2017 You’ve been trippy!

I reckon this is gonna last words from CSP until 2018 and a chance to have a bit of reflection on the year 2017 that’s just been. So any of you who know or have followed The Cambodian Space Project, you’ll be well aware that CSP is a band that is more than used to the odd curve ball, surprise or totally unusual out-there situation coming our way… At one moment this year – the opening of a fabulous new CSP home and live venue The Villa Grange, I realised just as we were about to hit the stage that the evening’s show coincided with a date that marks the band’s 7th year of Space Travel. Wow! 7 years old and still flying and still navigating all the expected and unexpected challenges that come with being a psych rock’n’roll band based in Cambodia and 2017 has been no different, in fact it’s been a meteor storm of incredulous happenings and activities and here’s why.

For the first few months of 2017 we didn’t really do much at all… after all, it’d been an intense 2016 and I had been in an out of hospital with a few health issues and a broken shoulder and had switched to keyboards with Jas Shaw taking over guitar duties. In 2016, we’d toured in Australian then Cambodia and at the same time laid down tracks for a new album while stopping in at 60 Road Studios in Siem Reap – great stuff but by the end of the year we’d left it all incomplete. By March this year we were all raring to go! another tour of the Kingdom and this time we’d blast off from Chinese House in Phnom Penh, do a whirlwind “Spaced-Out in Wonderland” tour of the Kingdom, stop along the way to finish off tracking for the new album then dash back to Phnom Penh where we’d land and launch our Angkor Pop! Iggy Pop compilation project with an outdoor festival at Freedom Park… this is where things start to get interesting… very interesting and very troubling! I won’t go into it here but you can read the full story at Night of the Iguana

Needless to say, it was perhaps timely and uncanny launching an Iggy Pop tribute project on April 1 – Fool’s Day and we certainly bit off a bit more than we could chew at the time but I’m happy to say the results are exciting, can’t wait to share these recordings – nearly 12 new Cambodian based acts that are each covering their choice of Pop’s catalogue and a chosen because ( like CSP) they’re a fusion of Cambodian and Western cultures. Our own version of Iggy Pop’s classic The Passenger is now our on Spaced-Out in Wonderland and you can check out the new LP right here on iTunes.

Throughout the year each of the CSP members also have been busy doing lots of side-projects – Channthy’s been out and about – from Phnom Penh to Prey Veng – gigging with her Cambo style Channthy Cha Cha band. Bong Sak and Phea Bass – the Sly & Robbie of Cambodia are always in demand, Jas Shaw’s mixed down most of CSP’s new album and has been honing his skills on a whole range of new recordings, not least the artists we’ve recorded at our festivals and events in Cambodia, and I’m in Kampot and as much as humanly possible, hanging out upstairs at KAMA painting crazy paintings. When mid year came around, we checked back in with each other and the local scene for a blast-off at the FCC Rooftop and while this was a hoot, the gig was so hot and uncomfortably packed usually a good thing but not this occasion where i was soaked in sweat and getting electrocuted throughout the set, so much so that we finished up well early and advised the management to ‘please move the venue’ downstairs for the next show which they’ve now done. Anyway, this is how it usually rolls in Cambodia… we cobble together whatever we’ve got to work with and there’s only one thing in mind – it’s party time! A day later, we really got some exciting news to contemplate – an offer to travel to Washington DC to play The John F Kennedy Center – wow! I recall thinking ‘great stuff but this is gonna be tricky!” very little lead-up time and again, I was already flying back to Hobart, Tasmania for an appointment with my surgeon! Despite the tricky timing – Bong Sak getting his passport made at 7pm (in ‘the other’ passport office) on a Friday night when we were booked to fly on Sunday – our team got it all together and with big help from US Embassy staff in Phnom Penh, State Department and JFK Center we soon found ourselves back at FCC for another impromptu bon voyage! and next day, flying out to USA.

The Kennedy Center was such an amazing event for CSP, now so much for the gig we played – the Millenium Stage is a huge long room and the band mix was very dry – but just the serendipitous fact that our gig was to coincide with the launch of Ken Burn’s incredible new series Vietnam. It was kind of like it was meant to happen and as half the songs on Spaced-Out in Wonderland are Vietnam War era rock’n’roll – songs we’re performing and recording for a new musical Yesterday, Once More, the time and occasion seemed right. And what’s more, it reassuring to know that in this terrible time of Trump, there’s still some good going on in Washington. Everyone in DC was great to us and after a day or so, jet lag shaken off, we were excitedly loading up the van and setting the Sat Nav for New York City. Check out the Kennedy Center live show here . But just before we took off for NYC (at 6am arrrgh!), Jas and I sat up all night finishing a couple of projects happening back in Australia. First thing was getting the Spaced-Out in Wonderland album art laid out and ready to print – right now this is released through our fabulous new record label Four | Four on ABC Music and it’s on old fashioned CD with a booklet complete with liner notes by Clinton Walker click the link to read Clint’s big ‘road trip with the CSP’ story. Then the next little task that has Jas and I sitting up late, was writing and recording a soundtrack to a fantastic little Super 8 Movie called “Sumatra” made by a cool team of space cats back in Darwin, we’ll post a link of this soon but “Sumatra’s” – based on a nightclub singer Frank Sumatra – doin the bars of Australia’s Northern Territory –  is still doing the Super 8 film festival circuit – yes there is one.

In NYC we arrived smoothly and right outside the first venue of 2 nights booked. One this occasion we’d play as The Angkor Watts so as not to affect an ‘exclusive’ booking the following night and it didn’t really matter a bit because we’d kind of been scripted into this immersive theatre show – an incredible show called Sleep No More and this spooky looking old hotel venue just off Broadway. The McKittrick Hotel is supposed to be spooky, the whole 6 floor building becomes the set for this incredible immersive theatre show – an avant garde play first performed in the UK then turned blockbuster courtesy of visionary producer Jonathan Hochwald and his talented team. Theexperience can be described as part David Lynch part Macbeth… after settling in at the McKittrick, and we really didn’t know what was going to happen, we finished up an amazing dinner on at the rooftop restaurant then were ushered back out onto the street where people were already cueing up… the shows been sold out every night for the past 7 years… then the filed into this dusty dank looking lobby and were each issued White Masks to wear, given a few instructions and basically told “if we need to get out” look for the people in the black masks… and off we went into these dark, dark spaces, already screams and yelps coming from down scary looking hallways and passages and the show was on! Our Cambodian members had never scene anything quite like this let alone been immersed in such a place… and I mean, what a place… at times I worried for the guys as some of the scenes were like walking through Cambodia’s Toul Sleng (genocide museum) but our Cambodian team do like ghost movies and this certainly felt like we were in one. Soon, we’d navigated through, arm in arm, and eventually back to the bar – a great little live music club called the Manderley and this is where we’d be playing… ready to go as soon as the rest for the audience emerged from the catacombs of the McKittrick! Eternal gratitude to Jonathan and the spooky crew at Sleep No More. If you’re in NYC don’t miss it.

One of the best things about touring is catching up with old friends and on this trip we were lucky to meet-up with many people with connections to Cambodia and in NYC this was Billy MacCartney and his partner April who also put up the band for a few days and finished up our visit with a backyard BBQ in Brooklyn – next time we’ll have to play a gig in the backyard as it was such a nice place, great people and in the heart of Brooklyn. So we rested up, figured out the next leg – yep, figurin’ out the tour as it unfolded and by morning time we were back in hire van and on the road to Detroit then Chicago. I’d hoped to have the band check in at Detroit with a few friends and a visit to Motown Museum but by the time we’d been on the road for a few hours it looked impossible. Instead, we stopped late and night, in a really dodgy looking strip in Cleveland, looking for a Cambodian restaurant The Phnom Penh or something… got there and found that not only we’d arrived later than closing time but it had been closed down for about 5 years. By this stage, we were all tired and hungry and anything would do, I glanced over the road and saw a pub called Bywater’s – reminding us of founding CSP member Scoddy Bywater – so, without further ado we were sat down at a table ordering off their Cajun style menu and it was good! A rethink was had, Detroit idea was scotched and we reset a course for Geneva, Illinois and hopefully a motel, a sleep and a meeting the next day with the owner of a great little record label Lion Productions. The only Motel open turned out to be something right out of one of those 70’s cop TV shows but over the road was a restaurant with free pour coffee and wifi called Papa Bear’s and had a very welcomed massive breakfast on offer but certainly added to the Fargo-esque scene of the place.

Downtown Geneva was a different scene all together, quaint and gentrified, beautiful wide streets, wonderful green parks and gardens and a picture albeit touristic of well-healed, calm and relaxed America. It’s here we had the pleasure of catching up with the man behind one of my favourite catalogues of psych rock and obscure records and this is Vincent owner at Lion Productions – check them out here . Or if you’re in Phnom Penh then call in to Space Four Zero and talk to Tony about the Lion catalogue, he’s got some great examples of Lion’s vinyl records in stock.

Last leg of the USA tour involved a mad dash from Chicago to Long Beach – this is destination we were all very much looking forward to arriving at not least because it’s also the home to the biggest Cambodian expat community outside The Kingdom. Talk about hitting the ground running! we were picked up from the airport by Olary Yim who really got rolling on the idea of CSP coming to LB and made everything happen and I mean happening from the moment we landed in LA. Olary got the Cambodian community right on board and our last few days in USA were amazing, again, the special thing is reconnecting with old friends and meeting a whole bunch of new ones! so first night’s show was at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach – fantastic bar and more so because they were screening (by coincidence) our buddy Andrew Leavold’s incredible The Search for Weng Weng film just as we arrived to play. The Weng Weng movie kinda set the mood for the rest of the night, check out the trailer here – bizarre, weird, cool and totally out there! Finally, last night… in CSP tradition…another huge bon voyage! was just as exceptional and what a send off! We made some great friends with the Khmer American crew and the venue – run by Deep and Molina – amazing set-up on stage, very surprising and cool to see how they’d prepared a three screen multi media show of many of our video and art images and best of all, great hospitality from the DH Lounge folks – awkun thom thom! all Bongs and Ouns, can’t wait to see you again soon.

After a long blurry night at DH Lounge each of us started splitting to the airport, half the band heading directly back to Cambodia, Jas leaving earliest – 3am for a flight to Vietnam and luckily, I got to sleep in hang about the next day and catch-up with Sayon and the team at United Cambodian Community Center – the folks who’d helped make our stay possible and say thanks and farewell. Next, I was flying back to Cambodia via Istanbul where I got a chance to spend a few days crate diggin’ for Turk Psych and other cool sounds as well as attend Ai Weiwei’s first exhibition in Turkey, works on porcelain at Sakıp Sabancı Museum. With all this inspiration taken onboard, I was soon flying back to Phnom Penh with the idea of getting busy with CSP and of course, programming and organising the third edition of The Kampot Readers and Writers Festival. Back in PP, I hit the ground running! had a fun reunion with space project crew then got to work on KRWF. KRWF is really a festival in equal proportion of words | art | song. It’s certainly turning out to a much a listeners festival too but this year – and perhaps it’s due to all the efforts of ‘flying the flag’ of our creative community over the last couple of years – we attracted some of the best Writers on the literature circuit today. I was thrilled to hear from author Madeleine Thien who get in touch earlier in the year and told me she’d be coming to Cambodia, in addition, Maddie had invited Jung Chang and would be coming as part of a very talented delegation of Canadian Writers – organised by Ottawa Writers Festival. In addition to this, we’d also taken on a new venue to stage KRWF in Kampot so the festival line-up and venue seemed to be falling into place but of course, things are never this easy. This year we have really struggled to finance and build of the work of previous festivals and even more worrying has been the crackdown on media in Cambodia. Sadly, the Cambodian Daily was forced to shut down and this means there’s no longer any media doing enough in depth coverage on the arts and events such as Kampot Readers & Writers Festival. I found myself wondering whether or not the huge effort in staging this 5 day festival was even worth it but of course it is, for me, I’m enriched by the arts and artists of Cambodia and of course by the experience and international networks gained from all my years orbiting the planet with CSP. So, no time for worrying, I got back to Kampot and got to work. KRWF launches first in Phnom Penh and on this occasion it was also a great chance to catch-up with Channthy and perform her intensely moving song The Boat – co-produced and written with Paul Kelly. At Chinese House, late into the night, following our most anticipated author Jung Chang alongside a speakers including Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie and local blogger Kounila Keo whose Blue Lady Blog report of the night can be read here, Thy and I were joined by double bassist Dan Davies, Gleny Rae sitting in on accordion and man of many hats Scott Bywater reading the words of Walt Whitman to The Boat. On this note, Opening Night wound to a close and many of us rolled onto Kampot where all things KRWF really got underway. I’m happy to say I’ve made it through to the other side and am personally very happy with the way this year’s festival worked out. Not an easy task and we’re moving into increasingly difficult and frustrating times but we’re working with an extremely committed and dedicated group of people and I believe that while there’s obstacles there’s plenty of hope and opportunity to see our creative garden grow in an even more spectacular and meaningful way! So here’s to History, Heritage, Culture, Diversity.

Meanwhile back in Phnom Penh, you can catch plenty of CSP related stuff happening. Channthy’s been out and about with her Channthy Cha Cha group, while I’m back at painting at my studio space above KAMA in Kampot. It’s been great to sell and exhibit some of my new paintings, sold an “Elvis” just recently and this helped present Master Kong Nay at KRWF. We’re also slowly assembling songs, facilities and ideas toward the creation and staging of a new musical Yesterday, Once More so it was also great to have our new stage along with set paintings by Chris Hancock of the YOM’s protagonist Poev Vannary adorn the main stage at KRWF. This new venue and facility will be where we plan to stage and develop more new musical events including our own little – down homey – Folk Arts & Blues Festival coming up through the last week in January.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve also have the pleasure of checking back in with Siem Reap for a couple of great shows. First up! a Xmas Party at 60 Road Studios and if you’re considering making a recording in Cambodia then check out this awesome studio. We also played an event for the Sala Bai team – mostly as a chance for some of this very successful NGO’s donor to see CSP while visiting Siem Reap then on a Monday night, Channthy and I were both on hand for the Opening of my Spaced-Out In Wonderland paintings at One Eleven Gallery. 111 is a great place and well worth visiting if you’re in the Reap – my show’s on for the next month but is just a small part of an incredibly good collection of contemporary art. The gallery’s bar is also a lot of fun so call in and say hi to Danny, Jessica, Eiming and Robina.

So now we’re just 3 shows away from calling 2017 a rap! next up on Monday 18 is a return to one of our favourite venues anywhere – Otres Market! The OM is so much fun because of the folks who run the place, the audience it attracts and especially because it sits smack band in the middle of the craziest little village – right behind Otres Beach. Unfortunately we won’t have both guitars in the line-up for these next few shows but we do have a new permanent fixture and that’s Lenny Conga on percussion. Yep, Channthy’s turning CSP into more of a family affair than ever and her younger brother Len Ny is now augmenting CSP with live percussion on a brand spanking new set of red congas! coz we all know the red ones sound the best.

After Otres we’re back in Phnom Penh for a BIG BOXING DAY recovery party and return to the Villa Grange and seriously, if you’re planning to see CSP in PP then book a night or two and stay at the Villa, it’s a great little hideaway right of 240 1/2 laneway and I’m working closely with the Villa to create a new Art Hotel in Phnom Penh, so no doubt you’ll be hearing about all this. If you email villagrange2017@gmail.com ask them for the “CSP SPECIAL RATE” for a great deal. We’ll be playing poolside around 8ish on Boxing Day so don’t forget yer swimmers, birthday suit, flippers or dancing shoes.

Last show of 2017 and a big countdown to 2018 will be CSP landing in the heart of Phnom Penh at the FCC’s fabulous The Mansion! this has become on of the best looking outdoor venues in Phnom Penh and New Year’s Eve with The Cambodian Space Project couldn’t be happening in a better place. Can’t wait to see you soon and to swing into many exciting new CSP adventures coming up in 20187.
2017 You have been a tripper!

Checkout Summer Wine by The Cambodian Space Project with special guest Paul Kelly from the group’s 5th album Spaced-Out in Wonderland