Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Crazy Love at the Crazy Elephant in Crazy Singapore

September 27, 2010

I had missed the Crazy Elephant open jam session last year, I had missed an offer by Ollie Fury to play a song during his concert there on Saturday, but last night I managed to arrive just in time for the jam session, and thanks to the flexibility of the man in charge, I finally got up to play.

The Crazy Elephant is a pub on the edge of the Clarke Quay entertainment district in Singapore, overlooking the canal. The Clarke Quary development is probably the liveliest spot for nightlife in the city, and it is full of pubs, discos, restaurants and other entertainment spots. There is even a giant bungy cord thing with three seats in it so you don’t go to the grave alone….

Last year I had been intrigued by the Crazy Elephant as I searched for open mics and jams, but the timing was bad because the Formula One race is at nighttime, and I could never quite find the right hour to go there. The open jam session takes place every Sunday, and normally I thought it started at 9 PM, but last night it seemed to start when I got there closer to midnight. So I was finally in luck as far as the hour went. The previous night Ollie Fury did a gig there – see my previous post – and he had invited me to play, but it turned out his gig was on during the qualifying session for the Formula One race, so I could not cut out from work to go play music!!

But last night, not only did I arrive at the beginning of the session to find the bar crowded and full of a rowdy, wild and ready international audience, but there was already a drummer, bass player, and the lead guitarist and singer who is also the organizer of the evening. I did not catch his name, and never had another opportunity to do so. But as soon as he saw me arrive with my guitar, he invited me up.

I backed out as I said I had to tune the guitar. This was true. The heat and humidity in Singapore – 30 degrees Celsius heat and 70 percent humidity even at midnight – meant that my guitar was constantly undergoing a bombardment of temperature changes and wood stretching adjustments. But another reason I did not want to get up immediately was because I wanted to see what sort of acts would play and how I might fit in.

Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized when I learned that the jam session at the Crazy Elephant is exclusively blues. Harding hitting, rocking, three-chord blues. In fact, when the organizer saw my guitar and I came up and he told me to first start by playing guitar while someone else sang and later I could sing, I had to tell him that I was not a great guitar player but rather a singer and guitar player.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “We only play three-chord blues here. No problem. Exclusively three-chord blues.”

Oh dear, I thought. I probably cannot even play that!

Later when they invited me up again after I had tuned the guitar, I said to the guy, “Look, I can’t really play this blues, but I have a song I know everyone can play to, and it’s pretty much a kind of soul song….”

“Nope, sorry. We only do blues here.”

“Listen, this is a Van Morrison song, it’s ‘Crazy Love,’ and it’s only four chords, and I’ve played it all around the world with bands that never played it before and I never had a problem. Really, it should be okay.”

“We only do blues here, sorry,” he said.

“But listen, I’ve come all the way from Paris just to do this!”

He looked at me again and suddenly I saw that I was not facing an asshole. I had a human being here in front of me and he was flexible and he was cool and he said, “All right then, all I can say is, ‘Have it your way!’ Do what you want. But it’s going to be a train-wreck I can see it coming!”

He spoke with an American accent, I think. But all of this talk was going on in front of the full house of a drinking crowd, and I turned to the microphone and said what a great guy this was and he was giving me a chance and I’d do this soul song.

I then asked for a cable for my guitar, and the MC unplugged his and plugged it in mine, and decided he’d be better off not being part of the train wreck. So he left the stage. I turned to the remaining musicians, and in fact, there was a bass player, drummer and a lead guitar player, so we had a full band, and I showed them the chords. It was a bit rushed, and I did not really show them the chords for the shift to the bridge, so I did in fact set up a little bit of a train wreck scenario.

But I flew into it, and we all got the train rolling, and we made it through, I extended the instrumental sections so that the lead guy could do his thing, and it all worked out without ever quite going off the rails completely. In fact, I had two or three people rush up to the stage in the delirium of the applause afterwards to make requests: “Hotel California!!! Hotel California!” said one. “Sorry, don’t know it,” I said. I didn’t know the other requests either, and by the time that I finally decided I’d do “I Shall Be Released,” because it was only three chords, the MC had returned and thanked me and said it was great. But I was clearly being told my time was through.

It was interesting, I found, though, that the crowd was also pretty clearly sick and tired of three-chord blues all night long, the same song one time after another…. But I left feeling that the Crazy Elephant was a very cool place indeed, and that its MC was the kind I like. A risk taker.

Singing in Singapore with Ollie Fury

September 25, 2010

Just a little note today of a funny coincidence, which I have mentioned before and want to mention again. Ollie Fury is a friend of mine and fellow musician in Paris and he runs the Ptit Bonheur la Chance bar’s open mic on Tuesdays. It turns out that he lived five years as a child in Singapore, from age 5 to 10, and it turns out also that he came here for a couple of weeks just for a visit and some gigs, arriving the same day as I arrived, last Thursday.

ollie fury drinking a tiger beer in singapore before performing at actors jam bar

ollie fury drinking a tiger beer in singapore before performing at actors jam bar

So we met up and played together last night at the Actors jam bar that I mentioned in my previous post. I played “Crazy Love” and two other songs – along with a group (and Ollie on lead) – and he played some songs before I arrived, and then when I was there he played “Brown Eyed Girl,” to match my “Crazy Love,” so we had to Van Morrison songs. I made a video of him playing “Brown Eyed Girl,” but the image quality is garbage. I’m putting it up here anyway so you can hear the sound of the music, and especially Ollie’s cool voice.

poster for ollie fury concert at crazy elephant in singapore

poster for ollie fury concert at crazy elephant in singapore

Tonight Ollie is doing a gig at the Crazy Elephant pub in Clarke Quay, and he invited me to come and play a song during his gig, which was bountiful. As I walked toward the MRT line metro stop on the way to the race track today I passed by the “Crazy Elephant” and saw the announcement for his gig. Looked great, so I took a photo and put it up here, along with a photo of Ollie having a beer with me last night before we played at Actors.

Amazing how the life of musicians can meet in the global village in the strangest of places….

Actors – the Jam Bar in Singapore

September 24, 2010

I’ve been off the blog for a couple of days while travelling around the world, destination: Singapore. Arrived yesterday afternoon in a terrible rain storm, then stormed over to the F1 paddock for a day of work in the series’ only night race, and then stormed off to a place on North Bridge Road at Boat Quay, called Actors, the Jam Bar.

Actually, stopped at a nearby food joint to eat some chicken and noodles and drink a Tiger Beer. But then went up the stairs to Actors and found there on stage a guy I had already met last year at this fabulous jam session bar nearby the trendy quarter of Clarke Quay. This was the guitar player and singer named Clement, who was jamming already with a man on bass and another on drums.

We renewed acquaintance, and he remembered details about me, like that I was a journalist, and that, “Hey man, sing your Cat Stevens song – “Father and Son.” Now that was very cool, I thought, since we had not been in touch in a year. I asked about the guy who ran the place last year. “Where’s Ringo?” I asked, as that was the name of the man.

“Dead,” said Clement.


“No,” he said. “Just joking. He just doesn’t work here anymore.”

Great joke, Clement! Anyway, it was the beginning of a great night of jamming. I had discovered the bar last year and I remembered that it was a very relaxed, easy place to go and play, where in fact, the mission statement of the place is the following: “A live jam bar for musicians and music lovers alike, this is one place where the band never gets boring. Comprising of patrons from the bar, the impromptu band, made up of various executives from all walks of life, dishes out radio friendly fare and old school rock hits.”

In other words, my kind of place. It’s a dark room with wooden walls and tables and chairs, a long bar and a very narrow terrace where you can go out the have a smoke and look at the skyline. The sound system is pretty good, and I love the reverb on the vocal mic that makes almost anyone sound great. There is also a kind of karaoke set up where the band plays the music and the person from the audience can read the lyrics and sing from the hundreds of songs available in paper binders. But this year I noticed that something that looked like an iPad was now fixed near the mic and full of lyrics.

I sang several songs, including the Cat Stevens he requested and also “Where Will the Children Play.” Clement played along on guitar and we did the “Father and Son” a second time together, with him on harmony and bass.

Soon a couple of members from other bands that had just finished a gig elsewhere in Singapore arrived and they joined up in the jam. So we had some fine music, particularly with the members of the band called Ocular, and one guy from a band called No Strings Attached.

I had a great time, but the videos I made are terribly lit because the lighting was so low. The sound is pretty good, though, so I am putting them up anyway.

I think I will return to the Actors bar tonight because there will be more people on a Friday night. I’ve been invited to go and see the two above mentioned bands, too, at the venues where they play on Friday and Saturday, and they said I could play a song or two. Ocular plays at Chijmes on Friday and Saturday and at Giraffe. The guy from No Strings Attached will play at one of those venues with them.

But on Saturday I also want to make it over to Crazy Elephant in Clarke Quay to take in the set by my friend from Paris, Ollie Fury. Ollie, who runs the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic on Tuesdays in Paris will play from 9:30 to 10:30 tomorrow.

Reign Morton Reins ’em in and Tears ’em up at the Tennessee Bar in Paris (as does Karim)

September 21, 2010

Okay, real fast now, because I HAVE to get this down. (But I had a very busy day playing, lunching and preparing for Singapore.) Normally when I write about the Monday evenings at the Tennessee Bar and the Galway Pub, I start of with some little thing about the Tennessee and then go into some long thing about the Galway. This time is different. I stopped off at the Tennessee, found too many people there and did not play, went on to the Galway, found few people there and played soon after my arrival; did three songs, and then decided to show a friend the Tennessee Bar.

So we returned to the Tennessee and there, that’s where all the action was last night, and it was a night I won’t forget soon. I got to play immediately upon arrival – as it was close to midnight – and I did three songs: “Just Like a Woman,” my own “Since You Left Me,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” I sounded out the audience first to make sure there were not that many people who had already heard me sing the songs. The Galway had worked as a warm-up stage for me, so I was in full swing at the Tennessee. And good thing for that. When I got off the stage I was warmly greeted and applauded by an American who, it turned out, would go up right after me. And thank goodness for that.

For when I saw and heard this guy go up, I said, “What is this? Joe Williams has come to Paris? Or maybe little Muddy Waters or something? Or is it Stevie Wonder?” In any case, it was clear that the man I would learn was named Reign Morton, has a great talent, and he feasted us on it last night. It was only tonight that I learned that he is an actor, singer and a man on a world tour mission of some kind, and that I suddenly remembered probably passing Reign Morton in the street once in the Latin Quarter playing to enraptured audiences.

We exchanged names and emails, and that’s how I managed to look up this Reign Morton actor from General Hospital and musician sans paire…. (is that French? don’t think so, but as I said, I’m on the run to go out and play again somewhere tonight).

Anyway, the jam with Reign and a very cool guitar player named Karim was also superb. And it was Karim who closed off the night with a performance of the Satriani kind that you find occasionally on the Internet, one of those absolute technical wonders who just marches up and down the guitar neck like a three star chef chopping onions and bringing tears to our eyes.

Afterwards I said to Karim, “You play in a group?”


“Oh. What’s your name,”


“Where do you play?”

“In my room.”

Okay, if you’re reading this and you’re a guitar player, just like go quit guitar after you’ve watched the video below of Karim dancing up and down the guitar neck.

In fact, I had a video made of me playing “Jealous Guy” at the Galway, but I’ve decided not to put it….

Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes at the OPA in Paris

September 19, 2010

I had no open mic to take part in last night so I decided to nurse my hangover by drinking a couple of beers – and no more – at the OPA in Paris, near the Opera de la Bastille, and take in the set by one of my favorite young bands in Paris: Mister Soap and the Smiling Tomatoes.

Unfortunately they did not play until nearly midnight, so I had to make those two beers go very far indeed. But the two bands before Mister Soap also gave some food for the ears….

Check out the videos:

A New Paris Art Space, Norman Spinrad’s Birthday Party, and a Ferocious Hangover

September 18, 2010

Thanks to Norman Spinrad’s generosity, I have the most enormous hangover I’ve had for years. I never usually drink enough to get a hangover, but last night at a Creole restaurant in Paris near Montparnasse where Norman Spinrad, one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers had invited me to join in to celebrate his 70th birthday, I started out on Rhum and Vanilla and soon hit the harder stuff…. I had so much fun that it was not until I got into the cab at 2 AM that I noticed my head was just spinning, and Paris was turning over on itself.

But to jump back a step before I return to Spinrad’s 70th.

I had so much to do yesterday that I did not get a chance to mention the opening of the new art space in Paris that I visited the previous night. And I will, in fact, tie together these two evenings with a musical theme, in keeping with most of what’s on this blog. My musical adventure goes not only around the world with the Formula One circus and the open mics and jams I find at each race. It also extends into my daily life in Paris. And on Thursday I could not find an open mic so I decided to attend the opening of this new art space, which I had been invited to via Facebook.

The space of the Collectif OXIII on the rue d’Enghien actually opened up at the end of July, but Thursday it held its official opening. Now, before I left I said to myself, “All right, do I bring my guitar with me?” I always like to be ready with the guitar just in case I pass a bar or other place with music where it might appear I could play.

I decided for the worst of reasons not to bring the guitar. I did not want to look pretentious, or have something encumbering me at the OXIII. I never usually care how pretentious or idiotic I look. But this time for some reason, that’s how I felt and I left without the guitar. Getting the art space, I found a fabulous building of several floors with gallery space, performance space, a room they call the world’s smallest concert hall since it fits only four audience members, and in the basement there was a music rehearsal space with a couple of guitar players playing, oh, and upstairs, more musicians played and some sat around on the floor with guitars and jammed. And I did not have my guitar!!

I would have been able to play had I brought the guitar, and I would have been in heaven. So I failed, made a bad decision. That’s life. Had a great time anyway, meeting up with some friends, members of a band called the Burnin’ Jacks, the lead guitar player of which – Félix – plays on two of the tracks on my songs on my Ephemere Recordings from July.

So how do I tie this in with Spinrad’s 70th birthday party the next night? Well, first, who cares about tying it in? The important thing was that one of the great science fiction writers turned 70 and celebrated it in Paris in a Creole restaurant. I first met Spinrad in 1997 when I wrote a story about him for the International Herald Tribune, when I was writing a lot of stuff about technology, and the American author had put up for sale on the Internet for $1 the rights to his novel, “He Walked Among Us” to the American publisher who would do the best job of publishing it.

Spinrad, to quote my own article, was “part of the “new wave” of the late 1960s when he wrote “Bug Jack Barron,” a novel that anticipated the days when presidential elections would be decided entirely by television.” We kept in touch and saw each other again and he invited me to his 60th birthday party in Paris in 2000 when he lived in the 5th Arrondissement. A very cool man, I recall that at his 60th birthday party he had invited people like his local wine story seller and probably even his butcher – although I cannot remember precisely that fact – along with publishers, writers, artists, etc.

So it was with great anticipation that I returned to his 70th birthday last night, and was not let down. This time it was in the cellar room of a Creole restaurant, and the atmosphere was wonderful. Among those who showed up were the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda Moorcock, Spinrad’s editor at his French publishing house, Fayard (which, by the way, is publishing “He Walked Among Us”!), and I found out only after everyone had left that the woman sitting across the table from me at one point who looked like the French actress Josiane Balasko, was in fact, the French actress, scenarist and film director, Josiane Balasko. And of course, there were some of his friends of “the common people” as well, which included an RATP (Paris métro) repairman….

Norman Spinrad Celebrating his 70th birthday in Paris

Norman Spinrad Celebrating his 70th birthday in Paris

So how do I tie all this together to a musical theme? Well, I had again debated whether I should bring my guitar with me, and again I had decided against it. As I stepped off the metro and surfaced on Montparnasse, I realized I was right next to the Swan Bar, where I go on Friday nights sometimes to play music. And, as it turned out, the Spinrad party erupted into a musical celebration when the cake arrived, and someone in the party who knew I played music, asked me if I had brought my guitar.

Well, I decided that having drunk so much at that point, that I would ask the DJ if he would put on a track – Since You Left Me – from my Ephemere Recordings on the sound system. I wanted to see how well my music blended in with Bob Marley and the other pop songs that were being played. I wanted to do it without anyone knowing that it was my music, just to see how it blended in – you know, would people stop short, raise their eyebrows and go, “What the hell is this?”

In fact, the DJ decided he wanted to announce to everyone that I was the guy making the music that was piping in through the sound system, so I had to take a little bow, and then behave naturally somehow. But the great news was that people continued dancing to my music as they had to ther music, and they appeared to enjoy it immensely. But then again, I suspect that I was not the only one who had by then drunk so much that anything that was piped in would have sounded wonderful….

By the way, this is not the first time I have mentioned Spinrad on this blog, as I mentioned him just a few weeks ago when I wrote about meeting a French punk musician named Eric Debris, and it turned out that Spinrad had made a record with another writer I know and who is a friend of Debris, Maurice Dantec. And as with the Debris evening, this evening at Spinrad’s birthday was one of those where I felt several of my worlds coming together, and that provides such a feeling of satisfaction and the fullness of life, which has outweighed the pain of the hangover. Next time, of course, however, I will have to take my guitar even when in doubt – even if I did get to put my song on the sound system and have my music heard….

Les Chansonniers Open Mic in Menilmontant

September 16, 2010

Here’s some good news. I think I’ve never written about this open mic in the Menilmontant area of Paris, so I will not be repeating myself yet again with yet another description of a Wednesday night at The Highlander.

The Chansonniers open mic takes place only once per month, on the third Wednesday of the month. It takes place in a working class area of the city, that is turning into a very hip and artistic area as well. I like the area. And there is something quite different about the atmosphere at the Chansonniers. Although the name sounds like it is linked to the open mic, i.e., “The Singers,” in fact “The Chansonniers” is the name of a hotel, and the open mic takes place in the reception/bar area of the hotel on the ground floor facing the street. It is a small, narrow room with a bar on the left as you enter, and the stage on the right. The room extends back far and has tables and chairs for the spectators and musicians to sit at while the acts perform.

The sound system is good, and the lights in the room are left on bright during the whole evening, so the atmosphere is different from most of the darkened venues that usually host live music. There is a very large cross-section of performers at this open mic, and everyone is accepted very warmly. It has a good way of operating in that each performer is allowed only two songs, but if there is time after that, the list of performers gets another chance to go up and sing one more song. It ends quite early, usually, around midnight. It starts early too, though, around 8:30, and it is important to be there early to get on the list early too – unless you don’t mind going on last, obviously.

Last night there were some interesting acts, and one of my favorites was Pauline Paris, whom I first met around a year ago at the Swan Bar on Montparnasse, where she just happened to stop by one night after an open jam, but where she had a gig lined up for a month or so after that. She then did a wonderful tour of the Paris Arrondissements in which she played in one bar or venue of each of the Arrondissements, so 20 gigs. I saw her at Polly Maggoo’s in the 5th Arrondissement. Pauline Paris is a very short and small person, eternally smiling, and she has an enormous voice! She is only in her early 20s, she composes her own songs, and I think of her as a modern day day Piaf. I got a couple of videos of her, but the second one I took I was badly positioned at the bar, and I did not want to interrupt the performance or the view, so I stayed there and it was not good as I tried to catch sight of her around her harmonica player.

Another favorite of mine – and the audience – was Julian Robinson, who is a regular at the bar. He plays a mean semi-acoustic guitar, with spritely lead. And last night he used a looping box and produced something quite fun. Check out the video on that too.

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