Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Nice Buskers in Nice

May 25, 2011

Funny, I arrived last night dead tired from a disastrous train ride to Nice from Montpellier – after taking a couple of other trains before that from Barcelona – and had a meal in Nice and said, “Early to bed, don’t even bother looking for a place to play music.” But I said, “No, push yourself, and walk off some of that three course meal.” Mainly I did want to push myself. It was late, and the music scene for open mics and jams has not proven to be too fertile here in the south of France in the past, so every moment is valuable.

So I headed off to the old town in Nice looking to check out some of the places I knew of in the past. I knew that Johnny’s Wine Bar no longer existed, and that it was there where I had one of my best open mics in the south in 2009. But I dropped by there anyway, only to find a jazz club just up the street and the owner sitting out front. That led to what may tonight turn into an opportunity to play. I will write about that tomorrow once I see if or how it goes.

Then I headed down a street to the left right near this music joint and suddenly I saw a group of four or five buskers taking a break from their busking and snacking in the narrow street. They had a guitar, an upright bass, a saxophone and some percussion things – a drum, bongos. They said hello when they saw my guitar. So I stopped, we chatted, I noticed that the Takamine guitar had a crack on its table that looked like the problem on my Seagull, but not as bad. I commented on that and pulled out my Seagull to show it to them.

One of the guys then wanted to try my guitar, then another, so we had a little tiny moment of jamming in the streets. But they gave me a couple of ideas for further musical possibilities – including a bit of busking tonight, perhaps. I may or may not take that one up. But as the conversation progressed I ended up telling them I was a journalist specializing in Formula One and taking my guitar around the races to play around the world in open mics and jam sessions. One of the musicians then said that he had played in Eddie Jordan’s band before, and we got to talking about our experiences with Eddie Jordan, as I had written about my musical experience last year with this former Formula One team owner who is now a commentator on BBC television.

I knew that Eddie was using a busker from Italy in his band lately, and here it was it turned out he had used two of these buskers I was now speaking to in Nice. These guys were not French, by the way – or at least not the bass player who tried my guitar and did some really nice tapping with it as you will see in the video. But naturally, I thought, what a bloody small world, and what a cool adventure! And crap, there it was again, that message: When you’re feeling down and low and tired, push yourself to the edge of something better. Had I retired to my bed after a contented meal and a long day, I’d have missed out on all of the above!

Famous All Over Town and Other Old Bits of News

May 7, 2010

Arriving in Barcelona yesterday for the Spanish Grand Prix, I discovered a few weeks after the fact that the French sports daily, L’Equipe, had published a story about me after the Malaysian Grand Prix. The journalist at the Equipe had been talking about doing a story on my musical adventures since last summer, but she never found quite the right occasion. In Malaysia, however, she learned about my experience with Eddie Jordan and the Hard Rock Cafe appearance that never happened, and she had her pretext.

The story is very short, but very well written, and she manages to get in my run-in with Eddie and a little description of my musical adventure that runs parallel with the Formula One season. Very cool! Check out Brad in L’Equipe for Eddie Jordan musical tale.

That’s one piece of old news. The other bit of old news was that I did get back to Earle’s open mic last Monday, but because of preparations for the Spanish Grand Prix, I did not have time to put up any of the video footage I took. Now I do not have an Internet connection quick enough to put up the footage, and the parts with me in it were just too long and need cutting. But the report is that I played and sang several songs with Vanessa, including our “Mad World,” and a new one we are working on, “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” which is based on the Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave version. This was chosen by Vanessa, and it is very cool. We also played “Jealous Guy” and “Just Like a Woman,” and Vanessa provided very nice background vocals and wonderful interjections – like on how I am a jealous guy.

It was a busy and good night at Earle’s, with a return of Felix Beguin and Syd Alexander of the Burnin’ Jacks, and they were hot as ever. Also, I was pleased to play “Except Her Heart,” with Felix, that song of mine that he arranged and that I have put up on the site. It was the first time we played it together since he learned it, and it went very well.

Vanessa jumped up on stage at one point during a Burnin’ Jacks song and shared the mic with Syd, but they are not at all the same height, so that required some handy mic manipulation on Vanessa’s part. I will put up whatever videos I can as soon as I can.

Now on to Barcelona. Last night I went to the George Payne pub which is near my hotel in Barcelona and which has an open mic on the first Thursday and last Thursday on the month. (I played there last year.) And I discovered that this was the first Thursday that they decided to drop the open mic from the first Thursday and turn it into every second week. So no luck. It’s not the first time I have showed up at an open mic only to find it has just ceased to occur on the night I show up.

I spent the rest of the evening exploring one of the most bar-filled areas of Barcelona, only to see that there was not a single live music venue among them. Dozens of bars with no music – thanks, no doubt, to the noise laws that are killing this city as they are Paris.

For the moment I only have the Jazz-Si club lined up for Sunday, but I will continue to try to find other venues, and will keep posting about the adventure.

Down in the Hard Rock Cafe, Up in the Malayas Bistro

April 2, 2010

This musical adventure I embarked on at the end of 2008 has always been about lessons for life.  I never intended it that way, that’s just the way it has always worked out.  And my first real full evening in Kuala Lumpur again taught me one of the lessons I keep on learning, but which is so easy to forget.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One team owner had accepted for me to sing with his band, Eddie and the Robbers, at the Hard Rock Café Kuala Lumpur.

And when I arrived at the Hard Rock Café, the people at the door expected me, and when I put my guitar on the stage, Eddie’s guitarist approached and introduced himself as Luca, an Italian.  He had been told I’d play with the band, he said.   I was just ecstatic.  It was really going to happen!  There had been no reason to doubt it would happen – Eddie had sent me an email saying there was no problem, we’d do it.  “Sounds great,” he had written.  But I had still had my doubts.

Now entirely reassured,  I went off and ordered a meal – a famous Hard Rock Cafe burger – and while I ate, Eddie came up to me and sat down.  I won’t go through everything he said, but basically he provided about 5 different excuses as to why it wasn’t going to happen, ranging from the management not wanting it, the band not wanting it, the band being given less time than he expected, and also that my proposed song, “Crazy Love,” was too slow.

He suggested that I might like to perhaps join the band on the stage at the end when they sing a medley, and I could sing along.  I told him that would be embarrassing if I don’t know the lyrics or the song, and I just shudder at the thought of what a fool I would look like going up there and grabbing the mic like in some kind of ridiculous karaoke.  I also thought that even if I accepted, it was the sort of promise that could dissolve by the time the set ended.  He told me to think about it, and he’d return later.

An hour and a half later, he returned to dine with his friends from the BBC where he is now an F1 commentator.  I approached him and he said, “Sorry Brad, it’s not going to happen.”  And he provided me with a sixth excuse, which I won’t go into.  I told him that in any case, I had never wanted to gate crash his gig – I was just disappointed he didn’t tell me no from the beginning.

“Okay, Eddie,” I said.  “I’m going to go and see if I can play at this place where I played last year.”

“Let us know, we’ll all come and watch – we all want to hear you,” he said.

“No Eddie, it’s for right now,” I said, and left.

So I took my guitar and left the Hard Rock Café.  I wondered what the staff thought about that, and Eddie’s guitar player.  I was supposed to play, and then I was gone without doing so.  Huh?

I left feeling as if I’d been screwed over:  four or five days beforehand I learned that I was going to be able to play a song in the Hard Rock Café with the band of the illustrious former F1 team owner and some 400 people in the audience.  Then on the night – all dressed up in my white shirt and black pants – I learn that I am not doing it.

I had held off trying to find a place to play because of that.  So I had nothing.  And I’d made this empty statement to Eddie about finding a place to play for that very night.  I decided I would go through the motions.  You have to just do it, just explore, just move, try and find a place to play – even if you think there’s no chance.  This is what I told myself.

I returned to CapSquare and the Urban Attic and  I found it closed again, just as it had been the night before.  I noticed several other bars and restaurants to the right in this modern shopping complex, and so I turned in that direction and made my way along.  The first bar I passed I asked a waiter what was going on at Urban Attic.

“Closed down three months ago,” he said with a smile.  “Bankrupt.”

Damn!  Sad story.  It was such a cool place, with such a great stage!

So now what do I do?  I decided to check out some of the other restaurants and bars on this strip of pavement and I soon came up to one with tables outside and inside, quite a large, old colonial-looking tea house sort of place – but it was a restaurant – with wooden paneled walls with etchings and photos and ornate lamps and inside I saw a couple of microphones a music pulpit thing and a stool.  This place had a musician.

I entered and spoke to a waiter, “You have a musician?”

“Yeah, that guy over there,” he said, pointing to a man of around 50 years old who looked like Ritchie Valens.  “Go and talk to him.”

So I approached.  He was talking to another man, but turned and saw me with my guitar.

“Are you the musician?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “What do you play?  You want to go up and play?”

Just like that.  I nodded, said yes, but decided to talk a little.

“And how about you, what do you play?” I asked.

“Mostly folk songs,” he said, “I play folk songs in 18 languages.”

Thus began an evening of two hours of music, fun, levity, drink, and discussion with this man.  His name was Rudy Seriestha, and he was a professional musician all his life.  He did not live in Kuala Lumpur, but out in the country somewhere, an Eastern province.

The stories he told were amazing.  He had performed in 57 different hotels in his musical career.  He played with groups, but he just loved playing with his guitar and singing.  And he may have called it folk music, but it was mostly pop standards that he played this night.  Stuff like Unchained Melody – for which his voice is made – and Leaving on a Jet Plane and Imagine, by John Lennon, and La Bamba.

He really sang the whole gamut of pop of the last 50 years.  He said he also worked as a singing teacher, helping people learn to place their voice correctly and use their diaphragm, etc.  And he sure had the voice to prove he knew what he was talking about.  Moreover, he said he once sang 100 songs in a single night of work.  And when I asked him if it had wrecked his voice, he said no.  “Once I got beyond 50, I was okay.”

Obviously, he knew what he was doing.

Well, after we talked for a while, I went up and played.  I started by seeking my revenge and singing “Crazy Love.”

They loved my stuff, and invited me to continue.  So began an evening in which Rudy and I shared the microphone, showing each other what we could do – strutting our stuff – for around two hours.  It was blissful.

I made some videos of me singing my song and my own John Lennon cover song, “Jealous Guy,” and I also did a few videos of Rudy.  I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the video images.  You’ll hardly see anything, as I did not have enough light, and I did not find the right place to put the Q3 Zoom camera.  The best of them in terms of light, was the one above where Rudy sings by my table the way he said he had for many years at restaurants.  But Rudy, like so many people around the world, fell in love with my Seagull S6 guitar and he asked me if he could use it to play a song.  So he took it and played “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with it (and actually used it in the La Bamba too, where you hear my voice singing along a little), which I found fun because I had “starred” in a video of that song on a TV program I played in when I was 18 years old in Canada.

The restaurant has existed for only seven months and it is called the Malayas Bistro.  I found an article in a local newspaper that shows that the food at the Malayas Bistro looks absolutely fabulous, and this was a classy joint, and the sound system was beautiful.  There was not a big audience while I was there, however, and most of the people were on the terrace outside.  They could hear the music, but there was not much applause from out there.

But for me, this was absolutely the greatest way to handle the rejection of the Hard Rock Café, and ultimately, it was a far more authentic experience, the kind of thing I live for on this never-ending worldwide musical adventure.

I was also happy to play my own song, “Since You Left Me,” in Malaysia, after singing my kind of sister song “Memories,” at the Urban Attic, down the street the previous year.

And the lesson for life that I mentioned when I started this long post was:  When the chips are down – and even when they are not – just go forth, one step after another, and seek out that which you want and that which you need, even when you feel that there is no chance you will find it or achieve it.  You must go through the motions, because you will, in fact, probably end up finding that thing – but you never will if you don’t make the effort to try….

Down in the Attic, Up in the Hard Rock Cafe

April 1, 2010

I arrived at my hotel in Kuala Lumpur at 11 PM last night, dead tired, wiped out, demoralized, plane-flighted out.  But I remembered that in this city last year on the Wednesday night, I found a fabulous place to play, a bar called Urban Attic, which had a huge stage and was partly inside and partly outside.  So last night, despite sending emails to the Urban Attic blog – which I noticed was terribly out of date – and I received no response, so I decided to head over, with my guitar, to see what the action was like.  I was delighted to find that it was only 10 minutes walk from my hotel over to CapSquare, where the Urban Attic is located.

So I walked through the heat and humidity and found my way there…only to find the Urban Attic closed and lifeless.  What a shame.  It does not look closed down, however, unless they’ve left everything in it, the bar, the sign for Ladies’ Night on Saturday, etc.  But compared to last year, this was a real downer. So I returned to the hotel with no answer as to what’s happening with the Urban Attic in general, but the knowledge that I’d done all I could to find a place to play on my first night.

I will also retrace my steps from last year to another venue, and that is the Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur.  It turns out the Hard Rock is also right next to my hotel.  Last year I went to the Hard Rock Cafe to listen to Eddie and the Robbers, the band of Eddie Jordan, the former F1 team owner.   I blogged about Eddie and the Robbers on my NYT F1 blog site.  When Eddie told me in the paddock in Australia that he was returning again, this time with a trio, and he invited me over, I decided to go a step further.  I later wrote to him and asked if I could play one of my songs with his band at the Hard Rock Cafe tonight.  He said yes.  So in principle, that’s what I’ll be doing tonight.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to it.  If the Urban Attic turned out to be a downer compared to last year, the Hard Rock Cafe experience – which was also enormous last year – could turn out to be even bigger this year!

Down Night in Bahrain – Hard Rock Times

March 12, 2010

It’s so depressing when you write a nice long blog post and then the computer eats it before you get a chance to put it up. Especially at nearly 1 AM. So I give up. In short, today was not a fruitful evening on the musical front. But it was not entirely without – for as I walked from the circuit shuttle drop off point at the Gulf Hotel back to my hotel I ran into a Hard Rock Cafe just down the street from my hotel. It reminded me of the evening I had at the Hard Rock Cafe in Kuala Lumpur last year when I went to listen to Eddie Jordan’s band there, and I did a blog post on Eddie and the Robbers at my F1 blog at the NYT.

Hard Rock Cafe Bahrain

The neon guitar of the Hard Rock Cafe in Bahrain appeared on the horizon of the cityscape....

So tonight, I went into the Hard Rock Cafe and had a beer. The place was bursting with people and at the bar where I sat were about five men dressed in the traditional white Arab garb – not sure what they were drinking. I asked a nice blonde barwoman if she knew a place to play music, like in an open mic or jam, and she knew nothing. She was from South Africa, but had lived here for some time. She said, though, that the woman at the door, the greeter, had lived here a lot longer and she might know about places to play.

So I left and on my way out, I asked the greeter woman – who looked Filipino – if she knew where there might be a place for an amateur musician like me to play.

“You know, an open mic or jam session,” I said. “Just some place where they might allow anyone to go up and play a little music. I’m here for a few days and brought my guitar and I’d like to find a place to play.”

“At all the bars in all the hotels,” she said.

“Okay, thanks,” I said, and got out fast.

That was it. Back to the hotel. Play a little music all by myself with the knowledge that I may have had a down day today, but there was definitely an open jam session at the Dublin Club tomorrow and I was told they’d fit me in.

So I went back to the hotel itching to play. I’m like a violinist I remember reading about when I was a teenager. It was either in a radio and TV announcing course I took or it was in a ventriloquism course, I cannot remember which, but the quote was very interesting. The violinist said: “If I don’t practice for one day, I notice it. If I don’t practice for two days, my family notice it. If I don’t practice for three days, my audience notices it.” Well, I may be the only one who notices it when I don’t practice for a few days, but I’ve still begun to get a little itchy if I can’t play every day.

So I went into the bathroom in my hotel room since it is well insulated from the other rooms next to mine, and also because it echoes nicely and gives me that feeling you get when you sing in the shower – or just a bigger sound. And I sang two cover songs I often sing, “Father And Son,” by Cat Stevens and “Just Like A Woman,” by Bob Dylan. I set up my handheld recorder that I use for my interviews in the paddock, propping it up on the towel rack in a way that Jac Holzman had me do (not in the bathroom but on a towel on a table in his hotel room in order to absorb and deflect any bad sound vibrations from the glass-top table) in Amsterdam a few years ago when I interviewed him, the founder of Elektra Records for a story. Anyway, I thought I’d put up here the results of those two recordings I did in the bathroom of my hotel tonight and leave the musical adventure at that for today as I wait with anticipation for tomorrow. You can click on the songs below to hear me singing them in my hotel in Bahrain tonight:

Father and Son

Just Like A Woman

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