Tues 11th Jan – A wise old arse

It was always going to be a tough ask; ten songs in 8 hours. Four hours in we had just finished the first one (Give it Away) and were starting on the second (So Saigon). I put down the main vocals and we called Walter, John, Dave and Rob in to do the backup vocals. I needed a rest and so sat at the piano (behind them) and directed from there. Once we got a combination of harmonies that sounded good and was reasonably balanced, they just needed to record it several times.

During one of these sessions I gazed at the shiny black keyboard lid of the piano. I could see Continue reading

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The film clip and No. 5 bar

Apart from the recording and gigging we’re doing over here, Patrick has also been collecting vision for some film clips for 3 of the album songs. One of those is called “So Saigon”. It was originally entitled “So Far Gone”, but with the practices in Adelaide, it morphed a bit and became more topical. I liked it because of the sense of metaphor; although being “So Saigon” didn’t really mean anything before, it does now! We’ve since found out that it translates quite well into Vietnames, too, the “So” prefix gives the subject (Saigon) a uniqueness or feeling of being special. This may well be beneficial if we decide to push the single into HCMC when it’s all set up. The songs we are recording are…

• Blueprint
• Too Late the Hero
• Maggies
• Give It Away
• Plan B
• I Don’t Mind
• Sandpaper Sally
• So Saigon
• Falling In Love (for the 1st Time)
• Images

All songs were written entirely by Peter Flierl, the bass player, with the exception of Sandpaper Sally, to which I contributed some lyrics. Blueprint, Too Late the Hero and I Don’t Mind were all written and performed in the 80’s version of the band, and Plan B was written and performed by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The band in those days was heavily influenced by Dexy’s and so took their name from that song. Although we’ve always performed it, the idea of including it on the album was a strategic one; while the album is being prepared, Peter, Patrick and myself will seek out blogs and forums of Dexy’s fans and make our selves known there. Once the song is ready, we’ll let them know about it and hopefully pick up a few new fans that way. I think we need to be prepared for some pretty ‘religious’ discussion at the time, but if we maintain a position of respect for Dexy’s, and that this song is a nod to them, not a rip-off, we should be OK. Given the number of songs, plus the two recorded last year (Call Me and Southern Delta), we’re actually considering releasing an EP first so that we can have it ready sooner. All the post production will happen back in Adelaide, so we’ll just see how long it takes when we try it. Anyway, back to the film clip. Patrick’s idea was for it to be about me wandering lost after having broken up with a girl (played by local girl Thi), and another girl (Helen) always appearing at the right moment to help me out. Helen was fantastic; she is actually one of the receptionists at our hotel, and was happy to give up half a day to appear in the clip. The clip takes place mainly in the back alleys near the hotel. These are amazing places, like rabbit warrens, off the main streets. Patrick put together a test clip (click here) to get a feel for how it would look (excuse the ‘dry’ singing, this is actually a very difficult piece to pitch because it has such long extended notes in it. The soundtrack on this clip is from one of the guide vocals I put down early in the recording process.

That night we played the No. 5 bar. We played here a couple of times last tour, and so there was a real sense of coming home in preparation for this gig. As usual with high expectations, the reality was a little disappointing. The bar and the girls which seemed so much fun and welcoming last year felt a whole lot more ‘business as usual’ this time. We set up, we played, and we left. Actually, it wasn’t quite like that; we had a few chats to a some of the customers and got a great reaction from the crowd.

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The following day I spent around the hotel room, not doing a lot. Apart from my own recuperation, Kayla was still quite poorly; she slept most of the day, and so I stayed with her to give Karen the opportunity to do some exploration. That night we dragged her out of bed to go to the Jazz Club, a club run by the owner of the recording studio, Tran Manh Tuan. We didn’t stay too long but the whole experience was very rewarding, seeing Tuan play and watching a couple of locals get up and sing with the band. This sparked the idea in me that I could do it, too, and so I resolved to speak to Tuan the next recording session. 

Day 2 and 3 recording. Gig at the Blue Salute.

Just another day at the office… Walter and Rob were back on deck (sort of) and we recorded another 3 songs for the album. It was a similar thing as the previous day, with me in the control room singing guide tracks while the drums, bass and guitar were recorded. I was concerned that a few more days of this might be too much for my voice given that I was always either in air conditioning or pollution. We broke for lunch and Pete came in and told us there’d been a mix-up with the No. 5 booking and so we had no gig that night. I was pretty happy with that; we did another five hours and headed back to the hotel. Karen, Kayla, John and I took advantage of the night off by going out to a pizza buffet place down the street a little. Inside it had the red checked tablecloths and a selection of pizza, pasta, salads and other stuff. It was a little dodgy; several of the pizzas had corn on them! Corn? On a Pizza? That’s just wrong. That night both Karen and I got sick within an hour of each other. We’re not sure if it was that place or not because Kayla didn’t get sick, though it’s possible that we both ate something she didn’t. As a result I was in no condition for recording the following day. We had a gig booked the following night at a place called the Blue Salute, so I opted to stay in bed and recover as much as possible to try and make the gig. I couldn’t face eating anything substantial but forced myself to have a couple of crackers. Despite this I didn’t feel too bad when we arrived at the gig and just sat on a couple of cans of 7-Up for the whole show. I can’t actually remember too much of the show itself, except that someone kept offering the whole band drinks of Johnnie Walker Platinum, and I had to say no. Sigh. Good thing I’m damn sexy.

Back in HCMC, time to record (5/1/2011)

Today we started the first day of recording at the home studios of local Jazz Saxophonist Tuan. Tuan is an internationally touring artist who also owns the “Sax’n’Art Jazz Club” in Ho Chi Minh City. His home is amazing. In typical Vietnamese style, the home doesn’t have a large footprint, but has 5 stories including the under-house Garage (which is also the recording studio). The studio itself is filled with all sorts of instruments including a grand piano, a quality drum kit and a separate room where the engineers do their stuff. Tuan took us for a tour of the house later; his wife designed it with a mix of contemporary ‘Euro’ and traditional Vietnamese influences. Around the house we counted six pianos of various shapes and sizes, as well as a pretty impressive water feature running down a stone wall to a gorgeous fish pond and a special meditation spot.

The idea behind the first few days recording was for me to just sit in and do a couple of guide vocals so the rest of the band knew whereabouts in the song they were. Just the drums, guitar and bass were going to be recorded initially as ‘bed tracks’ with the horns and vocals to be added later.

Patrick was in fine form, with a very clear idea of what he wanted from the recordings, and I was happy to just sit back and look good 😉 

The recording studio below Tuan's house

Tuan's Studio

Although it’s difficult to do sometimes, it is more effective to stand aside and give others free rein rather than pushing your own ideas too hard if there is someone else with a drive to get things done a certain way. This is especially true if you are on a very limited timeframe. So I’m ‘picking my fights’ in this case and just concentrating on what I need to do for the final vocals and on the live show.

My guide vocal contributions were not as lightweight as I’d hoped; the multiple takes while Patrick directed the rest of the band on what to play meant I did multiple instances of the vocals. It wasn’t until we got to a point where the format was correct (we’d run the whole song through from beginning to end) that I could say “OK, keep that vocal as the guide”. The rest of the band could then fix the problems within that framework without me having to re-sing it.

By the end of the day I was getting quite tired, vocally, and we had a full gig that night as well. Luckily, all the hard work with Catherine (Lambert) during the year was paying off and I am singing a lot more correctly now, meaning less strain and quicker recovery. At 4:30 a couple of us left the recording to go and check out how the gig was set up, and to let the rest of the band know whether or not a sound check was required. Another tiny stage; we decided that we should put the horns in front of us so that we could all fit. So the drums were at the left (looking out), with the bass to the left of them, against the wall. It is an indication of the depth of the stage that I said the drums were on the left; there was no ‘front left’ or ‘back left’. John had a small Fender amp set up against the back wall, and I was about a pace to the right of him, plugged direct into the PA.

We returned about 8pm, an hour before the gig to play and it looked like a couple of the guys were looking a bit worse for wear. Walter was looking unwell and kept running upstairs to the toilets. Rob was also spending a lot of time with his head in his hands. Both of them were deteriorating with every minute closer we came to the start of the show. About 20 minutes before we were due to start, we decided that we didn’t think either of them would be able to play. John suggested ringing Thao (the Saigon based drummer friend of Peter’s who sat in with us for a couple of songs last year). The call was made; Thao would be available (bless her), but not until after 10pm. Walter said he thought he could make it through one set and so we woke Rob and launched into it.

The first set break came around quick enough and Walter disappeared. John and I drew up an emergency set list of covers and simple-format PlanB songs and Thao was amazing; picking up the beat and tempo from Pete’s stage-left prompting, plus the occasional fill thrown in. We didn’t play all our originals, but Pacharan, we rocked your socks. Thao, you rocked ours.

Jam night and back to HCMC

The day after the “Not The New Years Eve Show”, Patrick had organised a sunset boat tour – Phnom Penh is built at the intersection of 3 rivers (and these are real rivers, not the like the misnamed creek that runs through the centre of Adelaide!). We had pizzas and chicken wings, and eskies of drinks supplied; all very relaxing.

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That night, about 8:30pm we all made our way back to the Sharky Bar to open the Jam night. The intent was to play 3 or 4 songs and then get off stage and go home. This intention was greeted with some derision. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Shouldn’t be long, we’re just going to play 3 songs and then go. Karen: OK, so a group of 7 musicians are going to a jam night where there’s free beer and Jack Daniels to play 3 songs, and you’re just going to walk of stage and come back? I don’t think so!
Me: Oh, we may hang around for a drink, but I don’t think it will be late. We’re all pretty tired.
K: You wanna bet? I’ll put $10 on you not being back before midnight!
Me: Awww, have some faith!
(This conversation helped me climb the 62 stairs back to our room in almost complete silence when I returned to the room at 2:30am)

So we kicked off the night with a couple of originals and a favouite of Sharky’s, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4. It took a lot longer to get people up to replace us than initially thought, but we eventually escaped 1 by 1. After the show, Big Mike and Dave (One of the other Sharky partners) came backstage and thanked us, and then talked about the fund raising efforts they were involved in. Because of the kind of place Sharky Bar is (and its typical clientele), Dave explained that it was inappropriate for them to sponsor orphanages or homeless shelters, and so they’ve swung their efforts behind the wildlife rescue organization. As luck would have it, one of the managers of that organization was at the bar and he came and had a chat to us as well. Mike was keen to get us over here for a benefit concert; I said (on behalf of the band – I guess I should have checked first!) that we’d be happy to help out if we could.

The following day we were all completely buggered after the 3 late nights, so we took it easy during the day, having a relaxed meal here, a coffee there, and so on. That night we all met up at a restaurant called the Tamarind, serving French-Indochine dishes. The food was nice but the service was terrible. The meals came out staggered over a half hour period with Walter’s meal and two of our side orders forgotten entirely. We only managed one serve of drinks in the whole time we were there. We asked for the bill, and it took so long that we left what we thought was about the right amount with the others and walked out, so we could get Kayla back to bed. Early the following morning (4th January), we all piled on a bus back to HCMC; when we talked to Sim (Dave’s wife) about the previous night, she said that the bill only arrived when they all started making there way downstairs, and the missing dishes were charged on the bill as well. The bus back to HCMC and Vietnam border crossing was quite uneventful, I managed to catch up with some reading and blogs etc., and once we settled in we had a band meeting to plan our approach to recording over the coming fortnight.

Hawkers swarm the buses lining up to board the ferry

Walter and I were also volunteered to go and check out the Buddha bar where we were playing in about a fortnight, so we took the opportunity to go and have dinner there with Karen, Kayla and Sabine (Walter’s wife). It’s a very nice bar, but we weren’t prepared for how far away it was. We were used to travelling about 10 minutes to get to gigs; this taxi ride just seemed to go on and on as we travelled to a completely different district in HCMC. It was especially worrying when we turned off the main roads into some back alleys with some very doubtful-looking people checking us out. Eventually we arrived at the Buddha Bar and Grill and settled in for some nom-noms. The playing area is tiny and we needed to arrange what equipment we’d need – I think we’re going to be quite loud there.

So after a great night out with Walter and Sabine, it was time to head back to the Duc Vuong, ready for recording to start tomorrow.

The “Not the New Years Eve party

During the day after the New Years Eve show we had a few hours to see some of the city. Once you get past the culture shock of rubbish in the streets and being pestered every 5 steps for “Tuk Tuk Sir?”, Phnom Penh is really quite beautiful; the architecture is amazing and you can see how this could once have been a wonder of the world. A few of us went to the Russian markets to snap some bargains (I don’t know why they‘re called that; there were no Russians. Not even anyone from Uzbekistan, as far as I could tell!). Lots of copies of movies, software, jewellery, clothes, tools; just about everything. And quite claustrophobic, too.

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After the excitement and effort put into the New Years Eve show, we were all a bit flat the following night for the “Not the New Years Eve” party. We turned up at 8pm for a 9pm start, as usual, and I found out that we were to play 3 shorter sets as there were noise restrictions on the club past 11pm.

Playing less songs would normally mean an easier night of it, but we still needed to play all our originals and still needed to have a flow for the show. So I descended into reorganization mode once again and came up with a set list I thought would work without completely pulling the rug from under the brass section (as they would have to reorganize their sheets).  Sharky once again put on a grand spread in the band room of rolls, ribs, nachos and Jack Daniels. What more could you want?

We launched into the show, and after last night it was more like work than a party. Nevertheless we had fun and made it through, knowing that tomorrow we had a day off, before jumping on the bus back to Ho Chi Minh City on the 4th.

It had been a hard few days practicing and playing, and we were all a bit bushed, so it was smiles all around when we took advantage of hte jack’s and food and said our goodnights. On the way out, Mike says “See you tomorrow night for the Jam night, fellers!”

Wait. What?

Gigging!

New Years Eve came around so quickly, and after a days rest from the practice sessions, we were all raring to go. We arrived at Sharky’s bar in Phnom Penh about 8pm for a 9pm start and saw that the set times had changed from what I’d assumed. Instead of 3×45 minute sets as assumed, we had: 9:15-10pm
10:15-11pm
11:30-11:50pm, and then
12:10-12:40am.

This caused some frenzied activity on my part – a set of music isn’t just thrown together, you craft it to give it a flow where it dips and rises throughout the show, to help build and maintain involvement from the audience. I typically approach it from a set-by-set perspective, and having the third “money shot” set split in two was hard to re-order. The problem with re-ordering songs is that all the players need to know in advance what songs are coming up so they can prepare for it. This is especially true for the brass section who play off charts (instead of playing by memory, or lack thereof, like the rest of us). Their charts are in set list order in those little plastic sleeves in a book, sometimes spanning several pages, and so changing the order affects them the most. I also had to consult with them to make sure I didn’t put two ‘killer’ songs next to each other. The boys work really hard on a few of the songs and after a hard blow, they sometimes need a breather while we play something simpler.
The third set was re-arranged and approved, and then it was time to hit the stage! We got a huge introduction from Big Mike at Sharkey’s and launched into “Southern Delta”.

The whole night went over really well, and I was very impressed with the whole band; there were a few mistakes which could have ended in train wrecks , but through good communication and a bit of marshalling from “The General” (Sneaky Pete) at the back, we recovered well. As you add more people to a band, the likelihood of a train wreck increases. With this 7-piece lineup, it really was a testament to the skill and communication of all that this didn’t occur.

The night ended for us quite soon after we finished playing, as Kayla wasn’t feeling well and we had to get her back to the guest house. Luckily, we got her back about an hour before the night-long vomiting started. Poor bugger. Needless to say we were all washed out the following day. She slept all day, I took it easy but had to go and do sound check and prepare for the “Not the New Years Eve” show.

Down to work

Following the bus trip from HCMC to Phnom Penh, we settled in for two days of practice before the first gig. Leading up to the tour, I’d arranged a practice every few weeks with John and Walter after work which typically went for maybe 3 hours. As we only had two days of practice with the whole band, we had to cram in as much as possible, which meant 7 hours of full on singing for two days straight. After the first night, most of the boys went out for a “jam night” at the Memphis pub. I would have gone but I know this tour is going to take a lot out of me, and so hung back. My hanging back with Kayla also meant Karen could go out, so she joined the rest of the guys. From all reports it was a great night.

So the next morning brought a couple of sore heads to the practice room for another 7 hour session. We covered everything and had half a day to work on show format. Patrick was very focused on nailing the songs marked for the album, whereas I was more concerned with getting the structure right for the live shows. This caused a little conflict, but Patrick and I tend to bump heads occasionally anyway; it’s nothing personal, we just have two differing approaches on how to do things. The band would be a whole lot poorer without his passion. Peter, as always, came in as the peacemaker and we sorted it out, covering both sides in the remaining half day.

That night we did some filming for one of the clips,  which involved hiring 3 Tuk Tuks for an hour and driving around the streets of Phnom Penh just filming everything. After that we headed up to Sharky Bar for a drink (in full band dress) where we were actually recognized by a few patrons (plus the local ‘professional’ ladies in the bar) from last year. You know you’re on the way to rock stardom when the pro’s recognize you!

The arrival

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City on the evening of the 23rd along with 2 or 3 other international flights, and it was interesting to note how much less intimidating the whole thing was compared to last year. The customs, the security people, the press of people waiting outside the airport and even the manic taxi ride to the hotel was familiar. It felt almost normal, compared to last year when we were all like rabbits in the headlights.

We arrived in the backpacker area of District 1, at the guest house we had all booked into. Last year we stayed at The Duc Vuong, a hotel further up the street and had struck up a friendship with the manager, Mr. Law. Between tours, Mr. Law had started up his own venture called the Phoenix 25 Guesthouse and so we elected to give his place a go. The name should have tipped us off, it was a guesthouse, not a hotel, which means a lot less privacy and security. “OK”, we thought, “we can put up with this; it’s not too bad – just not what we were expecting”. Karen and I reassured Kayla that it would be OK and we just needed to settle in. So we deposited our gear and went next door to the GoGo club for a bite to eat. The music in there was quite loud so we sat outside and had a few beers before retiring for the night. Back in our room we discovered that we actually shared a wall with the Gogo club. Which meant we had the thoomp-thoomp-thoomp all night. It finally went quiet about 6am. At 7am, the renovations in the building on the other side started.

I showered (in the shared toilet/shower cubicle, like all the guest houses) and walked up to Duc Vuong to book a room for the remainder of our time in HCMC. Karen and Kayla were getting ready while I was doing this and so we agreed to meet at Stella’s for breakfast. What an oasis that was! And I think they recognized me from last year 🙂

Stella's... Where everybody knows your name

It was nice to return to the civility, air conditioning and peace and quiet of Duc Vuong. I quickly sent off an email to the other couples yet to arrive and arranged rooms for a few of those that wanted it.

One of the trademarks of the Duc Vuong is its free breakfasts and family evening meals. They also have a family party on Sunday nights which is very, very funny to be involved in. First up there was an American guy who took it on himself to tell us how wonderful the place was. I think he was a long time resident of the hotel – he wasn’t there last year (the MC-ing was Mr. Law’s job) and this guy was the typical loud American tourist type. They’re almost as bad as the loud Australian Yobbo tourists. After the introduction, the manager came out and introduced the meals, and then it was “time for dance”!  This was hilarious. The manager is a very slight build and reminded me of Kenneth Williams (the weedy guy from the Carry On movies). And he dances like a madman! This guy has some serious moves!  Most of the room got up with him, and then it was time for Karaoke. Walter, our shy and retiring drummer, really broke the ice with We Will Rock You by Queen. I’m sure he was channeling Homer J Simpson for most of the performance, he was awesome. After that, it got a bit silly. I eventually got up and did “I’m too sexy” by Right Said Fred and “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor, duet-ing with Walter. I chose them specifically because it’s all about being an idiot, not being a good singer, and there’s no way you can do either of these songs seriously. Patrick took some video, I’ll post it later if I can!

Almost there!

Following the launch of Harley David, focus shifted firmly onto preparing to leave for Vietnam and Cambodia the following week. Both Karen and I were working up until the day prior to leaving, and so the nights and intervening weekend were jam packed with catching up with people before for Christmas, packing, preparing the house and with Karen’s birthday (on the 22nd Dec).
As expected, the night before the 8am flight to Darwin was a late one, with last minute packing, reorganising and double checking.

We met up with John (Mulholland, PlanB guitarist) at the airport as he was sharing the flight with us. A few hours later we landed in a torrential downpour in Darwin with 6 hours to kill before the flight to HCMC. We thought of getting a taxi into the city centre to have a look, or even jumping on a shuttle bus, and then John came up with the brilliant idea of hiring a car instead. It was only $20 more after insurance and enabled us to visit the waterfront, Casuarina, Nightcliff and the amazingly good Art Gallery and Museum. I’m not typically a lover of these types of venue, but the Darwin one was fantastic. As well as the moving Cyclone Tracy exhibit, they also had a special exhibit of “The story of ACDC”. A really well set out presentation with clips, articles, merch and paraphernalia on the band’s history from ’74 to today.

Evening arrives in Darwin (Does Darwin have a nickname, like “The Windy City”, “The City of Churches” etc.? What is it?) and we board the Jetstar flight to Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve taken a lot of domestic flights with all airlines (except Tiger, which I only hear bad reports about), and Jetstar were always on a par with Virgin. So I boarded the plane expecting a budget flight. Having said that, I was still quite disappointed with the service. We checked in and had to be split up because we were on an exit row and passengers under 15 aren’t allowed to sit there. This meant that Kayla had to sit 8 rows back by herself because there were no other available seats. When we got on the plane, it turned out that we weren’t on an exit row – we were row 1, seats D, E and F, which on this plane were at the front opposite the door. It wasn’t an exit row at all!
That’s OK, though, I’ll put it down to a mistake by the booking lady.

When we were seated and ready for take-off, the organisation was quite poor. There was a choice of beef or chicken dishes for main; by the time they got to row 3, they’d run out of chicken dishes. What the?
It was a similar story with the in-flight entertainment. You could hire an iPad-like console for the flight to play games on. By the time they got to Kayla in row 8, guess what? Yep, they’d run out. Say it with me, people…

Tuh! Typical!

p.s. just a reminder, our second single “Southern Delta” is now available on a whole raft of e-music stores. At 0.99c, it’s a bargain, and every purchase helps us fund the creation of the upcoming album, due for release later in the year. So please visit your favourite store (iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Tunecore, Myspace, Music, Medianet, emusic, Zune, Rhapsody, Nokia, Shockhound, Napster, Thumbplay, IMVU) and support the band. If you can’t find it at one of these stores, please let us know.