tons of sobs

Free were a truly great band, were they not? In the field of contemporary rock music (sound of large plug of partially-chewed tobacco being expectorated into highly resonant spitoon) we have become so used to digital sound and production with its exaggerated top end frequencies and the tendency of producers to strive for the totally polished and unreal sound that we have forgotten that the best music is often made from several people in a room playing off one another, circling each other like predatory cats planning the kill… and when it comes together… yes!
Free were the masters of space – not space the final frontier, but space the… well, space the space between us all. Absolute epitome of the oft quoted dictum, it’s not what ya play, it’s what ya don’t play, they knew when to lean back and simply let the atoms and molecules hum along. When in the yUK I bought the soundtrack to ‘Life on Mars’, which contains a more than fair smattering of classic 70’s tracks. Of course they are remastered, which means that every cymbal ping slices the eardrum like a Mach 3 Turbo Extra Plus Superglide or-whatever-the-hell-it-is slashes through the morning stubble (legs or face, whatever fits the bill, ladies or gents), but the sheer quality of the source material transcends the modern Frankenstein studio mangling. Sitting in amongst the many gems (Lindisfarne – ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ – more genuine warmth than your grannie’s hotplate when she was making griddle (or, as we used to say in Caithness, girdle) scones) is ‘Little Bit of Love’ by Free. Critics say that Free were past their best by then, but Pshaw! What do critics know? Get a hold of it (preferably on vinyl) and listen… listen to the sound of mastery of space – every note counts, every note in its right place… and Andy Fraser… he’s up there with the Jack Bruce’s, Paul McCartney’s and Raymond Henderson’s of this world – what a bass player! Most of the track HE DOES NOT EVEN PLAY! I’m even inclined to forgive Paul Rogers for hanging out with Queen and Paul Kossof for dying young. Simon Kirke’s drumming has that lazy 60’s just behind the beat feel down pat (and this was the 70’s, natch!), someone (probably Rabbit) remembers to occasionally hit a piano in the same key and the whole earmelting liquid gold that oozes from the speakers just wants to make me rush out into the street wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ T-shirt and a pair of frayed 28-inch bottom loon pants. Yeah!

(but what would the monks say…)

I’m going through a re-evaluation of who and where I am musically (don’t worry world, this is only taking place inside my own head) – I was astonished the other night when Otis (7 months and crawling/standing now – look out civilisation, your end is nigh!) and I were watching the Cream reunion DVD – what an exciting life we expats lead! – he sat absolutely transfixed by 7 minutes or so of Ginger Baker’s drum solo… something I confess I find slightly hard to do even now… but sometimes, as the Byrds say, it’s really worth Goin’ Back…
regular readers can probably expect to find more of this ‘pointless nostalgia’ in the weeks and months to come, but for now, well, you’ll have to excuse me for a few minutes (or one side of an LP) for I feel a psychedelic twelve-bar improvisation coming on…

Things to set the scene:

Cheesecloth Shirt
denim loons
army/navy greatcoat
patchouli oil
pewter pendant
t-shirt with scoop neck and bell sleeves, with mushroom print
afghan jacket

all the above could be purchased at Lorna Humphries wee hippy shop, next to George Downie’s, High street, Thurso… but only in the 70’s…

soundtrack… Bodie and Leo and Paranoya (those who know will know…)

more next time, maybe…

‘…for what it’s worth’

Not too long to go now before I return to the yUK and can be reunited with my wonderful wife and baby. Counting tonight it’s five sleeps before touching down in the waterlogged land of the smoke free and the home of the terrorist attack…

We talked by videophone tonight, and Oti was doing his best James Bond villain impersonation, trying to ensure that the secret programme that would ensure world domination for his organization BABIGRO (Bad-Ass Babies International Group Run by Otis) was going to be downloaded by hammering the keyboard and pulling any cable that came within his grasp. He’s getting so grown up now, and I just know (and really look forward to) how much of a handful he’s going to be. He’s inquisitive, searching, intelligent and just so, so wonderful, and I’m allowed to gush, ‘cos I’m his dad. So there

From a distance, Britain seems to get more like a bad movie every day. Maybe we will end up in a Kevin Costner movie, some crazy cross between The Postman and Waterworld (and we know how successful they were, don’t we folks…). One thing is for sure; it won’t be Field of Dreams. I have to confess to being a sucker for those kind of aw-gee-shucks small-town America movies, where the decent folks go through their trials and tribulations and then come out with dignity intact and a little bit more respect in their community. You know what I mean, don’t you, that kind of Bradbury-ish evocation of long hot summers, crisp frosty winters and white picket fences that permeate It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St Louis, The Best Years of Our Lives, A Summer Place, Edward Scissorhands, Blue Velvet… you do know what I mean, don’t you…?

I’d like to meet David Lynch. The world needs more seething geniuses like him and Tim Burton to be making movies. Terry Gilliam is another. They don’t really know what they do, they are just driven to do it and get on with it and more often than not get it absolutely right. When they were children they probably stayed up all night watching The Outer Limits, as I am doing at the moment (albeit en Francais – as I said before, ‘pretentious? Moi?’). The direction, scripts, acting, production values are just so damned good, the special effects for the most part astonishing, it’s like a masterclass in television chiller thrillers. And it really is still very, very creepy…

The other thing I am really pleased about is that I bought (for a dollar, I’m such a cheapskate) a fantastic DVD made by Jonathan Demme called Heart of Gold. It’s a documentary about the premiere of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind album (do we still call them albums? I’m sorry I’m not up on the current parlance in the recorded music field) and it reveals the gurny old curmudgeon in a completely new light (to me). He is witty, charming, likeable, frank, emotional and in extremely fine voice all the way through, and aided by his grizzly old band members, some of whom, like Ben Keith, go all the way back to the Stray Gators of the Harvest era, the sound they produce is like milk and honey and warm fires, liquid warmth for the soul. Emmylou Harris is there also, and the amazing Spooner Oldham. They all just exude good vibes, there is no other way to put it, and it’s like all the hippy ‘peace and love, man’ stuff was actually all worth it. I’m sure it will be out for hire in the yUK, so slip on that ole bandana and get down to Blockbuster or Hellraiser or whatever those DVD stores are called and have an evening in front of the box with uncle Neil. Just so’s you don’t get into too much of a mellow vibe, I’d also recommend waiting until a few minutes after the credits have rolled (especially as they roll over a great acoustic version of The Old Laughing Lady) and then get on the internet and go here…

…and enjoy!!

‘Tonight’s blog was a public service announcement from your Khmer correspondent, BBC World Service.’
(sound of coins falling into metal cup)
‘Thank You. Goodnight.”

Listening to – the rhythm of the falling rain

Watching – the skies

Missing – my babies

ha! ha! said the clown

The house feels very strange now that Ani and Otis have gone to the UK…I myself feel like a ghost haunting its corridors, a spectral presence in an empty shell where the laughter of a woman and a child still echoes in the walls like a siren song… there, I hope that has given you just a little bit of a chill.

I was thinking today about some of my favourite authors when I was a younger chap, and I confess that most of them were of a strangely morbid bent. Edgar Allen Poe – he was a dark soul. H P Lovecraft – so influential they named a (dark and mysterious) sauce after him. William Hope Hodgson (go on, look him up. Read ‘ The House on the Borderland’. Very sinister.), but my all time literary hero award would have to go to… I’ll tell you later.

At lunchtime today the reading matter in the White Room (don’t ask, it’s a man thing) was Edward Lear’s ‘complete book of nonsense’, which I had bought ostensibly to entertain the little O but obviously subconsciously was also to entertain me. It’s wonderful, whimsical, very Victorian and just plain nonsensical. People like Lear and Lewis Carroll were intellectuals who had a deep streak of fractious foolishness coursing the strata of their intelligence, and the sceptred isles have thrown up many other wonderfully eccentric persons of puckish singularity whose work is a joyous celebration of the silly, though often with a soupcon of the sinister to offset the whimsy…

‘There ought to be a monument
erected in the land
to purveyors of fine nonsense
very stately, very grand
perhaps made out of custard, enclosed within a sock
and mounted on a plinth
composed of sugar rock
wherein the silly roll-call
of names would be engraved
of the mighty and the mirthful
whom our lives had better made –
stand up Milligan! Come here Sir,
Carroll, Lear and Cutler too
Messrs Sellers, Bentine, Secombe,
Mr Drake and Clitheroe (who?)
Mr James and Mr Hancock
Form a line around the back
Cleese and Gilliam and Idle,
Palin (leave your haversack),
Mr Stanshall, Mr Innes, yes,
Mr Barrett (with guitar)
Bring us, sir, a bigger rock now
As these names go on so far…’

Those lines above, extracted from an epic by another purveyor of pulchritudinous prose, Mr Skip Cormack, say things much more eloquently than I can. We should never forget the child within us, and the work of the above (and more) still has the unerring power to bring out the
‘ starry-eyed in wonder’ child in me…

… and my literary hero? Well, heroes really. A tie, between Robert Louis Stevenson (who also found time to say some lovely things about Wick) and Ray Bradbury…

‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…’

listening to – White Stripes ‘Icky Thump’
Guided by Voices ‘Under the bushes, Under the stars’
Traffic ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’

Reading – nonsense

Lonely Planet Boy

So it was Otis’ blessing and naming party on Saturday, and things went really well, I’m happy (and very relieved) to say. Friends, colleagues, monks, Chapei players – all showed up and played their important roles in what was a really wonderful day and one that I’m sure Otis will appreciate and marvel at when he looks back at the record of events that we made for him (book, video, photos – he’s one of the most heavily documented people on earth, I fear). The weather stayed dry, with, as Eric Olthwaite might say, the only precipitation occuring indoors – from the monks when they blessed him with water – he looked slightly startled for a moment, then very surprised when it then started raining not just water but also Jasmine flowers and sweets…) The food was excellent and plentiful, the mood was relaxed and happy and young Otis was looking particularly fetching in blue (accessorized at the party by flowers from the MAG ladies, who were queuing up to pose with him!) and behaved himself pretty much immaculately all day. He had not poo-poo-ed for nearly a week, so we had visions of apocalyptic floods of liquid slurry sweeping all before them as the little O decided to evacuate his bowels either at the blessing or the party, but no, bless him, he saved it all for Sunday…

I take back my comments in the last blog entry – the Chapei player, Master Pe, was an absolute gentleman and absolutely brilliant. I have to confess to leading you all astray when I said it was a 2-stringed instrument – it’s actually 3 strings, 2 of which are drones. The blind master had us all spellbound with his technique and the immense humor in his delivery – I have to thank Mr. Chhourn for translating ‘on the run’ for me. It was very humbling to be in the presence of a master musician, one who has been taught by ear, who has no concept of the formal structures we impose on music, yet who is so inherently musical.


The blessing was held in our house, and again I found it to be very profound and moving. When the monks began to chant I found myself flowing with the sound and becoming lost within it (no, I had not drunk any alcohol at this point). I am so pleased we decided to hold a celebration that brought the two cultures together in such a way to celebrate our wonderful little son, and we were so pleased that everyone said how much they had enjoyed the day. Happiness flowed as freely as the Asahi, all had more than enough to eat and drink, and the day ended with a philosophical argument (discussion?) between Uncle Dave, myself and Anita on radical feminism, which Anita won on points. Well, OK, she won on a TKO. Oh alright then, she wiped the floor with us, chewed us up and spat us out into the corner….


My beautiful (and long-suffering – you try living with me…!) wife and my beautiful little boy are en route to the UK as I write this, so you can expect the next few week’s postings to be maudlin, moping and full of self-pity (‘so what’s different?’, I’m sure you all ask) until I can  jet off to join them. I have been given a box set of ‘Heroes’ for father’s day from Otis, so I have plenty to keep me occupied until joining them in three weeks. Once I have ploughed through that I shall also probably revert to some serious watching of Cambodian television, which believe me is an unbounded joy and one that I feel I ought to share my musings on with the world… lets hide behind a tree, he said, enigmatically… maybe the next few postings won’t be quite so maudlin after all…


Listening to – Telegram Sam (T.Rex), Claire de Lune (Debussy) and Curtis Mayfield Anthology

Reading – the Coco Pops box

Favourite phrase or saying of the moment – ‘Pretentious? Moi?’ 



making plans for nigel

– or to be more precise, Otis. We are holding a naming ceremony for the little boss on Saturday, and as usual there has been a great deal of last minute running around and tearing out of what little hair remains in order to ensure a good do. Along the way I have learned many things, including a) you can actually buy a Monk’s Gift Pack. Yes. Don’t snigger. For $5 at the market, containing all those Monkly essentials – Saffron robe, flip-flops, toothpaste and brush, etc, etc. It’s a bit worrying that the likes of me could (and quite possibly will ) stoop to Monk impersonation if the whim takes me… you have been warned. But we have been advised that a six-pack of Asahi and some chewin’ baccy are not entirely suitable thank-you’s for the holy gentlemen who will conduct the formal ceremony, whereas a couple of Monk Gift Packs will go down a treat…

b) musicians are ALL ornery cusses. We’ve had a little trouble in negotiating a musician to perform at the ceremony and party following it – we sent a Khmer friend to do the negotiation and the poor man has been run ragged by the effort of trying to get a straight answer from our second choice (our first choice has gone to the provinces to have his long neck fixed. His chapei (long neck guitar-type thing), that is). We really want this guy, as the chapei tradition is fantastic. It’s an oral tradition, stories passed down for centuries but adapted to give a modern twist or incorporate stories about the person that the musician is playing for, accompanied on a long neck 2-string guitar, the chapei dang weng. It’s a bit like rapping over bluesy licks, spirited and hypnotic. 1st choice, blind master Kung Nai is off getting his axe fixed, so our 2nd choice is one of his younger proteges, master Pe. Not just a master musician our Pe, but a master businessman also… negotiations continue, but hope springs eternal (if not, there’s always Scary Uncle…)

c)don’t do this again – well, no, to tell the truth many people are helping, especially our Khmer and volunteer friends (thank you!), and it is going to be a grand day. We’re having it in a French owned salsa bar called Gasolina this Saturday, so if you happen to be there please be generous to the elderly albino monk with the very hairy legs, spectacles and slight Scottish accent, and don’t tell anyone if you see him swigging from a can of Asahi, as the heat can play funny tricks with your mind…
‘…we only want what’s best for him…’ (XTC)
‘evening all’ (Jack Dixon)

sunny afternoon

it’s been another hot and sunny afternoon in Phnom Penh, and a good few days since my last post, but there are many, many reasons for that… it’s now early evening, and near the Wat at the end of our road, about 100 metres away, a birthday party is in full swing. A small-scale event, but like any good Cambodian celebration it is soundtracked by a band playing through a massive bass-heavy sound system that rattles our windows and rumbles low frequencies through our ribcages, but seems to have worked wonders in helping little Otis drift off to sleep. We’ve just heard a frenetic jungle version of ‘happy birthday’ with Ray Manzarek on keyboards and before that there was a love song which pitched slow, traditional female vocals against a scratchy rock-steady ska rhythm guitar, cajun-style accordion and a huge dub bass sound… I dont know what it’s called, but it’s delicious hot, and I’m sure it’s disgusting cold…

We’ve had a few heavy days (weeks!) one way or another, and these last few days have been trying to help some young friends through some pretty tough times, and it’s taking it’s toll on us quite a bit. We’re fairly exhausted by everything and looking forward to holidays so much. I didn’t get around to doing anything creatively exciting with Otis on Saturday last, so no ‘Hatboy’ style surprises this time…maybe this coming weekend. We’re planning his naming ceremony at the moment, and we have a really amazing musician lined up to perform (which I will keep all in suspense about for the time being until he’s confirmed with us) so that’s something exciting to look forward to. I’m going off now to wrap some end of term presents for A’s staff and then I too will hit the sack and break on through to the other side to the accompaniment of 5,000 watts of Khmer traditional-world-music-hip-hop-power-pop-reggae-ska-garage-r’n’b-psychedelic-punk-disco music…
sleep tight 

good morning good morning

its early morning here in Phnom Penh, and as mummy Ani gets some well-deserved rest, baby Otis and dad are planning what wickedness they can get up to today. Last week Otis became his alter-ego ‘Hatboy’ (click on the PDF for the full story)theamazinghatboy , the boy with the amazing collection of hats yet only one facial expression – this week… who knows? The day is young, the memory cards not yet full and Robbie the wind-up robot looks as if he would like to get involved in a little ceative madness…

watch this (lost in) space…
‘…and what exactly is a joke?’ (Jugband Blues)