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The Leng Pleng Gig Guide comes out on a Thursday or Friday of every week

Weekly Wrap - Commencing Thursday the 12th May 2016

Big Mike portrait by Conrad Keely
 I didn't even really fully realize just how much I used to rely on Mike. He occupied a place in my working life that no-one else could fulfill. He was somebody I could talk to about things of which I could talk to no-one else. He was someone who made me feel important and made me feel so special that he called me his friend. I could always rely on him when it came to the the buzz of the live music scene. I could learn things from him because he had a sharp mind, an amazing history, a large, diverse and loyal network of friends and a unique vantage point on the rock & roll lifestyle that circled around him. A Chinese-born, American citizen with a history in the Hell's Angels, CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and international financial dealings, he would spend part of his time in New York City but always loved to return to his rock & roll lifestyle in Cambodia. You can read more about the Mike and the history of Sharky's (the bar of which he has been principal owner for most of its existence) in our article written by one-time manager David Rabie back in March 2013.

- Television Ted      Read Television Ted's full piece here.

Big Mike had a huge network of family, friends, colleagues and business associates that stretched around the world. Family, friends, colleagues and business associates in New York City, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Phnom Penh and countless other locations have all been dealing with a huge loss this week. Like Ted, the founder and editor of Leng Pleng, you may have found yourself sitting down to compose a tribute to Mike on social media, or were perhaps asked by someone who did not know him: 'who was Big Mike?'.
Like us, you may have found it hard or perhaps impossible to even begin to describe the man with a few words or a short tribute post on Facebook. You may have found, like Ted, that the passing away of Mike has had a much more profound effect on you than you could ever have expected. You may have realised that here was a truly exceptional and unique human being, who in his 68 years seemed to have the life experience of ten men. 
I was lucky enough on a number of occasions to be sat next to him at the bar, or across the table from him in a restaurant, as Mike talked (and he loved to talk!) about his time as a Hell's Angel, a television celebrity chef, a barman/music manager at CBGB's, an investment banker... the list (and the stories!) went on and on. As musician and artist Conrad Keely said this week, 'He was one of the greatest story tellers I've ever met'.

Like Conrad, and probably many others, I urged Mike to begin to write down some of the fascinating stories of his life. If he was not inclined to write them down himself, he could relate them to a writer, or simply record everything to tape for someone to transcribe later on. I gently suggested to Mike, as recently as one month ago, that now was the time to do it: who knows what the future would bring? Mike responded with interest but did not share my sense of urgency.

Mike's biography would make a fantastic story, worthy of a Hollywood movie – but the scriptwriters might have to tone down some of his exploits – so the audience would believe it actually happened! I truly hope that someone succeeded where I failed and got some kind of a record of his tales. Perhaps he even wrote some of it down himself. 

The Leng Pleng Gig Guide has been intertwined with Mike and Sharky Bar since Television Ted first put together his humble mailing list of musicians and gig-goers seven years ago. No tribute we could write could really begin to do the man justice, and the story of his life is a story that will (hopefully) be fully written at another time, in another place. 
In the meantime, below are a few key notes, pictures and memories of the big man with the big heart. As usual, check out the gig guide below to keep abreast of the many great gigs that are happening around Cambodia over the next few days. The managers of Sharky Bar are currently organising a three-day 'blowout' of live music to take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday the 20th, 21st and 22nd of May. The event, entitled 'Mikestock', will be a huge party in honour of the man – and the fulfilment of his oft-expressed wish to stage 'the party to end all parties' when he finally came to the end of his time as principal owner, chief operating officer, full-time host, music manager and raconteur extraordinnaire at Sharky Bar, Street 130, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

'He never walked back down those stairs...' 
Current Sharky Bar manager and musician Ryan Wright wrote the following, devastatingly beautiful message on the bar's Facebook Page, immediately after the tragic loss on Sunday the 8th May. 
I'm sorry to say that Sharky Bar won't be open today (Monday 9th). All of us have had an extremely difficult 24 hours with a lot of grieving going on and bare minimum sleep. It's been brutal, a truly large flame has been extinguished. Heartbreaking, utterly heartbreaking. Big Mike walked up those steps to Sharky Bar like he did everyday and in the end they had to carry him out. He never walked back down those stairs. His spirit will live in that bar until the end of time”

Creating the Document:
Photographer Steve Porte was a tireless documenter of all the gigs and events at Sharky Bar over the last year or so. Steve's trademark black-and-white, high-resolution shots now seem especially poignant and appropriate. The above shot was taken after Steve and Mike enjoyed a long lunch together in New York City. 

Essence of Mike:
Phnom-Penh based songwriter and poet Scott Bywater published this simple and moving poem on Wednesday the 11th May. https://thesilverpepperofthestars.wordpress.com/.

The Good/Bad Old Days:
It is sometimes easy to forget that Sharky Bar started out as a very different place, in a very different Phnom Penh back in the mid-nineties. On the eighteenth anniversary of the bar, Mike told Leng Pleng about the craziness of those post-UNTAC days:

Heartfelt Thanks:
On the occasion of the bar's 20th anniversary, in December 2015, Mike made a heartfelt Facebook post that paid tribute to friends, staff and supporters of Sharky Bar:
Sharky Bar usually opened for business during the Khmer New Year national holiday each April. This year, Mike decided to give everyone a few days off. His Facebook post from 14th April 2016 is a beautiful message that says a lot about the man.

Demographic Shift:
Around the time of the twentieth anniversary, Mike gave a lot of interviews and in general talked a lot about the history of Sharky Bar and the changing landscape and nightlife culture of Phnom Penh. Click here to read what he had to say to Leng Pleng on the 17th December 2015. After speaking to Mike at that time, it was clear that he anticipated the end of Sharky Bar – as we knew it – in the not-so-distant future.

On Saturday the 7th May, I was in a coffee shop when I noticed Mike's portrait peering out from the 'Weekend' section of the Phnom Penh Post. The photograph was unusual: a rare 'business' shot of Big Mike dressed in pressed white shirt and trousers, as opposed to the normal cut-off XXXL black t-shirt, jeans and key-chain of 'rock'n'roll' Big Mike. The newspaper piece was entitled 'Goodbye to Phnom Penh's Sleaziest Bar', with reference to the closure of the (in)famous Walkabout Hotel. Again, Mike was quoted discussing the demographic shifts in Phnom Penh nightlife. I wondered to myself how long Sharky Bar would continue in it's present form.

Watching Closely:
Any time a band would rehearse in the 'Shark-cage' rehearsal room, play a soundcheck, or begin their performance on the Sharky Bar stage, Big Mike would sit right down and check out what was going on. This was especially true if the band was new or untested. Mike was very generous and inclusive about inviting new bands or visiting bands to play at Sharky – he would give anyone a shot – but he was not afraid to closely observe, comment and criticise a band's performance. After the band were done, he would go around the bar soliciting feedback from customers about the set.

The Last Night
Scott Bywater's Phnom Penh-based band Moi Tiet were slated to play Sharky Bar on Saturday night, the 7th May 2016. As usual, Mike was listening attentively and enjoying the band. As usual, he was full of hearfelt praise and encouragement during his typically long on-stage introduction. Mike must have really enjoyed the show, because after the band finished he returned to the stage to say a few more words. Big Mike genuinely loved music and was boundlessly enthusiastic about any and every band that he invited to play at Sharky Bar. With a most fortunate, but heart-rending, twist of fate, audience member Basil Riley was there to record the last words Mike spoke on the Sharky Bar stage: 





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