It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 7
In June 2005, I had started a job in a newly founded language school in Bangkok. My position was Head of Teaching Department.
I was responsible for recruiting and training teachers, as well as scheduling them for classes each week. I was contracted to teach 15-20 hours a week on top of this. Unfortunately in this country, you can't rely on other departments
to always do their jobs properly, so I found myself overseeing what the sales and customer service departments were doing as well. My boss really was getting his money's worth.
At that point in time, certainly for the first year at least, playing the drums was a distant memory for me. Anyone who plays in a band will tell you that it can be like babysitting 3 or 4 people at times. You have to be firm but fair and
have the patience of a saint, without taking any crap. This can even apply to the "spoilt for choice" end of the market – where musical directors in charge of West End musicals, theatre shows and music played on TV can fire musicians
and get a replacement. Like I said, you would think that an MD in his own country would be spoilt for choice, but not always. They can't always get a replacement at short notice and more often then not, the replacement could live at the other
end of the country. So rehearsals or shows have to be postponed, with a lot of people waiting around.
The first year in that job was great. Working with a teaching method that I had been using for 5 years, bringing in teachers that I had known for a long time, putting together the right systems and generally being given a free reign. We managed
to poach my wife from the language school she was working at (my old place of work too). A decision I was later to regret, as members of staff would try and take advantage of our relationship. For example, the salesman or woman would interview
a student who wanted to start learning on a stage that was clearly too high for them. I would not allow this, as doing this would annoy the rest of the students (always better to keep the majority happy). Having lost face, the sales team member
would then go crying to my wife, trying to get her to persuade me to change my mind. I had to tell my wife and the sales team a few home truths:
1) The reason for my decisions are logical and are there to keep the majority happy.
2) My wife worked in the HR department and had nothing to do with students or courses.
3) While at work, my relationship with my wife is not to be used by people to get what they want.
After the first year or so, our boss decided that he had had enough of owning a language school and put it on the market. He got lucky – the first people to respond to his adverts bought the school from him. Unfortunately the new owner's
Thai wife had no management experience and no people skills. Within the next 2 years she had driven away all the good staff and wasted a hell of a lot of money. She virtually single-handedly ran the business into the ground. During the last 6
months there I had built up enough private students living around my neighbourhood to quit that job. Running a band can be like babysitting, but when it comes to organising teachers, it becomes large-scale babysitting.
About 2 or 3 months after the new owner had bought the language school, the musical itch started creeping back. Music is like a drug, very difficult to get out of your system. If you quit playing in your twenties, you can usually stay away
from it. However, the longer you play music, the more difficult it is to stop. That sounds very negative, like trying to give up smoking. I have noticed a lot of musicians (both Thai and Farang) who are always accompanied to gigs by their wives
or girlfriends, because where there are bands, there are girls – especially in Bangkok!! As Frank Zappa once said "here we see music causing big trouble".
I had put adverts out for musicians to try and create the kind of band I thought would do really well in Bangkok. A party band that virtually played everything in the pop/rock genre.
Comparing the teaching industry to music can be frighteningly similar. A great percentage of Westerners that come here are only able to teach because of the xenophobic laws in this country. 99.9% of Farang guys living here are not here for
the temples, the weather or the food (all 3 highly over-rated). The main problems are that people sometimes only stay for 2 or 3 months, they are unreliable, can't teach or are running away from some kind of psychotic problem…and that's
just the teachers.
When putting a band together, you have all that to contend with, plus the fact that you are looking for people with none of the above problems. People who call themselves musicians represent not even 5% of the Western population living in
Bangkok, and these are only the people interested in joining a band. You then have to weed out the following:
1) The Filipino hustlers who don't have a day job and refuse to teach English – we are a part-time band after all. I will never forget our current guitar player telling me that his Filipino ex-bass player had just quit his day job and
then insisted that the other band members do the same, so that they could go out and look for full-time gigs.
2) People who never got out of the rehearsal room or even their bedroom, let alone played professionally.
3) People who turn up for auditions brandishing a CD saying "I didn't learn the 5 songs you gave me, can we do these instead?"
4) Musicians who try to drastically change your song list. There is room for variety, but there are limits.
So the search was on.
The very first guy that replied was a Scotsman named Ken. A very friendly man in his early 50s who sang and played guitar. I had also lined up an English bass player. We had a couple of practices together, but you can usually tell very soon
if things are going to work out.
Unfortunately the bass player didn't realise that he had to be at the rehearsal studio on time or learn the songs and the singer was not really ideal either, lovely guy, but probably better suited to doing solo gigs. Ken had been living
in Australia for many years and told me that he had to go back for 6 weeks to visit his children. So all three of us agreed it was not really heading anywhere and called it a day after 2 weeks.
Less than a fortnight later, I received an email from a man I have never heard of before. He told me that Ken had died of a heart attack while in Australia and his Thai girlfriend, who came with Ken when I first met him, found a piece of
paper in the bedside drawer of his Bangkok flat with my name, my number and something to do with music written next to it. He was contacting me to find out whether I had any of Ken's personal effects.
Although the guy was not exactly the picture of health, he certainly did not look ill. That is the first time a musician I played with had passed away. Unperturbed, I pressed on…
The further you get telling this story, the better it gets. You've almost given me the bug to start putting down my life in Bangkok.