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Book Review: The Ramakien (and Thai Classical Dance)

by Lang Reid

The Ramakien and Thai Classical Dance is another of the ‘Golden Souvenir’ series released by Asia Books (ISBN 962-7987-25-5) and was printed in 2003 in Hong Kong by Pacific Rim Press. A trifle disappointing, if I can be a little parochial, as Thailand these days can do very high quality colour print, and the publishers are also Thai.

I will make my position clear at the outset. I am fascinated by the story of the Ramakien and despite acknowledging the Indian Ramayana origins, the ‘Thai’ nature of the local version is fascinating.

It is a pictorial book, with the first half being descriptive with illustrating photographs, while the second is photographic with captions. The words are the work of Peter Holmshaw, whom the back cover credits as being Chiang Mai based these days. The photographs come from the cameras of Luca Invernizzi Tettoni who has been working in Asia for over 30 years. His work is exceptional, whether he is photographing people, places or puppets. The front cover is just so evocative it demands you take the book down from the shelf.

Despite being a slim volume, this book is crammed with information, and Holmshaw has done his ‘holmwork’ (sorry about that, Peter!). He describes not only the Ramayana origin, but shows how the tale of Rama spread through SE Asia, especially its being brought to the Thai court after Thailand conquered the Khmer capital of Angkor in 1431 AD. He also refers to the adoption of the epic into Thai royal culture, with Sukhothai’s King Ramkamheng (King Rama the Valiant) and when the Sukhothai era was eclipsed by another Thai kingdom, they named their capital Ayuthaya after the city of Prince Rama in the Ramakien.

The Thai version really was brought to prominence after the fall of Ayuthaya by Phra Phuttayotfa and the establishment of the new capital Bangkok, whose long name includes references to Vishnu, the divine incarnation of Rama. One of the attributes of Vishnu was the discus, known as a ‘chakra’ and the new dynasty was named the Chakri dynasty, with the first king being called Rama I. There are many more details such as this, and ones that most Thais themselves would not be aware of.

All the way through the book there are also some photographic plates from many years ago, showing the costumes of those days, and how the tradition has been maintained. Additionally there are many other photographs from the various SE Asian cultures that have embraced the original folklore.

The review copy was supplied by Bookazine, and should be available in all good bookstores. The RRP was B. 498. This marketing ploy is another of my pet hates. Let’s be frank and honest about this. It is not 400 baht. It is 500 baht. Give the other 2 baht to charity if this book is really that keenly priced.

However, this is an excellent reference volume, and makes a very suitable gift for people overseas, to show them a little of the history and culture that makes up Thailand as we know it today.

Mott's CD Reviews: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II

Pawed by Mott the Dog
re-mastered by Ella Crew

5 Stars Rating *****

Just 6 months after recording their fantastic debut album Led Zeppelin went back into the studio to record their second album (unoriginally called Led Zeppelin II, but then it’s the only thing that is remotely boring about this fine collection), which is incredible if you consider it’s quite normal for major bands to take up to 5 years between albums nowadays. But such was the creative spirit within the band that they actually surpassed the standards of their debut album.

Already international superstars “Led Zeppelin II” roared to number one all over the world. Most of the tracks still being staples of most album orientated radio stations and that’s 30 years after its release.

This is an album of Jimmy Page’s rock riffs so huge, John Paul Jones / John Bonham rhythms so heavy and deep, and vocal styling from Robert (Percy) Plant that the heavy metal genre this classic record helped to create has tried for decades to catch up, mostly never ever coming close to matching the majesty of the monster that was Led Zeppelin in full flow.

And is it any wonder as this period found the band at the peak of their hard rock creativity before they branched out into more experimental music on later albums. Never ones to let the grass grow under their feet this lot.

The album starts off with the trail blazing “Whole Lotta Love” (used as the theme tune for the English Pop singles show “Top Of The Pops” for years, which was pretty ironic as Led Zeppelin never released any singles, a firm policy set by man mountain manager Peter Grant), a woozy Rock ‘n’ Roll epic that was based on one simple sledge hammer riff, but giving plenty of scope for Robert Plant to show off his incredible vocal range in its trippy mid section.

After “What Is And What Should Never Be”, which on any other album would be the standout track, you get the musically brilliant but also hysterically funny “Lemon Song”.

“Thank You” is a love song, which usually brings out plenty of derision but certainly not in this case. Then a trio of rockers in “Heartbreaker”, “Livin Lovin Maid” and “Ramble On”. The guitar solo in “Heartbreaker” literally tears the paint off walls.

In “Moby Dick” John Bonham is allowed to show us why he was considered the best rock drummer ever, and one listen to this leaves you in no doubt that he was and is still sadly missed.

The album finishes in fine style with “Bring It On Home” where Robert Plant adds another dimension with his harmonica playing. A fine way to close the album.

There must have been a wonderful moment at the conclusion of this recording session when the four members of the band, and probably the manager, sat down for the first time to listen to the playbacks and realized they had just laid down on tape, music that would change the face of Rock ‘n’ Roll forever.

Jimmy Page - Guitar
John Paul Jones - Bass & Keyboards
John Bonham - Drums
Robert Plant - Vocals & Harmonica

Tracks Listing

1. Whole Lotta Love
2. What Is And What Should Never Be
3. The Lemon Song
4. Thank You
5. Heartbreaker
6. Livin Lovin Maid
7. Ramble On
8. Moby Dick
9. Bring It On Home

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