Sunday, 29 May 2011


I'm heading to Portsmouth to see the Bandstand event.
Seems someone is doing something cool and taking live music out to people for free. I hope that it'll be a success and open people's eyes and ears to how great live music can be even when not consumed at London's O2 or at an extortionate price like most of the popular festivals. Yep, i am a bit bitter and i think its a shame more people don't take a gamble on going to see live bands but who can blame them when most promoters don't put on good music, they just go for the fast buck, stick on some 17 year olds who can bring some college mates, but are pretty awful and end up putting off any kind of regular clientèle they may have been building.
The old rally cries of "Go support live music" has never really worked so i won't bother, but like a good Brit i'll have a whinge about the current state of affairs. Then, being a REALLY true Brit i'll look back in 15 years and refer to this as a 'Golden Age' and get misty eyed about it.
Have a great Sunday people.
Fill the empty venues.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Cutting out the crap.

Working on acoustic songs these last two weeks with James has really reminded me that the essence of music is rhythm and melody. I know its obvious, but when you're recording and even just tracking a quick demo you can get so bogged down by sounds, by layers and by little touches before you really have the heart of the thing written. Plus working quickly and with as few options as possible (acoustic guitars and our limited ability to play them) means that you can tell right away if an idea is working or not. So rather than go over and over and idea that might or might not be working we have managed to write six songs in two days that to me feel like some of the best Lost Souls stuff so far. Others might not agree but i like them.
The Lost Souls Club is already stripped back compared to my old band and it has helped a lot especially with my guitar playing, forcing me to become more creative and energised, but there's something about a few chords and a melody that is so simple that it either grabs you or it doesn't and i'm enjoying that immediacy right now.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

I miss White Zombie

What a band they were. Well, for one and a bit albums anyway. Astro Creep 2000: Songs of Love Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of The Electric Head has to be one of my all time favourites. As my tastes have changed i listen to it less, but i think it still holds up today as an incredible 45 minutes of music.

I remember buying this when i was 15 on a family holiday to America from a small Sam Goody's in the rocky mountains. I knew nothing of the band, but had seen an article in i think Kerrang and just loved the look and what they said so bought it without checking it out first. Actually that was how i bought most music back then, just saw that they might sound like a band i was already into and took a chance. Do people still do that? Anyway, i didn't have a CD player, but my friend who was with us did. I got about 15 minutes to myself to quickly listen and just felt like i was opening the door to another world. Before this music to me was Metallica, Van Halen, Skid Row and anything my parents listened to. Suddenly i had taken 20 steps forward in my search for musical excitement. It sounded weird, relentless, psychedelic and just plain cool. Plus they had a girl playing bass, i mean what?! back in those days it was as rare as a hereterosexual at a musical. I was in love in every possible way. I poured over the artwork in lessons at school, i learned every riff on my guitar and tried to make sense of the acid trip lyrics. I even sought out the films the samples had been taken from.

Listening back now i still think they did something no other metal band did and that was to make metal 'cool'. Now i'm not a big fan of 'cool' usually, but i didn't feel like i was in a rugby team when listening to White Zombie, i felt like i was in some massive moonshine fuelled dance around a camp fire with my hair dyed green and a light sabre in my hand. It felt inclusive.

Rob Zombie;s solo stuff just doesn't do it for me and so far no other metal band has managed to grab me in the same way and just fire my imagination. So even though my band are in a totally different genre i still try and remind myself of the lessons i learned from White Zombie and that was to take your idea to its extreme, to not dilute it and to be as weird as you like.

RIP White Zombie.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The ash cloud. Man vs. Nature.

Nature will always win. When humans think they have 'defeated nature' (which is in itself insane as we ARE nature) they have usually just done the equivalent of pluck a hair from the head of a sleeping monster. Nature, the earth and physics itself do not owe us a place in existence. Our economics, religions, timetables and well thought out sight seeing plans are mere triviality and human invention which gravity, heat, pressure and time would not recognise even if they could.

Sorry, but i get annoyed by people's outrage that somehow in our modern, western society things as mundane as the process by which our planet was shaped should get in the way of their lives. It can be shit, if i had a holiday booked and all the money went to waste i'd be bummed out, but i'd not be outraged. Apparently the owner of Ryan Air Chief Executive, Michael O'Leary is furious that planes are being grounded and has even had a plane flown over Scotland looking for the cloud. Is it not insane that we live in a world where looking out for people's safety can really piss someone off because they want to make money money money? 

I'm sure it quite there's a possibility it is safe to fly, I am no expert after all, but the sky is a big place and one little Ryan Air plane doing a quick scan over Scotland with the results then filtered through a mouthy, money hungry idiot like O'Leary does not fill me with confidence.

I'm rambling, but events like these seem to bring out the worst in human nature and i am increasingly amazed at how profit is not only something used as justification of nearly all bad behaviour by big companies, but it is a reason increasingly swallowed by regular people. 
We live on a PLANET. We ARE part of nature, not masters of it and like all living things when there is a change in the system we all have to adapt. Take a holiday in Cornwall or go spend the money on your neglected grandparents this year and let people like O'Leary work themselves up into a sweaty lather and shout at an empty room. 


Monday, 23 May 2011

Acoustic stuff, songwriting and my love of Radio 4.

James (LSC bassist) and I spent a day going through the massive back log of little acoustic ideas we have had over the last 6 months. Previously we'd write things, realise we didn't really have an outlet for them and end up shelving them to be looked at later.
Well we finally got around to 'later' and in amongst the rough i think we found a diamond. Time will tell as sometimes these things seem great "Wow, its so simple, direct and moving!", then after playing it a few times you realise that maybe the simple and moving equates to dull and cheesy.
I get asked quite a lot in interviews or just by people at gigs how I go about writing a song. Well the truth is I don't really know. I have no set method and always wonder if maybe i have written my last song. I feel like i'm totally out of ideas and can't remember how the last ones came to me and then out of the blue i'm playing guitar, humming a melody and it all just appears. The less work that's involved the better the song usually is, but sometimes it can take a while to end up with something that feels true to the feeling you're trying to convey. I like to work fast and get into a vibe in my little home studio, but i also write 90% of my lyrics whilst driving. For 2 years my car had no radio, tape player or anything to fill the silence so on long drives it gave me a chance to just think and usually i'd work through the mental backlog of little snippets i'd come up with and flesh them out to full songs. Being unprepared and having no pen in the car i'd then have to rush into the house when i got home to write down what i'd got in my head before it drifted away (songwriters, never assume you'll remember that cool chorus. You won't and if there is nothing more frustrating!). So now that i have a radio in my car i still often drive in silence to give me time with no distractions to work on lyrical ideas.

The times i'm not sat in silence driving down the M3 i'm usually listening to Radio 4. The radio station, not the band. To anyone reading this and thinking I'm old before my time then i'll accept the jibe because i really don't care. Radio 4 is great and i don't mind people knowing. You see the thing i love about it is that i learn things, about the world, about the economy, about religion, about art, about science, about history and as well as that there's really good comedy (lots of the 'cool' comedy stuff on TV started out on Radio 4). I love reading and i love to learn and often feel a little starved of it in day to day life. It is one of the few media portals that doesn't feel dumbed down and i just love to turn it on and hear people speaking properly and interesting things that i'd never even thought i'd have been interested in before. Shit, i even like Woman's Hour, its like Loose Women on ITV but on the radio and not made by idiots for idiots. So my listening tip is not a cool new band its the In Our Time show with Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4.
                                                         James working on new songs.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Jon vs. Technology

I don't like modern technology that much, but it has its uses, hence my usage of it. On a moral level is disagree with endless 'progress', yet i end up involved in the forward rush (if lagging a little, i mean i only just bought an MP3 player 4 months ago and even then its a shit one) nonetheless. My real issue with technology is that it never works. Really, never. Not for me anyway.
I have observed a particular phenomenon now a few times and it interests me. It is this: place me near a modern gizmo and it will have at the very least an 'off' day. You know what i mean, unexplained errors on computers, phones dying, no mobile signal, just endless minor frustrations.
The last two studios we have recorded in both had computer problems that occurred only when i was present. The guy who mixed the tracks (the great Sam Bell) got me over to his home studio to listen to the mixes and between checking them on his own and 5 minutes later checking them with me the computer ran out of RAM space and froze up. One of my friends has an iphone (I imagine a lot of them do, but i don't pay enough  attention to notice) and at the pub he'll say "check out this funny app" and it will without fail refuse to work. Why? I don't know, maybe computers are getting intelligent, gaining conciousness and realising that on a fundamental level I'd be happy if they didn't exist. I don't wish them gone, but i'd not mourn them either.
Does anyone else have similar experiences?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Saying goodbye to THINGS

I use Ebay and Gumtree a LOT. I buy stuff, sell stuff and browse the useful and useless when i have time to waste. What fascinates me though is that items that a totally central to your life when sold go there usually appearing blank and without history.
For example I'm sending off a Line 6 POD xt today. For the ungeeky this is a guitar FX unit that went on tour with my old band, Plastic Toys, was used to record 50% of that band's album and has been used on ever one of The Lost Souls Club demos. Si (our guitarist) now has a bigger and better one for recording with so this one is now surplus to requirement and as a struggling musician it means i have had to sell it. It leaves me with all my programmed sounds saved on it and a few scratches, but when the new guy (Ebay member Attic757) gets it i have no doubt he'll not give too much of a shit what sounds i had saved and just wipe the memory. Suddenly this device that i knew every trick in the book with, that never failed me has gone, yet it still exists. The new guy will have a similar story with it and then possibly move on or eventually leave it gathering dust.
Its the same with an old guitar I recorded the Plastic Toys album with. A 1970's Gibson SG that sounded AMAZING. Sadly I was broke, needed some leads, fuel and general band stuff to keep my life ticking so it had to go. Next time i saw it it was in the hands of Toby, the guitarist from The Duke Spirit, up there onstage in Portsmouth sharing a stage with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Its as though it was never a part of my life, yet i played it every day for 2 years and spoke about it like a best friend.
I don't really have a point, just this vague feeling that as these things pass on it seems sad to me that the stories are lost and the memories that object might trigger may never be triggered again. Just imagine what might have happened in the back seat of your car before you got it!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Photos and the art of split second timing

Doing band photos is a total necessity. Especially when you consider how much we use them to judge as I'm as guilty as the next guy of looking at a band photo and judging how good they are going to be. With that in mind we planned a (totally pressure-less) photoshoot out by this gypsy church i found whilst walking round the countryside one time.
Ok, so you get there and the sun decides to hide and then the flash that was working like a dream back in the photographer's studio is no longer working, but this is art and these difficulties can be the mother of invention. What can never be controlled is the split second between a great photo and a terrible one. You look back through the shoot and there are some pictures literally a 10th of a second apart, but one is perfect except for a blinking bassist, then the next is perfect except for a stray lock of hair over the drummer's eyes. In the world of digital it really doesn't matter as everyone just takes 2000 photos and then you can easily find something halfway decent, but it does make me wonder how they did it back in the day with film. Expensive film at that. Maybe the bands were just way better at not blinking.
Its the same with music where these seemingly meaninglessly short measures of time make the difference between a great take or one that sounds like a total amateur. Then again modern technology fixes that maybe bands in the past could all play in time for the length of a whole song AND keep their eyes open with a bright flash. And you thought Status Quo were boring fuckers right?

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Twenty THE END

23rd Jan and 24th Jan - Day twenty and twenty one
There isn’t much to say as its just two days of messing about with buses, taxis and planes trying to get back home. Somewhere over Mongolia it becomes Monday the 24th and Si wakes me up to say happy birthday, but we’re all too tired to even have a beer. We land at 5am and i get the birthday gift of our luggage not arriving, so we hang around the baggage reclaim until eventually it arrives on a later plane.

Its always odd saying bye to people you have spent 3 weeks in the very close company of; sharing beds, sharing stages, joking with them, pissing them off, laughing at them and just generally passing the time with, but that’s what we have to do and before i know it I’m on my own again, back home at midday on my birthday at the end of a pretty unique adventure.  I think of all the friends i have made, all the stories that have written themselves, all the anecdotes i could never publicly reveal, all the people we played to and all the things we have to do to make sure we get to do it again and we play even better. I think of all the miles we have covered and how i had never even thought i’d visit Asia as a tourist let alone play Vietnam and Cambodia with a band. I think about how much my back aches and how fucking exhausted i am.
I do the only thing i could convince my body to do and climbed the stairs to bed. 

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Nineteen

Jan 22nd – Day Nineteen
At 8.30am we meet in the lobby feeling a little worse for wear. I don’t even want to imagine how Lamont feels as apparently he spent the night on the floor of the bathroom claiming its tiled surface to be “really comfortable.” His unhappy little face tells me this was not his wisest decision plus he is the one in charge of money, passports and logistics for this last leg of the trip and you can see his brain moving at glacial speeds trying to compute all the information given to us as we check out of the hotel.

I won’t bore you with details of the flight from Saigon to Hanoi, but our arrival was interesting. We were told we would be meeting a man called Poo. This is what our manager had written on our itinerary and we were slightly disappointed when a guy came up to us, asked if we were The Lost Souls and introduced himself a Phu (pronounced Foo).  Phu was the promoter for the last show we were to play on this trip to Vietnam and he was to put it simply a pretty cool guy. Raised in Hanoi, but having spent years in the UK he had an amazing Vietnamese meets South London geezer accent and gave us the lowdown on life in Hanoi all the way from the airport to the hotel. The only thing was i couldn’t take it all in because i had my head encased in guitars and luggage. Phu’s car was just a small family car and we had the whole band, all our gear and all our luggage to fit in. We used every spare inch of that car but would possibly have been laughed at by being wasteful by the locals who sped past us with whole trees on the backs of their scooters as well as (animal lovers look away) a cage of about 15 lives dogs all on the back of a bike. Crazy.

Hanoi seemed so different to Saigon as well as being a lot colder. Cold enough to feel like a cold day in the UK in fact, it really did feel like we were closer to home. The people accordingly looked glummer and the whole feel was more subdued, but i’m assured the old town is amazing and full of interesting architecture and heritage sites, but on this occasion we didn’t get a chance to see it. 
Phu drops our stuff at the hotel then takes us for soundcheck right away. The venue is called Hanoi Rock City (it had to be right?) and is a newish place, but you can tell they’re working hard to build something cool here. The stage is temporary however and made of boards over scaffold meaning it wobbles a LOT and when James walks across the stage standing on one end of a plank my mic suddenly hits me in the mouth.  After re-positioning our gear to places not at the ends of planks we go with Phu to grab some street food and then go back to the venue for a few drinks before the show.
The crowd in the bar is mostly ex pats, Americans, Australians and one or two English. Probably the most English speakers we have seen in one place for nearly 3 weeks and it feels somehow alien, especially combined with the cold weather, felt due to the main bar being open air with a roaring log fire (that seems to be emitting vaguely hallucinogenic vapours due to some plastic bottles i saw thrown on) . The first support band are all ex pats, called The Props and they play a kind of punk, blues, cowboy thing that is pretty damn cool with the crowd packed into the main room. The second support band are a Vietnamese band who despite their best efforts manage to pretty much clear the room and we’re convinced our Vietnam adventure is going to finish playing to a cold empty room. We even get told by the barmaid that loads of Vietnamese kids showed up to see us but because our stage time was midnight they had to leave (even 10pm is a late night for locals here). Shit...that sucks for us and them.
Somehow though whilst im busy plugging in my pedals and leads feeling more than a little depressed the room fills up. Really, amazingly fast. One minute i’m looking at my wah wah pedal wondering if it’ll smash me in the face later if Si jumps on the wrong plank and the next there’s people pushing against the stage and a real buzz enters the room.
Right. Time to stop whining and get on with it! We waste no time between songs, just playing as many as we can and the crowd laps them up with people singing along, Vietnamese and ex-pat alike. It is trule amazing seeing people singng your songs back at you and something that i never thought about when i started playing in bands. But when faced with this love and knowledge of your creation you can't help but feel pretty overwhelmed.
Onstage i don’t usually see much of the other guys as i'm pretty much stuck facing the front singing, but during the last song i get to just play some guitar for a while and i take the chance to look round and feel a real sense of pride looking at the other lads. There they are, James, Jon and Si rocking out with the last of their energy, on a rickety stage in fucking Hanoi in fucking Vietnam in front of people half a world away singing our fucking songs with the strobes just going fucking crazy and the smoke machine on permanently and i take a mental snap shot as this is one of those incredibly rare moments that i feel like i’m totally alive and in my gang, with my friends, forging our own path making total strangers into friends and making them happy and feeling like not such a lost soul for one night. Cheesey but true. 

We saw hundreds of guys with trees on their scooters. Impressive dedication to their wives love of foliage.
Onstage @ Hanoi Rock City.
Onstage @ Hanoi Rock City.

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Eighteen

Jan 21st – Day Eighteen

I drag myself from the bed to shower in our tiny bathroom with what is possibly the least powerful water jet of all time. You know the dripping water that falls inside caves and forms stalactites? Well they would make a better, more powerful body cleaning system than this. An hour later after vaguely moistening my body I go for an interview over coffee with another Saigon local. Another scooter ride in the sweltering heat (i really am becoming an expert at this by now, i barely even have to hang on for dear life) takes us to a blissfully cool cafe and i talk about myself, the band, the UK and then ask probably too many questions about life in Vietnam.  It dawns on me how narrow and sheltered my view on life has been and i make a mental note not to ever think i know much about life and end up closing myself off to new experiences and ways of thinking. Its a cliche but sometimes we really don't realise how lucky we are. During this deep thought i get another message to my brain "Jon, this is your body and you feel fucking terrible" so  I stop with my relentless questioning and go back to the hotel. The other guys are nowhere to be found but i’m glad of a little peace and quiet and just crash out until sound check.
Today is HOT and tonight we have two shows in the same venue. One upstairs, then 15 minutes after it ends another one downstairs. I seriously wonder if i can handle it in my current state of what feels like constant drowsiness.
Well the soundcheck goes like a dream and instantly i’m restored to what feels like an at least semi concious state. I think i had just been dreading another afternoon of fighting with electricity, freak buzzes and my own lack of ability to express “less of my vocal but more of his vocal and guitar” through sign language whilst melting in the heat.
We have no plans as we expected to be at the venue all afternoon so we all go to our favourite restaurant (its called Margaritas and does the best chilli ever according to Si, but Jon and I opt for the Vietnamese food everytime with James almost certainly getting either chicken or spaghetti bolognese. Unfamiliar food scares the poor boy) and plan our set(s) for the evening.
The first goes without hitch, but the vibe is lacking with the audience mostly made up of businessmen it seems on some kind of afterwork outing. Still, i thought we played really well and on a personal note i thought i sang Come Home better than i ever had done in the past, not that anyone really gives a shit. We had also all sweated so much we looked like we’d jumped into the shower in our clothes, well a poper shower, not the one i have that has a drip every 30 seconds that evaporates before hitting my rancid body, but we still had another set to do. So we pack up, lug our gear downstairs and wait for the seriously foxy Filipino girls onstage to finish their set.
Hanging out in Seventeen the toilets. Classy boys.
This kind of mix and match just doesn’t happen in the UK but the audience seem to love it here. No sooner are they done than we’re set up, ready to go and the soundman is on it quick as a flash telling us to get going. We bash into “Your Children Are Safe With Us” and see the audience loosen up and start having some fun. This is more like it! However confusing us with a covers band a Japanese tourist calls me to the side of the stage after the first song and presses a request slip into my hand with “U2 – With Or Without You , or November Rain” written on it. I say something stupid that was supposed to be funny and thankfully Jon (Lamont) covers up the tumble weed silence with a drum fill and we plough through to Romeo with the crowd seeming to love us despite not playing one song they knew, something that i think is anathema in small clubs here. Taking a leaf from the Filipino girl’s book i played the end of the song stood on the bar and just hoped i’d not mis judged the jump back to the stage. Buddah however was smiling on me tonight and actually running with sweat i landed on both feet back on the stage and we ended our Saigon adventure with a good blast of feedback and noise (self oscillating Ibanez DE-7 delay pedal screams for the guitar geeks who read this.)
The owner of the bar took no notice of the fact we had a flight at 9am the next day and plied us with whisky, beer and vodka until we could handle no more. The barmaids went photo crazy and seemed to come up with 100 different ways to take photos of us looking breathless, sweaty, pale and just downright British. I hope they got the shot they were after. As soon as it lookedl ike we'd got about halfway through the alcohol provided the owner would call for more and we set about trying to get it drunk quickly whilst protesting we just could not have more. We think it is rude to not have free drinks and he thinks it is rude if he doesn't provide and access so an East meets West culture divide results is us being seriously drunk and done way later than expected.

We stagger up the stairs to the rooms knowing tomorrow morning’s early rise is going to be seriously hard, but without sounding too cheesy we’re all really buzzing from ending the Ho Chi Minh trip on such a high note. Just Hanoi to go.

Post gig posing
Here with the bar owner and Huong our ever faithful companion, translator and PR guru.
Seventeen Saloon barmaids take our cameras and get photo after photo after photo. We really didn't mind too much.
Lots of drunken eyes here.
With the owner on one of the stages.
Saying goodbye to Van and Yen who'd helped make out time in Ho Chi Minh a little scarier with lifts on their scooters.

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Seventeen

Jan 20th – Day Seventeen
I’m up early, i read, i call home, i change some money, i hand out a few fliers and by 11am i have run out of things to do. Luckily i get a call to go meet Linh from the night before and end up on my second scooter in 12 hours and already feel like i’m getting the hang of looking inconspicuous and relaxed whilst perched behind a tiny girl about half my height shooting through the morning rush hour (its always rush hour by the way). Over a Vietnamese breakfast i learn about normal life here in Ho Chi Minh, how the system can work for some, but for others who don’t fit a demographic it can be disastrous.  I also discover that selling food on the street is apparently illegal which surprised me seeing as you can buy just about any food you want every 5 metres along the pavement 24 hours a day.
Eventually i meet the other guys again and we go to the venue (Vasco's bar) for soundcheck, meeting the Goober Gun boys there. (Goober Gun are another UK band over in Asia on tour). The soundcheck is more than a little fraught with some interesting decisions from the soundman as well as a few electric shocks on the mouth for Si whose mic seems to be the power source for the whole PA. After a while things seems to steady out and we’re used to soundcheck Asian style by now and just let it ride. What happens happens.
In the end the gig is great and i’m touched to see a lot of the local characters we have met over the last 2 weeks dancing on the side of the stage. Si’s guitar goes into meltdown again so i play Hurt by NIN to cover the silence, but other than that everything went to plan and the Goober Gun crew entertain the sweatily packed room too.
Too much sun, too little water and too little sleep is catching up with me though and i bow out of late night festivities leaving Jon (Lamont) in charge of shenanigans for the evening.

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Sixteen

Jan 19th – Day Sixteen
The band seem subdued. This inactivity and constant heat is sapping our energy and i feel some kind of ‘band leader’ impulse kick in to try and get a little buzz back into everyone, but after all my best jokes, anecdotes and general chit chat we eat breakfast/lunch then go back to the relative cool of the hotel where James amplifies the mood with a little blues playing on my guitar. I try to join in on my harmonica, but i’m still not happy with how i’m playing it so vow to practise more in private when i get back to the UK.
I rarely sleep in the day, but i manage a short nap during which i have a disturbing dream. A friend has a baby with his wife, then soon after the wife dies leaving just my friend and his tiny baby. I go to him feeling inadequate but make a feeble offer of help. He just looks at me and says “I thought i knew what it was to be alone, but you never feel truly alone until there are two of you.” I woke up feeling that some kind of wise words had arrived from my sub conscious to the effect that lonliness is amplified by sole responsibility. Less snappy, romantic and sexy than the line in my dream but also more easily understood i think. Feel free to quote me.
We go for a meal and drinks with some Vietnamese friends and I end up on the back of a scooter with our friend Yen driving through the rush hour traffic. I have been more relaxed but actually its somehow less crazy seeming from this angle than it is a pedestrian, but i still get a few moments of fear when she turns almost fully round to face me and say “are you ok?!” totally ignoring the oncoming traffic.
We play some pool which i'm proud to say i won with the help of Van and much to Si's dislike. After being hassled off the table by some Germans we meet Goober Gun, a band with close ties to us who are also on tour in Asia (they just did 10 dates in China) and swap gig stories. Its great to meet another band who have been out here longer than us and they give us some great advice and we talk about what the show might be like tomorrow night that we’re doing with them.

2011 Asian Tour - Entry Fifteen

Jan 18th – Day Fifteen

Wake up feeling pretty bummed out after a weird end to last night’s fun. I’m sharing a room with Si and he switches on the hotel room tv to HBO. I don’t have such fancy channels at home so always end up seeing more films whilst travelling than i do at home. Today i get a real treat, but it is also thoroughly depressing. The film is called Sin Nombre and is a Spanish language, subtitled film about a kid wanting to leave his Mexican gang alongside a story of a family travelling up through Mexico to sneak illegally into the USA.  On paper i admit it sounds like a bit of a boys film, but as anyone who knows me will know i am not a ‘boys film’ kinda guy and thought this particular film was excellent. Go see (watch online for free you bad people) it.
Dwelling on some rather dark thoughts we finally get out of our stinking hot hotel room and grab some lunch at around 2pm before meeting Houng, our newly acquired friend, guide and PR girl. She helps us out with getting Si’s guitar to a repair man and with the minimum of sign language and worry we agree to pick it up tomorrow.
After a little bumming around i get a phone call from someone at the company who’d done promo for the Tiger Beer shows. Seems i’m invited to a glitzy fashion show and Cognac promotion night. Interesting.
I put on my least dirty shirt, wear my one pair of scuffed shoes and hope that i don’t embarrass my ‘date’ for the evening.
To my horror we pull up to a swish hotel that has seriously perfect looking Vietnamese models handing out bags of make-up to the impeccably dressed guests. Shit, i feel pretty out of place, but go with the ‘smile and pretend its all fine’ approach and amazingly it seems to work. I get a few free Martell Cognacs down my neck (REALLY good drink and they serve it iced here) chat to some Asian celebrities, smile when asked to by the official photographer and breathe a small sigh of relief when the event winds down and i can relax again. I had a great time, but it makes me think that these glitzy dos you see certain public figures at 24/7 must be pretty a dull and just plain uncomfortable way to spend every evening. Still, if you make your living just by looking good in the ‘right’ places i guess it is what has to be done.  For me it was an experience and i’m glad i got invited, thank you unnamed person. 

Walking through Saigon's back streets
James and Houng

2011 Asian Tour - Entry 14 - Stephen Fry and hookers get a mention.

Jan 17th – Day Fourteen
All this time off is driving us just a little stir crazy especially when combined with the heat. James and Jon (Lamont) got lucky with the room they were given as their air conditioning works. Mine and Si’s on the other hand is a different story. Either a tiny vent that blasts ice cold air in a focus a laser would be proud of right onto Si’s feet when he’s sleeping in his (unmoveable, yes we thought of that)  bed, or a fan that is loud enough to wake up everyone in the hotel, let alone us sleeping beneath it. Still, we’re out the sunshine that us pastey English boys can’t handle and we have a place to sleep, to shower and to eat so what’s to complain about?

Eventually Si manages to get to sleep, but i can never sleep once the sun is up so just read and write this diary instead. The book i’m reading now is the recent Stephen Fry autobiography, which isn’t bad, but not something i’d recommend. I thought of Mr Fry as an interesting, slightly awkward character who is painfully aware of how mis placed his quirky personality and traits are in the modern world and this book does nothing to change that view, however it is just TOO self conscious. Anytime you write, especially about yourself it leaves you open for self analysis and to feel anguish over how feeble your efforts feel compared to people you admire, but he goes out of his way just too often to point out how out of place he is, how sad he feels and how difficult it all is. Stephen, we get the point, you consider yourself a big, ugly gay who can’t connect with people because he’s too busy being all articulate and clever. Ok, we understand, now just get on with it.
Jon's bed.
We stopped in the street to take a dumb tourist shot with this guy, then it turned out he'd seen us at the previous show and was a fan.
Just as i write these notes i hear Si make a kind of chuckle is his sleep which is odd, but also makes me regard him for a moment in comparison to Fry. For all Mr Fry’s complaining how would he feel being in a totally different body and life? That of a small-ish, heterosexual (most days), beardy man who plays guitar in a rock band, has Transformers tattoos and is currently having one square inch of his left foot in danger of developing frost bite as the super focussed jet of freezing air burrows into his skin. I didn’t get too far with this thought as i realised i got a call from our manager. He tells me that the show we’re to do at Seventeen Saloon is to be two sets of 45 minutes straight after eachother, first on the top floor, then on the ground floor. We might get to play the same songs, we might not. Fuck, if we don’t get to double up we’re screwed.

In the evening after a day of being lazy we get dinner then go for drinks making news friends and bumping into a few familiar faces. Eventually we head back to the hotel about 2am but decide on one last beer at the bar right next door. There’s 8 local girls sat on the tables outside and that’s all so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what kind of joint this might be. Being the non-judgemental types we hang out, make it pretty clear right away we’re not here for business and end up having one of the most interesting nights (in my opinion) of our trip. The girl who speaks the best English is Ut, which basically means “Baby”, usually used as “Baby of the family”, i can’t describe how this simple two letter word is pronounced, but it requires kinda puffing your cheeks out and making a cute surprised sound. We all play some Vietnamese hacky sack in the road with the girls and then James mentions he has a saw jaw (i have no idea why) and Ut can’t be dissuaded from massaging his face much to James’ horror. He might be one of the coolest customers i know, but in the end the guy is British and has a stiff upper lip reserve that just does not know how to handle such situations. Obviously Jon and i take photos of his discomfort.
James' face massage

Eventually a fat 30 something Aussie guy show up with a bottle of vodka and all the girls but Ut crowd round him. Its his last night in Saigon and he wants to go out with a bang (bang) and it seems he has been lying to one of the girls saying he’ll marry her and take her out the country. He forces the girls to drink shot after shot, then suddenly rounds them ALL up to take off for business. Ut goes too and after talking for a few hours about life in Vietnam, families, politics, football and music it hits home that this really cool girl through no fault of her own has to head off with Mr Fatfuck. I know i’m naive and shouldn’t be surprised, but i go to bed depressed knowing something is not right with the world and wonder what Mr Fry might have made of it if he’d been born into Ut’s position. 

This is how you pronounce 'Ut'.

2011 Asian Tour - Entry 13

Jan 16th – Day Thirteen
A day of travel lies ahead. Through the ‘Malaria Zone’ no less. We have been taking anti malaria tablets for a few days to build up resistance  so we don’t get sick on this leg of the journey which is a bus trip from Phom Penh, Cambodia  back to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Our manager has done this trip before and said it was pretty gruelling so with a few sore heads and the prospect of mossies we’re not looking forward to it. Even more worrying is we now have a new leader. Our manager, Mark and his beautiful assistant, Rob have to head back to the UK to take care of other business so from here on in we’re on our own. So Jon (Lamont) has been handed to responsibility of looking after our itinerary, our tickets and our money. Lucky boy.
Mark is prone to being overly emotional in almost any given situation, one of the reasons we love him, and true to form we see a moist eye as we pull out of the bus station.
On the road between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh
On the road between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh
Crossing the water on a chain ferry.
On the road between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh

The bus plays Camdodian karaoke songs for the entire journey at an uncomfortable volume and with a fuzzy picture on the screen. The road is exactly as i had been told, busy, bumpy and with suicidal scooter riders all over the place. I settle down to an audio book, this time “Animal Farm” by George Orwell and the time passes quickly. It is a book i always intended to read as 1984 is a big favourite, but somehow i never got round to it. Well it is excellent. Like 1984 it is political in nature and has issues more relevant today than ever, but it is also a damn good story. That is the genius of George Orwell, he keeps you reading (listening) and it doesn’t feel like a chore which some worthy political books can. 
Suddenly the bus brakes hard and everyone is thrown forward. I look up to see a pig running across the road and spmehow we miss it by inches (similar to centimetres kids).
Eventually we hit the Vietnamese border unscathed and after miles of emptiness its odd to suddenly see a few big hotels and casions. there's literally nothing else here so i guess some western people come here and just stay in their hotels gambling. 'Fun' At the border we have to get off the bus, lug our gear and cases into the border control, then back on the bus, then off again to get our visas stamped. The whole thing takes about 2 hours and seems chaotic, but eventually as the sun goes down we start getting back into Ho Chi Ming City and amazingly the last sentence of my book is read 2 mins before we pull up in the red light district.
We have a local promoter here who is putting on a couple of shows and is arranging our accommodation and we look forward to seeing what is on offer this time. So far it has been luxury like none of us have seen before at every stop, but this time shit gets real and we are on the 5th floor (no lift) of a back packer hotel right in the heart of the seediest area in town. We spend as little time in the rooms as possible and head out to get some food before bumping into some models we met the first time we were here who’re working in and around Vietnam. Beers are sunk (Saigon beer is the cheapest and best here), pool is played (its free but watch out for Germans hogging the table like its a sun lounger on the Spanish coast) and hookers are dodged (don’t ask). A classic Ho Chi Minh City night. 

Hotel casino in the middle of nowhere.
Big stone butt guarding the border.