It was the only open mic/jam session place I managed to find in Bahrain this trip, but it lived up to all my hopes – or almost. I found the Dublin club on my first day in Bahrain – on Wednesday – and set up a date to play at the jam session on Saturday. I spent the next two nights scouring through the streets and Internet and magazines trying to find another place to jam or do an open mic – as readers of this blog will have seen. But all the while, I had this idea of a date at the Dublin club ready to happen. And it did.
Saturday night is a bit of a down night in Bahrain for the bars, as it is the equivalent of our Sunday night, since here the weekend starts on Friday with the holy day. (Actually, it really starts Thursday night, of course.) But with the Formula One race in town, the Dublin bar – which I described in an earlier post – was really bopping with what seemed like a couple of hundred people at the high point.
The resident band is called SuperkatZ, and it originated in Australia (the next stop on my worldwide trip). The band leader is Mark Eaves, who is also married to the keyboard player. He organizes the band’s tours, and they go all over the world and play as a resident band for several months at a time. Mark told me they started at the Dublin in January and they’re there until Ramadan. So if you’re in Bahrain, go take in a few sets. This is a very cool and together cover band of six or seven members, with a great bass player, lead guitarist, the keyboards and Mark on drums. They do everything from the Cranberries to Led Zeppelin, and several of the band members sing quite well. In addition to the keyboard woman, Masha, there’s also another lead woman singer. The band has played in South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, for example. But Mark’s favorite area is the Gulf region, so they play often around here, in Dubai, etc.
But now on to the open mic/jam session. This is another of those evenings that calls itself a jam session but might almost call itself an open mic. The difference here is that in general the guest musicians play with the other band members, and the band does a full three or so sets, mixing in the guest musicians starting from the second set – or some time after 10 PM.
I arrived early in order to eat my dinner in the restaurant and watch the band play and just to settle in. The restaurant had a good deal offering a free half bottle of wine if you bought a steak. I ceased eating steak around 10 years ago, although I still eat most other kinds of meat. But with the temptation of a free half bottle of wine, I went for a sirloin. And I can see why they’re offering this. The steak was much better than the pork chop I had on Wednesday, and the wine was very good for a house wine served in a carafe (not in a half bottle).
But it turned out to be a good idea to go early just for the preparation for the jam session as well. They set up a detailed list for you to sign and even give your telephone number. Where it is different from most open mics, or even jam sessions, is that they only ask for you to do one song. Usually the standard is two or three. But this method means if you’re absolute crap, at least the evening won’t have a very big hole punched into it by a boring or embarrassingly bad musician. So on the list they ask for your name, the instrument you play, the name of the song and your telephone number.
I spoke to two or three members of the band after I signed up, as they wanted to know what I wanted to do, what they could do playing along, etc. It was very well organized that way, and it put me at ease. When I spoke to Mark early on and told him that I would do “Crazy Love,” by Van Morrison, he said the band didn’t do that one, and he was a little worried. Then he realized I had my own guitar with me, so he said it was no problem. He would play the drums and the bass player, Dean, would also accompany me. I told them both that the chords were very simple. Both the Dean and Mark asked me to sing the beginning of the song for them just in their ear so they could get an idea.
“It’s a little soul-like, not too slow, but not fast,” I said, adding that I did it faster than Van Morrison, though, and in simple 4×4 time.
I then mentioned to Dean that I had spoken to the keyboard player at The Warbler, who was his friend, and he was delighted to have the passing on of hellos, as it were. The connection.
They wisely asked if I wanted to open the second set, and they gave me several minutes to plug in the guitar and set up the microphone. I say “wisely,” because this gave me the chance to get comfortable, and while the DJ played some music and the crowd caroused, I was able to use the monitors to play the chords on my guitar for Dean. It was also wise for me to open the second set because I thought that “Crazy Love” with me on rhythm guitar and vocals and the drummer and bass would be a lot more downbeat, slower and quiet than most of what the band did. So it was a great way to start out the set, rather than poking a hole in the middle of it.
So I went up and the woman singer introduced me to the crowd. It was rowdy but respectful, and obviously passionate about the music that night. I did not get the feeling that the music was an intrusion for the crowd, despite the giant TV screen with a rugby match on it. I felt fully relaxed, partly thanks to the half bottle of wine, but mostly thanks to the cool and easy treatment by the band, the preparation, and I love playing in front of big audiences. It’s more difficult to play for five people than 500.
Another thing that made me feel immediately at ease was that the sound system and monitors were absolutely fabulous. I could hear myself and my guitar perfectly, and that is very important when you play and it is so often lacking at open mics or jam sessions. Actually, having played with so many horrendous sound systems over the last year and more since I started doing this again, I probably prepared myself all the better for the moment when I have a good system. It’s like when you spend a year driving a crappy four-stroke engine go-kart and then you suddenly have a thoroughbred two-stroke machine that actually handles the way you’ve been trying to get the four-stroke to do – but effortlessly.
So I introduced the song briefly, after asking how many people were there just for the race…. (Didn’t get a big response on that one, but I later learned that my colleague sitting next to me in the media center from an Italian racing public was staying in the Ramee Palace hotel in Juffair where the Dublin club is located and he had seen the band every night, but didn’t go last night when I was there!)
“I’m going to do a little Irish soul here,” I said, “because that actually exists, particularly when it is done by Van Morrison. Here’s “Crazy Love”….”
I started the simple chords and the drums and bass went right into it too, and I was told later they were very conscious of trying not to drown out my acoustic, as they do whenever someone plays acoustic with them.
In any case, we just flew through the song without a hitch, without a glitch, and I felt great. I flew. I could see the audience quite well too, as I did not have any particularly badly placed and blinding spotlights. So it was very cool to do the song with a band, hear it perfectly, and see the large audience before me, some of whom looked like they were swaying to the rhythm of the song. The only real problem I encountered with the performance came at the end. I did not want to stop the song. Didn’t want to quit. So I decided to play a full run of the chords and then leap in and sing the chorus a second time at the end, just to keep going and wind it down, adding again, “She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love. She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love.” But in adding this at the end, I both screwed up the chords a little, and I think took the other musicians a little by surprise.
But all in all it went great, and I had several of the musicians pat me on the back and shake my hands afterwards, and one gave me a calling card for the band as I left the stage. Another asked when I would be back in Bahrain, another said, “Come back any time!”
Afterwards, two of them and one of the other guest performers complimented the sound of my guitar, which they thought was astounding. They wanted to know what it was.
I picked it up and showed it to them.
“I know it sounds great,” I added. “I get compliments all over the world for it. And today, these strings are even old and thrashed out strings. They’ve been on it for a month and have been played really hard.”
I didn’t tell them exactly how, but I lend the guitar for Earle’s open mic at the Mecano bar in Paris, and it had also been played by other people recently at another open mic in Paris.
I didn’t tell them this time that the guitar only costs 380 euros, and I was on the verge of telling them about a compliment I had in England last year when a guy told me after playing my guitar that it blew away a 10,000 euro signature Martin that he had just played a few days before.
Anyway…. this blog is not supposed to be only about me, me, me. The jam session had a few other cool musicians as well. In fact, they were all cool and entertaining. A young Saudi Arabian guy named Osama who lives in Bahrain played with the band, doing Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. A local guy played a weird metal tonal drum, the name of which I’m afraid I cannot remember. But it was very airy and acid, sounded very cool with the band playing light and airy stuff behind it. And then there was a bass player who played a song I have suddenly forgotten!!! But REM comes to mind, though I don’t that was it, and I’ll have to take notes next time. This guest bass player came up to me afterwards to tell me he liked my song and he also complimented the sound of my Seagull guitar and wanted to know what it was.
He told me he was here in Bahrain working in military intelligence. What?!?!?! And playing bass on the side. I liked that. It was in a way a defining moment of the open mic jam session scene in Bahrain. I will definitely return to play again next year, and once again, my feeling is that I have discovered a completely different Bahrain to the one I have been to for the race on the previous five occasions I came here. Goodbye airport, hotel, circuit, airport. Hello jam session!
One problem was that this was really a musical experience in the international world of expats in hotels – this was not an authentic indigenous Bahrain jam. I failed to pierce into that world. But maybe next time. And there will be many more of those to come, as in Istanbul, for instance. Or Sao Paulo….
And my only regret about the jam session – the down point I mentioned earlier – was that I only played one song. I’d have loved to have done more. In fact, the guitar player/singer, asked me at one point if I was going to do another. So that made me feel good – but for some reason it just didn’t happen. Still, the old show business dictum says, “Leave the audience wanting more.” So I can’t complain.