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

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Memory of a Free Festival

‘…the sun machine is comin’ down, and we’re gonna have a party…

Elsewhere, Phnom Penh
Friday night in Phnom Penh, a city where the live music scene has yet to show the massive blossoming that the fine arts has over the last few months. But tonight we are in ‘ waiting for a bus’ syndrome land (is this a peculiarly British way of putting this? – please ask if you don’t understand). In a city where one or two gigs a week is the norm, tonight there are at least a dozen going on. It’s the ‘fete de la musique’ , organised by the French Cultural Centre, so around many venues in town the sound of (live ) music will bring the hills alive with songs they have sung for a thousand years.
Mr R and I are intending to sample some of these audio delights, and number one highlight will of course be the punk-indie-mash-up-with-the-ramones-live at Rubies wine bar… but first… to Gasolina…

Gasolina is heaving with a crowd of beautiful people (mainly French) and their beautiful children who are behaving rather like a cross between the Lord of the Flies and the Lost Boys when we arrive. Mr R admonishes one young chap who is attempting to burn the place down by waving leaves through the flames of one of the many decorative torches burning in the grounds – he smiles at us and moves his mayhem elsewhere…
A large-ish PA is set up, and the process of sound-checking is going on. I have to say that my experience of hiring sound systems and engineers in PP has not been good, certainly in the live music arena. Generally the equipment is pretty good, but the ‘engineer’ sent along with it is simply the guy who drives the gear around from venue to venue… and so it is tonight, as we are treated to howls and squeals from the PA as the engineer continues to break so many of the cardinal rules of sound mixing that I begin to think that no, this is actually pretty good, and we are witnessing the early development of Industrial music in Cambodia (eat your hearts out, Throbbing Gristle).
Then the performance starts, and the first act are really pretty amazing. A small group of guys from Mondulkiri who have moved to PP and are camped out opposite the National Assembly to protest at their land being torn from them to make way for apparently government sanctioned ‘commercial development’. They are singing about this injustice accompanying themselves on small gongs, a hypnotic, ancient sound… then they unleash their secret weapon, the youngest member. I don’t quite know how to describe this… his voice was like a cross between a kazoo and a buzzsaw, but delivered with the pitch and tone of a castrati – simply unbelieveable. Mr R commented that Andy Kershaw would have been blown away, as we were.

After that, some Japanese drummers,powerful, physical stuff,who then conducted an impromptu workshop for the kids (saving us from immolation in the process)and also jammed with a French musical collective whose name escapes me but were also pretty good. They carried on playing on their own, bringing to mind Les Negresses Verte. We had listened, drunk and eaten, so now onto elsewhere.
‘Elsewhere’, to be precise, which was deeply surreal. A cocktail lounge jazz/soft rock trio on a huge stage with lights performing ‘no woman no cry’ to a crowd of expats and wealthy Khmer kids loungingaround an illuminated swimming pool… no, I am not making this up. We had arrived near the end of their set, so it was a quick ‘fly me to the moon’ and a ‘your love is king’ where a young woman from the crowd who really, truly, believed she was Sade locked in the body of a much larger person was hauled onstage to deliver her impersonation, just too, too surreal…so off we went in our trusty tuk-tuk to Rubies – Punk rock here we come!
Well, no. Man in pork pie hat programming random tracks from a computer over the sound system here we come. Some very good music, granted, but no thrill, no threat, no Ramones live, no punk, no style… major dissapointment of the night. Sorry.
Tuk-tuk again to the final destination for us, Talkin’ to a Sranger, where we encounter the Blue Geckos. Despite the fact that I was quite beered up by now and had christened them the Grateful Undead I really enjoyed their down-homey backporch take on things and their eclectic musical choice and delivery – anyone who plays ‘tequila’ is alright by me… thumbs up for Blue Geckos.
…and so Mr R and I said our goodbyes and staggered off in opposite directions, with the memories of a pretty good evening of music behind us (no Glastonbury, granted – but warmer, drier, at least as eclectic, and pretty funny in parts), and the promise of a good night’s sleep and a Saturday spent with the hangover from hell in front of us.. just like the old days…

listening to – Tom Petty ‘Wildflowers’ (very quietly)
missing – my wife and baby, very much.

Effect and Cause

It remains still, quiet and quite eerie in the house with A and O in the UK. Last night we Skyped, which was fantastic, so Gerry Anderson video-phonish, but it seemed to mystify the little man somewhat… when I spoke he looked out of the window into A’s folks’ garden – did he think I was hiding in the bushes…? He is so alert, fascinated and fascinating to watch. I miss him and his mummy so much. Been listening to the White Stripes new album a lot – I REALLY like it, its noisy and fuzzy and sweet and crunchy and so black and white and red all over… he plays lots of major chords too so that a musical dimwit like me can almost struggle along with them without too much trouble. The version on sale here is bootlegged off a Canadian radio show, and has snippets of a female DJ between some of the tracks, and I think it’s really good, gives it a kind of ‘the Who sell Out’ feel to it. Oh, those White Stripes…They are so good, so primal, so real that they must have made one hell of a deal with satan… in fact, you can see the evidence of that deal if you follow this link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9zgT3WzTVA

Mr R and I are going to attend an evening of punk rock tomorrow night, an event which we are eagerly anticipating. From the flyer, which depicts Patti Smith in an outtake from the Horses cover and promises an ‘indie punk mash up plus the Ramones live’ (!) we could be in for some New York New Wave (the venue owners are New Yorkers) – let’s hope so. Should I wear my skinny tie and black converse sneakers? Probably not…

A report should filter through into this blog soon – maybe even some pics, if I can remember how to get them into the editing box – I still struggle massively with the mechanics of digital wonderment – it takes a long time and a great deal of effort to get anything onto this site, believe me.

And so to bed… how loud can an I-Pod go, I wonder…

‘ yes, I can tell that we are going to be friends’