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
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….
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….
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!!!!
MANAMA, 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.
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….
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.)
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….
There is a small revolution, an uprising, a bloody protest movement going on in Bahrain at the moment. But that does not prevent people from getting together to make music, and there was no way I was going to stop myself from going out to do the same as I am on my worldwide tour of open mics and jam sessions in conjunction with the Formula One race season that will take me to 20 countries this year – to which I will add Turkey next week, and of course, France, where I live. So it was off to the Dublin Club at the Ramee Palace hotel for me last night to take part in the weekly Saturday night jam session.
Interview in England and French (after 4 minutes) with Josh Gend, bandleader of the Hot Beats, who host the open jam session at the Dublin Club in Bahrain every Saturday night, speaking here with Brad Spurgeon:
I had last been to the Dublin Club two years ago when Bahrain had not yet fallen under the Arab Spring situation it is currently in with Shiite protesters asking for more rights and even trying to overthrow the government. In preparing for the trip here, I was pleased to learn that the Dublin Club not only still exists, but that it still has its Saturday evening jam AND to top it all off, it happened to be a 10 minute walk from my hotel in Juffair.
There turned out to be yet another added attraction to the whole thing, and that was that the resident band running the open jam session at the moment happens to be from my fellow countrymen (and women) from Quebec. It was a seven person band called Hot Beats. They were indeed, HOT! They started off with a set of their own before they ran three sets – yes 3! count ’em! – for the jam session.
Despite the fact there is a revolution going on around here, the pub was quite full of both spectators and musicians. Of course, this is helped by the fact that the U.S. military base is nearby, and a lot of the men of the armed forces go to the pub. Still, if felt as if there were slightly fewer people.
The other thing that had changed is that two years ago each musician was allowed only one song. Last night, I got in four over three sets. It was a great pleasure, and the atmosphere in the pub made it almost entirely possible to forget the tension that had been felt outside this little island of music in a country where there had been violent protests daily since I arrived on Thursday morning from Shanghai.
In fact, in my podcast interview with Josh Gend, the bandleader, he spoke about the same phenomenon for him and the band working in these peculiar conditions. Oh, and for my French readers, check out this podcast in particular, as it starts in English, but we slip into French for the second half, starting about the 4 minute mark.
Tomorrow its back to Paris for me for a few hours before I head off to Istanbul for a sports conference, and the hope of playing a little music there too….