Wednesday, November 10, 2010

on sabbatical.  for a while. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Catching up: 6 - 24 October 2010

Your correspondent has been in some kind of sabbatical mood for a couple of weeks, but just wants to note a few exciting developments and events that have taken place recently.

The first is the sudden appearance (at Setsara Sessions just before Pchum Ben) of the cool gypsy jazz duo Balgass (Seb and Deb), who walked out of the night and into the open mic and were quickly snapped up by clever bar managers all over the city.  They have since played Equinox, Chinese House and Paddy Rice, making a particular impact at Equinox on Thursday nights providing live music for swing dancing; they also picked up a bass player along the way.  They are only here for a limited time so catch them if you can.

Also on the list are the Eastern Jazz Brigade - a crowd of faces familiar to PP music fans -- who have been pumping out some inspired post-bop jazz at places like Gasolina, Equinox and Le Jardin, and soon at Chinese House.

I also want to note the return of the Mekong Pirates after a four-month absence (some of which has been taken up working on a CD - check out for a technically dense but humorous and rewarding story of the difficulties encountered in trying to overcome Cambodian recording conditions).  They played Chinese House last weekend and rocked.  I  particularly enjoyed the new cohesion in the guitar section, with some great wah-wah noise sneaking its way into the sonic mosaic. 

The Cambodian Space Project has continued to be involved in some interesting gigs, notably two gigs at the Chinese House, first as part of the Kon Khmer Kuon Khmer Golden Era of Cinema weekend, and then a mighty night to launch our 45 rpm vinyl single, Knyom Mon Sok Jet Te.  We were able to invite some of the great musicians of the vinyl era who put on a wonderful performance.  Some of the excitement was captured by Andy Brouwer.   The CSP was also involved in the Cambodian International Film Festival, surviving some spectacularly poor organisation by the events company involved to play briefly at the opening on Wednesday night and then after the closing on Sunday night outside Chaktomuk Theatre.   

See you soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Jams, boats, buses and birthday parties: 23 September - 2 October 2010

I got kind of distracted and suddenly I’m a week behind in updates. Way back last week I went to the Electric Eclectic Limelight Jukebox Jam at Paddy Rice, hosted by Melanie, where a variety of performers signed up and took part in a subdued setting – the venue is a difficult one for performers as there are a lot of hard surfaces leading to not particularly great acoustics, and rather too many televisions for a place putting on live music. Melanie was assisted by Paul and Gem, and I threw in a couple myself for a small but enthusiastic audience.

On Friday night the Cambodian Space Project went aquatic, playing for a birthday party on a boat on the Tonle Sap, then Saturday night played Paddy Rice for a large and liquid crowd. I made it for the second set, having with the Swedish Ambassador re-launched D’Sco: The Geckos of Love as Pswingology, playing for the swing dancing group Phnom Penh Pswings’ night at Chinese House, as part of their big swing weekend. Noteworthy was the return of the medley sickness, that manifested itself in a 12 minute 12-bar marathon that almost caused soft tissue damage in those dancers who insisted on trying to keep up.

The highlight of the weekend, though, was the CSP’s trip to Khlaeng Poar Tboung, the village in Kampong Speu that is home to our fabulous drummer Bong Sak. I don’t think I can put it better than Andy Brouwer did … and re the Paddy Rice gig, and ongoing sound problems – yes, we are working on it.

And then suddenly another week was underway, back at the Phnom Penh Acoustic Sessions at Setsara on Wednesday night. This was a particularly special night because we were able to veer away from the white-guys-singing-in-English (lovely though we all are)(and not ignoring the gorgeous French contributions we get) format by having a series of fantastic Khmer performers, including local music veterans and staff from the Top Banana. I confidently predict we will one night have the next Sinn Sisamouth emerging from the crowd of motodops waiting patiently outside. The mix of people taking part is inspiring in a city that still is largely segregated in terms of performance. But perhaps I’m just going to the wrong places.

And finally I come to last night, Rory’s birthday party at Maxine’s (aka Snow’s), where a great crowd came out to dance in the newly expanded space (more dancefloor) and, thanks to a new piece of equipment, actually hear Srey Thy’s voice over the chaos.  There are still a few kinks to work out, but progress is being made. Rory and his mates also gave us a little song; thanks guys for a great night. And there was a very funky new blue guitar on display. 

See you about - enjoy Pchum Ben.  If you're staying in town, come see something different .... The Green Mist at Equinox on Saturday night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open mic to open mic: 15 - 22 September 2010

Way back in the middle of last week .... began the Setsara-based Phnom Penh Acoustic Sessions.  The popular Thai restaurant on Golden Street next to Equinox is catching the open-mic virus (I haven't made it to any of the others yet) and the opening night on Wednesday 15th created a great vibe from the beginning.  The proceedings were hosted, and indeed opened, by CSP leader-and-founder Julien Poulson who played a great half hour set, followed by TJ, and myself, and Expresso Thmei, and after that everything gets a bit hazy ... The Swedish Ambassador and Grizzly Adam and Bong Thom all chimed in with some accompanying guitar, bongos and harmonica, and there were different pairings and groupings throughout.  There was very quickly really nice feel and the audience were neither deafened nor deafening - the balance was good.  A special portion of the evening was Srey Thy singing accompanied only by herself on a hand-drum, which brought all the tuk-tuk drivers creeping out from the shadows to listen. 

Thursday night I had the pleasure of taking part in a theatre performance at Chenla Theatre put on by the Kok Thlok Association of Artists, whose shadow artwork currently graces the walls of Equinox.   This musical moral fable about life in contemporary Phnom Penh was part of the Lakhaon festival of Khmer theatre supported by Centre Culturel Francaise.  I joined the house band on drums for an extended nightclub scene, surrounded by musicians far superior to myself, and with whom it was a joy to work.  Look out for anything with Kok Thlok involved - you will not be disappointed.

Then Friday night the Cambodian Space Project crammed into the Alley Cat for their re-opening event, featuring some welcome renovations and a new Dallas mural, as a warm up for our official welcome home show at Equinox on Saturday night, which was an all-exploding, all-freewheeling take-no-prisoners carnival that featured drumkit damage, string breakage, vocal submersion, impromptu jamming, not enough dancing but lots of sweaty, enthusiastic punters, and a long series of encores.  Sweet exhaustion.

And now we're back to Wednesday 22nd, the second of the Setsara Acoustic Sessions, with the same cast but more - some solo from Bong Thom, the welcome appearance of Melanie, my first listens to Claire, and Scott from the Teaner Terners, and the night sealed with Julien pulling out Rocking in the free world with Melanie and Ken.   Can't wait for the next one.  And also I'm off to check out the Paddy Rice open mic tonight.

See you about. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

CSP back in town: 10 - 11 September 2010

I had every intention of keeping the updates coming from the Cambodian Space Project's tour of France, but it didn't happen.  The tour had a life of its own, the stories of which will continue to be told until the beards are grey and the children grown.  Already it is difficult to distinguish between the myth and the reality.  The fragmentary visual record that has graced Facebook hints at the revelatory experience for those who were there.   We never stop flying: Paris-Nantes-Confolens-La Rochelle-Dinan-Rennes-Jugen Les Lacs-Nantes-Paris.  

However, the band is now back in its Phnom Penh home.  A lucky few caught our first return performance, hardly advertised, at La Camaguais on Street 5 on Friday 3rd - what was supposed to be a small-scale French line-up reunion but turned, unexpectedly but delightfully, into the whole magilla, still shaking off the road dust and jet lag.  Then there was another soft start, Expresso Thmei at Lotus Blanc this last Friday, feeling strangely underpowered after the weeks of adrenalin-filled line-up changes. 

Actually, my drum kit was busier than me over the weekend, loaned out for the Cambodian Cowboys' debut at Chinese House on Thursday, and then Lost Highway on Friday, before it ventured across the river to Maxine's for the next chapter of the CSP's multiple-stage return festival.  Snow kept the numbers down to 50, to prevent the place lurching into the Tonle Sap, but it was a great crowd to play to nonetheless.  We cranked through three sets, throwing out new songs and jams as we went, possibly one of tightest and best sounding gigs we've done.  It's great to have ace-wielding Space Commander J back on the flight deck.  Canadian Adam joined us with some very tasty percussion, and the rest of the usual cast of thousands made their presence felt. 

There's a lot of live music going on in Phnom Penh in the coming weeks, and I hope to hear some of it and be able to report on something other than the CSP ... but probably not next weekend unfortunately.  See you at Alley Cat on Friday, Equinox on Saturday, or near another stage somewhere soon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Last check before takeoff/Khmer assault on France: 30 - 31 July 2010

As I may have mentioned before, I just love playing for children. The Cambodian Space Project was lucky enough to be invited to play at the PSE school at Stung Meanchey again on Friday, this time for the last day of school. Two thousand singing, dancing children is about as good an audience as you're ever going to get, particularly when they know all the songs (better than we do, indeed). Srey Thy was inspired to call up Arrapiya and that got the whole crowd doing the whirlpool move, and singing louder than the band. Kids approached the stage and put paper garlands around Thy's neck.  A young brave fellow got up on stage and danced with her.  Another utterly exhilarating forty-five minutes in the life of the CSP.

La la la la ........

The evening saw a direct contrast in both directions - Green Night at Metahouse featured a poetry reading with a young American poet Aida with an atmospheric improvised backing from the Phnom Penh Hot Strings Jazz Club, and Khmer duo Srey Peu and Sinat performing some traditional material, Srey Peu singing and reading, and Sinat playing a series of the most extraordinary Khmer stringed instruments. The old blending with the new.  The Hot Strings were down to a 4-piece, sans batterie, but still made a very appealing noise. 

Then Saturday night saw the Cambodian Space Project burn down the barn at Equinox in our last gig before heading for France for 3 ½ weeks. We started early, in an attempt to get more of a Khmer crowd in … and it worked. The dance floor was full for most of the first set, complete with shrieking and laughing. The second set was quieter, leading off with a few Srey Thy showcases, then getting louder, as we are wont to do. Bong Sak took to the electronic drumkit and made it sing.  Bun Hong was in scalding hot form.  Gildas McSwashbuckle was bouncing, the Breton Bandit smoking.  Bong Ken made a late but dramatic entrance and blew us away for the last set.  And it was string-breaking night: by the time the third set was over, around 11 pm, I was down to a 4-string guitar. A great energy in the room; it was like a Dickens novel, with supporters from many different times and places coming along for the send-off.  Photos coming ......

Stay tuned to tales from the road, Following the Applause in France!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Belgium 1, Russia 2: 21 - 24 July 2010

This weekend began, as they occasionally do, with the celebrations for Belgian National Day. It was a rainy Wednesday, and at the top of Street 5, outside La Patate, a large wedding style tent was erected, with a large wedding style stage and an extraordinary number of large, larger and indeed largest speakers scattered around at mostly appropriate intervals.

The musical treat was the Phnom Penh Hot Strings Jazz Club, an outfit with as many line-ups as it has performances, who took the sheltering crowds through a Belgian-influences trip around the musical world, double-fronted by the violinical and harmonicatrical pyrotechnics of Mat and the laidback chatty Doc Speck on the 8-string ukelele and vocals, backed by a work hard/play hard rhythm section that leapt over crack and chasm alike in their pursuit of the perfect groove. It was blues and it was jazz and it was funky … all those things that really say "Belgium" to the man in the street. Apparently Doc Speck has been to Brussels quite a number of times … and in the end, despite the wires in the puddles, nobody was electrocuted.

We then leapfrog into Friday, when the newest place in town, Dream Up restaurant and bar, hosted three bands. The trio Shangri-La played an energetic and enthusiastic opening set of covers and originals with a Russian flavour, followed by Expresso Thmei doing that thing that they do, and finally Bayon Blues (yes, they're back in town) -- only I had to leave early and will have to wait to catch up on their bluesiness on a weekend to come.

I was back at Dream Up on Saturday night, late, and encountered Sergey and Tree sitting outside with acoustic guitars, surrounded by a generous handful of customers. In a move reminiscent of the well-remembered and now long-departed Revolution Bar I joined for a half dozen of my party pieces, and then settled in to listen to some strumming tunes. Very pleasant. I'll go ahead and recommend Dream Up as a place to drop into and check out.

This weekend: Cambodian Space Project's last concert before September -- Equinox, Saturday night -- Khmer-friendly start time: 7.30 pm.