Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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From Great to Better: Rockin’ the rockaFellas bar in Kuala Lumpur

March 25, 2012

The third night in Kuala Lumpur became in several ways a reflection of the night before – and just as amazing. I started off with a gig at the Frontera Mexican restaurant in the suburb. I had learned the night before that this was only five minutes or so drive away from rockaFellas, where I had played the night before after wending my way there via the failed gig and then the Backyard pub. So what happens Friday?

Russell Curtis, the owner of, and musician at, rockaFellas bar in Kuala Lumpur talks with Brad Spurgeon:

Remember that on Thursday I was invited to do a gig and the person who invited me called up and said she could not make it? And there was no one present at the gig venue? And I played anyway? Well, bizarrely, on Friday night I found myself a few hours before the gig at the Frontera learning that the guy who booked me could not show up. His excuse was very serious and I thanked him and wished him the best, and prepared myself for the gig – also knowing that if it was a disaster like the night before, I could make my way over to rockaFellas.

So I showed up at the Frontera and found the place bubbling with energy, customers, a kind staff and a nice sound system. And soon I was joined by a few people who had come last year when I played in the open mic at Frontera – which no longer exists. So I played for nearly an hour and a half in two sets, and had a great time. The neat thing about Frontera is that it is located in a shopping mall called Jaya One and so the restaurant opens up into the mall and you can see when people at nearby stores step out in the hall to listen to you singing, or others stop by out front and listen, and you know the whole time you play that you are not ONLY playing for the clients in the restaurant you are also playing to reach people down the halls and in the stores and drag them in to Frontera – where you can just sit and drink beer or other alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks too, if you want.

So I finished the gig and spoke for a while with my friends from last year – some music students and their teacher – and then they offered to take me over to rockaFellas.

There, I found the place moving with the full band of Russell Curtis, the singer, guitar player I mentioned the night before and who had brought me there from the Backyard. Russell had invited me to come around on the Friday to see the full band, and I did not regret it. They were great: Bass, two guitar players sharing lead and rhythm, and the drum player.

Then much to my surprise and delight, after I ate an excellent meal of Cantonese noodles – copious – Russell invited me to play a couple of songs again. So after their next set, I went up and started playing “Mad World” again, at his request. Halfway through the song, the bass player and Russell took to the stage and joined me. This time Russell played drums.

So we just cruised through that one and I headed directly into “Wicked Game,” which I thought would be simple enough for us to make our way through it adequately. The audience – much bigger and more party-minded than the day before – was really responsive, but especially on the next song.

It was like magic, Russell asked me to play “Cat’s in the Cradle,” although I have no idea whether he knew if I knew how to play it. So I proceeded to play the most upbeat version of “Cat’s in the Cradle” I’ve ever played, as I have never done it with a drummer and bass player.

There was only one thing that burned me, and that was how the jam was the most delightful, fun and cool thing I’d done so far on the visit, and because I was not prepared for it, I did not record it on my Roland R-26 as part of my project to record myself playing with the local musicians in every country I visit this year. Fortunately I did get that on a song the night before, but this was a golden opportunity lost.

Still, the purpose of this journey above all is those moments of delight on stage, and so that was more than fulfilled. I would not be the only “other” person joining the stage to jam with Russell and the band, as they called up another drummer and another singer after that.

As you will hear in the podcast interview I did with Russell, he opens his stage into not an “open mic,” but a jam session for friends and like-minded musicians. It’s part of the spirit I love and seek out in this open mic, open jam adventure.

Andy Flop Poppy Plays My Seagull at the SENYAP Hub and Other Musical Adventures in Kuala Lumpur

April 11, 2011



I reported a few days ago that my Seagull guitar broke. That IS a true story. But I have been able to press the broken pieces of the wood back together and the guitar is playing on and continuing its adventures, and I have decided that I will keep it going until it warps, collapses or otherwise ceases to produce the sound I love to hear from it. And thank goodness I’m still carrying the battle scarred girl around with me. I would not have wanted to miss last night’s adventure for anything in the world.

I had already considered this trip to Kuala Lumpur a musical success after I played at Laila’s bar on Wednesday, at the Frontera restaurant on Saturday – read about that below – and also received an invitation to play tonight at the Backyard Pub and Grill. But my friend Emily Brown, the woman who runs the All-Nations U-Bar open mic in Australia, when she saw I was in Kuala Lumpur decided to ask a Malaysian musician she knows in Melbourne if he knew of places for me to play.

He suggested Doppelganger open mic, which I know about but which has nothing while I’m here. And he also suggested a thing called SENYAP. I sent an email to the SENYAP address asking if there were any events for me to play at and I received a response yesterday, saying I could come around and play that night – or Tuesday, but that Sunday would be best.

I had a huge day at the office – read, race track – and I was late in getting away, late in returning to my hotel, and then late in arriving at the so-called “Hub” where SENYAP put on its musical and other artistic events. It was located in Shah Alam, out in a suburb, in a place called “Extreme Park,” which in fact was a skateboard and other extreme sports meeting place. The Hub was like a mix between a cafe, bar, pub and musical theater, with a fabulous stage, spotlights, good quality sound system, and a lot of people sitting at chairs drinking non-alcoholic local beer-like drink – flavored peach, pomegranate, raspberry, etc. – at oil barrels for tables. The walls were black and covered with sayings and signatures and autographs written in chalk. Cool? All part of the cool concept of SENYAP (which means “silence” in Malay).

“We’re an underground movement,” I was told by Atraz Ismail, the genial and charismatic organizer of SENYAP and owner of the locale, when I asked him what kind of place I had come to.

Indeed, it took me a while, but I eventually caught on. SENYAP is a DIY group that exists to promote grassroots arts in Malaysia, mostly music, but also other arts. This particular “Hub” has only been open for a week, but the concept has existed for a couple of years, and in various forms.

The group takes in musicians and gives them a venue and helps them develop and advertise and gig and grow. Very cool indeed. And what was, on top of that, so much cooler for me personally was not only that I was allowed to play in this venue and did a nice half hour gig of my own and cover songs that were pretty much all warmly received. It was also the quality of the other musicians present, and the young bands who dropped by to take in the sounds and speak to Atraz. Among them were a band called The Tick, which has grown up through SENYAP and has a CD, and a Singaporean musician named Tengku Adil.

Unfortunately I only just barely heard Adil, as he was playing just as I arrived and I had to run out immediately to grab a Burger King next door since I had not yet eaten, and it was nearly 10 PM. But Adil gave me his CD and I listened to it later on a car CD player and it sounded nice.

The truly cool thing, though, was the presence of the singer who I did hear when I came back to pig out on my Burger King. This was Andy, of the band Flop Poppy. As I listened to his set – just him on the guitar and vocals – I could hear instantly that this man had his own style and presence. I could also hear and incredible audience participation in his songs, with applause coming as certain songs were introduced, and the audience knowing all the lyrics.

As I ate the burger and videoed the man I thought, this man must be known here. They know all his songs, and he has this assured presence and sound. I would learn that indeed, Andy, the main man behind Flop Poppy, is a local rock star. The band was a trailblazing band in the Malaysian indie music scene in the ’90s and early 2000s, and has, in fact, sold millions of records.

Andy is a friend and supporter of Atraz and his SENYAP movement, and he said that after his years of performing at the top, he has recently returned a lot to his roots, playing in smaller venues – as well as continuing in the big ones – and trying to be as close to the people as possible.

So here we get to the really nice part. In addition to interviewing all these people for my open mic film, I again found myself in a situation as I have so often where the musicians are intrigued by my guitar. Andy just had to try it out. So I gave it to him as we sat at one of those oil drums and he played and sang a song. As I went off to interview Atraz, Andy got back on the stage again and played for another 10 or 15 minutes with my guitar.

Then Adil took the guitar and played it too.

Yes, a few days ago I reported that I had broken the Seagull, and that is true. It is broken. But the splinters are holding together, and the guitar seems to sound about the same as before. So I will get it looked at by a doctor (luthier) and hope to give it a new lease on life. This is the guitar that has been played around the world by so many different musicians, including many famous ones, that I cannot bear the thought of retiring it. I mentioned this to Andy and he said, “You should make a video about ‘all the people who have played my guitar’.” Hey, that’s what SENYAP is all about, a creative melting pot.

The night before I played at the Frontera Tex Mex restaurant. Did a half hour gig there, as it was not exactly an open mic. There too I met some very interesting people – and the Bollands were also there – and spoke in front of the camera to the Malaysia group, Sue & Her Boys – Chapter 2. Sue is a teacher and her boys are her students. They’re studying media, but they do the music for fun. A little over a year ago, they started an open mic themselves mainly for the students, but it has grown into an international affair as well, with bands from all over.

Clearly the Malaysian music scene is vibrant and growing. Gotta get ready now for my gig at the Backyard tonight.

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