It’s Only Rock & Roll Part 10
As I stepped out of my truck, not knowing what to expect, I was greeted with utter surprise and bewilderment by the red shirts. They realized I was stuck and several of them rallied around to assist me. Now I don’t usually allow anyone to drive my truck, but on this occasion, with all the noise surrounding me, there was no way I was able to maneuver the truck and turn round without knocking over a motorbike or running over one of the red shirts who happened to be sleeping on the road.
Anyway, along came a red shirt, only too happy to help. He and a few of his friends managed to clear some space and he started reversing the truck to the temporarily disused entrance to a car park, in order to turn the truck round. I had people smiling and waving at me, people offering me food and drink, waiing me and shaking my hand. One teenager cam up to me, smiling and said “why you come here?” My simple response was “I got lost”. He pissed himself laughing and said “amazing Thailand”, before disappearing into the crowd. But what a sight it was; a Farang in the middle of all this chaos, guiding a half-drunk red shirt reversing my truck in the middle of a protest rally. Certainly not what I usually do after a band practice. After that I headed home, completely forgetting about the Indian food I had originally planned on purchasing.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the plot. It was obvious right from the beginning that our singers, Ray and Nicola never exactly hit it off. Nicola was a fiery Scot with a mouth as big as Loch Ness and Ray was a patronizing egomaniac whose hobby was disagreeing with people no matter what they said. I remember on one occasion, I was talking to him about drumming, and admitted to him that I hadn’t mastered Jazz or Latin (purely because I never really got into those styles of music). He then replied “that’s not true”, such was the extent to which he enjoyed disagreeing. I never really had a big problem with Ray, but Nicola could be a pain in the backside at times. She had the habit of picking completely the wrong songs for her vocal range and refusing to sing songs that fitted her range.
We all agreed that New Year’s Eve would be the last gig Ray would play with us, as he had seriously tested the bandleader’s patience and Nicola’s sanity. As he was only a temporary singer, this was not a problem. Nicola also told us that because of family commitments, she would be going back to Scotland very soon and that we should start looking for a new singer. So adverts were placed in various websites to look for a suitable replacement. Within a week we had shortlisted 3 applicants.
We decided to audition the guys first and give them 30 minutes each to show us what they could do. We gave them a week to learn 5 songs. The first singer was called Scott, from U.S.A. He had been singing at the Rooftop bar in Khaosan Road. This guy looked great, about 32 years-old, well built and tall. Unfortunately, he had come totally unprepared for the audition and didn’t know all the song lyrics. He just tried to bluff his way through it…NEXT!
I remember sitting at a table talking to Steve, the keyboard player, while we were waiting for the next singer to arrive. As we were discussing what we thought the next guy would be like, this blob-like figure emerged from the shadows of Ratchatewi BTS. I remember Steve turning round, having a quick look at this guy and saying “Oh God, I hope this isn’t him”. But of course, you know it was him. The second singer had arrived and looked like the stereotypical middle-aged Farang sex tourist, complete with a disappearing hairline and an ever-increasing waistline (if only it were the other way round!!). He must have been one of these guys who was dangerously overweight and tried one of those crash diets. He’d managed to lose some weight, but all the fat seemed to gather around his lower stomach like a spare tyre (a bit like the Michelin man with only one ring). Anyway, he was quite a nice guy by the name of Anthony, in his early 50s and actually did really well at the audition. He did a good job on most of the songs he’d been given. Typical – the good-looking, fit guy sang badly and Jabba the Hut played a blinder!! It’s usually the same with Thai and Filipina female vocalists – the better looking they are, the worse their voices are. In the UK we call this “Sod’s Law”.
So we told Anthony we’d be in touch. Anyway, 5 minutes after Anthony had gone, the studio door opened and in walked singer number 3. This guy was definitely the train-wreck of the bunch. He was short, average build, early 50s and for some reason was carrying a box of limes and a container of salt (I imagine he was just getting over some kind of virus). This guy looked like he was halfway through a spell in rehab and surprise surprise, he sang like it too. This has to have been the worst audition I have ever witnessed. The guy was all over the place. He couldn’t sing and he didn’t know any of the words. An absolute disaster.
Unfortunately, he decided to hang around afterwards. We were all sitting round a table outside, trying to discuss our game plan, and this guy just would not go away. He kept telling us not to give up on him and to let him know when the next practice was. I was so tempted to open my mouth and be very direct with him, but I let the bandleader handle things like that.
So, Anthony was given the spot of male lead singer and, this was when things went from bad to worse. The guy didn’t have any money and could not pay for his share of studio time. Of course, most of the band members pitched in and helped him out. The bass player even let him sing a few nights a week at his Italian restaurant. I remember he got himself a job at a government school and had just moved into an apartment. He had a new job, a new apartment, had just joined a band and had between 8-10,000 Baht to last him one month. By next payday, he would be back on his feet financially and would be on the way to a fairly comfortable life in Thailand. But no, in a moment of utter madness, he decides to leave the apartment and waste what little money he had left on another apartment closer to the school he worked. As Steve (our keyboard player) lived near the apartment he had just quit, the arrangement was that Steve would take him to work every day in his truck. All Anthony had to do was catch the bus home 5 days a week. The first signs of doubt started to creep into my mind at this point, but this however, was only the beginning in a long line of losery.
Anthony would usually turn up late for rehearsals. His usual excuse was that the taxi driver got lost and took him to Victory Monument! The last time I practiced with Southern Cross, he was nearly an hour late. When the bandleader called him to find out where he was, Anthony told him that he was in the internet café across the road downloading lyrics. This guy had had 2 weeks to learn 3 songs and had only just got the lyrics for them. Consequently, he made a complete mess of all 3 songs. This was the last straw for me. A few days later I quit the band. The last I heard was that Anthony had been caught on overstay and had been slung in a Thai jail for a month, before being deported.
About a week before this, I was in a venue having a drink and watching the house band. The manager spotted me and immediately bought me a drink. He then did something totally unexpected; after the band had finished the song they were playing, he took one of the microphones and announced to the audience “ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest with us tonight, Mr. Paul from England. He’s going to play a couple of songs for us”. This was news to me but, as I was sober, I jumped behind the kit and played 2 songs with the house band singer.
Afterwards, the manager and I chatted for about an hour. He explained that the fact that Southern Cross were fired was no reflection on me. He then gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had from a Farang in Bangkok – “put together an Asian band and you will be working in no time – don’t waste your time with all-Farang bands”. He was actually saying what I had been thinking for a while.
I spoke to the singer after she came offstage and gave me the telephone number of a Filipino guy called Yoyo. I met him the following evening and he told me that (unfortunately for me) he had just taken a full-time job at Climax (the old Spice Club) on soi 11, but he gave me the number of a Filipina girl called Candy, who had just quit her band. I had also been talking to an American guy called Mickey who was working as a rapper/singer at CM2 to see if he knew any musicians that were looking for a band. Mickey put me in touch with a young Thai bassist called Juiy. Juiy was only playing once a week and also told me that he knew a good Thai guitar player called Gong, who works for Grammy (and plays guitar on Academy Fantasia on Thai TV). We also took on a Thai keyboard player called Mook who was with us for the first 3 weeks, but had to leave to work at the Hard Rock Café because at that time we didn’t have any work and he was very short of cash, so had no choice but to take the job – fair enough, I thought.
An old friend of mine (a Frenchman called Guillaume) had just finished a stint playing keyboards in Vietnam for the same company he worked for at Spasso's in Bangkok. We met 2 years ago, but never had the chance to work together until now.
I was told that there was a half Thai/half Farang singer called Alex filling in for him at Climax for one night only who was looking for a band. I went down to Climax to check him out and was very impressed. So, after about 6 weeks finalizing the line-up and the songs, we were ready to audition. I decided on the name Hiso, as there was already a band called Loso. It is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek name but more importantly, is a short, simple name that people will remember. Whether they like the name or not is irrelevant, if they remember the name, that’s what matters. I remember Brian May saying in an interview that he hated the name Queen in the early days.
We auditioned at various venues including CM2 and Music Station. The band at CM2 had 1 more month to run on their contract, which was interrupted by red shirt chaos, and the venue had to close for just over a week. Music Station was thinking of putting bands back on from Monday to Thursday, but is still holding off until trade picks up again. The red shirt protests are still being felt by some venues.
At the moment, we are working every Thursday and Sunday and are doing really well. I have to say that with the exception of Farang bands that come here to work 3-month contracts in hotels for decent money, 99.9% of Farangs living here are either not good enough as musicians, are nowhere near professional enough, or are too lazy. The Thais and Filipinos/Filipinas wipe the floor with them. The band I have now is professional, experienced and on the same page in every way. This was the chance I had been waiting for, to work with real pros…and I grabbed it with both hands!
Great stuff! I will come on down one of these days and check your band out!