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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.

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….

From Tony’s Aussie Bar in Seoul, to the Interesting Flight to Paris, to the Highlander – Catch-Up Time

October 20, 2011

Here goes: Sometimes life runs away with us and we cannot seem to catch up. That is how it has been for me since Monday. So this will be a catch-up post, or rather a “ketchup post” for its fast-food writing style. It starts at Tony’s Aussie bar in the Itaewon neighborhood in Seoul, and finishes at the Highlander in Paris. But one of the most interesting parts was one of the flights – or, rather, the guy sitting next to me.

So anyway… I went to Tony’s Aussie bar last year while at the Korean Grand Prix, and so I returned this year to find the same place, but better. Tony’s is a cool expat bar/restaurant, run by cool Tony, who is a drummer and entertainment tycoon in the making. The bar was an afterthought, something that grew out of him sitting in this place and practicing his drums and finding people dropping by and wanting to jam, and drink and eat and, hey, presto, there it was and is: One of the greatest places for jamming in Seoul. He also has a standup comedy night and another kind of open mic night on Sundays.

What made it better even than last year was that there were more people present, more Koreans, and other nationalities – British, Australian, American, Canadian – and some absolutely wonderful musicians and singers. During my three-song set – Mad World, I Won’t Back Down, and Borderline – I was joined on the first two by Vadim Scott, a Ukraine/Canadian who lives in Seoul and works as a musician and actor. He just climbed up behind the mic and joined in with me. That’s the spirit of Tony’s, and I loved it. Especially playing with Tony on the drums, with the bass player and violinist. Check out the Hendrix bit and the guitar solo bit too. Great stuff.

I left Tony’s at 1 AM, went to bed at 1:30 AM and then got up at 4:30 AM to go to the airport, catch a flight to Tokyo and from there a flight to Paris.

The second I sat down in the Air France A380, the guy sitting next to me said, “You are a guitarist?” He had seen me put my guitar in the overhead compartment, and he was smarter than most of the Japanese customs people who thought it was a set of golf clubs. In fact, he was much smarter, and when we were not both trying to catch up on sleep during the 12-hour flight, we were talking music. Because it turned out that this was Paolo Alderighi, one of Italy’s most promising and finest jazz piano players on the international scene. He plays a wicked stride piano, mostly American jazz from the ’30s and ’40s, but he is classically trained, and mixes the traditional jazz with a classic feel too, and his own feel from growing up with a dad who loved and played jazz music around the house.

But part of our conversation also centered around how to mix and live a life using different talents, multiple approaches and points of view and careers. Paolo, for instance, is a pianist, but he also took a degree in management and economics, and he is now teaching a course in musical culture at a university in Italy. I spoke, of course, about how I write as a journalist about Formula One racing, I do other more literary writing pursuits, the music, the open mic adventure, the film. We listened to each other’s music on our iPhones, and I was humbled by the quality of his, which I will put below from YouTube.

What really fascinated me too discussing his life and career, was how it came about in an interesting step-by-step manner with one thing leading to another without a master plan. He did a gig here and a gig there since he was 16 or so and the pieces all began falling together, the connections were made, other musicians met, and now he travels the world and plays his piano from Japan to the United States, Australia and almost everywhere in between.

So I returned to Paris late Tuesday, missed open mics and crashed out in bed for the night. Woke up, tried getting things done, was swamped, but then did that ridiculous small space-holder post here before doing the Highlander open mic, where it was life as usual, lots of fun, some good musicians, some less so. And I enjoyed trying to get the audience to sing along with “What’s Up!” which they did. But I was thinking I have to find something new since I’m doing the same songs week after week now at the Highlander….

It is still taking so long to upload all the videos over this period of time that I will just now put up a few, and add more later….

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