As The Cambodian Space Project enters its sixth year “year of the Fire Monkey” – it seems like a good time to take stock on where we’ve recently been and where to next?
2015 saw the CSP dotting back and forth between shows in Australia and Cambodia during the first half of the year. In the latter half, we made our third visit to the UK, returned to Cambodia then made our first trip to Taiwan in December. CSP kicked-off 2015 by playing Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Australia Day event “Home” on a beautiful sunny day in Melbourne on the lawns outside the Melbourne Arts Centre. Flash forward a year and at the time of writing we’ve just wrapped up “Cosmic Cambodia” aka Hanuman Spaceman with a sold-out show at the Spiegeltent, on Australia Day (aka Invasion Day) at Hyde Park. Next stop: we’ll again be presenting Cosmic Cambodia – a 21st rock opera about a Space Monkey – Next stop: the World Theatre Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Feb 25/26.
COSMIC CAMBODIA: Not just rock’n’roll but spaced-out rock’n’roll jungle cabaret!
With the CSP venturing into its sixth year, it’s amazing to see and experience the new creative spaces we find ourselves in. Cosmic Cambodia aka Hanuman Spaceman is one of these spaces. It’s a trippy piece of psych-rock theatre, a ‘jungle cabaret’ made possible by the additional talents of our creative team, not least Brasillian Australian director Carlos Gomes, Intimate Spectacle’s creative producer Harley Stumm, Sam James designing the shows incredible visual media, Mark Haslem stage and lighting design, Vanthy dance choreography and of course, our extended family of friends who each give advice and ideas along the way. This show is one that has already reached just of two years of ‘behind the scenes’ development and is only now on stage. There’s much more about this show than I can mention here so stay tuned for another blog with more info and updates.
Mark, Harley, Vanthurn, Vanthy, Sam and Bong Sak checking out “Cosmic Cambodia’s” media design ideas while in residence at Casula Powerhouse.
Below: Cosmic Cambodia aka Hanuman Spaceman began it’s creative development at KCDI Kampot Traditional Music School for the Orphaned & Disabled.
Check out this fab bit of videography by Samy Nimes.
Samy will be joining CSP in Cambodia to shoot a psychedelic rockumentary on CSP’s “Motown to Mekong” tour coming this May, 2016.
UK i-phone tour video captured by Gillian Docherty showing CSP with the addition of Jason “Guitar” Shaw joining the spaceship for the first time and CSP’s smokin’ hot UK based rhythm section, David Eugene Webb on vintage Slingerland and Brian “Toldoggy” Tolworthy on bass.
Cosmic Cambodia: a jungle cabaret
Six years ago when CSP formed at a loose jam at a tiny little Phnom Penh watering hole The Alley Cat we could have only dreamed up the rock’n’roll circus that would soon engulf us in the yet-to-be-named band. But perhaps this – sometimes sideways – trajectory of the project’s rise to the international stage is all just part deal – a shape-shifting trickster monkey with a firm grip on the spacecraft’s levers – a story that blends fact, fiction, fantasy – and in 2015, moving our work as a rock’n’roll band into film and theatre. During May 2015, we were offered a live-in residence at the Casula Powerhouse where stayed (or at least some of us… the place is reputedly haunted!) a few weeks and worked to create and present Cosmic Cambodia aka Hanuman Spaceman. CC is a story that borrows from Channthy’s own real life trials and tribulations to create a magic realist interpretation of a monkey’s trip to the moon. Channthy plays herself – “tired of selling pancakes in a village, she channels the monkey god Hanuman, then builds a rocket, and embarks on a dangerous trip to the moon – as all good self-respectin’ space monkey outta do.
Meanwhile, over the in the UK, TV audiences we treated to the first screening of CSP veritae – a television documentary by Marc Eberle – an ambitious filmmaker who has been on the CSP’s trip! in more than a few guises, even as bassist on an early tour just so he had the chance to film bits’n’pieces. Mark’s painstaking commitment to documenting much of the journey – from the band’s first show through to the bitter end (at least that’s how the film story plays out to home viewing TV audience) has certainly paid-off. The Cambodian Space Project documentary is a most unusual piece of quality documentary filmmaking and shows perhaps even more depth to the Cambodian rock’n’roll history – past and present – than the equally fascinating Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten.
The film’s UK screening arrived just in time to coincide with CSP touring and bookings at major festivals including Glastonbury and WOMAD and just ahead of its premiere as a film featured at The Sydney Film Festival. Since it’s foundation, CSP has performed at the ever expanding Cambodian International Film Festival and this year was no different. Celebrating the release of both Eberle’s CSP documentary we did the same for Before The Fall – a dramatic feature by Ian White for whom we created an original soundtrack – and performed our final live show of the year at the Exchange. The show doubled as a Christmas party so with Santa Claus in mind, we expected beards and outfits. Having said this, a bunch of bearded guys (fashionistas) were in attendance but we were surprised to learn that at least one bearded hipster’s face mullet was indeed, a fake! allegedly Brad Pit had snuck in in disguise, beard and cap, and caught a good dose of CSP taking in the mise en scene by having a good peek out the from the windows at the old French colonial – The Exchange, Phnom Penh. Just before the band took to the stage I’d bumped into Jas grabbing a few refreshments at the bar
“Hey have did you see that guy up the back? he’s got a really dodgy looking beard, it looks like a fake…and he’s wearing a cap… think it’s Brad Pitt!”.
“Nah…” I replied “It’s not, but I did see ‘im and do know who you mean… that’s Tim… the animator on the CSP documentary… and his beard’s real”
Check out these links:
Before The Fall is a new Cambodian feature film by Ian White featuring tracks by THE CAMBODIAN SPACE PROJECT as its rockin! psych-rock’n’roll soundtrack – nung ay bongs!
Note: this beard is REAL. This man is not Brad Pitt nor is this a disguise, it is, however, Tim Huys who is animator on Not Easy Rock’n’Roll and also made a surprise appearance at Before The Fall after party.
GLASTONBURY to WOMAD UK Tour – June to July 2015
Getting an invite to play Glastonbury was certainly a milestone for CSP’s touring to-date but sadly, despite a huge amount of effort and expense in chasing UK immigration (now outsourced to the Philippines) Channthy’s visa arvived a day too late to actually get there. We would have and should have opened the festival by playing West Holts stage but instead, stayed back a drummer Dave’s london apartment and heard it all on the radio – a fistful of cancelled Glasto passes on the table. Oh well, it’s Not Easy Rock’n’Roll again and while we’re not the first to fail to show at Glasto- Dave Grohl broke his leg? bet they didn’t cancel his comp passes though… we’re probably the last, as it was last chance to play the historic farm venue as the festival has now moved on. Still, if CSP had managed to limber up to the stage, we would have played a 45 minute, fuzzed out, psych version of Bully Wully – our loss as well as Glasto’s.
This rocky start meant that our first actual tour date had us kicking off in Scunthorpe – now no matter what four letter words one may associate with this place, Scunny turned out to be a highlight of the trip – not least for the wonderful use of a beautiful house and garden “Greystock” nestled down a leafy private road (upper Scunny) for the whole month we were in the UK. From Greystock we planned and plotted a wonderful rock’n’roll adventure across the UK while Channthy delighted all with her magnificent Khmer cooking. Highlights were Cafe Independent, Brudenell Social Club, Rough Trade Nottingham, London Jazz Cafe, recording at Factory Studios, and finishing up WOMAD. Worst gig experience ever! must surely be the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch – avoid this place.
Sunny Scunny! a Cambodian space tripper lands in the land o plenty, the UK.
Our finale show at WOMAD on BBC3 was a thrill, CSP added horns and braved the wet, muddy, freezing night to put its best foot forward, all this was captured by a live-to-air on the Beebs. But, best show of the lot was quite probably Taste The World. The following day, a sunny afternoon at Charlton Park, Channthy cooked, told stories while the band played. We also had the good fortune to bump into Benjamin aka Son of Dave (best known for his Shake a Bone theme song for Breaking Bad) who again became an honorary space tripper by blowing harp with the band and sticking around for Channthy’s ultra spicy cook-up!
Landing in London and the fab Jazz Cafe, Camden.
Lime or Lamb? check out Channthy’s cooking video here
THE SWEDISH AMBASSADOR’s 50th
It’s always a great feeling landing back in Cambodia! Especially if it’s just to catch-up on some sleeeep and downtime after tour. Another good reason is that in Cambodia especially CSP’s modus operandi is ‘go with the flow’, don’t book too much, make all the shows d.i.y and do it like a party. So when the first new booking did arrive, we were chuffed to find that is was going to be a party, a party at Swedish Ambassador Ms Anna Maj Hultgård. A fine do it was too, Anna Maj must be the most rock’n’roll diplomat in the business, heck she even had her vinyl records and turntable freighted to Cambodia upon taken on the posting.
Ambassador Anna knows how to throw a damn fine party, guests we served shots of Swedish schnapps on arrival and the villa itself – a strange kinda mix of Nouveau Khmer Kitsch and Greco Roman architecture had us all feeling like we were in the Peter Sellers classic The Party. By the time it was all done and dusted then was more than one or two space monkeys trying to find their way to a tuk tuk suffering a severe dose of the Birdy Num Nums…
For us it was not only great to celebrate Anna’s birthday but also to have a reunion of Channthy arriving back from Sydney (where she presently lives) and for Jas “Gita” Shaw to play a show with our mainstay rhythm men Bong Sak and Phea “Supa Groova” Bass. Highlight of the set was a version of Shocking Blue’s Demon Lover in Khmer – this amazing track is included on our 4th lp “Electric Blue Boogaloo” with the formidable Jim Diamond on bass and Dave Webb on drums but on this occasion Phea and Bong Sak light up the song with their own Cambo style interpretation. It seemed an appropriate venue for debuting the song in our live set – Shocking Blue’s guitarist Robbie Van Leuwen even wrote to us upon hearing the CSP version, to say how wonderful it was to hear this music reaching far away places like Cambodia and coming back again full circle!
PAUL KELLY & THE CAMBODIAN SPACE PROJECT and the Kampot Writers & Readers Festival
When Paul’s email came in, ‘yes, I’m on for Cambodia’ we were over the moon. Paul’s one of the most loved, revered and respected Australian singer songwriters there is. Paul’s offer to come to Cambodia meant that his live shows in support of Kampot Writers & Readers Festival would be a huge boost to our efforts (we’re all volunteers) in launching and establishing the fledgling KWRF as an official sister festival to the hugely successful Ubud Writers Festival. Having Paul Kelly join us in Cambodia also offered us some nice musical continuum to a collaboration Channthy and CSP had previously worked on with Mister ‘Bong’ Kelly – a song The Boat addressing Australia’s most fiercely debated issues, refugees seeking to reach our shores and seek asylum from the wars and chaos of their homeland. Check out the video link
On landing in Phnom Penh ‘Bong’ Paul hit the ground running in, at least in the sense of being totally open to ideas and for complete immersion into the songs and sounds of Cambodia. Leading up to Paul’s arrival Jas and I (Bong J) had already been trying out ideas, learning Paul’s songs then jamming with our local musicians, in this case, the wonderful Khmer Traditional Ensemble from the Kampot Music School for the Orphaned and Disabled (KCDI). Jason had dubbed the ensemble ‘The Interstellar Kookaburras” a great name really, as we soon discovered jamming away to Paul Kelly hits To Her Door, They Thought I Was Asleep, Deeper Water and some great covers of classic Aussie songs, Warumpi Band’s Island Home, Pigram Brothers’ Feel Like Going Home, even Slim Dusty’s Pub With No Beer and Woody Guthrie’s Man of Constant Sorrow (I’ve already heard a Khmer traditional version of this), anyway the name of the group seemed to fit the outlandish concept and it certainly worked as a very exciting way to leading into Paul’s visit and the collaboration that ensued.
Unfortunately, due to dramatic weather and other constraints The Kookaburras never manifested as a live group at KWRF but did manage to make a wonderful rehearsal jam session with Paul during th festival. As KWRF swung into full tilt another wonderful pairing emerged, the women of The Messenger Band arrived in Kampot and immediately joined Paul in working up a collaboration of Amazing Grace which they even managed to write in Khmer lyrics then sing at the old chapel on top of Bokor Mountain. Later that same day The Messenger Band (coincidently the same name as Paul’s first band The Messengers) performed a stunning set at ‘women only’ spa Banteay Srei then later performed a cappella at KAMA.
The Messenger Band at KAMA (Kampot Arts & Music Assocation) more than just getting the message across, they woo everyone with songs of women workers, farms and factories, including Paul Kelly who also had a band called The Messengers
The criss-crossing of musicians, lyricists, poets and singers, threaded all through the inaugural KWRF and with groups like The Kampot Playboys, Middle Eastern garage punk band The Shabbab, The Bokor Mountain Magic Band, Arn Chorn Pond’s Khmer Magic Music Bus, Bong Sak’s family band, MC Lisha, each added to the very special fusion of styles, language and culture over 5 day event. The grand finale being both Master Kong Nay (Cambodia’s grandaddy of ’em all… a UNESCO listed intangible living treasure) and Australia’s musician poet laureate Paul Kelly wrapping up a thrilling festival, just as a wild storm bore down on the outdoor staging area and forced all and sundry to take shelter, the tight squeeze inside KAMA to hear Master Kong Nay’s gravelly primitive voice and the poetry of his form Chapei Dong Veng – truly a moment of great magic!
Tireless champion of the arts in Cambodia Arn Chorn Pond, founder of Cambodian Living Arts, brought to KWRF both his extraordinary life story in the recently published autobiography “Never Fall Down” and also his latest music initiative, the free-wheelin’ Khmer Magic Bus. Here he speaks about his first meeting and discovery of Master Kong Nay – just one of the success stories Arn’s personal quest to bring together the master musicians and artists who’d survived genocide and are now part of the astonishing cultural revival in Cambodia.
On top of Bokor …an amazing collaboration is aired Paul Kelly and members of all female activist factory worker group The Messenger Band get together to try the universal gospel of Amazing Grace but translated into Khmer
From St Kilda to Kampot? a truly unforgettable night at KAMA (Kampot Arts & Music Association) with Paul Kelly taking the Kampot music scene to a whole new realm. Bong J gets to twang along on the Tele.
THE AUSSIE AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE – It’s a wrap!
With the support of The Australian Embassy – in particular the efforts of charge d’affaires Simon Fellows and Ambassador Alison Burrows getting right behind the idea – The Kampot Writers & Readers Festival was a flying success. Ramping it all up a notch was the incredible contribution Paul Kelly made by joining the program and bringing his ‘voice’ to the whole concept – bridging cultures, building community, celebrating diversity, being open to new ideas and well, just being there. KWRF finished up with one big special night, Monday 9 November, with a small concert for 100 persons only in the lush garden setting of Ambassador Alison’s residence in Phnom Penh. This was a chance to invite many of our volunteers and sponsors as well as those who’d missed attending Kampot. Of course, with 100 only we couldn’t accommodate everyone so thankfully Space Agency’s Tony Lefferts swung into action and made a ‘people’s party’ event open to all and sundry late that same night where once again, Master Kong Nay made a performance that just set the tone for another truly magnificent encore for all who’d been at Kampot. One who hadn’t attended Kampot was Channthy who brought to the closing event her own particular brand of star appeal and happily engaged with Paul whom she’s only met ever so briefly despite collaborating (mostly file sharing across the internet) on the haunting ballad The Boat. Channthy came out guns blazing, sang a magnificent version of Summer Wine in duet with Paul and myself (Bong J) on ‘low-down’ twangin’ guitar… the event and celebrations rolled on into the night, some of us rolling out of our tuk tuks, with a finale played by The Cambodian Space Project at The Exchange. But as they say, that’s a whole ‘nother story and you really had to be there…. don’t miss this year’s KWRF.
Oh oh oh Summer Wine! Channthy and Paul Kelly duet at the residence of Australian Ambassador Alison Burrows. Photo by Steve Porte.
TOUCH DOWN IN TAIWAN
Just when we thought our first CSP visit to Taiwan would be a sinch things started to get a whole lot more complicated than any other time in CSP’s well-documented ‘Have Visa No Have Rice’ travel story.
Thanks to Taiwan record label Colors Music, we’d been invited to THIS WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL and after quick check of flights, seeing that Taipei is a relatively close to Phnom Penh, we graciously accepted the invite. However, little did anyone (including the promoter) know how tough it is for Cambodian nationals to get let into Taiwan – perhaps this has something to do with the Cambodian government signing the One China policy or perhaps it’s just darn tough… anyway, to get a visa one must go to Vietnam and seek out the only Khmer speaker in the office of the Taiwanese Consulate….arrrgh….first up Channthy got in a taxi and went herself but the day before travel came and still NO VISAS! Houston ….well actually … we did end up sending the guy from Houston…we have a problem! Finally Bong Tony rounded up all the supporting documents requested and made a last ditch dash to Saigon…. if Tony aka “The Fixer” died his hair black he’d look a bit like Lil Stevie, at least they both share the same kinda upside down smile and this seemed by finally had a postive effect at the consulate visa processing window, at 15 mins to close Bong Tony grabbed a fistful of vissa approvals, flew immediately back to PP and not long after, we were all on our way to Taipei.
What a great feeling it was to finally arrive. Two of the festival staff were on hand holding up a rather amusing couple of “Cambodian Space Project” arrival signs. Then it was off to navigate the traffic and finally get to our hotel only to be told, ‘great, you are here, soundcheck will be at 8am and you will need to be awake at 6.30″ arrrrrgh not easy rock’n’roll again!
The other little adventure we had to have was to find and buy an electric guitar. I’d decided I’d have plenty of time during the day to go and peruse some of the music shops I’d already check out online and pick-up a guitar for the occasion but alas who was to realise one would be needed for an 8am! soundcheck…. so, with Soundcheck done with just one guitar between two guitarists Jason and I hitched a ride with Kurt Linguini frontman for the Naruvians and headed off to find a music store. To my dismay, the instrument i’d seen online was in real life, horrible! virtually unplayable and quite expensive for what it was. Time was soon running out and while there must have been 200 guitars to choose from, there was nothing right, a dreadful selection of garish looking lacquered nightmares each with obligatory pointy headstocks. I resigned myself to the idea that I’d find nothing worth all this effort and should just get something that’s at least get us through the gig. Standing at the counter, reaching with great reluctance to fish out my wallet and pay for the lemon, I suddenly noticed a dusty loft above the cashiers counter, it was dark up there but my eye was drawn immediately to the shape of a wild looking vintage Fender Coronado, a 12 string even, then to a wilder Eko guitar – a real 60s surf looking beast! Beautiful! what a find. I asked the staff I they could climb up and have a better rummage around “What’s up there eh?” “Oh just old guitars we can’t sell out front” “Wow! you’d better get a ladder then and fish ’em all down”.
Above: Mr. Burns and Senor Monza! welcome additions to the CSP family.
Below: This World Music Fest @ Formosa – brilliantly produced event (despite the 6am soundcheck wake-up call) we loved every minute of being at this festival and our first visit to Taiwan.
MERRY XMAS ABOARD THE CAMBODIAN SPACE PROJECT
I gotta admit, by the time we got to November – December, everything started to blurry aboard the good ship CSP. Turns out last show of the year ended up being another huge soiree as CSP’s Xmas Party and this also doubled as Channthy’s bon voyage as she finished up the show and headed to Australia.
Back in Australia Channthy joined up with her satellite project – Sydney based hip-hopsters Astronomy Class to celebrate the New Year with shows at the massive Woodford Festival. Meanwhile, back in Cambo, co-pilot Poulson (as I’m sometimes known) was set to do the same, play NYE with side project The Bokor Mountain Magic Band. Unfortunately for Bong J disaster struck! just days after CSP’s finale – space monkey J had a motorcycle accident and broke his darn shoulder. Julien’s since moved into 2016 in the role of one-armed keyboard player and is still waiting on surgery and recovery for both a broken shoulder and another unrelated but overlapping complication. Not easy rock’n’roll indeed!
Motown to the Mekong: coming up in Cambodia
This year we’re cooking up some exciting new ideas, collaborations, recordings, touring and live shows. First up is “Motown to the Mekong” a creative project that will include Detroit based music producer Jim Diamond working with the CSP in Cambodia. It’s a project conceived and initiated by The Space Agency (Tony and Julien’s booking and event co.) and supported by a small grant from the US Embassy with the concept being a ‘music friendship project that looks at the convergence points of American and Cambodian song’. M2M will include a short tour of Cambodia kicking off with CSP’s first show in the Kingdom April 30 then run across two weeks and include ‘meet the producer’ music production workshops with Jim along with dance workshops with the CSP working with rising talent amongst Cambodia’s dance scene. The project includes a stop in Siem Reap where the Space Project plans to road rest the Kingdom’s best new recording studio 60 Road Studios. Stayed tuned for more info and some samples M2M as it unfolds across the months ahead.
COSMIC CAMBODIA: YEAR OF THE MONKEY
Despite the set-back on broken shoulder’n’all, traveling to Sydney with for CSP’s “Cosmic Cambodia” shows has been such a fantastic way to start the year in style, monkey style. Here’s a few images that sum up this amazing experience
Bong J moves to keyboards, playing a Yamaha YC-20 – the sound! of South East Asian 70’s rock – as CSP’s band line-up is l-r: Julien Poulson, Phea Bass, Bong Sak, Jason Shaw.
One good arm is good enough for this job!
Spacesuits await Kosmonauts
Spacettes preparing for take-off!
Just a few of the “Cosmic” team.
Top: Julien, Harley, Jason. Bottom row: Gillian, Channthy, Vanthurn, Vanthy, Phea Bass, Bong Sak, Fiona
Above : Hard man of Cambodian Rock’n’Roll – Bong Sak says “If you don’t darn well get yerself to The Kampot Writers & Readers Festival he’s comin to have a word with ya”.
Motown to the Mekong: The beautiful Spacettes in Kep. Keep tuned for CSP’s “Motown to the Mekong” tour coming up this May in Cambodia.
Rise of a Pop Diva! at least that’s the title of a CSP tv documentary televised on the BBC. This is Channthy looking stunning on the cold, wet final night of CSP’s UK tour, on the Charlie Gillett Stage at WOMAD Charlton Park