Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

In a French Jam at Le Comptoir in Shanghai

April 13, 2013
bradspurgeon

le comptoir

le comptoir

I wrote about how on my first night in Shanghai I had been disappointed about how two of the open mics I did here in past years no longer existed, and one of the bars had closed down. Last night, I found myself attending a new, and fabulously lively jam at a new, and fabulously cool bar/bistro called Le Comptoir.

It took my slow-thinking brain a little while to understand why there was a French guy behind the bar, another French guy in the hall smoking a cigarette, another French guy behind the mic, a Belgian on the drums, and another French guy later on the drums. The place was named Le Comptoir, after all!

So this is a French joint in the middle of Shanghai and has French magazines like La Revue du Vin de France in the front hall, it has posters for Cognac on the wall, it has style and quiet chic. It has been open since September, and the jam has taken place now for two months.

This was a real free for all jam, and in some ways it reminded me of the near hippie like feel of the jam at the Szimpla Kert in Budapest from a couple of years ago.

There were not only French people, either, and that is what made this Shanghai, a cosmopolitan gathering of people, including beautiful actresses and signers from Germany, Ukraine, China, Africa and all over the place!

I hope this one sticks around for a while….

First Night in Shanghai: Crimpings and Closings

April 11, 2013
bradspurgeon

Unfortunately, my first night in Shanghai last night was all about having my style crimped and finding two of my former open mic haunts either closed or no longer offering an open mic.

On the style side, I’m talking about the difficulting of accessing Facebook and a blog via the Internet here in China. It’s not really supposed to happen at all, and at the moment my only solution has meant that it happens very, very slowly. There may quite possibly be a long delay before my videos of open mics make it to the blog in the coming days.

But I will continue the open mic adventure, and I will post my latest edition of the Thumbnail Guides to open mics, Shanghai Edition, when the right moment comes.

Last night after a great meal at the very cool Bao Luo restaurant – delving into a menu I had little idea of what I was getting (boiled beef, noodles, beans, unidentifiable whatevers) – I walked on to Oscar’s pub, where I did a great open mic in previous years, to find there was a house musician but no open mic.

No big deal, the real plan was to go to the sublime and hip Not Me bar, where I had discovered the wonderful Chinese-run open mic two years ago – as opposed tothe “Irish Pub solution” of Oscar’s. I went with a fellow Formula One journalist friend in order to introduce him to this cool establishment.

When we got there, we found it was no longer there. It no longer exists. Not Me, is now Not Here. Gone. We popped into a pub next door and I learned that Not Me closed down five or six months ago, but no reason could be given as to why.

Such, in fact, is the open mic adventure: Open mics, and the bars in which they take place, tend to be very quickly moving targets.

In reading over my report on this same day last year, I see there is not much that has changed in my life in China, and that things were already moving in the same direction last year, with Oscar’s having already stopped its open mic. There was no warning on this Not Me closing, though, as you can even hear in my podcast interview of the manager of Not Me last year….

May I have more luck in the coming days….

A Real Scene at The Warehouse in Kuala Lumpur

March 22, 2013
bradspurgeon

warehouse kl

warehouse kl

A number of the musicians were the same last night as the night before. But this time, the scene was completely different. This time, it was no quiet, intimate, back-room loft-like affair out in a lost suburb on a hidden street above a food-stall. This time, it was a romping, wild, hip, high-ceilinged art gallery and performance space on the ground floor beneath a semi-posh, yet laid-back, steakhouse eatery up a very steep flight of stairs in a venue-cum-restaurant called The Warehouse. And this time, it was in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, in Chinatown and across the street from an historic Hindu temple.

I had planned to go to The Pan bistro out in the suburbs again, to meet up with some friends I met a couple of years ago who now run what looks like very cool open mic in Klang. But I was a little gun shy about that disastrous taxi ride from the previous night, and I had an intuition about this Warehouse place after one of the musicians from the night before had recommended I attend.

I did NOT regret it – not from any point of view. Well, OK, maybe one point of view. The vocal mic and sound system was not up to the standard of the previous night; but that is the only thing that was lacking at an otherwise exceptional evening in every way. I have been simply astounded on this trip to Kuala Lumpur at the developing underground scene in music and the arts, and this Warehouse seems to be close to the center of it.

The open mic started around 9 months ago, and according to Tunku Khairil Ibrahim, who owns The Warehouse, and who runs it with his wife, Lauren McAughtry, (who is also a journalist), they had a two or three months of fairly calm open mics until suddenly the thing ended up growing into a wild weekly party with sometimes hundreds of people attending and practically no ability for anyone to move from one spot of the cavernous room to another.

Last night, the key points for me were: the art on the wall, the cool musicians and other mix of international crowd, a real coming together of Malaysian and many other international cultures, the relaxed and caring service from the bar and other staff, and the clear and obvious understanding of the value of this scene by the owners. I mean, this IS a scene. It is a place that many of the attendees told me they return to each week to hear great music and meet people from all sorts of walks of life.

The real high point for me, aside from my two musical sets – in both of which I had people join me (it’s got a jam angle to it, this open mic) – was my meal. As I mentioned, upstairs is a classy restaurant with tables in white cloths, and photos on the walls, and a sense of wood and white and the high ceiling…. Well, when I arrived fairly late – after 10 PM – I asked if there was food, at the bar.

I was handed a small menu and told, “This is the light stuff.”

“Is there any ‘heavy’ stuff?” I asked.

“We can order for you from upstairs and you can eat it down here,” I was told.

So the bartender went upstairs and returned with the menu from the restaurant. I chose a beef rib, although there was a large selection of steaks and I was told they were excellent. I then took a glass of red wine – actually, that was offered to me by a fellow musician I had never met before, but who saw that I was new and decided it was a nice welcome gesture!!!

I then waited maybe 20 minutes, and next thing I knew, the staff from the restaurant had set up a table with a table cloth, my meal, cutlery, chair, in this almost surreal way in the middle of the rear part of the gallery, as I would become the only serious diner with a classy meal in the middle of the salon, art gallery, open mic and jam party that had begun to rise to a higher level. I felt like that astronaut in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, where at the end of the film he is in this 18th century bedroom with a table of food set for himself.

I ate the meal, enjoyed it immensely – it was excellent quality and cooked to perfection by Tunku Khairil Ibrahim – and then after I finished I went up to perform my first set within 10 minutes.

It was difficult to leave the open mic, which goes on sometimes until 3 AM, I was told, but I had to do a full day of work at the racetrack the next day – so I left after another set.

AMAZING! Kuala Lumpur’s music scene is really developing, considering how I have seen it grow in the last four years since I started this musical journey. Check out The Warehouse, either for the music, the art, the scene or simply a great meal.

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

February 15, 2013
bradspurgeon

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
bradspurgeon

delerium

delerium

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
bradspurgeon

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
bradspurgeon

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.

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