There has been a long break from activity on this blog, partly because I have been traveling from Japan to South Korea, but mostly because I was lying sick as a dog in a tiny town called Mokpo in the south of South Korea for two of the three days. Sick as a dog is not a term I really wanted to use in this place, but it was the best one that came to mind. The good thing about all that is that it did give me time to contemplate the new CD of David Broad, one of the few guitar players I have seen at open mics who has made me briefly contemplate quitting playing guitar.
Mokpo is the location of the Formula One race this weekend, and I got in so much music AND work in Japan that sleep and proper nourishment and all of the rest of the things we do to keep ourselves healthy were left out of my life for a little too long, resulting in a wretched, flu-like deathly cold. Now under control, I found a moment to write about the music I did NOT play, but would have liked to – that of David Broad.
Broad is this amazing finger-picker guitar player from Leeds, England, who spent some time in Paris last year playing at the open mics and doing some concerts. He sent me his new CD a couple of weeks ago, and is it beautiful. You feel like you are in the same room with him and his band listening to his songs performed to perfection. Old time, country, blues, it’s all here. Broad’s heroes are above all the country blues stars of the 1920s and 1930s, people like Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James, Blind Blake, and of course Robert Johnson.
The album is not just beautifully produced in sound terms – with its mix of his finger-picking guitar, warm vocals, harmonica and double bass, and the mandolin, lap steel guitar, fiddle and 12 string guitar of the other musicians – it is also a wonderfully produced physical CD with a screenprinted cardboard sleeve. Recorded in Leeds and released on Folk Theatre Records, it has been produced in a limited edition of only 500 copies – so get one. If you’re sick and/or low, it will bring you out of it. If you are doing just fine, it might head off the flu – or the blues – lurking just around the corner.
Last night in Mokpo, South Korea, I was hit by the sounds of music everywhere – even where I least wanted it, as loud as anything in my cheap and crappy motel room. But the one place I really wanted it, I could not find: An open mic, jam session or other music-friendly place for amateur musicians.
Mokpo is celebrating the Korean Grand Prix Formula One race, and the city is in festivity mode. There is an outdoor stage just around the corner from my motel, and the stage was rocking all evening and until after midnight. They told me at the reception desk that the loud music – that pierced into the room through closed doors and windows – would continue until the morning. That is when I despondently filmed the dreary interior of my motel room in order to give an idea of how loud the music was in there. As it turned out, the music stopped shortly after midnight, so I could sleep. (I had an early interview to do in the paddock today.)
Having said that, there was a pretty good Led Zeppelin cover band playing much of the time, although it was not perfect and I enjoyed counting the notes they missed on the lead breaks. What was more difficult was figuring out during “Whole Lotta Love,” if the sexual panting was coming from the singer or from the room next to mine in the motel. Like many of the Formula One journalists, you see, I am staying in what is known as a “love motel,” meant for a short stop of an hour or so… such is the lack of accomodation in Mokpo.
I may have been wandering around Mokpo, South Korea last night desolate not to have found a place to play music, but I was also floating on clouds of satisfaction at the knowledge that the Istanbul chapter of my open mic book has just been published in French.
The only place I found to place in Mokpo last year was in the street with some young Korean buskers, and last night I did not even find them again. But I will continue my explorations. I stopped off at Moe’s bar only to learn that there WILL be an open mic there… next week, on Friday. That’s one of my biggest frustrations on the neverending open mic adventure: Being in the right place at the wrong time.
But one of the most rewarding bits of the adventure to have come into fruition yesterday – or was it the day before? – was that the Istanbul chapter of my book about the first year of the adventure was published in a French magazine that has just hit the stores in France this week.
The magazine is called Grand Prix, and it is a large format color magazine that despite its name covers much more than Grand Prix racing, and other forms of racing. The best way to describe it is the way the magazine describes itself, here in French with my English translation:
“Un beau magazine, sur un beau papier avec pour seule ambition de parler des hommes, femmes, lieux et histoires de que l’on aime. Automobile, moto, horlogerie, voyages, littérature, aventure… Juste du plaisir. Un magazine à conserver dans sa bibliothèque, à prendre et à rlire avec plaisir”
“A beautiful magazine, on beautiful paper, with its sole ambition being to speak of men, women, places and tales that we love. Automobiles, motorcycles, watches, trips, literature, adventure…. Simply pleasure. A magazine to collect in one’s bookshelves, to take and reread with pleasure.”
In short, it is the perfect place for a chapter from my own personal adventure of playing music around the world at the location of each Formula One race and then some. The open mic book covers the first year of my adventure. The second year was covered more loosely in the blog, and this year I have been doing blog entries AND videos that I will turn into a documentary film.
The Istanbul chapter used in Grand Prix – actually, it’s just the first day of the chapter – describes, funny enough, not the open mic I ended up doing in Istanbul, but an encounter I had with a gypsy street musician, and the time I spent busking with him within my first hour of arriving in the city. It talks about Turkish music and culture and my own feelings of trepidation in busking for the first time in nearly 30 years!!!!!
It has been translated into French, and I believe it is accompanied by a photo or two – although since I am in Korea, I have yet to see the magazine! But judging by my look at the previous issue, the magazine is well worth buying and reading. This issue has a large feature focusing on the French racing driver Francois Cevert, who was a teammate of Jackie Stewart back in the early 70s. Cevert was killed at Watkins Glen in 1973. He was about to become the No. 1 driver for the team as Stewart, who won the title that year, was about to retire.
It has stories about helicopters, motorcycles, a Belgian graphic novel thing… lots of stuff.
Last night after a day at the races, I returned to my hotel with and decided to dine with a couple of Formula One journalist colleagues. As we made our way through the Formula One festival in Mokpo on our way to an Italian restaurant, I heard music coming from one of the performance stages on our route. It got my juices flowing as it was just an acoustic guitar and voice, and I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if there is anyway I can finagle my way up onto that stage???”
I asked my colleagues if I could indulge a little of their time just to check out the stage situation, and they agreed. As we approached and I saw a Korean man playing guitar and singing into a mic in front of an audience in chairs in front of the stage – not a massive audience, but a nice one – I said to one of my colleagues, “This guy seems awfully much like one of the guys I busked with in the street last night.”
My colleagues told me to go on and see if I could speak to the man hosting the show, the man with another mic in his hand, standing off to the side. And as we arrived at the stage, the performer got down off the stage and his set was finished and the MC announced a dancing act of young women to follow. But suddenly the singer/guitar playing and I realized that, yes, we had met up again. It was Won Jin, with whom I had busked the previous night.
We greeted each other warmly and I introduced Won Jin to my colleagues. It became clear quickly that there was a fixed show on the stage and I would not be able to gate crash, but Won Jin asked me if I was going to show up again later to busk on Rose Street at 10 PM, and agreed to do so. He also said he had a full show on the stage today at 5 PM. But I told him I had to attend the race, so could not see his show.
So off I went with my colleagues and we ate in the Italian restaurant, and at the end of the meal I took out my guitar to tune it, and one of the colleagues – we were now 5 at the table – suggested I do a song. So I sang “Crazy Love” in the Italian restaurant. Fortunately it was not too posh, so rather than being kicked out, I was applauded by the Korean waiters and waitresses.
Then I returned to Rose Street and played for nearly an hour, during which time another Formula One journalist – a photographer – colleague passed by and was surprised to see me playing in the street. But he realized too that I had new found friends that not many of the journalists without guitars had, and that the idea of carrying around a guitar to all the races wasn’t so bad, actually. I agreed.
I think I found out last night why all the music bars have been empty in the new downtown area of Mokpo: The entire population of the city and all its visitors have been congregating down at the waterfront in a music and fun festival surrounding the Formula One race. I made a quick visit to see if there would be any chance of finding a microphone or stage for MY music, and quickly realized it was not possible.
So I headed back to the downtown area – the new downtown as opposed to the old downtown – and made my way to Rose Street, also known as “The Street of the Roses,” where I reported finding some music places yesterday. It was getting late and I’d had Korean barbecues for the last two nights, so I opted for pizza at the “11 A.M. Coffee Shop,” which is just below Moe’s Bar and Grill.
After I ordered the pizza I asked my waiter if he knew of any places I could go and sing and play my guitar and my music. I decided to cash in on his friendliness and his excellent English.
“Oh, just out there,” he said, pointing to the square on the pedestrians-only Street of the Roses that faced the coffee shop. “These guys go out and play there every night at 10 PM. You could go out and join them.”
I was slightly skeptical, and I could not quite believe that some guys would show up at precisely 10 PM to play in the square.
But as I sat down at 10 PM and began reading my MOJO magazine – still stuck in the August issue, though I have the November one too – as I waited for the pizza to cook, the waiter came up to me and said, “Come out here for a second.”
He led me out onto the terrace and pointed out two or three guys sitting on a bench and playing guitars and singing. They had just arrived.
“Great,” I said.
“They play pop music,” said the waiter.
“So do I,” I said.
“Oh, good, I’m really excited to hear you!” said the waiter, and that seemed to seal it for me.
Not to mention that I knew I had an open mic lined up for Monday in Seoul, so I did not want to take the risk of seeing all my time in Mokpo disappear without a little musical interlude of some kind. For the moment I had only managed a few songs each night in my hotel room.
So I ate my pizza, then ordered a cup of ice cream, then went out to the square. A small audience of mostly young women had gathered around the boys on the guitars. There were two guys who played guitar, and another guy who added some vocals and another who mostly watched, but occasionally drummed on the guitar case.
As soon as I entered the square one or two of the guys motioned me over to play, as they saw my guitar on my back. I nodded, took a concrete post as a seat and finished my ice cream while I listened to them.
Ice cream finished, I whipped out my guitar and began playing what would turn into an hour and a half of jamming, singing along, playing together, with Won Jin, Ye Eum, Seo Hyun and MJ. They all looked in their late teens to early 20s. They played some Korean songs, bust mostly the pop standards we hear all over the world, like “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and all the rest. I played some Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Dylan, Beatles, Lennon, and even a couple of my songs too, and they played along. We exchanged rhythm, lead, harmony and other vocal roles, and basically had a great time.
They all want me to return tonight. “Every night, here, after 10 PM,” said Won Jin, who seemed like the most dominant of them all – and the one I record mostly on the guitar and vocals on this page.
So I may well return there for another jam tonight. After I played last night I returned to Moe’s for a beer, and there I met an American expat English teacher woman from Florida, named Kelly, who told me that she saw these guys all the time. If they are indeed the same ones, she said they are actually professional musicians who play in bars in the old downtown area regularly. But they like coming to the Street of the Roses to play in that square at the end of the night.
I did too. Again, it built up the human dimension of my visit to this country I had huge misgivings about visiting before I came here – stories of a lousy rural area where the race takes place, a long horrible ride down from Seoul, inhospitable this and that – and which I actually now find to be one of my favorite trips this year….
I arrived exhausted in Seoul on Wednesday evening and immediately made my way over to a dinner date with Suki in the Hongik University area. Suki, whom I met at some musical evenings in Paris this year, and who is a music aficionado, wanted to show me around the neighborhood, which is full of bars and musical joints.
We had a dinner – actually, I did, since she had eaten already – at a Korean barbecue, and then headed over to one of her favorite joints, an underground music bar with a huge screen that shows music videos all night. You select the music you want to hear, and if they have a video, they put it up. I selected Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” and “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No go on the Van Morrison – too old, no doubt – but the Chili Peppers was great.
The area reminded me very much of Tokyo, although until then I had been surprised at how western the city looked to me compared to the other places I have been in Asia (Singapore, Shanghai, Malaysia and Japan).
There was no open mic, however, but on my walk back to my hotel I did find a musical joint that seemed to be a cross between open mic and karaoke, with recorded music backing and people from the public singing and hitting a tambourine and another percussion instrument. But I was so exhausted after not sleeping on the flight and having an early rise the following morning, that I opted out. In fact, I have an open mic lined up for Monday evening on my return to Seoul – so standby, and I keep my fingers crossed on it.
I am now writing this post from the town of Mokpo, which is the nearest city to the Yeongam Formula One circuit, where the race takes place this weekend. Last night I scoured through the main bar and music area of Mokpo, which turns out to be right next to my hotel. The main street is called Rose Street, and it has all sorts of cafes, bars and musical joints of one kind or another.
(My hotel, by the way, is called the Charmant, and my room overlooks Love Square, and the hotel sits next to a “sexy girls” venue of some kind. This is par for the course accommodation here at the Grand Prix.)
Unfortunately, my explorations of Rose Street revealed no place for me to play last night. I did find one place called “Live Cafe,” which had a stage all decked out with speakers, drum set, mic and other musical apparatus. But there was no band and no public at all. The owner indicated there would be no music last night. But I will try it again this weekend, as it looks promising.
I also found on the Internet a bar called Moe’s Bar and Grill. It is run by a Californian, but it turns out that while it seemed to advertise live music on the internet, there was none. Not surprise, actually, as there was no grill either. Just booze. A nice place, though, and I enjoyed a beer there, along with some of the Australian track marshals for the Formula One race. The nice bartender woman from Mongolia told me I was welcome to play music if I wanted to, but the atmosphere did not seem entirely right – too many people having a nice talk around the bar and probably not wanting to have some guy interrupt them with his songs.
I have not given up on Mokpo, though, and tonight I will explore all of the areas that have been set aside in a festival to celebrate the Formula One race. There are concerts with Korean bands and other festivities. Maybe there will be a corner of a stage or some other place where I can get in a song or two.