Breaking China

Funding and Managing

So, let’s pick up from the end of the last tour.  We spent a week in Saigon at Continue reading

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Gooooooooood Morning VietNAM!!

Aside: Apologies for not posting for a while. As you might have guessed from the date stamps on the blogs I’ve been back in Oz for a while now. I wrote a bit while away but since being back I’ve been so busy catching up, I haven’t had the time to proof read and post.

Mon 17th Jan –  Hoi-An
Now that the tour part was over and we Continue reading

Massages and all that Jazz

Sun 16th Jan – Massage, Sheraton, Jazz Club
Aside:how your mind justifies things is quite funny sometimes. Because wages and excise on things like alcohol and cigarettes are typically quite low, things are very cheap, and you find yourself objecting to prices because you think someone might be taking more profit than they should. This is despite the fact that Continue reading

Tequila Bob, Buddha, The End

Fri 14th Jan – Gullivers Travels. Show at Buddha

Aside: The way we interact with others is a very subtly learned skill. This came to me as I was walking along Bui Vien, the street our hotel was on, towards Stella’s. Even given the larger number of people, there seemed to be an unusually large number of times that I and the person walking towards me did the “this-way-that-way” dance. At first I thought it might be Continue reading

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

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.

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!