Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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.

One-Day Open Mic Festival in Melbourne

September 12, 2014
bradspurgeon

Melbourne Skyline

Melbourne Skyline

As many readers of this blog know, I have a list of open mics, my Thumbnail Guides to open mics in more than 20 cities around the world. These are the cities I visit as a journalist covering Formula One, and I basically only put on the lists the venues where I have played. Today, though, I just wanted to use the blog to announce a one-day open mic festival in Melbourne, Australia on 28 September, to welcome in the spring (there!). I’m putting this up for two reasons: 1), because someone involved in the festival sent me a link to the Melbourne open mic festival page on Facebook, and I encourage readers to give me their local information, since I visit the cities just once a year, and 2), because, as it turns out, my Melbourne Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics and Jam Sessions happens to be my second most popular list of open mics, behind that of my home city Thumbnail Guide of Paris open mics. This festival looks great. I’d go if I was there, but I’ll be in Paris that weekend….

Third Week in a Row at the Café Oz Open Mic in Paris, and Still Happy

September 11, 2014
bradspurgeon

Café Oz Paris

Café Oz Paris

PARIS – The Café Oz open mic in Paris at the Café Oz bar near the Blanche metro started off a little slow a few months ago. But the bar, the location and Brislee Adams’ MCing job and sound system and methods, have made this the latest open mic in Paris to be a “must attend.”

In fact, I’ve just gone for the third week in a row. Tuesday night I came close to deciding to go to one or another of the other Tuesday-night open mics in Paris, but my experiences at the two previous editions of the Café Oz made me feel like I would be most assured of getting the kind of night I wanted if I attended it. I was right.

In fact, I had even gone with the intention of possibly doing two or three open mics in the same night…but the Café Oz was just too much fun. IE, cool and interesting people and musicians, plus the cool ambience of the barmen and women, and one thing I think I habitually forget to point out: The Café Oz open mic is one of those where they really think of the well-being of each musician who plays a set: You get a free drink after you play!

I had a great time with my set, too, by the way, playing “Year of the Cat” and having a harmonica player and an accordion player play along. Then I did my new song, “Chanson d’Amour,” followed by a bit of risk taking by playing a song I have only sung I think once before in an open mic, that never-ending Bob Dylan song that starts: “When you’re lost in the rain in Jurez….” The fact that it’s the same lilting chords from beginning to end was not overly boring this time thanks again to the accordion and harmonic….

There were some of the same faces as the week before, but there were also some discoveries. I’ll be back!!

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Italy

September 10, 2014
bradspurgeon

Milan

Milan

My 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 Italy since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Song of My Youth, and Video in Personal Photos: Not Much in the Mood

September 9, 2014
bradspurgeon

PARIS – After my sessions at the Melodium Studios this year in full-band mode, I wanted to record just me with my voice and guitar for a really simple acoustic song. I decided to record a song that I wrote when I was around 16 years old. It never actually got a title, but I’ve just decided to give it the logical one of: “Not Much in the Mood.” In this recording that I did in the living room with me playing guitar on three tracks and singing, it’s about as simple as it gets from a recording point of view.

I decided also that since this was a song from the past – which I do occasionally still sing in open mics – that I would not do a huge production dramatic video of the kind I’ve been doing, but to just illustrate it with some photos of the two music-performing periods of my life: When I was a teenager (and early 20s) and then photos from the recent period of my open mic adventures in the last five years. Nothing showy or complicated. Just two periods of my life and the song that has crossed them both:

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Belgium

September 6, 2014
bradspurgeon

liege

liege

My 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 Belgium since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Yes, yes, for those who are very alert, you might realize that I am writing these words from Monza, Italy, that Belgium was the race I attended two weeks ago. I admit, I am behind schedule on this one by one race – but the Italy section will be done pronto!!!

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