Back on the tour bus!

It’s been a while since my last instalment back in March 2011 when I was posting the last of the 2011 tour blogs. This intervening year and a half has been jam packed with Solo and PlanB goings on, so I’ll try to bring you up to speed as a lead-in to the next tour.

That’s right, the PlanB collection of Continue reading

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

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. 

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.

A Day on the Green

A Day on the Green, Peter Lehmann's Winery


A couple of weeks ago Karen (my wife), myself and some friends to see Crowded House play a Day on the Green at Peter Lehmann’s Winery in the Barossa. I’d never been to a DotG before, so it was all a new and exciting experience. We stayed in a unit in Tanunda and caught the bus to the event with the thought of not driving with a belly full of wine. There was also the thought that we may not have to walk as far to get in, as the bus would drive pass the carpark and drop us near the gates. Fail that second thought.

So after a day of constant rain, we arrived just as the first act, “Oh Mercy” from Melbourne, were setting up. The venue was amazing; a natural amphitheatre by a creek. And the organisers had done a fantastic job – the line in moved really quickly considering everyone’s bags and eskies were inspected on the way in. There was plenty of food and drink, and enough toilets that even the ladies barely had to queue.

The rain cleared shortly after we found our spot, with intermittent sprinkles enough to justify the effort gone into our garbage bag hats. “No Mercy” started their set and within the first few songs I was overwhelmed with the thought “PlanB could sooooo rock this kind of gig”. the feeling was so strong that the famous Pilgrim tight-arsedness was temporarily pushed aside and I, wait for it, Tweeted via my mobile phone. To give you an idea of the import of this, it hadn’t happened prior or since. 30 cents doesn’t grow on trees you know!

The next challenge is to make this happen. I’m following all my contacts to find out how to get on the inner circle of these festivals. But first thing is to ensure we can deliver – we need to be able to pull together a band in any part of the country at fairly short notice. PlanB is unusual in that our members are not all in the same state, and in the case of the bass player, not even in the same country. So I’m thinking we get all parts of a subset of songs charted and recorded, and pull in local musicians whenever original members are unavailable.

So keep an eye out for PlanB International Rock and Soul Specialists in the festival guides. If you see us and mention the blog, I’ll see about getting you a free ticket 🙂