A Tale of Two Weekends – Part Two
Singapore’s Irish Music Famine
By Dave Fox
In our previous episode, our hero (me) was brainwashed by his evil friend, Juliet, and his evil wife, Kattina, into taking his first ever evil salsa dancing class. Halfway through the class, our hero experienced an EPIC PANIC ATTACK (!) and swore he would never salsa dance again.
Our hero’s evil wife laughed an evil laugh and threatened to badger our hero about salsa lessons for eternity. But our hero had a secret weapon up his sleeve: uilleann pipes! Our hero informed his evil wife he would learn to salsa dance if she learned to play the uilleann pipes (a smaller version of the bagpipes, described in more detail in our previous episode). Salsa dancing was never mentioned again, until…
Five days later, Juliet sends a text message: “Going to salsa practice tomorrow evening if you want to join.”
“Go without me,” I tell Kattina. “ It’s healthy for couples to engage in separate activities from time to time. I’m going out to hear some Irish music.”
I say this with confidence.
I actually have no clue where in Singapore I might find live Irish music on a Friday night, but this small island nation has nearly a dozen Irish pubs and a big expat community. There’s got to be something somewhere.
I hop the subway toward Muddy Murphy’s, the bar where I spent last Saint Patrick’s Day. On that night, a rollicking good Celtic folk-rock band called Gan Ainm played high-energy Irish tunes for several hours. Granted, on a random Friday in August, one can’t expect a re-creation of Saint Patrick’s Day, but considering the extreme measures the owners of Muddy Murphy’s have taken to make it an authentic Irish pub, I’m optimistic.
From their website:
“Muddy Murphy’s was designed and built to scale in Dublin, Ireland 15 years ago. It was then disassembled and shipped to Singapore (in six 40-foot containers) and installed at its current location by 15 specialist Irish Pub fitters. … No expense was spared in re-creating the magic of the Emerald Isle 7,000 miles away!”
No expense was spared! The magic of the Emerald Isle! As I arrive outside Muddy Murphy’s, I take a deep breath, ready to be immersed in my evening escape to Ireland.
I step inside.
A cover band from the Philippines is playing “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley.
Huh? “No expense was spared?” They can ship an ENTIRE FREAKING BAR from Dublin to Singapore but they can’t hire a fiddle player? They call this, “the magic of the Emerald Isle?”
Fine. I’ll concede that somewhere in Dublin on a Friday night, one might find a Filipino band playing reggae tunes, but it seems a stretch to promote it as an “essentially Irish atmosphere.”
I sulk over a Guinness and some Irish stew. The band belts out a versatile mix of 50s tunes, songs by Oasis, and a pretty good rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama.” I move on.
After some quick research on my iPhone, I hop the subway to Tanjong Pagar, a neighborhood full of cozy drinking establishments. I head to a pub named after an Irish-American president.
O’Bama’s Irish Pub has a website that touts the bar as “Singapore’s first and ONLY authentic Irish pub.” It promises “Singapore’s best live bands and live Irish music.”
As I enter O’Bama’s, a woman on a small stage announces she and her friend will now play a song called “What’s Up?” They play a cover song that is actually called “What’s Going On?” by a group called Four Non-Blondes, a.k.a. Four Non Irish Musicians.
But the bartender is friendly, and well-versed in Irish whiskeys, so I stay. Her name is Zarina. She’s Singaporean. Her boyfriend is French. I ask where I need to go in town to hear some proper Celtic music on a Friday night. Nobody knows.
I like O’Bama’s though. Maybe it’s the Guinness. Maybe it’s the Strongbow. Maybe it’s the shelf with Barack bobblehead dolls next to bottles of Laphroiag. I’m having a good time. I’m having multiple conversations with multiple groups of nice people. None of these nice people are asking me to salsa dance, so life is excellent.
Zarina’s boyfriend reveals more information about himself and his two cohorts seated beside him. They are not just from France. They’re from Bretagne – Brittany – France’s cider-swilling Celtic region.
“So how come there’s no Breton music in this place?” I ask.
The next thing I know, the band is packing up for the night, and my new Breton friends are pulling up Breton tunes on YouTube and singing along with drunken exuberance. It’s a different style of music from the Irish / Scottish folk tunes I was hoping for, but it’s authentic Celtic nonetheless. I declare the evening a strange success.
“I’ll tell you what,” Zarina says as I get ready to leave. “If you start your own band, you can play your first gig here.”
I eye the small stage. I tell Zarina she should not make this offer unless she means it. I happen to be a closeted fiddle player, and if I want live Celtic folk-rock on Friday nights in Singapore, I just might have to take matters into my own hands.
Zarina promises she means it.
So consider this an official announcement: I’m seeking Celtic-minded musicians in Singapore who want to start a band – something rowdy and Guinness-fueled. I need guitar players, a drummer, a bassist … and someone who can play the uilleann pipes.