Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

A Quick Visit to the Actors’ Jam Bar in Singapore

September 20, 2014

actors jam bar

actors jam bar

SINGAPORE – After my two exceptional first nights of music in Singapore, the first being the discover of an amazing local musician, and the second being the discovery of an amazing local open mic, I dropped by to the mainstay Actors Jam Bar, where I have played every year on my musical adventure. It was not quite up to the two previous nights, but I had a great time nevertheless, and you’ll see in the videos that everyone else did too.

The Actors jam bar concept is that of a mix between an open jam, an open mic and a karaoke. You go in, buy a drink and listen to the other customers take to the stage together to play all the house instruments at your command: A drum set, a couple of electric guitars, a bass, some keyboards, and a karaoke list of songs on a computer screen that you can refer to if you don’t know the lyrics.

What I learned last night, though, and this was the first time I’ve seen it, is that the bar has a set of rules about the number of drinks you consume being like a ticket to singing a song! If memory serves, it was 2 drinks bought allow you to go up and play 1 song. Three or four drinks allow 2 songs, and at some point on the bar bill you can sing all you like.

I’m not sure this method really encourages the best music, nor does it jibe with my view of what makes for a great open mic ethos. Having said all that, I bought just one beer (which cost nearly three times what it does in the street food joint where I ate my dinner, across the street) and no one complained about me going up and singing and playing two songs before I had even finished the beer…. So I suspect the rules are there really to prevent stage-hogs who consume nothing from passing their nights at the Actors bar, without bringing in any financial support….

But if you are in Singapore, I can still recommend Actors bar as a great place where you know you’ll be able to go on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday and play music with other musicians until late in the night – like 2 a.m. – but remember, the vibe is more karaoke than open mic or jam….

Anything but a Beast of an Open Mic – at The Beast, in Singapore

September 19, 2014

The Beast

The Beast

SINGAPORE – I’ve been waiting the better part of a year to attend one of the several open mics MCd by MB Spinks, an American expat in Singapore, who runs several venues in the city and who contacted me several months ago to tell me about his places…. Finally last night I got to attend his laid back open mic at The Beast pub and restaurant. This was exactly the kind of open mic that had been missing on my list of those I have attended in this city: Singer songwriter oriented, but open to anything, laid back and friendly, great sound and well run.

With my weird hours spent at one of Formula One’s few night races, I had always been unable to attend others of this kind that I knew existed in Singapore. Most of my experience here has been in places like the Actors’ jam bar and the Crazy Elephant blues jam. Both are jams, both open, both quite wild and loud. Last night at the one call the Beast, you’d think maybe it would be every musician for himself, but it wasn’t.

Mike Spinks runs the show like the best of the MCs I’ve known, cool, but responsible, on top of it all the time, and everyone gets to play to their heart’s content if there are not enough musicians around. And Mike fills in the rest of the time, with his laid back Southern-feeling country folk rock.

Neither was this entirely an expat experience, by the way. The food at the Beast may be U.S.-south inspired, but it has a touch of Asia to it, and there was a fabulous Filipino musician playing when I arrived – didn’t catch his name!

Oh, and I was delighted to find that my Seagull S6 was working again after the scare at the Tennessee bar on Monday in Paris when its amplification failed. I replaced the battery in Singapore, but oddly, the old battery still had lots of juice in it. So I don’t know what the problem was.

Jamming into Something New ( for me) at Actors Jam Bar Singapore

September 21, 2013

actors jam bar

actors jam bar

SINGAPORE – The night race in Singapore takes most of the night out of my jamming possibilities in this Asian wonderland. But part of the attraction in this city is that it is a nightlife city – and that means that the night goes on a lot longer here than in most places. So it was that last night after leaving the racetrack at nearly 1 AM, I decided to take a cab over to the Actors Jam Bar even though I did not have my guitar with me, to see if I could jam.

The Actors Jam Bar is fairly unique in my experience in having quite a chaotic open stage with all the equipment provided by the establishment so that anyone can come in and pick up a Stratocaster, a bass, or sit at the drum set or the keyboards, or just stand behind the mic and read lyrics from the large iPad kind of thing. You can play anything, sing anything.

It used to be there was an acoustic guitar, but I saw no trace of that last night. So I decided to try the Strat. I’ve never really played in public with an electric guitar, doing all my stuff on the acoustic, even when I play with a band. But two nights ago after I spoke to that Englishman I mentioned in the food hawker’s next to the Actors Jam Bar, I told him how little confidence I had in playing the electric guitar.

He said, nuts. The way I played I could do the electric with no problem. So it was that I suddenly had a little confidence, and last night playing on the stage in a relaxed environment at actors with no acoustic guitar to fall back on, I was forced to belt it out on the electric. And to my great surprise and pleasure, I has a really great time and felt the rockin’ like I never felt it before.

So it was that thanks to an open stage, an anything goes attitude, and no pressure from an audience expecting little, I was able to discover another musical performance pleasure. Oh, this was miles away from anything even vaguely resembling Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. But it was f-ing cool and fun!

The Value of a Jamming Bar like Actors

It made me realize the value of jamming bars like this as a place to do stuff you’d never try otherwise, and given that at Actors there is no pretension to great music – check out the videos to figure that one out – it was an ideal place to do something new. Having said that, I’d never have done it if I had my guitar with me. It was also vital that the music went on until after 2 AM – although I don’t now how long, since I returned to the food hawker next door to have my noodle dinner and knock back a Tiger beer.

Jamming With Ringo at the Food Hawker in Singapore

September 19, 2013

singapore food hawker

singapore food hawker

SINGAPORE – For me, one of the main attractions of life in Singapore, aside from the music, is the culture of the street-side food hawker booths that stay open all night and serve great Asian food. Last night, I forced my tired body and soul – after a more than 24-hour trip here – to go out and see if I could jam at the Actors Jamming Bar, just down the street from my hotel. But I decided to stop in at the food hawker across the street first in order to eat my dinner – at around 1 AM.

There, I found an old friend: Ringo. Not the former Beatle, no. I’m talking about Ringo the MC of the Actors Jamming Bar. I met Ringo in 2009, the first time I played at the jamming bar, and the first year of my open mic adventure. And last night we both recognized each other immediately, but we were not sure why….

Then we realised, and we sat down and spoke together. He told me there was no point in going to the Actors Bar because it had closed at midnight, so I’ll return later. But what happened was that as we sat and drank beers together, we ended up turning the sidewalk food hawker into a jam session. I had my guitar, Ringo had his, and there was an Englishman sitting beside me who knew how to play guitar also, so he joined in – and I made the little video here…. (Ringo is the man with the darker skin across from me – the Englishman is the one beside me.)

The food, by the way, was excellent as usual … but don’t ask me to describe what I ate. And don’t ask me about the incredible alcoholic strength of the beer I was drinking!

But it was great to see Ringo, who had left the Actors Bar in 2010, and just returned again this year. I’ll no doubt return to him and it later this weekend….

An Actors Jam Bar, Buirski, Singapore PS

September 22, 2012

PS: It is now 2 AM in Singapore and I have not yet eaten my dinner, or jammed, or done anything else except my “day job.” But as I did go out and have a great night of jamming yet again at Actors Jam bar in Singapore, and again this time with Luke Buirski, and as this is my third day of talk about the Actors Jam bar and my second day of talk about Luke, well, guess what? I have decided simply to put up the videos from last night’s jam – minus me – and also to put up the great interview podcast I did with Luke about the music scene in Singapore, and his career. This is another edition of the regular podcasts that I have been doing this year in my round-the-world musical adventure. Oh, another PS: Like the memory deficient person I often am, I forgot to bring my Zoom video recorder last night, so had to settle for the iPhone – which is someone sound-deficient by comparison.

Interview with Luke Buirski at Actors Jam Bar in Singapore, conducted by Brad Spurgeon:

And here a couple of videos of Luke performing last night, one of which is his own song, the other is a well known cover song(!):

Unexpected Jam in Singapore – with Luke Buirski

September 21, 2012

I went out for a late meal after midnight at a food court in Singapore, around the corner from the Actors Jam bar. I had a cold meal – let down for the first time with the quality of the food, as it was meant to be hot! – and then I decided to drop into the Actors Jam bar again, for the second night in a row. I did not expect to find anything of interest, and I was initially quite let down when I was told that the jamming would stop at 1:45. It usually goes to about 3 AM. But then everything changed very quickly, and I had an amazing night, and a cool meeting.

I ordered a half a pint of beer quickly, ripped out my guitar and went on stage with a drummer and a lead guitar player. The drummer looked local – Singaporean/Chinese, maybe – but the guitar player looked Western. I thought he was a local businessman or a tourist. He said he was a singer-song writer, and I was skeptical. “Okay,” I said to myself, “well, let’s see.”

Then as I was plugging in, he started playing some cool fingerpicking stuff to warm up, and I said, “hmm,” sounds good. But everything had to be hurried to get in a few songs before the place closed, and unlike on the previous night there was actually an audience of a few people, including a couple of women who were clearly expecting some good music – or hoping for some, anyway.

So this western guy told me just to play and he would play along. I did “Mad World.” What else? And within a few chords, I said to myself, “Hey wait, this guy’s got chops!” Soon I was not thinking about whether he could play or not, but just jiving along and buzzing along, and before I knew it, we had played maybe five songs and torn the place apart. Actually, the woman ended up leaving before we even noticed, as we were having so much fun.

Afterwards, when the bar closed, we went off and continued playing until 5:30 AM, exchanging our own compositions, and introducing each other to our favorite various musicians on YouTube. It turned out that Luke Buirski is from Tasmania originally, he grew up in and studied music in Singapore, and now he is living as a studio musician, performer and teacher of music. He plays a wicked lead guitar, does some great song compositions and at 23 years old, I’d say he’s got a great future.

But most of all, the even once again revived my faith in the beauty of stepping out into situations where you think nothing will happen, and finding another world there. Everything happened so quickly that for once I was unable to make any recordings or videos. So in lieu of that, I’m putting up some of the videos of Luke and his band.

From Cooling at Coolin in Paris to Sweating it Out at Actors’ in Singapore

September 20, 2012

I could not get a post down on the blog yesterday or the day before as I was in transit, travelling from Paris to Singapore. But I did go to the Coolin open mic on Monday in Paris, and it was much cooler than the previous time – or the time before – when I went after I had sweated insanely at the Tennessee beforehand. Of course, in terms of sweating, nothing can quite beat coming to play in Singapore, where the humidity is so often around 70 percent.

Last night, nevertheless, I sweated a little less than usual as I made my way to the Actors’ jamming bar and stepped into the new environment of the redecorated Actors’ bar and its air conditioning. The place was pretty dead, truth be told. But I was just as happy with that, as I had been travelling for something like 21 hours – via Dubai – and needed a nice calm night.

I got to play with a guy on bass, another on drums and one on bongos. Because Actors’ bar is a very cool jamming joint in Singapore where you can go in anytime and take to the stage and play. Since it was so quiet last night, I decided to take the time to do one little panoramic video of the place just to give a better idea of what it is like. Check it out – in the first video, above.

90 Steps in Singapore, and More Jammin’ at Actors Bar

September 25, 2011

Counting down the measures was never one of my strong points, and today as I walked to the MRT line to go to the racetrack in Singapore, I decided to do a little video of the curious staircase into the MRT, the “90 steps” staircase. I decided to video it and do the countdown – but I somehow managed to count only 89 steps. Having said that, I enjoyed jamming again last night at the Actors jamming bar, again with Clement Imsong, but also with some of his friends this time.

Nothing much more to say about that now as it is the third time I have written about Actors jamming bar on this trip. That’s why I decided to put in the stair counting episode…. 🙂

A Musical Night Like I Love Them, in Singapore

September 24, 2011

I create stress for myself now when I travel to the Formula One races in my job as a journalist, not because of all the work I have to do for the newspapers, but because I have set myself the goal of playing in an open mic or jam session wherever I go. And when, as with Singapore on Wednesday night, I succeed in playing somewhere, but the evening is not the most exciting or I don’t get the most appropriate or exciting video footage for my film or story for this blog, the stress piles up higher.

So although on Wednesday I did play at the Actors bar and I did speak to people on camera for my film about open mics and jams around the world and I did get a few words for this blog, I was still very frustrated that I had not really hit the jackpot. Last night I did, in the most unexpected way!

Walking back to the hotel from the racetrack near midnight I saw a busker on a bridge leading to Clarke Quay, a very lively nightlife area of the city. He was an American from Chicago and he was singing and playing very well and his guitar case was full of Singapore dollars. It was a very festive and cool scene. So I filmed him playing, and afterwards I introduced myself and he asked if I was a musician too. I said I was, so he offered me his guitar and asked if I wanted to play a song. So I did.

It turned out he has been in Singapore for a few years, and knows the music scene well, as he is a professional musician and has played in the bars and hotels. So I interviewed him for my film. Having said that, he was very wary about me putting up the video on the internet, as he said that it was necessary to have a license to busk in the streets of Singapore, and he did not have one. So I have decided not to put up the video, out of respect for him. He’s about to get another job in a bar, by the way, so he’ll not likely need the busking – unless he does it for the love.

I then went on to the Actors jamming bar again and as I approached to enter I saw an old friend stepping out the door. It was Clement Imsong, a very cool musician who lives in Singapore – and who has a music company that works with young musicians – and with whom I had played at the Actors bar in the last two years I have been here. “Hey, Brad!” he said. I asked if he was leaving for the night – it was after 1 AM – and he said no, just going for a break. So we went to the food court next door and had a Tiger beer together.

I took the opportunity in the food court of interviewing Clement for my open mic and jam documentary, as he plays in the jam every Friday and Saturday. He plays a mean, mean lead guitar, and his singing is pretty cool too. From the food court we returned to the Actors bar and played until 3:30 AM. He played some stuff with other people, he also joined me on bass and lead guitar with some of my songs.

There were some talented musicians there last night, a very good crowd, and a great celebratory feel to the whole evening. So it was exactly the kind of thing I had been looking for, and henceforth on my remaining couple of days in Singapore I no longer feel the slightest bit of self-imposed stress or frustration! In fact, I think I’m going out to Actors bar again tonight, just for the fun and nothing else – having got all I needed for the film. Of course, if there is anything interesting happening, I’ll film it and blog it….

Playing at the Actors’ Jamming Bar in Singapore

September 22, 2011

It was a quiet but fun night at the Actors’ jamming bar in Singapore last night. I arrived with about three hours sleep after travel on two flights – with two stops, including one in Colombo, Sri Lanka – and so I was a walking zombie by the time I showed up at Actors’ bar around 1 AM. But I knew there was an all night food stall next door where I could eat some good and cheap food, and I knew that Actors’ was always open for playing.

I discovered the Actors’ jamming bar two years ago on the first year of my adventure, and I went last year and now this year. I will probably go again this weekend, as it changes from day to day. But last night it was pretty quiet, but fun. There was a flute player from South Africa, a singer from Chicago, another singer from England, a keyboard player from – I think – Singapore, and another singer from – I think – Singapore.

I played my guitar and sang some of my own cover songs, had people sing along and play along with me – especially Olivier on the flute – and I also played guitar for the others who sang. This place has a special feel to it, and the quality varies as much as the musicians. But it is open every night and it is open very late and anyone can go up on the stage and use the drums, keyboards, guitars or whatever you might bring yourself.

So it is very, very cool. It is also very “hands off” in terms of the management. Apparently it gets a lot of criticism from people for being too hands off, but that has suited me fine for the moment.

And last night it was a great way to tire myself out further to be sure of sleeping by the time I got back to the hotel at 3 AM.

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