Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Perfectly Compatible Contrasts, from Lou Pascalou Open Mic to La Java Midnight Special

February 15, 2013

I had a difficult decision to make last night. I had been invited personally on the two previous months to attend a new open mic – that is monthly – at the Lou Pascalou bar and I wanted to go each time, but always had something preventing me from going. But I also, last night, had a personal invitation to attend a launch of Midnight Special Records‘ collection of artistes in a special showcase at La Java. This included the exceptional Michelle Blades, whom I have shown videos of from the Vieux Léon open mic. But when I found that the Lou Pascalou bar open mic started very early and ended early, and that the two venues were about 10 minutes walk away from each other, I realized the choice was a no-brainer. I would do them both.

The only risk spot, the only drawback, was that my third favorite meal of the day – after breakfast and lunch -, that is, dinner, would potentially be compromised if I were to arrive at 8 PM for the open mic in order to play and leave early for the concert. But then I learned that the Lou Pascalou has food. When I arrived, I found this splendid bar of old, classic, French proportions, with a high ceiling, bistrot sort of tables, a wonderful stage and sound system, and, as I would immediately learn, a fabulous plate of charcuterie and cheese!!!! And the St. Emilion was fabulous too!

So ANYWAY…. I ate my meal, listened to the performers in the open mic, took in the atmosphere, met and talked with some friends, then mounted the stage myself and took MY turn trying to wrestle the bucking bronco of the loud, loud, happy crowd of the Lou Pascalou that last night, at least, was there more for the nibbles and drink than for the music. I felt I reached a few of the people – which was great – and the stage itself was so wonderful to sing on, that I actually thoroughly enjoyed the open mic. I WILL return.

I began to feel I would be too late for the the Midnight Special records concerts at La Java, but I really wanted to go to that too, so I wrenched myself away from my friends and the bar of the Lou Pascalou – the only real fault of this open mic is that it is only once a month – and I walked over to the Java. There, I was immediately greeted by friend after friend, and I descended into the basement area of this large underground concert hall, to feel absolutely just as much at home there as I had at the Lou Pascalou. And the fact that I could not play here, little mattered.

Midnight Special records is a minuscule label operated by Victor Peynichou, but his bands are very original and great – judging by those I know of in the past and those I heard last night. But for me the highlight of the night was Michelle Blades, who was also the last band of of the night. I have put up videos of her at the Vieux Léon, Michelle with her strong stage presence and her inimitable voice and interesting melodies and songs. I’d only seen her perform with acoustic guitar or ukelele, but last night it was with bass – Victor, in fact – and drummer, and with her on keyboards, vocals, electric guitar. And another woman and Victor who added some background vocals occasionally.

One of the great things about Michelle is her fabulous range, both vocally and in terms of musical styles. Watch all the videos I did of her act, right to the end. The final number of night starts fairly slow and relatively quiet, and then explodes into this punk magic.

2 Lit Visits, 1 Open Mic; 1 – 0 Open Mic over Lit Visits

December 15, 2012



In keeping with my promise to go out to as many “literary events” as I can, I went to a couple last night. There was a gathering at Shakespeare and Company to honor George Whitman, who died a year ago. And there was a little Christmas get together at the Abbey Bookshop, around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. The Abbey is run by Brian Spence, a Canadian whose bookstore on Harbord Street in Toronto I used to sometimes go to when I was at the University of Toronto. Shakespeare and Company, of course, I started going to shortly after that period, when George was already what seemed to me to be an “old man.” And he would go on to live another nearly 30 years.

I made a little film of someone playing piano at Shakespeare and Company, but aside from that, it was really just a question of wandering around and paying respects, and perhaps having a bit of tea or some other drink, which I did not do. Then I went off to the Abbey and there an author was reading out in front of the shop, standing a crate like a speaker at Speaker’s Corner in London, with a large crowd of people standing in the cold beneath him. I think his book’s title has the word “merde” in it, and so I decided to go into the store away from the crowd, where I was warmly greeted – as usual – by the genial Brian Spence, who was preparing goodies for the Christmas toast to follow.

I drank a deadly beverage offered by Brian who had received it from a client, and I read a few first pages of books to see if I wanted to buy any – the one I recall is Borges’ Labyrinths then an AJ Liebling book on boxing, but then the drink went to my head (it was from the Czech Republic or Poland or some equally strong, hardy nation) and I cannot remember the others – and decided I did not want to buy anything. I needed to eat something very quickly if I was to survive the rest of the night and a beer or two.

So I went to a restaurant around the corner, ate some fromage de tête (head cheese), which was as disgusting as it sounds – were it not for the fact that it was excellent quality – and then a terrine de volaille and then ris de veau (sweetbreads, i.e. thymus glands), and some wine, and I was all ready to go off and have some Delerium beer and use up all that delirium and even the tremens, on an open mic.

So I went to the open mic that I reported last week was a little like a literary salon, the one at the Arte Café. After all I had been through, I really did not expect the open mic to live up to my past experiences there, and I fully expected to stay a short time and leave. I thought I would stay long enough to drink the Delerium to digest the animal innards. But the open mic, once again, was really wonderful, and I enjoyed the music, enjoyed playing, and then enjoyed the jam session, and above all, meeting new and interesting people – as always at the Arte Cafe. Thanks again, Arte Cafe!

Musical Contrasts in Abu Dhabi

November 2, 2012

Shangri La Hotel Abu Dhabi

Shangri La Hotel Abu Dhabi

I did not find a place to play in Abu Dhabi last night, but even if I had, the cold I – and many other journalists – got in India meant that I could not sing anyway. Total loss of voice. But that meant the perfect occasion to go out and listen to other musicians. It would turn out to be a big contrast in styles and atmospheres. The first place I went to was the massive, enormous, colossal hotel called Shangri La, where the oud player with whom I jammed the night before, was playing with his guitarist in the lobby. This was Layth Aldaene, whom I wrote about on the blog yesterday. The lobby of the Shangri La is massive too, and the music was beautiful within that environment. But it was all very much a laid back, don’t disturb anyone kind of music as the cream of the F1 crowd sat around and drank aperitifs or waited for their rendezvous of the evening.

Unfortunately it was not the best set up for recording the music with my Zoom Q3HD in a discreet manner. But I did my best.

After that I went back to my hotel, and there, I found the outdoor – tented – restaurant of the hotel with chicha pipes being smoked, snack meals or buffet being eaten, and people generally drinking fruit juices and other non-alcoholic refreshments. It was a family feel to it, a popular feel, and it was the first night of the weekend. So the live music reflected this, and as it went on it got more festive. I felt slightly intrusive filming the merriment, so I only got a few brief glimpses. But it was indeed a lively and contrasting popular moment of nightlife in Abu Dhabi, compared to the staid, laid back Shangri La opulence.

And the music itself… no comparison. After hearing the virtuoso playing of Layth Aldaene and his guitarist, the electronic drums, keyboards and other synthesized sounds of the musician and his singer at the One-to-One hotel was a little crude by comparison. But festive and fun, indeed….

Recording Music in the Paradeplatz in Mannheim

July 23, 2012

paradeplatz mannheim

paradeplatz mannheim

Thanks to an initiative by Tonio, the classical violin student I met on Thursday in Mannheim, I ended up having a great time in Mannheim on my last night there, and doing a mountain of recording of my songs and covers with him playing and beat boxing along. I had decided that I had done enough in Mannheim, musically, and I’d just have a quiet last night. But Tonio sent me an SMS suggesting we play. So we met in the central Paradeplatz at 8 PM – also his suggestion – and there we played for probably an hour or more, in public, sitting on a bench by the fountain, entertaining the public – and receiving a little money in appreciation.

As regular readers of the blog will know, my personal challenge this year is to record myself playing with local musicians in every country I go to for the Formula One season and my holidays. So far I have succeeded in the 10 or more countries I have visited, and I had recorded one song with Tonio on Thursday. I was foolishly satisfied with that. In fact, we went over so many of my songs – Lara, Lara; Borderline; Crazy Lady; Memories; Except Her Heart and maybe one or two others, plus cover songs like What’s Up and Mad World, plus some jamming based on chords Tonio suggested I play – that it was an enormously fun and learning experience.

Here is one of the recordings of the many we did, this one being a cover song:

And I recorded it all on my portable studio, my Roland R-26, complete with the sound of the water fountain and occasional applause. A huge, high moment, followed by a meal at the cool student pub we went to on Thursday. Really, I never expected such an amazing musical adventure in Mannheim when I set out, but it all happened because I saw Tonio with his violin – they are apparently inseparable, and that since the age of 4 or so – and asked him if he knew of a place to play.

Recording Music in a McDonald’s in Mannheim

July 20, 2012

Man oh man oh Mannheim, I never thought I’d find myself playing music in a McDonald’s in Mannheim, recording “Crazy Love,” with a German violin player with the Italian name of Tonio. But that is exactly what happened last night just before midnight, and just before we got kicked out….

Thing is, Mannheim is a crap place for open mics and jam sessions. I stayed here a couple of years ago while attending the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim, and I did managed to find one odd bar to play in and then a down moment in a karaoke to do my guitar and singing number. But arriving here yesterday, I felt quite demoralized, and after a nice dinner of schnitzel or some other pork-based delight, I walked out of the restaurant to find a young man looking at the menu and with a violin on his back.

My “opportunity” lights flashed brightly and I asked – with my guitar on my back – if he knew of anywhere to play in an open mic or jam. Tonio – as I would find was his name – spoke perfect English, and he said, “Heidelberg.” Yes, Heidelberg is next door to Mannheim, but there were no hotels available when I looked. So then he said he would ask some friends in a pub across the street, and each one he asked answered: Heidelberg.

Mannheim ain’t manly in the way of live music. So anyway, Tonio also told me that did like me, when he traveled, he looked for people to play music with. He had just returned from Amsterdam, where he had joined some buskers playing in the street.

Feeling somewhat defeated, I thanked him and left. But as I made my way toward the bar where I had played last year, I suddenly realized I had let slip the most important chance of my whole four-day trip to Mannheim. My project this year on the never-ending worldwide open mic and jam musical adventure is not simply to find and play in an open mic or open jam. It is to play with a local musician in every country I visit, and to record the playing. So far I have succeeded in every one of the 10 or so countries I have visited since March.

I suddenly realized that there was an interested and willing, classically trained violin player who liked pop and jazz as well as classical music, and that I had actually walked away let down. Without even asking him to play. So I ran back to my hotel, picked up my recording device – which I had forgotten there – and returned to the pub across the street from the restaurant where I had eaten. There I found Tonio again, about to eat his meal, with his sister and friends.

I arrived and told him my goal for the trip, and he said he would love to play some songs with me. So he ate, I socialized with him and his friends, had a beer, soaked up the atmosphere in this fabulous, popular, student pub, and then said: “So where should we play?”

We decided to head for the main public square, but by now it was so late it was likely to be considered a public disruption if we played there. Tonio suggested we try the McDonald’s restaurant just off the square. We arrived a bout 20 minutes before closing time, we were the only people in the McDonald’s – Tonio and two of his friends – and we ordered coffees and sat at a table. I turned on my recording device and we played “Crazy Love,” me on guitar and vocals, Tonio on violin and doing great mouth drumming sounds and then ad lib lyrics. Got through all but the final verse, and were then kicked out by the manager.

But I GOT my recording of me playing with a local!!!!! Couldn’t believe it! And in a McDonald’s of all places…. Thanks Tonio.

An Unexpected Jam at La Pepica Restaurant, in Valencia

June 22, 2012

la pepica

la pepica

I’ve been saying a lot lately that if you want something interesting to happen in your life, carry around a guitar with you. I might also add a guidebook. At least, that is what happened to me in Valencia, Spain, last night – something very fun and interesting thanks to my guidebook and my guitar. And it also happened at a very interesting place where Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles and others used to hang out.

To step back a little…. I finished my day’s work at the Formula One race track at the Marina in Valencia and I decided, exhausted after a long night the night before and the travel and the work, that I would not even look for a place to play music. Valencia has never been good for my musical adventure. So I opened up my guidebook, called Cartoville and published by Gallimard in France, to see if there were any good restaurants nearby.

hemingway at la pepica

hemingway at la pepica

Carrying these Cartoville guidebooks is a new thing I have been doing this year after I was introduced to the books by my friend Vanessa, last year, and she took me to some amazing places thanks to these books. So I thought, why not find one for each town I go to. Tourism was never my thing – but there’s no point traveling around the world for my work and being dumb about finding places, either.

The books are great because they split up the cities into sectors, and in each sector you have only five or six choices of bars, restaurants and shopping. So the choice is done very carefully, and I am rarely let down by what I find. I looked in the area around the Formula One track last night and saw this restaurant overlooking the beach; it was called La Pepica, and the guidebook described it as a “local myth” and that it was mentioned in Hemingway’s novel, “The Dangerous Summer,” and that these other celebrities had followed him there, etc. And the food was said to be good, and the ambiance was good, and simple, too.

So I walked over to the place, dragging my luggage behind me, and with my guitar on my back – for I had still not checked into my hotel. As I approached the restaurant, I saw suddenly some familiar faces: A massive table of maybe 35 British journalists sat on the terrace of the Pepica, in some kind of get-together for before the British Grand Prix, which is the next race after the one this weekend. There they were, BBC, Sky TV, magazine journalists, newspaper journalists from all the major publications and wire services, web journalists, other television and whatever journalists – the cream of the British racing media.

As soon as they saw my guitar, two or three of them requested I play a song. In the state I was, and given that it was the beginning of the evening and still bright out and they were just being served their first course, I thought, No way. I laughed off the invitation and said that perhaps once I had eaten, I would play.

I went inside, found a table not too closely within sight of the Brits, and I had a wonderful meal. The first course alone consisted of three dishes: a Valencia salad, calamari and some kind of mini muscles, shellfish. I had a nice half bottle of Rioja, and an amazing desert of some kind of parfait ice cream. It makes me want to run right back there as I write these words.

So I finished the meal, reading my New York Review of Books and the latest issue of Rock&Folk, the French music magazine, and then I went out and wondered over to say goodbye to the British journalists. Some had already left, but I was immediately invited once again to play music. And now, I was really ready, and desperately wanting to sing. And what a place to do it in? An old Hemingway hangout in the country of the flamenco guitar….

I ended up playing perhaps a total of 10 songs, split up by periods of talking, carousing and drinking the wine they offered me. Somehow I managed not to drink so much that I would lose hold of the notes, and I must say, with the beach in the distance, the sea a little beyond that, and even the appreciative waiters at this wonderful restaurant, it was an unbelievably great way to finish my first day in a town that has never been nice to me on this musical adventure – until now.

(Unfortunately, although a number of the journalists took photos and made videos of me playing, I have none myself, exceptionally, for this post.)

Playing at Paddy’s Pub in Nice, and the Place Was Jumping – but Not Crazy

May 27, 2012

I arrived at the Bar de la Degustation in Nice just in time to see and record what would be the last song in some kind of open jam, open not just to musicians, but open to the public in the streets of Nice on the public square. I was asked by someone if I wanted to play, I said, Yes, I went up to the mic and someone else started unplugging and told me it was finished. I ended up being much luckier at Paddy’s Pub, where I had seen a near riot take place the night before….

Having just missed the chance at this curious bar with its wide open front and terrace being bigger than the interior of the bar, I decided to check out the other bars. I found one that had a couple of musicians and I chatted with one of the managers at the door, and he was interested in hearing me play, but clearly with a band doing a gig it was out of the question.

So I went down the street to again visit Paddy’s Pub. I could see immediately that the crowd and the vibe and the band were all different from the night before. It was quieter, but still far from tame. It was a lively evening, in fact, with a good crowd, and this duo of musicians on stage, with two guitars and vocals provided mostly by one of the musicians, but occasionally they worked in harmony.

I pulled up to the bar, listened to the band, and found I liked it. After their set, the main guitar player came up to his girlfriend who was standing beside me, and we struck up a conversation. I learned that they were two of a four piece band called Pin Heads, that they were from Nice, and the most surprising thing for me to learn was that the lead singer had only started playing guitar and singing last year!!! I mean, he sounded so good after one year at that, that I wonder what he can do from here.

Anyway, as we spoke, I told the musician about my musical adventures. So he asked if I wanted to go up and play a song or two, and I agreed. We all three of us went up, I did “Mad World,” and “Wicked Game,” AGAIN! And they played along with me. It was pretty loud, the sound system was not what you would call great, but I felt a captive audience and I enjoyed myself immensely.

The secret to a venue is always the people therein….

Singing at Capocaccia in Monaco, Listening to Pete and Folks

May 25, 2012

When I first started this musical adventure in 2009, I had written off Monaco as an impossible place to play, and settled for Nice. Too chic, too much money, too many pre-planned events during a Grand Prix weekend for there to be anywhere for a gypsy singer player like me to show up and inherit the mic. In the last couple of years I managed to play at McCarthy’s Pub in Monaco, and last night I managed to add a new location, thanks to Pete Cogavin, the lead singer and guitar player for the band Pete and Folks. This was, guess what, a pre-planned gig for Pete and his band in a chic place called Capocaccia, but Pete being the same cool cat he was at Shapko last year invited me to play a couple of songs.

So there I was in this chic joint where you buy a drink and get a free, all-you-can-eat buffet to go with the drink, a garden terrace, a front bar and back room, and the fast moving, bopping music of Pete and Folks, which was a mixture of their own songs and well-known cover songs. I met Pete on his Pete and Friends night at the Shapko bar last year, and he let me go up and play a few songs there. I enjoyed his music there, but he was mostly solo at the time. Hearing him with his band is another experience. Pete has a fabulous voice, and the keyboard player – Marcus Sylvan – sometimes looks like he studied at the Harpo Marx school of mad piano playing. Loved it!

I can see why the band – keyboards, bass, drums and Pete – have been stirring up interest in France, and not only in the South. They also played on the great French television show for live music called Taratata, although I did not speak to Pete about that – I just learned about it on the Pete and Folks band web site today. They just released a CD, as well, and you can hear some of the cool songs from that on the band site. Oh, by the way, Pete is Irish, not French.

So they played their great music and during the break I got to go up and play Pete’s quite amazing Epiphone guitar, which looked pretty vintage. It is a copy of my Gibson J-200, but some of the J-200s are really great guitars, and this was one of them. I decided to play a couple of cover songs, “What’s Up!” and “Father and Son.” And the Capocaccia manager or owner or whoever it was, gave me a free glass of wine after that, so I’m assuming it went well!

But it is a great thrill to play in Monaco – and I’m hoping to do it again before the weekend is finished….

From Foc You to F..k You and a Busking Whore in Barcelona

May 12, 2012

I started out last night checking out a musical venue, a bar, in Barcelona called Foc You. That word “foc” means something in Spanish, but the bar obviously enjoyed using it to mean something else, adding that English touch. The open mic was not running last night, in fact, so I just went out for a quiet dinner. But after the meal I decided to take a look at the streets around the Cathedral because I had been told there were lots of places to play music, jam sessions and buskers. I ended up meeting a busker who did not like me taking a video of him and then leaving without paying any money and he ended my night with “Fuck You!” Let me clarify:

But first, before you consider me an ogre, let me note right away that I got a fabulous video out of it, the kind that could go viral perhaps – although no one can ever really figure out what works or doesn’t. So today I decided I would open up an AdSense account and action the video to make money. Any money I earn on the video of this busker whom I did not leave any money, will go 50-50 to him and to me. If, that is, I ever meet up with the guy again or he makes himself known to me…let’s say, in the next 1 year.

Now, back to the story: I had a wonderful meal, wandered over the cathedral, contemplating the meal, my next day of work and my imminent return to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. But as I went around to a back street behind the cathedral, I heard this fabulous violin music. The streets were beautifully lit, old Barcelona, ancient brick and just a medieval sort of feel to the whole thing. And with the music it was stunning.

The busker had a recording of a classic piece on the radio and he played along on his violin. I recorded for about two minutes, taking in the scene and appreciating his music. (I have cut the video to under a minute.) I realized that I had no coins of any kind left in my wallet as I had left the last coins in a tip in the restaurant. And in euro bills, the smallest I had was a 50. Way too big. So I knew that I could leave him no money.

But I thought that he could see I appreciated his music and that I was making a video out of respect. In fact, I had remembered seeing a video on YouTube about a star violinist from the Washington symphony (I think it was) playing in the subway in Washington and being ignored by almost all passersby. I thought of that and decided I would do the video of this guy and put it on my blog as an example of a great busker in Barcelona.

I know what it is like to be a busker. I lived off my busking in London in the late 1970s when I ran out of money and lived in a crappy hotel and did not eat for three days, as I wrote in the old piece I link here. In fact, last night I had my guitar in its bag on my back, and so I knew the violinist could see I was a fellow musician and know what it is like. I got called over by a busker in Istanbul three years ago to play with him, and I did, having a reminder of how demoralizing it can be.

So I was quite surprised when the violinist, playing this beautiful classical music, saw me about to leave around the corner without leaving any money in his case, and he stopped playing, said, “Fuck you,” and gave me the finger. He then went on to tell me about how he only played for money, he had to pay his bills, etc. I was so surprised by the contrast of the classical music, the setting, the peace… and then this vicious verbal assault! Moreover, for me, despite all my own experience, this was tantamount to whoring. And, of course, while I am occasionally paid to play my music today in the gigs I perform, I am lucky enough to have a job to enable my music to be something I do to share with people for free since I love music.

I would never, ever, not in my most destitute days as a busker, have ever given the finger to anyone and sworn at them and told them they had to pay for my music. Having said that, I would never want to profit by this man’s reaction without giving him a share of the profits. So I have set up that advertising account mostly in order to see if I can earn a bit of money for him, but also to justify putting up the video. I considered whether I should give him ALL of the profits, until I said, “No, I have bills to pay, kids to feed, electricity and food for myself to pay, too!”

Still, I feel no animosity toward this busker. A little pity, yes. And a difference of opinion on the purpose of sharing music. But variety is what makes life so interesting….

Living a Dream at “Dreams of Old Shanghai” Restaurant and Cabaret

April 14, 2012

There was a moment last night between my two sets at the Dreams of Old Shanghai restaurant that I had a flash and said, “Did I once have a dream about this sequence happening to me before?” It was one of those deja vu moments that don’t necessarily happen, but you wonder if they did…. Now if that sounds a little confusing, just imagine the situation last night in Shanghai when I ended up on stage in this chic restaurant night club where a large cast of singers and dancers had previously occupied the stage in a long and colorful program of 1930s nostalgia of old Shanghai.

The evening had started quiet enough. After having two nights of playing at open mics in China I opted to have a very quiet night eating noodles, reading in my hotel room and just going to bed early. But regular readers of this blog will know that I generally like musical adventures and I have learned while in far off and exotic countries that I must always be ready for them. I have occasionally gone out thinking there was no place to play and have not taken my guitar with me because of that defeatist way of thinking, only to discover that I find a place where I could have played if I had my guitar with me.

So despite my intention of simply going over to the De Xing Noodle House on Guangdong Lu, eating a big bowl of noodles and returning to my hotel to read, I said, “Hey, take the fucking guitar. You never know what you might run into.” So I took the guitar, found the noodle house, ate the sublime bowl of noodles and then said it was time to return to the hotel. But not quite. No. I needed dessert.

There was nothing on offer at the noodle house, which was closing anyway, since it was now 10 PM. So I set off to find a place selling something sweet. I decided, however, that my route for that would including taking in the street where there are a bunch of musical instrument stores, Jinling Donglu, to see if it was worth a visit next week after the race and before my trip to Bahrain.

So I go to Jinling Donglu, window shop, and continue my search for dessert. Lo and behold, at the end of the street, at No. 229 Jinling E. Road, and before I was about to return in the direction of my hotel, I saw a big sign on the front of a building: Dessert. So I crossed the street and entered the building. Once inside I saw the dessert joints were closed, but I heard what sounded like live music coming from up an escalator. And it sounded like traditional Chinese music, with a woman singer. I was intrigued.

So I took the escalator, went up and found a couple of restaurants, one of which was called, “Dreams of old Shanghai.” It was elaborate, ornate, classy, and I was immediately invited in by the people at the door. I said, “Live music?” Wanting to check it out, and they said I could look. I craned my neck around the entrance and saw this wonderful stage with full lighting, a curtain, and a cabaret revue of Chinese women dancers and a singer. Holy shit, a real Chinese stage revue here. Very cool! The restaurant appeared vaguely retro, posh, and very, very Chinese.

“Come in and eat,” said the guy at the door.

“I already had my meal,” I said.

“No problem, just come in and have a drink!”

Then he noticed my guitar bag and said, “Guitar?” I said yes. “Come in and play?” he asked me. I gestured to the stage. “There?” He said, “Yes, yes, come in and play.”

This I could not quite believe under the context, with this posh cabaret in old style, and here I was a kind of old hippie with a battered guitar…. (And short hair, granted.)

Then the manager showed up and door and did some more persuading and I asked if there was a cover charge, and was told there was not. So I asked if there were desserts. “Yes.”

So I thought, Okay, I’ll go in and watch the show, make videos, have a beer and eat that dessert I wanted. I did not really think the offer to go on stage would materialize.

I watched the show, ate a fabulous cheese cake, with ice cream and blueberry sauce and mango and kiwi chunks, and drank an Asahi beer. This was bloody bliss. And to top it off, I was sure that every one of those beautiful dancers and singers was staring directly at me. A magician dropped by and showed me a couple of tricks, and then after I finished my cake, someone came around and asked if I would now take to the stage and play.

It was a tremendous stage, wonderful lighting, I felt the room to be completely laid back in a way that I had not at first imagined. But the class singing and dancing acts were so Chinese and classy that I still wondered what I could possibly sing from my repertoire to not feel like the French proverbial “hair on the soup.”

No problem, I finally decided. This is too much fun, and as it turned out, I had noticed a table of several young European women sitting not far from mine, and I was sure that if the Chinese could not relate to my songs, they certainly would be able to.

So I went on stage and found my guitar dreadfully out of tune after I had forgotten that Joe Chou had done an open tuning the night before and I had not touched it since. But the musical director of the Dreams of old Shanghai immediately plugged in my guitar and got a mic stand for me – remember, they did not even know that I sang and played at the same time, let alone how good or bad I might be! – and I got the guitar tuned and lept right into “What’s Up!” I then did “Father and Son.”

I think I left it at the two songs, but it was clear that it went over wonderfully. The musical director played a percussion machine, the crowd clapped and sang along, and at the end, one or two of the beautiful Chinese singers who I liked to imagine had been looking at me came up on stage and offered me red roses.

So I go back to my seat and quickly, I get a signal from one of the European women. So I join them, and it turns out, of all things, to be a table full of French expats working in Shanghai. So we drink and talk and the Chinese stage show goes on. But then the Frenchwomen request of the management that I return to the stage and do more songs.

Management accepts, and I go up and do “Wicked Game,” then “Mad World,” and they request an encore, so I decide finally to do one of my own songs, and I do, “Borderline.” This time during the singing the management brings up some massive flower in a tall pot and vase contraption, and then I am joined by one of the singers who brings me a rose and dances beside me as I play. The a couple of the other show girls comes up and give me roses.

I don’t want to overstay my welcome, so I get off the stage, go back to the table, and the restaurant manager comes over and tells me he is offering me the food and drinks I had that night, and would I like a glass of red wine….

They then invited me back to play again tonight!

Now who would have thought, who ever would have thought that this posh, cool, and very traditional Chinese place would be so “arms open” to a complete stranger with a guitar to take time on its stage and perform. And then actually encourage more of it?!!? Absolutely wonderful. It was just the kind of experience I crave in the musical adventure, the kind that changes my ideas and preconceptions about a people, a city, a country. To say nothing of what I can do with my own music and where it can take me, and I must never give up hope about seeing fun opportunities arise.

This is clearly a very open and wonderful restaurant. Check out the videos for yourself, and try to imagine me on that stage. Could be difficult! It was so dreamlike and wild and unimaginable that I had that moment wondering if I had, in fact, once dreamed about alighting in an unknown world and being invited on stage and feted like a star. I do remember such a dream about suddenly finding myself playing like Jimi Hendrix, but I am certain that one will never come true….

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