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….)

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