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Book Review: At The Bamboo Bar

by Lang Reid

Another book from Morgan McFinn, whose previous titles include Out of the Loop and All Over the Map, and this new one At the Bamboo Bar (ISDN 974-8303-68-1) which was published last year and released by Asia Books.

McFinn is known for his pithy descriptive style. Take for example, those unfortunate people who bring on their own maladies to invoke sympathy. McFinn describes them as follows, “Make public spectacles of themselves wallowing in their own miserable, stinking puddles of emotional puke, self-pity and spiritual nausea. What a joy they are to be around.” What a joy indeed!

The book revolves around an evening spent at the Bamboo Bar of the Oriental Hotel, and is a series of vignettes that are brought forward by the events of the night at the bar, and incidentally, McFinn’s 50th birthday. Before getting to the bar he starts with his description of Soi Nana in Bangkok, and being conversant with the area, I could recognise the cobbler cum key cutter on the corner of Sukhumvit and the open air luggage shop. The Bamboo Bar area I am not so conversant with, the Oriental being just a tad too upmarket for the Lang Reid pocketbook.

McFinn slips very easily from episodes regarding the present, to those cajoled and dredged up from deep recesses of his memory, with the night in jail after his car was out of its emission testing time-frame being particularly amusing (and a wonderful view upon current western society and its priorities and watchdogs), however, most of the action revolves around the Bamboo Bar.

The review copy was supplied by Bookazine, with the somewhat peculiar RRP of 389 baht, and should be available at all major bookstores. For a writer of humour, McFinn is actually eloquent, and uses several words of several syllables. That, in itself, elevates this book above the general run of locally published books on “Life in Patpong/Nana/Pattaya/Cowboy” (delete one or all of the above), written to appeal to the lowest possible denominator, where phrases such as “juxtaposition of cultural anomalies” would be considered effete, or more likely, too difficult to spell and incomprehensible.

It is a book that very ably looks at life and its characters. McFinn is not guilty of dreaming up ‘larger than life’ characters for his book, for me, they were all very plausible, even if they included a one legged author, an Irish Catholic priest, an American couple from the Ozarks and a trio of Thai politicians. McFinn’s skill comes in his abilities in describing their ‘real life’ foibles in a most amusing way. He was also very masterful in the way he brings most of them together for the finale.

I found this a most enjoyable book, very witty and well worth the B. 389 RRP. In fact, I would not have complained if it had cost the other 6 baht I expected to pay. If you enjoy slick characterizations and a good laugh, buy this book. If you were enthralled with “Hello my big honey” do not get this book, many of the words will be too difficult for you.


Music CD Reviews: Uriah Heep - Demons and Wizards

by Mott the Dog

***** 5 Stars Rating

Although this actually goes down in chronological order as Uriah Heep’s fourth album, it could in many respects be put down as their first. It was the first time the nucleus of the band, vocalist David Byron, lead guitarist and cheeriest man on the planet Mick Box, plus the man with the keyboard patent on heavy rock Ken Hensley, had found a compatible duo to fill the roles of bassist and drummer to form a rock like rhythm section: ‘The Thin Man’ Gary Thain, and behind the bins the hard livin John Candy look-a-like Lee Kerslake, who is still in the band today after only a two year break at the end of the seventies. Something of a clean sheet for a band that have had 6 bassists, 6 vocalists, and 4 keyboard players, and, surprisingly, the present lineup of Uriah Heep is probably their best, certainly musically, and their most stable having been together now for sixteen of the band’s thirty-two year career.

But in the heady days of 1972, although the band had laid down the template of the Uriah Heep sound with songs from their first three albums, noticeably “Gypsy” from ‘Very’ Eavy Very’ Umble’ (70), “Bird Of Prey” and “Lady In Black” from ‘Salisbury’ (71), and the title track plus the epic “July Morning” from ‘Look At Yourself’ (71). It was only six months later, after three years of saturation touring and recording, that this classic hard rock album was released to the public with its much imitated Roger Dean artwork. This album broke the band worldwide leading to Uriah Heep selling over 30 million albums globally. “Demons & Wizards” reached number 20 in the British charts, but, more importantly, was the first of five consecutive albums to go top 40 in the massive selling American charts.

The music stands up today as well as it did at the time. Opening song “The Wizard”, with its acoustic opening before stepping up with rock guitar and keyboards, is the perfect opening for any album. The humour of the first lyrics leave you knowing that the band have tongue firmly in cheek.

“He was the wizard of a thousand things

And I chanced to meet him one night wondering

He told me tales and he drank my wine

Me and my magic man are kinda feelin fine”

“The Wizard” was actually co-written with Ken Hensley by Uriah Heep’s previous bassist Marke Clarke, who, though typically only in the band for three months, has left his impression on the band by writing one of their classic songs sung by every vocalist who was ever in the band and is still in the band’s live set today. “Hope the royalties are still pouring in, Marke”. Marke Clarke went on to play with Colosseum, Tempest, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and Ian Hunter.

Next up is the hard rocker “Traveller In Time” featuring all the guitars in the band. “Easy Livin’” is a thundering express train of a song, these days used to bring Heep’s shows to a rousing conclusion, and it was also a surprise hit single in the States. “Poets Justice” showed off the amazing vocal range of Heep’s vocalist David Byron (one of the finest front men this dog has ever witnessed live on stage), from throaty bass rumble to ear-spilling falsetto - all in full effect.

“Circle of Hands” is the first of the album’s epics, showing Ken Hensley’s more subtle piano playing until Mick Box’s guitar solo takes us to a rousing conclusion. “Rainbow Demon” is very reminiscent of early Atomic Rooster with its dark and gloomy keyboard led riffs, which beat their way into your brain waves, and perhaps the album’s most memorable track. After the light relief of the short sharp “All My Life”, the album closes with two Hensley penned epics in “Paradise” and “The Spell”, both using all of Uriah Heep’s many assets. “Paradise” is the softer side before “The Spell” comes rushing in.

Uriah Heep have never been the critics’ darlings. Listen to the music yourself before you make up your own mind.

Musicians

Gary Thain - Bass Guitar

Lee Kerslake - Drums and Percussion

Mick Box - Guitars

Ken Hensley - Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion

David Byron - Vocals

All other voices by Uriah Heep

Track Listing

1. The Wizard

2. Traveller In Time

3. Easy Livin’

4. Poet’s Justice

5. Circle Of Hands

6. Rainbow Demon

7. All My Life

8. Paradise

9. The Spell

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]