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Book Review

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Book Review: Dragon’s Fin Soup

by Lang Reid

S.P. Somtow’s previous epistle Jasmine Nights was reviewed a couple of years ago, so it was with anticipation that I took this latest reprint Dragon’s Fin Soup and Other Modern Siamese Fables (ISBN 974-8303-65-9) from the shelves. These days the shelves seem to be packed with the works from local publishers, which bodes well for local talent, of which Thai author S.P. Somtow has to be considered as being ‘up there’ after some forty books and international awards.

On the second page of the introduction there is the statement that Thailand is a country with more spirits than people, as anyone who has a close association with Thais would attest. There is no secret that the favourite Thai movies and TV shows will revolve around the spirit world.

The book is comprised of eight different self-contained short stories, each of which takes the reader deep into Thai mythology, from such diverse areas as a family dragon (from which the book takes its title), to asking well past ancestors for winning lottery ticket numbers while sleeping out in the cemetery, Patpong dancers who are re-created (as opposed to reincarnated), de-frocked clerics and schizophrenics in Isaan and mentally deranged Chinese immigrants.

What is also of interest, and shows the inventive nature of the author, is that in each of the first person narratives, S.P. Somtow assumes a different persona. In some he his male, others, female. The narrator can be young or old, Asian or Caucasian. And each is done with a compelling correctness. In some vignettes, I found myself referring back to ensure I had the correct gender for this particular feature.

Each snippet starts simply enough, but soon you become enmeshed in some of the weirdest tales you could ever imagine. S.P. Somtow’s imagination is such that he has been rewarded with the plaudits of those who promote the fantasy world. Each of the tales has enough of the bizarre to become a full-length movie of the macabre.

The review copy came from Bookazine and had an RRP of 425 baht. I enjoy S.P. Somtow’s style of prose, written with all the elements of ‘style’ itself. Anyone who can write, “What you are about to read, then, are stories produced by someone crushed between the Scylla and Charybdis of conflicting cultures,” has immediately whetted my appetite. Someone who can describe Bangkok as “the bastard daughter of feudalism and futurism” is not only a wordsmith, but a critical voyeur as well. An imaginative writer who can bring together such diverse items as a scroll that controls a 3,000 year old family dragon, described as, “a scroll that sat on the altar of the household gods, just above the cash register” in a Chinese restaurant!

The sometimes horrific natures of man (and myth) are expressed with such graphic detail, that there will be those who do not have the stomach for this book. However, if you are a fan of Bram Stoker’s Frankenstein, the movie “The Murders on the Rue Morgue” or the sheer horror of Edward Woodward’s classic “The Wicker Man” then this book is for you. I enjoyed it!

Music CD Reviews: Rory Gallagher Live In Europe

by Mott the Dog

5 Stars *****

After four years and three albums, not counting the posthumously released ‘Live at the Isle of Wight’, Rory Gallagher split up his previous band ‘’Taste’’ in 1970, just as they seemed destined to break into the big time. But then Rory Gallagher always did things his own way, never one to do the obvious. Rory then set about putting his own band together, under his own terms. It was very much Rory’s way or the highway, and Rory’s way could not of been a bad one as bassist Gerry McAvoy stuck it out with Rory through thick and thin from the first to the last.

With Rory now firmly in control, a new trio was formed under ‘’The Rory Gallagher Band” banner with the aforementioned Gerry McAvoy on Bass and the powerhouse drummer Wilgar Campbell. For the next two years they toured incessantly, wherever people were prepared to listen to them, and at every performance never less than a 110% was given by Rory and the boys. They often played for over three hours when they were only booked to do one.

There was never any money or time wasted on stage - attire either. What the band wore on the street is what they wore on stage. What you saw was what you got. Rory never believed in Set Lists, playing what he thought was appropriate to the moment; some nights opening with one song, the next playing the same song as a final encore. Giving the other two just seconds to know which song he would be launching into next. Rory would do this with songs as well, playing ‘Too Much Alcohol’ one night as a full-blown electric rocker with the band, and the next as an acoustic blues with just him on acoustic guitar and a harmonica.

During this time they recorded the first two studio albums. The self-titled debut album released in May 1971 was mostly made up of songs left over from Rory’s “days with Taste”, followed by the far more adventurous ‘Deuce’ released in December of the same year. But it was not until the release the following year of this groundbreaking Live album that Rory Gallagher achieved record sales to match his fanatical live following. ‘Live in Europe’ reached Number 12 in Britain, but more importantly breaking into the American Billboard Top 100, opening up a whole new audience.

The set starts of at a frantic pace with two rockers, the evergreen chestnut Junior Well’s “Messin’ with the Kid” (which Rory turned into his own), and the Rory original ‘Laundromat’, then everything is slowed down for the aching blues of ‘I Could’ve Had Religion’, where Rory’s slide and harmonica work are allowed to shine. Then, without the band, an acoustic version of Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘Pistol Slapper Blues’. This time Rory gets to show off his fine guitar picking. For a complete change of tempo we get the stompin ‘Going to my Home Town’ with Rory on Mandolin, some very effective bass work from Gerry and Wilgar plus some marvelous audience participation. Rory could have had a hit single on his hands if he had released an edited version of this song as a 45. But like Led Zeppelin, Rory never released a single during his career, leaving that area to the so called pop bands. Live set centerpiece is ‘In your own Town’, a ten minute band work out. And when Rory cries out, “See this match? Well I am going to set this whole place alight,” you just know it’s time for the band to cut loose.

Next in the running order are the two tracks added on to this digitally re-mastered CD version. Two great blues workouts in traditional Rory Gallagher style, a worthy addition to any set. The album closes with Rory’s raved up version of ‘Bullfrog Blues’ including a pulsating bass solo from Gerry followed by a thrashing drum solo before the whole band crashes back in with Rory bringing the house down with a screaming slide solo ... which leaves everybody breathless.

After this batch of touring, Rory took on a keyboard player to fill out the sound in both the studio and as a touring unit, but I always preferred this pioneering first band. Whatever you think, ‘Live in Europe’ is a fine testament to a credible live act and a fine Human Being


Messin’ with the Kid


I Could of had Religion

Pistol Slapper Blues

Going To My Home Town

In Your Town

What in the world

Hoodoo Man

Bullfrog Blues.


Rory Gallagher / Guitars, Mandolin, Harmonica and vocals.

Gerry McAvoy / Bass.

Wilgar Campbell / Drums

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]