Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Merdekarya, Malaysia, Open Mic Revisted, Cool as Ever

March 29, 2015
bradspurgeon

merdekarya

merdekarya

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Even halfway through the evening at the Merdekarya open mic in KL last night I could not remember for sure if I had been there one year ago, or two years ago, so fresh was the feeling of my last visit. It was only in consulting my blog this morning that I confirmed it was actually two years ago that I experienced Merdekarya this best open mic in Kuala Lumpur the previous time. It came back to me that last year I had some last-minute interviews to do in my job or something, and had to cancel out at the last minute. Last night, as I flailed around central KL to try to get a cab to this “suburban” open mic, I almost gave up.

But in the end, I got a cab, got back to the Merdekarya, and was so thankful that I pushed myself to get that cab: Over the last two years this exceptional open mic has grown even more exceptional, with a format that includes a concert by a featured band, and an open mic, almost every night of the week.

It is located in Petaling Jaya, which is kind of far from downtown KL, but it’s well situated if you live in Petaling Jaya! In any case, this year, a nice working air conditioner and some other building works done since I last visited meant that the loft-like location of the open mic was more comfortable than two years ago. But the vibe was the same.

You may be located in what appears to a foreigner like “the middle of nowhere” but once inside the venue – which is located above an open-front street-food-like restaurant, you feel like you could be in a New York City loft. And then when you hear some of the local musicians with their often exceptional vocals, you feel like you’re in a very with-it NYC loft. I still cannot understand quite why the pop music of Malaysia has not made a bigger splash internationally. The level of musicianship, songwriting and vocals here in Kuala Lumpur is exceptional.

OK, now that Merdekarya runs an open mic every night, my choice of attending on Saturday night was not the best in terms of the performers turn-out numbers. Still, there must have been five or six of us performing in the open mic and then the 1-hour long concert by the featured band, The Cotton Field Scarecrows. Apparently Friday night is the most popular night for the open mic. You can check out in advance by signing up for a slot on the Merdekarya web site in advance, with a well-honed system that ensures you don’t have to wait long for a confirmation.

The format now is that every month there is a rotation of featured artists playing once a week on a given day, with the artists changing each month. The Scarecrows were quite exceptional, even in what I was told afterwards was a stripped down version of the band, with only a bass, lead and acoustic guitar and vocals. Normally there are keyboards and drums, too. But I actually thought the stripped down, minimalist version had a fabulous haunting quality to it that I assumed was done on purpose. It was so strange to see what amounted to Americana – even in their original songs – being played and sung by Malaysians in this loft in a suburb of KL. Check it out for yourself with the videos I took….




Update of Thumbnail Guide to Melbourne Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

March 14, 2015
bradspurgeon

Melbourne Skyline

Melbourne Skyline

MELBOURNE – I was hoping to do more open mics in Melbourne, but the travel, heat, cold, air conditioning and who knows what all else mean that I caught a bad cold and will be spending the next days while not working, sleeping. So I doubt I will try any new open mics before I leave on Monday.

I have, however, now added some new open mics to my Thumbnail Guide to Melbourne Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and removed some that have ceased to exist since I visited last year.

So check it out!

A French Accent at the Balaclava Open Mic in Melbourne

March 13, 2015
bradspurgeon

Balaclava open mic

Balaclava open mic

MELBOURNE – A balaclava may have negative undertones these days, what with the predilection of terrorists to wear these ski masks while taking part in cleansing operations, but Balaclava is also an area in Melbourne, Australia, and the Balaclava Hotel has been host for the last two and a half years to one of the best open mics I’ve ever visited in this Australian city.

Last night was the first time I attended this Balaclava Hotel open mic, and it was admittedly a busy night, with around 16 performers, but as the genial MC, Erik Parker, told me, next time I want to go I better contact him as early as possible to avoid being nearly last on the list. Still, it only runs until midnight, so being nearly last on the list is no big deal.

Last night it gave me the opportunity to see a number of the other amazing performers, including last but not at all least, Erik himself. What was really amusing, though, was that I struck up conversations with a Flemish Belgian who spoke little French, and a couple of French women on a work visit to Australia, and then after that I discovered a Quebecoise and her French-France boyfriend. So the accent on this very Australian open mic was very French last night, as the latter two persuaded me to sing a song in French, and I sang: “Et dans 150 ans,” by Raphaël. At the end of the evening, Erik then dove into his own rendition of a French song, “Je ne regrette rien,” of Edith Piaf – and it was sensational!

But most sensational of all is the atmosphere in this vast hotel pub with its bright lighting and sizeable stage for the open mic, at the front entrance to the pub. It is a vast, multi-roomed bar, but it still manages to maintain or create some kind of feeling of coziness and communication between spectators and musicians. And there was a broad cross-section of talents and styles, one of the biggest standouts of the night aside from Erik, being Corey Heuvel, a Canadian on a long visit to Australia.

Erik does a great job of organising it, very laid-back and smiling throughout the evening. And he even takes risks to do things he thinks are not possible, like the slot last night in which a full band of five musicians elected to take to the stage….

Really a fabulous evening, great vibe and a place I will definitely return to again next year, if I get back to Melbourne again….


Boogieing at Mr. Boogie Man Bar in Melbourne

March 12, 2015
bradspurgeon

Mr Boogie Man Bar

Mr Boogie Man Bar

MELBOURNE – Oh, the jet-setting life! So I got to Melbourne yesterday by way of Dubai, and during my brief stop-over in the UAE airport, I get this email message from an Australian fellow traveller who happened to be passing through Melbourne and who remembered meeting me at an open mic last year at the Great Britain hotel. He so kindly told me that the open mic at the aforesaid joint no longer exists, but that he knew of a great new one that also took place on Wednesday nights, would I like to go? If so, I should write the guy who runs the open mic, and who also runs the bar, and ask for a slot. So I did, and I went, and it was great. But that’s not all….

So I get to this new venue that has been open for a year now, called Mr. Boogie Man Bar, and I find Fender Stratocasters papering the walls, and I find stuff like a poster for a Bob Dylan concert in Greenwich Village in 1960, and Rolling Stones photos, and Hendrix photos, and signed guitars, signed albums, all sorts of memorabilia, and a big stage at the end of the bar and a mic and a woman singing. And David, the guy who runs the place.

Mr Boogie Man Dylan gig poster

Mr Boogie Man Dylan gig poster

So I find I’m signed up for 22:40, and I have plenty of time to listen to the music – including by my considerate acquaintance from last year, another man named David – and I ask David – the one behind the bar – where I can go to eat. He had pizza, but as I ate pizza on the flight that day, and then a panzerotti in Melbourne (in the only shop that sells them in Melbourne), I was not so keen on pizza. So David directs me to a fish and chips joint down the street. And as I make my way down to the fish and chips joint, and I’m remembering how last year I had attended an open mic on the Thursday night – the Acoustic Café – and went to a fish and chips joint, and so wasn’t life similar so often?, I find myself approaching this fish and chips joint and saying, “My God, it’s the SAME fish and chips joint as last year!” but I’m approaching from another direction.

So then it is that I realize that I am indeed in the same neighbourhood as last year’s Thursday night open mic – which no longer exists, and is not to be confused with the Wednesday night open mic that no longer exists – and here I am going to the fish and chip joint where I had such terrible fish and chips last year. So I go around the corner and get a plate of duck meat rigatoni to go from Rita’s, a hip restaurant.

Mr Boogie Man Dylan scrapbook

Mr Boogie Man Dylan scrapbook

I return to Mr. Boogie Man’s bar, order another Shiraz – under the Mr. Boogie Man label – and I sit and listen to David – my friend who invited me. And boy am I glad he invited me. This is a very cool open mic, more than enough to replace the Great Britain hotel, and much of its greatness comes from David – the owner behind the bar. A well organized open mic, great sound system, funky bar, great feelings.

My only criticism? Most of the musicians booked their slot, came, played their three or four or five songs, and then left, without listening to the other musicians. That’s a bit impersonal. But for those who did stay, it was a fun, warm and celebratory night. I’ll definitely return – as long as Mr. Boogie Man does not go the way of the Great Britain hotel and the Acoustic Café come next year!

My Novel Budapest Gambit Now Available at Amazon – in English and French

March 9, 2015
bradspurgeon

Gambit Budapest cover

Gambit Budapest cover

Budapest Gambit cover

Budapest Gambit cover

PARIS – I’m sitting at the airport in Paris delighted that I will be able to celebrate in style today my project of making available my novel Budapest Gambit in English and French – where it is called the appropriate: Gambit Budapest – which I have just put up in the Amazon Kindle space today (which is readable on iPads too). I got to the airport and found myself upgraded to Business Class on my flight to Dubai on the way to Melbourne. So that means CHAMPAGNE!!!

Yes, please go and take a look at the Budapest Gambit and Gambit Budapest on Amazon.com, where you can read the first three chapters, and decide if it looks like it might be entertaining to the end. Then buy!!! (Or borrow, if you’re in the appropriate Amazon program.) Both versions are also available on the French Amazon site, too, as well as many others around the world. But in the French site it seems you cannot read the first three chapters….

Budapest Gambit

Budapest Gambit

Buy from Amazon

Budapest Gambit, in short, is the story of a teenage chess prodigy named Billy Striver whose dad was a former Formula One hopeful driver who had to quit racing or risk dying – after one too many accidents – and who comes on a little too heavily on his son to live out his own frustrated competitive needs. When his dad suddenly goes missing after a couple of thugs turn up at their home, the chess player uses his gray matter to try to find and save his dad. He does this with help from the teenage chess woman prodigy, Petra Sitka, of Hungary, who also has a reason to be involved beyond her liking of Billy.

It’s a novel for teenagers, a Young Adult or Juvenile, novel. But I’ve had just as many great reactions from adult readers as from young people. And as it turns out, my daughter, Emily, began translating it into French without telling me, since she had enjoyed reading it so much, and also wanted to become a translator. (She’s now at film school, but still translates when she can.) From what I hear from my French readers, she’s done a fine translation.

Gambit Budapest (French Edition)

Gambit Budapest (French Edition)

Buy from Amazon

So how often does someone release a book in English and French on the same day? And one, moreover, translated by the author’s daughter! Do I sound excited about this? Just a little … well, ok, a lot. Enough to celebrate with free Champagne on that Emirates flight in a couple of hours from now.

Et quelques mots en français sur Gambit Budapest….

Je viens de mettre à disposition mon roman Gambit Budapest en i-book, en anglais et en français. Le livre a été traduit par ma fille, Emily (qui est née en France et de langue maternelle française). Il est possible d’aller sur le site anglais amazon.com pour lire les premier 3 chapitres, puis d’acheter le livre sur le site français, qui n’offre pas les premiers chapitres….

Le livre traite d’un ado qui joue bien aux échecs et de son père un peu fou – ancien pilote de course – qui veut vivre à travers le talent de son fils – jusqu’au jour ou le père se retrouve dans la merde à cause de ça et il faut que le fils le sauve…. Quand le père de Billy Striver disparait mysterieusement après la venue soudaine de deux individus, le jeune prodige d’échecs part à sa recherche, aidé par la jeune Petra Siska, joueuse Hongroise. Les deux ados découvrent ensemble un monde international de crimes et de délits cachés derrière un échiquier.

Le livre a été écrit pour des ados, mais j’ai eu pas mal de réactions favorables d’adultes qui l’ont lu…. donc n’hésitez pas!

Pizza Box Drum Jam at the Oasis – a Little Borderline

March 7, 2015
bradspurgeon

Oasis 244

Oasis 244

PARIS – It was nearly midnight at the Oasis 244 in Paris again last night when I arrived, so much too late to profit by a full night of listening to John Redford and Stephen Saxo playing their stuff for the customers at this very cool and laid back little bar near the Stalingrad metro. It was too late to have much of any kind of amplification, so vocals and certain guitar bits suffered. But I sure did not suffer while listening to and playing with several old and new acquaintances.

Especially meeting up and hearing Wayne Standley playing again. I wrote about Wayne extensively during the Ptit Bonheur la Chance and Tireuse days. But since that venue has ceased to run its open mic, I’ve not seen Wayne playing anywhere. Wayne is a longtime American expat in Paris who has played music all his life here, but maintained a bona fide American country and rock sound. So true and real. And last night Andy Bone joined him on lead guitar and it sounded like we were in the middle of the American midwest somewhere….

Then I got to go up behind the mic – that did not work – and sing a few songs. And when it was time to do my song Borderline, David Hummel leapt into action and provided a fabulous jamming rendition as he took to one of his favorite instruments: A cardboard pizza box that had contained last night’s dinner. David used that for percussion, using his drum brushes to batter the box in the rhythms of Borderline. A fabulous little jam that left me feeling great about the 20 minutes I spent on the wonderful little warm stage of the Oasis 244. Andy Bone filmed it, so catch the video – be aware the mic barely worked, thanks to complaining neighbors.

The pizza box, it turns out, is a fabulous percussion instrument in acoustic jam sessions in bars where you can’t make much noise!

An Underground Night at the Escargot Underground

March 6, 2015
bradspurgeon

escargot touristic centerPARIS – I just love the Russian feel to the Escargot Underground open mic that takes place in Paris on Thursday evenings in the basement of a Russian travel agency called the Escargot Touristic Center. But even more than the Russian feel – with some Russian musicians and Russian organizer – is the feeling of a real, true, bona fide “underground” kind of open mic.

There were fewer people last night than the last time I was there a few weeks ago, but the atmosphere was just as good, and in fact, the place is so small that you don’t really necessarily want THAT many people.

What makes it “underground”? The music, the kind of musicians, the open hearted, open-armed greeting of all musicians and all styles, and the cave underground room where it takes place. But just mostly the attitude that anything goes, that there are no real judgments at all of a musician good or bad, and that everyone is, in fact, welcome.

I’ll let the video’s do the talking for last night’s show. One of my favorites was the Russian band, which sounded a lot like some of the Russian pop music I heard while I was in Sochi in the fall….



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