Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Backing Poetry Beauty, Open Mic Playing and Gig, Part II of the Whirlwind Adventures

April 8, 2016

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The adventures continue now in Paris, after the weekend in Bahrain and that last night of craziness mentioned in the previous post. Well, no sooner did I return home than I received a message from an old friend whom I had met at open mics a few years ago, and who recites poetry. She wondered if I could accompany her on my guitar while she recited her poetry, in French and in English. If you ever saw and heard this woman recite her poetry, then you know that I would never refuse such an offer….

So off I went on Tuesday late afternoon to practice with her and see if we could come up with some chords and rhythm for her poems in English and in French. We got it down in an hour, then trundled off to the Café Oz open mic, where Lisa Marie – the poet – wowed the crowd and I felt for the first time in my life comfortable accompanying someone on my guitar. Unfortunately, I could not make a video of her incredible performance, her outrageous poetry, which sometimes has themes that shock, surprise or titillate – like comparing a certain part of the male anatomy to the leaning tower of Pisa in the final lines of the suggestive poem….
Brad Spurgeon doing Except Her Heart at Soirée Buzz

From there it was off to the Pigalle Country Club, the scene of the crime of a couple weeks earlier, where a woman used my Seagull as a dance floor. I was not going to allow anyone to discourage me from attending my favorite Paris haunts, especially when I knew there was nothing personal to that attack on the poor Seagull. And my feelings were confirmed when within half an hour of attending this raucous open mic I barely missed being struck by someone else’s nice new acoustic guitar being hurtled across the room by a frustrated guitarist. Somehow the guitar resisted snapping to pieces upon landing at the foot of the microphone. (I swear I am not making this up!!!)
Brad Spurgeon doing Mad World at the Tres Honoré

This was no environment for poetry of ANY kind, so I simply took to the mic and jammed away with some old friends and other musicians at the Pigalle Country Club, playing for maybe half an hour and feeling triumphant to be doing so with my Seagull – which accompanied me wherever I happened to move in the bar throughout the evening.
Brian Scott Bagley performing at his Soirée Buzz

Late Wednesday afternoon – we’re in the next day already – I suddenly recalled that I had received a telephone message from a musician friend. I called him back to find that he was offering me a gig that very night at the crazy mad Soirée Buzz open mic at the very chic Très Honoré cocktail lounge on the Place du Marché St. Honoré. It was to start at 9 PM, and I would play until 10 PM, and be paid with a free meal and drinks! This I liked, and despite still recovering from the excitement of the previous days, I accepted.
Another bit of jamming at Soiree Buzz green room

No sooner did I accept than I invited the poetess to the evening as well, since after my feature act performance the evening turns into that crazy mad open mic, hosted and organized by the inimitable Brian Scott Bagley, American male cabaret and burlesque artist. And I KNEW that my poetess’s poetry would go down well at the Très Honoré.
Another act at the Soirée Buzz

So I arrived, showed the house band a few chords of the songs I thought I’d play – my own songs as well as some covers – and off we went to playing on this chic stage in this basement room, darkly lit and feeling like some purposeful high class contrast to the Pigalle Country Club. It would turn out to be what is the longest period of time I’ve spent playing with a band that has never played my songs before, as we did about four of my originals and four cover songs, and somehow it all felt just great. It got me to thinking about what it really means to play with really great musicians who can follow anything! Having now seen it on video, well, I could have done a lot better! But I include a couple of videos taken by my friend, Mr. Lafleur, who invited me to the soirée, and whose new album I will write about later….
Fun in the green room of the Soirée Buzz

Of course, it was all helped by the fact that I had my faithful lead-playing fiddle player, Joe Cady, who agreed to come and provide the necessary color between the drums and bass and my rhythm guitar playing. But somehow, it all felt like it held together, and it was a personal moment of satisfaction of doing something I never thought possible: IE, playing a series of my own songs respectfully with a band who had never even heard them before, let alone play them.
Second at Café Oz Open Mic

I also spent some fun moments in the artist’s “Green Room,” which actually has a green theme of wallpaper, and listened to and jammed with some of them. And there discussed the idea of doing our act again with Lisa Marie. She was all ready, we went on stage, and if the night before it had been my first challenge to accompany the poetess, well, it then grew into another challenge for both of us, as we were also joined by the drummer, bass player and Joe on the fiddle! And as predicted, her poetry was more than well received in this crazy mad, chic environment – to say nothing of her appropriate personal beauty.
Syd and Co at Pigalle Country Club

And so it went, from unpredictable to unpredictable, a series of musical adventures that I had never imagined Sunday morning as I awoke in the heat of Bahrain…. Tonight, another one awaits….

Three Nights, Five Open Mics, an End of a Week Feast in Paris

January 30, 2016

Zebre Rouge

Zebre Rouge

PARIS – The last three nights were a rollercoaster of exploration for me in Paris as I bopped from one open mic to another, visiting four new open mics out of five attended. The verdict? From potential to good to great!

It all started on Wednesday, when I went to a new basement open mic in a hip bar in Montmartre. That was the first time I attended an open mic so high up on the hill leading to Montmartre, and while it was pretty quiet that first night, it shows great potential. The bar, called L’Atelier Montmartre, has a neat “living room” feel to the ground floor, which is on two levels, and it has a kind of almost North American recreation room basement to it, complete with smoking room.
Brian presenting the Soiree Buzz

I learned from the MCs that they had actually held one event already, but that it fell on the Wednesday after the Paris attacks in November, and basically no one went. Of course, those were dark days. So they held off in December and launched it again on Wednesday. It’s a classic open mic and jam if you want that kind of affair. I played three songs, handed out my CD and then left, as I knew that there was the much more established “Soirée Buzz” at the Très Honoré bar on the place St. Honoré, not far from the Opera, and I could walk there in 25 minutes.
first at L’atelier montmartre

I also knew that my new friend from New Haven, the blues, rock and soul man Greg Sherrod, would likely be there. So it was a great contrast to find the hugely bopping, exciting, burlesque and live-karaoke scene at the Très Honoré. There are some top quality voices each week, and this time, as I mentioned, the super neat set of Great Sherrod, with a real backing band (compared to the last time, at Some Girls, backed by guitar and sax only). And I too played a couple of songs with the band – drums, bass and sax, with me on my acoustic guitar.
First at Soiree Buzz

Thursday night it was time to try out the new open mic of Thursday nights at the Zebre Rouge, run by several people who were regulars at the Baroc. I’ve mentioned an open mic on Tuesdays at the Zebre Rouge, but this one had a much bigger turnout, and the feel was more jam than open mic. But the neat little bar near the rue J.P. Timbaud is a great, warm place to jam.
Greg killin em at Soiree Buzz

I had heard that there was another new open mic just around the corner from there at the genial, loft-like space of the bar called the Quartier General, so I left the Zebre Rouge, walked about five minutes and found myself at Renan Mazeas’s new open mic at this really cool bar on the rue Oberkampf, with its fabulous little stage and excellent sound system, and the wrap-around-the-corner windows that expose the bar (and stage) to passersby on the the street.
Oma God at Soiree Buzz

There were not that many musicians, and not really that many bar patrons at that point, but that all meant that I got around eight songs on that fabulous stage and had a feeling like I was providing the soundtrack to the bar, with a happy, genuinely warm audience, even if they were there to only half listen to the music. It was a great experience and I’ll gladly return, if it continues – which is not yet certain.
Piaf stuff at Soiree Buzz

Renan told me that he was also hosting another open mic the next night, last night, Friday. In fact, it was not entirely new, as he had already hosted it around 10 times. But it was certainly new for me, and 10 editions is still far from some that have been around for years. This one would be a completely different kind of thing, in a classic Irish pub called Murphy’s, which is located on a slightly off the beaten track street behind the opera Garnier. It is an absolutely fabulous Irish pub, with lots of regulars, and the open mic set up right near the bar at the front of the pub works just fine, as the music can be heard throughout the pub.
Second at L’Atelier Montmartre

I was at first worried that the chatter from the patrons meant they were not there for the music at all, but as the evening progressed, as well as for me, as my set progressed, things got warmer and warmer and warmer! I got some encores after my “What’s Up!” and regretted only that I did not have another really great foot stomping sort of pub favorite as that to do. But I nevertheless had a fabulous time and wonderful reception.
Insu blues at Zebre Rouge

Renan did some neat duets with other musicians – including the fabulous Laetitia – and he was also available to play guitar for “live karaoke” for anyone else who wanted to sing. I managed to stay quite late chatting to lots of different and interesting people, and basically had a fabulous evening. This open mic is just once a month, the next being 26 Feb. But if it keeps going the way it did last night, it’s an excellent new edition to Paris’s ever-growing open mic scene.
Renan and Stephanie at Quartier General

Not bad, four new open mics in three days in Paris! And I’m sure I missed some others too!
Renan with lead at Quartier General

Rocking the Zebre Rouge

Another from Laetitia at Murphy’s Pub

Laetitia at Murphy’s pub

Opener at Murphy’s pub

Renan with Laetitia at Murphy’s pub

Renan with another at Murphy’s Pub

Très Honoré to Play at the Très Honoré Soirée Buzz, With Bagley and Gang

January 9, 2014

Brian Scott Bagley

Brian Scott Bagley

PARIS – The moment Brian Scott Bagley told me he was hosting a new open mic in Paris at the Très Honoré bar off the place du Marché St Honoré, I knew instantly what I was going to do on Wednesday night. It turns out that I have been missing a fabulous open mic now for some four months or so, as that is how long Bagley’s open mic, which he calls, Soirée Buzz, has been going on. And is it ever going on!

I knew I wanted to attend immediately, since I had met Bagley at another open mic a while back – and wrote about him on this blog – and I knew he is an exceptional performer and would no doubt make a great MC and run a fabulous open mic. Oh, I had my fears and doubts for my own performance, of course, since Bagley specializes in song and dance, even working with the great Jerome Savary in France, and as a burlesque dancer, a former contestant in American Idol, and as a graduate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But when I learned that the Soirée Buzz was open to music and cabaret acts of just about any kind, I realized that I could take to the mic without embarrassment.

As it turned out, I would find myself in a much warmer environment than I expected. The moment I walked into the Très Honoré – which is also très cher by comparison to most of the venues I write about, by the way – I found myself not only in a fabulous warm room in the basement of the restaurant, with couches and armchairs, dark lit, large, two upright pianos placed in different spots, but I also found myself listening to lots of cool music on the sound system – from Johnny Cash to Yiddish music – while eating canapés and drinking wine as I waited for the show to begin. But most importantly, I also immediately recognized a friend from the Coolin open mic, Henry, who sings and plays keyboards and it turns out he is part of Bagley’s house band. Soon, another familiar face arrived, and that was Vincent Lafleur, who plays the piano and sings and was also a member of the house band.

So there it was, three people in the house band – if you include Bagley – were faces and friends I already knew. Still, with such talent present, with a full band – including sax, drums and bass in addition to the two keyboard players playing at once – I was worried I might find myself out of my league. But I decided to sit back and take in the evening for my own entertainment. And boy did it turn out to be entertaining. What an open mic! There were dancers, burlesque, singers, an accordionist who also tap danced, there were complete beginners mixed with old hands and even stars.

And Then There Were the Secret Stars at the Soirée Buzz

This high class open mic, it turns out, in its short existence has attracted stars and other personalities – at least in the audience – such as Yannick Noah, Ségolène Royal and John Malkovich, and Le Figaro newspaper has written about it too. So part of me had wondered before going who might pop in….

One of the last group of performers was a couple sitting beside me, who I had barely noticed there. When they got up to take to the stage and do a couple of numbers with the guy on piano and singing and the woman singing, it was the end of the evening and there had been several amazing performances in the second part of the show backed by the full band, etc., and I sort of expected something uninteresting for some reason. But from the first notes on the piano and then the guy’s voice, and then the woman’s, suddenly I was saying, “Wow, this is really interesting sounding pop music.” It was inventive and catchy, and there was something really original to the voices. So after this couple played I approached them to ask if they had a web site, and it turned out they were friends, not really a group, and had nothing to show. I told them I had a blog and would put something up and asked if I could have their names. When the guy gave me his, I thought I had heard of it before, but I wasn’t sure and I said exactly that to him. He didn’t say anything to suggest I should have heard of it – except something about Stringfellow bars or restaurants being in Paris, as if perhaps it had rung a bell for that reason – and so I just left it at that. (And by then, anyway, the final stupendous singer had kicked in and I turned my camera on her….) So today, at home while preparing to write this post, I looked up that familiar sounding name and discovered that this guy Ken Stringfellow was a founding member of the band The Posies, and that he had also frequently collaborated and toured with the band R.E.M., among many other projects, including solo albums. So it all fell into place! The woman he was with was Mimi Schell, who is a singer from Hamburg, Germany, and who has worked as a back up singer and also released a solo album. She got the audience at the Très Honoré buzzing on their second song, so much so that Bagley asked for a short encore of the chorus….

I was also massively pleased to discover on stage this time another aspect of Raphaëlle’s talent. I have written about Raphaëlle in the past on this blog, particularly when I first heard her at the Ptit Bonheur la Chance last year and I felt like I was hearing someone singing in the Olympia, like some Greco or Barbara or someone. For the last year, Raphaëlle has been focusing exclusively on performing her own compositions – for which she writes the lyrics and sings while playing guitar – but last night in addition to playing two of her songs on the guitar she then blew everyone away with her interpretation of “I am a Stranger Here Myself,” by Kurt Weill from “One Touch of Venus.” Amazing.

My only criticism of the whole evening was that they must do something about that microphone; not only was there no reverb or other effect of any kind, but for half of the singers you could not hear their voices as much as you might like, since the system seemed to cut out whenever the voice reached a certain peak….

Although most people who took part decided to use the house band for their singing, this open mic is indeed open to solo artists as well. In the end, I was absolutely delighted to be able to play with the band with my guitar and try my song “Borderline” with another kind of sound – two keyboards, drums, and above all the amazing sax player, Olivier Ikeda. Raphaëlle kindly recorded my performance with her iPhone. It was not an easy song to pick up on, with three different chord shifts, but starting around the middle of the song it all began to fall together. I loved it. The first song we did was much easier, the simple three-chord “Wicked Game.”

And the whole evening was especially so incredibly well MC’d by Brian Scott Bagley. A simply unforgettable Wednesday night. I’ll be returning!

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