Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Singapore

September 29, 2014
bradspurgeon

singaporeMy worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Singapore since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Magic at Menil’Fest, in Menilmontant, Paris

September 28, 2014
bradspurgeon

Menilfest

Menilfest

PARIS – Menilmontant is a funky cool quarter of Paris, and this weekend it celebrated a funky cool arts festival on the boulevard, with artists and artisans displaying their wares in the middle of the boulevard, and musicians playing on two different stages at either end. I was invited to play in the festival by a musician I met at the open mics, who calls himself She-Me, and who was organizing the talent on the stages.
Joe Cady and Brad at Menilmontant festival
I leapt at the opportunity of playing outside on this open-air, middle of Paris, middle of Menilmontant stage, and as it turned out, the day would be one of the sunniest and hottest of recent weeks, and probably the real end of summer too. In any case, it seemed like the sun had come and the clouds had parted in order to create the absolute perfect weather for a street festival in Paris. And that ensured a large number of people talking part, passing by, and generally giving an atmosphere of a country fair to the center of Paris.

I made discoveries amongst the artisans, the musicians and the local businesses all afternoon long. The festival is just winding down as I write these words, and it had started Friday evening. I was a little jealous when I saw the big stage, but once I got to performing on the smaller stage, I realized that I had perhaps got the better deal. It was much more intimate, the passersby could stop if they wanted to – without making the commitment of standing in front of the big stage, but just sort of stopping at the edge of the small stage and checking it out, and I had better eye contact with the audience.

The small stage was also set up in a spot where I could look off at the facing cafes and the place where the Métro exit sits, and feel really as if I was kind of floating around in Paris playing my music to all who cared to listen, and even those who did not. Helping me out on that was my friend Joe Cady, backing me up with fiddle and lead guitar, just as he has done in Paris open mics for several years now, and at the F1 FanZone concert that we did at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London in July. Joe’s fabulous accompaniment was just what I needed to feel completely at ease in providing the passersby with a full musical experience.

Of course, that was helped by the good sound system also, that ensured a crisp and clear sound to my vocals and some adequate mixing on the rest. The festival was organized by an association called ArtMachine, that has as a goal to help artists, artisans and musicians show off their creations.

Now, if only every quarter in Paris could come up with one of these. The free meal ticket providing food at a local North African restaurant was absolutely insanely good, as I found all the main dishes cost the price of the ticket of a measly 7 euros, and the food was amazing! My lamb chops and french fries beat just about any I’ve eaten recently in other French restaurants for twice the price. Menilmontant really feels like a village within the bigger Paris, and I would live there at the drop of an equally cheap apartment!

From Singapore to Paris, via the Ritz Carlton Party, the Café Oz and the Baroc – and by Way of an Interesting Musical/Racing Moment

September 26, 2014
bradspurgeon

Ritz Carlton Singapore

Ritz Carlton Singapore


PARIS – I blame my convoluted headline on the horrendously long time I have not written a post on this blog, and on the jet-lag, the two open mics and one big party at the Ritz Carlton, and on the red wine I had for dinner – a Cotes de Bourg that won a prize at the Macon wine fair in 2013…. Now, if that sounds weird, listen to this cool thing:

So Sunday night in Singapore after my day at the racetrack covering the Formula One race, I had to make a decision about what I’d do that night as I waited for my flight back to Paris early the next morning: I had at least two main choices, one being to attend an open mic that I had never attended before, at a pub called Molly Molone’s, and the other being to attend a post-race party where a friend was performing.

It would sound like a no-brainer for me – i.e., the open mic, since my work life is involved in attending all the F1 races anyway – but as it turned out, I was worried the open mic might not last that long after the night race, and more than that, I had actually been invited to the post-race party by a guy named Luke Buirski, who is a friend, a fabulous lead guitar player, and who I had met a few years ago at the Actors’ jamming bar open mic in Singapore. So because I had missed Luke last year, and because he was playing at this party, I thought there was no way I could miss it, and so my choice was easy: The Ritz Carlton ballroom, a short walking distance from the racetrack.

So I get there, and guess what? I find myself surrounded by people I know from the media, from F1, former Formula One drivers, current racers and, well, a large number of people from the F1 world I inhabit. It was, however, a very high-class nightclub thing that apparently costs a fortune to get into – unless you’re invited – and so here I was amongst the people I work with all the time, but…I had been invited to the party by one of the performers of the night!

So it was that I felt completely at home, but much more indebted to the man with the guitar than to the people I usually work with. For this was a really, really high-class nightclub thing with performances going on all the time, DJs, local stars, and Luke…. catch a bit of his performance on the videos I put up here….

And From Singapore it Was on To Paris and two of the open mics of Tuesday night, the Oz and the Baroc

So once back in Paris on Monday night, I got just enough sleep to manage to get the energy to go out on Tuesday night and take part in the Café Oz open mic, which I have attended something like four times in the last five weeks. And as has been my wont in these recent weeks on several occasions, I decided that in addition to the Oz, I would move on from there to another open mic.

This time, however, it was not that of the Pigalle Country Club, but that of Le Baroc, which is one of the mainstays of the the Paris open mic scene. While it started a little slowly, it turned into a pretty epic evening, with some final jamming and some really cool stuff between a guitarist – Guillaume – and a fabulous woman pianist at the end of the evening.

Amazing stuff! So have I landed yet? Back from Singapore? Well, tomorrow I have a gig in the streets of Paris at the Menilmontant metro station at 13:30. So I’ll tell you after that!

A Quick Visit to the Actors’ Jam Bar in Singapore

September 20, 2014
bradspurgeon

actors jam bar

actors jam bar

SINGAPORE – After my two exceptional first nights of music in Singapore, the first being the discover of an amazing local musician, and the second being the discovery of an amazing local open mic, I dropped by to the mainstay Actors Jam Bar, where I have played every year on my musical adventure. It was not quite up to the two previous nights, but I had a great time nevertheless, and you’ll see in the videos that everyone else did too.

The Actors jam bar concept is that of a mix between an open jam, an open mic and a karaoke. You go in, buy a drink and listen to the other customers take to the stage together to play all the house instruments at your command: A drum set, a couple of electric guitars, a bass, some keyboards, and a karaoke list of songs on a computer screen that you can refer to if you don’t know the lyrics.

What I learned last night, though, and this was the first time I’ve seen it, is that the bar has a set of rules about the number of drinks you consume being like a ticket to singing a song! If memory serves, it was 2 drinks bought allow you to go up and play 1 song. Three or four drinks allow 2 songs, and at some point on the bar bill you can sing all you like.

I’m not sure this method really encourages the best music, nor does it jibe with my view of what makes for a great open mic ethos. Having said all that, I bought just one beer (which cost nearly three times what it does in the street food joint where I ate my dinner, across the street) and no one complained about me going up and singing and playing two songs before I had even finished the beer…. So I suspect the rules are there really to prevent stage-hogs who consume nothing from passing their nights at the Actors bar, without bringing in any financial support….

But if you are in Singapore, I can still recommend Actors bar as a great place where you know you’ll be able to go on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday and play music with other musicians until late in the night – like 2 a.m. – but remember, the vibe is more karaoke than open mic or jam….

Anything but a Beast of an Open Mic – at The Beast, in Singapore

September 19, 2014
bradspurgeon

The Beast

The Beast

SINGAPORE – I’ve been waiting the better part of a year to attend one of the several open mics MCd by MB Spinks, an American expat in Singapore, who runs several venues in the city and who contacted me several months ago to tell me about his places…. Finally last night I got to attend his laid back open mic at The Beast pub and restaurant. This was exactly the kind of open mic that had been missing on my list of those I have attended in this city: Singer songwriter oriented, but open to anything, laid back and friendly, great sound and well run.

With my weird hours spent at one of Formula One’s few night races, I had always been unable to attend others of this kind that I knew existed in Singapore. Most of my experience here has been in places like the Actors’ jam bar and the Crazy Elephant blues jam. Both are jams, both open, both quite wild and loud. Last night at the one call the Beast, you’d think maybe it would be every musician for himself, but it wasn’t.

Mike Spinks runs the show like the best of the MCs I’ve known, cool, but responsible, on top of it all the time, and everyone gets to play to their heart’s content if there are not enough musicians around. And Mike fills in the rest of the time, with his laid back Southern-feeling country folk rock.

Neither was this entirely an expat experience, by the way. The food at the Beast may be U.S.-south inspired, but it has a touch of Asia to it, and there was a fabulous Filipino musician playing when I arrived – didn’t catch his name!

Oh, and I was delighted to find that my Seagull S6 was working again after the scare at the Tennessee bar on Monday in Paris when its amplification failed. I replaced the battery in Singapore, but oddly, the old battery still had lots of juice in it. So I don’t know what the problem was.

Discovering Another Side of Singapore’s Music Scene: Ernesto Valerio – the Dean Martin of Singapore – and his 51-Year Career in the City State

September 18, 2014
bradspurgeon

Ernesto Valerio

Ernesto Valerio

SINGAPORE – I started out feeling really disappointed when I arrived at the Actors Jam Bar only to discover that it is open now only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for the jam sessions, and the rest of the week it is free only to organized private events. It was always a mainstay for me, no matter what night of the week. Unless my memory fails. In any case, that was the disappointment. What turned it all around was that as I was making my way back to the hotel on Mosque Street I saw a bar I had not noticed int the past, and it advertised live music. I could see the stage, it looked very professional, very cool, there was a bass guitar and a semi-acoustic, both in stands, and the music was soon to pick up again.

I had the time to go off and find a desert of ice cream to cool off my burning mouth from the street food I’d just eaten next to the Actors Jam Bar, and then I decided to make my way back up the street to have a whiskey and check out the music in this bar. I walk into the place, and I find a bass player and lead player/singer, onstage, playing beautiful jazz with a light touch, and the lead player, a man in his 60s, greets me, right in the middle of the song. Cool!

I take a seat in front of the stage, and bit by bit my attention is taken deeper into this man’s music, his deft touch on the guitar, the great rhythm between him and the bass player, and finally, most surprisingly, the sudden appearance of his voice. I am not a big fan of deep, worn, whiskey-washed voices – even less interested in such voices that sing blues in bars all over the world and on Tom Waits records. (I love Waits, but mostly the early stuff.) But here I found something I’ve never really seen before: This whiskey washed voice of the man I was to learn is named Ernesto Valerio, a Singaporean musician who has played in bars in the city-state for 51 years, may have its limitations, but his feeling and his ability to temper the voice in all sorts of different keys and needs and sounds, just won me over entirely.

From a soft, pseudo high pitch to its more natural lower zone, the voice expressed an inner love of music that is rare. And his guitar playing, the beautiful fingerpicking and lead stuff and wide spread of jazz and pop and other modes – even Chinese, I learned later – just made him the consummate guitarist. And he is also a showman. I had to speak to the guy afterwards. That’s where I found out that Ernesto has been playing in Singapore for 51 years, and that he is now 67 years old.

“I still just love it,” he said of playing music in front of audiences.

That was clear. And the audience loves it too.

But it was in returning back to the hotel that the story broadened. I just had to do a little search on Ernesto Valerio, now that I had his name. That led me to seeing that he is a well-known local performer, indeed, who has rubbed shoulders with the best of them here, and who has had a nice spread of media attention, who is often called “the Dean Martin of Singapore.” He used to play in a group in the early 60s, but soon went solo because he just didn’t like having to deal with other musicians. (His duet with the bass player is remarkably full sounding, by the way.)

The Malaysian, Paul Ponnudorai, master-studend, student-disciple connection

As I read on, I saw a connection between Ernesto and a guitarist I had met in March of 2012 in Kuala Lumpur: Paul Ponnudorai. I had met this guy Paul, briefly, at a bar venue in Kuala Lumpur where I had played. Paul, I did not know at the time, was an internationally respected guitarist who had played with people like Billy Cobham, Tuck & Patti, and Wynton Marsalis and many others. I had been introduced to Paul after I played a set at Rockafellas and I had no idea what a great guitarist this guy was, and how basic my guitar playing must have looked to him by comparison. But he was a cool, simple, unassuming man. It turned out that Paul Ponnudorai, at 51, had only a few months to live, as he died in the summer of organ failure, and that was the end of a man they called Malaysia’s greatest guitarist, and sometimes, even the world’s greatest….

Ernesto Valerio through a glass

Ernesto Valerio through a glass

The point of this, is that Paul Ponnudorai had at first been trained by this man Ernesto. Some say Ernesto then later became a disciple of Paul! But why I mention all of this on this blog, is because all these links coming together, these meetings with remarkable musicians in KL and Singapore (located on the Malaysian peninsula) have helped me draw a picture in my mind of a fabulously thriving musical scene in this part of the world that only the lack of an adequate publicity machine keeps secret from the rest of the world.

The Malaysia/Singapore musical world is closely tied, and fabulously populated by guitarists, bassists (Andy Peterson) and an a fabulous collection of beautiful vocalists. Looking forward to learning more over the next few days….

Tennessee Looking Great From Singapore – Monday Night Memories

September 17, 2014
bradspurgeon

tennessee bar facade

tennessee bar facade

SINGAPORE – I’m kind of wiped out, having attended the Tennessee Bar open mic on Monday night in Paris, having it turn out to be an epic night, and then getting up early Tuesday to take two flights to Singapore, where I now write these words on what is the evening in Singapore and mid-day in Paris. But I just had to put up a post about that evening at the Tennessee, after I checked out my videos….

I had left my Zoom Q3 recording device at home and so I ended up having to use my iPhone 5S to record the open mic stuff. That’s great visually, but the sound would have been better on the Q3. No matter, though, a the sound at the Tennessee was so good, and the quality of the performances exceptional, that the videos are worth seeing AND hearing.

First, let me note that the Tennessee open mic had a different feeling to it this week thanks to the replacement of the regular guy (a one off?) by Brislee Adams, who hosts the now very successful Café Oz open mic. It was Brislee’s usual deft touch. But what really made the night stand out was the number of exceptional acts.

Oh, by the way, my own slot was a total disaster! For some reason my guitar – my Seagull S6 – ceased to work through the amp now and then particularly when I began moving in time with the music. So I was interrupted throughout by the bad connection, or, what I hope is the case, the need for a new battery. I’ll find out now in Singapore…. But the result of the cutting guitar was that I started to sing my first song, the French, “Et dans 150 ans,” which I had perfectly performed in three open mics recently, only to go blank on the lyrics after just one verse. I had to bail out, and just made a complete mess of it, and quit. Then I did my new song, “Chanson d’amour,” and the guitar apparently did not like that one either, and kept cutting out, and I forgot one or two lines. And the same thing happened with “Borderline,” in terms of the guitar, although I did not forget the lines. But I was totally, totally outside the song. Worst set I’ve done in ages.

While I was ordering a beer at one point during the evening I noticed a familiar face in the bar on the ground level. He had showed up with a friend, Louise, and was just having a drink in a bar he’d never been in before. As Theo is the fabulous lead singer of the band Velvet Veins, which played at the Rock en Seine festival a few weeks ago, and for which my regular lead guitarist, Félix Beguin, also plays, I said to Theo, “There’s an open mic downstairs. Come and play!”

So Theo and Louise came down and did three songs, including the Elvis Presley one that I’ve put up on the blog. It was part of a finale to the evening that was extremely powerful, thanks also to the man who had just preceded Theo and Louise, that is Desmond Myers. Desmond, with a great little Martin parlour guitar that someone lent him, and with his amazing mix of rap and roll….

Well, anyway, just check out the videos.

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