Giggin’ in the city: on the music trail in Bangkok
Bangkok is an enormous city, home to millions of people, some of whom were not born here, but have chosen to make it their home. This is a story about music and musicians, specifically expat musicians in “The Big Mango” who, as well as possessing the desire to see and learn about new places, have music in their blood.
The first band we are going to look at are the Midnight Ramblers, named after a well-known song by Britain’s elder statesmen of rock n’ roll, The Rolling Stones. The band comprises Eric and the ageless Joe, both from the USA, respectively on vocals and lead guitar, Cameron (Canada) on bass, Arne (Norway) on drums, Christophe (France) on rhythm guitar, and Charles (USA/Thai) on sax, with veteran musician Roddy Lorimer joining him on trumpet when he is in town. They are devotees of the Stones music, although they don’t see themselves as a covers band, but rather a tribute band, and as well as the popular favourites such as Brown Sugar they delve into the more obscure songs from The Rolling Stones extensive back catalogue. They are not a pro band, they perform because of their love of the music, and once they start to rock the whole place rocks with them. You can catch them around town in various venues, such as Fatty’s Bar, Maggie Choo’s, Check Inn 99, The Clubhouse, Queen Bee and Live Lounge, etc.
Midnight Ramblers Dream Supergroup:
Drums: Buddy Rich
Bass: Sid Vicious
Lead Guitar: Marc Ribot (USA)
Vocals: Charles Aznavour and Howling Wolf
Keyboards: Burton Cummings (Guess Who)
The next band are Jenny and the Scallywags, one of the most intriguing groups on the circuit. The band features Jenny (Swedish/Thai) on guitar and vocals; Will (USA) on ukulele and vocals; Charlie (Australia) on lead guitar; Ludovic (France) on drums, and Kitti (Thailand) on bass guitar. Performing, they are not like anything else out there, and the first thing you notice (apart from the gorgeous Jenny) is Will, a rather large, jovial American guy wielding a tiny ukulele, which he plays like a master. Will and Jenny share the vocals in a set that includes a few well-known tunes from the past up to the present, some more obscure classics, and also some of their own self-penned material. This is a group that have garnered an enthusiastic fan base in the city, and it’s easy to see why.
Jenny said the music scene in Bangkok has improved for both musicians and music-lovers, and said, “We should all be excited to see what is coming next.”
If you want to join the party they play at all the best known spots around town, but the ideal place to catch them is at Apotheke on Sukhumvit Soi 11, where they play every Sunday evening.
Jenny and the Scallywags Dream Supergroup:
Drums: Jeff Porcaro (Toto, deceased 1992)
Lead Guitar: Gary Moore
Vocals: Whitney Houston (Oregon, USA)
Keyboards: David Paich (Toto)
Bass: Tommy Emmanuel (Australia).
Bangkok is nothing if not eclectic, and this carries over into the next band, Big Backyard, who have carved a niche for themselves by giving us a taste of classic soul and funk music stemming from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Band members are Gregory (USA), bass and vocals; Shin (Japan), lead guitar; Jerry (UK) guitar; Jerry (USA) drums/vocals.
I first caught this band over a year ago at the train night market on Ratchadapisek Road, and I was hooked. I was originally a hard rock fan when I was younger but now appreciate most genres of music, and the way Big Backyard perform their set on stage give us sounds as good as (sometimes even better than) the originals. It is surprising to see such a versatile and passionate lead guitarist, and even more surprising when you realise that he is not from the West, but from Japan. His solos seem to come from out of nowhere, and I love the way the powerhouse drumming and cool bass lines drive the band on like an express train. They have done over 90 gigs already this year—it won’t be long before you will see them somewhere near you.
Big Backyard Dream Supergroup:
Vocals: Curtis Mayfield
Bass: Charles Larkey (Carole King’s band)
Keyboards: Stevie Wonder
Guitar: Nile Rogers
Drums: Charlie Watts.
Next band up is the Cotton Mouth Blues Band, who were formed by Bangkok music legend Keith Nolan, the guy in Bangkok who knows just about everybody on the music scene. The band lineup is Keith (Ireland): keyboards/vocals; Andy (UK): drums; Takashi (Japan); Daniel (Australia) – guitars; Jimmy (Australia); Neung (Thailand) – bass
The Cotton Mouth Blues Band add yet another facet to the musical cut in Bangkok, with their take on ‘da Blues’. They play some original material, but also have a load of crowd-pleasers as they stamp their own style on standards by musicians such as the Allman Brothers Band, BB King, ZZ Top, Taj Mahal, and many more of your favourite blues artists. They continue to gain more followers after every gig, and they also have a taster available of their own stuff, Pardon me for Asking which you can find on Spotify and iTunes, with a new album due out this December. They play at all the usual venues, but you can catch a gig every Sunday evening at Check Inn 99 on Sukhumvit Soi 33.
Cotton Mouth Blues Band Dream Supergoup:
Guitar: Billy Gibbons
Bass: Willy Weeks
Drums: Steve Gadd
Vocals: Taj Mahal
Bang Sue Electrix are not exactly a band, but a duo featuring Pavel from the Czech Republic, and young twenty-something, Bell, from Thailand. Pavel is a seasoned musician who performed and produced in Russia and Europe before ending up here. He can turn his hand to most forms of music, and in this incarnation he has teamed up with the clever wordsmith and rapper Bell, from near his home in Bang Sue, where the band gets its name from.
Pavel plays guitar and creates loops and synth splashes to the spot-on lyrics and enthusiastic performances of Bell. They are currently gaining a rep amongst the younger crowd in Bangkok, and are constantly being invited to do gigs all over town. Wherever they play the vibe is definitely electric, and it is not long before the dance floor is packed out.
Bang Sue Electrix Dream Supergroup:
Bass: Simon Gallup (The Cure)
Guitar: Adrian Belew (King Crimson)
Keyboards: Brian Eno
Drums: John Bonham
Vocals: Chance the Rapper.
Lastly we are going to look at the solo scene, with four of the best singer-songwriters who live in the city; Matthew Fischer (Wisconsin); John Lindsay (Newcastle, UK), Ryan Holweger (Minneapolis), and Valerie Joyce (Los Angeles). They became friends after meeting each other performing at various spots around town, and formed a bond because of their mutual respect for each other’s music. They perform almost 100 per cent their own self-penned toons, and each of them brings something special to the table. Catch them around town, or on Tuesday nights at Fatty’s Bar on Asoke Dindaeng, plus other guest performers. They are having a launch in September of a record featuring all four performers … just Google Fatty’s Bar & Diner for details of the launch party.
Honourable mentions: Thomas Murcutt’s Plague Pits, Kevin Wood, Roman Anton, John Branton. All the bands, individuals, and venues mentioned in this feature have their own Facebook pages, check’em out to see what’s coming up.
If you live in Bangkok, and you love your moozik, get yourself out onto the streets … there is a lot to see and enjoy.
By Robin Westley Martin