Readers' Submissions

It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 4

  • Written by Puppy
  • November 5th, 2009
  • 7 min read


So I was back in Bangkok. My first mission was to try and find work. I trawled the streets of Sukhumvit and Silom, meeting nightclub and pub managers, exchanging business cards and generally putting my name about that I was a drummer for hire with 800 gigs under his belt.

Being a realist also, I landed some part-time English teaching work to keep the cash rolling in (or "trickling", if you are a part-time teacher). My second to last port of call was CM2 to check out their house band. The atmosphere there was great and the band at the time (circa August 2002) was called The Big Noise – mainly farang with a couple of Thai female backing singers.

I bumped into the lead singer as I came out of the gents and said that I thought their sets were really good and told him what I had been up to. He informed me that their drummer was leaving soon and could I audition for them in a week's time. I jumped at the chance. I headed for Tesco Lotus and bought myself a CD player and learnt the songs intensely for the next 7 days.

Now I have hardly ever been in many "real" audition situations before. By a real audition, I mean waiting in a queue of other drummers. Usually I have joined bands by being either recommended or by being the first one and then being taken on straight away. There's something about auditions that seem to raise the fear factor to a new level never experienced by regular job interviews. You have to "do your stuff" on the spot with no warm-up. You don't get that at job interviews.

The first drummer was clearly an amateur with very little experience and was sent home after the rest of the band heard him bashing away at the kit before they had even plugged their instruments in to their amps. The second guy did ok and the third guy didn't show up. I was up next and did what I usually do; keep time (what most musicians expect from drummers, but rarely get) and stick to the drumming on the CD. The last drummer was a 45 year-old Italian called Masimo. He was probably THE best drummer I have ever heard in Thailand, even after 7 years of living here. I have heard some fantastic Thai drummers, but this guy was not just professional, he was world class. Unlike sportsmen, musicians get better as they get older. They took him on straight away. I did hear some years later from their bass player that he also had a world class ego. Whether that's a consolation or not, is a matter of opinion.

So, my final destination was The Warbler and French Tommy (as I may have mentioned before, many of you long-timers will remember The Warbler on Sukhumvit soi 4). The Warbler really was a great place. They had live music, a great chef and a Thai dwarf that used to sit outside on a small stool and meet and greet customers. He later went to work in Nana Plaza, but I have not seen or heard of him for about 3 or 4 years (If anyone knows where he is working now, please let me know. He really was a fantastic character and a really nice guy).

I saw Tommy just before he went on stage and he told me that there were two Farang guys looking for a drummer for their soul band. Now soul music was something that I had not yet tackled. I had played "I Feel Good" by James Brown hundreds of times, but I had never been in a soul band before and my knowledge of this particular genre was limited. These guys had put the word out among the Farang musical community that they needed a drummer, including a rather tall blues guitar player called Jeff T, of Tokyo Joe's fame. I spoke to both Jeff and Tommy and gave them my mobile number (after not getting the job at CM2, I somehow managed to scurry back to Tesco Lotus and exchange the CD player I had bought for a mobile phone). Like many Stickman readers, I became an expert in my early days as a Bangkok expat, of unwittingly leaving mobile phones in taxis, so God knows how many phones I have owned in Thailand in the last 7 years.

Two days later I was contacted by the soul band's guitar player, a northern Englishman called Joel. I went round to his flat and chatted for about an hour. He lived in a shoebox of a studio flat in Sukhumvit soi 4. He explained that he had an American singer, an Aussie bass player and an Aussie sax player. They were also looking for a trumpet player. I met Joel and the singer, a guy called Rik, at the Warbler the next day and they told me that they had spent the last 6 months putting this band together.

I auditioned for them that Sunday and this time, passed with flying colours. Everyone in the band worked well together and seemed to get along really well. About a week later, we auditioned a Welsh trumpet player called Chris, who was fantastic. He was a great trumpet player and, apart from that, he could sing and play the piano. After about 4-6 weeks rehearsing, we were ready for our first gig.

The only thing we had to do was to come up with a name for the band. I remember we were scratching our heads for ages about this. Then I had an idea. Our bass player Andre, used to object to people referring to bargirls as whores, as he felt this was a derogatory term. He preferred to call them his associates. That, I thought, HAS to be the name of the band: The Associates.

At that time, we were mainly playing Sunday nights at The Warbler. We were really getting our sound together until a showdown occurred. Chris had started showing signs of unprofessional behaviour leading up to this point. He would turn up late to rehearsals and leave early. I remember on one occasion he brought a bargirl along to the studio. He even came up with the idea of bringing a troupe of katoeys to our gigs as backing singers and would we like to audition them? Christ Almighty, things were getting out of hand! As any professional or semi-professional musician will tell you, the rehearsal room is for band members only. Anyone coming in who is not a band member is usually there for a reason; taking photos or videos of the band or someone coming in to check out the band who is interested in booking you for a function and only has a day or two in Bangkok on a Monday or Tuesday and doesn't have time to watch you play a gig at the weekend – but bargirls and katoeys! What next, performing seals and fire-eaters!!

Anyway, back to the showdown. We had just finished playing at The Warbler one night and I was onstage packing up my cymbals and snare drum, when our katoey-loving trumpet player approached me with tears in his eyes. All he said was "please email me and keep me informed". Now I knew he was off to the UK for 10 days Christmas holiday, but what I didn't know was that Joel had just indirectly fired him. Joel was not the most diplomatic person (like many Northerners) and had decided to invite an English trumpet player that night to The Warbler. After we had finished playing, he then introduced the English trumpet player to Chris and said "Chris, this is our new trumpet player, you can play keyboards if you want." Now, there are ways of sacking people, and wasn't one of them. So that was the end of Chris.

In the New Year, The Associates was about to enter it's golden period. We played nearly every farang-friendly venue in Bangkok; Check-In 99 between Sukhumvit sois 7 and 9, another venue that employed a less handsome Thai dwarf sitting outside (more about that venue in my next submission), The Blue Wave (which is now Bully's), Noriega's in Silom soi 4 (one of the only straight venues in that soi), The Irish Exchange in soi Convent (now Molly Malone's), O'Reilly's in Silom Road. We also had a 3 month contract at Brown Sugar every Friday and Saturday, followed by Sundays at The Warbler. Things were really cooking.

To be continued…

Stickman's thoughts:

The mention of Warbler brings back memories. I probably saw you lot play. And if you had a contract at Brown Sugar you must have been reasonably good.