Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Truncated Highlander Night, Milan-Bound

September 8, 2011
bradspurgeon

I went to the Highlander open mic last night but got there late and ended up about 15th on the list. So I listened to a few performers and left, deciding I would do better to have a good night’s sleep before my early flight to Milan, and the challenge of trying to find an open mic or open jam in this soul-less – musically – city.

I saw an interesting and different woman with a ukelele at the Highlander – Jessica – and left shortly after that. I did drop by the Mazet, not far from the Highlander, where before the summer they started another open mic on Wednesdays. I tried to persuade them not to take Wednesday again when they restart the open mic in the next week or two – but I don’t know if I succeeded. I suggested Thursday. After all, Paris has multiple open mics on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and just one jam and a “live karaoke” on Thursday. So that is the ideal day. But bar managers all like to do the same thing – obviously relating to the amount of business they attract on a given day.

Having arrived in Milan, I seek desperately a jam or open mic. There are such things here, just not necessarily at this time of year, since the summer holidays extend right into October, it seems….

Business Picks up as Summer Fades at The Highlander Open Mic in Paris

September 1, 2011
bradspurgeon

Something in the air last night told me that the traditional month of August in Paris was finished. The Highlander open mic was as big as ever, but this time there was a very high level of musician from beginning to end. (Well, until I left around midnight, in any case.) Thomas Brun, the MC, did some cool songs as usual, and I particularly enjoyed his duelling harmonica thing with one of the performers who would perform later.

Thomas Arlo did his Elvis song and then a Dylan and then a Beirut, and there were some other great voices of people I had not seen before. I did my “Borderline,” “Mad World,” and for the first time my memorized “Runaway Train.” It did not run away from me. So I was happy.

No much more to say, unfortunately. I am perhaps a little spoiled by the travel and tasting so many new – for me – open mics around the world all the time that I have less to say about this Paris one? No, just something else in the air.

Eureka! Finally Did the Caveau des Oubliettes

July 21, 2011
bradspurgeon

As I mentioned yesterday I was pressed for time. In fact, I wrote my stories for the upcoming German Grand Prix all day long, finished after 9 PM and debated if I should leave the house to go play music. My philosophy of life for the last three years has been, if you can do it and it hurts no one, do it. The problem was that the Highlander open mic was certain to be too full to accommodate me at that late notice.

I arrived after 10 PM at the Highlander, met a friend I had not seen for months, and felt the whole night was already worth it thanks to that. She then disappeared to chat with someone else and I listened to the music and said, “I will not get up until 1 AM and I have to drive to Germany tomorrow.” The list was maybe 17 people long.

So I left the Highlander and decided to head over to the Caveau des Oubliettes. This is a Paris fixture in the jamming scene, with a different kind of jam or concert every night of the week. It is on the rue Galande, near Notre Dame and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Every time I have gone there in the past I have been either too intimidated to play or I have felt that the music was not my kind: the blues night is pure electric blues, the rock ‘n roll night is pure electric blues… last night I saw it was a “soul” night.

I do not sing soul, but I do have that song I do so often by Van Morrison, that has been sung by soul singers, and which I always call “Irish Soul.” So hey, why not try? I asked a couple of people how it all worked, and the second guy I spoke to was organizing the evening. He put me up immediately, with a bass player, keyboard player and drummer. The room was crammed with people, the room was bopping, jiving, just a great vibe.

And I couldn’t believe what I was doing finally. We got through the song with only a problem or two when I leapt into the bridge and that changes the chord structure, and momentarily on the chorus when it changes. Otherwise, it went pretty well. The key to this kind of jam, though, the difference between it and say the open mic or the live-band-karaoke, is that All the musicians are members of the public going up to play their moment of fame for the night. So I had a lot riding on my shoulders and had to play several bars of the song without singing to allow for long solos from the bass player and then the keyboard player. Hard to judge and play it right to be fair to the other musicians.

But I loved it. And the organizer apparently thought I did well enough to ask me to do another. I told him I only had the one song that could be considered soul – and I completely forgot my own song “Memories” could fit the bill – but he said that was all right. So I chose “What’s Up!” and did it and the audience sang along and the solos were longer and it all just fell into place and we had a fabulous time. Well, except I STILL have not got the count down on that one perfectly so I wandered off a bit at a couple of points leaving the other musicians at sea – but it went well and they thanked me.

I thanked the organizer and I felt like pushing myself out the door was the best thing I could have done. Got the Caveau des Oubliettes done finally after two years worrying about it! Afterwards, though, when I saw the level of the other singers and performers, I was grateful that I got on immediately. Had I seen the others play, I might once again have sucked out, they were so good.

Eve of Bastille Day at the Highlander

July 14, 2011
bradspurgeon

Last night was a little weird at the Highlander and elsewhere as it was the eve of the national Bastille Day holiday in France. That meant a different atmosphere, some of the regular places not doing the regular thing – ie, no vocal jam at the Cavern club down the street from the Highlander, and there seemed to be no open mic at the Mazet either, although there was a sound board.

Still, there were some interesting acts at the Highlander open mic, and I got to play without any long wait despite arriving around 9 PM, which is normally too late.

I enjoyed the Hungarian musician, Marton Felszeghy, and I hope he can suggest a place for me to play in Budapest later in the month, as he said he might be able to do.

Thomas Brun was in his usual good form, and I loved the “Psycho Killer” by Chris O’Connell, an American lawyer who was in Paris for work, but who decided to play the open mics since he used to live here and knows the terrain well.

A Quiet, but Unusual and Worthwhile Evening at the Highlander

May 19, 2011
bradspurgeon

The Highlander open mic every Wednesday in Paris has always surprised me by how well-attended it is, how difficult it is to get on if you’re a little late in arriving, and how raucous and noisy it is when you play – usually. Last night for the first time it was none of these things. But the atmosphere was not only very pleasant, it also brought out the best of many of the performers present, even regular ones.

Drawing of Ollie Fury by Itamar Faitlowicz

Drawing of Ollie Fury by Itamar Faitlowicz

But there were new ones also, and there was an artist, Itamar Faitlowicz, who likes to attend open mics and draw the performers while they play. I put up on this post the drawing he did of Ollie Fury, who showed up to play despite hosting his own open mic every Tuesday.

One of the performers who did something different was Meg Farrell, who is usually full of bluster and bursting, moving, massive rhythm and crowd pleasing singalong sounds. She played something very much more quiet and slow last night, and I enjoyed that a lot.

There were some new people too, and the one who impressed me the most was the dynamic and deadly sexy Kimberly Wyma, who is on her first visit to Paris, and who usually plays in New York. She has a very good voice, really rich and pleasing. Her guitar playing just barely passes, but she is not a guitarist, she is a piano player. But she is learning the guitar, and it worked fine. Her freaky cool video on YouTube of her song Roller-Coaster shows her full talent.

Down Night at the Highlander – for Me, at Least

April 28, 2011
bradspurgeon

Not sure why, but I did not feel myself at the Highlander last night. Was it because the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic the night before was so good? Was it because I am entering into a phase of intensive preparation for my trip to Istanbul next week? Was it because there were not really any friends there? Was it because my guitar kept on cutting out electronically during my three-song set? Something to do with it hitting the pavement in Malaysia…. Don’t know.

In any case, I did see a few noteworthy acts, and I will just put them up here. There was Haylen and her group who got everyone rocking. There was an amaaaaaazing a cappella singer from Sweden who sang just before me – THAT was difficult – and there was a cool guy named Abdou who could really sing and got the audience going too.

Anyway. A short post, a down post – but that’s life. Here are the videos.

Tar0&Jir0 Revisited and other Highlander Tales

April 21, 2011
bradspurgeon

Went to the Highlander last night and met up again with the wonderful brother duo from Japan, the crazy Tar0&Jir0 band. They whipped the Highlander open mic audience into a frenzy. And that is no easy thing to do. Well, all right, drinking songs will often do it. But Tar0&Jir0, who are off to Switzerland at the end of the week, and then soon going back to Japan, got the crowd going crazy on their rhythmic and lively – to say the least – presentation. And their knowledge and talent at drawing the audience into the show.

There were others of interest, too, last night, especially Brice, a Frenchman who sang a traditional French song a cappella, and who also did Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” a cappella. But the boys from Japan were again the stand-out moment of the evening.

St. Paddy’s Started Last Night

March 17, 2011
bradspurgeon

Really quick post because I have to run off to sing a few songs for St. Patrick’s Day, at the Mecano bar. But last night I decided to start preparations by singing one Irish song at the Highlander open mic, as I only got up behind the mic at midnight. So my second song was at 00:11 and it was already St. Patrick’s Day. I sang, “Only Our Rivers.” There was an Irishman in the crowd as well, and his name was… Paddy. So he sang an Irish song, as he is in the band, “No Land Folk,” and he is here for a gig in France.

Sorry for the mess, but I wanted to get the videos up before I run off. Also, I forgot my Zoom Q3 and had to use my iPhone 4:

Gospel at the Highlander, a Warm Audience and Overseas Beckons

March 10, 2011
bradspurgeon

I debated with myself over the last hour if I should actually do a blog item even when I have nothing much to say. I’m against it in principle, and last night at the Highlander it was pretty much business as usual – except for two things, one of which leads to a third thing. So what the hell:

The first thing had to do with another fun performance of gospel by Haylen and band, this time joined on guitar by the Tom Waits of the Highlander and Tennessee….

The second thing was entirely personal about my own personal experience playing last night: Even though I had to wait until nearly 1 AM before I got to play – my fault as I arrived late – I was really, really happy with the reception for my performance. I mean, there were cheers, ovations, encores, all sorts of stuff. All right, everyone was flying on alcohol and whatever else they fly on by that point, and there were enough people to have that crowd power…. And I had befriended just enough people to have a fan club…. And I had noticed that big, popular well-known hits had been going over well – Hotel California, etc. – no matter how well they were sung. And I had met a Formula One fan and his girlfriend at the bar and she liked Cat Stevens…. Ergo, I decided to do “Father and Son” and then to continue on the hit path with “Space Oddity.” Both went over really well, with people singing along – as far it is possible to do with my interpretations of the songs – and then I did my own “Let Me Know.”

But those two subjects also bring me to the next subject, which is just a sudden realization that in a week and a half I will be heading of for Melbourne for the start of the Formula One season – and the beginning of my worldwide travels to the open mics and jam sessions. So that will mean that this blog will once again cease to become so Paris-centric as it has been for the last three months or so! Hallelujah!

Angus Sinclair: When the Highlander Meets the Tennessee

March 4, 2011
bradspurgeon

Thank goodness for a half bottle of Chateau Camarsac Bordeaux Superieur that just gave me the idea for that post headline. I can’t think of a better way to sum up the little concert I went to last night at the Tennesse bar than that.

I am in the habit of going to the open mics at The Highlander bar and the Tennessee bar – especially during the F1 off-season – as readers of this blog will have noticed. And at the Tennessee I sometimes see this guy named Angus Sinclair, who it turns out is Scottish – ie, the Highlander. But last night for the first time I went to his gig with his band at the Tennessee bar, and I found that this particular Scot has a fairly American south sound to his music – whether it be the south of California or the deep South, I’m not sure which.

In any case, it was a very cool concert of nothing but songs by Mr. Angus Sinclair and his make-up band of the moment, with among others my friend Joe Cady on violin. (Joe having played my brunch and also the violinist and guitarist for The Romantic Black Shirts, who played at my concert at the Disquaires last Sunday.

In any case, this Angus guy is interesting also in that music is his sideline, even if it sounds fully fledged professional and ready for Top-50 hit-making. He is a longtime Paris expat with a business in graphic designs – making logos – and he likes to design music for fun. Great songs, good cheer, and an hour and a half long set without a break. The man has a voice, presence, charisma, charm and a song-writing ability. I would have liked to hear a little more solo-playing out of Joe and the guitar, but maybe next time!!!! (And Joe told me he was strictly there to fill out the sound, so what do I know?)

I’ve put down a couple of songs, including the last, long, one in which he introduces the band.

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