Day 15 of 100 days: writing on flying through Space and Time with Kak Channthy and The Cambodian Space Project
Wow! I’ve just been sent a live recording of CSP in Australia. It’s at the Darwin Railway Club around end of 2013. It was a recording made just before we set-off on our most epic bit of touring – from Darwin in the far north of Australia to the southern most part of the country with last stop being South Port, Tasmania. This live recording captures CSP at a very special time and I hope to share it with you soon but here’s some background.
By 2011 it’d become apparat to Thy and I that our focus would be on Australia. Our freewheeling Cambodian ‘kukuluku’ CSP line-up was probably not really going to go the distance in terms of being on the road over the long term as a band… Gaetan was moving back home to France, Scoddy had fallen in love with Irene and was only onboard providing the CSP was in France.. within radius of Irene who’d also moved back to France. Gildas and his partner Srey Mom were expecting their first child and Bong Sak did not yet have a passport or an inclination to travel. Around about the time our entrepreneurial harmonica player Ken White decided to have a go and staging a music festival Kampot River Music Festival, Thy and I had began the process to apply for her Australian Residency Visa. We’d hope to make the move to live and work more in Australia and this idea fast forwarded when we me Hugo Cran at Ken’s Kampot Festival.
– Chiet’s Kampot Band (later known as The Kampot Playboys)
– The Teaner Terners
– Grass Snake Union Band
– Captain Jack
– Cambodian Space Project
Hugo was traveling with Stephanie who’d already been in touch with me about researching a story on the Cambodian music scene. I hadn’t met with Steph or Hugo before they arrived in Cambodia but Steph was working for a magazine that I had founded and we’d been in touch about the article she’d hope to write, she’d also mentioned she was traveling with Hugo but we didn’t meet until Kampot River Festival. Hugo and I hit it off and he dug the stuff we were doing with the CSP, later he made the effort to travel out to Channthy’s remote village and to meet her family out in Prey Veng. Needless to say we got chatting about bands – he’d been doing the circuit with number of musicians I knew and had been touring Europe with a group called The Devastations…Hugo had some pretty funny touring band stories and sounded almost dissuaded from the idea of ever touring again but at the same time, we got chatting and I told Hugo more about our own plans to keep going…. to form more of an actual band line-up as opposed to our floating ‘kukuluku’ line-up and to get on the road and tour and record, after all it felt like a great thing to do. I could see Hugo liked the idea and that’s where we began to form the Aussie Space Project line-up – riverside one hot sweaty night in Kampot.
Steph and Hugo returned to Melbourne and within weeks Hugo was back over for a 2nd round while Steph went away and turned her Cambodia research in this excellent radio documentary for BBC.
Unlike Hugo, I’d known Glenn for a long time but hadn’t heard from him in at least ten years… coincidently he also popped up on facebook and, in response to CSP, we reconnected. It went something like this…. “hey how’s it going? … I love your Cambodian Space Project… love what you’re doing…. if you ever need a bass player? well… I really just wanna be playing again…. that singer…the Cambodian girl…. she’s really got something…. it’s special… I love space stuff too…. did I ever tell you about my robot collection?… if you ever need a bass player…”. And so, maybe we did need a bass player and maybe we did need an Australian rhythm section – a really good one that we could tour and record with – Hugo and Glenn has never met but they soon would and I’d already decided in my mind that they’d be a great match and I think I was right. They were also especially understanding and supportive of Channthy. I had set plans in motion and had decided that the most important thing in our lives – especially for Channthy and her six year old son Makara – would be to complete permanent residency visa applications – pay the huge fees and start moving to live and work in Australia. Life in Australia would be infinitely more safe and secure for Channthy and Makara’s future and she’d also do well and possibly thrive in the Australian music scene. After all, we’d already received a warm welcome for early shows.
Early Aussie shows
yes, it’s 6am in Phnom Penh and I’m excited to be flying out on Xmas day for first show in Bangkok then on to Sydney. Been tough yesterday, 3 gigs in 24hrs but worst of all was having to rush Channthy’s mother to intensive care at the Calmette hospital here. She’s really worried about leaving at time like this but we’re heading off today.
Looking forward to Australia fo r a couple of months then i hope we’ll see you in USA
Just like our first trip to France – there’d been a lot of excitement and hurdles to jump to get from Cambodia to Australia but again the most difficult thing for Channthy was being away as her mother’s health went from bad to worse at both of these times. It was so worry and difficult for Thy to justify being away but at the same time, she was encouraged and supported by everyone, including her Mum, to take off and go with the opportunities that had come up with the CSP. We all worked hard to make sure she was supported both in Cambodia and on the road and wanted Channthy to find the success we all believed she would.
Well before the Aussie Space Project line-up emerged as Channthy, Hugo, Glenn and I, we’d done good run of shows across the country. Another friend whom we’d met on facebook was Denni Scott Davis who, like Glenn, had spotted CSP material and had been in touch… “Hey you guys should tour here… I’m all up for helping you make it happen… Love what you’re doing”. Sure enough we took Denni up on the offer and soon had our first tour of shows – From Sydney to Brisbane to Mullumbimby to Bellingen, Grassy Heads, Wollongong, Sydney again, Melbourne and down to Hobart. But the line-up was adhoc…and while we put on some great shows with excellent musicians getting on board here and there, it was still early days and a long way from settling into being a band as such.
There were plenty of memorable shows though on that first tour and even more so, it was something that was really made special thanks to the support of Denni and her Slippry Sirkus partner Jodie Harrison – both Jodie and Denni had a deep Cambodia connection through the legacy of Australian photographer Peter Garrette – with whom they’d both had relationships. Carrette had past twenty years supporting the Krousar Thmey – a charity organisation working with over 3,500 Khmers affected by the tragedies of the Khmer Rouge regime. Denni & Jodie now ran an entity known as “Slippry Sirkus ‘ and had continued Peter’s work in Cambodia “to build a cross cultural exchange to provide arts based strategies and mentor emerging Khmer & Australian artists”. The Cambodian Space Project seemed like a good fit and Denni and Jodie made sure we were housed, fed and watered and given plenty of support towards the first CSP mission in Australia. Both will now travel to Cambodia for Channthy’s 100 days ceremony.
After months of discussion it finally looked like CSP and Channthy would officially become Aussie. My dear mother had chipped in with the several thousand dollars that we needed to cover Channthy’s permanent residency application and I’d included Makara on this important piece of paper work too… we could now live and work in Australia and after a few years Thy would become a citizen. I’m not sure how much weight she placed on this move at the time… she was hot and cold about the idea and also had become increasingly reluctant to continue with the band… in the way it was going… too hard. However, we’d just shot a couple of great videos in PP including Have Visa No Have Rice with Hugo playing a cameo on drums (Bong Sak drums on the record) and this had been fun…Channthy loved creating her image and telling her story but with all the worry about leaving Cambodia and leaving her family ….stepping out into the unknown… not least the rock’n’roll unknown. It was difficult.
Channthy and I arrived at rehearsal in Melbourne. Hugo and Glenn were already set-up and ready to go… We had two dates booked as our debut first at the Workers Club then East Brunswick Club… it was a hot summer’s night… the first time our new Aussie rhythm section had met and the first time Glenn had met Thy… rehearsal sounded great but something was up with Thy, she was starting to feel feverish and unwell…. she had this idea for a song called Not Easy Rock’n’Roll….
Two days later, I was rushing Thy to the hospital and had cancelled our first gig. The Workers Club would be a CSP no show. Channthy had come down with a terrible fever and it rapidly got worse, soon we were in hospital and CSP’s Aussie line-up debut was cavncelled. Thy was so sick and I really worried for her but as soon as we got her to a doctor and got medicine and time for her to rest a few days then things looked okay. Our first show ended up being the East Brunswick Club and it was a great night, an incredible performance by Channthy and probably inspired more because of the friends who’d turned up, dear friends like Laura-Jean McKay who had been such a big part of our first meeting and getting to know each other in Phnom Penh. Laura later returned to Melbourne and penned her own debut – a book of short stories called Holiday In Cambodia. Meanwhile, someone who’d I’d also called up and hoped to see that night hadn’t shown up… Justin Foster had also been part of our Phnom Penh gang of two girls and two guys… but had left a message on my voicemall …something that I didn’t catch, saying he’d see me later, he was unwell and couldn’t make it. I phone Justin the next day, we played telephone tag with messages back and forth, I probably told him about the gig and about Channthy, her fever and hospital but didn’t speak with him directly just a message about meeting in the city later that night. That rendezvous didn’t happen either instead I received a message from someone I hadn’t met saying Justin wouldn’t make it that night. Channthy and I were happy and well, we travelled to Hobart to have Christmas in Tasmania then headed off on Boxing day for a long slow drive Sydney, sometime just before the Aussie rhythm section turned up and our next show in Sydney. I got a heartbreaking call from Justin’s partner Blanche… he was dead.
To be continued.