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GP Week : Issue 143
33 and I had made half-hearted attempts to perform as a singer songwriter as a teenager and in my early 20s in an aborted career in show business. That short career had spread over everything from unicycling and juggling in a traveling circus in Canada to playing bit parts in film, television and advertisements, and trying to elicit emotions from people at the comedy clubs and open mics in Toronto and New York City. The lowest point was a four- month stint busking in the subways beneath Marble Arch in London in 1977. I had made a vow that I would never live off anything other than my show business talents; I ended up vowing that I would never do anything in show business again and would devote myself solely to writing. I followed that for nearly 30 years. But I never laid down my guitar for long, as during off moments while writing my stories, I would pick it up and play to distract myself. So during that off season I suddenly found myself at the age of 50 involved in a rebirth in the most unexpected way: Writing and singing my own songs as well as rock, pop and folk standards by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Cat Stevens, while hanging out and playing with a young generation of musicians in Paris know as the “Baby Rockers.” They were in their late teens and early twenties, had skin-tight pants, long hair, leather jackets and a look of their Brit rock idols – or rather, that of my generation of the 60s and 70s, which is probably why they liked my sound. Their bands had names like Neimo, BB Brunes, Rock&Roll, Brooklyn and The Burnin’ Jacks, and they were selling albums around the world – or at least hoping to. It was all incredibly exciting – and even a little weird, making me feel occasionally like that English eccentric myself! But once bitten again by the performing bug, I spent that off-season playing in bars around Paris from 3 to 7 nights a week, so that when the Formula One season came around again, I said: “Oh, my God, how am I going to stop this music thing and start traveling around the world again?” I had not lost my passion for Formula One, and I loved the Formula One life. But this new gig – for which I only earned the occasional free meal, beers and exceptionally perhaps a few euros of pocket money – was such fun that I did not want it to end. Unlike my role as a journalist, I was not just chronicling the action, I was part of it. Then the next revelation occurred: There was no need to stop the music. The Formula One nomad life could provide me with a musical adventure many times more stimulating than my new life with the Baby Rockers! I would bring my guitar with me to the races and seek out the musicians of the world wherever I traveled. Once the practice sessions, or the qualifying or the race had ended, I would go out at night in Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Nagoya, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, everywhere there was a race, and find and make music. I have now had three seasons of combining the racing and the music, and the ride has been more than stimulating. It has been life-transforming, as I look forward to each race for both the on-track action, the paddock life AND the musical adventure. In the first year I played in 17 countries and nearly 30 cities and every continent except Africa and Antarctica – I went on vacation in Canada and the United States to play in the countries that would normally have Formula One races – and the only Grand Prix venue where I failed to find a place to play was Valencia. (There is an open mic jam there on Mondays, the day I leave after the race, but I cared little about that as I play all over Barcelona, so Spain is achieved.) There have been far too many extraordinary moments to speak of in detail, like my time on stage at the Jazz-Si club in Barcelona with a full band; or playing at the Kooperatif in Istanbul with a Turk on an Iranian balagma-like instrument and a former Kraut-rock saxophone player now living in Turkey; or the hour and a half jam with a band of Japanese musicians at Bauhaus in Tokyo (above right); or wild, hippie-like jam at the far-out Szimpla Kert in Budapest. Then there were my gigs, like the one at the famous Backyard Cafe in Kuala Lumpur this year, where I was invited to play after the music director there saw me at an open mic a few days earlier. Alex Yoong, Malaysia’s first Formula One driver, attended that one, as did a couple of Formula One journalist colleagues. In India, thanks in part to a tip from Karun Chandhok, I also scored a gig at a bar-restaurant called TLR, in Delhi, where I performed two one-hour sets and met an Indian musician who invited me to his open mic the following day. So just about anything can happen, and it usually does – to steal a phrase from Murray Walker. While playing at an open mic in Tokyo between the Japanese and Korean races, the past present and future all met as I ran into a couple of the French Baby Rockers who were in Japan for a few months to hone their musical talents in a different environment. The season will end with a jam session at a bar in the Pinheiros area of Sao Paulo where musicians gather every Sunday to play all night long until past 5am, playing Bossa Nova and other Brazilian sounds, but also my genre of pop rock that is known the world over. By the way, I have often been rewarded for my music around the world with free meals and drinks, and by consequence I have managed to fuel the F1 travel by reducing expenses. But most importantly, I have learned a vast amount more about the local culture than what I used to know only at the racetrack and inside the hotel room and airport. Brad Spurgeon writes for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, and has a personal blog about his musical adventures at http://bradspurgeon.com. His music may be heard on his myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/ bradspurgeon. He is currently completing a book about the first year of his musical travels, and this year he also began working on a documentary film about it. Mixing business with pleasure ... Brad interviews Eric Çlapton on the F1 grid ... F1 FEATURE >>