Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Playing on the Beach in Valencia

June 24, 2012

Valencia, Spain, continues to be the only city in the world where I have failed to find a formal open mic or jam session in a bar or other place during my four night stay in the city for the race. There is an open jam here in a rock bar, but it happens on Mondays or Tuesdays when I am never in town. None of this matter much on Thursday night when I ended up playing in La Pepica restaurant for a group of British journalists – and last night it mattered not at all either, when I ended up on beach playing for and with Brazilian journalists.

Unlike the night at the Pepica, this celebration was one I had planned for in advance. My Formula One journalist friend from Brazil, Luis Fernando Ramos, brought his acoustic guitar and invited me a race or two in advance to show up and take part in the music on the beach. There was to be a party for another Brazilian journalist colleague’s birthday.

So I went, late, and we played until well after midnight – maybe even until around close to 2 AM … I suppose it was a really good session, as I cannot remember even what time it was when I stumbled off the beach into a cab. But it was a great pleasure, a kind of sitting-around-the-campfire kind of thing, with people singing and playing along – and it was a great way to make up for the lack of open mics or open jams in Valencia. Someone else showed up and played guitar as well, and Luis sang as well as played.

I may be starting a trend here of F1 journalists taking their guitars to the races….

An Unexpected Jam at La Pepica Restaurant, in Valencia

June 22, 2012

la pepica

la pepica

I’ve been saying a lot lately that if you want something interesting to happen in your life, carry around a guitar with you. I might also add a guidebook. At least, that is what happened to me in Valencia, Spain, last night – something very fun and interesting thanks to my guidebook and my guitar. And it also happened at a very interesting place where Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles and others used to hang out.

To step back a little…. I finished my day’s work at the Formula One race track at the Marina in Valencia and I decided, exhausted after a long night the night before and the travel and the work, that I would not even look for a place to play music. Valencia has never been good for my musical adventure. So I opened up my guidebook, called Cartoville and published by Gallimard in France, to see if there were any good restaurants nearby.

hemingway at la pepica

hemingway at la pepica

Carrying these Cartoville guidebooks is a new thing I have been doing this year after I was introduced to the books by my friend Vanessa, last year, and she took me to some amazing places thanks to these books. So I thought, why not find one for each town I go to. Tourism was never my thing – but there’s no point traveling around the world for my work and being dumb about finding places, either.

The books are great because they split up the cities into sectors, and in each sector you have only five or six choices of bars, restaurants and shopping. So the choice is done very carefully, and I am rarely let down by what I find. I looked in the area around the Formula One track last night and saw this restaurant overlooking the beach; it was called La Pepica, and the guidebook described it as a “local myth” and that it was mentioned in Hemingway’s novel, “The Dangerous Summer,” and that these other celebrities had followed him there, etc. And the food was said to be good, and the ambiance was good, and simple, too.

So I walked over to the place, dragging my luggage behind me, and with my guitar on my back – for I had still not checked into my hotel. As I approached the restaurant, I saw suddenly some familiar faces: A massive table of maybe 35 British journalists sat on the terrace of the Pepica, in some kind of get-together for before the British Grand Prix, which is the next race after the one this weekend. There they were, BBC, Sky TV, magazine journalists, newspaper journalists from all the major publications and wire services, web journalists, other television and whatever journalists – the cream of the British racing media.

As soon as they saw my guitar, two or three of them requested I play a song. In the state I was, and given that it was the beginning of the evening and still bright out and they were just being served their first course, I thought, No way. I laughed off the invitation and said that perhaps once I had eaten, I would play.

I went inside, found a table not too closely within sight of the Brits, and I had a wonderful meal. The first course alone consisted of three dishes: a Valencia salad, calamari and some kind of mini muscles, shellfish. I had a nice half bottle of Rioja, and an amazing desert of some kind of parfait ice cream. It makes me want to run right back there as I write these words.

So I finished the meal, reading my New York Review of Books and the latest issue of Rock&Folk, the French music magazine, and then I went out and wondered over to say goodbye to the British journalists. Some had already left, but I was immediately invited once again to play music. And now, I was really ready, and desperately wanting to sing. And what a place to do it in? An old Hemingway hangout in the country of the flamenco guitar….

I ended up playing perhaps a total of 10 songs, split up by periods of talking, carousing and drinking the wine they offered me. Somehow I managed not to drink so much that I would lose hold of the notes, and I must say, with the beach in the distance, the sea a little beyond that, and even the appreciative waiters at this wonderful restaurant, it was an unbelievably great way to finish my first day in a town that has never been nice to me on this musical adventure – until now.

(Unfortunately, although a number of the journalists took photos and made videos of me playing, I have none myself, exceptionally, for this post.)

Missed Opportunities in Valencia

June 26, 2011

Since last year all I have done is complain about how Valencia, Spain is the world’s crappiest city for open mics and jam sessions and live music. It was the only place in my two and a half year journey three times around the world where I failed to find a place to play. This year so far, although I played a few songs on a restaurant terrace – thus marking my territory, unlike last year – I must say that I can blame myself for a little failure this time.

First, I learned on Thursday that there was a massive beach party on Thursday night where someone at the F1 circuit told me I should go to play – that people would be playing music on the beach – and later that night the waiters at the restaurant said the same thing. That is not at all an open mic or jam, but it is a place where music is played in public.

Okay, I could swallow that one. But last night, I met some buskers on the street in the old town and asked if they knew of a place to play, maybe a jam session. They told me there was the French Institute of Valencia that held a jam on Sunday night and that I should not miss it. They said it was not far from there, so I set out to find the address immediately, to ensure that I wasn’t going to miss anything.

In fact, I never found the institute. But today when I decided to look into its exact address and confirm there was a jam, I saw that the jam took place last night. In fact, it might well have been finishing up while I was walking up and down Ca. Moro Zeit looking for the place.

That was two potential places to play that I missed out. Of course, coming from Paris to play at the French Institute makes little sense. But I still feel as if there must be some hidden jam or open stage in this city that I have missed.

I got so desperate last night, in fact, that I looked up on google for karaokes in Valencia hoping that maybe they would allow a guitar player/singer, if there were any karaokes. Something led me to believe also that they may use the same word for karaoke and open stage. So the first place I went, not far from my hotel, was entirely empty. I spoke to the manager of the place, and she said they hardly ever have karaokes because it disturbs the neighbors…. She sent me off to one on the other side of Valencia, however, which she said definitely happened, at the place Canovas del Castillo.

I walked through the entire city, found the square, and searched all the side streets and the square itself, and found nothing at all. I walked back to the hotel, having walked in a complete circle of several kilometers, with a stop for a cheap paella dinner. They may not specialize in music here, but they do specialize in paella. It was invented here.

First Night in Valencia, Singing at Carpe Diem Restaurant

June 24, 2011

Last year I wrote here about how Valencia, Spain was the only Formula One venue at which I was unable to find a place to play my music, and to this day it remains the only one in two and a half years where I have not found a place to play. I am in Valencia now, and I am afraid it will remain the only place I will not play – having said that, I DID actually play on the terrace of a restaurant in downtown Valencia last night.

But that is another story. First I want to say that I also wrote last year about my trials with Vueling, the crappy Spanish airline that hates musicians and guitars. This year while going to Barcelona I booked a flight – as I did last year – with Iberia, the big Spanish airline. But when I got to the airport I learned I was on a Vueling flight. And although I managed to get past the check-in desk with my guitar, I got aggressed by a flight attendant as I boarded the airplane. He asked me if I had booked a seat for my guitar. I said no, and he said it had to go in the hold – and he took it from me. Meanwhile, there was lots of room available in the overhead luggage compartment.

So with that in mind, and last year’s trip in mind, when I booked for Valencia I decided to keep away from Iberia and Vueling, and I found a flight on one of the Skyteam airlines, some small thing called Air Europa. At the airport I realized it was apparently no bigger than Vueling, but at the check-in desk, the woman smiled at me and asked if she could please put a “carry on luggage” label on my guitar. Damn right you can!!!! What a difference an airline makes. Oh, and the flight was entirely full yesterday, not a single seat free from what I could see….

So anyway, as I walked depressed around the streets of Valencia last night, thinking I would not find a place to play, I decided finally after a few hours to return to my hotel. It is no huge big deal to NOT play here or not do a segment on my film here, because I have already had a very fruitful time on that level in Barcelona, so I have marked my territory in Spain. That’s the main thing.

It also turns out there IS a jam session in Valencia, but only on Monday nights, at the Black Note club. I will have left by then.

But as I returned by foot to my hotel I suddenly received a call last night from a Formula One journalist friend and colleague, Patrick Camus, of AutoHebdo. He said he had just seen me walking down the street with my guitar and he was at a restaurant on the terrace and would I join him? So I walked back, only to find that he had somehow managed to recognize me through my walk and guitar from a very far distance – I could not make out any of his features from the crossroads where he saw me.

It also turned out he was on the terrace of the Carpe Diem restaurant, sitting exactly opposite the hotel I stayed in last year. He was with a friend and we spoke and he asked me if I had repaired my guitar yet – after the Malaysia mishap – and I said I had not, that it still held together and I feared fixing it might make it worse. So I opened the case and handed it over, because Patrick plays guitar too, mostly Bossa Nova.

After he played a little bit I took the guitar back and decided to play a song, he and his friend asked for more. So I did two more, and I received applause from the waiters, some people at the other table and people walking down the street. So it was a wonderful moment, and suddenly I didn’t feel so down and low anymore. But I also had to stop because it was after midnight, and a quiet street just beneath the hotel windows….

Patrick had never heard me play before, either, so it was fun to show him what I’m up to doing all this music all the time at the races. I think he will probably not call me Django anymore though, as he will have seen that my guitar playing is pretty basic….

Another thing worth noting was the protest in the main square of the city that reminded me of the same thing that was happening in Barcelona when I was there, about the problems with the economy. I did a bit of video footage, but have not had the time to put it up. May do so tommorrow.

From the Kaf Cafe to the Wah Wah…With Nothing in Between

June 26, 2010

My second night in Valencia proved to be as big a deception on the open mic/jam front as the first night, and I feel as if I’m really edging toward the first Formula One race venue ever for me where I will not have found a place to play and sing. Oh, well, that’s not quite true – I’ve been playing every night in my hotel room before going out to dinner, but that’s to no audience.

I mentioned in my previous post that I met Pepe, the Spanish singer and guitar player from the Paris open mic scene, at the airport on my way to Valencia. The last thing he said to me as we departed at the airport in Valencia was, “It’s not like Paris here.”

But he had told me that I should check out a place called Kaf Cafe, a coffeehouse-like joint where they sell alcoholic beverages nevertheless, and where he said it was sometimes possible to play. So I went there last night only to find it in full swing with a night of a tribute to a professor and some kind of Mexican theme. I’m afraid my Spanish is non-existent and I had to depend on French sorting out the Spanish to understand that much.

But the night was a real breath of fresh air culturally, and I am sure that it would be a great place to play – when that is possible. The name is as it sounds, a play on the name of Franz Kafka and “cafe.” It’s a nice sized, long room with bookshelves full of books, a nice little stage and a bar, sofas, a bicycle on the wall, and an art exhibit. This is hip, cool, very much the kind of place I’d love to hang around in. I tried, in fact, to look at every possible way of presenting myself to do some music, but I could see it was just not going to work.

There was a kind of poetry reading with a guitarist backing the speaker; another group consisting of a man on cello and another on guitar and vocals; and a group of women who sang something and with a couple of guitar playing women thrown in too. It reminded me of the vibe I felt in Sao Paulo, actually, on the all-night jam I did there after the race last year. But here at Kaf Cafe, it was not open to anyone to play.

The crowd ranged from babies to grandparents and with everything in between, and I was content to sit, drink a beer and listen. But I was itching to try my luck in another part of town, where I had read there were one or to other venues, so I left.

I took a cab over to the university area and sought out the Wah Wah, which I read a review of that had this to say: “A rocking and grooving live music club in a student friendly zone. Mostly local and national bands loving it live, week in and week out. International groups like The Frank and Walters and The Sugarman hree play in spacious surroundings with a relaxed, open and bohemian crowd.”

Well, yes, that describes it well. The only thing that is not clear in that picture is that the crowd I saw last night was insanely young. I am not lying or exaggerating when I say that the majority of them looked 13, 14 years old. But this place sells beer and alcohol and there were some adults around as well. So I don’t know what was happening but I had the impression there may have been a special event for an end of school year party, or something like that.

The band was pretty young, but not that young, and not that charismatic either. The volume was not ear-shattering. But couldn’t take much of it, and I had seen enough within half an hour to know that I would never have a chance to play there, so I decided to leave and check out the rest of the area. There were lots of other bars, but none with live music from what I could see. I did, however, find a park that looked full of students, and I saw the occasional guitar there with people strumming and playing. That, I thought, might end up my last resort if I really MUST find a place to play in Valencia.

But I hold out hope and will continue the search. Oh, yes, Monday my flight is late, so there’s always the beach – as Pepe also suggested to me…. Strange, all this, however, given that this is guitar-building territory around here….

The Open Mic I did not do in Valencia, and a Visit to the Black Note Club

June 25, 2010

This is a story for the Internet age, I think. Or maybe not. Let’s just say that I went from being ecstatic to finding a place to play in Valencia, Spain, a port town on the Mediterranean coast that is hosting the European Grand Prix this weekend, to being gutted when I finally realized I had made a terrible mistake.

The advantage to Spain is that the open mics don’t start usually until very late, since dinner doesn’t begin till very late, since everyone takes a siesta and avoids the heat – right? Probably. In any case, I should jump back a bit and mention first a funny meeting at the airport in Paris yesterday on the way to Spain, because it is relevant to the story.

As I chatted with some Formula One racing journalist colleagues of mine I noticed a familiar face at the airport. It was Pepe, a Spaniard I had met at the Baroc open mic in the Marais several months ago. I have then run into him at the Pop In and at Ptit Bonheur la Chance. Pepe is a student of contemporary East Asian history in Paris, but he comes from Valencia and was returning for a wedding. He plays guitar and sings when not studying.

So I asked him if he knew of any place for me to play in an open mic or jam in Valencia. He said I should go to the Black Note on Monday. I told him that I was not going to be here Monday, that I was leaving for Paris again, but that I had learned that the Black Note was also doing a jam session that night, last night, on Thursday.

Pepe was very puzzled about this, but I brushed it off. The Black Note is one of the top places for rock music in Valencia, and on Mondays it has an open jam session.

In my fatigue – the French strike meant waiting nearly five hours in the airport and on the plane for my flight to leave Paris – I mistook the Black Note for a club I had found called Steinway’s Jazz y Blues Club. Kind of hard to imagine how I did that, but I did.

Anyway, now back to Valencia. No, wait, let’s take ANOTHER step backwards in time: On Wednesday in Paris I had called up Jon Turner, who runs the Steinway’s jam, as he indicates on the Internet that we should call in advance. He told me it was more karaoke on Thursdays and an open mic on Mondays. But I then told him I was coming to Valencia only until early evening Monday and that I could not make it on the Monday. So he kindly offered to allow me to play last night anyway, with my guitar and my voice, despite it not being entirely the right night for it.

NOW back to Valencia. So the bits of the puzzle start fitting together. I had a nice meal near my hotel in a restaurant in the center of the city – Spain’s third largest city – and then I headed just down the street, for what I assumed would be no more than a 10 minute walk to the address of Steinway’s: Calle del la Mar, 16. I used a map and my iPhone above all, to see exactly how far and what route to take from my hotel to the venue, and it looked simple.

When I arrived, however, I could not find No. 16, or if I eventually did, there was nothing much there that looked like any musical venue, bar or even club. I went into a neighboring restaurant and they didn’t know what I was talking about with any open mic or music or bar named Steinway’s.

I then asked people out on the street and they told me I was on the right road, but they didn’t know the club. I walked all around the area, back and forth, up and down, and it was sometime near midnight that I did another internet search on my iPhone and the terrible truth suddenly occurred to me: I had the address right, I had the name of the club right, and I had the day right. The detail I had not noticed on the web site where I found the information – a web site devoted to information all about Valencia – was that the venue was located in a distant, distant suburb or something or other town on the sea called Denia. It said clearly on the second link offering the full details of the event that it was located in Denia, but I must have taken that for a neighborhood of the city of Valencia. In fact, it was a town 106 kilometers away.

Decompression. Fatigue. Horror. Not to mention a city that looked thoroughly dead and asleep at only midnight!

So I then decided that I would go to the Black Note and see what was happening. There I found a cool club, bought a beer, listened to a cover band, and then it turned out that at around 1 AM there was a stripper doing a burlesque act. I left after that, and realized that I had been so close to learning time after time that my venue was not in Valencia after all, but in Denia, but the information never quite got through. Not with Pepe, not with Jon Turner, not with anyone in the street, and not even on that web site that advertised the open mic.

My feeling of foolishness was only slightly smaller than my feeling of anger and upset that I may well not find a venue to play in here in Valencia, since I find nothing else for the moment, and no one knows of anything else. If this happens, it will be the first time at a Formula One race that I fail to find a place to play. Which tells you something about Valencia, I think.

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