Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

At Home At Tony’s Aussie Bar in Itaewon, Seoul

October 8, 2013

Brad Spurgeon at Tony's (Photo: Yvon Malenfant)

Brad Spurgeon at Tony’s (Photo: Yvon Malenfant)

SEOUL, South Korea – I was saying to Tony at Tony’s Aussie Bar in Itaewon last night that I had a weird feeling of both never being in his open mic and bar for more than about five minutes at a time, and yet never really feeling the break in between, as if there was a continuum to it. Maybe that is because you always know what to expect at the open mic and jam session at Tony’s: Fun, crowds, great music, wonderful hosting and an amazing sense of being welcome.

Itaewon is a very cool neighborhood in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, where an expat also feels at home in general. Fortunately that does not mean that there are no Koreans present; I mean, what would be the fun in going to Korea if you did not rub shoulders with Koreans. Itaewon is full of locals, but it is also a big hangout for foreigners and their culture: cookie shops by the dozens, fast food outlets, antique shops aplenty, the Hamilton Hotel – and the much better IP Boutique Hotel, where I stayed – expat bars like the Rocky Mountain Tavern, which I mentioned last week, but above all: Tony’s Aussie Bar.

The open mic is mostly an open jam where Tony, who plays in just about every song on his practice, electronic drum kit, manages to put up as many musicians as possible at the same time. I seem to have found a great bass player there each year I go, and each time it is a different one. Last night it was the French-speaking Marshall from the Ivory Coast who played his fretted bass so smoothly it sounded like it was a fretless.

There were some of the usual locals I have met there before like my fellow Canadian, Yvon Malenfant, who plays a mean acoustic and sings his own songs and a few covers. There was an excellent Korean singer songwriter kind of guy with a very smooth voice. And then there was the new Italian contingent, with the mad lead guitar player who put as much energy into histrionics as he did his lead and riffs.

A Multicultural, Multimusical Vibe at Tony’s Aussie Bar Open Mic

There was also a keyboard player from Italy, and that was a discovery for me as he played during my set of the three song, and I realized how sweet a keyboard backing could sound on my song “Borderline.” I had intended for the first time to not play “Mad World,” and I wanted to try my more quiet, acoustic, delicate “Crazy Lady,” but once I got up there with all the musicians, I succumbed once again to the feeling that I needed to do something that I was certain everyone could jam on.

So I did “Mad World,” and once the official jam had finished Yvon and another guy and I began playing acoustic and continuing a quiet little jam – when I did play “Crazy Lady” – and it was during this that Tony told me that he always loves it when I come each year and play “Mad World.” He gets into the drumming groove, and also loves Tears for Fears. So I realized that I had done the right thing.

And so has Tony, in creating this amazing corner of an amazing corner of Seoul – decided expat, but also, decidedly open to any kind of music in the world.

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Seoul Edition

October 6, 2013



MOKPO, South Korea – For my 14th city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Seoul page. (Pay no attention to my MOKPO dateline. I am in the south of Korea today, but return to Seoul tomorrow, where I will again play at Tony’s Aussie bar!) As a reminder, it all started with my now very popular Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music, and due to that guide’s success, I decided this year to do a similar guide for each of the cities I travel to during my worldwide open mic tour.

Seoul’s Open Mic Scene is Driven by Expat English Teachers

Seoul is so big and my time spent there on each trip is so limited – I stay one or night on my way to Mokpo in the south, and sometimes another night on my way back – that I have not been able to properly explore all the Korean musical venues. But the city has a vibrant expat community, and within that, a vibrant, if often ephemeral – open mic and jam scene. This expat community is bursting with struggling musicians and singer songwriters from Australia, England, the United States and Canada who work as English teachers on the side. They have set up open mics all over, with a high number in the Itaewon district, which is the expat centre of the city as far as I can make out.

Worldwide Open Mic Guide Philosophy

The only guide I am really in a good position to update regularly is that of Paris, since I live there. But I decided to do guides to all the other 20 and more cities on my worldwide open mic tour in order to give the knowledge I have personally of each city’s open mics. The guide has links to sites I know of local guides that may be more up-to-date, but I have chosen to list the open mics or jam sessions that I have played in myself. There may be others that I know of, but if I have not played there, I will not include it on the list. That way, the user learns a little of my own impressions. But I cannot be as certain that the guide is up-to-date – so check before you go.

So here, now, in any case is the Thumbnail Guide to Seoul Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Please do help me whenever you have information to give me on venues.

Playing the Tony’s Aussie Bar Monday Night Jam in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea

October 16, 2012

Tony's Aussie Bar (Seoul)

Tony’s Aussie Bar (Seoul)

On my last night in South Korea it all finally came together, as it has in the past, at Tony’s Aussie Bar in Itaewon, the cool expat part of Seoul where you feel like you’re in a true multicultural society walking down streets with English bakeries, Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian, American and, oh, yes, Korean restaurants and boutiques, all in a rolling terrain of …. That was becoming a run-on sentence so I thought it better to simply stop in the middle and get back to Tony’s Aussie Bar. Tony, the Aussie, is also a drummer. So when he opened his bar a few years ago, he ended up sticking in a drum set, and that ended up being a jam session, once a week.

I went for the first time two years ago, and I have not missed one since when passing through Seoul. Interestingly, Tony’s also seems to be the place where I end up eating my dinner beforehand, because he’s got great Australian lamb steaks – or at least they are advertised as such, and I like the mint sauce – and he has great Australian hamburgers, like the one I had last night with egg and … pineapple….

But most of all, in addition to the Hardy’s red wine and the various beers, he’s got the chops. Not lamb chops, drumming music chops. And he also attracts the best expat musicians in Seoul – or if they are NOT, then Seoul must be a dynamite city for expat musicians. This guy Ryan on on violin is great to play with, and this guy Ryan on guitar and vocals does the meanest Van Morrison cover I’ve ever heard – sounds more like Van Morrison than Van Morrison does, today compared to yesterday, I mean.

And then last night, this woman named Kira, an American who teaches English in Seoul, she gets on stage and sings this really nice and cool first song, and I wasn’t sure who it was by, but I really liked her voice. Then she announced that the next song is, “Summertime,” and I felt my heart drop. How many times have I heard halfhearted, half-talented attempts to sing that standard and NOTHING comes out? Far too many times to want to hear it again, in short.

But then Kira starts singing it, and I’m going, “What the fuck? That’s new.” She made it different, she has a beautiful natural sound in her voice that is complimented incredibly by some great technique, and visually she is one of those performers you just lock into and know that THEY are locked into the music.

Also met up with my friend and fellow Canadian Yvon Malenfant, who did a couple of very cool covers in addition to playing guitar to back up Kira. And Yvon offered to do videos of my songs. I was a little hesitant, because the truth is, I’m a little bit shy about having videos of me up here – or rather, let’s say I don’t usually like to see myself performing – which is really hypocritical of me, considering the thousands I have put up of other people! But anyway…. they’re up, and I’m grateful he took them so I can have a souvenir of last night’s jam at Tony’s Aussie bar, with Tony on drums. Oh, and get a look at that insane bass, and it’s amazingly good player….

Powered by