Guitars

Next to ‘Surf Green’ guitars (which mine is, thanks again Ani – I will relate that story in more detail one day…), I am somewhat partial to the red variety. Here is a nice ESP Telecaster currently holed up in a box on the wall of the Hard Rock cafe in Bangkok.

Signed by Keith Richards, but probably never owned or touched by the Human Riff.

Guitars should not be in boxes.

They could give it to me, that would be nice. I’d love to have a strum on that.

Talking of guitars, do check out the new album by American chaps Real Estate. It’s called Days, and it’s really rather good in a Sunday morning hazy mazy kind of way. Free download and more info at the end of this post.

Despite claiming to be influenced by the Doobie Brothers and Kokomo (remember them?), to these ears there’s more an early Stone Roses/Byrdsian/Feelies type feel going on. Good stuff anyway, and chock full of… yes, guitars!

Happy Lazy Sunday, all…

Green Aisles by Real Estate

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whatevershebringswesing

‘And so’ expounded Alice ‘lets just cut to the chase and fill in some of what’s been happening in the last couple of months, albeit in a surreal manner (as indeed and as usual, much has been surreal anyway)’
‘ Cut to the chase?’ The White Rabbit dropped his sandwich and wrinkled his pink nose in a contrary manner, which seemed to Alice to mingle both curiousity and disgust in equal portions.
‘Cut to the chase? Oh my goodness, her Majesty will be so distressed that language such as that is being used… oh my goodness!’
‘You sir, are a rabbit, and a conversing one at that, which is unduly strange, if not surreal in itself, and I will thank you to keep your opinions firmly to yourself.’
The rabbit muttered away inwardly as he scoured the tablecloth for the remaining crumbs of his sandwich, which had been lifted aloft and carried away by a battalion of extremely large ants garbed in scarlet uniforms during the brief exchange with Alice.
Alice scowled at this behaviour, and waited until the rabbit peered up at her again with his crumby snout before directing a steely gaze at him and intoning ‘Whatevah!’ in, Alice was deeply amused to think, a particularly ‘chavish’ manner.
Suitably chastened, the rabbit wiped his whiskers, glanced briefly at this pocket watch then sat at attention opposite Alice. Alice shifted a little, then from her apron withdrew a small gingham-wrapped package, which she placed carefully before them on the tablecloth before unwrapping it and withdrawing two small and somewhat dog-eared spiral bound notebooks.
‘Now rabbit, I ‘borrowed’ these from Mr. Skip’s desk, so I will thank you to refrain from mentioning it when next you have discourse with him.’
The rabbit sighed deeply before replying. ‘ He believes me to be a figment of his so-called feverish imagination in any case, so that should not be anything of an issue.’
Alice ignored this statement and opened the first notebook, and read aloud from the first page.
‘Conversations with J, volume 17, 2008’
‘Heard it all before! Heard it all before!’ snapped the rabbit. Alice knitted her eyebrows angrily at this interjection, but nevertheless closed the notebook and cast it to one side, picking up the second, leafing through the first few pages before pausing, nodding, clearing her throat and commencing to read. ‘ Today we mused on cockfighting…’ she began…

“J recalled the Saturday afternoon where he and A had firstly become embroiled in a circus procession along the riverfront, then had repaired to the Riverhouse to sip a late afternoon cocktail and muse on the flurries of activity happening across the road against the huge green corrugated fences bedecked with advertising hoardings which screened the river from gaze during the lengthy work being undertaken to replace the city’s ailing sewerage system. Wow, that was a lengthy sentence, wasn’t it? When they left a few minutes later and drove past the scene, they could see it was in fact cockfighting training taking place, there, in broad daylight, on one of the busiest thoroughfares in town. The following week, the Prime Minister outlawed cockfighting. Fortunately J and A had nothing to do with this decision, so they had little to fear from such as the deputy Prime Minister’s henchmen, as he was a breeder of fighting cocks and very upset by this new law. Perhaps, pondered J, a quorum of the National Assembly will outlaw the keeping of man-eating crocodiles and then it will be the Prime Ministers turn to be suitably aggrieved (if the stories are true) …
… and so to Khmer New Year, with J, A and O repairing firstly to Bangkok and then to Yangon for the celebrations, but unwittingly becoming embroiled in the Thai political crisis through being present at the taking of a tank by the redshirts one Sunday afternoon. Let J elaborate…

‘The briefest of tenures as a BBC correspondent (‘are you in Bangkok? Have you witnessed what is happening? Let us know!’ ‘Ehm, well not much actually. It’s a bit tricky to get to the shops, but mustn’t grumble…’) and puzzlement at the hotel staff being completely oblivious of the situation (‘no problem sir, all shops open, all safe’ – ‘I’m sorry, we can see from our room the entire city centre is closed and if you have a peek out of your foyer over there you can see two tanks and some armed soldiers. I don’t think it’s a fancy dress parade….’ – ‘oh, sorry sir…’) led to us decanting to the relatively sane insanity of the only place open in the entire Siam Square, the Hard Rock Café. The staff were amazing – they absolutely loved O, and he loved them back, delighting in water fights, balloons, playing drums, colouring in and more, as mummy and daddy struggled to devour the American –size platters on offer. The Hard Rock was a godsend, that and the Sky Train which O watched endlessly criss-crossing its way above the city from our vantage point on the 17th floor and appeared to be infinitely more interesting and diverting to him than the 27 violent cartoon channels available on the hotel cable TV. So it was good to escape from one madness, the factionalised Bangkok, to another, the water drenched craziness of new year in Yangon, Myanmar…’ “

Here Alice paused. The rabbit sat with his chin on his chest, apparently fascinated by the buttons on his somewhat admirable weskit, but Alice knew his quaint ways well enough to know that the bewhiskered one was actually asleep.
‘RABBIT! Awake!’ she screamed at the very limits of her lungs, and the poor creature physically leapt upright from his repose, eyes startled wide open, before falling backward to gasp upon the tablecloth, scattering the still marauding ants as he did so.
Alice laid the notebook face down and leaned over the unfortunate creature.
‘I fear we shall have to wait for the next part of this tale until you have sufficiently recovered your composure’ she hissed at the rabbit.
He sat himself up, blew his nose noisily upon his pocket-kerchief, and returned the fierce gaze of Alice with his own watery eyes. There was what appeared to be a lengthy pause before he answered.
‘Am I bovvered?’ he replied.

S’cool Days

‘Today I learned about the sea and ‘bout someone in history
well, ain’t that cool
they taught me how to square a cube and put a fly into a tube
well, ain’t that cool…’

the above lines are lifted from the very wonderful 45 ‘S’cool days’ by Stanley Frank. I can’t quite remember when it was released (late 70s? early 80s?), and I can tell you very little about Mr. Frank, but other than coming enclosed in a particularly nasty orange sleeve it was one of those great one-off new wave non-hits that proliferated around that time. I’m sorry, perhaps some of you would be puzzled by the ‘45’ reference in the opening sentence. Nowadays they would call it a 7-inch vinyl. Those exciting little slabs of plastic generally revolve around the turntable at 45rpm, hence the abbreviation, most commonly used in the 60s and 70s. It’s extremely heartening that whatever you choose to call it, the good old single record is still around.

Can you remember the first one you bought with your own pocket money? Mine was ‘Lady Madonna/The Inner light’ by The Beatles, 6/11d from the Music Shop, Thurso… I can still recall the smell of the vinyl as I removed it from its black paper sleeve and the sheer joy and anticipation of placing it over the spindle of my Aunt Catherine’s Dansette record player…

I was certainly no stranger to the wonders of the 7-inch record at that point, as my collecting habit had been kick started by my mum and dad many years before with ‘The Old Chisum Trail/Red River Valley’ by Roy Rogers, which was the first record I had bought for me. It was actually a red vinyl 78rpm with a magnificent picture of Roy and his trusty white steed Trigger adorning the front. He stuffed him, you know. Stop sniggering at the back, it’s true. When his four-legged friend passed on to the great pasture in the sky, Roy had him stuffed and placed in the Roy Rogers museum. I wonder if a similar thought flitted across the mind of Roy’s wife Dale when the singing cowboy joined the ranks of the ghost riders in the sky… doesn’t really bear thinking about, does it…

My mum and dad both loved music, so we had plenty of records around the house. My Aunt Catherine also had a great love of music, and, being single, a bit more in the way of disposable income so she had a pretty awesome collection mostly stored at my nana’s house, where the aforesaid Dansette also resided. My nana was another music lover, her tastes mainly being for ballad singers. She was particularly fond of Ken Dodd (he actually had a very ‘country’ style catch in his voice… ‘Tears’ showcases that to great effect. Bet you never thought I’d admit to being a bit of a Ken Dodd connoisseur, eh?) and Englebert Humperdinck, whose name she steadfastly pretended she could not pronounce. “J, would you please put that lovely Dinglebert record on.” she would ask, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and D.J. J would oblige, and then pretend to do the Last Waltz with his nana around the tiny sitting room.

That selfsame tiny sitting room (we actually always called it the living room) in a remote northern Scottish town was the scene of many Saturday afternoon rave-ups, when my sisters, cousins, nana and I would enjoy the latest discs bought by my Aunt by frugging enthusiastically around the tiny space to them before inevitably collapsing in a heap when the needle hit the run-out groove. The best collapsing in a heap record was undoubtedly ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ by Georgie Fame, where we would all re-enact the bullet-riddled end of the doomed lovers in a gloriously over the top manner which William Penn’s gore fest movie could only hint at…

Writing this the memories are coming thick and fast… working in the music business for over twenty five years had somewhat dulled my visceral reaction to music, but it’s been a long time and now with the benefit of some hindsight I can clearly recall the thrill engendered by those black circles of plastic, the differing weights, smells, some in picture sleeves, some Extended Plays (the four track E.P.’s) in their heavy laminated sleeves, like mini-albums, the band names, which seemed to precisely invoke the music lurking in the spiral groove… space rock from The Tornados, psychedelic music hall from The Kinks, the jazz tinged cool of Manfred Mann… I could go on and on and on, and I will, but… later!

As I grew older, DJ’ing took precedence over dancing, and I began to really notice the elements of a record that excited me, the beat, the bass line, the sound of the voices and instruments – particularly guitar, the melody, harmony… the best 45’s were an encapsulation of feelings that could be sadness, joy, happiness, loneliness or anything else, delivered in a sonic mélange that took you on a whirlwind rollercoaster ride of emotions, a journey that lasted from the moment the needle dropped into the vinyl until the click of the tone arm moving back into place, ready for the next one… S’cool days, indeed…

During my late teens and early twenties, on visits to Edinburgh I would frequent the ‘Hot Licks’ record shop in Cockburn Street, a very ‘studenty’ cobbled wynd near the castle. In addition to having the world’s coolest carrier bags (the Stones tongue logo) they often stocked limited copies of obscure US import singles, LP’s and other cool stuff, and it was there that I bought such essential items as copies of ‘Punk’ and ‘Trouser Press’ magazines, ‘Go Girl Crazy’ by the Dictators, ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ by Television, ‘The Summer Sun EP’ by Chris Stamey and the absolutely bonkers but truly wonderful ‘Bangkok’ by Alex Chilton. I also bought ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, Bruce Springsteen, on the day of its release from Hot Licks, and I recall how sombre and low key Bruce appeared on the sleeve, a bleary eyed leather-jacketed Al Pacino look-alike, tired and bruised from the slings and arrows that outrageous fortune had sent his way since the success of ‘Born to Run’. It very quickly became my favourite Springsteen album, and has remained in that lofty position (albeit challenged by ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Nebraska’ from time to time) until now.

The surprise challenger is the new Bruce album, ‘Working on a Dream.’ It’s his best collection of pop songs in a long time, emerging from the dark post 9-11 clouds that have weighed heavy on his last few albums, choosing instead to be funny, happy, joyous, just a little bit serious, and, for Bruce, pretty experimental with the sonic palette. In feel, it touches base with the exuberant and untrammeled early works, ‘Greetings…’ and ‘The Wild, the Innocent…’ and his recent ‘Night with the Jersey Devil’ Halloween freebie whilst also letting a great deal of very Brian Wilson style light into his arrangements, which have in the past been occasionally just a little too dense for their own good. It’s also, on occasion, as pleasingly daft as a semi-psychedelic brush. Which is also good. Very good. Try the bizarre eight-minute opening epic ‘Outlaw Pete’ (‘…at six months old he’d done three months in jail…’)or ‘Queen of the Supermarket’ with its killer pay-off line for a taster of some of the new directions (whistling and backwards guitars?) followed by The Boss…

The Other Boss, little O, has also been making his musical mark lately. Daddy finally got around to buying and putting strings onto his customized mini-guitar (with retro Cowboy illustrations… yippee-ay-yeh! The influence of a John Fogerty video makes itself felt…), so the O is now happily thrashing away and experimenting with his six-string sidekick. He seems at the moment to be partial to the Syd Barrett/Blixa Bargeld school of using various implements to modify the sonic output and of course he has a somewhat maverick approach to the niceties of tuning, but, hey, he’s only two… Hopefully he’ll soon be confident enough to pop a couple of doors up and jam with our new neighbour in Villa Domino (the very Bond-like residence which has sprung up in our street recently), who adds a wonderful dream-like ambience to our hot weekend days by sitting up on his balcony as the late afternoon sun brings a fuzzy orange glow to the surrounding buildings and tootles away on what sounds like a tenor sax. His repertoire is limited but appropriate, and it often adds just the right amount of mellow to an already laid back day…

Tuesday night A and I managed to have a quiet, civilized and entirely uninterrupted evening repast in the oasis of calm that is Commé a la Maison. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, the little O was back home, safely causing havoc with his ever patient Aunt Packdey. Dear A wisely went home after our leisurely meal, leaving yours truly to venture out again with a colleague from Laos in search of LOUD ROCK MUSIC. During the course of a lengthy evening that did indeed lead to LOUD ROCK MUSIC (namely Zeppelin Rock Bar, where Jun, who never ceases to amaze me with his musical selections, played some Rick Derringer! Yay! Then on to Memphis (bar, not city) where, fortified with copious amounts of my good friend San Miguel I assaulted the sensitive ears of the hardy few with renditions of ‘classic’ rock tunes accompanied by the house band. My head and throat really hurt the next day…) we visited the Meta House gallery where we bumped into Tim Page, the iconic war (and peace) photographer. Well, to be honest, we didn’t really ‘bump’ into him, we kind of stalked him. Tim is a patron of the organisation I work for, and on guessing he might well be in town to attend the opening of an exhibition of his work we thought we could pin him down to ask him for some favours. Ever the gentleman, he duly obliged, and we spent an hour or so chatting to him. He now feels closer than ever to finally solving the riddles surrounding the disappearance of his close friends Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, and is returning to Cambodia next week to continue his quest for the truth, with, he hopes, some resolution and closure in sight. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, but he’s a remarkable man, in many ways the Keith Richards of photojournalism, yet infinitely humble though charged with an intense inner flame, whose pictures of the mayhem and destruction wreaked by war are a frozen reminder of the insanity that humans continually perpetuate seemingly without ever learning that it is really not a good thing…

Time for a change of subject… let us muse briefly on tropical torpor. We are definitely moving into the hot season now, the temperature is rising and life is moving ever so slightly slower than it did before. Weddings are on the increase (we have been invited to three in the last two weeks) and so is the prevalence of that massively popular Khmer outdoor sport, spot squeezing. On every corner one can expect to see someone, more often than not a Tuk-Tuk or moto driver, bent in intense concentration in front of a wing mirror, squeezing and popping for all they are worth… ah, life’s small pleasures. Nose-picking, nit-picking, zit zapping, spitting, urination and spot squeezing are all publicly paraded on the thoroughfares of this fair city. Still, better out than in, as my dad used to say…
… and so the days crawl by here in the Kingdom of Cambodia, counting slowly down to the summer holidays in a lazy haze. I venture that Ray Davies would love it here, given how many Kinks songs mention either sitting, or the sun, or both… perhaps I ought to rechristen my current domicile the Kinkdom of Cambodia?

Now there’s a thought…

‘I’m just sittin’ in the midday sun
Just soaking up that currant bun
With no particular purpose or reason
Just sittin’ in the midday sun.’

‘Sitting in the Midday Sun’ The Kinks

ciao, bambinos

Hey there, little insect

As I sit here munching contentedly on a rather large bowl of Coco Pops (the more observant among you may wonder ‘ how strange, at 6 o’ clock in the evening…’, but the reason will be revealed… later!) my thoughts meander in the direction of food. I know Coco Pops are not really ‘good’ for you, but I feel they are a real comfort food. They help me to get through the feeling-sorry-for-myself times, such as now, when I am really, really missing my wonderful wife and my beautiful baby. Yes, I do have feelings and I am not ashamed to admit to them. I hope you are beginning to sniff a little, and are blinking back that tear forming in the corner of your eye. I did warn you all that things might become a little maudlin over the next week or so, so you really ought to have stocked up on the Kleenex…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, food… a colleague who had traveled to our office in Kampong Thom came back the other day with a gift for Rivann and Maly, my two female project officers here in Phnom Penh. And what did he bring… some perfume? Some silk? Some beautiful flowers?
No. He brought a bag of fried insects. Crickets, to be precise. Oh wow. However, the women were over the moon. Apparently there is something about the Kampong Thom crickets, they have that little ‘je ne sais quoi’ that sets the little fried beasties apart from the other delicacies that abound in Cambodia (chicken feet, anyone? Come on, lets not fight over the beak… tell you what, I’ll swap you two deep fried tarantulas for one duck embryo – look, it’s got little tiny feathers on its wings… yummy!) . The reality, of course, is that the ‘eat anything that crawls, swims, flies or walks – and waste no part of it’ approach is very much rooted in the poverty that still grips much of Cambodia.
Poverty is no excuse for well-fed westerners ‘though, and I have to confess that my experience of insect eating is very limited. I have accidently swallowed a couple of midges and a few flies in the UK; over here I have managed one cricket (eaten under the influence of beer), and a handful of ants (not recommended – Mowgli, don’t listen to Baloo!). I still find it a little disconcerting watching people munch away on things that most people in the west veer away from as scary and/or disgusting…
Rivann invited Maly and I for lunch today. Not really being much enamoured with the thought of snake gizzard or frog liver (do frogs have livers?) I was relieved to find we were lunching at the Paragon Centre, a shiny new(ish) shopping mall near the centre of town. It does not remind me in any way of what must be the greatest shopping experience in the world, the Paragon in Bangkok. I will blog another time on the wonders of the Bangkok Paragon. For now, let us return to its smaller and quirkier little brother, here in Phnom Penh. My $2 plate of fettuccini with stir fried vegetables and pepper pork was substantial and wholesome, and washed down with a large glass of chocolate iced coffee, which ensured that I hurtled through the afternoon with manic intensity and eyes pinned like a speedfreak. And that is why I am unable to manage any more than a bowl of CP’s tonight. Or perhaps just two bowls. Uh-oh, I can feel the steely glare emanating across the miles between from A even as I munch…

…. and I forgot to mention fish head soup… but that is a story for another time….

listenng to – ‘dancing days’ Led Zeppelin
‘roll on down the highway’ Bert Jansch

missing – my sweetheart and my little boy… so much