Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Coolin Victim of its Success, Galway Great Relief

June 26, 2012

I occasionally write rotten, nasty, unfriendly things about open mics that a) I usually love, and b) I’ve written huge praise about before. I hate doing that, but if I kept the criticism to myself all the time and only ever said nice things about the places I go play music at, then who could trust that they would find anything like the truth on this blog? Who could respect me and think that there’s a real story being told here? And the friends who saw me angry about Coolin’ pub last night, if I said nice things about it – wouldn’t they find the real person and the public writer a bit of a hypocritical contrast?

So unfortunately, I had a rotten time at Coolin last for practically the first time ever and I feel completely obliged to say it. I will nevertheless temper the criticism with the statement that part of the problem was that I had to go off to the Galway afterward and so could not stay to the end of the Coolin evening to see how it all panned out, or even to play my own set. But the problem, at base, was this: Coolin has become such a fabulous success and draw to musicians as an open mic that last night there were 30 musicians signed up to play!

The organizers being so kind that they want to give everyone a chance to play, actually made a bit of a mess of it, as names on the list ended up not being on a first-come, first-serve basis, and some performers were surprised to see their slots not ending up where they had expected, and having to wait a lot longer than expected. One guy, in fact, discovered that his slot on the list had been taken by another guy who said he had the same name!!!! Had I not intervened on that one, the guy – whom I know – would perhaps not have played, or played last.

In short, it was total chaos AND the crowd was one of the loudest, least interested that I have seen. Having said that, the organizers made a big effort to get everyone up, and I’m pretty sure they must have, since the open mic went on until close to 2 AM. And photos I have seen show that it may indeed have turned into a great evening with warm audience connection and participation by the end. But I was embarrassed that my friends who came on my advice, ended up being thrown around on the list, at what appeared to be the convenience of other more important friends.

Hey, that’s all really petty, though, isn’t it? And actually, the only thing it really says is that for the first time Coolin, because of all of its success, had 30 people on the list and did not know how to deal with the influx – which is normal. I suppose all successful open mics have to pass through that situation at some point, and find ways to tell performers they will NOT be able to play.

In any case, I left at about 12:15, went to the Galway, and I was asked immediately if I wanted to play – as there were no more performers on the list, since they were at Coolin! – and I accepted happily (as I had told Coolin I would not play there) and then discovered two friends were there whom I had not expected. This was Joe Cady and Rony Boy, a fiddler and a guitarist from a band called The Romantic Black Shirts. I asked if they would play along with me, and they agreed happily. I had played with Rony Boy last week, and I have played with Joe many times. But we had never played all together.

So my Galway experience ended up being a fabulous dream compared to Coolin! I was so happy to play with those guys that I decided to place my Zoom Q3HD recorder behind us to record it, even though I was pretty sure the framing of the image would be crap. So I have placed three of those songs up on the site, but remember, I knew the image would be crap, and the sound comes from the monitor for the musicians, not from the speakers in the pub.

Oh, and by the way, I will not be returning to Coolin next week – but not because I’m pissed off. It’s because I will be hosting the Galway Pub open mic myself as the guest MC as the regular MC, All the Roads, is taking the day off. So all that ends well ends well… or whatever…. Of course, after this post, maybe Coolin would not even let me in again next week!!! But I have to be honest. I do repeat, however, that I might have perceived the Coolin evening different if I had stayed to the end – and my perceptions will not reflect those of all participants last night, I’m sure….

Report on First Real Gig – at the Disquaires

February 28, 2011

Did it! Played a gig with Félix Beguin of “The Burnin’ Jacks” on lead guitar and Virgile Arndt of “Natas Loves You” on bass. Both contributed some harmonies too. It was the first bona fide gig that I have done with a backing band, aside from playing here and there in open jam sessions, and we did it last night at the Disquaires bar in Paris, near the Bastille.

Félix, Virgile and I had played together during the recording sessions at the Point Ephemere last July when we – and Laurent Guillaume also doing lead guitar – recorded four of my songs. But working together to do an approximately 45-minute set of original material and some cover songs, last night was a first.

The evening started with Calvin McEnron, who played his set with his songs, including everybody’s favorite, “After the Rain.” In fact, Calvin invited about five of us up on the stage to sing the chorus to that song. I did not realize that I had placed the Zoom Q3HD in a bad position, so we get the sound, but very few of the faces. Want to put it up anyway.

The Romantic Black Shirts played the final set and they entertained us with their great covers from everyone from Bob Dylan to Daniel Lanois, and a nice sound of violin, jazzy guitar, cool voices… very nice ambience.

I played five of my songs – including one I wrote at about 22 years old and never ever played in public before – and three cover songs, “Crazy Love,” “Mad World,” and “Father and Son.” The ambience was wonderful, a great warm audience, and the sound system worked out okay, and Félix and Virgile were brilliant. Unfortunately the limitations of my Zoom Q3 – operated my son here – does not do justice to the whole vibe. But I would say that, right?

And from the Calvin set:

Great Use for Crap Guitar and other NEW things

February 8, 2011

martin travel guitar

martin travel guitar

At the Tennessee bar and the Galway last night I spotted some new things to write about: First was the great use of one of the worst guitars that exists in the world. When I started travelling around the world two years ago playing music I decided to check out all the travel guitars, and I quickly concluded and discovered that it didn’t matter what size the guitar was, the airplane would let you on board or not. So I stuck with my regular guitar, my Seagull S6. But one of the guitars I had tried was a piece of shit, and I could never understand how anyone could buy one for the crap sound it gives off…until last night I saw someone at the Tennessee doing a fabulous thing with it: Slide guitar. Check out the video. And the most mystifying thing about this piece of crap is that it is a Martin!

Then after that came Rony Boy playing this jazz standard on his Godin electric – same company as the Seagull – and he did a mighty fine job of a song that I know well for having been played by Lenny Breau on an amazing recording as a young man, at 20 with Levon Helm on drums and Rick Danko on acoustic bass – both of whom would later make up The Band and play with Bob Dylan.

After that, over to the Galway where for the second time that night Ollie Fury played his wonderful new song, and both he and Stephen Danger Prescott for a change played Dylan, and did it in their own ways, as you can also see from the video. All in all, a satisfactory “new” night.

By the way, Rony Boy will be playing on the same bill with me in his band The Romantic Black Shirts, at the Disquaires on 27 February in Paris when I perform with my little band of gypsies for the first time, and Calvin McEnron will also play a set.

Mini Post: Lean On Me

January 14, 2011

Nothing much to report after being destroyed by David Broad’s guitar playing on Tuesday. Went to the Highlander and the Cavern on Wednesday, and liked the cover of the Bill Withers song by the replacement MC at the Highlander.

Remember Bill Withers? This guy wrote some extraordinary songs, and if you did not know they were all written by him, the sound of the songs would not give it away – what a range. I mean, “Lean On Me,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us.” Three unconnected masterpieces.

Only other thing to report is the new blog for Paris expats about musical goings on. It’s called “Gigs in Paris.” Check it out.

Tonight, I’m off to the Industry of Cool festival at the Maroquinerie. There I will listen intently to the many bands that grew up at Earle’s Open Mic….

And I also want to announce my first gig with a band coming up at the Disquaires on 27 February. Also on the program will be Calvin McEnron and also The Romantic Black Shirts.

Best Brad’s Brunch Yet, in a Weekend Roundup

January 10, 2011

It feels somehow not right to make such judgments, and in many ways it is difficult to do anyway: But yesterday’s musical brunch at the Mecano, my first of the new year, really felt like the best one I’ve ever had since starting them last fall.

I had more musicians dropping by and playing than ever before, and a great level of quality, and I also had a large audience of intent listeners, coming from all over the place, including a couple of women visiting from Belgium.

Amongst the surprises were picking up for the show the wonderful Vessna Scheff from San Francisco. Vessna had intended to go to the Pop In open mic, but she said the Pop In was closed and there was no open mic there last night. So she ended up finding my brunch, and she ended up entertaining us with her lyrical and melodious music and voice. Rym also played some of her songs with her ukelele, and then gave the instrument to Vessna for her last song.

Two members of the band Black Butterfly played several songs, and Vincent Barriquand, the singer of the group, also did some solo stuff with the guitar and his voice. He also played with Sven Cosnuau, who came to play and sing on his own.

A young Frenchman who lives down the street from the Mecano also discovered the brunch yesterday and rushed off to bring his guitar to play and sing some songs. So all together, the vibe, the crowd, the musicians, it was all fabulous and a great beginning to 2011. In fact, Vessna may not like me to quote her here, but she said it was the best Sunday open mic she has ever done. Of course, it is not entirely an open mic as such – but as it turns out, the mic is always open….

Because the brunch was the closest thing in my memory, I started writing about that. But I did not blog for the last couple of days, so I want to move backwards and continue telling the musical adventure: On Saturday night I went to the Baroc and heard The Romantic Black Shirts, the band of my friend Joe Cady. As a special guest they also had Chris Kenna do a set. I first met Chris in 2009 at the Biz’Art open jam. He is a wild Australian with the voice of a Tom Waits. He played on Saturday with Melissa Cox on violin. A big moment, with both of these bands. I loved the Daniel Lanois cover that the Romantic Black Shirts did, and Chris’s voice and the violin were mesmerizing.

Friday night I went to a party hosted by Sister Fay, who is from Sweden and sings a lot at the open mics in Paris these days. There I met both Stephen Prescott and Ollie Fury, both of whom host open mics. And there was also Pierre Doucet, who plays violin with Stephen at the Galway Pub and elsewhere. I got Pierre on video with a bit of fiddle music in the middle of the party, though no one was really listening. It was a nice moment – but too dark for the video.

I then went off to the Planete Mars bar and listened to some DJ music mostly and spoke with a friend. A high moment with the DJ music was when he played a song from the last – or second last? – T. Rex album, Dandy in the Underworld, that I had bought at the time. Hadn’t heard anything from that for along time.

Another Wednesday Double-header, this Time with Joe on Violin

January 6, 2011

I was sitting in the Highlander last night when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Joe Cady and his violin case. It was the first time I’d seen Joe at the Highlander. Joe and I have had a funny criss-crossing life in Paris. Joe works in computers by day and on the violin, guitar and voice by night. He’s from somewhere in the U.S. where the accent is noticeable. He plays a mean violin, but his main instrument is the guitar.

We met at Norman Spinrad’s 60th birthday party in 2000 in Paris near Notre Dame. We then ran into each other a couple of years ago at the Biz’Art jam session near the place de la Nation, where we saw each other a couple more times. We then met up again at Norman Spinrad’s 70th birthday party in Paris in September. Then Joe came and played along with me at my brunch at the Mecano, where he also joined up with David Broad, and went on to do a gig with him.

Joe was at the Highlander with Rony Boy on guitar and vocals in order to warm up for a gig they are doing at the Baroc this Saturday in their band, The Romantic Black Shirts.

As a warm up for his warm up for his gig, Joe offered to play violin along with me at the Highlander. I was to perform just before them. I agreed to this whole-heartedly, as it is always a pleasure to play with Joe, and it is always nice to have the weapon of a bigger wall of sound at an open mic aside from just the voice and guitar. But I had to change song choices to suit this, and I decided to go with “Crazy Love,” which Joe suggested, with “Not Much in the Mood,” the song I wrote at 16 about losing a lover and being in the mood for nuthin’ (and which I have now given a name after X decades), and “Just Like a Woman.”

It went over very well, I felt good, felt into the music, wore no sun glasses, made no explanations about my black eye, and the three songs were filmed by some guy with a pretty professional video camera, and he may be sending me the results eventually. It felt right on.

Joe and Rony Boy then played and they were really together, and they got the whole room moving and shaking and tapping the tables with the Johnny Cash song I recorded…..

There was the interesting 73-year-old British “chap” who played before me, and for a while I was worried that I might be overshadowed by him – but in the end, the contrast proved helpful. I’d heard of this man doing the open mics – and apparently he uses my list of open mics to find places – but this was the first time I had seen him.

After Joe’s performance I suggested to him that we go to the Cavern, which had its open vocal jam just around the corner. I had a hunch I could get Joe up there playing with the band and with his violin, and I was right. And it proved to be the longest jam I’d seen at the Cavern’s open mic, and it was very cool – “Sympathy for the Devil,” with Joe singing and playing violin…. (oh, and reading the lyrics too….)

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