford High

July 12, 2011

It’s really the nature of human existence, isn’t it? We have an a amazing time one night or for a string of nights in a situation that we then try to repeat elsewhere and we are automatically let down, taken down to a more normal level. It’s why people get carried away with drugs…go on an amazing trip and you want more, and more, and higher and higher. Of course, that then leads to disaster and death. Well, that was the position I found myself in last night after four days in Oxford at four venues on three evenings, all of which were rounded out by the best evening of them all – at the Harcourt Arms. Back in Paris at two of my favorite open mics, it just didn’t match up.

That is in no way a reflection of the Tennessee Bar and Galway Pub open mics on Monday night in Paris. It was just a question of a roll of the dice that meant I had an amazing time in Oxford, and then returning to Paris I experienced something I am very used to – and which was not, as it turned out, quite as outstanding as it sometimes can be…like just two weeks ago when I was raving about these same two open mics after a barren weekend in Valencia, Spain. So this is not a judgment on two of my favorite open mics in Paris, just an observation on the workings of my emotional interieur. Even so, there were some very high moments last night, and both open mics had a lot of people playing. Here are some videos:

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