Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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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!

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