With the news that my all-time musical hero, Morrissey, is coming to town on October 18th (and thank you, I do have a ticket) it got me thinking about all the live gigs I've been to during my 26 years here in Bangkok.
So folks, I've put my memory to the test and compiled a list. Admittedly it's not an extensive list but that's largely on account of Thailand having always been something of a ‘live concert wasteland' where the big names are concerned. For many years - especially in the nineties and noughties - you grabbed whatever opportunities came along - and that wasn't very often.
Counting them up, nine concerts in 26 years has been a pretty pathetic return for someone who went to gigs at least once a month back in his hometown Birmingham. But here's a rundown of the bands I've seen here live and hopefully some of the amusing anecdotes that go with them.
I have to start with this one because my wife would kill me if I left it off the list. It was our very first date - so probably around 1996. Some couples go out for a meal or to see a movie but I took my shy, new girlfriend to see Erasure. Erasure have always been one of my ‘guilty pleasures'. I love their stuff.
The gig took place in a nightclub of sorts but sadly it's no longer around - torn down years ago when that area of Ratchdapisek Road was re-developed. I can't even remember its name but the word ‘Phuture' keeps popping into my head. Perhaps a reader out there can help me fill in the blanks? Whatever the place was called, it was a remarkably intimate venue for a band that at the time could (and did) sell out the biggest concert venues in Europe. The nightclub held barely a thousand people so it's fair to say I felt extremely privileged to be there.
I have two clear memories of this gig. Firstly, the amazing party atmosphere outside the club with Bangkok's gay and lesbian community out in force, dressed to the nines in their finest feathers and sequins, and handing out free condoms to all those with tickets - and secondly, the unique method which Andy Bell and Vince Clarke used for choosing the set list. Both carried a stack of oversized cards and written on each card was the name of one of their best-known hits. The cards were shuffled and offered to a member of the audience (usually fans with the most flamboyant outfits) and then that particular song was performed. I thought that was such a novel idea and built a great rapport between the artists and the audience.
Twenty years later, my wife doesn't remember a thing about that night but I must have made an impression because we're still happily married.
This gig would have been about 1994 and I went along with a teaching colleague who managed to secure two tickets (not that the concert was sold out as I recall). It was one of the last times that Nick and I socialized together. He returned to England the year after and the last I heard he was earning a living driving a taxi around Southampton.
Whilst the ‘yoobees' were not exactly at the height of their fame, they were still a big draw. The venue chosen was Hua Mark Indoor Stadium, next to Ramkhamhaeng University. I'm not sure what the set-up is like now, or if it even still holds concerts, but back then Hua Mark Stadium was an all-standing affair.
There were three reasons I had to show my face at this gig. The rented house I was living in at the time was just a five-minute walk away. Secondly, UB40 are from Birmingham. Last but not least and if I'm allowed to name-drop a little here, I worked for several years near Balsall Heath, where most of the band lived with their families, and I would regularly see the likes of Astro, Earl Falconer and The Campbell Brothers doing a bit of shopping in the local Tesco.
I actually became quite friendly with Brian Travers, the ginger-haired saxophone player, and he would always stop for a chat whenever our paths crossed. As music journalists have written many times about the members of UB40, you couldn't meet a more down-to-earth bunch of guys.
My lasting memory of that UB40 gig in far-flung Ramkhamhaeng is the heat. It was unbelievable. I'm not talking about outside the stadium, I'm talking inside. As soon as Nick and I entered the hall, we just looked at each other horrified - "the bloody place doesn't have air-con"
But credit where it's due, the boys from Birmingham treated fans to a terrific set packed with all the songs we'd come to hear - Red, Red Wine, One in Ten, Food for Thought, King - they were all there.
Even though Nick and I were stood some way back from the stage, you could clearly see the guys were suffering up there. Between songs, the whole band used those precious moments to towel themselves down. I wonder if as UB40 look back over their career, they've ever played a gig quite like that one.
Just out of interest, a few months later the same venue hosted The Cranberries. I didn't go. I was still trying to put back on the two stone I had lost at the UB40 gig.
I'm not arranging these events into any sort of chronological order but Shed Seven would also have been about 1994 - and don't worry, I've already heard the choruses of ‘Shed who?'
Shed Seven are a British indie band from York and although they're probably still gigging in some capacity, mainstream success has always eluded them. But during their ‘five minutes of fame' (sorry if that sounds harsh Shed 7 fans) they released a fine debut album in 1994 (Change Giver) and from it came the catchy hit single ‘Speak Easy', which got considerable airplay on Thai radio stations.
On the back of a steadily growing Thailand fan base, the ‘Sheds' embarked on a mini Asian tour and played Bangkok's MBK Hall at the top floor of Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre. That too was an all-standing venue.
At the time, I was working at a private language school with a teacher called Tony. Born and bred in Barnsley, Tony was every inch the gritty, northern ‘ducker and diver'. Think of Billy Casper in ‘Kes' but twenty years older. He also loved his music, particularly the lesser-known artists that only got played on late night radio. I'm always grateful to Tony for getting me into Oasis, Echobelly, Portishead and Tricky.
Tony invited me along to the gig and I naturally enquired about the cost of the ticket. I was a poor teacher back then and the last thing I wanted was to splash out on a band I'd never heard of. Tony just laughed. "Don't worry we're both on the guest list"
Neither of us was on any guest list at all but Tony had been blagging his way into concerts all his life. To watch him bullshit his way into not paying for a ticket was to watch a master at work. We got to MBK Hall about an hour before the gig and as bold as brass, Tony just marched up to the promoter's desk and told a girl with an ‘access all areas' badge that Rick Witter (the lead singer) had put our names on his VIP list.
The conversation went back and forth for several minutes (Tony spoke fluent Thai by the way) before the crewmember was simply beaten into submission. By God, Tony's done it! She handed us two tickets.
It wasn't a bad gig either - even if they did perform the hit single ‘Speak Easy' three bloody times.
Footnote: There's a track on the Shed Seven debut album called ‘On an Island With You'. I don't want you to listen to the track in its entirety but just from 3.30 - 4.30. It's a minute of music that still gives me goosebumps. And that guitar raff is a slice of British indie pop perfection.
Pet Shop Boys
Impact Arena in Nonthaburi is Bangkok's largest concert venue and has a capacity of around 12,000 according to Wikipedia. It's a godawful place to get to and even worse to get back from - at least it is if you live in Samut Prakarn. When a concert finishes late at night and you've got 12,000 people spilling out onto the streets and looking for taxis, you suddenly feel a long, long way from home.
The Pet Shop Boys played Impact Arena in 2002 to promote their ‘Release' album. It's a pleasant listen but certainly not their best. But that aside, is there a soul on earth who doesn't ‘quite like' or respect the Pet Shop Boys for the legacy of music they're going to leave behind?
I remember back in my Birmingham nightclubbing days, a friend of mine asked if I had heard of a duo called The Pet Shop Boys. All I could think of was what a ridiculous name for a band. "Mark my words, they're going to be massive" my friend said. A couple of months later, ‘West End Girls' shot to number one in every country you care to mention and the rest as they say is history.
I've watched many YouTube video clips of the Pet Shop Boys in concert and they are nearly always notable for flamboyant costumes and exciting stage designs and backdrops. However the Bangkok gig in 2002 was an exception to the rule. It consisted of a plainly dressed Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe banging out hit after hit in front of what was basically a black curtain. Almost an acoustic concert if you like. But it was still an amazing night and ‘West End Girls' still managed to bring the house down.
A word about Thai concert audiences - aren't they so incredibly well-behaved? My wife and I decided about third song into the set that we rather fancied moving closer to the front. After a couple of dozen ‘excuse-mes' and ‘khootoot khas' we found ourselves with elbows resting on the stage and virtually looking up Neil Tennant's nose. You could never manage a manouevre like that at a concert in England
Bryan Ferry / Pretenders
Pinch me I must be dreaming. That was my reaction to hearing Bryan Ferry was coming to town - and supported by Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders. Surely the promoter had made a mistake and done a double booking for the same night? I've been a fan of Ferry since The Roxy Music days and I've always been in love with Chrissie Hynde. I would have parted with significant cash to see either of them.
I secured a ticket in advance and come concert night, made my way to The BEC Tero Hall, next to the old Lumpini Park night bazaar (is the venue still there?). I had hooked up with ‘DJ Pat', a young guy I chatted to regularly about music on an expat discussion forum. We met up for an early evening beer despite having bought separate tickets and being seated a fair way from each other.
I'm struggling to remember the exact year for this gig but I distinctly remember The Pretenders playing a couple of tracks from their recently released ‘Human' album. So I'm going for 1999. It was certainly a night to party.
However, it was a strange crowd that night. The majority of the audience seemed to be middle class or hi-so Thais who had probably come just to see Ferry whistle his way through ‘Jealous Guy'. Did they even know who The Pretenders were? As a result, the ‘support' band played to a very muted audience and you could detect Chrissie Hynde's frustration growing. "What's it going to take to get you fuckers up out of your seats and dancing?" she said at one point.
Brass in Pocket, 2,000 Miles, Back on the Chain Gang, we got all the hits and more. DJ Pat and I enjoyed the set even if nobody else did. We kept texting each other between songs - "what's wrong with these people?" I tapped out. And I had to chuckle when DJ Pat replied with "I've heard more noise in a fucking library"
When the lights dimmed to herald the arrival of Mr Ferry, DJ Pat and I had had enough. After a quick exchange of texts, we met up in the centre aisle and pushed our way to the front of the stage. Ferry came on as immaculate as ever in his trademark Anthony Price suit and open-necked white shirt. I was close enough to almost reach out and touch a trouser leg. Bryan had definitely started to look old and when he began the set with the gentle Irish ballad ‘Carrickfergus' I became concerned about what kind of evening we were in for. Then the saxophone fired up and he went into a blistering rendition of ‘Let's Stick Together'. Some songs are worth the price of an admission ticket alone. But it still took ‘Jealous Guy' to get the crowd up and on their feet.
At secondary school in the late 1970's, I started to embrace what became known as ‘New Wave' - bands and artists such as The Police, The Stranglers, XTC and Elvis Costello. Joe Jackson became a particular favourite of mine. But in a class of about twenty boys, I remained something of an odd man out. Everyone else was deep into heavy rock - groups like Motorhead and Saxon and especially local megabands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. However, it's a music genre I've never been able to get into to this day.
Then you have that genre of music that falls more under the label of ‘soft rock'. Although bands like Foreigner can certainly crank it up on stage, they tend to have a wider appeal because their songs - especially the ballads - become universally popular.
When I first met my wife, she listened to nothing but soft rock and she played nothing but soft rock on the car stereo. Within months of going out with her, I knew every lyric to every Scorpions, Foreigner and Gary Moore track.
Stranger things have happened I know but slowly the music started to grow on me. When The Scorpions played Queen Sirikit Centre in 2001, as part of their ‘Acoustica' Tour, my wife got hold of two good seats and in truth I didn't need much persuasion to go.
I've already commented on how quiet and ‘low-key' Thai concert audiences can be but this was one occasion when I saw Thais genuinely getting into it and enjoying themselves. I vividly remember one middle-aged guy in front of me, singing along to the hits with tremendous gusto. He looked like he was having the night of his life. It was good to see. The Scorpions have a large and loyal fan base in Thailand (as I'm sure they do in most countries) and they went along and did themselves proud that night.
When the band returned for a second encore, they invited fans to come up to the stage to shake hands. I've never seen my wife move so fast. Without as much as a ‘see you later' she ran fully twenty rows of seats to shake Klaus Meine, the lead singer's hand. Mission accomplished, you can just imagine the size of the grin on her face when she came back.
As I write this, The Scorpions are due to play Bangkok again in the coming weeks. Is it their 30th anniversary tour? Their 40th? I'm really not sure. The Scorpions seem to have been around forever. Klaus Meine is almost 70! And although I'm not their biggest fan, you can never knock a band that has sold 100 million albums worldwide and brought so much pleasure to so many. There is always room in my record collection for a Scorpions Greatest Hits.
Every so often a particular singer becomes almost like the soundtrack to life in Bangkok and 2002 was definitely the year of Darren Hayes. Every restaurant you went to, every shopping mall you walked around and every taxi driver that tuned his radio to an English language station seemed to be playing something from either Savage Garden or the latest Darren Hayes' solo album.
The songs were catchy and pleasant enough but it still remains the only gig I've ever been to on account of the performer being ‘so cute' That's how my wife sold it to me. But credit where it's due, he put on an amazing two-hour show at The BEC Tero hall near Lumpini Park, and I came away very impressed.
My lasting memory of the show was how Darren Hayes chose to make his entry. When the house lights went down, everyone focused on the stage waiting for him to appear in the conventional way. Suddenly there were girly screams going off all around us. Darren had decided to make his way from the very back of the auditorium, and ease his way gently through his adoring fans, who naturally seized the opportunity to grab a hug. I've never seen a man embraced by so many females in the space of ten minutes (albeit slightly ironic given the fact he's openly gay)
I'm struggling to come up with a year for the Oasis gig at Impact Arena but I'll take a shot at about 2000 / 2001 - around the time of their fourth studio album ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants'. Although Oasis were still massive globally, there was no doubt the decline had set in. Squabbles between the Gallagher brothers and other band members were well documented and you felt they'd never make another ‘What's The Story Morning Glory?' - one of the greatest albums ever in virtually every music magazine opinion poll.
But for all the trouble going on within the band, it didn't show in the performance. They delivered a tight set with a song list of crowd pleasers to send the 50/50 farang / Thai audience home happy. Wonderwall, Don't Look Back in Anger, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Live Forever - the hits just kept on coming. A rousing ‘Supersonic' was my own personal highlight of the evening.
This was the last concert I went to and the only concert on the list that I was dragged along to kicking and screaming. My wife didn't want to miss Tom Jones but I couldn't let her go alone. What kind of husband would I be? So I reluctantly gave up my Sunday night football on TV.
Even though I'm not a Tom Jones fan, there is that elite group of superstar (Rod Stewart and Elton John come to mind) who have been performing for so many years that they've achieved perfection on stage and you can't help but admire the showmanship on display. Into that category I would also insert Tom Jones. He's just so good at what he does. He might be getting on in years and the beard and hair may have turned grey but he had the sell-out crowd at Impact Arena in the palm of his hand.
The women's underwear still got thrown on stage but everyone treats it as a joke these days and Tom weaves it into his entertaining between song banter. He knows his best years are behind him, but only just. He could certainly still belt out a tune. Thunderball for me is still up there with the best James Bond themes ever - and was I really just tapping my foot to Delilah?
I would love to hear about concerts that you have been to in Bangkok. Was anyone at The Depeche Mode gig at The Army Stadium or Bjork at MBK Hall? (both gigs that I missed) Don't tell me you saw The Clash at Thammasat University in 1982.What are the memories from your Bangkok concert nights? Put your comments below.