My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.
This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.
SINGAPORE – After my two exceptional first nights of music in Singapore, the first being the discover of an amazing local musician, and the second being the discovery of an amazing local open mic, I dropped by to the mainstay Actors Jam Bar, where I have played every year on my musical adventure. It was not quite up to the two previous nights, but I had a great time nevertheless, and you’ll see in the videos that everyone else did too.
The Actors jam bar concept is that of a mix between an open jam, an open mic and a karaoke. You go in, buy a drink and listen to the other customers take to the stage together to play all the house instruments at your command: A drum set, a couple of electric guitars, a bass, some keyboards, and a karaoke list of songs on a computer screen that you can refer to if you don’t know the lyrics.
What I learned last night, though, and this was the first time I’ve seen it, is that the bar has a set of rules about the number of drinks you consume being like a ticket to singing a song! If memory serves, it was 2 drinks bought allow you to go up and play 1 song. Three or four drinks allow 2 songs, and at some point on the bar bill you can sing all you like.
I’m not sure this method really encourages the best music, nor does it jibe with my view of what makes for a great open mic ethos. Having said all that, I bought just one beer (which cost nearly three times what it does in the street food joint where I ate my dinner, across the street) and no one complained about me going up and singing and playing two songs before I had even finished the beer…. So I suspect the rules are there really to prevent stage-hogs who consume nothing from passing their nights at the Actors bar, without bringing in any financial support….
But if you are in Singapore, I can still recommend Actors bar as a great place where you know you’ll be able to go on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday and play music with other musicians until late in the night – like 2 a.m. – but remember, the vibe is more karaoke than open mic or jam….
An Update of Singapore and Paris and Call for Help
This year, once I got going on this multi-city, worldwide guide of open mics, I decided that I would also break away from my original intention to only report open mics that I have myself taken part in. With 21 guides around the world, and more in plan, I decided that I have to expand the approach, and encourage other people to contribute to me the open mics in these cities that they know about and that I have not visited. I keep them in a separate list on the same page, however, so that there are those where readers will know I have gone, and those where I’m intending to go but only learned about from others – so they don’t yet have my seal of love or hate…. As a result of this, today I was able update the Thumbnail Guide to Singapore Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music and add three new open mics, thanks to the MC of a couple of them who wrote me to inform me of their existence. I’m hoping I will get back there next year and try them myself! I have also updated the Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music with three locations, including two at Belushi’s bars and another monthly one on Thursdays, at the Lou Pascalou.
Singapore is a Treasure of Live Music and Nightlife
My guess is that most people, when they think of Singapore, would not suspect that this city is an absolute mecca for nightlife and live music – unless you have already been here before. That was the way I thought of this city state in Asia known internationally for its banking and commerce, but also, unfortunately, for some bad publicity around the world linked to the strict government control that apparently outlaws chewing gum – for fear of messy sidewalks – and serves the death sentence on drug traffickers. So it comes as a surprise to discover a city that just bursts with live music and a nightlife that goes on throughout the night, or in the case of live music, often until 2 or 3 AM. Jamming at sidewalk food hawkers at 2 AM is also tolerated, as I have learned. But one of the massively amazing upsides to the strict government control of crime, is that you also feel hugely safe walking the streets at any time of the night. So attending open mics and jam sessions late through the night is a huge pleasure, and once it is all done, you can go and eat in the fabulous food hawker sidewalk dining areas. Oh, gee, and yes, it has a number of good open mics and open jams, and I have learned also that many bars are very, very open to allowing live music any time someone wants to pull out a guitar and start playing and singing – well, not on the busy Friday and Saturday nights, perhaps, when they have live bands….
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.
SINGAPORE – The night race in Singapore takes most of the night out of my jamming possibilities in this Asian wonderland. But part of the attraction in this city is that it is a nightlife city – and that means that the night goes on a lot longer here than in most places. So it was that last night after leaving the racetrack at nearly 1 AM, I decided to take a cab over to the Actors Jam Bar even though I did not have my guitar with me, to see if I could jam.
The Actors Jam Bar is fairly unique in my experience in having quite a chaotic open stage with all the equipment provided by the establishment so that anyone can come in and pick up a Stratocaster, a bass, or sit at the drum set or the keyboards, or just stand behind the mic and read lyrics from the large iPad kind of thing. You can play anything, sing anything.
It used to be there was an acoustic guitar, but I saw no trace of that last night. So I decided to try the Strat. I’ve never really played in public with an electric guitar, doing all my stuff on the acoustic, even when I play with a band. But two nights ago after I spoke to that Englishman I mentioned in the food hawker’s next to the Actors Jam Bar, I told him how little confidence I had in playing the electric guitar.
He said, nuts. The way I played I could do the electric with no problem. So it was that I suddenly had a little confidence, and last night playing on the stage in a relaxed environment at actors with no acoustic guitar to fall back on, I was forced to belt it out on the electric. And to my great surprise and pleasure, I has a really great time and felt the rockin’ like I never felt it before.
So it was that thanks to an open stage, an anything goes attitude, and no pressure from an audience expecting little, I was able to discover another musical performance pleasure. Oh, this was miles away from anything even vaguely resembling Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. But it was f-ing cool and fun!
The Value of a Jamming Bar like Actors
It made me realize the value of jamming bars like this as a place to do stuff you’d never try otherwise, and given that at Actors there is no pretension to great music – check out the videos to figure that one out – it was an ideal place to do something new. Having said that, I’d never have done it if I had my guitar with me. It was also vital that the music went on until after 2 AM – although I don’t now how long, since I returned to the food hawker next door to have my noodle dinner and knock back a Tiger beer.
SINGAPORE – For me, one of the main attractions of life in Singapore, aside from the music, is the culture of the street-side food hawker booths that stay open all night and serve great Asian food. Last night, I forced my tired body and soul – after a more than 24-hour trip here – to go out and see if I could jam at the Actors Jamming Bar, just down the street from my hotel. But I decided to stop in at the food hawker across the street first in order to eat my dinner – at around 1 AM.
There, I found an old friend: Ringo. Not the former Beatle, no. I’m talking about Ringo the MC of the Actors Jamming Bar. I met Ringo in 2009, the first time I played at the jamming bar, and the first year of my open mic adventure. And last night we both recognized each other immediately, but we were not sure why….
Then we realised, and we sat down and spoke together. He told me there was no point in going to the Actors Bar because it had closed at midnight, so I’ll return later. But what happened was that as we sat and drank beers together, we ended up turning the sidewalk food hawker into a jam session. I had my guitar, Ringo had his, and there was an Englishman sitting beside me who knew how to play guitar also, so he joined in – and I made the little video here…. (Ringo is the man with the darker skin across from me – the Englishman is the one beside me.)
The food, by the way, was excellent as usual … but don’t ask me to describe what I ate. And don’t ask me about the incredible alcoholic strength of the beer I was drinking!
But it was great to see Ringo, who had left the Actors Bar in 2010, and just returned again this year. I’ll no doubt return to him and it later this weekend….
PS: It is now 2 AM in Singapore and I have not yet eaten my dinner, or jammed, or done anything else except my “day job.” But as I did go out and have a great night of jamming yet again at Actors Jam bar in Singapore, and again this time with Luke Buirski, and as this is my third day of talk about the Actors Jam bar and my second day of talk about Luke, well, guess what? I have decided simply to put up the videos from last night’s jam – minus me – and also to put up the great interview podcast I did with Luke about the music scene in Singapore, and his career. This is another edition of the regular podcasts that I have been doing this year in my round-the-world musical adventure. Oh, another PS: Like the memory deficient person I often am, I forgot to bring my Zoom video recorder last night, so had to settle for the iPhone – which is someone sound-deficient by comparison.
Interview with Luke Buirski at Actors Jam Bar in Singapore, conducted by Brad Spurgeon:
And here a couple of videos of Luke performing last night, one of which is his own song, the other is a well known cover song(!):
I create stress for myself now when I travel to the Formula One races in my job as a journalist, not because of all the work I have to do for the newspapers, but because I have set myself the goal of playing in an open mic or jam session wherever I go. And when, as with Singapore on Wednesday night, I succeed in playing somewhere, but the evening is not the most exciting or I don’t get the most appropriate or exciting video footage for my film or story for this blog, the stress piles up higher.
So although on Wednesday I did play at the Actors bar and I did speak to people on camera for my film about open mics and jams around the world and I did get a few words for this blog, I was still very frustrated that I had not really hit the jackpot. Last night I did, in the most unexpected way!
Walking back to the hotel from the racetrack near midnight I saw a busker on a bridge leading to Clarke Quay, a very lively nightlife area of the city. He was an American from Chicago and he was singing and playing very well and his guitar case was full of Singapore dollars. It was a very festive and cool scene. So I filmed him playing, and afterwards I introduced myself and he asked if I was a musician too. I said I was, so he offered me his guitar and asked if I wanted to play a song. So I did.
It turned out he has been in Singapore for a few years, and knows the music scene well, as he is a professional musician and has played in the bars and hotels. So I interviewed him for my film. Having said that, he was very wary about me putting up the video on the internet, as he said that it was necessary to have a license to busk in the streets of Singapore, and he did not have one. So I have decided not to put up the video, out of respect for him. He’s about to get another job in a bar, by the way, so he’ll not likely need the busking – unless he does it for the love.
I then went on to the Actors jamming bar again and as I approached to enter I saw an old friend stepping out the door. It was Clement Imsong, a very cool musician who lives in Singapore – and who has a music company that works with young musicians – and with whom I had played at the Actors bar in the last two years I have been here. “Hey, Brad!” he said. I asked if he was leaving for the night – it was after 1 AM – and he said no, just going for a break. So we went to the food court next door and had a Tiger beer together.
I took the opportunity in the food court of interviewing Clement for my open mic and jam documentary, as he plays in the jam every Friday and Saturday. He plays a mean, mean lead guitar, and his singing is pretty cool too. From the food court we returned to the Actors bar and played until 3:30 AM. He played some stuff with other people, he also joined me on bass and lead guitar with some of my songs.
There were some talented musicians there last night, a very good crowd, and a great celebratory feel to the whole evening. So it was exactly the kind of thing I had been looking for, and henceforth on my remaining couple of days in Singapore I no longer feel the slightest bit of self-imposed stress or frustration! In fact, I think I’m going out to Actors bar again tonight, just for the fun and nothing else – having got all I needed for the film. Of course, if there is anything interesting happening, I’ll film it and blog it….