And not just any old bunch of comedians either. The Divine Comedy, sympathetic interpreters of the work of Mr. Neil Hannon, who is up there in my opinion with soon-to-be Sir Ray Davies as a living, breathing and performing example of a Great British Popular…
It’s that time of year again…
Less makeup necessary for me as the years go by. This year’s Halloween Tuk Tuk Trick-or-Treating seemed a little less fun. Maybe we’re all getting a little too old for it. Or maybe it would be more fun dookin’ for apples, or catching treacle scones on strings?
Only the Shadow knows…
I am slowly and fuzzily emerging from several days of viral infection which has, quite frankly, knocked me for six. To be honest, I imagined at one point that I actually had sleeping sickness, as I was endlessly tired, but I don’t think that the Tsetse Fly is endemic to Cambodia – or is it? Anyway, I appear to be gradually on the mend now. Still sleeping a great deal though. And dreaming. Some very unusual dreams indeed. The sleep of reason may well produce monsters, but dreams about pitching songs to Liam Gallagher??? Very strange…
Sleeping is popular in Cambodia. Well of course it is, it’s a global phenomena, innit? Cambodians are really good at it though. Motodops, for example, who stretch out, perfectly balanced, along their bike in the heat of the mid-day sun. Our inestimable Chairman Mao, tuk-tuk driver extraordinaire, is an absolute expert who can literally sleep anywhere, and in any position, at the drop of a hat. Others are quite extraordinary too, in particular staff of shops/restaurants/cinemas, and during working hours. A and I have encountered sleeping staff in many establishments we have visited over the years, often in fairly precarious positions in the remotest corners of the establishment, or in the toilets. I’ve seen men and women sleeping in supermarket aisles, on supermarket shelves, draped over exercise machines, in between giant stuffed animals, slumped over bannisters, even once in the corner of a lift. I did check the last one as I wasn’t sure if she was actually alive, and got some withering looks and dark mutterings for my trouble.
‘Please, don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping…’
Last week Oti and I went to Iron Man at one of the local 3D cinemas and it was so goshdarned exciting that we had to visit the toilet about 30 minutes before the end. Every cubicle was occupied, with the unmistakable sound of snoring emanating from two, and the unmistakable sound of a teenage cellphone conversation emanating from the other…
Iron Man. Ah yes, always my favourite… the films are pretty good, and Charlie Chaplin makes a pretty good iron fist of wisecracking Tony Stark, but they will never match up to the comics in my opinion. My relationship with Iron Man began back in 1967, and was nurtured through a comic called ‘Fantastic’. Believe me, it was. Alongside ‘TV Century 21’, the Gerry Anderson spin-off comic, it was the next significant step up from the Beezer and Beano and Eagle. The first issue (oh how I wish I had kept them all!) featured the origin of Iron Man (and Thor) and was so exciting that I immediately cancelled all my other comics just to ensure I could get it every week – they were 3d each (Thats 3d, not 3D. Three old pence… ask an old British person for clarification – they can help with the lyric above too… seems so distant now) and ‘Fantastic’ was 9d.
A particular Christmas highlight from a few years back was receiving an early Iron Man anthology as a present from A… wish I had that here right now and I could bore Oti to tears reading it to him… although I rather suspect he would actually enjoy it. We are pretty similar in many ways, I have to say… both fascinated by the Fantastic-al!
Darling A mentioned to me last night that perhaps I might consider booking somewhere for dinner for tonight to avoid us ‘faffing around’ as usual. What exactly, I hear you mutter, does he mean by faffing around? I shall explain by virtue of this conversation, repeated practically verbatim every Saturday night we are in Phnom Penh.
A (or J – doesn’t really matter, quite interchangeable in fact) – ‘where do you want to eat?’
J – ‘dunno’
A- ‘what do you want to eat?’
J – ‘um… dunno’
A – ‘when do you want to eat?’
Can you guess the response? The soundtrack to this exchange ought to be Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ (Byrds version please, if you don’t mind), as that is normally what we are in real danger of doing, as eating habits among the expat fraternity seem to have changed considerably over the last few years. In the mid to high range eateries that we frequent on a Saturday evening (it’s our only treat, right?) there has been an alarming increase in the number of formal reservations being made. Used to be you could stroll in off the street, plonk yourself down, a quick howdy-doo-dee to the owner and voila! , dinner was served. Not any more, oh no. Now it’s ‘You have a reservation? No? Oh, I’m sorry, we are fully booked… my apologies.’ What’s he moaning about then, you may well ask, if they’re booked that’s it, end of story… well no, because we have another phenomenon in play here, namely The Great Phnom Penh Reservation Mystery!
The (presumably unwritten) law among the Phnom Penh restaurant fraternity is that reservation is sacrosanct. One example – the FCC. Foreign Correspondents Club, one of the legendary eating and drinking places of the city (although it has precious little to do with foreign correspondents, and actually never has. You’ll find most of them, particularly the ones who never made it back, downing Tequila in Cantina, just down the block…) has these balcony tables, which appear to be constantly reserved. Come in, say at 5pm for a happy hour drink, go to sit by the balcony and you’ll be given short shrift – ask politely and you’ll be told this table is reserved, so no, you can’t sit there until the reservee turns up. An hour and a half later, by which time you if you’ve stuck around to mire yourself deeper in the overpriced delights (but it is happy hour… go on, one more G ‘n’ T) of the drinks card you will have observed around a half dozen others being shooed away, the customer who reserved the table finally turns up. This scenario is repeated all over town…
Myself and A are early eaters. We normally dine just after 6 on a Saturday evening. This is because we have both got abnormally large stomachs and digestive tracts, and only eat once a week, so we spend a great deal of time swallowing and digesting large amounts of food to ensure we will not suffer any hunger pangs from Sunday to Friday. We’re a bit like those snakes you see on National Geographic Channel, crushing then slowly engulfing and devouring their prey, usually (for ultimate televisual shock value) a large and startled rat. Of course we don’t do anything like that in a restaurant. The closest would be shelling prawns I suppose.
Yes, the above is indeed a complete and utter lie. We eat early because we are too old to stay out late (anytime after 8pm is ‘late’ for us). But we too stand in completely empty restaurants at 6pm to be told ‘sorry, fully booked’ and marvel at how completely crazy they are to turn us away when we’d be in and out in under an hour, long before their other customers would turn up…
Tonight will be different though. Tonight I am going to block book every upmarket restaurant in Phnom Penh under a multiplicity of assumed names from a plethora of phone booths across the city… we shall have drinks in one, starter in another, main course elsewhere, dessert somewhere else, coffee… who knows? …and in each we will call the maitre d’ over and puzzle together with them over where the hell exactly everybody is tonight…???
Or maybe not. But where to go indeed? In truth, we are spoiled for choice… ‘Armands’, to watch ever so slightly tetchy owner Armand theatrically flambe steaks and desserts? No, went there last week… ‘Yumi’, for Japanese cuisine cooked marvellously by a chef from that well known Japanese prefecture, London? Maybe, but one place you definitely need to book… ‘Deco’, the latest hot dining spot? Ditto as per ‘Yumi’. ‘La Marmite’, hearty French food located next door to a pole dancing club (mmm… wonder why our Tuk-Tuk driver the good Chairman Mao always waits for us outside? Everywhere else he heads off home to await a call…). Perhaps. What about ‘Zino’s’, new kid on the block, a wine bar plus restaurant with an Orcadian chef? Yes, you did hear me right – Phnom Penh is nothing if not cosmoplitan now… ‘Dolce Italia’, Giorgio (Pop Cafe’s) delightful (and truly delicious) pizza restaurant, staffed by the cast of Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video? Come to think of it, that video seems to have had a profound influence on the uniforms sported by staff in the upmarket wining and dining spots of the Penh. They must all be owned or run by men of a certain age, I surmise…
Perhaps we’ll just get on the blower and order a number 23, chicken chow mein and chop suey from the Hong Kong Garden takeaway…
Oh hang on a minute, we’re not in Chiselhurst anymore… are we?
They were a fresh faced gaggle of British glam-rockers from the 1970’s who were on the cusp of Sweet-y campness and Status Quo denim laddishness, completely forgettable apart from one thing, their only major hit single. That was ‘New York Groove’, a Bo Diddley-ish vamp crossed with some vicious powerchords in the chorus that was goshdarn infectious, so infectious that it was even picked up across the broad Atlantic by those purveyors of comic book rock outrageousness, Kiss, and turned into a hit for them.
Ah, Kiss… during my tenure with Scottish band Close Action, who mutated (or should that be evolved? No, I’ll stick with mutated…) into Z-Rox and thence into The Cuban Heels, we had a roadie, Willie (The Worm) who loved Kiss. In fact, he was completely and utterly obsessed by them. Probably still is, for all I know. We even covered one of their tunes, ‘Do You Love Me’, in our live set. It was a dumb rock’n’roll song, but I actually kind of enjoyed performing it. There is nothing wrong with being dumb occasionally, especially in rock’n’roll. I also had a soft spot for the tune that went on about wanting to rock’n’roll all night and party every day, as of course that was a particular ambition of all of us cramped into our yellow Transit as we criss-crossed the country, and hang on, what about that other seminal classic ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’.
What about it?
It sounded a little like a lobotomized Slade, that’s what.
Back in the 70’s, I had a problem with Slade. That problem was that to the followers of the former Ambrose Slade I was one of ‘them’. You know, one of ‘those’ guys. The love that dare not speak its name… yes, a T.Rex fan! I envied someone like Steven Beaton who appeared able to like both Slade and T.Rex and get away with it, but then again he was built like a brick sh*thouse, so who was going to argue with him? As I matured (hah!) realization gradually dawned that actually yes, Slade were pretty good, and away from the hothouse of factional teenage angst that was Thurso High School you could actually celebrate diversity and individuality in equal measures – dammit yes, I’ll have a lager tops with a shot of blackcurrant and a dash of lime if you don’t mind please Sybil. Yes Billy, I will assist you in cleaning up my own vomit later… (those last two references will carry deep meaning for those frequenters of the legendary Sheiling Bar, Thurso, in the 70’s and 80’s…). Don’t get me started on vomit, or I may start dredging up memories of famous technicolour yawns of my Thurso past, such as the Marine Inn (‘no worries, it was only a mouthful.’ the classic comment from owner Roddy), the Central Bar (all over the bar… but it was a smaller bar in those days) and Jimmy Riddell’s Triumph TR7 (performed at approximately 100mph on Castlegreen Road both inside and outside the vehicle…sorry again Jimmy)…
Now that was a bit of a digression, wasn’t it? I guess what I really meant to say was ‘Hello’.
After a two year break (and a sideways step into another blog that didn’t last very long), I’ve come back to ‘Lost In Space’, and I will try to post more regularly about life here in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, and about the many things past and present, home and away, including (surprise!) a hefty dash of music, that make me smile, frown, get up and get down etc etc…
It’s nice to be back, and If I do wander off the subject from time to time, you will forgive me, won’t you…?
(This post is dedicated to Mr. Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013, a genius of his craft.)
Don’t mind if I do, thanks…’
A famous philosopher once said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Ergo, so must be music, (for many) an integral part of life…. on first impressions it can seem soft, hard, sweet, tart, chewy, or can melt like just like liquid in your ears. It also contains a (dangerously?) high proportion of nuts. However, it also leaves an impression, an aftertaste, that with the best also leads to craving more… Looking back on the selection of treats on offer in 2011, here are some of my personal highlights – my artists of the year, who induced in me those ‘I like it I like it I like it !’ goosebumps with their art… and, left me wanting, yes, more…
Amy LaVere, double bass wielding belle whose Southern gothic Lynchian meditations were iced with some outstanding surf noir guitarwork
Fatoumata Diawara, music as beautiful, addictive, hypnotic and mysterious as any I have heard
Gillian Welch, as unique and timeless as ever
Wilco, storming back on their new label with what may well prove to be their definitive album
Mountain Man, sounding as old as the hills themselves, this female trio sent many a chill through my psyche with their otherworldy harmonies
Tom Waits, still ornery as hell and as slippery and gifted as ‘ol Springheel Jack himself, ornate crazy blues with fellow old jackal Keith Richards along for the ride
Jonathan Wilson, long hair/Topanga Canyon/Bob Harris/Jackson Browne/David Crosby are just some of the touchstones in his work, but the end result is uniquely his
Josh T Pearson, a truly stunning solo album ten years on from Lift To Experience
Other highlights and Honorable Mentions go to Edwyn Collins, continuing to astound in his recovery, with an amazing work rate not just as a writer/performer whose work is getting even better with each release, but also now as label boss (and often production chair)of the very wonderful AED Records, and indeed the AED singles and albums, particularly Linden & Rotifer, to Thomas Dolby (I rediscovered the chillingly beauteous ‘Airwaves’), Richmond Fontaine’s ‘High Country’, The Civil Wars, The Click Five live at Mith Samlanh , Colorama, and for rebooting my powerpop years the Japanese reissues on 1977 Records of my old band’s Radio City single and album-that-never-was, Sigur Ros with the atmospheric end of era ‘Inni’, the righteous racket that was the Jim Jones Revue, Rolling Stones live stuff from the early 70’s (Brussels Affair) and the ‘Some Girls’ reissue, Kurt Vile & co-conspirators the War on Drugs…
… and of course, there’s more, much more, where those came from…
Everybody needs a little Marc Bolan in their lives.
So here you go
… have a Revolution , but have it for fun.
Keep rockin’, y’all.
I returned to the world of landmines today.
I had been asked to provide the narration for a documentary being shown at the opening ceremony of the 11th States Parties to the Ottawa Treaty, being held in Phnom Penh at the end of this month.
It was slightly surreal to be simultaneously back in two worlds which had once been so familiar and were now quite unusual to me, those of mine action and the recording studio.
Amazing also how easily I slipped back into the language of both worlds.
Equally amazing how I managed to resist doing my bad Sean Connery impersonation, or indeed to stand up, and with right leg twitching in a Jaggeresque manner, hands over headphones, enquire ‘ …’oy, can I get some more level in me cans, please?’.
Sureal indeed to watch playback and listen intently and critically to my voice, suddenly aware again of that old feeling… ‘Is that really me? Is that what I sound like?’
If you are one of the thousand plus delegates I do hope you will watch, listen and… well I guess ‘enjoy’ is the wrong word… be enlightened?
It’s on after the Ballet and just before the Prime Minister’s speech…
Recording over, it was back to work to meet a Japanese millionairess.
It’s breakfast time in an unnaturally quiet Phnom Penh. Unnaturally, as it is Water Festival which normally brings milling throngs in their millions to the city from the provinces, but this year the spectacular boat races pivotal to the festival have been cancelled as the countryside is still reeling under the impact of the floods. Maybe some echoes of last year’s tragedy at Koh Pichhave also added to the sense of quiet contemplation that seems to have settled over the city. Even the fireworks of yesterday evening seemed almost perfunctory and embarrassed to be breaking the calm. However, it’s not so quiet in our street.
After a long and noisy period of deconstruction, construction work has now begun opposite us, and as this is a mid-scale job (probably a high-rise apartment block), the lack of safety precautions taken by the construction team is frankly alarming to behold. I have already watched one worker place his head directly under a jackhammer which seconds before had been pounding relentlessly away (no hard hats either, which of course wouldn’t really have made any difference) and another, a teenage boy, swinging from the hook of a crane by one arm, about 15m off the ground. Meanwhile the local kids are playing in and around the site, which has no safety barriers or warning signs of any kind in evidence…
So, breakfast time… ah, yes, it makes me think fondly of orange juice (you poor old soul, you!) and fond thoughts of orange juice lead on to even fonder thoughts of the chieftain of OJ, the inestimable Sir Edwyn Collins. His remarkable journey back from his debilitating illness continues, and the latest evidence can be found right here on ‘Down the Line’, a brand new track from his forthcoming album. It will be released next year on the rather wonderful AED Records (Analogue Enhanced Digital – Todays Technology Now!), a label to cherish, with some excellent acts joining Edwyn in keeping the spirit of independent music alive, whilst simultaneously falling and laughing…
Much merriment yesterday (and today) when Otis and I revisited the 1960’s, travelling down the time tunnel to find The Who in their mod-tastic prime firstly performing (in a bizarre little b&w film) the treatise on mental illness and cruelty they christened ‘Happy Jack’, followed closely by the mayhem they inflicted upon The Smothers Brothers Show in the USA. Mr. Moon packed a little too much gunpowder into his stage effects during a performance of ‘My Generation’ , and the result…. devastation!
Otis likes Keith Moon, which is just fine by me… one of the greatest drummers the world of rock’n’roll has ever produced. Indeed, the way my son batters wildly on his collection of drums, the furniture and his mummy and daddy makes me think that Moonie Mark II might be among us already…!
God bless The ‘Oo, and award yourself one point if you know where the title of this piece comes from…