Thursday 19/6/08 and I've arrived at The Wanch for what promises to be the start of an exciting new musical event. It's the first Raw and Unplugged Sessions to be organised by bc magazine and features four diverse local acts. I didn't know anything about this gig until Steve Cray told me about it - mainly because he's one of the four acts on display. I've always had a soft spot for acoustic/unplugged shows. A taste that was acquired during 14 years of attending the late lamented Hong Kong Folk Festivals. The HKFF is in indefinite limbo because the last Festival Executive Committee basically drank up all the profits. Or spent them on sex. Fast food perhaps. Or just simply wasted the money.
Steve has given me a copy of bc magazine with brief pieces on all the performers. It sounds intriguing enough and I'm captivated by a quote from Scarlett Lewis who says "come and support us. Acoustic performers are the most neglected in the world and...the most talented" A viewpoint she shares with The World's (formerly) Most Elegantly Wasted Person - Keith Richards. He once said if you want to hear how good a guitarist is, listen to him play acoustic. You're in good company, Scarlett (aside from the massive wealth and luxuries and top class draw that is!). So the line-up reads: Scarlett Lewis and Ash Pritchard. Lani Giro. Reigh Lee. Steve Cray. It's meant to start about 2100 and end about 0015, Friday. Just enough time to get the last ferry home. If everything goes according to schedule...
I've arrived outside The Wanch about 2000 hours. The plan is to get a good front-row seat where I can scribble and scrawl to my heart's content. Soak up the vibes. Let the medication kick in and not jump around too much on my never-ending dodgy knee. It's often said that no battle plan ever lasts beyond first contact with the enemy. And so it proves to be (except the battle bit of course). I can't get a seat. The place is packed. Not rammed as full as the reunion gigs by The Bastards. Where you might have gained entrance if a cannibal giant ate you completely and generously farted you out again. (Apparently some readers were put off by my previous chainsaw/highpressure hose interface metaphor in the Bastards review. Yes? No?)
There's about 15-20 sailors from the Good Ship U.S.S. (DELETED). They're here to support their good buddy John Bryant who is an unexpected opening act. He contacted The Underground about possibly playing. Chris B. referred him to Simon Durrant, the editor/publisher of bc Magazine. A few months later, all is sorted out. The first Unplugged Sessions is taking place and John is the opening opening act. He plays a storming set of originals and one cover which is "I Mind" by The Mystics. His set is greeted with whoops of near drunken approval and cries of "John, I love You" (and that's his fellow swabbies). He's a strong strummer, rather than a fine fingerpicker. His voice and style remind me of a neat cross between Badly Drawn Boy, John Sebastian and John Gorka. One song is actually called "Badly Drawn Boy" As a side trip, Uncut Magazine recently put out a Springsteen tribute/covers CD. Badly Drawn Boy plays the most haunting version of "Thunder Road" I have ever heard. I'm getting all horripilatory, just writing this sentence and thinking about it. It should be available for down load somewhere on the InterWeb. Or just ask Uncut. Or me. It's easily worth your time to find it.
John tells me he's a big fan of Dylan. And various hellbilly rock n' rollers like The Cramps, Misfits etc. John, it was a pleasure to meet you (and Julian the semi-Norseman). Hope you liked my CD's and looking forward to hearing you again.
John and his buddies leave slowly. The intermission tunes include "Sweet Child" and "Welcome To The Jungle" by Guns and Roses. Also "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Dead Or Alive" by Bon Jovi. It kicks the happy tension up a notch or three while Scarlett and Ash set up. They have a more English bucolic folk story-telling style. Scarlett does the lead vox and Ash backs her up. Scarlett told bc Magazine that her set is "original material" dealing with Hong Kong's financial and social divides. I work with refugees and asylum seekers and they inspire me". I'm buggered if I can think off hand who they remind me of. Partly The Trees. Also some early Fairport Convention and a bit of Pentangle. Martin Carthy and Norma Waterston who were the headliners at the penultimate HKFF. All that's missing is a bit of fiddle. Scarlett says she's also a big fan of John Martyn. I'm happy because I've nabbed a seat at last. The medication kicks in and completely screws up my hearing. The fifth song I hear as "Iron or Leather" Scarlett very kindly corrects my notes later and says the track is actually "I Will Never". (Actually, I liked my title better. Overtones of folky s and m? A new level of protest song?) A very pleasant 40 minutes has elapsed. Scarlett precedes her last song "Perfect" with a plug for a refugee welfare gig on the coming Saturday (21/6/08) organised by her "closest friend" Danielle Spencer. It took place at The Cavern and I hope it went off well. For more details and upcoming gigs, you can contact them both on email@example.com. Here's to the next gig.
Lani Giro is the third act of this increasingly enjoyable night. Born in Michigan, he's been a resident in HK for several years. He plays a Gibson Blues King acoustic/electric guitar having downsized most of his equipment because in HK he "seems to have (to) walk miles up and down concrete paths and through corridors" Lani looks like the fifth member of The Wild Hogs - the recent biker comedy with John Travolta, William Macy, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence. I'm expecting a gruff grizzled voice to go with the appearance, but his singing is quiet, almost conversational and rather sweet. More of a folky-blues picker with some delicate touches of Leo Kottke or Jorma Kaukonnen in the mix. There seems to be some airy Kevin Ayers (mid-60's) coming through as well. His original songs include "Modern Lady", "Can You" and "Earth" which was timely some 20 years ago, but is more urgent now in the dying days of Bushreich and his complete indifference to global environmental isues. Steve Cray has arrived by now and I'm wondering if I'm going to be able to stay for his set. Sue Sharman is here. She tells me she'll be duetting with Reign Lee who is on next. Rei, who recently guested on flute with Hamada's new world fusion-funk band, berates me for missing that show. I'll try and make the next one and do a review.
For us (mostly) unsozzled hippie reprobates and survivors, the phrase "For one brief shining moment, there was Camelot" is a gestalt experience. It's shorthand for the what if memories that accrued from the JFK Presidency. If he hadn't been murdered by the Mafia/CIA, how might history be changed? What bittersweet yearnings were trampled underfoot by his death and the slow realisation that The Light At The End Of The Tunnel was the crazy swerving trainwreck that is the Great Dubyahoo and his treasonous Cabal. Another song, Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" affects me the same way. The original "Boys" were the 1960-61 New York Yankees. Don Henley uses it to say you can never go back. All that remains are wistful memories,sawdust dreams, barren skies and empty trees. The past is a painful place to re-live in. And the point of all this nostalgic gibberish? It's summed up, again for me, by Reign Lee's opening song "Summer Faded".
Reign and Sue amble on stage after 2300 hours. It's looking more evident that I'll not hear a lot of Steve's set. Reign is playing a plugged in acoustic. Sue is full electric. Three little FX boxes by her feet marked, Smallstone, Overload and Acoustic Simulator. Reign was born in Ontario and is now a "Hong Kong-based alternative rock diva" (Chris B. has some serious competition now. Does she know I wonder?) Sue is HK-born and has just moved back to Lamma from the fleshpits of Central. Reign tells the audience helpfully that Sue spells her name "S-i-o-u-x". Whether that's t-r-i-o-u-x, I d-o-i-u-x not know. I'll stick with Sue for ezyar spelin. She's made 2 CD's called "Broken Skylines" and a new EP entitled "Holding Back The Beast" . In her interview with bc, Reign says that one fan has commented on a "recurring theme in my music: a constant wrestling with demons" I hear it as a haunted nostalgia, the pain from wrong choices, wrong times. Not all bad though, but certainly plenty of Dr. Van Helsing's "bitter waters" must be waded through before we "reach the sweet".
Overall, the set is stunning Nu-Goth tinged with Acid Folk. Sue's guitar playing recalls late period Bunnymen, mingled with "Blue Sky Mining"-era Midnight Oil. The vocals are clear and strong. I can hear some Patti Smith colliding with Pat Benatar. Even a bit of Belinda Carlisle when she still fronted The Go-Gos. There are some fine indie/80's gothchick rhythms and some naggingly familiar vocal mannerisms that will wake me up at 0300 saying, yes that's it. That's who she reminds me of. Anyway "Summer Faded" was my top tune of the night and you two lovely ladies stole my heart away with the rest of the set. Songs included a tribute to the mysterious "Helena", "Don't Walk Away", "This Lonely Love" and "In The Rain" All of them taken from the "Broken Skylines" CD, according to my notes. I probably had the best set in the house for this gig, sitting where the drummers usually play, watching the set from behind the performer and you managed to finish just before midnight. If you want to find out more about Reign, go to firstname.lastname@example.org . There's just enough time to watch Steve get set up before Rei and I head for the last ferry. Steve, sorry I missed you. Again! It doesn't always pay to be the headliner. (And, we just wanted to confirm with you Mr. Hendrix that you'll be closing Woodstock at 0700 Monday). Steve told me later, he played until 0130 or so. Reign stayed for his set and he got a beautifully autographed copy of "Broken Skylines" (Thanks for the burn Steve. Reign, the CD is stunning.I'm playing it a lot at home.) Simon, nice to finally met the editor of bc Magazine. It was a great show and here's to the next one ASAP.
Review by nick the bookman.