MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY!

I just wouldn’t let it lie, would I… having said all my Christmas-greetings-peace-on earth-goodwill-to all-ho-ho-ho-happy-Christmas-Tiny-Tim-gawd-bless-you-Mr-Scrooge-etc etc in the last blog I return once more to briefly interfere with the smooth passage of your lives in the run up to the portly bearded gent coming down your chimney. Yes, the late Peter Grant, former manager of Led Zeppelin, is coming to YOUR house to personally collect YOUR Zep bootleg CD collection and smash it to bits before your very eyes, and he will come down your chimney wearing a bright red suit to do so on Christmas Eve… you have been warned…!

‘I is the N-M-E!’

In the newsagents today my eyes alighted upon something claiming to be the bumper Xmas edition of the New Musical Express. Gazing at the garishly glossy cover I initially thought it was those cheeky folks at Smash Hits (does it still exist?) foisting a merry Christmas jape upon us, but no, the comic before me was indeed the once mighty NME, now seemingly a refuge for mass advertising with the occasional one or two lines about music breaking up the eye-straining blocks of fluorescent frenzy about this phone or those trainers… this grumpy old man of course began to reminisce about the good old days of the 1970’s, when the NME Christmas and New Year bumper edition was indeed a thing of wonder and joy to behold, guaranteed to smear your hands with copious quantities of newsprint and generate intense debate in the pub over a Christmas special of a pint and a cheese toastie for a pound…we cannot bring back those glory days, but in the spirit of the great NME Christmas pop quizzes of yore, here follows my pathetic attempt to enliven your miserable existences with my very own Christmas pop and entertainment quiz, part mystic, part cryptic, part unfathomable, part narcissistic. Because that’s the way my mind works, the answers to some of these may be informed or hinted at by the previous answer. Or maybe not. Some answers may even be the same as other answers! (Please do not complain to OFSTED about this.) You work it out for yourselves (That’s the trouble with young people nowadays, they expect everything on a plate.)You may also find that only those of a certain age, gender, nationality and mindset will be able to complete it, as I now grudgingly admit that I know little or nothing (and pretty much care little or nothing) of what has happened in popular music or entertainment over the last twenty years. Who cares anyway, just award yourself one point for every answer you believe is correct, and when you have reached three points drink a double of your favourite spirit and mixer, or two cans of beer. Or, if you are in that 70’s mindframe anyway, have a snakebite. Or a lager tops. Or a lager and blackcurrant. Mine’s a Moscow Mule. Continue until you are very happy indeed. I’ll give you the answers according to me (and my decision is final, absolute and unswerving…) in a future blog (no cheating please, Hiro…). Alright… are we ready? Then off we go…

Section One – Waxing lyrical

(Go on go on go on – have one point for each part of the following questions, and don’t skimp on the measures…!)

1)‘does anyone know the way, did we hear someone say ‘we just haven’t got a clue WHAT to do’…’. Band and song, please.
2) ‘ …who would think a boy and bear would be well accepted everywhere, it’s just amazing how fair people can be.’ . A cover song! A great cover song – original writer/artist, cover artist and name of song this time, please. Then you can have a drink! (clue to the writer – ‘to infinity and beyond!)
3) ‘ I saw two shooting stars last night – I wished on them, but they were only satellites…’ A cover song again – same as above, then another drink!
4) Really difficult unless you are British, this one. What connects the above answers? (cryptic clue: Track 1 side 1 of ‘the Third Roxy Music Album’ may point you in the right direction…)

Section Two – cryptic and just plain ornery…

5) What connects Mr. Pitiful, a certain mighty Eskimo, Michael Jackson’s rat of a friend and those who were born of frustration? Only certain persons reading this may get this one… they should have a Tequila slammer if they do…
6)Who was moody blue, but had the balls to go off and fight for his country before growing wings? Please say you don’t mind me asking his name…
7) What is the point of U2?*
*this may not be cryptic

Section Three – Who are you?

8) ‘ Happy Christmas my arse, I hope it’s your last!’ How often have we thought that when we’ve been stuck in that queue in HMV for ¾ of an hour… but who said that to whom and in which song?
9) Who produced the Clash album ‘Give ‘em enough rope’?
10) And what was the biggest hit achieved by the band that he managed for his day job?
11) By what names did the following achieve fame (actors also included in this one, so make those doubles triples…!) a) Mark Feld b) David Jones c) Archibald Leach d) Marion Morrison e) William Broad f) William Pratt g) Vincent Furnier
12) What kind of animal was ‘Happy Jack’? (By now you should be very happy also…)
13) Who was the space cowboy, gangster of love and Maurice? (clue: this question has nowt to do with the Bee Gees)
14) Who is the arguably more famous other half of incredible guitar picker Dave Rawlings?
15) Who had a dog called Strider, immortalized in song on the third album from the band that started life as the New Yardbirds? And what was the song? And why do the birds keep on singing? Why does the sea rush to shore? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world…??

Section Four – What’s the point of sections anyway? Trivia, its all trivia

16) On which Morrissey album does the amplified sound of a power drill stand in for the sound of a motorcycle revving?
17) …and on which Roxy Music track did they actually record a motorcycle speeding down Basing St. in London to add authenticity to the rebellious nature of the lyric?
18) How many deadly Finns were encountered by Brian Eno?
19) Who was Blank Frank?
20) Which group rode the equestrian statue to the edge of the popular music charts, then were shocked to find a doughnut in granny’s greenhouse? And what exactly was the doughnut anyway….? You might need your Mr. Hanky for this one…
21) ‘the path was deep and wide from footsteps leading to our cabin, above the door there burned a scarlet lamp…’ ooo-er missus – the son of whom was singing this, and what was he better known as to the world of 60’s soul?
22) Which animal links the legendary Goodies with the band who gave us ‘Cheap Sunglasses’?
23) My son Otis currently sports a hairstyle inspired by which of these seminal 80’s bands a) Modern Romance b) the Thompson Twins or c) A Flock of Seagulls? (I currently sport a hairstyle influenced by Alf Garnett)
24) They had a friend called Stan from far, far away (he was a banging man) and this time of year wouldn’t be the same without them – who were they?
25) In which Carry On film did The Great Kenneth Williams utter these immortal words ‘infamy, infamy! They’ve all got it infamy!’?
26) …and whose first album included a lengthy musical workout about a woman named Suzi Q?
27) What was the name of the South African born record producer who was the mastermind behind feisty little Suzi Quatro?
28) which band, favourites of the Old Grey Whistle Test and the darlings of many 1970’s music critics exhorted quarreling lovers to ‘turn up the Eagles, the neighbours are listening’ and advised us that ‘showbusiness kids, making movies of themselves, you know they don’t give a f*** about anybody else…’?
29) Which famously eccentric American studio wunderkind released an acclaimed solo double album in the 1970’s featuring a pop operetta taking up one side entitled ‘baby needs a new pair of snakeskin boots’? And what was his far from flattering nickname?
30) Which 1970’s Frank Zappa album tells the sad tale of Billy the Mountain, Ethel the Tree (growing off of his shoulder) and FBI agent Studebaker Hawke? (completely useless clue: it’s the only Frank Zappa album I own).
31) Which former NME writer and soon to be famous female rock star played rhythm guitar briefly with Johnny Moped in 1978?
32) …and which legendary NME writer (clue: no friend of Sid Vicious) gave up his day job briefly to front the short-lived Subterraneans?
33) On which 70’s Rolling Stones song does Mick Jagger sign off by whispering ‘good night – sleep tight…’?
34) Where in Scotland would you find the John Lennon Memorial Garden. And why?
35) Which of these apocryphal stories is actually true – a) TV quizmaster Bob Holness played the sax solo on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’, b) Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath has metal fingers, or c) Rod Stewart played harmonica on ‘My Boy Lollipop’ by Millie

Section Five – ‘That’s Entertainment’

36) who was famously described thus at his first screen test – ‘balding, can’t act, can’t sing, can dance a little.’?
37) which 50’s and 60’s British star appeared in a dreadful movie based on his hit song about an albino baby bull. Have another drink if you can name the movie and the song, because that makes you as much a saddo as I am.
38) catchphrases…. what would we do without them, eh? Which legends provided the English language with the following gems…? a) ‘stop messing abaht!’ b) ‘shut that door!’ c) ‘hello playmates!’ d) ‘wakey-wakey!’
39) comedians making records… what would we do without them, eh? Which mirth-inducers tickled our fancies with these shellac curiosities from the 1960’s…?
a) ‘Gossip Calypso’ b) ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ c) ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’ and d) ‘Right Said Fred’
40) Elvis had an old one and John Noakes had one that always appeared to be up when it shouldn’t have been – ooo-er missus, to what am I referring?

Section Six – ‘You know my name, look up the number.’

41) ‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’ Which actor said this, in which TV series? And what was his number?
42) How many Screaming Dizbusters did the Blue Oyster Cult warn us about?
43) Add the number of ?’s tears to the Yardbirds Little Indians and Traffic’s Headmen and what number do you get?
44) What was the number plate of Bryan Ferry’s girlfriend’s car at the time of the first Roxy Music album (this is not as obscure as you think, folks…!)?
45) Which LP record sported the catalogue number K50008, although this was impossible to find anywhere on the cover or inner sleeve (much to the annoyance of the woman in Clark’s Electrical in Thurso when I tried to buy this album in the 70’s. )

Section Seven – ‘and when I am in Camelot, I like to push the pram a lot’.

The source of the following lyrical gems, please!

46) ‘ I saw a lion he was standing alone, with a tadpole in a jar’
47) ‘dancing in the nude and feeling such a dude, it’s a rip-off!’
48) ‘ where do we go from here – is it down to the lake, I fear?’
49) ‘ he went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun – in case of accidents he always took his mum.’

And finally! Question 50! ‘what WERE you thinking?’

50) which bands took their names from the following sources…?
a) a giant metal pleasure device in the William Burroughs novel ‘Naked Lunch’?
b) the victim of a fatal shooting by student Gavrilo Princep?
c) the part conjoined names of two Mississippi bluesmen?
d) an acronym of their family stage name?
e) a character from the movie ‘Barbarella’?
f) a beer and a desire to get back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll?
g) a palindrome of their first initials?
h) a superstitious fear amongst US building contractors?

If you did, thank you so much for taking part, however by now you should be very drunk and more than a little bored, so why don’t we just switch off our computers and go and do something less boring instead? After all, in the immortal words of Enid Blyton…

‘ IT’S CHRI-I-I-STMAS!’

Sorry, that should have read ‘the immortal words of Noddy…’

Nid Nod

Goodnight All, mind how you go… and remember ‘Save the cheerleader, save the world…’

(extra question which has just occurred to me– whatever happened to the BBC’s flagship Christmas day programme ‘ A Merry Morning’? That Noel Edmonds, oooh, he was ever such a nice lad…)

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red-headed stranger

You may well (indeed almost certainly) have noticed that the titles of these blogs often coincide with the titles of some well known songs. On occasion there is some diversion into music discussion within the blog with an often at best tenuous link to that song. Yes, I freely admit to being one of those terrible I-think-I–know-it-all people like Mark Ellen or David Hepworth. That’s why we have magazines like The Word and Mojo and television programmes like ‘Later with Jools Holland’. It’s for people like me who publicly scoff at people like them but are much more like them than we would care to admit. I am so bad that Ani insisted on one of our wedding vows being that I could only bore her with little known but useless facts about the wonderful world of popular music once a day, a vow that I now publicly confess to breaking, yes, you’ve guessed, on a daily basis.

So, to ‘Red Headed Stranger’, the title of this latest blog (though I do think that ‘blag’, or even ‘blah’ is probably a more accurate description of these rants). A Willie Nelson tune. So, are we headed for a digression into country music once more? Are we going to off on a tangent to discuss the outlaws of country music, those maverick souls who bent the boundaries of the rollin’ redneck prairies? No. Will we wander into the fabulous world of those red-headed strangers who have brought beauty and mystery into our lives, the Rita Hayworth’s, the Dylan Thomas’s, the Ben Sheridan’s…?
Well, sort of.

Close your eyes tightly, click your heels together three times and repeat over and over in a very loud voice ‘there’s no place like Phnom Penh, there’s no place like Phnom Penh…’ and we will travel back in time to last Saturday in Phnom Penh, when the little O and I were in the house together whilst mummy Ani was out visiting her Thai friends in street 240 who give her a ‘glamorous Hollywood starlet of the 1950’s’ wash and blow dry on a regular basis (and give me an ‘0h God what can we do with this but pretend to snip a little and push those wispy bits around to cover the wide open spaces’ haircut on a slightly less regular basis). We were getting ready to go out and I had showered as Otis played in the bedroom, making contented little ‘broom-broom’ noises and seemingly quite absorbed in whatever new skill he had developed in the last few moments. As previously mentioned I am now severely follicly challenged, but that did not prevent me from picking up mummy A’s hairbrush and running it jauntily through the few remaining strands whilst slipping into a nostalgic reverie for the days when I would have given Rick Wakeman a run for the money in the ‘that man is wearing Harmony hairspray – no he isn’t. Yes, he is!’ beautiful blonde tresses stakes. Snapping out of that bit of foolish reminiscence (but pausing to remind you that one of the truly great organ solos of all time can be heard on ‘Roundabout’ by Yes, played by that very same blonde bombshell. Rick Wakeman, that is. Not me. Obviously. I can’t play organ, but boy can I bore with useless information…) I scooped the O up, tucked him under one arm and carried him down the stairs. He giggled as we went, looking up at me with a naughty boy grin spread across his cherubic features. At the foot of the stairs we paused, ostensibly to play peek- a – boo with his reflection in the large mirror at the bottom of the staircase, but really so I could have one last check of my rapidly fading grandeur before heading out into the unforgiving blazing sunshine.

Jebus! I nearly dropped the by now hysterically chortling O as I gazed at the red headed stranger who faced me in the mirror. No…not even red. What little of my former tonsorial glory that remained was now crimson. Crimson and erect, like a pathetic middle aged attempt at a mangy Mohican, a Kings Road original gone to seed that not even a hopelessly myopic Japanese tourist would bother to photograph…I am so sorry God, please forgive me for criticising the UK Subs in that last blog, I didn’t mean it, I take it back, please restore what little dignity I have, please…please…

Thankfully it was not a punishment for excessive sarcasm handed down by God. It was a punishment for not paying attention, handed down by little O assisted by Max Factor. As I was trilling tuneless versions of various 70’s hits from KC and the Sunshine Band through the Sex Pistols and even some Fox (remember them?) and swallowing mouthfuls of soapy water in the process, little O had been smearing mummy’s lipstick liberally over the hairbrush in preparation for the grand humiliation of daddy that would surely result. I had to wash my remaining hair a total of 6 times to remove all trace of the caked on crimson, although my scalp remained tinged with red for several days after…

I am writing this in the cool (ha ha) of a winters evening in England, as we have flown back to the Yoo-Kay for the festive season. Our flight was a little fraught, as the young master decided that if he was to be put out by overnight travel on a jumbo jet, then everyone else in economy class should suffer also. That meant incessant high pitched screaming coupled with frequent attempts to crawl over under sideways down into every nook and cranny on the plane. Nappy changing during turbulence is also not recommended, although he seemed to enjoy the many push that-pull this-turn that-press this delights of an aircraft toilet cubicle more than most of the toys we have bought him in these last few months. Efforts to calm him by feeding proved mostly ineffectual. One cabin staff member, a very smiley Thai woman, seemed to completely fail to understand my accent as on each occasion that I asked for ‘some baby milk, please’ or ‘some breakfast cereal, please’, or ‘a sandwich, please’ she shook her head affirmatively then offered me some Singha beer. Maybe she just expects every middle-aged man who wanders up to the galley at three in the morning to be looking for beer… anyway, the flight was hell but we are here now and girding our loins for the coming Christmas extravaganza. We went into Basingstoke briefly this afternoon, but everywhere was monumentally busy with incredible queues, and everyone just looked so wholeheartedly miserable that the experience was probably marginally worse than being tied into one’s seat for every date of the Black Lace reunion tour then made to buy the T-shirt afterwards. And wear it.

Still, mustn’t grumble. ‘Strictly Come Dancing – the Final!’ is on telly tomorrow. It’s so good to be back in a country whose cultural heritage has inspired the world…

As this is probably the last blog I will write before Christmas strikes (I’m not sure if that is really the appropriate terminology to use, but what is appropriate about Christmas anyway? Baby Jebus hardly gets a look in on his birthday these days…), may this eternal Ebenezer Scrooge wish all his readers a big ‘bah, humbug!’ and truly a very Merry Christmas and if I don’t blog before then, a very Happy New Year 2008 to you all.

‘I mean it, ma-a-a-n!’

Identity

‘Once upon a time there was a lonely girl who lived all alone, except for her nameless cat’

I’m paraphrasing, for sure, because my memory is most definitely not what it used to be, and of course I am absolutely unable to remember what it used to be, although it must have been better than it is (I think), but George Peppard’s character Paul types something vaguely similar when he is writing his book and describing Miss Holiday Golightly in the movie of Truman Capote’s wonderful novella,‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. It doesn’t really matter what I think of the movie – I could list ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ until the metaphorical cows and pigeons come home, but there is no doubt it is a flawed (the seriously miscast Mickey Rooney leaps to mind), yet strangely moving and uplifting creature – not unlike the character of Holly Golightly herself. Of course, she is not at all what she appears to be; she has come from somewhere else to re-invent herself, but is still trapped by that re-invention …

‘I-den-ti-ty!!’ Oh thank you, Poly Styrene, sometimes it does need to be screamed at the top of your lungs against a barrage of noise… if not X-ray Spex then it’s the outer world that sends the needles on the dials spinning into the red on the db meters of our lives as we repeatedly ask the question ‘ Who am I?’

Otis was unusually reluctant to eat any porridge this morning, and a throwaway humourous comment from Ani on how un-Scottish that was set the cogs in motion within my ever diminishing grey matter. When I lived in Scotland I believe I felt ‘Scottish’, whatever that was, although not conforming to many of the clichéd assumptions that allegedly define masculine ‘Scottishness’. For example, I do not like Whiskey, Football or Haggis. Whiskey and Haggis because they physically disagree with me. Whiskey makes my inner demons rise from their slumber, Haggis brings heartburn and indigestion. Football I dislike because my dad was a football referee. Many times in my childhood I had to endure hearing the torrents of verbal abuse directed at him, and, as I grew older and more visible lurking in his car parked by the touchline, at me. The fact that I wore spectacles made it even worse (I was going to append ‘in the eyes of the crowd’ there, but that would probably be just too much …). References to blindness accompanied by bursts of often inspired profanity meant that the Highland League and all its far-flung venues were an equivalent to one of the circles of hell for the skinny, pale and unduly sensitive Scottish boy I was back then. Then Charles Atlas made a man of me, and I went back to every piss-ant football ground in every drizzle-drenched crookit little village slumbering in every grey and tragic misty glen and penalty-kicked the living daylights out of my tormentors. In reality, no… in my head, yes. So, football mostly stirs a seething cauldron of far from pleasant memories for me. Throughout my Scottish life, many friends (yes, at one time I had many friends…and many non-friends) referred to me as ‘peep’, or ‘peep junior’. The logic behind this? My dad was called Robert. Robert = Bob. Bob becomes, through the liberal use of his referee’s whistle and a corruption of the nursery rhyme, Bob-peep. Hence ‘peep junior’. I accepted it, as mostly there was no real malice behind it, but I did not like it. Something similar has happened here in Cambodia. Amongst colleagues and others involved in mine action here and in the UK I am known as ‘Jamie’. I grudgingly accept this for three reasons, one being that I still feel like I am an actor playing a role (‘Jamie’) in my life, as I (James) regularly have to pinch myself even now to believe that I really am a) living in Cambodia and b) working in mine action, and the second being because I liked the character Jamie (Frazer Hines) who was an early companion of Dr. Who (and a bit of a cliché of dour Scottish manhood, if truth be told… ‘och, Doctor, it’s only a wee Dalek – dinnae worry, one whack wi’ ma caber and he’ll be as much use as a chocolate fireguard!’). Number three, and perhaps the most surprising, is because it does sound, well, a little… Scottish. So I suppose what I am trying to convey here is that I believe we all appear to others, at any one time, just constructs of our environments, both physical and emotional, yet given that, we still have at our core who we really are (or really believe we are) and where we have really come from. And perhaps, just perhaps, we actually do know where we’re going. We’re after the same rainbow’s end, my huckleberry friend…

All the above has woven a tangled web around the point of this particular missive, which now follows.
I would really like to say I am very sorry to anyone I may have offended (now or in the past) by assuming that my self-centered interpretation of your construct is really who you are, because only you truly know who you are.

And me?

I’m neither Peep, nor Jamie…

I’m Lula Mae Barnes…

I think…

Rip It Up

…And start again. As I get older (losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greet – stop it! Be still, my Beatling heart…) I start to have so many more of them. Preconceptions, that is. Rip them up and start again, or at the very least leave them at the door, that will be my new philosophy.

On Saturday we had a somewhat cultural day, firstly visiting the International School of Phnom Penh International Day. Ani wore her Sari, Otis was decked out in his wee kilt with Sutherland Clan crested kilt pin, and I looked like an American. That is, until I took the Stetson off, then I just looked like a white male, 50-ish, medium build, receding graying hair, no distinguishing features… ‘He just looks like any outa town rube’ Kincaid sneered as he crudely rolled the body over with the toe of his badly scuffed boot. Brett stopped and lowered the camera from his eyes which narrowed with disdain as he squinted at Kincaid. ‘Never forget, Mr. Kincaid, that this was someone’s son, maybe someone’s father… we should show some respect, no matter how hardened we’ve become down the years…’ Kincaid shrugged, embarrassed at this outburst from the normally reticent photographer, and spat his chewing tobacco from the side of his mouth into the same dirt where John Doe had struggled for his last gasps of air…

Sorry, got sidetracked there briefly. Yes, in the riot of colour that characterized International Day I was a mild protest of drabness. However, the day, or rather the morning we spent there, was extremely entertaining and well worth the $5 entry fee. (Note to self; I’m becoming just a little obsessed with vfm these days… a worrying trend – gone are the carefree days when I would go out and splash $10 on trivialities…) The food was good (excellent somosas!) and the performances were exemplary. Ani’s class did her proud in their gosh-gee-whiz-aren’t-they-cute way, by performing a very strange piece about hats and monkeys. Unfortunately I missed the apparent highlight, as I was informed by Ani, which was three (female) senior students performing a hula dance. Apparently every male in the audience resembled the big bad wolf in that old Betty Boop Little Red Riding Hood cartoon, eyes out on stalks and tongues dragging on the ground. At that exact time my eyes were also on stalks and my tongue dragging on the ground in the International Food room, where I had just encountered the Belgian chocolate display next to the New Zealand chocolate cake…

Otis drew his usual admiring glances and was his usual charming self as we flitted from country stall to country stall. The face of the woman in the room dedicated to India was a picture as I informed her of Otis’ Indian heritage. You could read her mind ‘… this man is crazy; he comes in here with the whitest baby in the world and expects me to believe that the child is part Indian…?’ So we did the rounds, nodded and smiled, piled as much food as we could under the buggy then rode off into the mid-day sun…

We did a little shopping in the afternoon, going to the Russian market to buy some winter clothing for Otis. The temperature has dropped to around 20º in the evenings now, and is hovering around 30º during the days so we thought it time to get him some long sleeved woolens and mittens and scarves to ward off frostbite. Ha ha ha. No, but we are returning to dear old blighty soon, and it is apparently a bit chilly around those parts, so time to stock up on the winter woolies. That done, we went off to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) so I could finish typing up my dispatch to send it out with the Reuters journalist on the last chopper before the sun set and the rebels mounted their assault on the Palace under cover of darkness… Or alternatively I could have a Tiger beer and a poke of chips. I settled for the alternative. It’s hard to imagine what places like the FCC must have been like ten or fifteen years ago. Probably pretty horrible actually, bursting at the seams with gung-ho foreign correspondents and their ever expanding egos. As a younger man, I used to imagine myself one day having an ‘Our Man in Havana’ type existence, rushing about in a hot place in a crumpled linen suit mopping my brow with a monogrammed handkerchief and masterminding incredible feats of espionage in a kind of bumblingly endearing James Bond manner, whilst confounding those damned journalists at every step. Pretty much what I do now actually, albeit more in the manner of the drunken elderly ex-consul lampooned by The Fast Show…

I had noted earlier in the week that the First International Rock Festival of Phnom Penh was to take place in the Titanic (!) restaurant on 1st December. And it was free. Major VFM, no less. The cynic in me leapt at the opportunity to spend some time guffawing at what the First International Rock Festival of Phnom Penh would present for our edification. We were promised a German band called Diva International, fronted by a Debbie Harry type singer and influenced by Bowie and Iggy, a ‘nylon punk’ band (!) from Thailand called Bear Garden, and PP’s own Thom Thom (or Josie and the Pussycats as I call them). Oh boy… a German punk band called Diva International… the laugh-o-meter was cranked up and ready to go! I used to be a big fan of German music of the early 70’s – I would go round to my friend Eric’s house (where and how are you now, Mr. Law?) to listen to Aamon Duul II and Can and Neu and Tangerine Dream. These albums were serious pieces of work, with fantastic cover art and great titles – ‘ Dance of the Lemmings’, ‘Tago Mago’, ‘Monster Movie’, ‘Phaedra’… then came the wonderful Nina Hagen, eventually she gave way to the still tolerable Nena and her 99 Red Balloons and then, as far as I was concerned, it all went wrong. It seemed as if most of Europe didn’t quite get punk right, and Germany were no exception. Die Totden Hosen. Oh Holy Jebus, somebody please tell them that the UK Subs are not the kind of role models to build a career on… so German rock music and yours truly drifted apart at that point, until…

…now! It’s 8pm in the quite wonderfully but bafflingly named Titanic Restaurant (considering it is perched on a jetty at the riverside – visions of the whole shebang sliding slowly into the dark waters as the bands play on swim before my eyes ), and I have just missed Thom Thom. Not to worry, they are playing an acoustic gig later this week so opportunity to catch up then, but as I arrive a rap duo, a young man and an older man, both Cambodian, are performing a rap about genocide to the smallish crowd of mostly German expats. Some people are enjoying a Saturday evening meal, apparently oblivious to the frenetic rapping and scratching coming from the dynamic duo on stage, who I find out are DJ Sday and his young protégé, MC Curly. This is their last number for the moment, then Curly introduces Thai duo Bear Garden, a young woman playing bass and singing and a young man playing a vintage Casio mini keyboard. They’re pretty good, a little like a cut price B52’s crossed with Sadistic Mika Band ,and I find myself doing some on the spot restrained Dad dancing to their plinky-plonk rhythms and bass popping. Good stuff. Another rap from Curly, who is now genuinely amazed at the gathering crowd, and then he announces Diva International. Nothing happens for about five minutes, then the black clad rhythm section amble on, look about them a bit then walk off stage again. Perhaps they are a little upset at the neon sign above the stage that somewhat erratically flashes the words ‘Titanic Band’ and variations thereof above their heads in electric blue. A young man with dark curly hair and a permanently worried expression is obviously the band’s gopher, and he rushes over to fix whatever has been displeasing them so much that they have telepathically communicated it to him before retreating. They return, and now they are four, skinny guys dressed in black with low-slung guitars. Where is Debbie Harry soundalike? Utilizing the old ‘dramatic pause before entrance’ routine perhaps? Well, no. It’s clear that as the band start up that there is no female front person, just the skinniest of the skinny foursome with low slung Telecaster untouched round his neck, see-sawing his microphone and stand up and down in the grip of first number nerves, cigarette smouldering in his left fist and laconic Lou Reed/David Bowie vocal tics firmly in place. They are good. I eat my thoughts. They are really, really good. All you could really fault them on would be the horrendously cheesy between song patter. Every cliché is being expounded, and I don’t really think it’s worth wasting your or my time repeating them. Come on, put your hands in the air and ROCK AND ROLL if you agree with me. Are you having a good time reading this? I can’t hear you… come on, are you having a good time??!! Hello World, are you ready to rock tonight? One, two – more monitor… Yeah! You’re the best crowd who has read my blog ever! I love you! Goodnight! I’ll be back!!

There is one deeply surreal moment when the singer shouts from the stage ‘hey…. anyone here tonight from… Bristol?’ but all becomes clear when moments later they lurched into a growlingly electric version of Portishead’s “Glory Box’. Curly Roadie is kept endlessly busy attending to the whims of the singer, who cannot plug his guitar in, light a cigarette, pick up a plectrum, turn up his amp or indeed wipe sweat from his own brow without help, but that’s ROCK AND ROLL isn’t it, and he is forgiven as they are so good. It’s a short set, but they win two encores and get MC Curly and Roadie Curly to join them in a scrappy yet exciting jam at the end, and their whole veneer of distant cool and arch pretension has long since dissolved in the sweat lashing from them. I congratulate the singer as they come off stage, telling him how much I enjoyed their performance and how good the cover of ‘Glory Box’ was, and he puts me exactly in my place and reinforces that I need to really keep an open mind when it comes to perceptions or preconceptions about music (or indeed anything) – ‘Thank you’ he says ‘ it’s really difficult to do this when it’s not your own language’…

On another subject, Orange Juice (spot the easy connection) once had a whimsical wee ditty called ‘you old eccentric’, and thinking about that got me wondering, where are the eccentrics of my generation? Maybe I’m not thinking quite hard enough, but have my generation not spawned any George Mellys, Ivor Cutlers or Spike Milligans? The only one worthy that I can think of right now to follow in those hallowed footsteps would be old irascible John Lydon, but there must be more – write in with your ideas, and we’ll put together a list of current great eccentrics to give us hope and inspiration when the real world becomes a tad too crazy for our own good.

In the meantime, be good, clever or both at the same time (sound of sock full of custard hitting brick wall).

Thank you and goodnight from Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia.