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N by Norwegian – Down By The River

The fat, red man has a faraway look in his eyes. He is naked, his modesty shielded only by his right arm, which extends coyly across his lap. Motionless, he never shifts from his perch on the boardwalk of the old wooden house, where he wistfully observes the activity on the Bangkok Yai canal in the neighborhood of Thonburi in the Thai capital. Such eccentricity is commonplace at Baan Sinlapin (the artist’s house), the centrepiece of the community of artists at Khlong Bang Luang. The community, which boasts vintage antique galleries and a few small exhibition spaces, is dispersed around a string of wooden stilted buildings linked by a plank walkway along the canal. Local artists use the atmospheric venue as a workspace and their efforts are showcased at regular exhibitions. The house is also home to fascinating resident pieces of work – including the corpulent canal-side daydreamer.

The Word – Moddy Waters

At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Not only was I failing to come to terms with the gear/clutch/gas equation on the vintage Vespa I was driving at various malevolently busy and dusty intersections on the way to Highway 1, the music in my own head had also gone curiously awry. This, my long anticipated first foray out onto the open road on one of the iconic Italian scooters, was meant to be a valedictory moment — the moment I finally got to live out a dream nursed by a lifelong admiration for the sharp aesthetics of Mod culture. I would cruise into the countryside like a latter-day equivalent of Jimmy from the movie Quadrophenia, snatches of The Who, Curtis Mayfield and Motown sound-tracking this smooth progress in my imagination. Yet here I was, juddering hopelessly across a wave of traffic on one of Saigon’s myriad plug ugly arterial roads with Gloria Gaynor ’s gay disco classic looping psychotically on my in-cranium sound system. I’d had my doubts about this mission from the off. While the prospect of piloting…

The Word – Lost and Found

BY RIGHTS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ONE of the proudest moments in a musical career spanning more than forty years. After working happily, but in relative obscurity, for decades as a cover band entertaining the Vietnamese diaspora in Houston, Texas, the last thing Con Ba Cuc (aka the CBC Band) expected was to be brought to the attention of hipped-up music collectors around the globe. That was until Mark Gergis tracked the band down to ask permission for two long- forgotten tracks of theirs to be used on an account of Saigon’s pre-1975 rock and roll scene he was in the process of compiling for the US-based world music specialists Sublime Frequencies. Yet, despite receiving their mysterious champion warmly, the group Rolling Stone magazine hailed as the ‘best band in the orient’ back in 1970 seemed perplexed by the renewed interest in their oeuvre. “We came in with the recordings and they hadn’t heard them since 1970,” recalls Gergis. “They weren’t all that impressed either. They were like, ‘it sounds terrible. Do you want us to re-record it for you?’”…

The Word – Golden Oldie

“THIS IS MY FIRST INTERVIEW FOR A magazine so I am very excited,” says Ngoc Thy before unleashing a cackle from behind plumes of her own cigarette smoke. Watching the 63-year-old singer mug and pose for our photographer with practised panache, it is hard to believe she has not been exposed to the full glare of publicity before. She certainly isn’t camera shy. “I’ve got nerve and I am experienced,” she says. “Sometimes in Vietnam you can have difficulties if you have a strong and individual personality. But everyone who sees me perform accepts me and likes my music. I am not scared of anything and I will not give up.” The fact that Thy clearly does not intend to exchange her microphone for the proverbial pipe and slippers anytime soon will not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen her strut her stuff. The singer ’s twice weekly performances at the bohemian enclave of Yoko café-bar in District 3 make for compelling viewing in a city short on visceral live performers. Her powerful yet versatile pipes can…

The Word – Talking about Laos

I MAY HAVE BEEN SOMEWHAT greener and less grizzled when I first came to South East Asia over a decade ago, but I still prided myself on being pretty clued-up about the world. Unlike my schoolmates, I managed to keep my eyes open as Mr. Mitchell droned on in Geography class and my ensuing knowledge of obscure capitals, mountain ranges and rivers made me a force to be reckoned with when it came to collecting the blue wedges in Trivial Pursuit. Despite those years of teenage diligence, however, I have to admit I was dumbfounded when I arrived in Bangkok for the first time just prior to the millennium. My then- girlfriend, who had been travelling in the region for three months, confronted me with a ready-made itinerary.

The Word – Murder on the dancefloor

Although I like to think of myself as being of reasonable intelligence, I’m happy to admit that I’m not the quickest on the uptake when it comes to acquiring new skills. This borderline autism has bitten me on the backside on various occasions down the years. I was denied my rightful role as leader of the Auchtermuchty scout pack due to my inability to grasp the nuances of knot-tying, a string of catastrophic failed experiments caused me to ditch chemistry at the earliest possible juncture, while the ghost of abortive learning experiences past has followed me all the way from Scotland to Vietnam, manifesting itself in my thus far pathetic attempts to pick up the local lingo. Perhaps I should have guessed then that my three lesson taster at one of Saigon’s top DJ schools would leave me no closer to being a master of the decks than I was when I made mincemeat out of my old man’s expensive stylus by subjecting it to a strenuous workout from the bargain bin of my local vinyl emporium. Nevertheless, I approached…