Hotter than Hot! 

Suddenly everything came together, people, schedule, months of planning and then lo and behold all the CSP team arrived and met together, with our wonderful WOMADelaide handler Brigitte, at Adelaide airport. What a relief! All we had to do now was get checked in at Adelaide Hilton and find a moment of time to de-brief and plan out the shows.

One thing that was already apparent was the weather – hotter than hot! This was going to be quite an adventure. Ahead of us we had two live shows, a cooking show, and a dance workshop but first up it was time to meet an amazing Cambodian Australian friend – Mr Sundara – someone I’ve known since first coming to WOMADelaide with Master Kong Nay and then with Channthy and CSP. Sundara invited us all to lunch, a nice Vietnamese restaurant with huge serves of delicious soups. Dara is one of the very first Cambodians in Adelaide, he’d arrived as a refugee and has since helped so many others who have settled here in South Australia. Today, there’s a big Cambodian community and lucky for us, some very talented singers and dancers, not least Thyda Chea and San Shine who would be joining the band and helping us really set the pace for the visuals and performance style of the shows to come.

In fact, this new incarnation of the CSP was really yet to strut its stuff. Mainstays, Bong Sak, Phea Bass and I had only just returned to international touring a year earlier – we got back on stage (5 years after losing Channthy) by creating music, funky music, as a soundtrack to a large-scale puppet show – and what a blast that was. We premiered The Rat Catcher of Angkor Wat at OZ Asia Festival, again, in Adelaide but before we’d even hit the stage, Sundara had called and made a brilliant suggestion “hello Julien, we think you need a beautiful Cambodia lady to join your band and sing… “what a good idea! Next minute Thyda Chea joined us on stage and with that excitement we even continued to Cambodia and toured with Thyda, playing shows in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kampot.

Dancing across the generations

So, there we all were, at the beginning of another great adventure and thanks to WOMADelaide It would start again where we last left off. But this time I could see CSP is more like a cultural troupe on tour, rather than just a band with a set of songs to present. Landing that night would be apsara dancing star Annabel Hom and her very dedicated mother Mara – both Sydney people but friends from way back when CSP first put on a music theatre show Cosmic Cambodia at Casula Powerhouse and Sydney Festival. Having Annabel join us would mean the chance to experiment and present more of a mix of music and dance. One of the best examples of this is Annabel dancing to Channthy’s beautiful song If You Go, I Go Too.

The first live show of the tour was Zoo Stage around about 7pm at night. We had little time to really map out the show, but it was going to be a mix of Cambodian golden era tracks, CSP songs and not one but two singers up front. Both Thyda and Ahwin sharing lead vocals. For the first couple of songs, it seemed the audience was ‘frozen’ or perhaps stunned by heat but then they surged forward and really connected with the show – CSP in 2024. Across the front were all the girls including Kek Soon who would also be doing the Taste the World cooking show at WOMAD and other stops along the tour but at this moment, dancing with the ladies up front – San Shine, Annabel, Thyda, Ahwin – a great look in their stunning dresses, hair and make-up. Up the back was Bong Sak, Phea Bass, and our newest guest muso Dave Anderson along for the ride. It was Dave’s shiny jacket, Khmer style silk bought at Central Market, that inspired this tour’s outfits for each of the guys in the band.

Next 4 days of WOMADelaiding was just a sensational experience. This is a festival that really looks after its artists and always presents an amazing program. If only we weren’t so busy, I’d have caught more of it but highlights were the Mexicans and also a great set from Cyamande – can’t wait to see the film about this legendary group – lovely bunch of fellas too.

Drop Bears, Falling Bats and other reasons for general panic!

All up WOMADelaide was great for us. But the lead-up had been super-nerve-wracking for me especially … anxious calls about lost/ missing passports/ visa refusals/ general panic/ usual last-minute chaos and then… all good. Just when we thought things we going smoothly we got word on the final day of WOMAD that our show would have to be moved – unfortunately it was back to the Zoo stage right in the hottest midday sun and this was due to ‘dropping bats’ falling from the trees above stage 7 – I kid you not…this was the first time I’ve ever had a show cancelled due to falling bats but hey…we did it and very much appreciate everyone who braved the heat and caught the CSP at WOMADelaide.

Timeless beauty: Annabel Hom dancing to Kak Channthy’s track If You Go I Go Too (Whisky Cambodia)

Victoria Victorious

I’d arrived in Australia ahead of the band. On this occasion I’d gone tour bus shopping and had ended up buying a Nissan Elgrand – a real funk machine, with red leather seats and all sorts of gadgets to fiddle with…unfortunately I couldn’t control the otherwise, awesome car sound system – you see it’s a Japanese import and it’s all in Japanese. Nonetheless, this Yakuza style staff car, was a good match for the CSP road team. My buddy Henry Hugo was first behind the wheel and drove us from Melbourne to Adelaide, along the way we’d been mulling over naming the van…finally, as Henry exited the trip, he suggested “Exodus” and indeed the black Elgrand is ‘The mover of the people”. We’d had 8 on stage in Adelaide but we’d be stripping it down for the next leg, the Exodus is an 8-seater but a bit too much of a squeeze and the nimbler and leaner we could move from A to B the better.

Gazza’s Farm

The next back-to-back shows included Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, George Lane Bar, St Kilda, and Airey’s Inlet Festival. And, for the first time with the CSP, Ahwin would be taking on all the vocal duties. It was a long drive from Adelaide to Castlemaine but with exceptional packing and prepping it was a smooth run. Best of all a friend of the bands from Siem Reap had offered up accommodation at his farmhouse – Awkun Gary and Dina and family. Gary is a real country gent, and a rock’n’roll farmer who finds time between minding his cows, to jump over to Cambodia and perform as The Screamin’ Riels. The kind of support we get on tour from friends along the way really makes touring not only more viable but much more fun. Also, a chance to connect to our Cambodian friends and community in Oz, and that’s always a party! a great way to settle into our first night in regional Victoria.

Playing the Castlemaine Theatre Royal brought back some vivid memories and emotions for me, the last time I’d played there was with Channthy. I’d been in hospital, seriously ill and in intensive care… but the show’s gotta go on so I managed to get out, get there, and play a very memorable show. It was a full house and even the 80-year-olds were up on the dance floor rocking their zimmer frames. This time was no different but so much fun with Gary’s family coming along and with our good friends The Tommys supporting – what a wild sound those cats make… really cool vintage surf but more about that later. Ahwin, by this stage, was taking on some of Channthy’s songs, this was also so overwhelming to hear. I hadn’t asked her to do this, but she chose the songs she liked and sung her heart out – just brilliant! Like Channthy, Ahwin’s a very funny person, funny with an infectious laugh and highlight of Castlemaine was a show-stopping moment where we were all laughing in unison.

Laughing like a riot of Kookaburras

Uncontrollable laughing continued to be a theme at the next shop – right in the heart of St Kilda at The George Lane Bar. I love this bar, the guys who run it do a great job and it’s an excellent inner-city venue. Still, they’d never had anything quite like CSP on before and this was also going to be a bit of a challenge for us. Again, The Tommys got the Pulp Fiction thing happening and the night became like a cool movie soundtrack. Gazza from Gary’s Farm joined us on percussion, Kek Soon was dancing, playing tambourine and even sharing some backing vocals, and the CSP set was sounding great – just like the gold old days. The audience, with many being old friends from Cambodia, really made us feel it. At times, deeply moving, at other times, hilarious, fun and crazy fun! Just the way we like it.

At George Lane, I’d been planning to invite a very special guest to join us on stage and even though Warren Foster and Tim Hagan, aka Prodikal-1 had travelled down from Sydney to join us on tour – even got in an excellent opening set – I’d got so lost in the show that I forgot to call Wazza up to the stage. Perhaps just as well because the next afternoon we were all in Airey’s Inlet – stunning coastal town, perfect day and with a really cool little festival to play. I spotted Wazza and made sure we had a plan…” okay man… 3 songs in then you come on and do your thing…you know… the thing we jammed out a year ago from the back of a truck in Adelaide”… “ Ah yeah yeah! Okay…”

Psych Cambodian Rock and Surf Side Space Trippers unite!

The Airey’s Inlet audience held back, starred in bemusement for a song or two and then it was all on… Prodikal-1 got up with the CSP and right then and there we suddenly had the first Aboriginal Australian artist with a Cambodian band rippin’ it up and sparring across riffs and cultures. It was more than just jammin’, we’d already been working on studio tracks and Prodikal-1’s mind bending Mission Kid is a powerful example of how cool the First Nations rapper sounds with Khmer riffs and femme vocals bouncing back and forth – tres groovy indeed. The Airey’s mob were awesome, the audience dug it, lots of good old spaced-out looking surfers, coastal folk, friendly locals. They loved the CSP and we love them. Much thanks to local legend Paddy Donovan for bringing us all together.

Going Coastal

Ulladulla is a coastal town on the beaches of southern NSW. Getting there was one helluva long drive and unfortunately, I’m the only one that could do the driving on this recent tour. Usually, we bring at least one other driver but that’s the way the cookie crumbled and after some 10 hours on the road, we finally arrived in the state of NSW and at the holiday house of friends Mike and Christina Cochrane. The Cochranes have a big connection to Cambodia and very kindly allowed us to stop in and stay for 3 whole days off! A great opportunity of a halfway rest and good time for us to think about next steps including recording ideas and other collaborations that would be coming up – more performances with apsara dancer Annabel, more live jamming and riffing with Prodikal.

But also a good time to just chill, watch Netflix – the whole team watched Cambodian rock’n’roll movie Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten. Bong Sak lived through (survived) the worst extremity and brutality of the Khmer Rouge times and was deeply moved but so much of this film, feeling comfortable and safe at Ulladulla to pour out emotions and memories, and to share this with all of us. We all feel it and in performing a catalogue of music left to us by Cambodian artists, who were mostly all murdered by the Khmer Rouge, it is profound and affecting.

Mollymook Smoking Ceremony

Ulladulla is an indigenous word meaning Safe Harbour. The next morning, we all went down to Mollymook beach, walked the beach, put our feet in the salt water then met up with Warren, Tim and Gabi – Prodikal-1. Warren’s a Yuin Country man and is from a national that includes Ulladulla but grew up on Aboriginal missions down around Wallaga Lakes a little further south. Somehow, spontaneity of our meeting and working together, led all of us to a corner of Mollymook beach and for Warren to then welcome us to country through sharing his aboriginal culture and tradition with all of us and especially for the benefit of the Cambodian nationals. It was a beautiful thing to do and later NITV ran a short documentary of this exchange, using footage both Tim and I had shot on our phone cams.

From Ulladulla we rolled onto Australia’s capital city Canberra and right into setting up and getting going live on stage at The Polish Club or the Polo as it’s better known. This was also a reunion of sorts, great to have Space Party on the bill – they’ve got a Cambodia connection via coming over to perform at Garage Fest! And really could be called “The Canberran Space Project” – check ‘em out, they’re garage rockers with some tasty pop moments. Another act called Napoleon Icecream also joined the bill. Also, a really nice sounding band and excellent guitarist and drummer – here’s to hoping they’re booking their tickets to come and visit us in Cambodia.

Canberra to Cowra: going out West

We left Canberra early Saturday morning and this time headed north west… not a whole lot of sleep is what I recall but not much more. Soon and the girls had been up even earlier, Annabel, Mara and Sam had arrived from Sydney and everything was helping preup a Cambodian BBQ – for the show that night was at a former sheep station – now an arists residency on land owned by Australian actress Cate Blanchett. We’d be out there, getting a taste of that concept while also presenting an artist talk, Cambodian classical dance and a very tasty Cambodian dinner – BBQ – with all hands-on deck. It was cool to see the boys in the band busy at the BBQ station later that night but moreso, to see this fabulous cultural juxtaposition with Annabel performing against a backdrop of sheep shearing equipment. Our good friend Craig Lawler spinning some rather awesome rocksteady records from Jamaica along with a splash of Cambodian and Indonesian vinyl. The landscape around the re-purposed sheep station is just stunning, and it’s easy to see why painters love this place The Corridor Project and all it offers artists-in-residence.  

Ghouli Gooloogong & Cambodian Chicken Curry

Gooloogong… is probably an aboriginal word but one that I didn’t get the chance to learn the meaning of. But just the sound of the name of this tiny little way-out-west town Gooloogong boggles the imagination. Thankfully, the very kind owner, singer, barmaid Sarah, and her team there at the Gooloogong Hotel, loved the idea of hosting the CSP for a spontaneous pop-up show. Sunday afternoon, jamming from the back of a semi-trailer, out the back of the pub. What a blast! Great to stay overnight at this 120-year-old hotel, some of our CSP team, felt that the place was haunted, and I can’t blame them. But I loved it, again, just the spectacle of the Cambodian Space Project in this little town (Pop 128) playing Cambodian rock’n’roll…and again, with the addition of Prodikal-1 on stage with the band… it was pretty mind-blowing stuff, a great experience and definitely a highlight of the touring. I think it was just the coming off the road after a lot of Kms and feeling very welcomed with another style of Australian country hospitality. Heck! They’d even added a Cambodian Curry Chicken dish to their menu, just to celebrate this strange encounter and good times!

Dick & Dara

We were getting ready to start heading to Sydney. Around about this time I abandoned ship for a couple of days and instead of driving, flew in on a little plane from nearby Orange to Sydney. Sam helped drive the crew decamp with the family in Cabramatta – really the Cambodia heartland of Sydney and a great place for the team to stop and enjoying Khmer hospitality in Australia. I went on into Sydney with the sole purpose of joining on of Australia’s best radio presenters on air. I was traveling to reach Sydney and join Phillip Adams on his legendary Late Night Live show on the ABC. Now Phillip, who retires this year, doesn’t do music shows, so I already felt like I’d have a bit more homework to do than usual. This would be a very special way to start sharing some of my own recent discoveries and perhaps a whole new adventure writing and producing music theatre in Indonesia. More about this later, in the meantime, this will get things started: Dick Tamimi and the Birth of Indonesia’s Recording Industry.

Kung Fu Wipeout

Once again the amazing, thunderous surf trio The Tommys had now managed to make it all the way to join us at our first Sydney show at The Marrickville Bowlo (Aussies put an O or a Y on everything… Bowling Club becomes Bowlo). And by the time we’d rounded up a drumkit, dropped the gear at the Bowlo, I could see Rob, Ollie and Johnathon already lapping up the experience of being back in the heart of Sydney, in a Sydney music friendly venue. A great place! Kind of a heaven. Already warming up on stage was Toby Martin and Dan Lang, how lucky were we, a great line -up of very cool musicians and tonight would be the first time we’d met and heard 70 something year-old Dan Lang on stage.

Originally from Vietnam, Dan Lang has been living and performing in Sydney for many years, she’s also still a very active Kung Fu teacher and has cross paths with Bruce Lee! However, it’s her work with Toby Martin which is very new and very awesome! It’s another great example of Australian rock’n’roll connecting with the sounds of Southeast Asia. Toby and Lang performed a brilliant set. Then, quick as a flash, The Tommys were firing on all cylinders, a magic sound and again, music that segues into The Cambodian Space Project set in a meant-to-happen kind of way… by this stage we’d struck up a conversation of getting the Tommys to come and join us in Cambodia and perhaps event to record at our little studio at Fish Island – now it’s looking very much like this is exactly what’s gonna happen.

The Tommys packin’ the sin bin and gettin’ set to tour with the CSP in Cambodia @ It’s Garage Fest!

Sweet Home Cabramatta

Staying out in Cabramatta was a lot of fun, our hosts are super kind, nice people and responsible for the exceptional talent that Annabel Hom has become as an Australian Cambodian dancer – someone with a huge future. Again, we felt lucky to be in such good company and to be able to plan out our shows, and next moves. I mean, it’s been a super tight schedule and with things looming… like the recording session we were locked on for at Jim Moginie’s Oceanic Studio… it was looking like lots of good ideas and things to do but very little time to prepare. Other more pressing things had to be prioritized and this had suddenly become devising a show for Cambodian NGO See Beyond Borders – this had to be a CSP gig but also something that would include the regular show in a real “Cambodia Town” venue – The Crystal Palace.

It turned out to be such a great show for CSP but the whole night was special, initially there’d been some concern that we wouldn’t be able to play a full 3-hours of dance show music and yeah, I was worried about that too…but as per custom, things fell in place and it was a real privilege to meet and make great friends with the Sydney Cambodian band Angkor Band and many guests. I can’t wait to do it again. Also, it was a successful fundraising event for See Beyond Borders and something we hope to support into the future.

Oceanic Recording Studios and The Raft at Night

In the business of everything it’s easy to forget some of the reason as to why we had come to Sydney in the first place. Sure, it was fun, great to walk about the city, to visit the Opera House and even to contemplate the idea of presenting some of our work at such a mighty, hallowed venue – I mean why not? Outside the Opera House I photographed Bong Sak and Phea checking out the latest show Westside Story and tried to explain to them what this was – a 70 year running musical that still sells-out. At the same time, with more adventurous programming and marketing, why couldn’t it be an incredible story out of Cambodia? The music and the dancers of The Cambodian Space Project – sure we could pull it off, after all we’d just smashed it at the Gooloogong Pub…no issue bridging cultures whatsoever! The Opera House is just gonna have to catch-up and adapt to Asia… not just Asians performing another Western script but something new.

Lost upon the Cosmic Sea

Okay, so the something new from The Cambodian Space Project is “The Raft at Night” – this is shaping up as a sublime piece of musical theatre. Based on the story of modernist painter Ian Fairweather’s near-death experience and infamous voyage 16-nights lost at sea, while trying to sail a self-made raft between Darwin and Timor. The Raft at Night is a powerful story and a brilliant idea to add music too… only thing was that the business of touring, and the banging out of our rock’n’roll live set each night, hadn’t allowed much time or space to stop and consider what the soundtrack to Fairweather’s mad voyage would actually sound like!? Phea Bass and Bong Sak, are not musicians interested in the conceptual, they’re interesting in keeping the groove… Kek Soon has certainly heard and got to know a lot about Fairweather’s raft, his paintings, my desire to create new CSP work based on this… our principal dancer Annabel also has the brief and most certainly, some of the dance performances along the way, will lead into this new amalgam but so will other artists and cultures that will come into the picture with upcoming performances and recording sessions in Indonesia. The Raft at Night is a new work that will bring together the CSP band with artists across Australia and Asia, but first problem was just getting to the studio and laying down some tracks, some grooves to be precise.

We’d moved up to Newcastle and a lovely place by the sea at Birubi Beach (Thank you Sally at See Beyond Borders) but Oceanic Studio turned out to be not in the most easy location for us. I was exhausted rounding up the crew and driving in and out each day. This ate into recording time and any idea of a relaxed studio space to tinker away in… still, Oceanic, is full of cool stuff…it’s kind of like Jim’s garage but with an excellent sounding drum room, a collection of odds and ends, some really cool vintage gear, expensive instruments, through to cheap children’s toy instruments and various bits of percussion.

All hail the mighty OM!

My aim as music director soon got focussed in on the task of just getting great sounding recordings of the mighty CSP rhythm machine and getting tracks down that would suit Bong Sak and Phea Bass (the Sly & Robbie of Cambodia). However, these guys aren’t used to working on instrumental music, and we’d need a melody or vocal guide and that wasn’t happening straight-up. Thankfully, I’d already found the solution a day earlier – a relatively cheap, plastic synth – the now revered Suzuki OM-300 – The Omnichord. It was day 3 of the sessions, I’d given Phea and Sak the day off. Dave and I sat in the studio with just one mic over this little plastic toy and captured new tunes that I think will work very nicely with The Raft at Night – in the end we’ve got some 14 new pieces of music, a lot of it more up-tempo than I’d imagined buy hey, I’m working with a Cambodian band and we want everyone to be able to get up and dance or feel the movement of the rhythms, even the gentler rhythms of the sea, the oceanic sounds, the cosmic vibrations of life.
Stay tuned: The Raft is already leading us into wild new places and hell yeah! We will stage it at the Opera House if they get tuned into this groovy new Southeast Asian show.


So it was quite a challenge getting to our last show but driving the deadly Hume is never that much fun at the best of times – though we did get a break at the crazy submarine town Holbrook, snapped a few band selfies, felt the cold change outside and jumped back in the van “The Exodus” with the Sat Nav set for The Memo Music Hall, St Kilda. What I had hoped we’d do was a full performance of the CSP’s forthcoming Golden Phoenix LP but alas, not a moment for practice. Tricky stuff when suddenly, we’re going from being a recording trio at Oceanic to a full big band on stage and yep! We broke our own record and ended up with 12 plus personnel on stage.  

With the additional of Jack Howard’s Epic Horns – an excellent trio of veteran horn players – things we indeed looking bold and brassy. But really it was a special occasion for all of us to get together and present something that did bear some semblance to an Elvis big band… an awesome sound and great experience for rising Khmer starlette Ahwin fronting the whole shebang! The Memo’s a beautiful room, managed by some very decent folk and this night proved to be a fitting finale to a rather epic tour. Look out for more CSP big band coming up in the future, perhaps even in Cambodia. But also the Golden Phoenix, this is going to be a cracker of an album and it’s a sizzling hot line-up of guest musicians – from the Epic Horns to the percussion and synth work of Nasser Bouzida AKA The Bongolian – a UK based multi-instrumentalist who has recorded six albums under The Bongolian moniker for Blow Up Records.

It’s all just a Global Village

As if we couldn’t squeeze in just one more thing to do… the eve of everyone flying out to Cambodia offered us one last chance to record live to air and to do this especially for Roger Holdsworth’s long running (episode 1681) show Global Village. The recording took place at 3PBS FM’s rather flash new studio but in the very capable hands of garage rock aficionado Paul Maybury (Rocket Science) this was always going to be something special. For me, that live recording and yes, we’ll release it soon, is a great example of just where the CSP is at today. I mean, touring more as a cultural troupe, it’s also a great sounding band we got and after 4 weeks on the road, we were there to just enjoying ringing out the last note…. plenty of wild beats, vo·lu·mi·nous-all-encompassing-feedback, more feedback, fuzz and echo… groovy bass & drums, and the right kinda ethereal Khmer vocals to leave the building (and the Country) on a real good note… ears still ringing, bags packed, and coordinates set for Cambodia.

Highlight of the tour – Ahwin sounds just amazing, such a great performer and someone who really made touring a helluva lot of fun, can’t wait for you to all see CSP with Awhin – live in Cambodia. The band’s stage look with all the ladies upfront is super-cool, great fun! Don’t miss it. CSP 2024 is a wonderful surprise to all of us and we feel lucky and blessed to do what we do.

This is fun! CSP’s next shows are coming up fast

Back in Cambodia this month. The Cambodian Space Project is set to perform live in Phnom Penh and other dates across the Kingdom for It’s Garage Fest! Cambodia – May 1-5. With supports from surf legends The Tommys (Melbourne) and girl rockers Salt & Steel (QLD).

Spaced-out in Surabaya

Meanwhile, your ever-lovin but rather discombobulated CSP ship’s blogger… is somewhere… suitably holed up, plotting out the next steps. It’s a bit of a languid foxtrot, a bit of rock steady… plenty a banging away from the hot desk in a downtown bolthole, dockside, Arab Quarter, Surabaya.