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A Walk on The Wild Side

- By Frisco Tony

The tuk-tuk careens through the streets of the city and arrives at its final destination, the Latin Quarter. I roll up to the bar and am greeted by Alexandra Hammer, who is celebrating her birthday party with a coven consisting of beaucoup des best friends. The revellers are ligging it up at the bar. Elvis Fandango, the entertainer for the eve, is setting up for his performance.

Fandango is a tribute singer in the style of Elvis Presley. He also performs blues shouts, jazz and pop standards. I chat with Sophal, a local Cambodian bloke. He was a featured character actor in the film City of Ghosts, shot on location in Cambodia. It was a critical and commercial success starring Gerard Depardieu and Matt Dillon. The only other Hollywood productions shot here were ‘Tomb Raider’ starring Angelina Jolie and ‘Clash of the Empires’ starring Bai Ling and Christopher Judge (in which I portray the character King Korm). Clash of The Empires was a production by The Asylum - an low budget indie outfit directed by Joe Lawson.

Picture: Bernhard Langer
Elvis kicks off the show with a hard-driving rendition of the Presley classic, ‘Little Sister’. The tables are laden with tapas and jugs of sangria. Wine and whiskey flow. Elvis jumps into a dramatic version of ‘In The Ghetto’. The crowd is rocking. Fandango switches gears. The tune is the evergreen ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ The crowd is on their feet now, grinding and dancing in the space between the well-appointed bar and tables. There is no rest for the wicked. Elvis continues in the tradition of the great brown-eyed handsome man, Chuck Berry, as he segues into ‘Promised Land’. The party is augmented by punters from the street drawn in by the commotion.

The Neil Diamond gem ‘Crackling Rose’ sends the crowd into a sing along. A birthday cake makes a flaming entrance. Elvis chants happy birthday with the fans. Alexandra blows out the candles. Let them eat cake. The fans booze, schmooze and cruise. Elvis slays them with ‘Everybody’s Talking’ - the theme song from ‘Midnight Cowboy’, a great film about a cowboy gigolo set loose in New York City starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. The party is lapping it up. He launches into a jazz-blues song, ‘Stormy Monday’. This is my cue. I air-kiss Alexandra and thank her for her hospitality. Elvis croons ‘Kentucky Rain’. I hit the road, jump on the back of a motorcycle and direct the driver to take me to Slur Bar.

I walk through the portals of Slur. Joe Wrigley and the Jumping Jacks, a rockabilly band, are the headliners. The Slur is a spacious venue with a pool table at the back, next to a well stocked bar, and the requisite dance floor in front of the stage. The pub grub is excellent.

Slur is surrounded by the demimonde that comprises Street 51. Demimondaines mix with a crowd of hipsters, trend setters and NGOs. Guitarist-vocalist Joe Wrigley greets me. He is from Stoke-on-Trent in England. Joe looks the part of rockabilly rebel, resplendent in cowboy hat and western boots. The pearl buttoned rodeo shirt is festooned with rampant horses on the chest. Joe is armed for the match. The drummer Julien, and the bass player, Adrien, are French. The owners of the boite are also French. They own a restaurant-cum-hotel (Cyclo) in the hood. Joe assembles the band on stage and they tune up. The rockabilly rebels open the show with an obscure shout, ‘Everybody’s Rockin’. The lurching beat is infectious. The crowd begins to swell and pomp it up. A band of fans make a grand entrance. I recognize them from the fiesta at Latin Quarter. They hit the dance floor. Are we having fun yet?

The band bursts into ‘Take a Whiff on Me’. This song contains thinly veiled allusions to the ingestion of narcotic powders. The viper tunes of a bygone era and the tradition of banging the gong songs are its historical antecedents. A wailing mouth harp solo pierces the night. The music shifts into overdrive as the band moves and grooves to ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. Freddie Mercury originally recorded it as a homage to Elvis Presley.

picture: www.kenedgar.com
The hillbilly cats romp into ‘Rock Around The Clock’. I schmooze at the bar with film director K.M. Lo. He has been teaching film to young Cambodians at Pour un Sourire d'Enfant (PSE). His aim is to generate young Khmers to participate in the process of creating cinema and music for generation next. Joe sings an original composition, ‘Shiva’. Rocking under the flag of Sun Records they bring down the house with ‘Mystery Train’. Pure Sun Records golden oldie ‘That’s Alright Mama’ rocks the venue.

‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ is shown no mercy as the Jolly Roger furls and unfurls in the background. They bow and bust into an encore, the Eddie Cochran anthem ‘Summertime Blues’. I slip out the doors to my next scheduled public appearance at the film festival soiree at the Bophana Center.

The film festival is celebrating a show by the Cambodian Space Project. I chat with lead singer Srey Thy. She is pretty and petite and just barely escaped a sex trafficking ring when she first arrived in Phnom Penh. Julien Poulson, producer and guitarist, founded the Cambodian Space Project with Srey Thy in 2009. Thy is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations program UNITE. The worldwide goal of the program is to stop violence against women. She makes her way through the crowd and joins drummer John as they go onstage and set up. 

I order a red wine at the bar. Marc Eberle, a young German documentary film maker, joins me. He pulls on his beer, as he tells me of his film project. Marc has been documenting the work of the Cambodian Space Project for the past 3 years. He has followed them on their American tour of Detroit. He also shot their recent tour of Australia. The director has amassed 450 hours of film. This must be condensed into a 90 minute blueprint. Then the film will be ready for the film festival circuit and theatrical distribution. Eberle has just returned from Amsterdam. He was a judge at a documentary film festival there. He made many good connections to enhance the bridge between music and film in SE Asia.

The Space Project kicks it onstage. Thy entrances the audience with her wailing vocals, bluesy and gritty, sexed up and deep. We are rolling deep in the streets. The crowd is too cool for school. Everybody is an actor, film director, muso or journo. They all pimp their profiles relentlessly. The fashionistas are in full force. Models dance about as the Space Project cranks up the beat. Everyone hits on each other. The networking is shameless and unabated. My kind of crowd. The clock chimes midnight. I must leave and carry on to interview the celebrated Niki Buzz.

Niki Buzz and I chat backstage at ‘The Longest Running Rock and Roll Bar in Indochina’, Sharky Bar. Niki looks every inch the soul gypsy. He wears his hair long and matted, affecting the odd body piercing, dressing casually in ready-to-rock garb. He has been touring Cambodia with his power trio, playing a joyous blend of R&B, soul, blues and jazz. He drinks a mocktail of water on the rocks, and raps to me about his life as a soul pirate.

Picture: Alex 'Bleys' Bolton/Sharky Bar Cambodia
Who were your heroes and musical influences back in the day?

I dug Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, Errol Garner, you know - jazz cats.

So jazz was your first love?

Man, I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, the deep south. My father was a jazz musician. My mother was a classical artist.

You played with Ike And Tina Turner.

Incredible, Tina is a force of nature. Ike ran a tight ship. The band was super disciplined.

How was it to gig with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown?

J.B. is killer. Maceo Parker, you know it was orchestrated to the last degree. You put out or you got out. You hear what I am saying? There was no room for tomfoolery.

Do you dig soul?

Bro, thats my gig. I grew up on Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. He was known as The Preacher ‘cause he took you straight to high church. Music is about the spirit, you gotta have soul.

How about Motown?

Yeah man, Marvin Gaye, my main man. Marvin penned one of the first anti-war, pro-civil rights songs, ‘What’s Going On’.

Dude I saw Jimi Hendrix and the Experience in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. They played off the back of a flat bed truck for free.

Hendrix completely changed the face of popular music. I dig his chords. Man I am feeling him when I do his tunes. You know what I am saying? Are you experienced?

What power trios influenced you?

Cream were fab. Hendrix and the Experience, dude those cats rolled deep. I dig ZZ Top, those are 3 bad hombres.

What band of today would you fancy touring with?

All the musos I admire are dead babe. Prince is a dude I could dig touring with.

You recorded with Tower of Power

Well, with the horn section. My favourite horn sections are like Cold Blood and Tower of Power.

Where do you live now?

I live in Amsterdam with my daughter. My crib is in a suburb, Osdorp. Come roll with me next time you are in Amsterdam, broheme. I live in Sin City but I am drug free. I get high on my music.

I hear you talking. Are you coming back to gig in Cambodia?

Hey my drummer Andy Potter and bass player Martin Seig will be back in the spring. Check it out.



Always GREAT to hear from you, with your wonderful writing.”

- David Winters

Actor (West Side Story, 1961), Director (Welcome 2 Ibiza, 2003, Rage to Kill, 1988) and Producer (The King Maker, 2005), Chairman & CEO - AIP Studios Corporation http://www.aipstudios.com

You are a great writer.

- Gulrukh Khan


“...his sentences flow with a cool flavour reminiscent of a copacetic Cuban hat pitched just at the right angle.

-      Television Ted, www.LengPleng.com

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