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GP Week : Issue 143
31 F1 journalists are a diverse bunch. Take BRAD SPURGEON for example: he brings three things to every race – Paddock Pass, Dictaphone, and the six-string guitar on his back. This is his story ... F1 FEATURE >> Singing F1 to a different tune I t was one of the defining moments of my musical adventure in conjunction with the Formula One races: I was in an open mic in London on my way to Silverstone when a thin man in his late twenties with long, natty white-blond hair took to the stage with an electric keyboard. “ This is a song about having a nice cup of tea,” he said. “It’s called ‘Tea with two sugars, please.’” The music kicked in, and he was clearly an accomplished keyboard player as he played a delightful, jolly, vivacious romp. Then he began with the lyrics, sung with a Vincent Price-like sinister yelling: Well, I’d like to be able to offer you a cup of tea but [unintelligible words] both the sugar and the tea... And the coffee’s full of arsenic, the pudding is full of bleach and there’s cyanide all over your meat. Oh would you like a drink of water? Would you like a drink of water? I put poison in your water. I put poison in your water. Oh would you like a drink of water? Would you like a drink of water? I put poison in your water. POISON! The audience reception was, not surprisingly, somewhat confused. What was he trying to do?! The MC thanked him for his performance and then asked him a little about himself – like, ‘ What else did he do in life aside from attending open mics’? “I’m a chemist,” he said. Now it all made sense! It also made me realize precisely which country I was in more than at any other moment up to that point: This man, although only in his 20s, was a bona fide English eccentric. He was a pure product of a bizarre, ingrown Englishness that he could not escape from, but desperately wanted to. It was a performance that I could not imagine seeing anywhere else in the world. Yet between songs he appeared to be a normal, light-hearted guy, aware of his musical shortcomings and trying simply to find a way to express himself within some bizarre musical tradition I could not quite identify. But that, I realized, was what an open mic is all about: Each artist’s desire to escape their world into some alternative reality, and to share the reality with others, be it the bizarre Tim Burton-esque world of this chemist, or the lovelorn one that I might classify myself within. Wherever I went, I found I was learning more about the places, the people and the music than I ever expected. There I was, at just another leg of my never-ending musical adventure that had begun at the Chinese Grand Prix of 2008. To backtrack for a moment: My wife died of breast cancer in April 2008, and that thrust me into an existential questioning of my life, leaving me with the choice of either receding from the world in self-pity, or leaping into a new life and grabbing it with both hands, living like never before. I chose the latter. I had been covering Formula One for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times since the late 1990s, living the life of the typical reporter who travels from race to race, absorbed only by the work at hand, and never seeing much more than the inside of the local airport, hotel and the racetrack. Then everything changed through the off-season of 2008 to 2009. Near my hotel in Shanghai the evening after the Chinese Grand Prix I saw a bar called the Blues Room and found myself playing guitar and singing in public for the first time in nearly 30 years. To my amazement, there and in subsequent open mics back home in Paris, I discovered that people seemed to genuinely enjoy – and praise – my singing and music. I never considered myself a musician, although I had been playing guitar since age eight,