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.