Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

The Highlander Open Mic in Paris, Where the Beat Goes On…and On…and On…. Oh, and a Shakespeare and Company Interlude into the First Pages of Literary – and less so – Works

December 3, 2015



PARIS – As open mics in Paris fall to their deaths around us in droves – the Baroc, the Noctambules, the Escargot Underground – there are those that seem to be glued to the foundations of Paris like the catacombs. Last night I finally attended the Highlander open mic for the first time in as long as I can remember as a performer, although I had gone a week too early to what I thought was the ninth anniversary, a few months ago and did not stay long or play. But last night, as I waited my turn for a long time, I was at first discouraged and feeling despondent. But as the night went on, things got better and better, and I know why the Highlander has lasted so long….

Part of it is Thomas Brun, the MC who has run it from the beginning, and that is a very, very big part. Thomas is the epitome of an open mic MC, helping, kind, interested, and always ready to accompany musicians when they need him on guitar or other electronic device. He is also extremely fair in the allocation of the slots, always accommodating, and always keeping an eye on peoples’ needs.
He was born at the Highlander

I did take a little walk outside at one point, as I was around 13 on the list, and I couldn’t wait eternally, having arrived at 20:05 and eventually playing at 23:30 or so – shows how popular this place is. And I took a stroll over to Shakespeare and Company bookstore before it closed and I had a little revelation.
Seb looping and goes the distance

I picked up a number of the new novels on the tables of new novels by great and well known authors in huge publishing houses and I read their first lines, or first pages, and I said, “What has happened to literature today!?!?!?” I mean, I was interested in none of these books. They looked like hell. They looked boring and heavy and … jesus, I thought, what’s going on? Is it me? Have I lost the taste for fiction?!?
Adrien at the Highlander

Then I strolled across the other side of the room and found some classic novels. I read the first line of a Jane Austen novel and I was so drawn in I had to read the rest of the page – despite having read the novel decades ago…. It was just BRILLIANT and competent from a writing point of view. Then I read the first sentence of a Hemingway novel… same thing! Brilliant. Makes you want to read on. Both were so perfectly things we can understand and relate to! So then I concluded that the shelves of today’s latest fiction are pure crap only because this year’s crop is pure crap. No other reason.
All along the highlander at the highlander

So I returned to the open mic feeling fuller and nourished. And I awaited my turn, and I played “Come Pick Me Up,” by Ryan Adams, and I played Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” and I played my “Borderline.” It was fun as hell. And there were more and more amazing musicians. And in the end, I felt fulfilled.
and then this at the highlander

A great night at the Highlander, and elsewhere. I’ll be back. Oh, and I understood why the Highlander has lasted. It’s just for all the reasons I listed above….
she’s going at the highlander

I could not figure out which of the videos to put up first on this blog. But definitely check out the first two….
Seb barley at the Highlander

The Highlander Open Mic in Paris Celebrates its 9th Anniversary This Wednesday

October 5, 2015



PARIS – If there is just one open mic you have to go to this week in Paris, then you must have a problem. There are so many worthwhile, fun and neat open mics in Paris. But now one of the most enduring is the Highlander, run since the beginning by Thomas Brun, which will celebrate its 9th anniversary of its existence this Wednesday.

If I was in town this Wednesday, I would be going. As it turned out, I thought the celebration was happening last Wednesday, so I went. Well, that just set up the right situation to get some videos up on this blog for the preparation for the ninth anniversary!
Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

I’ve been attending this open mic more than half of that time, although all sorts of personal commitments have meant that I have not attend as much as I would like to in the last couple of years. But attending last Wednesday, I found the same open mic in the basement of this neat Scottish pub in Paris, run by Thomas Brun in a way that I would like to say is inimitable, but that would not do justice to the many open mic MCs in Paris who have, in fact, used Thomas’s presentation as a model – and imitated it to the last detail.

But as someone said last Wednesday, there are no other open mic MCs quite like Thomas – and that’s what makes an open mic work or not. (In addition to the location and the management…!)

Anyway, enough frothing at the mouth. Just check out the videos to get an idea of the atmosphere – and check out Thomas’s accompaniment of a rapper.

Picture Postcard Perfect Paris and O.K. Open Mic Night as Well

June 20, 2013

Another Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

Another Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

PARIS – I was able to shore up my spirits and play to my heart’s content at the Vieux Léon open mic last night even when there were only two spectators listening, because it had been one of those nights where at home I had a desperate urge to go out and play in public. In fact, the Vieux Léon had quite a big crowd of people, but most were out on the terrace drinking and chatting, and not there for the open mic. So I decided to go to the Highlander after that, but got my kicks playing at the Vieux Léon, just for myself and those two spectators.

I also decided under those circumstances that I would play only my own songs, and that’s what I did – “Crazy Lady,” “Borderline” and my newer “Shake Her.”

From there I walked on the walk from the Vieux Léon to the Highlander – it is only around 10 to 15 minutes saunter – and on the way there I was struck by a perfect postcard image of the scene: the Seine, the boats, the sky, the Eiffel Tower and a search light on the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I said, “What an amazing city I live in! I have to stop and take photos of this picture perfect postcard scene that is almost a cliché, but actually, so beautiful that it HAS to be taken, it cries out to be taken. So I took the shots and paste them on this page here….

At the Highlander, the list was again over 20 people and I was dead last. The ever-fair, ever helpful Thomas Brun said he would try to get me up. But in the end, after several performers did their three 15-minute songs, it became clear there would be no way for me to go up. So Thomas told me he couldn’t do it this time, and I didn’t blame him. I was the late one…. (It DOES make me wonder, though, why performers insist on 15-minute songs in an open mic, when spectators need to be entertained and say goodbye to the performer while still wanting more….)

Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

Paris 2013 © Brad Spurgeon

The Mayonnaise Held at Two Open Mics in Paris

February 28, 2013

This feels like the first week in a long time where I have managed to do multiple open mics three days in a row – for a total of seven. Last night it was a set at the Vieux Leon followed by a set at the Highlander. The latter would NEVER have been possible were it not for the ongoing kindness and enthusiasm of Thomas Brun, the Highlander MC, who managed to get me behind the mic by the end of the evening despite it being a massively booked evening. There were, apparently, around 21 performers on the list at the start of the night….

I also managed to get a slot because a lot of those performers dropped out as the night went on…. It was a contrast to the Vieux Leon, where there were, I think, a maximum of 10 performers. I don’t know that for sure, though, as I left early for the Highlander.

Still, each of these open mics has their own character, and the Vieux Leon was very pleasant last night, with a crowd of musicians and spectators that was neither too many nor too few. And it was punctuated by the unique and even, rather odd, but drole, performance of Dick Turner, a trombone player and singer – ie, he does not play a guitar an sing, but a trombone….

At the Highlander, meanwhile, it was as lively and fun as ever – or more so…. And I have to thank Jake Weinsoff for accompanying me on violin on “Mad World” – which I threw at him by surprise at the last second, while behind the mic – and on “Wicked Game.” It is, truly, a lot of fun playing with as many different musicians as you can until, as the French say, “the mayonnaise holds.”

Dead Deadlines and Living Open Mics

February 21, 2013

One of the great pleasures of writing a completely amateur, personal blog as opposed to writing professional journalism for a living is that the concept of the deadline, while it may exist for the blog, does not have to be sacred. In other words, even if you have a story and videos to post on your blog, you don’t have a deadline – other than a self-imposed one – and anything goes. I respect deadlines as a professional journalist in a religious manner. But deadlines on this blog? Well, yesterday, after a great evening the night before at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic, I had the videos, had the story, but I did not have the time to post it on the blog, since I had a very, very early personal meeting to attend – at 5 PM.

Don’t ask for the sense of that one, please. The point is, I said, “Na, too bad! Post the post in another day.” Because not only did I have the early meeting to attend, but after the early meeting, I had two or three potential open mics to attend last night, as per usual on a Wednesday. On the other hand, by the time I arrived at the Vieux Leon open mic, after that 5 PM meeting lasting until 9 PM, I was sort of not my usual lucid self. I made a complete mess of Space Oddity, stopping after the first verse, because I had forgotten the rest of it, singing for the first time an Irish folk song by Christy Moore without any nerves whatsoever, and then going off to the Highlander to watch, but not take part because by midnight I was wiped out. So much for 5 PM meetings while on vacation, and so much for deadlines on my personal blog.

ANYWAY, as I’ve started with last night, let me say that I DID see some fun and interesting musicians, at both venues, including the very cool Australian, Vanessa Caspersz, whom I had already heard of in advance – she seems sometimes to do three instruments at once, what with her uke and vocal beatbox interventions – and Rachel Crocker, no longer only playing solo….

So to back-track, the night at the Ptit Bonheur was also a lot of fun, although unfortunately I did not do a video of one of best performances of the night – and as usual, the lighting is so dark in that cellar, that my video quality is always very poor. But at an open mic, it is all about the music, right? So I will now actually shut up and let you listen to the sounds of the videos I did over the last two days…. No deadline on you either, these will be here for a while – I hope….

Moving Into Overdrive at Two Open Mics

January 24, 2013

I managed to take part in two open mics again last night, which was good since I missed doing any at all on Tuesday night for reasons previously described. It was Wednesday night in Paris, and that meant the Vieux Léon open mic near Chatelet, and the Highlander, in the Latin Quarter. Talk about two completely different atmospheres!

The Vieux Leon was a lot louder than usual with clients, until I went on and a lot of them walked out. 😉 That was great because it gave me a chance to sing a couple of quieter, non-crowd-pleasing songs, my own “Let Me Know,” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” For the second night in a row someone took videos of me without me knowing it, this time using my Zoom recorder that I had left on my table…. So I am putting up the videos of me doing the two latter songs I did.

The Vieux Léon has now become a regular visit, it seems, for Wayne Standley, too, and last night he played along with Tex from Italy, who you would never know was from Italy….

Michelle Blades of Panama was back too, but unfortunately the clients were sooo loud at that point that they missed one of the best acts of the night, as Michelle sang a couple quieter songs. My Zoom recording device too seemed to want to chat with my telephone – or vice versa – at that time, so my recording of Michelle is a bit flawed.

Then there was the very cool Marie Mantacheff on vocals with Emile Feltesse on guitar, adding a new “variety” sound to the evening.

I walked from the Vieux Leon over to the Highlander and managed to get a spot as the second last performer of the night, thanks to the cold and wet-ish weather making that list a bit shorter than usual. I played three songs – Mrs Robinson, Crazy Love and my Borderline – and made some new discoveries of other singers too. It was a great evening.

One, Two… No Third Open Mic This Time, I was Already Out

January 17, 2013

I had this really ambitious idea last night in Paris in the wicked cold weather to go to three open mics, as I had on Monday. But I started off at Vieux Leon and found myself in a great open mic, even if half the crowd of the bar patrons did not seem as if they were there for the music. There were some wicked musicians and singers and I decided to be a little perverse amongst all the noise of the talk of the patrons and play a nice quiet version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” by Bob Dylan. In the end, it was a good idea for the few who wanted to listen – and for me, since I really enjoyed singing it.

I enjoyed rediscovering Marco, the Italian bluesman, and I enjoyed discovering Solène, the Frenchwoman who sang a Lio song. And I enjoyed Junior Vic as usual. And I just in general enjoyed the amazing vibe at this recent addition to the Paris open mic scene. In fact, I was invited to do another round of songs after the initial three songs, like all the musicians, since there was enough time to do it. And I was enjoying the evening so much that I regretted that vow of mine to do three open mics in one night again. Because that meant leaving, and it meant no certainty that I would find fun at the Highlander – the next open mic on my list – and even less certainty that I could find a spot on the list at the Highlander to play, arriving so late as I would.

But I headed off un the sub-zero weather and went to the Highlander to find it buzzing, bustling, bursting with energy and enthusiasm as usual. And Thomas Brun, the genial MC said he thought that there could quite possibly be JUST enough time for the list to finish and then me do a song before the open mic closes at 1:30 AM. Thomas is THE most clear-cut of the MCs of open mics in Paris, I think. The list gets signed up upon early in the evening – 8:15-8:30, and it is followed religiously. And it doesn’t matter how many musicians are present, each musician always gets three songs to play. (Unless he has found he has five minutes at 1:25 AM and a late-arriving musician wants to play – in which case, Thomas will give him a single song, or two….

Anyway, as I sat there and listened to some interesting music – even some astounding vocals occasionally – I conversed with some old friends of Thomas, and I drank my beer, and bit by bit I felt tired as hell. So for one in my life, I decided I would not see through my vow, I removed my name from the list, left the bar and went directly home – and did my unicycle ride of 5 kilometers in the sub-zero weather, and went to bed. Too bad about the third joint that I had planned to visit, the vocal jam at the Cavern. I had had a fabulous evening again at the Paris open mics, and I was happy.

Is this the most self-indulgent post I’ve done in a long, long time???? Well, what’s a blog for, right? (This one is primarily for putting up text to separate the videos I do of the talent around the world….)

Liftoff: Finally, a Paris Open Mic Night That Let Me Dream

December 6, 2012

Okay, so, after a couple of down nights, or average nights, or not so inspiring nights, or make me want to quit nights at the Paris open mics – no fault of the open mics – I finally had the dream moment last night. This was really, purely and simply down to a few factors, the two main ones being the person who runs one of the open mics and the audience at that open mic.

I started off by saying to myself that it was way too late to go to the Highlander open mic, since it is so popular that you have to show up at 8:15 if you really want to have a hope in hell of getting behind the mic before about 1:20 AM. So I went to the new and cool and laid-back Vieux Léon open mic in the Vieux Léon bar near the Pompidou Center. Part of the reason I went there, too, was because my inspiring friend Baptiste Hamon runs the open mic, and announced it on his facebook.

A letdown was that for the second time in a row, he wasn’t there! But the open mic was just as laid back and cool as usual. Furthermore, I found out that a guy who worked there was also head of the association of homeless people for whom the proceeds of my gig the week before on the Dame de Canton peniche were given. (Sorry for the twisted sentence.) So I was greeted warmly by him and by my friends the musician, and I got to play two sets and a total of six or seven songs. Great stuff. But I felt kind of low and out of it and not really cool or effective, with every song I sang.

Part of that feeling, I was sure, was that I had had such a great time the night before playing acoustically at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance at the end of the evening. On neither night, however, did my “Mrs Robinson” really seem to go down the way I had hoped – although less so at the Vieux Léon than at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance.

So anyway….

The Vieux Léon open mic ended at midnight and I decided to head over to the Highlander just to say hello to the friends I expected would be there. The Highlander is THE mainstay open mic of Paris, the best attended, best loved across the board, and always draws a loyal clientele of musicians and spectators. It is run by the genial Thomas Brun. For me, the problem remains always that it is so popular that I cannot get there in time for the 8:15 sign up that you basically have to do so not to be relegated to the graveyard set.

The other potential problem with it is that it is one of the most talkative audiences in the world. But at the same time, it is also one of the most captive audiences and if you manage to grab that audience and lift it out of the talk vein, then you have an amazing experience of singalong and love attention.

Well, the place was rocking when I got there near 12:30. And Thomas Brun was really warm in welcoming me back after a couple of months of absence with all the trips around the world I had made that prevented me from attending. I met up with old friends, talked, listened to some cool musicians – met a guy I had seen playing at around age 16 and who was now around 20 and playing better – and I just generally fell into the nice warm world of the Highlander.

Then Thomas came up to me and said one of the people who had signed up had just disappeared and if I wanted to, I could do a set. I was really delighted, as I never expected that. And it was so kind of Thomas to suggest it, rather than take advantage of just closing down early. So before I knew it, I was up to play. And I decided that this crowd was hot and ready for stuff that they could take part in – and so, after what I’d been through for the previous two nights, was I.

Totally unexpected, Thomas announced me at the mic, introducing the return of the guy who had been around the world since the last time he played there a couple of months before, and everyone cheered to a degree that left me speechless. I had to give. So I started with “I Won’t Back Down,” of Tom Petty, and it went really well. On that, I thought I could push it a bit more and go for the so-far not fantastically successful “Mrs. Robinson,” and whoosh…..! It was a huge success, everything I could ever have dreamed of. I knew suddenly what it felt like to be a rock star and have everyone sing along and feel the love together with you as you do it.

It confirmed my feeling that I could add Mrs Robinson to my list of “crowd pleasers,” and I was just blown off my feet. I then said I did not know what to do next, but I wanted another drug addiction song, crowd pleasing thing. So I said, “Mad World” or “What’s Up!” and two voices said, “Mad World.” I actually wanted to do it, and I dived right into it. As I began that song, this darling gorgeous young woman with a bandana – what, 20 years old? – came up and started dancing beside me next to the mic as I played. I thought she was there to join me in the chorus too, but she wasn’t. So we just went through the whole thing with her dancing, and the crowd clapping, dancing and singing along.

I KNOW what it means to feel like a rock star and have this communion with the audience. It was last night at the Highlander. Thank you. Of course, next goal is to have the same reaction to one of my own songs – although I have had similar things occasionally. But I can imagine what i must feel like for Simon & Garfunkel or Bob Dylan or the Beatles, when everyone knows the song and sings along and goes crazy with you as you go crazy…. Thanks Highlander!

Austin Contact No. 2 at the Vieux Leon in Paris – Followed by the Highlander….

November 8, 2012

A fun string of events last night at the Vieux Leon open mic hosted by Kim, of the Pop In open mic fame. Kim has a delivery style in presenting open mics that is all his own. He likes to make up little stories and asides and occasionally snide jokes. Last night I took him for his word when he introduced a performer named Amelia Card, from Austin, Texas. First I expressed my surprise about her in a little guffaw, as my next destination on my worldwide musical adventure of open mics and jam sessions is Austin, next week. But then Kim did his little aside, saying the Amelia was here in Paris not knowing where her next shelter for the night was coming from … so I raised my hand to indicate it could be chez moi. End of story. Well, not quite.

So Amelia goes up and plays her guitar and sings, and she is accompanied by “Tex,” the Italian steel slide guitar player, and the sound is decidedly country. Then I go up and play, and the sound is whatever it is, although I chose to sing three of my own songs and no covers, this time – doing “Except Her Heart,” “Borderline” and “Crazy Lady.” After I get out from behind the mic, Tex approaches me and comments on the beauty of my Gibson J-200, which I am using while my Seagull S6 undergoes repairs. I then join Amelia and Tex at their table in the back, and try to pick her brain for locations to play in in Austin next week. But very early in the conversation I learn to me great disappointment that she actually has a place to stay in Paris. BUT, I learn to my surprise, that she is also friends with the very same only other person I know from Austin, Ryan whom I met at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance, and who so kindly gave me the list of venues I should go to next week in Austin. In fact, I had pasted that email into my iPhone’s notes application just the day before for quick and ready reference.

So Amelia set about inspecting the list and giving me further ideas. AND, she gave me her CD of her music, called Senses. As is my habit, I listened to it this morning to accompany my morning exercises. Oh, it’s beautiful. My favorite songs, in fact, were not the real country western sounding early one or two, but especially the haunting, bluesy, retro sort of song called SongBird. Her voice is classic here, something sort of 1950s, 1960s jazzy pop, but dark, about it. And the last of the six songs also made me stop a little in the middle of my sit ups… Gaugin, it is called. It is just her singing and playing acoustic guitar. The voice is so beautiful – you can imagine the bliss of hearing it beside you when you have your head in a pillow. Well, I don’t usually gush that much, but it really is true. Give her a listen.

So, the Vieux Leon is the place where Baptiste W. Hamon had MCd the last time I went, and he will exchange sessions with Kim. But last night was the first time I have ever heard Kim do his music, or wait, no, maybe I had heard him once at Ptit Bonheur la Chance. But after being acquainted with him for something like three years in his work as MC, I had not really heard it until last night, his music. Very fluid, nice vocals, interesting copositions – and cover songs by Neil Young!

There was enough time to have a couple more performers play again, and Kim asked Amelia to play another song, and then he asked me to finish off the night. That was great, and gave me a chance to do a cover song this time – Mad World – and to ask Tex to stay up and play it with me. He did not know Mad World, he told me afterwards, but the way he played it I thought he did know it. He did a great job, and as I had hoped, the steel slide sounded perfect for the madness of that song….

From the Vieux Leon, I went off dejected without the chance to provide Amelia with a home – she didn’t need one, as I said – to the Highlander to take in the end of the evening there. I was too late to play, but I got to hear some good music, with my especial favorites of the evening being the looping guy, whoever he was, and Mary Catherine Moore, who did THREE great songs, including one of her own. I put up the video here of one of them. I didn’t want to film her doing her own song just yet, as it was the first time she performed it, I think, and I didn’t want to bother her with my camera pointing at her, as I was sitting right in front. It probably would not have bothered her, but I took the precaution….

In any case, it was an interesting night, full of surprises and discoveries – give me more….

Pretty Immense: Four Disparate, Unrelated, Extraordinary Venues in One Night in Paris

September 27, 2012

I may only have actually played in one place last night, but I attended three open mics and a concert in Paris and took in all vibes and sensations available and went home still with enough energy to ride my unicycle five kilometers around the neighborhood. If that sounds weird, keep reading!

First stop was the Truskel Bar to see the Velvet Veins, the new band of my lead guitar player, Félix Beguin – who was supposed to play with me at that ill-fated gig of ours at the Lizard Lounge a couple of weeks ago – and his shockingly good young guitar alter-ego and singer. Félix is still part of the Burnin’ Jacks, but he created this band, the Velvet Veins, in order to play exactly 100 percent the kind of music HE is addicted to… kind of 70s blues rock, metal rock, rockin’ rock, guitar-based stuff with amazing lead exchanges between the two guitar players, some mad drumming and even a bit of harmonica playing from the bass player. Don’t ask me to be literate or even precise or accurate about what this sounds like – just give it a listen. Unbelievable stuff. (I apologize for the shaky camera work, but the excited crowd was jumping up and down so virulently in front of me – and on me – that I could not do any better.

From there I head over on a short walk to the much quieter and down to earth Vieux Leon bar near the Pompidou Center for the first of a new Wednesday night open mic, which was this night hosted by my friend Baptiste W. Hamon, formerly known as Texas in Paris. The bar could not have been a bigger contrast to the Velvet Veins-bopping Truskel, but that was just fine as a way to come down and do some of my own bopping music – actually, I opted for Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and my own, “Borderline.”

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

Highlander Open Mic 6th Anniversary Cake

From there I used my new iPhone maps app thing to get lost just trying to find the quickest way over to the Highlander. But fortunately as soon as I found the rue de Rivoli, I no longer needed the app. (Piece of shit, and I dread where it will lead me next week in Osaka and Nagoya and Suzuka….) So I just HAD to go to the Highlander, even if I knew there was no way I would even dream of performing. The thing was, it was the sixth anniversary of this most popular of Paris open mics, run by Thomas Brun. Thomas not only does a great job with running the open mic, but he sings and plays amazingly, and even more importantly he comes up with good birthday cake on these annual celebrations, and last night he added some champagne into the mix. I got my cake and champagne as soon as I arrived, and the timing was perfect since I had by then digested my main course of duck kebab and pasta….

From there I headed up the rue Dauphine to the Cavern, where the agreeable bass player master of ceremonies, Guillaume, again invited me up to the stage to play. But I learned my lesson long ago that everything I touch at the Cavern turns to rust and I have to either persuade them to let me take my guitar up with me and we do songs I know, or I’ll have to go to a massive number of karaoke bars and hone my skills in that area on the same songs they do. But I’m pretty blown away by so many of the singers there, that I know I have far to go…. But the band is really worth going for alone, say nothing of getting on stage and making a fool of one’s self.

So that was it, after that, all the beers, cake and champagne, I just had to do the unicycle thing around the neighborhood, despite it nearing 4 AM…. What a night.

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