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It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 5

  • Written by Puppy
  • December 3rd, 2009
  • 10 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


I had been living in Bangkok for nearly five months. I was playing in a successful semi-pro outfit 3 or 4 times week and teaching 20 hours a week at a local language school. I would have to say that, looking back at that period in my life, those were the most exciting times for me in Bangkok.

The reasons for this are many. For those of you who dream about becoming a full-time sportsman, musician, actor etc., what makes this dream special is that you could be doing jobs that not many other people get to do. Unfortunately, the old saying “be careful what you wish for” certainly applies here.

When you dream about doing something like playing music for a living, you have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about what your life will be like. Rod Stewart once said that the only reason he got into music was for easy girls and fast cars (or was it easy cars and fast girls?).

Now there are 2 different kinds of musicians; the minority, who make an incredible amount of money from selling records (the word “record” is still used in the industry to refer to units sold – even though the tangible product format is on CD), in other words the superstars; The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Queen, Oasis etc. Then there is the majority – the working musician, the hired gun. As a covers band, you most certainly fall into the second category.

The only problem is that a lot of musicians in the second category seem to believe that they belong in the first category, and that’s when the dream can turn sour for the good guys. Then the novelty slowly wears off and you wish you weren’t a full-time musician anymore. This was why I left Europe.

This time I was in a position where I was playing music part-time and teaching English part-time. This totally eradicated boredom and frustration from my life; when you do any job full-time, the only escape from the rut is to quit (and believe me, even playing music full-time can become monotonous). However, doing 2 different jobs balanced everything out for me.

The other reasons for being so happy was that Bangkok was still very new to me. As Stick rightly points out, you can’t beat the first 6 months in Bangkok. Certain little things about this city that aren’t here any more, like that fantastic market in Silom Road every Sunday that finished about 5 years ago and my first ever trip to RCA, back in the days before the architects ruined it – my favourite RCA club these days resembles a claustrophobic maze.

Anyway, back to The Associates. Unfortunately, the cracks were beginning to show in our bass player. He seemed to consistently make the same mistakes in the same places in the same songs night after night. We used to play 2 slow songs that began with a bass line; “Dock of the bay” and “My girl”. Unfortunately, this would cause confusion with the bass player, who would inevitably play the wrong bass line. On one cringeworthy occasion at Brown Sugar, I remember Rik saying to the crowd “Ok ladies and gentlemen, this next song is called ‘dock of the bay’…oh, sorry, actually it’s called ‘my girl’”.

Another Andre moment that will stay with me till the day I die was the time we played at this weird venue called Check-in 99 between Sukhumvit sois 7 and 9. We had to play with a small (but noisy) fountain behind us. After listening to the sound of running water for too long, most of us had a strange urge to run to the toilet!

Anyway, we had just finished setting up and it was time for a sound check (getting your volume levels right before you start playing). Our bass player opened up his case and announced to the band that one of his strings had broken. After enquiring as to whether he had a spare set, the answer was “I never break strings, so I never carry a spare.” The following conversation went something like this:

Rik: “Why don’t you carry a spare set?”

Andre: “Because I never break strings.”

Rik: “Why don’t you carry a spare set?”

Andre: “Because it’s never happened before”

Rik: “But it’s happened now. Why don’t you carry a spare set?”

Andre : “I already told you. It’s never happened before.”

This argument went on for a good ten minutes, finishing up with the singer saying “Andre, please stop saying that!” It was frustrating and, at the same time hilarious. By the time the argument had finished, our guitar player had already been to the Warbler and back on a motorcycle taxi and borrowed the required string from the house band’s bass player.

After a while, the bass player was fired by Joel. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that Andre had just started seeing a very attractive lady of the night and wanted to spend every Sunday with her. As this was the only day we were able to rehearse, Joel seized the opportunity, and Andre was replaced by an Aussie called Adam. This caused no end of embarrassment for Rik, as he had just moved into the same apartment block as the recently-sacked Andre – on the floor above, to be precise.

Adam was a very naturally gifted bass player. He could listen to a song once and play it note perfect. Come to think of it, he could join in on a song a few bars from the top and get it almost right.

During Adam’s early days with the band, we played some really weird gigs. One that sticks in the memory was a private function where the customers had hired us to play at, of all things, a ballroom dancing event. Putting a soul band on at a ballroom dancing event is a bit like having cheese and ham sandwiches at a Jewish wedding! The dancers consisted of very old, very heavily made-up Thai women with extremely big hair dancing with very young, good looking Thai men – almost like ageing female versions of Dracula! Apparently, these Thai guys are known as “taxi boys” who are hired especially for events like this. By the look of these guys, they were all “doing the Gay Gordon”, so sexual favours were most definitely out of the question for the frightening-looking hi-so hags. Thank God most farang guys in Thailand are too old to be taxi boys, because as one of the “vampires” told me, the demand for young, heterosexual, white dance partners would be extremely high.

After a while we recruited a Canadian female singer called Jool's, who although not possessing the “pipes” that Rik had, I thought complimented his vocals very well. She belted out Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, which added another dimension to Rik’s James Brown and Otis Redding. We were now a seven-piece band.

We played a few new places, like Mojo’s on Sukhumvit soi 33/1. For any musos out there, this was a fantastic place to play. Although it didn’t have big crowds every night, it was a musician’s dream. We got paid well, the drum kit was hand-made from very expensive wood, a few too many drums and cymbals for my liking, but a great kit nonetheless.

The owner of this drum kit was a Thai drummer who worked there (either that or he had some kind of shares in the pub). He was a great guy. Really understood how bands and pubs worked. Instead of the mixing desk being at the back of the stage, it was just behind the side of the bar, so he could serve drinks and mix the sound without having to move too far. I have never understood why venues in Thailand have their mixing desks onstage. It needs to be away from the stage so that the person mixing the sound can really hear what’s going on from the audience’s perspective. On top of that, we got to eat their delicious ribs, mashed potatoes and coleslaw and, of course, free drinks. Not too many though!

In the post-Brown Sugar days we also got to play at some hotels for weddings and private parties. I remember one time we played an Indian wedding. This was very different from a Western or even a Thai wedding. As some of you may know, the dowry gets paid by the bride to the groom – fantastic!!

Anyway, the first set has to be dead quiet, as the only guests allowed in the room are VIPs. In other words, the older important male members of both families. So we played as quiet as we could and, after the first set, this Indian guy in his late teens comes up to us and says in a thick Ali G. accent “that was wicked man, can you pump it up in the second set?” Believe me, I tried to keep a straight face.

We also got to play at a Christmas gig supporting the famous American R & B band All For One, who had a hit with the song “I Swear”. Quite different from our Northern English guitar player Joel, who used to swear all the time!

One disappointing experience was travelling to an audition right near the old airport at this Thai nightclub called Gotcha. It was Boxing Day 2002 and we just had enough songs finished for three sets. We arrived to find a nice big stage and great drum kit amps. The only problem was that one of the Thai staff had locked all the microphones in a steel box and no-one knew where he was. After waiting around for 2 hours, we decided to head home.

The food bands get at hotels varies greatly. We had 2 or 3 hotel gigs in a row where a huge silver platter was brought to our table. Licking our lips as we lifted off the lid, the looks of disappointment replaced our smiles as it turned out to be…Kow Phat Goong (prawn fried rice) – skanked again! We could only dribble with envy as the guests tucked into their lobster and steaks. Other hotels however gave us anything we wanted from their 1,000 baht-priced buffet; everything from Italian to Indian food. I have to say though, it’s a bad idea to stuff a band full of stodgy food before they go on stage – best to leave that until after the gig.

The music scene in Bangkok was absolutely terrific back then. I can’t even remember all the places we played. It just seemed like every venue had live music. Very different from now.

The Warbler was the first to go – literally. Stick, correct me if I’m wrong, but the rumours flashing around at the time of The Warbler’s demise was that the Mexican manager had put an advertisement out selling half-shares in the place. The only thing was that he had sold half-shares to about 5 different buyers – and I ‘m not sure it was even his pub. So when the “owners” turned up to move in to their new pub, they naturally got the shock of their lives. I believe the Mexican is now doing time in a Thai jail. <Correct on all counts although I am not sure if he actually ended up in jail. I thought he did a runner to India where presumably he has been enjoying the millions he got away with – Stick>

Those days were the definitive high-point for The Associates. Unfortunately, our best days were soon to be behind us, as relationships in the band were starting to suffer.

To be continued…

Stickman's thoughts:

It sounds like you had a marvellous time back then.