Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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

Slingapore Sing, or Poring Out My Emotions in the Heat and Humidity Over the Equator

September 17, 2016

prince-of-walesSINGAPORE – 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

fourth at the beast

Third at the Beast in Singapore

An Update to My Singapore Open Mic Guide

September 22, 2015

Ritz Carlton Singapore

Ritz Carlton Singapore

Just a note to say that I have updated my Singapore open mic city guide, The Thumbnail Guide to Singapore Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music.

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.

Finally, a Look at the Open Mic of Molly Malone’s Irish Pub in Singapore!

September 20, 2015

Molly Malone's Pub Singapore

Molly Malone’s Pub Singapore

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 Sing: First Two Nights in Singapore….

September 18, 2015

The Beast

The Beast

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.

second at the beast in singapore
And Mike let’s you play for up to half an hour if there are not too many musicians. It went on until around 1 a.m.

Hiram at the beast in Singapore
Definitely worth trying when you’re in Singapore – and increasingly, I get the feeling, people are coming to Singapore….

Fourth at the beast in singapore

Fifth at the beast in Singapore

Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Singapore

September 29, 2014

singaporeMy 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.

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Singapore since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

Anything but a Beast of an Open Mic – at The Beast, in Singapore

September 19, 2014

The Beast

The Beast

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.

Discovering Another Side of Singapore’s Music Scene: Ernesto Valerio – the Dean Martin of Singapore – and his 51-Year Career in the City State

September 18, 2014

Ernesto Valerio

Ernesto Valerio

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 in 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

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….

Update Info on Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide (Singapore and Paris)

December 15, 2013

PARIS – I now have 21 city installments of my worldwide open mic guide. 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.

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.

Worldwide Open Mic Thumbnail Guide: Singapore Edition

September 22, 2013

singaporeSINGAPORE – For my 14th city installment of my worldwide open mic guide today I am loading my Singapore page. 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.

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.

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

Jamming into Something New ( for me) at Actors Jam Bar Singapore

September 21, 2013

actors jam bar

actors jam bar

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.

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