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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.

Three Venues in One Night in Kuala Lumpur (includes Backyard Part II)

March 24, 2012

The craziness continues in Kuala Lumpur as my fourth year of musical madness spreads its wings and reaps its harvest. Last night I had a gig to perform that was booked at the last minute the night before for the Doppel Kafe in the Central Market Annexe. Only problem I realized once I got there covered in sweat head to foot from running and pushing things to the limit was that there was no one present. I mean, no spectators, the kafe was empty – except for the two waiters.

Do I care? No, I got on the great looking stage, plugged into the Bose sound column – a fabulous thing – and I played three songs. I got off the stage to have another of the five beers I had ordered upon arrival, and the waiters asked me, please, for an encore! So I played a fourth song. I loved the stage, loved the sound system, and loved the idea that I would singing to an empty room in what was otherwise a very cool looking arts cafe.

Then a phone call came from the person who so kindly booked me at the last minute, and it turned out that not even she could show up! Well, I have my limits. So I asked the waiters to pack up my beers in a bag and I headed as fast as I could over to the Backyard Pub, where I had played the night before.

You see, the original idea was that I would play on the Thursday at the Backyard, but I had already been offered the gig at the Doppel… so I had told Edmund that I had better do the Doppel on Thursday, and he put me up on Wednesday at the Backyard. At the same time, however, he told me that the Thursday night band was hot as hell and I had to see them. So I whipped over there and had a great meal of mutton fried rice.

As I ate I spoke to the bass player, who I had heard warming up, and he had sounded amazing. So we spoke before the band went up. I later learned from someone else, and could confirm through listening to his music, that this bass player, Andy Peterson, is one of the best bass players in Southeast Asia and he is highly sought after all over the region. He often records with Taiwanese bands.

Anyway, I spoke with him, Edmund Anthony, and Albert Sirimal, the singer and guitarist from the same five-piece band. And then who should walk in the door – I had told her I was going to the Backyard – but the woman who had booked me at the Doppel and who could not show up there to hear me there! So we spoke for a while, and she left just before the band played.

The band was fabulous, really jazzy, and cool, and laid back and just awesome. I use that word because I think it is the first time I’ve ever used it on the blog or in any piece of my writing. So it has value, it is not a cliché in this instance.

After the band’s first set, Edmund or Albert introduced me to a guy who had shown up named Russell Curtis. Russell, it turned out, used to sing in this band. He also plays guitar. Now, however, Russell owned his own music venue, a bar called rockafellas. And we got to talking and someone told him about my worldwide meanderings in the musical warp, and Russell said it was too bad I did not go to his bar that night as there was a solo singer guitar player and I could have played there too.

He then learned I had my guitar with me and he immediately – this was near midnight – invited me to go play at rockafellas. So I accepted instantly. So he drove me to rockafellas and I listened to his musician of the night, Allan G., who has a wonderful velvety voice and plays a mean acoustic guitar (a Maton from Australia).

Allan G. then invited me up to the stage and I played three of my songs. Later, Russell got up and played and sang, and he has a great voice and amazing guitar licks, and so I asked him if he would care to play a song with me, he doing lead. He accepted, so we did my song “Memories.” And I recorded it with my new Roland R-26 recorder, because that is the missing link in this year’s adventure, the thing I hinted at earlier but did not want to define: My goal this year is to try to play with and record a local musician in every country I go to. I succeeded in Melbourne, and now I have succeeded here in Kuala Lumpur.


Rockafellas is a very neat venue, by the way, with a real cocktail lounge feel to it, a beautiful little stage, good food, a pool table and a great sound system. Pay it a visit if you’re in the PJ area of KL…..

The evening, once again, was a lesson in “don’t despair,” keep pushing. You will get what you seek. I couldn’t believe it.

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