Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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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 Illusion of Total Fatigue as Cured by Paris Open Mics – and Brislee’s New Song

May 2, 2013

All day yesterday I was convinced I was dead tire, I was convinced I was coming down with a cold, I was convinced that I could drop into bed ultra-early and sleep for a day and a half. The last thing I felt I wanted to do was to go to an open mic; I had been to two in a row already on Monday and Tuesday, and I was much sated by that, and even, well, tired. I thought I should take the precaution of preserving my inner and physical strength by not going out last night, and just dropping in bed. That is why I decided that it was exactly the right moment to go where I felt I would not have the strength to go: to two open mics, the Vieux Leon and the Highlander, where I ended up playing in both of them. The effect was suddenly, irreversible, perfect, strong: I was no longer tired, I no longer felt a cold coming on, I had a great time, and I had the energy to go and ride my unicycle the usual 4 or 5 kilometers around the neighborhood afterwards. And today when I woke up, I was completely cured!!!

Funny the games we play with ourselves when we get in a physical and/or mental funk, right? Well, of course, it also had to do with the external stimulus of the two open mics. At the Vieux Léon the new program is that every week there will be a different host, a different MC who plans the evening, calls on their friends, makes it happen. Last night it was Cléa Molette, a wonderful singer and up-and-coming artist, who for some reason although she knows me, made a strange mistake of putting my name on the list as “Serge.” Of course, not so strange, I thought. She obviously associates me with the late, great Serge Gainsbourg thanks to my greying hair, my haggard aged looks, and my songs – I hope!!!! – and although I find it a little insulting on the physical side, if Cléa will be my Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot or Vanessa Paradis, then I accept the insult….

From there I walked the 10 minute walk over the Highlander where normally I would be too late to play. But it seemed that the effect of the 1 May holiday was having its toll on the crowd and musician level of this, one of the most crowded places on earth, and there was room for me on the list. To my great good fortune, Juba – with whom I played on Monday at the Galway – was there, and he offered to play along with me. In the context of the evening – and my imaginary fatigue – it seemed like a good choice of song was, “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty. So I started with that, and then I did my new song, “Gotta Shake Her,” and then I did “Borderline,” on which song I felt we were tightest.

There were some other interesting acts, and the most fun was no doubt that of Brislee Adams doing his new song all about the Paris open mic scene, in which he sings of the venues where we play, the musicians we know and listen to, and…well there is a bit that goes something like: “and Brad films us, and that’s ok….” YEAH!

Downs to Ups at Vieux Léon, Paris

April 4, 2013

When I set out on the open mic tour last night, the idea was to do the Vieux Léon, then wander over to the Highlander, then maybe go to the Cavern. When I arrived at the Vieux Léon, I was a little disappointed – a lot, in fact – to find not a whole lot of musicians and spectators. Such things fluctuate. But I ended up staying the whole evening and foregoing the others….

The point is that there may not have been a lot of people, but those who were there were fun and interesting to talk to, and it also and above all meant being able to go behind the mic twice, sing six songs total, and play songs I do not normally play. When it is quieter, you can try different things out, plays less played songs, and have a completely different kind of evening.

That I did. So it was that among the songs, I decided to sing “May You Never,” by John Martyn, a song I’m just learning now and had to read from the printout of the lyrics I had. I have a lot of work to do on it, but each time you try a new song there is always that first try where you have to break the ice with yourself in front of an audience. That happened a bit last night. A wonderful song, by the way….

Michelle Blades did one of her songs that I haven’t heard before, and which she normally does with a band. But you can hear its originality as is – and as with most of her songs. So maybe she did the same bit of different effort that I did….

In any case, by the time the open mic ended at midnight, I felt I’d had a great, fun, comfortable laid-back evening, and I returned home. Thanks Vieux Léon….

Monumental Johnny Borrell Concert at Small Bar; Nice Open Mic at Vieux Léon

March 28, 2013

borrellWhen I first heard that Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the band Razorlight, was doing a series of concerts in March and April in small bars in London, Amsterdam and Paris, and that he was doing this cycle of them night after night, week after week, on a kind of mini repeating tour, I wondered if he had fallen on hard times.
This was, after all, the singer and songwriter of a band whose songs I loved half a decade ago, stuff like “The Girl With the Golden Touch,” and especially, “America.” I first listened to him frequently on my car radio, then the first – and only – time I saw the band was in August 2007 at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. Then it ended up that because we had a mutual friend, Borrell came and played two or three songs at my Sunday Brunch at the Mecano Bar open mic, for the friend.

He just did it solo with an acoustic guitar. Then we met up again at another open mic in Paris – at the Bus Palladium – one night when my friend said Johnny was itching to do an open mic, and I was there doing it. Each time, in solo acoustic Borrell was superb. I think he sang one or two new songs he was working on at the Palladium that night, and it sounded okay, kind of cool, but not the end of the world.

So last night when I decided to go see Borrell at the Truskel, I was expecting much the same, hoping some people would show up, and hoping it wasn’t the end of the road for such a wonderful musician.

So it was that I nearly shit my pants when I arrived and found this whole band set up with a great sound system, lots of equipment they are busing around from venue to venue, and above all, an absolutely vibrant, charismatic, madly wonderful performance by Borrell and his new musicians (this is not Razorlight). And the songs! It is very rare, almost unheard of, for me personally to enjoy listening to even the most famous of bands in concert when I have never heard their new music before.

This stuff was wonderful on the first listening. I really enjoyed it, and so did the many, many other people who showed up in that confined space of the Truskel. In fact, I arrived after the concert had started – or right at the beginning – and so found myself in the back of the little room with no room to move. I was therefore constrained to lift my arm high in the air over the heads to get the videos. Apologies. But you still have a chance to go next week and see his last concert at the Truskel – or further ones in London and Amsterdam.

And ultimately my conclusion was that Borrell is not on the skids, but better than ever, or at least as good as ever, and that playing in these small bars seems to be a way of getting this band’s act together out of the spotlight. It has been done before by other bands, but whatever the situation, what counts here is the supercool music being made, and the luck of those who see and hear the band in such venues.

The other good thing was that the concert ended early enough for me to split right afterwards and walk over to Chatelet where the Vieux Léon open mic takes place, and to get up and play a few of my own songs, and watch and hear some of those of my friends, the regulars at the Vieux Léon.

All together a fabulous night.

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….

Micro-Post: Two Songs, No Waiting, No Videos, at the Vieux Léon

February 14, 2013

There’s somethin happenin here…. I got to the Vieux Léon last night a little late, but around 10 PM, so not TOOOOO to late. I saw my friend Rony Boy of the Romantic Black Shirts band finish his last song, and I got invited up to do my set, by Kim, who was doing the MCing last night. He announced me as the last performer of the open mic!!!! It was so quiet that I did not have to wait, and I also missed my only chance to make a video of another performer. But I ended up having a great night anyway, talking to a friend at the bar…! Let’s hope for better tonight…. But blogal variety is good. (Some word that is! Blogal. I just made it up – you read it here first…. ;-))

Vintage Vieux – Young and Hip and Cool

February 7, 2013

The Vieux Léon bar in the Paris near the Chatelet Métro has existed for around six years. And at last night’s wonderful open mic a few of us were standing around, late, at the door, and discussing what a wonderful and cool bar it is. I mentioned to the bartender how the first striking thing was that here was a place that calls itself this decrepit, sea shanty, sea sailor sort of name of rot – Vieux Léon – and yet the clientele is mostly the opposite of vieux, or “old,” and mostly the opposite of decrepit, worn and ancient. He agreed, and in fact, went on to elucidate all the wonderful things about the bar and its great clientele and open mic. Which brings me to the subject at hand….

I think last night was the perfect level of crowd – and crowd talk – and number of musicians for this relatively new open mic in Paris. It was also a perfect mixture of styles of music. And just in general, it was a great night from beginning to end – including the fact that not ALL the musicians were actually super fabulous – I mean there was maybe one who went on a little long with the same song played three times – but that only served to show how open and free and real this is as an open mic.

The musician named This is Avalanche – huh? – did another great job hosting the open mic, and it again turned into a little bit of a jam towards the end. And again, it was thanks to Mr Tex, the Italian spaghetti western slide guitar player that several musicians had a superb foil to back and play with. Including me. I did two sets, both with Tex, and each with songs we had never played together before – since we had only played around once before. I tried some of my songs with him, and some of my regular covers, and without remembering that the Byrds themselves had used some slide on it, I did “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” of Bob Dylan, with Tex. And that was cool – although I think “Crazy Love” and “Mad World” were the best in all. And my “Memories.”

Quiet, but Inventive Night at the Vieux Léon

January 31, 2013

The last few weeks at the Vieux Léon open mic have been fun, but have also had open mic nights with so many people in the bar not there for the music that the noise level has been frequently overpowering for the musicians. Last night, suddenly, the crowd seemed – with only minor exceptions – to be there entirely for the music. And the result was that it was possible to see how inventive and interesting some of the musicians are at this new Paris open mic rendezvous.

I somehow got to go up first of the evening – invited by the host Kim, after several weeks of Avalanche hosting the evening – and I did a couple of songs feel less than inventive, doing my song “If I Only Had You,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I jumped on doing that one due to the aforesaid calm of the spectators, who were there to listen to music, not just talk and drink.

But among the interesting surprises of the night were, especially, Michelle Blades taking to the mic this time with her ukulele. She had previously played with a guitar, but I learned last night that the ukelele is the instrument she started with, and returns to much of the time. In any case, the playing was different than your typical ukelele number, and it made me realize that her guitar-playing DOES have the mark of her ukelele playing on it. She said she composes her songs on the ukelele too….

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.

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