Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Four More Years of the Great Singapore Grand Prix – and a Look Back at the First Race of 2008

September 16, 2017
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Singapore Grand Prix starting grid with the Singapore Eye in the background.  Photo: © Brad Spurgeon

Singapore Grand Prix starting grid with the Singapore Eye in the background. Photo: © Brad Spurgeon

What is wrong with these Formula One fans and pundits who have been criticising the series for decades about its global expansion, and loss of “traditional” circuits in Europe? Sure, there is only one race in Italy, one in Spain, one in Germany (sometimes), and for years no race in France – soon to be rectified. Hold it, do we need more than one in each country? In fact, for me the Singapore Grand Prix not only always lived up to its expectations, but it went far beyond them to become one of the top races in the series. So no wonder that Formula One has been able to extend the deal in the city state for another four years of the race, as announced yesterday. For me, the Singapore race, the third practice of which is taking place as I write these words, is simply one of the best, most exciting and interesting races of the season – one of the hottest, in every way….

I do not recall a single time being able to walk from the MRT station closest to the circuit to the media center of the circuit without having worked up a full-body sweat that led to me adopting the habit of wearing a T-Shirt to go there, and bringing a fresh change of shirt to start the day – or afternoon, rather, since it is a night race. It is a long-haul from Europe to Singapore, and the country is so small and without a long tradition of top auto racing culture; but how can a series that calls itself the pinnacle of racing in the world pretend to be anything like that without actually racing all around the world? For me, the global expansion is both necessary and enriching, for the series, for the fans and for the participants. What a fabulous adventure. And, of course, I personally always enjoyed the discovery of the musical culture, as with my wonderful encounters in the open mics, jams and gigs of Singapore – like the time I met “the Dean Martin of Singapore.”

In my second look-back on this new section of my blog, I am posting my first race preview for the Singapore Grand Prix, published just before the 2008 inaugural race.

The 10th Edition of the Singapore Grand Prix – and a New Racing Section to this Blog

September 14, 2017
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Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo:  Brad Spurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo: Brad Spurgeon

This weekend marks the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, the first running of which took place in 2008, as Formula One’s first ever night race. As it happened, that first edition would take place just as the world financial markets began to fall apart in the beginning of the financial crisis the effects of which we are still feeling today. I recall the strange atmosphere in the paddock perfectly: We were gathered in the financial hub of Southeast Asia in the slickest racing environment in a downtown setting that we had ever seen, and basking in the paddock in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. While all the talk was about the underpinnings of that wealth and luxury falling apart around us – banks going bust, the global financial system sinking into an apparent abyss, and with it, the prospect of so many of the series’ sponsors pulling out and leaving Formula One adrift in a series that survives on begging for money.

As the series continues to negotiate for a new contract with Singapore, and in a season in which a new company has taken over the running of the series – the U.S.-based Liberty Media – I thought it would be a great time to look back at a couple of the stories that I wrote in the past, as well as to start a new auto racing section on this blog. Today I am running what I feel is the biggest story I wrote about Formula One as almost classical theater, a big, world story of glamour, glitz and drama. This was a Page 1 story in the International Herald Tribune, and later ran in the New York Times, and summed up the state of Formula One at the time, at its biggest race of the season: The Monaco Grand Prix. Read the story and tell me if the series is the same today 15 years later?

Tomorrow, I will run my preview for the first ever Singapore Grand Prix, and talk a little more about how the weekends go in Singapore.

By the way, while we all thought the first night race and the collapsing financial markets were the biggest story of the weekend in 2008, it turned out that there was a much, much bigger sporting story going on behind the scenes. But that scandal would only be revealed a year later when Nelson Piquet Jr. told the world that he (and his team directors) had staged a fake crash in order to help his teammate at Renault, Fernando Alonso, with his race strategy. The help would lead to Alonso’s first victory that season, and a year later, to the banning of two of the team’s directors from the series in one of the sport’s worst cheating scandals. Last year also marked the beginning of the Liberty Media story, as the announcement of the takeover of Formula One had just been made at the beginning of the month and Chase Carey, the new boss, visited the Singapore paddock – his first ever visit to a Formula One Grand Prix.

Playing at the Actors’ Jamming Bar in Singapore

September 22, 2011
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It was a quiet but fun night at the Actors’ jamming bar in Singapore last night. I arrived with about three hours sleep after travel on two flights – with two stops, including one in Colombo, Sri Lanka – and so I was a walking zombie by the time I showed up at Actors’ bar around 1 AM. But I knew there was an all night food stall next door where I could eat some good and cheap food, and I knew that Actors’ was always open for playing.

I discovered the Actors’ jamming bar two years ago on the first year of my adventure, and I went last year and now this year. I will probably go again this weekend, as it changes from day to day. But last night it was pretty quiet, but fun. There was a flute player from South Africa, a singer from Chicago, another singer from England, a keyboard player from – I think – Singapore, and another singer from – I think – Singapore.

I played my guitar and sang some of my own cover songs, had people sing along and play along with me – especially Olivier on the flute – and I also played guitar for the others who sang. This place has a special feel to it, and the quality varies as much as the musicians. But it is open every night and it is open very late and anyone can go up on the stage and use the drums, keyboards, guitars or whatever you might bring yourself.

So it is very, very cool. It is also very “hands off” in terms of the management. Apparently it gets a lot of criticism from people for being too hands off, but that has suited me fine for the moment.

And last night it was a great way to tire myself out further to be sure of sleeping by the time I got back to the hotel at 3 AM.

Actors – the Jam Bar in Singapore

September 24, 2010
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I’ve been off the blog for a couple of days while travelling around the world, destination: Singapore. Arrived yesterday afternoon in a terrible rain storm, then stormed over to the F1 paddock for a day of work in the series’ only night race, and then stormed off to a place on North Bridge Road at Boat Quay, called Actors, the Jam Bar.

Actually, stopped at a nearby food joint to eat some chicken and noodles and drink a Tiger Beer. But then went up the stairs to Actors and found there on stage a guy I had already met last year at this fabulous jam session bar nearby the trendy quarter of Clarke Quay. This was the guitar player and singer named Clement, who was jamming already with a man on bass and another on drums.

We renewed acquaintance, and he remembered details about me, like that I was a journalist, and that, “Hey man, sing your Cat Stevens song – “Father and Son.” Now that was very cool, I thought, since we had not been in touch in a year. I asked about the guy who ran the place last year. “Where’s Ringo?” I asked, as that was the name of the man.

“Dead,” said Clement.

“No!!!”

“No,” he said. “Just joking. He just doesn’t work here anymore.”

Great joke, Clement! Anyway, it was the beginning of a great night of jamming. I had discovered the bar last year and I remembered that it was a very relaxed, easy place to go and play, where in fact, the mission statement of the place is the following: “A live jam bar for musicians and music lovers alike, this is one place where the band never gets boring. Comprising of patrons from the bar, the impromptu band, made up of various executives from all walks of life, dishes out radio friendly fare and old school rock hits.”

In other words, my kind of place. It’s a dark room with wooden walls and tables and chairs, a long bar and a very narrow terrace where you can go out the have a smoke and look at the skyline. The sound system is pretty good, and I love the reverb on the vocal mic that makes almost anyone sound great. There is also a kind of karaoke set up where the band plays the music and the person from the audience can read the lyrics and sing from the hundreds of songs available in paper binders. But this year I noticed that something that looked like an iPad was now fixed near the mic and full of lyrics.

I sang several songs, including the Cat Stevens he requested and also “Where Will the Children Play.” Clement played along on guitar and we did the “Father and Son” a second time together, with him on harmony and bass.

Soon a couple of members from other bands that had just finished a gig elsewhere in Singapore arrived and they joined up in the jam. So we had some fine music, particularly with the members of the band called Ocular, and one guy from a band called No Strings Attached.

I had a great time, but the videos I made are terribly lit because the lighting was so low. The sound is pretty good, though, so I am putting them up anyway.

I think I will return to the Actors bar tonight because there will be more people on a Friday night. I’ve been invited to go and see the two above mentioned bands, too, at the venues where they play on Friday and Saturday, and they said I could play a song or two. Ocular plays at Chijmes on Friday and Saturday and at Giraffe. The guy from No Strings Attached will play at one of those venues with them.

But on Saturday I also want to make it over to Crazy Elephant in Clarke Quay to take in the set by my friend from Paris, Ollie Fury. Ollie, who runs the Ptit Bonheur la Chance open mic on Tuesdays in Paris will play from 9:30 to 10:30 tomorrow.

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