Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beware the Forbidden Fruit...Comedy and Cider....

“What do you do for a living then?”

ZZ Top’s crazed brother approaches the front line of spectators at the Magners Comedy Festival and points at the hapless squirming geezer next to me; the geezer says something about working for the UN. The bearded man is comedian Martin Mor, Northern Irish native, ex circus juggler and a mountain of a man who takes no prisoners at home or away. Mor elicits as many laughs from the crowd as he does fear, and it doesn’t matter if you’re working for the equality of human rights, peddling postcards on the streets of Bangkok or teaching English at an international school: he’ll cut you straight down to size if you’re, like me, sitting in the front row.   

The Show has sold out, and as every school boy knows; as you know, as I know; and as Martin Mor knows, the last place you want to sit at a comedy gig, is in the front row.

We are at the front. We are the low-hanging fruit.

We’re the cannon fodder, the human shield; we’re the proverbial lambs to the slaughter; we’re the turkeys shaking in Bernard Matthew’s garden shed on a frosty December night.

“What do youse do for a living then?”

Mor points a savaloy-sized digit at a couple who are out for the night as friends. Martin predicts that the male has devious desires for his female friend and the blushing begins. Man. He’s ripping them apart, piece by bloody piece; not me, please, please, please, get on with the show; don’t choose me.

The first act is introduced.  

Pic: ComedyCV

Intense, wax-mustached, friendly self-proclaimed potential Islamic terrorist (actually he’s a Columbian brought up in Windsor, UK) Matthew Giffen is almost bursting out of himself. Stance is important in this game, as is energy and Giffen, poised like a benevolent Doberman Pincher about to be freed from his lead, has both. If this lad had a tail he'd be wagging it. For a moment I wonder if there’s a reason Thailand don’t export energy beverage M150, but it’s just a fleeting thought as Giffens snarls merrily at the audience, keeping us all pleasantly in line throughout his set. Matthew is followed by local comic Aussie Matt Wharf who keeps the crowd amused with stories and gags of local interest and color; language difficulties, bar room blues and the third sex brandishing her concealed weapon.

Third on the bill is nothing short of a legend. Earl Okin hung out with the Beatles, recorded hit tunes for Twiggy. Earl Okin does musical comedy. I’m a big fan of musical comedy, my own formative music career, being, as anybody unfortunate enough to know will tell you, a bit of joke. Earl is also a ladies man, he uses his charm, talent and fine physical form to woe the entire female audience, and after his romantic web has been woven there’s not a dry seat nor eye, in the room.

Earl is show business, he’s the real deal, and he’s in Bangkok.  

The audience takes a break before Martin Mor returns to the stage and destroys my fellow front-rowers one by one. Now I understand, he’s waiting for me; he has something up his crafty circus sleeve for me, but instead he calls the Comedy Club manager and local lad Chris Wegoda to the stage.

Half Thai and half Londoner, one hundred percent showman, and collator of the event, Chris Wegoda takes the stage and delivers his routine questioning gender, race, and our preconceptions about life in the big bad mango. Following him, another local boy, lanky Irishman James Atkinson, rants about life in Bangkok and being tall in the land of the small.
Chris Wegoda and Drew McCreadie - Directors of the Comedy Club.

Headliner Lars Callieou has the audience in the palm of his hand for an extended top bill’s romp home. Pacing the stage purposefully and delivering the quips, the lines, the sly chat-ups, the confidence of his act, polished no doubt back in Canada where he hosts comedy shows, runs a club, and is a big hit on radio.

Most of the comics tonight are seasoned veterans of the scene, survivors of workingman’s clubs ball rooms, sweaty TV studios and pub back rooms. I’m impressed; all of the audience are impressed, and I’m reflecting on this when our big bearded friend returns to the stage and stares straight at me with menace.

Martin Mor smiles, he owns that stage, and he knows he’s let me off the hook on more than one occasion, so he makes a beeline to where I sit shakily at the front row.

He says it loud and clear. “So what do youse do for a living then?” he booms.

“I review comedy shows,” I squeak, nervously jostling, perhaps for invisibility, in my front row seat…      

.....find out more about the Comedy Club Bangkok HERE

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Krom Review

Mekong Delta Blues

Cambodia’s Krom always promise an exciting outing to the often dark and dangerous avenues of our hearts and souls, mixing up blues, country and folk with traditional Khmer vocals and harmonies. Christopher Minko’s band Krom have signed with USA Musik and Film label and management team delivering this their new album Mekong Delta Blues.

Photo: Johnathan Van smit
Krom are musician Christopher Minko and the two sisters Sophea and Sopheak Chamroeun on vocals plus Jimmy Baeck on slide guitar and Mao Sokleap on bass and keys and production duties. While they shock with songs such as Lil Suzie and Taliban Man they delight with tracks like Cambodia.

Classically trained musician Christopher Minko pilots his guitar through familiar terrain in the instrumental opener Take 2. A carefully layered track, fret-board gymnastics echo through effects units, it builds up, and finds its rhythm before disappearing, traceless but not forgotten, into the night.

Mama Blue is a blues jam with a Minko lead vocal, a woman with killer eyes is looking at us. A nice touch is the keys and the urgency to which the voice grows in fear of this woman’s gaze; tension builds, falls, and finally, Minko’s over it.              

Mekong Delta Blues sees the sisters take the lead vocals as Minko plays a solid blues sequence. The Sisters Chamroeun, well known singers in Cambodia, graciously layer Khmer lyrics over a Western musical frame and this is where the band really hit, when the two cultures meet to create a unique hybrid, a musical genre that while slotting into the World Music genre is really Krom’s own bag.      

Perhaps the strongest track on the album is Lil Suzie a melodic meditation (“Good morning lil Suzie / Where did you go wrong?”) on disappointment and abandoned hope in a love hotel. Two versions of the track furnish the record. Christopher Minko takes lead vocal in one, Sophea on the other; both versions are haunting, disturbing, bleakly promising and solid examples of this thing they call Noir.

From the Heart is another Cambodia vocal lead, linguistic flurries rise and stab above and beyond a guitar phrase that could have been borrowed from Bert Jansch. Oftentimes it is too easy to compare Krom’s music with British folk but it is actually the source inspiration that is the same for the Australian Minko as it was for the British folk rock generation– American blues, arguably the source for most Western popular music today.        

New Record.
Big City / Sin City sees Minko and Co take a wander through the big bad city, which one, we can’t be sure, perhaps all cities are all the same. Cities of the East are where human beings are abandoned, tortured, bought and sold, physically and emotionally hurt and killed; Krom’s music details this, studies it, puts a microscope to it and holds it up for all to see, whether we like it or not.     

Cambodia, A love Song desperately wants to be a pop song, that piano lick, those harmonies, that chorus; this ridiculously addictive song should be adopted by the Cambodian tourist board and made their flagship tune. 
People should stand still in the street and sing it hand in hand. 
But people often do things they shouldn’t do.         

Prahok is a progressive instrumental, keys, bass, and guitar speaking as one during this restful pit stop before the disturbing Taliban Man. On first hearing the track the listener could be forgiven in finding the lyrics too heavy-handed but this is the way Minko captains his long-tail and those on board know the drill. Taliban Man assaults you, but, really, what did you expect?    
Photo: Anya Minko
Shadow Falls is as close to country as Krom tend to swim. The waters are murky, the course unclear, “Where the Shadow falls / between the day and night / the dark and light.” There is a struggle here, conflicts in emotion and ethics, a battle between right and wrong. Decisions blurred by desire. This is a strong track with too many layers to attempt to unravel with much success other than to observe that a wound is being cut open here for our entertainment. 

The record closes with an instrumental of the title track and we are all left wondering how Minko’s dark art has married with the perpetual brightness of the sisters; perhaps there is a fairy tale story here among the despair and the dust; maybe it is darkest before dawn.   

Krom’s journey is only just beginning. Christopher Minko has the band and he has the songs. Time will tell if the rest of the world catches on to the musical buzz that has been steadily building in South East Asia over the past few years: with a record like Mekong Delta Blues Krom has every chance of spreading their message far and wide beyond the Mekong.   

Mekong Delta Blues is released on MP3, CD and Vinyl by Musik and Film April 2nd 2016.

The album is for sale at Amazon as an MP3 HERE


The Beat Goes On 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Room 303

A writer checks into room 303. There he battles shadows and light, on a voyage into the further realms of noir.

A short film directed and shot by Hugh Gallagher, music by Von Von Von.

FUN CITY PUNCH is reaching completion...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Foreword to Fun City Punch.

Fun City is made up of six major areas - The Beach, The Red Zone, The Central Business District, Metroland, Main Street and The Dark Side. These zones are all connected by alleyways and tunnels, a cryptic network of mazes not unlike the back lanes and alleyways that connected 18th century London. These perilous passages are rebuilt as soon as they are demolished. Bars, riotous patrons, and the homeless exist both in spite of and because of this labyrinth of decadence. Widespread use of illicit substances, distribution of sexual diseases, prostitutes who help spread such diseases, murder rate, acceptance of corrupt officials, and the popularity of Fringe Theater. London had the Penny gaffs, Fun City has the bars, the cabaret shows, the boxing rings, the discos and the Theater Bizarre. One was never further than the toss of a dwarf away from a place where it was possible to enter a state of intoxication before discussing the impending apocalypse with a like-minded other.

This was before the clampdown.

By 2020 Fun City became an international hub for illegal activity and its global reputation as a serious business and tourism player was at risk.

Tourism was encouraged. Immigration discouraged.

Fun City needed a way to truly control her population.

The answer came with technology. First the surveillance system locally known as the Fun Eyes was installed. All main roads are now under surveillance. People came out at night to lessen the chances of being recognized by The Eye’s facial recognition software and quite soon the City became practically nocturnal.

In 2023 The Credit system was put in place.

Cash was removed and outlawed and instead the Fun City Credit Scheme, which deducted as well as credited the owner on account of both their behavior and their work, was introduced. Credits were awarded to the sufferers of conditions requiring medical attention, legislation that led to self-mutilations. Credits were awarded for artists and predictably every Fun City resident was writing a book or working on a play. Credits were deducted for promiscuous behavior, drink, drugs and violence. 

Those who reached zero credits were subject to The Punch – an intense attitude adjustment four week program.  

Crime escalated as cash vanished.

Art and suffering thrived hand in hand.

Fun City had entered her third and final act…