Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

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.)

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….

Jamming Through the Uprising in Bahrain

April 22, 2012

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….

Dublin Club Bahrain Jam With SuperkatZ

March 14, 2010

It was the only open mic/jam session place I managed to find in Bahrain this trip, but it lived up to all my hopes – or almost. I found the Dublin club on my first day in Bahrain – on Wednesday – and set up a date to play at the jam session on Saturday. I spent the next two nights scouring through the streets and Internet and magazines trying to find another place to jam or do an open mic – as readers of this blog will have seen. But all the while, I had this idea of a date at the Dublin club ready to happen. And it did.

Saturday night is a bit of a down night in Bahrain for the bars, as it is the equivalent of our Sunday night, since here the weekend starts on Friday with the holy day. (Actually, it really starts Thursday night, of course.) But with the Formula One race in town, the Dublin bar – which I described in an earlier post – was really bopping with what seemed like a couple of hundred people at the high point.

The resident band is called SuperkatZ, and it originated in Australia (the next stop on my worldwide trip). The band leader is Mark Eaves, who is also married to the keyboard player. He organizes the band’s tours, and they go all over the world and play as a resident band for several months at a time. Mark told me they started at the Dublin in January and they’re there until Ramadan. So if you’re in Bahrain, go take in a few sets. This is a very cool and together cover band of six or seven members, with a great bass player, lead guitarist, the keyboards and Mark on drums. They do everything from the Cranberries to Led Zeppelin, and several of the band members sing quite well. In addition to the keyboard woman, Masha, there’s also another lead woman singer. The band has played in South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, for example. But Mark’s favorite area is the Gulf region, so they play often around here, in Dubai, etc.

But now on to the open mic/jam session. This is another of those evenings that calls itself a jam session but might almost call itself an open mic. The difference here is that in general the guest musicians play with the other band members, and the band does a full three or so sets, mixing in the guest musicians starting from the second set – or some time after 10 PM.

I arrived early in order to eat my dinner in the restaurant and watch the band play and just to settle in. The restaurant had a good deal offering a free half bottle of wine if you bought a steak. I ceased eating steak around 10 years ago, although I still eat most other kinds of meat. But with the temptation of a free half bottle of wine, I went for a sirloin. And I can see why they’re offering this. The steak was much better than the pork chop I had on Wednesday, and the wine was very good for a house wine served in a carafe (not in a half bottle).

But it turned out to be a good idea to go early just for the preparation for the jam session as well. They set up a detailed list for you to sign and even give your telephone number. Where it is different from most open mics, or even jam sessions, is that they only ask for you to do one song. Usually the standard is two or three. But this method means if you’re absolute crap, at least the evening won’t have a very big hole punched into it by a boring or embarrassingly bad musician. So on the list they ask for your name, the instrument you play, the name of the song and your telephone number.

I spoke to two or three members of the band after I signed up, as they wanted to know what I wanted to do, what they could do playing along, etc. It was very well organized that way, and it put me at ease. When I spoke to Mark early on and told him that I would do “Crazy Love,” by Van Morrison, he said the band didn’t do that one, and he was a little worried. Then he realized I had my own guitar with me, so he said it was no problem. He would play the drums and the bass player, Dean, would also accompany me. I told them both that the chords were very simple. Both the Dean and Mark asked me to sing the beginning of the song for them just in their ear so they could get an idea.

“It’s a little soul-like, not too slow, but not fast,” I said, adding that I did it faster than Van Morrison, though, and in simple 4×4 time.

I then mentioned to Dean that I had spoken to the keyboard player at The Warbler, who was his friend, and he was delighted to have the passing on of hellos, as it were. The connection.

They wisely asked if I wanted to open the second set, and they gave me several minutes to plug in the guitar and set up the microphone. I say “wisely,” because this gave me the chance to get comfortable, and while the DJ played some music and the crowd caroused, I was able to use the monitors to play the chords on my guitar for Dean. It was also wise for me to open the second set because I thought that “Crazy Love” with me on rhythm guitar and vocals and the drummer and bass would be a lot more downbeat, slower and quiet than most of what the band did. So it was a great way to start out the set, rather than poking a hole in the middle of it.

So I went up and the woman singer introduced me to the crowd. It was rowdy but respectful, and obviously passionate about the music that night. I did not get the feeling that the music was an intrusion for the crowd, despite the giant TV screen with a rugby match on it. I felt fully relaxed, partly thanks to the half bottle of wine, but mostly thanks to the cool and easy treatment by the band, the preparation, and I love playing in front of big audiences. It’s more difficult to play for five people than 500.

Another thing that made me feel immediately at ease was that the sound system and monitors were absolutely fabulous. I could hear myself and my guitar perfectly, and that is very important when you play and it is so often lacking at open mics or jam sessions. Actually, having played with so many horrendous sound systems over the last year and more since I started doing this again, I probably prepared myself all the better for the moment when I have a good system. It’s like when you spend a year driving a crappy four-stroke engine go-kart and then you suddenly have a thoroughbred two-stroke machine that actually handles the way you’ve been trying to get the four-stroke to do – but effortlessly.

So I introduced the song briefly, after asking how many people were there just for the race…. (Didn’t get a big response on that one, but I later learned that my colleague sitting next to me in the media center from an Italian racing public was staying in the Ramee Palace hotel in Juffair where the Dublin club is located and he had seen the band every night, but didn’t go last night when I was there!)

“I’m going to do a little Irish soul here,” I said, “because that actually exists, particularly when it is done by Van Morrison. Here’s “Crazy Love”….”

I started the simple chords and the drums and bass went right into it too, and I was told later they were very conscious of trying not to drown out my acoustic, as they do whenever someone plays acoustic with them.

In any case, we just flew through the song without a hitch, without a glitch, and I felt great. I flew. I could see the audience quite well too, as I did not have any particularly badly placed and blinding spotlights. So it was very cool to do the song with a band, hear it perfectly, and see the large audience before me, some of whom looked like they were swaying to the rhythm of the song. The only real problem I encountered with the performance came at the end. I did not want to stop the song. Didn’t want to quit. So I decided to play a full run of the chords and then leap in and sing the chorus a second time at the end, just to keep going and wind it down, adding again, “She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love. She gives me love, love, love, love…crazy love.” But in adding this at the end, I both screwed up the chords a little, and I think took the other musicians a little by surprise.

But all in all it went great, and I had several of the musicians pat me on the back and shake my hands afterwards, and one gave me a calling card for the band as I left the stage. Another asked when I would be back in Bahrain, another said, “Come back any time!”

Afterwards, two of them and one of the other guest performers complimented the sound of my guitar, which they thought was astounding. They wanted to know what it was.

“It’s a Seagull,” I said of my S6. “A Canadian brand. Made by the Godin Company.”

I picked it up and showed it to them.

“I know it sounds great,” I added. “I get compliments all over the world for it. And today, these strings are even old and thrashed out strings. They’ve been on it for a month and have been played really hard.”

I didn’t tell them exactly how, but I lend the guitar for Earle’s open mic at the Mecano bar in Paris, and it had also been played by other people recently at another open mic in Paris.

I didn’t tell them this time that the guitar only costs 380 euros, and I was on the verge of telling them about a compliment I had in England last year when a guy told me after playing my guitar that it blew away a 10,000 euro signature Martin that he had just played a few days before.

Anyway…. this blog is not supposed to be only about me, me, me. The jam session had a few other cool musicians as well. In fact, they were all cool and entertaining. A young Saudi Arabian guy named Osama who lives in Bahrain played with the band, doing Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. A local guy played a weird metal tonal drum, the name of which I’m afraid I cannot remember. But it was very airy and acid, sounded very cool with the band playing light and airy stuff behind it. And then there was a bass player who played a song I have suddenly forgotten!!! But REM comes to mind, though I don’t that was it, and I’ll have to take notes next time. This guest bass player came up to me afterwards to tell me he liked my song and he also complimented the sound of my Seagull guitar and wanted to know what it was.

He told me he was here in Bahrain working in military intelligence. What?!?!?! And playing bass on the side. I liked that. It was in a way a defining moment of the open mic jam session scene in Bahrain. I will definitely return to play again next year, and once again, my feeling is that I have discovered a completely different Bahrain to the one I have been to for the race on the previous five occasions I came here. Goodbye airport, hotel, circuit, airport. Hello jam session!

One problem was that this was really a musical experience in the international world of expats in hotels – this was not an authentic indigenous Bahrain jam. I failed to pierce into that world. But maybe next time. And there will be many more of those to come, as in Istanbul, for instance. Or Sao Paulo….

And my only regret about the jam session – the down point I mentioned earlier – was that I only played one song. I’d have loved to have done more. In fact, the guitar player/singer, asked me at one point if I was going to do another. So that made me feel good – but for some reason it just didn’t happen. Still, the old show business dictum says, “Leave the audience wanting more.” So I can’t complain.

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