Saturday, May 23, 2015
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Midlands Roots Explosion
Contemporaries of Steel Pulse and one of Birmingham's leading bands Eclipse, surely deserved more success. Here we've included “Blood Fi Dem” released as a single in 1981 more; great songs from Eclipse can be found on our previous CD release “Corrupted Society”. The formation of Black Symbol was inspired by fellow Handsworth residents Steel Pulse; here we feature “In The Name of Jah” featuring the band at their spiritual best. We also have a track from Black Symbol spin-off group Oneness, with “Rome,” previously only available on a very hard to find 12”. Black Symbol provided the opportunity for many other Handsworth artists to record their music and this compilation features several: Man From The Hills “Redemption Day”, Sceptre “Ancestors Calling”, Benjamin Zephaniah “Unite Handsworth”, Zephaniah “Free Man” and the fantastic and previously unreleased “Instruments” from Mystic Foundation. Why “Instruments” had laid forgotten on the master tape for thirty years, is unknown but it more than earns it's place on this album as a stand out track. More tracks from Black Symbol and the Handsworth bands can be found on our previous releases; “Black Symbol”, Sceptre's “Essence Of Redemption Ina Dif'rent Styley” and the two volumes of “Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion”. Handsworth's last but by no means least contribution is from Carnastoan with “Mr. Workhard,” the B side of the band's classic 12” single.
Birmingham's contribution is rounded up by Iganda, a band whose long career sadly only produced one 7” single released in 1979; fortunately it was a classic and here we have the A side “Slow Down” The Midlands are further represented by Leicester's Groundation and the nearly 8 minute long monster of a track that is “Fa-Ward”. We've previously reissued this on 12” and hopefully, there are more recordings to come from the Groundation tape vaults.
“The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One” is just a snapshot of the abundance of musical talent in the region during the 1970s and 1980s. It barely scratches the surface but even so, it's one of the strongest reggae compilations available and shows that the English Midlands were second to none when it came to roots reggae. With sleeve notes from Jim Weir who was a musician involved in the Birmingham reggae scene, the album will be released on 29th June available on high quality double vinyl in a deluxe gatefold sleeve, on CD and as a digital download.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
Fulfilling a dream
Hanuman comes home
|Hanuman comes home to Cambodia|
Labels: Koh Ker
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Thriller in Cambodia
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Another gong for The Last Reel
|Kulikar Sotho and her Black Dragon|
Friday, April 17, 2015
Hinds on early Steel Pulse
|Steel Pulse in 1978|
Monday, April 13, 2015
My Cambodia twenty years ago
Cambodia : A Land of Charm & Cruelty
The name of Cambodia is synonymous with the cries of the tortured and starving and more recently, the murder of western tourists by the genocidal Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of over one million of their fellow countrymen in the late 1970s. However, that was my choice of destination for a week's break from the rigours of C&G life at Chief Office in late October . Cambodia, racked by civil war for the last twenty-five years, is one of the world's poorest countries with a population of nine million, the majority of whom live in abject poverty by western standards. Conversely, it is also a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and people and a history brought vividly to life by one of the world's greatest architectural achievements, the temple ruins of Angkor.
The country had captivated my attention since I was drawn to the suffering of its people in John Pilger's 1979 documentary, Year Zero. My interest was sustained as a member of parliamentary lobbying groups whose aim was to bring to an end the isolation they'd endured at the hands of the international community. A fragile peace had been achieved following the 1993 UN-supervised elections that had ushered in the country's first democratically-elected government and for the first time in recent history, the country had opened its borders to the more adventurous tourist.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of my trip was the three days I spent exploring the dramatic ruined cities of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Flying from Phnom Penh, the capital, to the northern provincial centre of Siem Reap, I was unprepared for the awesome array of massive stone temples, wide majestic causeways, imposing towers and gates and beautifully intricate stone carvings that I encountered. The monuments were originally constructed by a dozen Khmer god-Kings between the 9th and 13th centuries but had lain hidden by dense jungle for nearly 500 years until their re-discovery by the French in the latter part of the last century. Alongwith my guide Soy Bun and driver Somath, I leisurely wandered for hours amongst the almost-deserted ruins before completing a whistle-stop tour of the lesser-visited outer-lying temples.
For sheer size, the vast spectacle of Angkor Wat, the largest religious edifice in the world, is simply stunning. Its central tower, surrounded by four smaller towers, a myriad of galleries and covered passageways and an 800-metre long series of richly carved bas-reliefs will linger long in the memory, particularly a dawn visit to watch the sun rise and bathe the temple complex in swathes of red and orange light (Note: I was the only foreign tourist that morning for sun rise). Perhaps more startling, although smaller and less restored, is the Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom. Its most intriguing feature - although its bas-reliefs are extraordinarily detailed - are the giant faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with its enigmatic half-smile peering down from all four sides of the fifty-four towers. Amongst the other temples to make a lasting impression were the well-preserved Preah Khan - a labyrinth of fascinating pavilions, halls and galleries, and the temple of Ta Prohm. The latter has been left much as it was when it was first re-discovered - a mass of silk-cotton and fig trees, tangled roots and vines and fallen masonry, framing an eerie and haunting scene.
Phnom Penh on the other hand, was an altogether different proposition. It is a city in transformation. The once-elegant French-colonial capital became a ghost town when the Khmer Rouge forcibly emptied it of all its inhabitants in 1975. Today, parts of Phnom Penh are undergoing frenzied reconstruction, although life remains unchanged in the city's back alleys, where the majority of the one million populace live in hovels without basic amenities. Negotiating the traffic - a multitude of mopeds, cyclos and bicycles jockeying with private cars and trucks - was a nerve-wracking experience, the loss of my suitcase at the ramshackle airport for three days was a nightmare but nothing could prepare me for my sobering visit to see the graphic reminders of the cruelty inflicted on the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge. At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - a former high school turned into a torture centre and prison - my guide Kin gave me a tour of room after room of torture implements, photographs and other evidence testifying to the atrocities of the Pol Pot-inspired regime. Ten kilometres outside the city are the 'killing fields' of Choeung Ek, where at least 17,000 people were taken from Tuol Sleng, brutally murdered and buried in mass graves. A memorial glass tower at the site is filled with the cracked skulls of some 8,000 of those victims and is definitely not for the squeamish. I left Cambodia with many lasting memories, enriched by my experiences and eager to return to this fascinating country in the not too distant future. (Note: I returned every year until I moved to live in Phnom Penh in 2007).
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Sok Sothun receives Asean Award
|LtoR: Sok Sothun, Kulikar Sotho, Nick Ray|
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Pulse in the house
|Steel Pulse 2015 edition|
Labels: Steel Pulse
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Get along to Meta House
Also coming to Meta House soon will be French photographer Roland Neveu, who was one of the few foreigners who stayed behind when most of the press corps left Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge arrived on 17 April 1975. The few 35-mm films which he shot that day are some of the only remaining images of that time. Meta House exhibits them to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh. Roland will be present and hold a talk at 8pm on the rooftop on Tuesday 21 April. Exhibition opens at 6pm.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Marc and his Space Project
What made you first want to explore the subject?
One night in 2002, I was sitting outside Phnom Penh’s then most popular watering hole and nightclub, The Heart of Darkness. The street was deserted and a bright full Moon painted everything in diffuse grey. There were no streetlights and no tarmac and the red laterite dust suffocated all sound like snowflakes. From a distance, I could hear a small transistor radio playing an old song from the golden years of Cambodia’s past. “I’m only 16 years old and my life opens up like a flower…gimmie some love, gimmie some love…lalalalalala”… sang the “Golden Voice of Phnom Penh” Ros Sereysothea. It is the same song we have used at the beginning of the film in the pre-title. I didn’t know the song back then and a Cambodian friend at the table told me that the singer was still very famous in Cambodia and that she’d been killed under Pol Pot.
The sound of her voice was immediately cutting through to me. The aura it had was remarkable.
Then and there, I was hooked on the music.
The voice kept singing, it gave me the shivers and I felt like I was looking straight into the Heart of Darkness.
Having lived in Phnom Penh for some years I learned more and more about the music and singers and was looking for an angle to tell the story of Cambodia’s vibrant artistic past with a focus on the era of the 1960s until the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975.
When I met Julien and Srey Thy in December 2009, and when they told me they were starting a band together that would be riffing on Cambodian rock evergreens from the 1960s it immediately clicked. As soon as I heard that I suggested I would make a film about them. Luckily they agreed!
I wanted to make a film that tells of the resurrection of arts and culture in a society that had undergone a complete cultural collapse, and a film that tries to capture the funkiness of the people and the culture that I thought was so prevalent in the whole place. Adopting that approach was a challenge in itself. During the course of filming far greater challenges would come my way.
How long did it take to get the film off the ground?
It has taken 5 years to complete, I started filming in December 2009 – 3 weeks after I’d met Julien and Srey Thy, right from the get go when the band started. When I began filming Srey Thy attempting to capture her thoughts and personality it became clear that my role of director/cameraman would go beyond simply following her in observational mode. It became a balancing act of maintaining the formal filmmaker-subject relationship while also supporting her in the massive transition her life was taking as the front lady in a rock’n’roll band. My main aide was Srey Roath, translator and sound-woman, who was also a student of psychology. Roath understood very well the dilemma and problems Srey Thy was facing trying to survive day by day seeking to build a future for both her family of five and herself. Currently approx. 40% of Cambodians live in abject poverty and are faced with the same problems, but it is mostly women who have to bear the weight of it and are sent out to bring home money–whichever way they can. Some people say that this is due to Cambodian tradition and the Woman’s code of conduct, which is handed down from mother to daughter and also taught in schools. Yet, tradition also features the Man’s code of conduct, which isn’t practiced anymore and frowned upon like a relic of the past.
Very early on in the shoot I talked with Srey Thy about what it meant for her to participate in a film and tell her story to the world. Unlike most women in her position she was neither shy nor scared to talk about her past as sex worker. Quite to the contrary she said that she hoped she could make a difference by telling other girls and young women out there what happened to her so that they would know and hopefully make better-informed choices than her.
I kept pitching the film project at festivals and markets, there was interest from broadcasters, but no contract and no budget, so I refreshed my skills as a bass player again and joined the band for their tour through Australia – the only way for me to pay for the shoot/trip.
What were you most surprised to learn in the course of production?
One of the biggest challenges was researching the historical background. Sadly as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s attempt to obliterate Culture the availability of documents, films and songs from the period 1960-75 is poor. Research and exploration for this film involved pioneering work into the obscured fields of Cambodian rock’n’roll and Cambodia’s cinematic legacy predating the Khmer Rouge-induced cultural collapse. This work was both uplifting and tragic. During the making of this film I unearthed musical recordings, precious scraps of Cambodian films believed to be completely lost, and other previously unseen archival material.
Filmmaker friend Jim Gerrand opened up his garage and went through reels of 16mm film that he filmed in Battambang in 1971 and found previously unused footage of band rehearsals with singer Song Seng Horn. We also found footage that demonstrated well how rock music and modern dance was brought to the countryside by the King. In the rushes of an old CBS TV show we found a reel of King Sihanouk visiting the provinces with uniformed dancers twisting on stage and the King clapping in the background. Priceless. We found rare documentary footage from Phnom Penh in the late 1960s shot by a French cameraman Jean-Pierre Janssen who was here filming for a feature film that he never completed. We came a cross a KR propaganda film I’d never seen anywhere that was originally produced for the international market with Chinese help, but then never had been released.
Last but not least, I came across the last few remaining photographs of Pen Ran, even one of her singing in the studio, when Seng Dara, music lover extraordinaire showed his archive to me.
A very important part of the archival process was finding high quality recordings of songs as they originally sounded. Most of Cambodia’s rock’n’roll song recordings resurfaced in the 1990s – but with new overdubs that added a new, contemporary punch to the music. Many of the tracks sold at markets and available as downloads are these new and somewhat compromised versions. Enter Hen Sophal, a painter in his sixties, who had hunted down and amassed the biggest collection of songs, often by risking his own life in a time during the early 1980s when Rock’n’Roll was still outlawed in Cambodia. Himself a passionate connoisseur and in love with the music he happily agreed to provide original recordings of the songs for the soundtrack.
The pinnacle of shooting the historic backstory was finding out more about Pen Ran, Srey Thy’s idol (and inspiration), and Cambodia’s most famous yet enigmatic female singer of the so-called Golden Era. Everybody in Cambodia, whether young or old, knows her name and her voice. But nobody knows any details about her life. Today, a total of four photographs are all that remains and there is no moving (film) footage of her. With the help of a group of students we visited a village two hours south of Phnom Penh in order to find out what really happened to Cambodia’s most celebrated and mysterious female singer.
What is more important, story or character?
It always depends on the grammar of the film and how much the story is plot driven or character driven. Each film has to find its own balance between plot and characters.
The crux that editor Andrea Lang and myself had to solve was, how much story and how much of the characters do we need to develop in the shortest amount of screen time and be able to pay it off at the end. Four years of rushes and roughly sixty years of history of Cambodia is a lot of ground to cover, so clearly this film is a plot driven story that requires many emotionally charged moments of telling and showing of character- all told in the best visual way possible.
Which documentary has most inspired you?
Little Dieter needs to fly (1997), Grizzly Man (2005), by Werner Herzog.
Hearts of Darkness – A filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola.
Person you’d most like to interview (living or dead?)
Hitler and Elvis.
Best piece of filmmaking advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s only a film!
If money was no object, what is your dream documentary subject?
Life, the universe and everything.
Favourite film of all time?
Most difficult access?
Long Cheng, Laos-former CIA airbase.
Best recent read?
The Man with the Golden Mind.
You can read another article, by Marc himself on the BBC website @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1GB8bQ4x19MhhdZnqRFJ1bd/bringing-the-mythical-golden-hong-to-life.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Sarah's in town
|With Sarah in the foyer of the Patio Hotel|
When Clouds Fell out in April
Friday, March 20, 2015
Off to London
|The Last Reel's Ma Rynet in a still from the movie|
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Savy's a painted jezebel
Monday, March 16, 2015
Documentary on Haing Ngor
|Haing S Ngor's signature|
Labels: Haing S Ngor
Thursday, March 12, 2015
|The dancers, from a distance|
On World Cup duty
|Va Sokthorn (blue, 6) in action vs Macau: Photo by Masayori Ishikawa|
Labels: Cambodia national team
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Monday, March 9, 2015
|The PPCFC staff team. I'm third from left, back row.|
The next chortle-filled night of the Cambodia Comedy club has been set for Friday March 20 at Equinox, start 8pm, tickets at $5 a pop. On the mike will be the comedy trio of Aidan Killian, Graham Wooding and Ray Bradshaw, not all at the same time of course.
Traditional dance enthusiasts out there - "The Lives of Giants" will be performed by Sophiline Arts Ensemble at Chaktomuk Theatre, Phnom Penh from 12 -15 March from 7pm (4pm on final day). Tickets priced at $3, 5, 20 & 15. This is Cambodia's only professional dance troupe and they are very talented. I'm fortunate enough to be invited on the opening night, so I will be one of the lucky ones - make sure you get to see this very special performance too.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
|The Last Reel director, Kulikar Sotho|
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Under the skin of aid work
Monday, February 23, 2015
|Selwyn and myself in Paris in 2004|
Friday, February 20, 2015
Giffen hits the spot
|Matt Giffen, a comedy marvel|
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Had a crap experience last night at this restaurant, on the riverside in Phnom Penh. The robbers charged $12 for lok lak as it came with french fries instead of the normal $8 version, even though fries weren't ordered. The waiter didn't mention the price hike and it doesn't show in their printed menu either. The waiter was argumentative and bolshy and the manager said sorry that they weren't up front with their prices, but refused to take my complaint seriously. And a refund was out of the question. In the end I gave up as it was only a few dollars but their customer service sucks and I suggest every customer checks their bill to make sure the thieves aren't overcharging. The staff couldn't care less about individuals or couples, as they cater to big tour groups and family groups - their response at management level was pathetic and stubborn and they need to address customer care issues sympathetically before they hemorrhage business. Such blatant dishonesty is rare in my experience in Cambodia, which is why I was surprised by their refusal to resolve the issue.
Labels: Bopha Phnom Penh Restaurant
Thursday, February 12, 2015
4 of Feingold's finest
Wednesday, 18/Feb, from 7pm:
WAITING FOR CAMBODIA (1988) & RETURN TO YEAR ZERO (1989)
Thursday, 19/Feb, from 7pm:
INSIDE THE KHMER ROUGE (1990) & SILENT SENTINELS, COWARD’S WAR (1995).
Do not miss them.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Beauty & The Beat
|Belle answering questions at Meta House|
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Jon Swain returns forty years on
|Jon Swain with yours truly at Raffles Le Royal Hotel recently|
Reporting from the Vietnam War for The Sunday Times, Jon Swain made the world’s most dangerous boat journey. Forty years on, he returns to the river. Published: Sunday Times, 8 February 2015, courtesy of Jon Swain.
How many times in the course of the past 40 years have I dreamt of being back in Vietnam and Cambodia on the Mekong? Ever since I first saw the mighty and mysterious river while cutting my teeth as a young war reporter, the Mekong has been impossible to forget.
For me and my colleagues, many of whom lost their lives covering the war that defined the 1960s and 1970s, there were moments when its swiftly flowing waters were menacing and dangerous, a place of raw terror, bullets, shrapnel, the dead and wounded.
At other moments, though, most particularly when the sun glittered over its waters at dusk and the fishermen pulled in their nets, the Mekong was still a vision of serenity and calm. Somehow, in my experience, wars nearly always seem to be fought in the most enchanting of countries. Materialism and tourism have inevitably changed Vietnam and Cambodia, but they’re still places of intoxicating beauty.
The Mekong begins its life tamely in the Tibetan Himalayas, then, fed by melting snow and mountain streams, tumbles down through steep-sided gorges in southwestern China, twists through the jungly hills of Laos, descends through a series of rapids into Cambodia, then flows at a more leisurely pace into southern Vietnam to meander peacefully into the South China Sea.
It has enriched my life. But over the years since the Vietnam War, the moment for travelling on it never properly presented itself to me. Perhaps this postponement was because, along with all the good times, the pain of memories of the war endures. Maybe I instinctively kept the idea of returning at arm’s length. No matter. Last month I found myself back in Saigon, the old wartime capital of South Vietnam — I can’t quite bring myself to call it Ho Chi Minh City — for a cruise up the Mekong, all the way to Phnom Penh.
The last time I made this journey was in 1974, when my boat had to run a gauntlet of heavy communist fire as it ploughed upstream towards the Cambodian capital. Phnom Penh was a city under siege. All overland routes were cut. The airport was under rocket attack and the city’s survival depended on convoys bringing ammunition, rice and fuel up the river. Several boats had been sunk, and many men had lost their lives on these runs.
I was on Bonanza Three, a rusty old freighter built in Osaka in 1957, carrying a cargo of rice. The risks were high. Before we weighed anchor, the skipper, a one-eyed, battle-hardened Indonesian, showed me the 67 bullet and rocket holes in its hull from previous Mekong runs, including fist-sized shrapnel holes in the door and wall of the loo. Not a place to linger. The wheelhouse was protected by a thick wall of sandbags. The radio officer had been killed a few weeks before, blasted in his cabin by a rocket, his remains scooped up in a plastic bag.
No such dangers awaited me on the Aqua Mekong, the brand-new luxury riverboat that would be my home for the next four days and nights. At My Tho, a delicate Cambodian woman welcomed me on board with a chilled towel to freshen my face and a glass of bubbly. It was a great start to a memorable journey.
I was shown to my giant cabin, whose sliding doors opened onto a private balcony with a divan where I could relax and watch the river glide by. I’d known I wouldn’t be slumming it, but this was a film-star level of comfort that I never expected. In that respect, there was a huge contrast between the Aqua Mekong and Bonanza Three. But there was a common element: both possessed a magic quality that tied them to their crew, and tied their crew to one another.
The food was gourmet, the wine plentiful and excellent. The boat had a plunge pool, a fitness centre, a cinema and a health spa. I quickly got into the spirit of things with a soothing massage that put me in the mood for a cocktail. The staff, half of them Cambodian, half of them Vietnamese, looked after the 20 passengers on board with a cheerfulness that was so heartfelt and genuine, it was infectious. My fellow passengers were mostly much-travelled couples who, like me, had found the lure of Southeast Asia’s greatest river impossible to resist.
What impressed me most was the golden calm. We were constantly on the move through the rice-rich provinces of the Mekong delta, its network of canals seething with life. But on the boat, it felt as if time stood still. Before falling asleep each night, I thought how privileged I was to be once more on this river.
This was clearly a very different experience to my wartime adventure. Despite all the problems that persist here, peace has given Vietnam and Cambodia freedom at last, and aboard the Aqua Mekong, I could see the countryside pass by with a fresh and contented eye. It was good to think of Vietnam as a country, no longer the name of a terrible war.
Here and there we stopped and made excursions ashore: visiting a floating market brimming over with exotic tropical fruit, listening to village elders poignantly describing their wartime sufferings, riding on bicycles through emerald-green fields. Beauty lay almost everywhere, and most of all in the faces of the children.
One day we explored the former Vietcong stronghold at Tam Nong, transformed in peacetime into Vietnam’s largest bird sanctuary. It spans nearly 20,000 acres and is home to a full quarter of the country’s bird population. It is one of the few places to see the sarus crane, at nearly 6ft the tallest flying bird in the world, and increasingly rare.
To get a better view, we climbed an observation platform high above the trees. Instinctively, I gazed down on the great greenness of the countryside. “What do you see?” someone shouted. “Vietcong in black pyjamas,” I joked. There was no one, not even the thread of smoke from a village fire. Just great flocks of tropical birds skimming over waterways and trees in perfect harmony. You could hear their wings beating in the still heat.
By and by, we crossed into Cambodia and soon were passing the first danger point of my wartime trip, at Peam Chor, where the Mekong suddenly curves and narrows to a 500yd channel, an ideal and frequent ambush point. My eyes strained to see again the forlorn relics of sunken ammunition barges. Like the Vietcong in the bird sanctuary, they had vanished long ago.
This section of the Mekong was riddled with memories. We sailed past the ferry town of Neak Leung, where, in a dawn raid in 1973, an American B-52 had prematurely unleashed its 30-ton bomb load, turning the main street into a flattened mess of rubble, killing and wounding 400 people. The tragic error is vividly told in the film The Killing Fields. Now Neak Leung is a bustling town where a mighty bridge spans the Mekong.
It was dark when we passed the place where Bonanza Three was ambushed. I deliberately stayed on deck to remember what it was like: the awful din of battle swirling and eddying around as we took cover in the wheelhouse, the burst of rockets on the hull, the relief and exhilaration at being alive when it was all over and we were safely moored in Phnom Penh. In the present, lost in thought, I went to my cabin and fell asleep.
I awoke at dawn, refreshed, to a vision of peace and beauty. The Aqua Mekong was stationary a few miles from the hurly-burly of Phnom Penh. Kingfishers were darting over the waves and fishermen were casting their nets, as they have done for centuries. The war had destroyed almost everything it touched. But not the Mekong. It was still everything a tropical river should be.
Need to know: Jon Swain was a guest of Aqua Expeditions and Red Savannah, which has a seven-day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia from £4,136pp (01242 787800). The price including Thai Airways flights from Heathrow via Bangkok, transfers, one night at the Caravelle, in Ho Chi Minh City, four nights on the Aqua Mekong (including all meals, most drinks and excursions) and a night at Raffles Le Royal, in Phnom Penh.
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Garrison temple of the Khmer
|One of my own photos from Banteay Chhmar|