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.”
SINGAPORE – So much for the puns. Singapore is fun. At least for a few days. I’ve been here since Wednesday evening, and managed to attend an open mic at The Beast on Thursday night, and doing a set that must have been close to an hour long set last night at the Prince of Wales pub on Boat Quay. Funny enough, the two things were connected, as it was MB Spinks who invited me to do a set at the PoW, and it was Spinks who used to run the open mic at The Beast. In any case, I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time in the extreme heat and humidity of this City State 80 or so miles from the equator.
The Beast is my first destination whenever I come to Singapore now, but I must admit, it was just a little bit more quiet than usual on Thursday and I wondered if it was because Mr Spinks was no longer running it. But I have been assured that it had to do with a big music event elsewhere the same night. In any case, the MCing was warm and professional, and I had a really nice night playing at The Beast, which is a kind of American whisky bar in the middle of this hot and humid … gee, I keep repeating that fact. But I have to wear about three shirts per day if I don’t want to be walking around in wet clothes. First MB Spinks at Prince of Wales in Singapore
Last night, it was off to Boat Quay to the Prince of Wales pub to hear MB Spinks and his cool singer songwriter, slightly country, sound. The Prince of Wales is one of a long line of bars and pubs along the riverfront in downtown Singapore, in a part of town that still has lots of vestiges of the old style of the city – i.e., no skyscrapers. Second MB Spinks at PoW in Singapore
The pub, like most of the others, opens out onto the quay, and pedestrians pass along the waterfront, walking down Boat Quay, and the “stage” is in the opening area of the pub facing out to the outside tables and the quay. So when you sing, you sing to the tables and clients of the Prince of Wales, but you also sing to the passersby, and hope they stop and listen, and maybe sit down and order a drink. first at the beast
A huge amount of fun, and also one of the coolest parts of the pub, since there is an air conditioner piping down overhead – although I must admit that my sweat-covered body after the set had not realized until afterwards that there was an air conditioner there. But what would Singapore be without the heat and humidity? A pretty hot place for music and musicians. OK, no more puns…. second at The Beast in Singapore
I have added The Beast open mic to my main list of places I have played in, I have added some links, and I have tried to highlight other links, since my WordPress environment is absolute crap when it comes to display of hyperlinks to the reader – you.
SINGAPORE – I’ve been waiting a couple of years to try out the Molly Malone Irish Pub open mic in Singapore. The problem is that my work at the racetrack keeps me late on Saturday nights, and I get there too late to check it out – literally, after 1 p.m. Until yesterday, that is. I had done so much advance work in the last crowded three weeks that I was able to leave work at a reasonable hour, and make it over for the open mic. And do I NOT regret it!
I had visited Molly Malone’s on Wednesday, as the blog item below shows, but I had just played as a guest invited by the entertainment for the night. Last night it was the official open mic night, so I got to see the thing in action, and play myself for the first time.
Second little bit at Molly Malone’s
So among the things I learned was that while this is a classic open mic where you can play by yourself or with your group, it is also one where the two organizers are willing to play along with you, as well as any of the other musicians in-house who may want to join you, or vice versa. I took advantage of that to play with a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, and the only one really missing whom I would have liked to join was the keyboard player. No problem, it was a hell of a lot of fun, even if I did pull the rug out from under the band’s feet at the end of just about every song, never really letting them know when I was about to stop…. First little bit at Molly Malone’s
There were several other really cool acts, people who I understand play together quite a bit at the open mic, so a lot of the songs were quite together. And if they do not play together often, and I’m jumping to conclusion, well, all I can say is, “Great stuff.” Crazy bit at Molly Malones
The feel of playing in this open mic is very cool, it’s laid back, easy, open, and no hassle. The audience is quite receptive, and if they’re not interested in the music, they can go out into the horrendous heat and humidity of the sidewalk in this lively part of Singapore, to drink and talk there. Classic bit at Molly Malone’s
I had problems with low batteries on my recording device so it was a bit of a pain to try to charge the batteries and then make some recordings, then recharge, etc. So that’s why my recordings are really just very short snippets…. And the music was so loud I should have compensated for that on the device, and the result is that it’s pretty distorted. But you’ll definitely get a sense of the party atmosphere at the open mic at Molly Malone’s in Singapore….
SINGAPORE – First night in Singapore and it was over to Molly Malone’s Irish pub to meet up with a couple of friends – Mike Spinks of the famous Beast and other open mics in Singapore, and Aman Wadhwa, musician and F1 fan…. It was Aman’s night at Molly Malone’s as he was providing the entertainment, but he invited Mike, me and another client up behind the mic, so it turned into an open mic, several days before the official open mic at Molly’s, on Saturday.
a final Aman at Molly Malone’s in Singapore
I used the night to catch up, and to keep up…. I was suffering not what you would call jet lag, after the 20-hour trip via Dubai from Paris to Singapore, but rather what you might better describe as a “red eye.” Wiped out, fatigued, tired, anyway you want to call it: But once I got beyond my first song behind the mic, and my errors in chords I have played 8,000 times, I was good for the rest of the evening.
Mike at Molly Malone’s in Singapore
Aman was hammering out hits and using his Martin to generally fabulous effect, and then Mike took the mic and demonstrated his fabulous country-sounding voice, and strong presence. I left the Irish pub to have a late-night, early-morning meal of noodles and other hot stuff at the outdoor food market just up the street – near the Actors Jam bar – and finally felt like I was in Singapore, and not in Ireland….
And off it was to the open mic at The Beast, in Singapore
Last night was Part II of the Mike Spinks (and even Aman) show, as I left the track to take the MRT line just one stop over to the Bugis station and go to the open mic at The Beast. I first attended this open mic in this American expat, southern Kentucky-like bar, last year. It turned out that last year’s was a bit of an atypical, quiet night at The Beast. So last night I got a taste of what it’s really like at The Beast: A beast of an open mic.
third at The Beast open mic in Singapore
Full up and down the long bar area, and flowing out into the street, this is a classic open mic of the best kind, and with a fabulous laid back presentation by Mike. The sound system is spread out throughout the bar and outside, so even people who are out having a drink and talking can hear the performer, and if they really want to, can run back inside to catch it all.
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.
PARIS – I blame my convoluted headline on the horrendously long time I have not written a post on this blog, and on the jet-lag, the two open mics and one big party at the Ritz Carlton, and on the red wine I had for dinner – a Cotes de Bourg that won a prize at the Macon wine fair in 2013…. Now, if that sounds weird, listen to this cool thing:
So Sunday night in Singapore after my day at the racetrack covering the Formula One race, I had to make a decision about what I’d do that night as I waited for my flight back to Paris early the next morning: I had at least two main choices, one being to attend an open mic that I had never attended before, at a pub called Molly Molone’s, and the other being to attend a post-race party where a friend was performing.
It would sound like a no-brainer for me – i.e., the open mic, since my work life is involved in attending all the F1 races anyway – but as it turned out, I was worried the open mic might not last that long after the night race, and more than that, I had actually been invited to the post-race party by a guy named Luke Buirski, who is a friend, a fabulous lead guitar player, and who I had met a few years ago at the Actors’ jamming bar open mic in Singapore. So because I had missed Luke last year, and because he was playing at this party, I thought there was no way I could miss it, and so my choice was easy: The Ritz Carlton ballroom, a short walking distance from the racetrack.
So I get there, and guess what? I find myself surrounded by people I know from the media, from F1, former Formula One drivers, current racers and, well, a large number of people from the F1 world I inhabit. It was, however, a very high-class nightclub thing that apparently costs a fortune to get into – unless you’re invited – and so here I was amongst the people I work with all the time, but…I had been invited to the party by one of the performers of the night!
So it was that I felt completely at home, but much more indebted to the man with the guitar than to the people I usually work with. For this was a really, really high-class nightclub thing with performances going on all the time, DJs, local stars, and Luke…. catch a bit of his performance on the videos I put up here….
And From Singapore it Was on To Paris and two of the open mics of Tuesday night, the Oz and the Baroc
So once back in Paris on Monday night, I got just enough sleep to manage to get the energy to go out on Tuesday night and take part in the Café Oz open mic, which I have attended something like four times in the last five weeks. And as has been my wont in these recent weeks on several occasions, I decided that in addition to the Oz, I would move on from there to another open mic.
This time, however, it was not that of the Pigalle Country Club, but that of Le Baroc, which is one of the mainstays of the the Paris open mic scene. While it started a little slowly, it turned into a pretty epic evening, with some final jamming and some really cool stuff between a guitarist – Guillaume – and a fabulous woman pianist at the end of the evening.
Amazing stuff! So have I landed yet? Back from Singapore? Well, tomorrow I have a gig in the streets of Paris at the Menilmontant metro station at 13:30. So I’ll tell you after that!
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….
SINGAPORE – I’ve been waiting the better part of a year to attend one of the several open mics MCd by MB Spinks, an American expat in Singapore, who runs several venues in the city and who contacted me several months ago to tell me about his places…. Finally last night I got to attend his laid back open mic at The Beast pub and restaurant. This was exactly the kind of open mic that had been missing on my list of those I have attended in this city: Singer songwriter oriented, but open to anything, laid back and friendly, great sound and well run.
With my weird hours spent at one of Formula One’s few night races, I had always been unable to attend others of this kind that I knew existed in Singapore. Most of my experience here has been in places like the Actors’ jam bar and the Crazy Elephant blues jam. Both are jams, both open, both quite wild and loud. Last night at the one call the Beast, you’d think maybe it would be every musician for himself, but it wasn’t.
Mike Spinks runs the show like the best of the MCs I’ve known, cool, but responsible, on top of it all the time, and everyone gets to play to their heart’s content if there are not enough musicians around. And Mike fills in the rest of the time, with his laid back Southern-feeling country folk rock.
Neither was this entirely an expat experience, by the way. The food at the Beast may be U.S.-south inspired, but it has a touch of Asia to it, and there was a fabulous Filipino musician playing when I arrived – didn’t catch his name!
Oh, and I was delighted to find that my Seagull S6 was working again after the scare at the Tennessee bar on Monday in Paris when its amplification failed. I replaced the battery in Singapore, but oddly, the old battery still had lots of juice in it. So I don’t know what the problem was.
SINGAPORE – I started out feeling really disappointed when I arrived at the Actors Jam Bar only to discover that it is open now only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for the jam sessions, and the rest of the week it is free only to organized private events. It was always a mainstay for me, no matter what night of the week. Unless my memory fails. In any case, that was the disappointment. What turned it all around was that as I was making my way back to the hotel on Mosque Street I saw a bar I had not noticed int the past, and it advertised live music. I could see the stage, it looked very professional, very cool, there was a bass guitar and a semi-acoustic, both in stands, and the music was soon to pick up again.
I had the time to go off and find a desert of ice cream to cool off my burning mouth from the street food I’d just eaten next to the Actors Jam Bar, and then I decided to make my way back up the street to have a whiskey and check out the music in this bar. I walk into the place, and I find a bass player and lead player/singer, onstage, playing beautiful jazz with a light touch, and the lead player, a man in his 60s, greets me, right in the middle of the song. Cool!
I take a seat in front of the stage, and bit by bit my attention is taken deeper into this man’s music, his deft touch on the guitar, the great rhythm between him and the bass player, and finally, most surprisingly, the sudden appearance of his voice. I am not a big fan of deep, worn, whiskey-washed voices – even less interested in such voices that sing blues in bars all over the world and on Tom Waits records. (I love Waits, but mostly the early stuff.) But here I found something I’ve never really seen before: This whiskey washed voice of the man I was to learn is named Ernesto Valerio, a Singaporean musician who has played in bars in the city-state for 51 years, may have its limitations, but his feeling and his ability to temper the voice in all sorts of different keys and needs and sounds, just won me over entirely.
From a soft, pseudo high pitch to its more natural lower zone, the voice expressed an inner love of music that is rare. And his guitar playing, the beautiful fingerpicking and lead stuff and wide spread of jazz and pop and other modes – even Chinese, I learned later – just made him the consummate guitarist. And he is also a showman. I had to speak to the guy afterwards. That’s where I found out that Ernesto has been playing in Singapore for 51 years, and that he is now 67 years old.
“I still just love it,” he said of playing music in front of audiences.
That was clear. And the audience loves it too.
But it was in returning back to the hotel that the story broadened. I just had to do a little search on Ernesto Valerio, now that I had his name. That led me to seeing that he is a well-known local performer, indeed, who has rubbed shoulders with the best of them here, and who has had a nice spread of media attention, who is often called “the Dean Martin of Singapore.” He used to play in a group in the early 60s, but soon went solo because he just didn’t like having to deal with other musicians. (His duet with the bass player is remarkably full sounding, by the way.)
The Malaysian, Paul Ponnudorai, master-studend, student-disciple connection
As I read on, I saw a connection between Ernesto and a guitarist I had met in March of 2012 in Kuala Lumpur: Paul Ponnudorai. I had met this guy Paul, briefly, at a bar venue in Kuala Lumpur where I had played. Paul, I did not know at the time, was an internationally respected guitarist who had played with people like Billy Cobham, Tuck & Patti, and Wynton Marsalis and many others. I had been introduced to Paul after I played a set at Rockafellas and I had no idea what a great guitarist this guy was, and how basic my guitar playing must have looked to him by comparison. But he was a cool, simple, unassuming man. It turned out that Paul Ponnudorai, at 51, had only a few months to live, as he died in the summer of organ failure, and that was the end of a man they called Malaysia’s greatest guitarist, and sometimes, even the world’s greatest….
Ernesto Valerio through a glass
The point of this, is that Paul Ponnudorai had at first been trained by this man Ernesto. Some say Ernesto then later became a disciple of Paul! But why I mention all of this on this blog, is because all these links coming together, these meetings with remarkable musicians in KL and Singapore (located on the Malaysian peninsula) have helped me draw a picture in my mind of a fabulously thriving musical scene in this part of the world that only the lack of an adequate publicity machine keeps secret from the rest of the world.
The Malaysia/Singapore musical world is closely tied, and fabulously populated by guitarists, bassists (Andy Peterson) and an a fabulous collection of beautiful vocalists. Looking forward to learning more over the next few days….