Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wish You Were Here

On location in Kampot with the stars of Wish You Were Here
A mystery drama feature film that Hanuman Films worked on at the beginning of this year, Wish You Were Here (aka Say Nothing) has been selected to screen at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and will have its world premiere as the opener of the World Cinema Dramatic competition on 19 January in Utah, USA. At the time, Kulikar Sotho, who runs the film company, said the feature film was, “the biggest Southern Hemisphere shoot we have done, a complex 10-day shoot in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville with a somewhat sensitive script. The shoot included several crucial night scenes, but everything went very smoothly. Everyone involved in the production loved Cambodia, especially Director Kieran Darcy-Smith.” The Director himself agrees, and has said he was thrilled beyond words. "To have been given the opportunity to make the film in the first place was an immeasurable gift - and it has been, quite truthfully, a wild and wonderful ride from start to finish." Wish You Were Here is a psychological drama that follows four friends on South East Asian holiday. When only three of them return, a desperate hunt for answers begins. The film stars Joel Edgerton, Antony Starr, Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer and was shot in both Sydney and Cambodia. The film was shot on location in Cambodia and didn't get off to the best start when Darcy-Smith fell into a sewer on the first day. “I was walking across what I thought was a rubbish dump on a location scout and I went straight through and it turned out to be about three feet of rubbish, but after that three feet layer there was nothing but liquid, pure raw sewage. And I fell straight though and it was just that I happened to grab onto this stick that was fortunately there that saved me from going head under.” However, despite starting off on the wrong foot, as well as issues with illness and relocating his young family to a new country, the director speaks fondly of the experience. “The Cambodian stuff is pretty amazing and the cast we dug up and the Cambodian people, everyone we worked with was great – it was such a great experience.” You can find out more about the film at their website.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the radio

The December schedule for the PUC Radio Talk Show on 90.0FM (everyday from 7-8.30pm), hosted by Soma Norodom, has been published and my appearance on the program (originally played live on 7 September) will be replayed a second time on Saturday 31 December. So I'll be seeing the year out. With my "um's and ah's." A few days before, my archaeologist pal, affectionately known as the Jar Lady, Nancy Beavan will be on the show, on 27 December, together with Suwanna Gauntlet of Wildlife Alliance, discussing amongst other things, burial jars in the Cardamom Mountains. And I've just heard that Geographical Magazine want to feature Nancy and her search for the answers to her burial jar puzzle. Great news.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Steel Pulse - Chapter 6

The Grammy awarded to Steel Pulse in 1986 for Babylon The Bandit
This week it's the turn of Chapter 6 of my own Steel Pulse story. For a long while I had planned to author a biography of the world's best reggae band, Steel Pulse. It never happened but rather than let my notes gather dust, I am publishing each chapter on my blog, on a weekly basis, to give everyone an insight into this incredible music group. Here's the sixth of thirteen chapters.

STEEL PULSE - A Lifetime of Revolution


Chapter 6: Commercial Crisis

Recorded in Coventry and Farnham, Earth Crisis was co-produced by Jimmy 'Senyah' Haynes, lead guitarist on six albums with Aswad, and released in early 1984. Grizzly recalls the album. "For Earth Crisis, it was recorded in Farnham and we lived on the studio premises for a few months. It was a good experience. There was no disturbance, we could get on with what we needed to do. Jimmy Haynes came in with a different flavour. Steel Pulse is a band that likes to experiment. Every time we get a different producer we're looking for a different sound and feel. Jimmy was someone we knew from way back and we knew he was a very good musician. We thought he could enhance what we were doing at the time, especially with certain guitar flavours, and his production skills were good. He also did a few live shows with us, a Caribbean and US tour I think." The band had visited Japan and the Far East for the first time in January. "Japan was amazing. The first time we did Japan you'd think the Beatles came to town. People on the streets. Very, very good reception. We didn't realise we were so popular. It wasn't just the music, it was also the culture and history it deals with and the lyrics. They take the music very seriously. They couldn't understand why reggae wasn't so popular in England," recalls Grizzly.

The author was present at their sell-out gig at London's Venue which climaxed the band's UK tour to promote the album, in February 1984. Bob Marley's former art director Neville Garrick was responsible for the album cover concept. Steppin' Out was the only single release from the album and earned the band their first Grammy nomination. In an interview with James Weeks, David Hinds gave an insight into one of the tracks from the album, Wild Goose Chase. 'That was a tune that I was very happy that the words came to me to write it. I've always been happy about it. It took me a long time to really get the lyrics together, at the same time it was not a tune where I sat down and said, let me write the lyrics and I've got to finish it by 4 o'clock. I'm not like that. If my heart is not ready and my mind together to put some words together for that particular song in the time I've got to do it, I don't bother with it. It was a tune where the vibes reached me at various times over a period of months and as I got new words and ideas together I put it down in note form until I had a collection of words that could put a sensible song together. I thought there was a need for the Wild Goose Chase experience 'cause we're in times now where science and technology is really taking over the natural habits of man.' In August they toured with jazz legend Herbie Hancock, opening themselves up to a new type of audience.

Commenting on that period in their history, Hinds recalls, 'By the mid-'80s, our style of politically conscious, spiritually-aware reggae music was being phased out. We had to try to get ourselves strengthened within the American market to stay alive, and we thought it was necessary to have a combination of politically-oriented songs and songs we called 'bait music,' songs that had a pop aspect to it so we could stay in the mainstream.' Grizzly explains. "There was no conscious decision to go to the US. We just got more offers to play over there, or in Europe. Not much was happening in England, apart from the festivals, it just kinda petered out from the mid-80's. You'd had to go to America or Europe to see the top reggae bands. We went where the demand is. We had music in us, we had to play and if we'd stayed we would've died as a band. England helped us in a big way in the early days, but the press didn't help. They build you up to knock you down. Its a shame that the powers that be are only catering for one section of the public as well as catering for themselves." Supplanting the Rasta-inspired roots and culture style of reggae were the deejay and dancehall trends that became so popular in the clubs and sound systems both in England and elsewhere. The concept of a reggae band first learning and then plying their trade was replaced by backing tracks and fast-spoken lyrics as British interest in Steel Pulse's message was on the wane. Hinds recently offered up this view on dancehall; "The advantage of dancehall is that I think there came a time where the music needed more pep to it and also a different type of energy. I think that's beneficial as far as reggae music. I think we need to go into the direction where we are able to stay alive as a music and go mainstream. But, lyrically, dancehall leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to informing the people about reality and spiritual consciousness. As you know, what's going on right now is that a lot of the acts out there are being abolished in certain venues because of their derogatory statements against one's sexual preferences. That's the stage its at right now. We've [Steel Pulse] taken a different twist on things and we're all about elevating the masses to more of a level of consciousness and awareness of what's going on in society today."

In December 1984 a Caribbean tour included stopovers in Antigua and Bermuda as well as Jamaica to perform at Reggae SuperJam in Kingston and to finalise the recording of their next album, Babylon The Bandit at the Music Mountain studios. Pulse explained their reasons for recording in the Caribbean thus; 'Jamaica is our spiritual home, part of our families live here, there are some very special vibes here... The new album is being recorded digitally, which is one of the cleanest sounds obtainable, technology-wise. This is one way, but the whole personal vibration and feel of the music is terribly important and we thought we could get that here, which is more important on this occasion. We also wanted to see our families, take a little irie holiday! We feel this is an important time for us...we'll probably have to leave England but retain a base there. Some of the band may even move to the US. Our personal label, Wise Man Doctrine, is in abeyance since it doesn't have the financial backative to promote the new album, but we do hope to develop this in the future.' Whilst in Jamaica, David Hinds and Grizzly took part in recording Land of Africa, alongwith a host of Caribbean reggae artists, in support of Ethiopian famine relief.

Whilst on a seven month tour of the United States in 1985 the band were augmented by Tyrone Downie of The Wailers on keyboards. At their Hollywood Palace gig in Los Angeles they were joined on stage by Stevie Wonder for a fifteen-minute jam session. That year saw a strained relationship with Elektra after the record company refused to print lyrics on the sleeve of their sixth album release, Babylon The Bandit. The band insisted and paid for the extra themselves but the fall-out was terminal and their contract was torn up with bad feelings on both sides. In a perverse twist to the story, the album earned the band their first Grammy music award for Best Reggae Album, despite a mixed reception from the public at large and the music press. Hinds remembers, "...in all honesty, when Babylon The Bandit won the Grammy, deep down inside I knew that the album before, Earth Crisis, should have been the album that won the Grammy...Babylon The Bandit is not one of our strongest albums...The album had flaws in its overall delivery. A track like School Boys Crush, if that's not bubble-gum, I don't know what is." The album wasn't a favourite of the critics either. Donald McRae from NME commented, 'The Save Black Music, Not Kings James Version and Babylon The Bandit song titles suggest that Steel Pulse have retained their edge...But it contains the first hint of dullness....The real disappointment is that the admirable sentiments and the more militant assertions are blunted by musical mediocity...The robotic vocal used near the end of Save Black Music is an especially absurd embrace of the hi-tech trickery used to smooth out reggae and funk's purer sounds....The Love Walks Out single is mild enough to enjoy extensive Radio One airplay while the abysmal School Boy's Crush and Sugar Daddy hardly deserve a mention. But, in the deepest irony of all, the Babylon The Bandit conclusion is made meaningless by their reliance on DMX/Emulator/Fairlight gadgetry and by their apparent admiration for a very Babylonian rock guitar sound. Steel Pulse have lost their way...'

Bassist Alvin Ewen and Carlton Bryan (lead) again took up the guitar duties for the Babylon The Bandit album and on tour. Grizzly recalls, "Jimmy Haynes was in charge again. Every time we go into the studio we want a different flavour or an extension of the last flavour you'd heard and we worked well with Jimmy. Different producers give you different flavours, different moods, different minds. We experimented more with electronics, computers and things like that. For me, I prefer the feel of the earlier albums, that's where my head is. At the time our shows were geared towards the American market, so when we went into the studio we continued those live shows into the recording sessions. With the Grammy, it was nice to gain recognition for reggae music and reggae musicians. We were surpised and pleased." Godwin Logie mixed the album and Neville Garrick was again responsible for the album cover concept. To coincide with the album's release in February 1986, Pulse toured Britain and I saw them at Oxford Polytechnic. Jimmy Haynes and Ronald Butler (lead) and Errol Reid (keyboards) joined the band that same year as they toured Europe (including Amsterdam in May when Aswad were their special guests) and the US including a first visit to Hawaii. The band were awarded their Grammy at the 29th Awards ceremony in February 1987, having fended off the attentions of Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, LKJ and the Itals.

Chapter 7: State of Flux - will follow next week.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

On the verge

The Children of Bassac show returns to the National Museum on Thursday
The 4th edition of the PhotoPhnomPenh festival is taking place this week. It's a French-inspired event so there's no Brits involved amongst the 16 international photographers and 8 Cambodians who will exhibit their work around the city. There will also be evening screenings of various works. You can find out more at their website where I was surprised to find the website has an English translation. That must've stuck in the gullet of the French organizers. One of the exhibitions caught my eye, a unique collection of glass plate photographs by George Groslier, of the postures of the dancers of the royal ballet, recorded for posterity in 1927 and only recently restored and digitized. The collection will be on show at the National Museum.
On the subject of the National Museum, I had a feeling in my water that the excellent weekly traditional dance performances by the youngsters from the Children of Bassac group, and sponsored by Cambodian Living Arts, will return to the Museum very soon. I've just had it confirmed that they will resume this coming Thursday, 1 December at 7pm (tickets $18pp). If they get enough support, they will take it through until April next year but shows like this need the support of the public to continue, as it's not cheap to put on. Their shows are a great combo of classical and traditional dance, with music, under floodlights on the steps of the National Museum. Well worth the investment of your time and money.
A performance that looks guaranteed to draw a big crowd is the forthcoming Comedy Club of Asia show at Pontoon on Tuesday 6 December at 7pm, tickets $10. Three international stand-up comedians will perform, for 1 night only, though if it's a success, I hope it will prompt the organizers to do it again. I was an addict for stand-up comedy at Cheltenham Town Hall in the 1990s where some of the funniest people on the planet often came to perform. Frank Skinner was our compere for more than a year and he was a class act. As were the likes of Jeff Green, Ed Byrne, Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Kevin Day, Lee Evans, Paul Merton and the legendary Steve Coogan.
Finally, back to classical dance and the Khmer Arts Ensemble team at Takhmao will present three dances, from the Ramayana epic, by three different choreographers from Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia, at their headquarters on Saturday 3 December from 7pm, admission is free. Following the show, the dancers and masters will take part in a ten day exchange of ideas and practices. Sounds like a great idea.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sombo's big day

Sombo's big day
The wedding invitations have started coming in, though it's been a mite slow so far this wedding season. Tonight I was off to Mondial, one of the most popular wedding venue's in town, for my good friend Sombo's wedding to her hubby Pov. I met Sombo when she was a stewardess on the Mekong Express bus route from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh back in 2007 and we've been pals ever since. It was great to see her tie the knot and she looked radiant all night long. With my groin injury not fully fixed, I gave the madizon a wide berth on this occasion.
Photo opportunity with the bride
Pov and Sombo thank their guests
The dreaded snow foam spray that is the bane of all weddings
Sombo with one of her best friends

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Improv dance

The 7 dancers at Lyla Lagoon tonight
A double-header tonight with an improvised contemporary dance, and a lecture on a little-known French painter. But it's all art isn't it. The dance, with Belle, Narim, Leak and Tonh, together with three female artists from the States, was contemporary and free-form and looked like the dancers were emulating various forms of wildlife in the forest, but to be honest, that's just a guess. There was no introduction and the programme didn't give a clue either. A few animal style noises from the dancers and some obvious postures were the giveaway but as to whether there was a story taking place before my eyes, goodness only knows. That's the thing about contemporary, you either understand it, or its a mystery. I asked a few others and they didn't get it either. So I wasn't alone. To be honest I like to see something I can understand or relate to. Just makes it easier for my simple brain to absorb it. I thought the Khmer dancers were more fluid in their movement, more relaxed and flexible than their American colleagues, but just my observation. Nevertheless, it was a whirlwind of motion from the seven performers. The dance was at Lyla Lagoon and was well supported. There's another dance performance, from Epic Arts, tomorrow night but I'll be at a wedding party. I left immediately it ended and headed across town for Meta House, just in time to catch the start of Joel Montague's lecture on the Indochina paintings of the French artist Jean Despujols from 1937. One of the largest collections of its kind, the paintings and sketches are held in a small museum in America and have never been seen over here. Despujols painted portraits of hill-tribes and others, the Cham in Cambodia and so on. He was a talented artist though his Indochina adventures were just a small part of his portfolio. Joel's talk was interesting and well received, though he did run through his slides pretty quickly.
With Joel Montague after his lecture at Meta House

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gina's observations

Gina Wijers talks about her book at Monument this evening
A nice mix of Khmers and foreigners gathered at Monument Books tonight to join Gina Wijers in the launch of her book, Swimming in Uncharted Waters, published in English, having been originally available in Dutch from 2009. Gina spent a couple of years in Cambodia as a volunteer with VSO and the book is a collection of her personal thoughts and views, which were originally intended as blog posts for her family. Her observations show the humorous side of life in Cambodia for a newbie, coupled with the frustrations and self-doubts, as she describes everyday situations at home, with friends and in the workplace. I enjoyed the book.

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An enriching time

The bears are great but to get so close to the tigers was a privilege
The idea behind Tuesday's visit to Free The Bears at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Center was to get the gen on their Bear Keeper for a Day project. It's a great program and Pesei filled me in on all the details including making enrichment toys, filled with food, to help brighten up their day and to give the bears activities that encourage them to use their natural talents. Going behind the scenes with the bear keepers, vet and volunteers was an eye-opener as to exactly how much work is involved in looking after more than 120 bears every day. There are seven 'houses' to maintain over a vast area of land and it's a tough job. You don't get to have direct contact with the bears, that's the domain of the real bear keepers, but you get privileged access to areas that visitors are not allowed to see and watching the three small bear cubs at play - or squabbling as it turned out - was one of those 'aren't they lovely' moments everyone would enjoy, but few get the chance to see. The project is allowing the bears, both Sun bears and Asiatic Black bears, to live a happy and healthy life in their forested sanctuary and it works a treat. Top marks to Matt, Nev, Pesei and the rest of their staff and volunteers who make Free The Bears such a success story. Pesei also took time to show me around a few of the other animal enclosures, passing on interesting tips about each of animals we saw, and gaining access to more behind-the-scenes sections of the zoo, including the tiger house, where I was literally inches away from three gorgeous tigers eating their food and relaxing, and therefore paying no attention to me. Up close the tigers are perhaps my favorite. I could've stayed there for hours. It was a great experience, and between Free The Bears, Wildlife Alliance and the forestry authorities, all of the animals I saw looked well-fed and cared for, healthy and in good spirits. I was suitably impressed. I enjoyed lunch with the volunteers and staff and later in the day, called into the Angkorian temple at Tonle Bati for my temple fix. Neat and tidy as always, the flower girls at the site were on good form though the old ladies with their incense sticks were a mite too persistent, probably because it was a slow day at the temple of Ta Prohm. I was the only visitor.
An inquisitive Sun bear in the quarantine area
A Sun bear cub having fun with his friends
This coconut is proving a tough nut to crack for this cub
This pig-tailed macaque reminded me of a hermit
This clouded leopard was as inquisitive as I was
An adult leopard yawning, I think
The otters were as playful as ever, splashing in and out of their water poolThis lion-tailed macaque looked sad because he had a wound on his leg which he showed us
I think Lucky's handler enjoyed the bath as much as the elephant
One of Cambodia' s best known elephants, Chhouk, with his prosthetic foot
This elephant was kept away from the others due to mood swings
Churning of the Milky Sea lintel from Ta Prohm temple at Tonle Bati
The dying Buddha reaches Mahaparinirvana at Ta ProhmWorshippers up close from a lintel at Ta Prohm
The small Prasat Yeay Peau next to the modern pagoda at Tonle Bati

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Collaborations in the air

As well as Joel Montague's lecture at Meta House on Friday evening (7pm), on the paintings of Jean Despujols, there's a new contemporary dance workshop an hour earlier on the same night, at Lyla Lagoon Sports Center. Involving Belle and three other Cambodian dancers together with three artists from the USA, it's the result of a month-long collaboration and artistic exchange. Tickets are available, in limited numbers, from Amrita on Sothearos Boulevard. Lyla Lagoon is on St 508. The following evening, Saturday 26 Nov, again at 6pm at the same venue, disabled arts foundation Epic Arts join up with UK dance company StopGap to present an integrated collaboration called Admission. Free entry but limited tickets from Amrita. I can't make the Saturday show as I'll be at Sombo's wedding party.
Prior to the above, Monument Books will host a book signing this Thursday (24 Nov) at 6pm by author Gina Wijers for her book Swimming in Uncharted Waters, which documents her thoughts from her two years in Cambodia from 2006 when she worked as a volunteer. The book has just been published in English.

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Man or machine?

You cannot help but be won over by Joel Montague's enthusiasm and zest for life. Forget the fact that he's 78 years old. That doesn't stop Joel from giving his all for the many projects he's involved with at any one time. I had dinner with him last night and he left me in a daze. He's a machine. That never stops. This Friday (25 Nov at 7pm) he will give a lecture at Meta House on the Indochina artworks of artist Jean Despujols, who documented life in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in 1937. The French artist's 350 paintings, watercolours, drawings and photos will provide the backdrop to Joel's lecture. But the works of Despujols is just one small part of the man's interests. He's already published his Picture Postcards of Cambodia tome, available at Monument Books, and is now nearing the end of a book about the early life of celebrated photographer John Thomson, the first man to photograph Angkor Wat in 1865. Thomson is a fascinating character and a look at his early days spent in Asia, alongwith a reproduction of his 1867 book Antiquities of Cambodia, will be very welcome. In later life, Thomson's photographs of China, Cyprus and the streets of London would earn him much acclaim. As for Joel, I'm surprised he has any time to sleep with so many projects on the go at once including his personal collections of postcards, books, posters, shop signs and stained glass paintings.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Privileged access

It's a tough life being a bear - two square meals a day and the chance to sleep
Much of today was spent at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, getting my first behind-the-scenes look at the incredible Free The Bears operation that houses the world's largest safehouse for Sun bears and Asiatic Black bears. I couldn't believe how big the whole complex is, home to 125 bears and with the numbers growing on a weekly basis. Seeing the mounds of food needed for their daily diet brought it home to me, that a military-style operation by the bear keepers and volunteers is required around-the-clock to keep the center ticking along each day. The acreage needed to house the bears is humongous, twenty-one forested enclosures with males and females in separate 'houses' overseen by a dozen keepers and a foreign staff that includes a vet and handful of volunteers. You really have to see it for yourself to appreciate it. And what the public can see is just a part of it, with other restricted areas away from prying eyes, such as the quarantine house. With Pesei as my expert guide, I got a behind-the-scenes look at the bear sanctuary as well as other areas of the zoo, getting into areas that only staff usually have access to. It was quite a privilege. I'll bring you more details tomorrow. Suffice to say that it was a real eye-opener and a great pleasure to see how well the bears, and other animals at the zoo, are being cared for, by a combination of Free The Bears, Wildlife Alliance and the forestry administration. On the way back to Phnom Penh, I popped into Tonle Bati to refresh myself with the two Angkorian prasats and the nearby lakeside restaurants that usually see tourists, local and foreign, flocking there at weekends. On a Tuesday afternoon, it was as quiet as a mouse.
One of the more active bears came to say hello
This clouded leopard was playing peek-a-boo
"Are you looking at me?"
Flower girls at Prasat Tonle Bati. Channa in pink was adorable.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Steel Pulse - Chapter 5

Steel Pulse 1983 LtoR: Carlton Bryan, Grizzly Nisbett, Alvin Ewen, David Hinds, Phonso Martin, Selwyn Brown
Today I bring you Chapter 5 of my own Steel Pulse story. For a long while I had planned to author a biography of the world's best reggae band, Steel Pulse. It never happened but rather than let my notes gather dust, I am publishing each chapter on my blog, on a weekly basis, to give everyone an insight into this incredible music group. Here's the fifth of thirteen chapters.

STEEL PULSE - A Lifetime of Revolution


Chapter 5: Across Continents

Whilst on tour in Toronto on May 11th, 1981, the band heard the tragic news of Bob Marley's untimely death, aged just 36, an event that had a profound effect on the band's members. Marley had been an influence on all of the band from their earliest beginnings and his loss was keenly felt throughout the Pulse camp. Grizzly reflects, "I woke up that morning knowing something was badly wrong. I'd had a sleepless night and a bad dream. Dennis [Thompson] found out first. It badly affected the whole band and the crew. No-one spoke in the car that day on the long drive from Toronto." On a wider global scale, Marley's death virtually marked the end of reggae's international appeal to a mainstream audience as the music suffered a body blow with the loss of its charismatic frontman. For Pulse, a second successful four-month headlining tour of the States early in the year, mainly playing smaller venues and clubs, gave the band further insight into their popularity across the water. David Hinds said of the experience, "All people in America knew about us was what they'd heard on record, and they believed in what the band was saying. The tour was very satisfying." It was concluded in July with a triumphant first appearance by a British band at Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay in front of 20,000 people. In fact, the Jamaican audience demanded that the band perform on two separate occasions, not something seen before. The concert spawned a successful Grammy-nominated double live album, Reggae Sunsplash '81, released by Elektra (in May 1982), in tribute to the late Bob Marley and included four tracks from the band, Sound System, KKK, Handsworth Revolution and Smile Jamaica, alongside other acts like Third World, Black Uhuru and Gregory Isaacs. "That was absolutely brilliant," reminisces Basil. "We spent one week in Jamaica, it was my first time back and the band's first time as well. We went down great at Sunsplash, had a little too much to smoke though I was really excited to be back and went all over the place. I went back to St Mary's, climbed the tree, everything, it was fantastic." David Hinds muses, "We were a bag of nerves on stage before and during the show. We all wondered if we were going to be accepted by the people where the music originated from. Luckily we pulled it off." Reggae Sunsplash, which began in 1978, was the brainchild of Tony Johnson, Ronnie Burke and John Wakeling, who were determined to put Jamaica on the musical map. The festival took place at Jarrett Park, a barren soccer field in Montego Bay, with Johnson later promoting the US franchise when he split from the others. Pulse also appeared in a documentary film released that year, entitled 'Urgh! A Music War', alongside a diverse array of new wave musical talent including The Police, UB40 and XTC. The Pulse footage was actually filmed at London's Rainbow in September 1980. Before the end of the year they'd recorded their fifth and final live session for John Peel. Recorded on 5 December 1981 and played on his Radio One show on 6 January 1982, the band performed Ravers, Man No Sober and Blues Dance Raid.

In October 1981 they were offered free recording time at the Feedback studios in Aarhus, Denmark by Genlyd, a black musician's co-operative at a time when David Hinds insists, "we were on the verge of being kicked while we were down. We had no record company, we had no management and we were flat broke. We pursued the venture, executed the album within 25 days, and came out with a record that is still a force to be reckoned with." Seeking to take more control of their own affairs, Steel Pulse set up their own label, Wise Man Doctrine and their own publishing company, Pulse Music Ltd. True Democracy was album number four, again re-united with producer Karl Pitterson and released on their own label in the UK in March 1982 (where it sold 30,000 copies), whilst the Genlyd Grammofon label released it in Scandinavia at the same time. In the US, Pulse signed with Elektra/Asylum and with WEA International for worldwide distribution and May saw a second release for the album, this time across the Atlantic. Dublin critic Ross Fitzsimmons for the Irish magazine Hot Press commented on the album, '...swings like a pendulum with a mind of its own, balancing simplicity, style and complexity of execution - I defy you to hear it and not respond physically. There's an abundance of richness here, something for everyone - messages of love, peace and unity; stories of humour and compassion; lessons of history and society; and straightforward calls to arms...and legs!'

Before the release of the album, Gabbidon, who'd been a key component in the formation and direction of the group over the previous eight years, finally decided he'd had enough and left the band. "I had lost my strength, I was tired and worn out, angry and depressed. I woke up one morning and that was it. I couldn't take it anymore. I dreamt that I shouldn't be in the band and had to get out. I was ready to do something different, the vibe was right to create something new but not under that regime. For me, Steel Pulse stood for reggae with a serious edge and this was beginning to get watered down." As a final act before leaving, Basil illustrated the sleeve cover of their latest album with drawings of the band members listening to the teachings of Marcus Garvey. It was a prophetic end to his tenure in the spotlight with Steel Pulse. Grizzly recalled the time, "I thought Basil wasn't happy. He wanted to take his whole thing somewhere else. There was no animosity. At that time, everyone was strong, we missed him as a player and as a brother, as part of the sound was gone and he was no longer there on the stage. At the same time we were strong enough to carry on. In a way it made us stronger internally. Basil's not here, so we gotta play that extra bit more to fill in for him." Gabbidon later joined up with his brother Colin to form the band Bass Dance and today remains active with his band Gabbidon and in community music programmes in Birmingham.

Chris May commented in an edition of Black Music magazine, 'True Democracy is an excellent piece of work - musically, lyrically and conceptually...the wait has been worth every second.' Hinds described to Black Music's Greg Marshall the vibe running through True Democracy. 'The album is comprised of varied subject matters that all lead towards one concept. That concept is to try and find a place where we can really get things together through faith." Two of the tracks that do that are Rally Round and Chant A Psalm. "Rally Round is a rallying call. I put together a lot of Marcus Garvey's concepts and doctrines to become a story line, so people who have never read them could attune to them musically.' Hinds continues, 'Chant A Psalm is much the same, it says read your psalms, your scriptures, and there you will find the answers. Mostly the album is about finding the truth within yourself, through studying Africa, the Bible or anything that will help.' Rally Round, Ravers and Your House (the only track on the album written by Phonso Martin) were all released as singles in 1982. Taking over the management reins was Barbados-born Andy Bowen, who'd been the band's driver and road manager up til then.

Following a brief UK tour, their first for almost two years, including the Glastonbury CND Festival also featuring U2, Van Morrison and Aswad, next stop was a first-ever visit to Africa in May 1982 with Victor Yesufu replacing Basil on lead guitar. Grizzly recollects the tour. "We got an offer to go to Nigeria when on tour in the States at the time. We wanted to go to Africa for the first time, so we accepted. We didn't do all the gigs we were supposed to do as the organisation wasn't up to scratch but apart from the ups and downs, we really enjoyed the Africa experience. We played a university, we played in Benin, played Lagos, I can't remember exactly how many gigs we played." But there was a downside to their first venture to their spiritual motherland. The initial booking also included Mutabaruka, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths but the latter two opted out at the last minute. The tour went ahead but was dogged with problems, non-payment of funds and the band and Muta were stranded in Nigeria before the three-week trip came to an end when Nigerian Airways were forced to fly the artistes back to New York. Indeed, the sound engineer that sent the equipment over for the tour never got it back and a Doctor who invested in the tour lost his house as a result. But that wasn't all, as Grizzly recounts the after-effects of the trip. "Some of us got malaria. Me, Selwyn, Andy Bowen and Blue, our lighting engineer, who started feeling the effects of malaria in the last week of the tour. When we got home he was hospitalised. I came back for a couple of weeks and was okay to start with. Then for the rest of us, it came down heavy on our next US tour (a gruelling five month long tour that included 60 dates in the US, where they enjoyed great success on college campuses and radio) and Canada, the Virgin Islands, Surinam and at their second Reggae Sunsplash, in August in Montego Bay with Burning Spear, Chalice and Aswad). It was the first time any of us had malaria and it nearly killed me, Selwyn and Andy. We had the worst type of malaria you could get. I got to the hospital in New York - the first time in a hospital in my life - and the doctor told me I was lucky I'd come in as I had approximately 3 or 4 days to live. It was that bad. Selwyn was admitted to hospital in Connecticut and Andy was upstate in New York. I was in for roughly two weeks and was less than half the size when I came out. I lost a helluva lot of weight. We'd had injections, the whole works, but somehow it still got us." David Hinds adds, "everyone recovered, and it was the ultimate experience for a reggae band nonetheless; it was our first trip there, and our first exposure to the real African roots, of course. And we found the people there very receptive to reggae, if not always ready for the Rasta philosophy. They've even got their own version of the music, called 'fuji reggae,' and it's very percussive; the people dance to it almost exactly like West Indians dance to reggae."

Soon after, whilst in Lyon, France on their European tour the band suffered an unexpected set-back. "We lost a lot of our stuff when thieves broke into our bus when we were on stage. They stole all the tapes, master tapes, all the lyrics, everything. We had to go back and re-write everything, a complete new set of songs and lyrics for the next album. They took literally eveything we didn't have on stage with us, clothes, guitars, we lost a lot of stuff," explains Grizzly. The soundtrack from the film 'Countryman' included their Sound System track alongwith cuts from Bob Marley, Aswad and Dennis Brown. Much of the following year was spent recording their next album and undertaking the band's first Caribbean tour, culminating in their third Sunsplash appearance in Jamaica, alongside Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru, though the group were banned from the island of Dominica because of their strict marijuana laws. Their festival appearances in Europe included a surprisingly hostile reception at the Reading Festival on 26 August 1983 when the band lasted just ten minutes before escaping the stage under a hail of urine-filled bottles thrown by a gang of bikers. Grizzly recalls, "the Reading festival was obviously a rock gig. A lot of people hadn't heard of us but when they heard the words Steel Pulse they expected a rock band. When we walked out on stage and started playing reggae music they were not happy. All sorts of things started coming on stage, bottles and everything, so we said we couldn't continue and walked off the stage. The promoters apologised and tried to get us to carry on. We were singing and dodging bottles at the same time, it was very dangerous. Even I, sat at the back, had to dodge the bottles." The other bands at the festival that night, The Stranglers, Big Country and Hanoi Rocks fortunately didn't suffer the same fate. Earlier in the same month, Pulse had played in front of a more welcoming audience of 20,000 at Phoenix Park racecourse in Dublin alongwith U2, Simple Minds, the Eurythmics and Big Country.

Bassist Ronnie McQueen, having spent a decade with the band, left by mutual agreement in the winter of 1983 and settled in California. Grizzly recalls, "it was kinda weird when Ronnie left. It was a blow to me to be honest, I just loved the way Ronnie played and we had this connection between us. Accent-wise and what he played and how he played was different to anybody else. There's nobody I've heard or played with that plays a bass like Ronnie - he's not the best bass player in the world, but his technique, I love it, its amazing. He just has a knack. When he went, it was a blow to me, I wasn't too happy about it. He had his own reasons I suppose, we've never really sat and talked about it as I respected his decision. I think he wanted to branch out and do other things in America, working in a studio and teaching I think." He was replaced by Alvin Ewen, another recruit from the band's home city of Birmingham. "Alvin used to come and watch us rehearse. He played bass in the church and after Ronnie departed he came up and did his thing and we said yes. He's a brilliant bass player - you can put Alvin in any kind of music and he can play it." Highly respected for his bassline prowess, Alvin has played with Edwin Starr, Ziggy Marley and Pato Banton, whilst remaining a constant with Steel Pulse since his arrival. At the same time, Carlton Bryan of The Congos took over lead guitar duties as the band continued touring and went into the studio to record their next album. "Carlton was born in Jamaica but lived in New York. He was introduced to us. We wanted someone who was different, someone who could play a bit and when their solo came, to make it their solo. He came to rehearsals at Rocket Studio and did his thing. He was with us for a few years. He stopped playing with us because of a terrible car accident one Christmas. He was in hospital in a coma for a very long time and when he got out he had to learn how to play again from scratch."

Chapter 6: Commercial Crisis - will follow next week.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Say goodbye

Jim Heston's picture captures Rumnea, Soma and myself at Mao's for the CSP gig
Saturday evening saw the final Cambodian Space Project gig of the year, in Cambodia, before the band head off to another series of whistle-stop landings in Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and the States. They have a mix of festivals and club gigs on the horizon, so they packed the stage with band members for this final performance at Mao's. It wasn't their best-ever show but it was thumping and Srey Thy launched into all of her favourites from Pan Ron to Ros Sereysothea and her own compositions. Good luck to CSP on their travels. We'll miss you.
The last view of Cambodian Space Project in Cambodia for six months
The ladies enjoying the gig at Mao's - Soma, Thy, Silvia, Vattey, Rumnea
Another Jim Heston shot showing CSP's Srey Thy in the moment

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Classical offering

Linda Hem strikes a pose before the performance begins
You've got to hand it to them, they've been on a frantic whistle-stop tour of Cambodia over the past week but Dengue Fever still can't get enough of their Khmer culture fix. Senon Williams and David Ralicke were out this afternoon at the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center on Russian Boulevard to soak up the traditional offerings from both Cambodian and Japanese dancers as part of a cultural exchange between the two countries. Five classical dancers from the Royal Ballet, including Linda Hem, in full costume, represented the ultra classic Apsara dance, whilst other Royal University of Fine Arts students displayed their folk credentials with the Ploy Suoy and Lakhaon Khaol dances, alongside a full orchestra. They followed on in front of a packed auditorium after a series of traditional Okinawan court dances from Japan. The audience lapped it up and so did the Dengue Fever boys. Also at the event was the doyenne of classical dancers, Sam Sathya, who excitedly told me about her imminent departure to Europe for two months with three other dancers including Belle, to perform a contemporary opera piece by Peter Sellars in Madrid under the title of Persephone. It sounds fantastic that some of Cambodia's finest will be in such exalted company.
The Apsara Dance, performed at the CJCC this afternoon
Linda on stage at the CJCC
The five Apsara dancers getting ready to begin their performance
Linda in profile during the 20 minute show
The dancers in perfect unison
"Of course it's not my real hair, silly man," declares Linda
The show is over and the heavy headdress can finally come off
Linda in the CJCC courtyard before the show begins

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Catching a fever

Dengue Fever on stage at Koh Pich, doing what they do best
In a far-less intimate style of gig from last week's FCC session, the second appearance by Dengue Fever at Koh Pich last night didn't quite hit the spot as the previous one, but it was a close call. The experience wasn't as personal, I was hobbling around on my painful leg unable to dance, the sound and lighting folks got a bit shirty with the party revellers and Chhom Nimol's voice sounded a mite tired. Not surprising after a hectic week-long dash around the country. Nevertheless, it was a party atmosphere on behalf of Cambodian Living Arts, with Kong Nay on stage with his chapei and the younger CLA students dancing, singing and playing instruments at various intervals. A heavy rock band, Animation, also raised the tempo, and noise level, with a few songs. The venue allowed considerably more people to enjoy the music than at FCC, with a bit more room to maneuver, and the band threw themselves into it as enthusiastically and professionally as they always do. Rumnea got to dance on the stage again, as she did last week, as Chhom Nimol and the band encouraged more audience participation, guaranteed to go down well with the boisterous fans. With one more freebie gig in the countryside (at Tonle Bati) tomorrow before they leave, Dengue Fever have again won over a legion of fans with their lively and energetic stage show and their down-to-earth accessibility, confirming their place at the top of the music tree when it comes to Cambodia.
Rumnea gets to look up to Senon Williams, DF's bassist before the gig starts
Rumnea (center) dancing on stage with Chhom Nimol as pandemonium breaks out
Enjoying the moment, CSP's Srey Thy, Rumnea and Nancy
CLA's Children of Bassac dance troup perform for the audience
The legendary Kong Nay, a chapei master and cornerstone of CLA
Girls night out at the DF gig, including me
Soma's photo of Rumnea and me at the DF gig

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