Unfortunately, my first night in Shanghai last night was all about having my style crimped and finding two of my former open mic haunts either closed or no longer offering an open mic.
On the style side, I’m talking about the difficulting of accessing Facebook and a blog via the Internet here in China. It’s not really supposed to happen at all, and at the moment my only solution has meant that it happens very, very slowly. There may quite possibly be a long delay before my videos of open mics make it to the blog in the coming days.
But I will continue the open mic adventure, and I will post my latest edition of the Thumbnail Guides to open mics, Shanghai Edition, when the right moment comes.
Last night after a great meal at the very cool Bao Luo restaurant – delving into a menu I had little idea of what I was getting (boiled beef, noodles, beans, unidentifiable whatevers) – I walked on to Oscar’s pub, where I did a great open mic in previous years, to find there was a house musician but no open mic.
No big deal, the real plan was to go to the sublime and hip Not Me bar, where I had discovered the wonderful Chinese-run open mic two years ago – as opposed tothe “Irish Pub solution” of Oscar’s. I went with a fellow Formula One journalist friend in order to introduce him to this cool establishment.
When we got there, we found it was no longer there. It no longer exists. Not Me, is now Not Here. Gone. We popped into a pub next door and I learned that Not Me closed down five or six months ago, but no reason could be given as to why.
Such, in fact, is the open mic adventure: Open mics, and the bars in which they take place, tend to be very quickly moving targets.
I changed my program a little in Paris on Monday, visiting both the Coolin bar open mic and then the Galway Pub open mic, which I have not attended for a long time. Although I had fun things to do and sing in both places, please forgive me if that feels like 500 years ago and that I really want to talk more about Wednesday and Thursday night in Shanghai, China.
Fortunately my flight on Tuesday as in the afternoon, so I could do those two open mics in Paris, get home relatively early, sleep, and then spend the next more than 24 hours traveling to China by way of Dubai. I had about two hours sleep on the flight and immediately checked out upon arrival at my hotel in the Bund area of Shanghai whether or not the open mics I had done on the Wednesday night last year still existed. I figured that although I really wanted to go to bed, I would be far better off forcing myself to stay awake until late and especially, not missing the opportunity of an open mic in China.
I found out that one of them, Oscar’s Pub, no longer runs an open mic. But the other, the open mic at the Not Me bar, was advertised on the bar’s web site as happening that night. So I sped off to the Not Me, had a quick dinner of Shanghai braised porc at the Bao Luo restaurant and then went to Not Me. There was little waiting at the restaurant – a fabulous local icon of a place with huge high ceilings and voluminous dining room – and there was no waiting at the open mic either.
The Not Me is a superb bar that has not only a comfortable bar at the front, a lounge kind of room at the back, and an extensive club room in the back for DJs, parties, dance and other celebrations and inspired by the Cocoon club in Frankfurt.
The open mic has been going for just about a year, and I think I must have come to one of the first open mic evenings thee last year when I performed along with Sista Fay the Swede who I met in Paris and who was passing some time in Shanghai. This open mic is unusual in that the bar is owned and run by Chinese businessmen, and they have instigated the open mic even though they say it is not really part of Chinese culture. There is no MC, but anyone can come and play on a Wednesday night. I immediately played, in fact, I played two sets since it was not exactly overflowing with musicians.
Listen to the interview with one of the Not Me bar partners, Jacky, in my podcast interview, part of this year’s series of podcasts for the blog. Oh, and by the way, strange but when I introduce Jacky on the podcast I call the place the “Be There” bar, which is a Paris venue that I used to go to! You will actually hear me at the end give the place its correct name, “Not Me,” as well as asking Jacky for the meaning of the name….
Brad Spurgeon interviews Jacky, one of the organizers of the open mic at the Not-Me bar in Shanghai:
I was so pressed for time with all that travel and doing open mics that I had no time to write about Monday Wednesday nights’ open mics before I ran off to Bee Dee’s open mic/open jam last night. Bee Dee’s is run by an American, Jeffrey Davis, and is very much an American expat bar that might be located in the U.S. somewhere. But there is some Chinese clientele, and as a magnet for musicians, it also attracts some excellent Chinese musicians.
In fact, last night I almost immediately recognized the extraordinary Joe Chou even before he went up on stage for his set. I had met Joe Chou two years ago when I first started this blog, but I had met him at Oscar’s Pub and then played at his open jam session at the Melting Pot on the Monday. Joe had done some remarkable playing with my guitar, and he seemed to fall in love with it. Last night Joe tried it out again, as well as doing some of his very cool and deeply spaced-out stuff on a stratocaster. I wanted to play with Joe, and he had said we should, but we did not end up doing so.
Bee Dee’s just seemed to get better and better as the night progressed, and if I am still in Shanghai next Tuesday, which I am scheduled to be, then I will return again for more.
I must be on a roll. I wrote about how great things had gone in Kuala Lumpur. Now I have had only one night in Shanghai and I have already played at two open mics, one with a friend I met in Paris and have written about on this blog in recent months. I am in a huge rush to get back to Paris now from the Formula One race track as I have two more open mics to do tonight. So I will keep this to a minimum….
The first place I went to last night was Oscar’s Pub, which I wrote about here last year. Last year it was one of the highlights of my trip to Shanghai, with wonderful musicians and a great atmosphere. (Remember Tom & Jerry, the bluegrass musicians from Mongolia?) Well, last night it was a horrendous atmosphere and aside from the MC, I was the only musician at the open mic. The MC, needless to say, is not the same one as last year. Last year it was the genial Paul Meredith. This year the man greeted me with open arms and kindness. But somehow the open mic just did not have what it did. It did not bother me to sing my four songs entirely for my own ears while the pub boiled with talk and carousing. I just needed a place to play.
But what I had not planned for was that just around the corner at a bar called Not Me – the idea is that when you are in this bar you are not yourself!!! – owned and run by Chinese people, there was another open mic, and this one had a very cool, laid back and hip atmosphere. I learned about this one through my friend Frida, whom I have written about on this blog during her time in Paris in recent months. She now lives in Shanghai and we met, and will meet again, to play further open mics.
Known also as Sister Fay, Frida has some clever and sensitive lyrics, and she really did a good job last night. It’s funny because Frida found Ollie’s open mic in Paris through my blog, and when she looked for places to play in Shanghai she also found my blog items about the places here, from my trip last year.
Small world? That cliche does not even begin to tell the story this time.
Unfortunately, the upload of the video files is taking WAY too long. So I will have to put them up tomorrow. Apologies. But I have to take an hour and a half trip back to central Shanghai so not to miss tonight’s open mics….