I could not have dreamed before coming to Kuala Lumpur last week that I would have had such a musically and personally rich experience in just six days in Malaysia. Retrospectively, the signs were perhaps there: I had lined up in advance a gig and a half-hour slot at an open mic, starting on the first day of arrival. The rest was a matter of serendipity, synchronicity, and pushing the limits.
It turned out that the day I chose to play Laila’s Cafe open mic was also the first day in a year that a friend of one of its organizers decided to drop by to check it out. This was Edmund Anthony, the man who runs the music program at the famous Backyard Pub & Grill in KL. So we met, he liked my singing, and he invited me to check out the Backyard on Friday. That in turn led to an invitation to me to play a solo act there last night, as he has solo performers early in the week, building up to full-fledged bands later on.
So it was that I ended up playing not only Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (the latter thanks to the Melbourne open mic organizer, Emily Brown’s research on where else I could play in KL, but I also got to play this nice little gig at the KL landmark Backyard Pub & Grill. This was also thanks to the kindness of Mark Renesh, who is the regular Monday night musician at the Backyard. He not only let me play from 9:30 onwards for about 45 minutes, but he later invited me up to play a couple of songs with him – “Stand By Me” and “Unchained Melody.”
Mark Renesh is a very cool dude with a voice that you think you are hallucinating with when you hear it and see him singing and you wonder where the hell it’s coming from. It’s his, all right. But Mark, who has always worked solo, has developed the one-man solo gig into an art of technological proportions I have yet to see beaten. That is, I’ve recently started using a vocal harmonizing device occasionally at my brunch, and Stephen “Danger” Prescott uses one at the Galway open mic in Paris. Other musicians, like Thomas Brun at the Highlander’s open mic, have a lot of looping and fuzz type of gadgets too. But Mark has a lot of stuff he pre-records, including rhythm devices, vocal harmonies, and I think other guitars. The whole is like a one man band, and very impressive.
Moreover, Mark has a fabulous voice that very frequently does an exact rendition of the cover songs he sings. Very unusual.
Another thing that made the even fabulous was that I actually had three of my best friends among Formula One journalists come along to dine with me and listen to my concert. Well, I say “dine,” but it took a couple of them quite a while to find the Backyard, as they ended up driving around KL about three times before finding it. And I was extremely honored to have come around to listen to me as well, one of my favorite former Formula One racing drivers, the local Malaysian boy, Alex Yoong, who is currently head of driver development at Team Lotus. Having the Malaysian come and hear me play on his home turf was sensational. Alex is also doing television racing commentary here, and still doing a little bit of racing – like GT3 last year. Just realized I first wrote about Alex Yoong way, way back in 1999.
In any case, the evening was fabulous, it was a privilege to play at this KL landmark music joint, and I enjoyed my set thoroughly – playing my usual mix of my own songs and cover songs.