It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 2
So, armed with passports, visas, guitars and drumsticks, we boarded our flight to the Land of Smiles. Our bass player Geoff, stupidly decided to bring his English girlfriend along – big mistake and extremely unprofessional. But that was Geoff all over. The number of times I told him not to bring girlfriends to private functions we were playing never quite sunk in. I'm sure other musicians reading this will understand that this is a complete no-no when playing weddings and private parties.
We did not know what to expect from Thailand. None of us had been there before. Our main worry was our guitar player's drinking. Would we all end up staying at the Bangkok Hilton? Or would be just keep our heads down, stay out of trouble and get the job done?
So, here was the deal; we would be working 6 nights a week in 2 different pubs in Patong. We got the first 10 days accommodation free and then it was up to us to find digs thereafter.
We met the pub manager at the hotel we would be temporarily staying at. He took us to one of the pubs we would be playing. The second pub was in the process of being decorated and would not be ready for another 3 weeks. We half expected (and feared) to be playing a really sleazy, dangerous place with all sorts of debauchery going on around us. However, when we got to the pub, we were surprised. It looked very respectable.
Anyway, we met the rest of the staff and had a beer with the manager's business partner, an Englishman who was married to a Thai. We signed forms which were applications for our work permits and then were told that if we wanted to see some real "action", to go to the end of the beach road and turn right.
The bass player took his girlfriend to the hotel and the rest of us wandered down the beach road and did exactly as the manager told us. As we walked along the main beach road, we saw nothing terribly outrageous, just a few katoeys and a one-legged beggar crawling along the pavement.
However, when we turned right, as instructed, all of a sudden, about twenty young Thai girls ran towards us shouting the now-legendary words "hello welcome" etc etc. You know the dialogue. Yes, we had walked into the street where most of the bars were. But for us, having not read any Lonely Planet guide books, and not really knowing anyone who had been to Thailand, this was a real shock. This is probably the kind of welcome The Beatles got wherever they went. The sandy beaches, the friendliness of the Thais and, of course, the girls, had an indelible effect on me which I don't think will ever leave me and ultimately influenced my decision to move to Thailand. Needless to say, I was hooked!
We had a great time that night, and our singer Chris, who we nicknamed the "Miserable Scotsman", decided it wasn't his thing and went home early. The guitar player Al and I, being the party element of the band decided to paint the town red. We ended up meeting 2 bargirls in a disco and taking them back to our hotel.
The next morning there was a knock at the door and in walked Geoff, our bass player. You should have seen the look on his face. He saw us, then he saw the girls. He then rushed out of the room, straight into his room and in shocked dialogue, told his girlfriend "They've got hookers in there!"
We still had 2 days to kill before our first gig and just did the usual tourist things, like buying clothes and trying as much Thai food as we could. I think I practically lived on Thai green curry for that entire 3 month contract!
So, on to our first gig. The arrangement was that we were to play 3 sets of 45 minutes, which we would alternate with a guy called Lee Shamrock. Lee is a fantastic entertainer and I still go to see him play every now and again in Bangkok. < Yes, Lee is great, a fine singer, comedian and all round entertainer, a true Bangkok gem – Stick> The first night went OK, but the management informed us that we did not have enough Irish content in our set. Fair enough, it is an Irish pub, but they did take a good look at our song list well before deciding to employ us and never even suggested we should learn any Irish numbers. However, 7 years on and experiencing the same kind of gig only last week (more of that in a later episode), in hindsight we should have got 5 or 6 Irish songs down before we got to Thailand.
Anyway, a week later, disaster struck. I walked into the pub about an hour before we were due to go on stage. This was the normal time to be arriving, as we always had dinner at the pub at that time. Everyone, but everyone was glued to every TV set in the pub. As I approached the bar counter closer, I could see TV pictures of 2 skyscrapers with smoke billowing out of them. Yes, we were all witnessing 9-11!
I was called straight into the managers' office and told that we would definitely be playing. Even after a tragedy like this, we still had to play. I'm still not sure to this day if that was the right decision, but ironically enough, it was one of our best crowd-response nights. Unbelievable!
About a week or two later, I was told that because tourism was being badly affected by these terrorist attacks, hardly anyone would be flying to Thailand (or anywhere else, for that matter). The management decided that because of this, they would be reducing our salaries immediately. We would usually finish work by midnight and head straight to the bars. The change was noticeable. This was 2001, not 2009. It was 4 years after the Thai financial crash and Thailand was booming. However, walking around the Patong bars a few weeks after 9-11 was a different story. Most of the bars were empty. Flights had been cancelled and the foreign tourist numbers had dropped dramatically. It's not often you see bargirls sitting at the bar with their heads in their hands, bored out of their minds, but it happened. I could not believe what I was seeing. The comparison to 2 weeks earlier was amazing to say the least.
We had a band meeting and as soon as I told them the management were reducing our salaries, all hell broke loose. Try as I did to calm the boys down, they were hell-bent on paying the management a visit to tell them what they thought of them. I then informed them that as the management had paid for our return flights, if we backed out of our contracts, the flights would be cancelled. In the West, this would be breach of contract, 9-11 or no 9-11, but this is Thailand, where more often than not, it's not so much Thais trying to rip foreigners off, as farangs trying to rip you off under the pretence that as a foreigner, you can trust them. These are the worst kind of foreigners you will come across in Thailand and believe me, there are plenty of them.
We were left with no alternative but to carry on playing until the end of our contract.
To be continued….
I sure can understand how your band was upset at that. So, when do you guys hit the big time?!