Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Update of Thumbnail Guide to Bahrain Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

April 15, 2016

Bahrain skylineSHANGHAI – I may be in Shanghai at the moment, and so I may be on to other open mics in a different part of the world, but it was time to catch up with the unfinished business of updated my Thumbnail Guide to Bahrain Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, the city I played in two weeks ago.

I have added a couple of new open mics – The Envy Lounge and the Big Texas BBQ & Waffle House – to the list, so take a visit to my Thumbnail Guide to Bahrain Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

So check it out!

Swept Up by the Big Texas BBQ & Waffle House Open Mic in Bahrain!

April 7, 2016

Big Texas BBQ Bahrain

Big Texas BBQ Bahrain

PARIS – For the last four days, my life suddenly took control of me, led me where it wanted, swept me up and down off of my feet and … well, it has just been four days where I have not been able to get down and grounded. So many great things have happened that I did not plan for. But the focus of this post will be what I should have written about upon my return to Paris on Monday night: The fabulous and unexpected open mic of the Big Texas Barbecue & Waffle House in Bahrain. Sunday night was the first of a series of nights where I was inexorably called forth by the open mic and gig Gods to appear onstage, whether I wanted to or not. (Although I invariably want to.)

I had filed my Formula One race report in record time – 40 minutes – and took the shuttle back to downtown Manama. I had missed one of my favorite open stages the night before – the Dublin Club’s jam – because I’d spent an hour trying to extract a contact lens from behind my right eye. (Which I discovered later had actually ended up under the sole of my right foot.) So on Sunday, I was really keen to play again somewhere, and I had seen earlier in the weekend that there was an open stage, open jam, open mic, at some bar I did not know about.

But after leaving the circuit and getting back to my hotel fairly late, close to 10 PM, I decided that because I had not yet once again found the location of the open mic on the Internet, that I might as well say, “OK, another missed occasion. It’s too late.” But as I walked into the lobby of my hotel – the Best Western Olive – I heard the distinct sound of live music coming from a door on the left, which used to be the breakfast room.
Clarissa killing it at Big Texas BBQ

I decided to investigate, with the idea that where there was live music there was also a stage, and who knew? Maybe a chance to play? So I go through the doors and I find myself in another world: The Big Texas Barbecue & Waffle House. And you could not get much more American than this! In downtown Manama. All done up in your typical kind of wood-panelled ranch style Texas Barbecue decor, and a beautiful kitty-cornered stage with a great sound system, and a couple of performers, one of whom had a distinctly American accent.

I immediately inquired of the waitress if she thought I might have a chance to play on the stage if I brought my guitar down from my room in the hotel, and she answered in the affirmative, but said I should speak to the musicians. Well, guess what? It turned out that this was the open mic night at the Barbecue, and I was not just warmly welcomed, I was encouraged to get on stage and then warmly celebrated and accepted by the fabulous house band consisting of the man on the keyboards, and the woman singer, Clarissa Malpass, not from Texas, but from what I would dare call the Texas of the UK…. up north Manchester way….
Duet at Big Texas BBQ

But let me tell you the surprise I had when I learned that this American country-sounding musician on the keyboards was none other than Rusty Golden, part of one of U.S. country music’s most illustrious musical families. Rusty has had a long and interesting musical career, and I managed to get a copy of his latest album, called, “SOBER,” and I gave him mine. Rusty, in explanation, is the son of none other than William Lee Golden, one of the members of The Oak Ridge Boys, who were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year.

So how the hell could this happen in Bahrain? No, even better, how could it happen that I walk into my hotel where I’ve been staying for several years on my annual visit to this desert kingdom, and there I am in the middle of Texas. AND I realized later, this was the very open mic, open jam, open stage, that I had been intending to attend, but had not found the time to look up its address! Can there be any better sign that it was all meant to happen?

Big Texas BBQ ad on wall in Bahrain

Big Texas BBQ ad on wall in Bahrain

And it led to the fabulous discovery, also, of Clarissa, with her fiery presence and flamboyant, smokey soul, bluesy, pop voice. I’m finding words difficult to find to describe it. So just give a listen to the badly filmed – but good sound – snippet I have of her. She also did some back up vocals for another singer who took to the stage in the open mic, as you’ll see in the second video.

All in all, it was a night to remember. And I will eventually write about Rusty’s album on my roundup in my next “Morning Exercise” music post….

Oh, and back to the beginning: It was also the first of a couple more nights of inexorable movement through unexpected situations in Paris open mics, and a last-minute gig offer. Having got all that out of my system, I’m starting to feel grounded again….

From Envy to Cloud 9 – Musical Adventures in Downtown Manama, Bahrain

April 2, 2016

Envy Lounge Jam Bahrain

Envy Lounge Jam Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain – The beauty of my musical adventures around the world is I never know what’s going to happen when I head off to a venue, and last night was a perfect case in point. I was delighted to discover a new open mic/open jam in Bahrain through the Bahrain Jammers Facebook page. I was even more excited that it turned out to be a five minute walk from my hotel. Once I arrived, that’s when the confusion and weird stuff started. But it all ended up on Cloud 9…just up the road in the same neighbourhood….

So I went first to The Envy Lounge on the 12th floor of the Premier Hotel in Juffair, and found myself in a Thailand food restaurant/bar/music venue. A big stage, a fair sized crowd of people, but few looked like they were there for the music. The band announced on Facebook was The Blur. But when I spoke to the band members as they set up, I found that while they were indeed The Blur, they had no idea that it was open jam/open mic night.

One of them went off to speak to one of the bar managers, and that man came back to greet me and he agreed that it was indeed the jam night! “Welcome to jam night!” he said. We then established that although I was the only one showing up to play in the jam, and although the idea was to play along with the band, well, I could set up the guitar and mic and just play some songs myself.
More band at Cloud 9

None of this looked very promising, right? Well, the moment I hit the stage, found a great sound system and caring soundman, and an interested audience, I felt pumped up. In fact, it was a gigantic room, there were pools of people eating or drinking in various spots to try to pull into the music, and as I saw interest pop up, I got more into it myself. Soon, the drummer from the band came onstage. Then the bass player. Then a man behind the sound console started playing keyboards, and pretty soon we were bopping, rockin’ the house down.

I did something like four or five songs and felt like a rock star with my fellow band mates. It was sublime! In fact, in the meantime, there was this photographer guy there who had invited me over to another bar to take the stage as well, right after my time on stage at The Envy Lounge. Never one to turn down a musical adventure, I agreed immediately. And it helped that the second bar, called “Cloud 9,” was no more than a 10-minute walk from my hotel as well.
Band at Cloud 9

Off we went in a cab paid for by the photographer to the Cloud 9 bar on the first floor of another hotel, in a very funky room celebrating the Formula One race with checkered flags all over the place, including on the costumes of the Filipino band that hosted the evening. The stage ran the length of the room, and the band consisted of three women singers, a man singer, a keyboard player, lead guitarist, bassist, drummer and someone else whose role I could not quite figure out.

This was not a formal jam session, but once introduced to the band by my photographer friend – Ahmed – I was invited up to play with them with open arms. The room was quite large and filled more with expats than the first place was, but also with lots of Filipinos. The only downside to the whole thing was that my repertoire was not quite as high-octane as that of the house band, so it may have been ever so slightly off the scales. But we ended up doing the fastest songs I had – at Ahmed’s request – with me doing my singing and guitar playing, along with the drummer, keyboard player and bassist.

In Cloud 9, I must say, the clients can be very much of the Cloud 9 kind, providing warmth and singing along like I would never have been able to imagine when I went out with Envy and ended up on Cloud 9. And I ate the most amazing Filipino noodle meal as the band played, and just before and just after I went up.

Oh, and my Seagull S6 served me perfectly in both venues. It has survived the trip and seems set to fly another time around the world….

Classic Bahrain Open Mic/ Jam Night at Downtown Bar Manama

April 21, 2015

Downtown Bar Manama Bahrain

Downtown Bar Manama Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain – I ended up attending a non-existent jam night at the Downtown bar at the Intercontinental Regency hotel in Manama on Saturday night because someone gave me bad information about it happening every night of the week. In fact, it only takes place on Sunday nights. But that was no problem for the members of the house band, called OverNite Band, and all of whom are – in the big tradition of Manama bar bands – from Quebec, Canada! They were so cool and righteous, that they allowed me to go up and play two songs during their night. They then invited me back for the open mic on Sunday, and since I had a really early deadline in my regular job, I managed to get there. Boy did I not regret going!

The open mic at the Downtown bar in Bahrain is very similar to all the others I’ve attended: The one at the California, the one at the Dublin Club, you’ve maybe seen my posts on this blog. It’s the style where you can go up and do a live karaoké…or, you can go up and play with the band on an instrument, and sing. Or whatever. But what is clear about this one is that the reception and management of the open mic/jam by the band, is so warm and cool, that was my best experience in a Bahrain jam so far.

I got to play several songs, and unlike on Saturday night when I just played by myself with my acoustic guitar, I managed to play with the band this time. Did my covers, the easiest ones, three or four chords – Wicked Game, Mad World, I Won’t Back Down, etc. – and another group of jammers invited me up to sing All Along the Watchtower to their music. That was fun, but I was a little out of sync a few times, not having played that one before in public, and especially without my guitar.

There was a large cross-section of performers and styles, and one notable moment for me was when one of my colleagues from Formula One took to the stage and played my guitar and sang…oh, after he sang a previous song with the band itself, and before he joined me to add a little rap-like part to “I Won’t Back Down.”

An amazing last night in Bahrain, and I forgot to mention, the sound system is great, and the stage is even better! Oh, and that colleague filmed me doing Wicked Game. So check it out!!!!

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Bahrain

April 8, 2014

Bahrain skylineMANAMA, Bahrain – My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Bahrain since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Clubby Jam at Club Buffalo in Bahrain

April 7, 2014

MANAMA, Bahrain – Second night in a row of playing in an open jam at a bar in Bahrain last night made up for the two previous barren nights in the desert. And last night was worth the wait: A jam at the Club Buffalo bar in the basement of the Ramee California Hotel.

I had not heard of this one before, for the good reason that it had not yet existed when I was in Bahrain last year. It was the same night, in fact, Sunday night, where I had a very bad experience last year at another open jam night, so I went to the Buffalo Club a little wary about another bad experience, even though it was not the same hotel or bar at all. My fears were allayed the instant I entered the bar when one of the band members approached me immediately upon seeing my guitar and asked if I was there to jam.

So I was put on the list and got to play as the first jammer of the second set of the band – i.e., when the jam proper begins. Saturday night I was really hyped up about playing solo for the first time at the Dublin Club, but last night, I was hot on the idea of playing with the band. It just felt so welcoming, I felt that any mess I might make of it would pass off without a frown.

In the end, it was great, as I started with Mad World and then did Wicked Game, and much to my surprise, the former turned out to go better than the latter, despite that Wicked Game on has three chords! But both went well, and I enjoyed singing on this cool large stage with a good sound system, with a bass player, keyboard player, drummer and lead guitar player. I used the house acoustic Takamine guitar, and that was just fine too.

The other musicians of the jam were really good, ranging from a guy who did blues on an acoustic guitar to another singing Michael Jackson, and another an African with some really fine guitar playing with a sort of World Music edge to it. After I saw these people, I was very relieved to have been the first performer of the jam, or I might have had a bigger dose of stage fright than I did.

The house band was quite together, and often the three singers – two women and a guy – added backing vocals from the wings as jammers played. They call it a jam, but it’s pretty much an open mic, open jam kind of thing – it seems just about anything goes. I was given the OK to do a solo bit before doing the song with the band, but I just opted to play with the band, as I said.

The bar has a Wild West theme to it, which is where that Buffalo thing comes in, and it is shaped a little like some kind of coral or some other Western style setup, with the stage in the center and the tables in a kind of circular surround of the stage and its dance floor in front. It was not as packed tight as the Dublin Club always seems to be, but this was a night and respectably sized audience.

In all, I had an excellent weekend playing music in Bahrain. I still long to find something outside the expat hotel scene, though. But it’s not the easiest country to navigate and explore in terms of the local culture while being there in fact to cover a Formula One race…. Excuses, excuses….

P.S. And speaking of excuses, I had so much I wanted to get up on the blog about Bahrain – including a post coming up tomorrow – that I decided I could not wait to arrive in Paris to do so, and I since I am on a long flight back on an Emirates Airlines place, I knew I could have no excuses and decided to buy a bit of the onboard wifi time – so that’s where this item is coming from, 30,000 feet above the Gulf….

Goin’ Solo at the Dublin Club Jam in Bahrain

April 6, 2014

Dublin Club Bahrain

Dublin Club Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain – Last night you can imagine how my juices started churning at the Dublin Club jam session in Bahrain when suddenly the band left the stage and a guy went up with an acoustic guitar and played solo! I had nothing against this very cool new house band, called Generation – made of a bunch of Canadians and I guess others – but my repertoire contains few cover songs that are good for jumping onstage and jamming to with a band that may or may not know them. (Even when they do know them, I tend to do them my way and throw everyone off!) And what it was, was that this was the first time in my experience at the Dublin Club jam on Saturday nights in Bahrain that they accepted solo, singer-songwriter kinds of people.

So I immediately went after the band member organizing the jam and I asked if I could do just guitar and vocals, and she said, “Yes, of course.” So it was that in the second set at one point after some moving rocking jamming I took to the stage and played Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” using the band’s acoustic guitar (which threw me off a bit because I’m not used to playing an acoustic with a strap that places the guitar at the level of my knees instead of my chest (I’m uncool on that, I know)). And then to my great surprise, I got an encore! (Usually you just play one song, and wait till your turn comes around again maybe in the next set.) So I did my own song, “Borderline.”

It was very very cool. This Dublin Club jam has been going on for years, and each year I have come to play it has been run by a different band. I suspect – but did not push my luck by asking – that if they are now allowing acoustic solo stuff, it’s because Generation is just more open to anything than their predecessors.

It’s a crazy, wild Irish pub kind of place, and it is well populated by local expats, some local locals or nearby locals from nearby countries, and also by American military personnel from the local 5th Fleet. All of which means a crowd that is really hungry for music – of any kind. I’m usually afraid of doing acoustic after romping electric full band. But this crowd takes it as it comes, and it all worked out. I’ll be back!!!! (I hope.)

Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 2d Installment: Bob Dylan, Calvin Harris, Nelle Thomas, but not Peace “In Love”

April 28, 2013

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

My second “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the first of which ran on 7 April – will be much shorter than the first. I simply have fewer CDs to talk about, and a vinyl album I cannot talk about. But while there may be few CDs – three of them – they are about as contrasting as is possible, so I will talk mostly about that.

Two of the CDs came from my new source: As mentioned in my first post, the Lotus Formula One team is giving out CDs quite often now to journalists and any other takers and interested people in the paddock, as they have some kind of a sponsorship deal with Columbia Records. So at the Bahrain Grand Prix, in the 36-degree heat of the paddock, they set out for the taking a CD by Calvin Harris, the Scottish DJ, singer songwriter and record producer. Entitled “18 Months,” it is mix of dance music from beginning to end, and as such, its beats and rhythms and vacuous vocals make it perfect as morning exercise music. And nothing else for home consumption. In a club, yes, that’s the stuff. My only other “pertinent” observation is the strange and perhaps “telling” fact that in the 15 tracks almost every credit is attributed to someone with an “i” in their name, or an “i” vowel sound: “Kelis” “Rihanna” “Nicky Romero” “Ellie Goulding” “Tinie Tempah” “Dillon Francis” “Dizzee Rascal” “Ne-Yo” and “Ayah Marar” It turns out that almost every track title also goes through the “i”-sound ringer. Well, so much for my structuralist analysis of Calvin Harris’s dance music – wish I had more to say…but I was in the throes of sit-ups and side-bends and toes touching, so what do I know.

Bob Dylan's album Tempest

Bob Dylan’s album Tempest

The big, big bad CD, the one I was happiest to receive, and least happy to talk about, is “Tempest”, the latest Bob Dylan album. This is hardly a timely review, since the album came out last year and has been massively written about in the media, and massively listed as one of the top albums of the year in the music magazines around the world. And as a Bob Dylan fan for most of my life, I had, naturally, already listened to several of the album’s tracks over the Internet. Having said that, as proof that the CD, the album, the physical collection of a musical oeuvre still carries weight and counts for something, I was very happy to take this physical CD object and put it in my Marantz CD player and listen to it over my Bose speakers, and not just on my computer’s iTunes.

Until I did, actually. Then I was struck with the biggest existential problem I have yet faced with my morning exercise music talk. How can I write about Bob Dylan’s latest album when I love Bob Dylan, when almost all of the reviews have been great, when as I say, it has made it to the top, or near the top, of the lists of the year’s best albums? And I just don’t get it? Yes, yes, yes. This album has one, maybe two or three tracks that have something really great – and the only one that really, really stands out for me is the first one, “Duquesne Whistle.” Using this old time music, singing this folksy up-tempo song, I really feel as if Dylan has written some kind of a classic here. Not, I feel, a classic Dylan song, but some kind of American classic. It was very hard for me to accept his voice on this, until I decided to pretend that it was not Bob Dylan, but Satchmo himself. I never complained about Satchmo’s gutteral, destroyed voice – why should I complain about Dylan’s? No doubt because Dylan once had a few other voices, and I liked several of those better – the original one from the early 60s, the one from Lay Lady Lay in the Late Sixities, the one from Blood on the Tracks in the mid-70s, the one from Desire at the same time, the one from some of the songs in the 80s, even…. But this Satchmo voice has never worked for me. In fact, for much of the album, I thought I was not hearing Dylan, but Tom Waits….

Another song that cannot be thrown away is the last one, “Roll on John,” about John Lennon. Come on, with subject matter like that, and you know the two knew each other…!

If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?

But the problem with this CD, and maybe with why the critics give it so high marks, is that this IS Dylan. And I kept trying to figure out how some of these songs would sound when sung by other musicians…but then I wondered how many actually WOULD be sung by them. I love the fact that Dylan keeps making music, keeps touring almost every day, keeps creating. But even he said, in his fabulous book, Chronicles, that he can no longer write the kinds of songs he did in the 60s. That was in the chapter about when Daniel Lanois produced an album of his and wanted him to write the old stuff again. And that made me think of a funny line that I just kind of made up and found plopping into my brain as a guy who writes some songs too – without the success of a Dylan: If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?

Of course, I step back from that and say, it’s got nothing to do with anything like that – we all reach our own creative peak in our own way in our own time. And ultimately, as T.S. Eliot said: “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”

Well, let’s hope Dylan keeps on trying – but I can’t really see how this CD got to the top of so many “year’s best” lists. There is a repetitiveness to the rhymes and melodies in a lot of these songs – that have also appeared in many of the Dylan albums of the last 30 years – that was not there in his classic work. The new Bowie album, by contrast, I could see if if it gets there at the end of the year….

In Bahrain I also got given a CD from a fellow Canadian musician, Félix Fréchette, who was the guitarist at the Dublin Club jam session on the Saturday night where I played – along with him and his band. The CD is a 10-track album of songs written and sung by Nelle Thomas, who is also Canadian – she is English-speaking,from Montreal, whereas Fréchette is a French speaking Quebecer – the music of which was written mostly by Fréchette. He also plays his lead guitar on most of the tracks.

Nelle Thomas

Nelle Thomas

The two, as I say, were part of the house band at the Dublin Club in the Ramee Palace hotel, but this CD – called Noise Rises – they made in Canada in 2012. It is a highly professional, eclectic mix of songs, starting off with a kind of soul music and heading into some soft rock and finishing off with a song on acoustic guitar that is almost – but not quite – folk.

While there were a number of songs that just sort of passed me by – although they were beautifully played and produced – there were three that really stood out for me. “Tell a Sad Story,” has a good catchy melody and lyrics, and really hits the spot. “Never Been Accused,” with its sort of 1970 rock sound, and its ripping lead guitar by Félix Fréchette is another – oh, and there is another nice guitar solo on “One Day at a Time.” And I really love the last song on the album, “Eleven Dollars,” with the great lyrics, vocals and acoustic guitar – reminds me very much of Tuck & Patti. Certainly the best song of the album – but maybe my liking of vocals, acoustic, folky stuff. Still, NO! I love Hendrix, King Crimson, Zappa, Talking Heads, Joy Division, so what the hell – I just think this one works.

It was interesting, once again, to compare an album by a completely unknown young couple to that of Dylan, and to say, well, yeah!!!

Peace In Love

Peace In Love

I also got a vinyl album by the British indie band, Peace, – their first album, “In Love,” which has been getting great reviews (9 out of 10 at NME) – but I am very old fashioned, and have no turntable, so I could not listen to this. Wait. That seems odd. Old fashioned? I grew up with vinyl. I had a large collection, then got rid of my turntable because CDs were better…. Right, that’s where the old fashioned bit comes in…. I don’t know ANYTHING, vinyl is better…. well, not for morning exercises – too much work putting the cartridge arm and diamond down the vinyl – and, actually, according to my research, vinyl is NOT better than digital…. but let’s leave that one alone, lest I become even more unpopular than I will be after these morning exercise “reviews” turn me into an evil “critic.”

Crappy Time at Rocky’s in Bahrain – and the Thumbnail Guide to Open Mics and Jam Sessions in Bahrain

April 22, 2013

Well, I beat my record Saturday in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, by playing in two open mics/jam sessions, in this tiny country in the Gulf. I was all set to pulverize my record by playing in a third jam session on Sunday night. But then it all went wrong.

I had heard about the jam session at Rocky’s Café when I was at the Dublin Club in the Ramee Palace hotel and I asked about other jam sessions or open mics. I had been told it was a little like the same jam session that I wrote about last night, at the Dublin Club. But when I got to Rocky’s Café, which is near the Dublin Club and Bennigan’s, I found a completely different environment, and little by little it all fell into disarray, and I decided to leave without playing.

Here’s what went wrong:

      – arrived to warm reception by security guards outside who saw my guitar and said, “Here for the jam session?” “Yes.” They let me in. No problem here…but…
      – enter reception and a greeter sees my guitar and says: “Here for the jam session?” “Yes.” He watches me enter the bar… then comes and grabs me and says, “You can just check in your guitar and then come out and get it again when you play.” I don’t want to leave the guitar at the coat-check, as I want to tune it and keep it near me, and I complain a little that it is full of: Wallet, Zoom video recorder, telephone, reading material – Mojo, Uncut, etc. -, spare batteries for recorder, jacket and one or two other things. To no avail, I remove them and put on jacket and pile full the pockets of the paraphernalia and enter the bar again.
      – look at menu and ask for lamb chops for around 5000 local whatevers. “You like lobster?” “Well, yes.” Waiter points to the lobster and it costs 24000 local whatevers. “No, lamb chops, please.”
      – “To drink?” “A beer.” “Huh?” “A big one.” “Oh, ok.” So next thing I know, a waitress, instead of bringing me a “pint” of beer – my meaning of “big” – brings a jug containing about five pints, or five litres of Guinness, which ever amount is bigger. I nearly fall off my chair and send her away with the oil barrel of Guinness and tell her to bring a pint, but she’s not happy at all. Next comes the waiter returning to nearly threaten me and tell me I asked for a big beer. “Yeah, but not that massive thing!!!” He pretends he does not understand what a pint of beer is when I explain, until I start to go and show him one on another table. So he accepts….
      – at the break I go to the band’s singer and ask about the jam, and she sends me to the guitarist. He asks what song I want to sing, and I say “Mad World.” “Don’t know it, any others?” “Wicked Game.” “Don’t know it.” I explain that I would like to play my guitar and sing, and he says I can use his, but that they don’t like playing songs they don’t know. I say I’d like him to play lead with me, and that the songs are really easy. He says, “I’ll speak to the band and see.”
      – as I see them prepare to go back up on stage – I thought – I go back into the reception to take my guitar. Now the man behind the reception tells me I cannot bring my guitar into the pub. “But your colleague told me I could do it before I play!” “No!” “OK, I’ll tell you what, I’m going to leave. You win.”
      – I return to tell the guitarist I am not going to play, I hate the place and the people running it, and I’m leaving. Turns out he’s from Quebec, we have a great little chat, he offers me his guitar to play. He’s a great guy, and I have no complaints about the band – as they seem very cool indeed.

But I still had a bad, bad impression of Rocky’s and although it did not happen during the time I was there, I was sure I would be accosted at some point by one of the 15 or so women hanging around the bar – as they had visibly been doing with the 80 or so men at the tables….

So, no, not my favorite evening, and I was glad to get out of Rocky’s. Still, I’m sure it all just got off on the wrong foot. But I do, I do very much hate open mics or open jams where you are not allowed to bring a musical instrument into the bar where they take place.

In the meantime, while you think about that tale, check out my Bahrain installment of my quickly developing World Wide Open Mic Guide: The Thumbnail Guide to Bahrain Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

From Bennigan’s to the Dublin Club in Bahrain – 2-Jam Night

April 21, 2013

Dublin Club Bahrain

Dublin Club Bahrain

There has once again on F1 race weekend been a fair amount of noise in the media about protests and social unrest, about armoured vehicles and police fighting rioters with teargas in Bahrain. But like last year, I didn’t see anything myself, not venturing out into the villages outside the capital, as I was busy enough working on my sports stories. Again, however, this year, I did find the time to go jamming in downtown Bahrain, where life does indeed go on as usual.

That is not to deny the civic strife and the problems in the country, as there is social unrest. But not only was it life as usual in the city, but in fact, personally this year I have already beat my record for the number of jam venues I have played at in the city. Prior to last night, I had only played in one place here in Bahrain, as I had only found one place: The Dublin Club open jam at the Ramee Palace hotel.

This Irish bar in the ground floor of the Ramee Palace in Juffair is a lively joint, and has a great expat band featured throughout the year. This weekend it played to a backdrop of an F1 weekend, and it held its usual jam session. The jam takes the form of the house band opening the stage for anyone who wishes to sing or play along, in the company of the house band.

That meant that for me I got up and played “Wicked Game” with my acoustic guitar and vocals, along with a keyboard player, a lead guitarist – Félix Fréchette, from Québec – a couple of backing vocalists, a drummer and a bass guitar player. It was really magical, especially as the band is so good, and despite not having played the song before – apparently – it went very smoothly, I thought.

I recognized a few of the other jammers from last year, a vocalist or two, and a guitar player. The U.S. navy fifth fleet is based here, and some of the jammers come from there, I understand….

But the night had begun with a dinner at Bennigan’s restaurant and bar, where there was also an open mic going on in the pub opposite the dining room. The house band here is a Filipino couple named Wally and Tanya. Wally plays lead guitar and sings, and Tanya sings. They also use recorded backup stuff, like drums, and generally have a vast repertoire of cover songs.

But on Saturdays they open the stage to anyone, in addition to playing themselves through the evening. I played three songs, and Wally played lead on two, while he shook maracas on the third – my song “Borderline.”

Sometime in the next day or two I will put up my Bahrain guide to open mics and jam sessions, as promised at the beginning of my world travels….

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