Hello you lot!
I'm now on Koh Samui, an Island of Thailand (but the pic above's from Beijing taken by Tina) and the pouring thunderous rain's leaving me no more excuses to not catch up on my blog. Once I get started it's fine, I enjoy writing it. As usual, there's soooo much to tell and it's going to be quite the excersize to get it all down here. I also have to write it now as I read my own blog to remind myself what I've been doing! So forgetful. I dread to think what I'm going to be like when I'm 100 (yes I plan on living that long).
Anyway...I should start where I left off. It was fun prancing about infront of the webcam, waving and posing for you all. What you didn't see was Stefan (the farmer who owned the cottage I was staying in) was counting me down every 20 seconds from high up a ladder, looking at the webcam for it to blink and then I'd do a star jump or something (inspired by a band I spoke about in my last post). It was quite amusing! His son walked out on me first thing in the morning, waiting for his dad to get down and take him to school. I'm sure he thought I was a little eccentric. Thanks to Andrew who put this
together from it.
So that was my last morning in Hokkaido. I had such a great time and then I had the overnight train journey back to Tokyo to look forward to. This time I got to see a big tangerine sun nestling into the vieled hilltops at 100mph. It was exactly the same food as the way up in the dinner car so I ate another snail. I almost verged on enjoying it. Maybe a couple more to go before that happens succesfully.
There on the train, I tied up the lyrics for Tidal. I love the imagery to this song. I had something about a full moon in the beginnings of writing it a couple of weeks back and was trying to marry it up with some more abstract words. I really love where it is now. It sounds cheezy, having "full moon" in the chorus but it's not. Well I don't think so anyway. I got a crocodile into the verse lyric for balance perhaps and a line inspired by the journey up to Mount Asahidake that I mentioned in my last blog. It's up there in my top 3 now with Little Bird and Body Double. I hope I'm not giving too much away. Am I? Is this all going to spoil the surprise on your virgin listen? Well I can't very well go back now, so we're in this together.
After I'd written that and done some talking to my DV camera along with in the morning a time lapse of me packing up my little room on the train, I kind of exited the realm of album making progressions. In very very short...coz the days over the last week packed in about a months worth of activities, I'll give you the headliners.
Rapid fire confirmation of Beijing trip - I got into my hotel room and quickly checked my email. I hadn't spoken about this before because it was all up in the air. First it was on then it was off. I was invited by Greenpeace to go to Beijing and sing a couple of songs at the Midi Festival
. This was 5 days before the gig was to happen. It was a complete coincidence that I was due to be in Hong Kong anyway 2 days before and that I'd written a lyric with reference to "the great wall of china" only 5 days before getting the email. Quite bizarre. So I said yes. My mind seemed to be gearing me up to go without my knowing about it anyway. When I got into Tokyo morning 30th they told me if I wanted to go I'd had to get on a flight to HK the next morning, to get a visa for China proper and then head to Beijing on 3rd. Now I had to get moving!
Laptop recovery operation - I rushed to Apple Ginza, Tokyo and became laptop alive again. BIG thanks to the guys there for sorting this. I would have been a gonner without it for the rest of this trip. Perhaps even for the rest of my life. That's how paranoid I was of losing everything. Cradling, stroking, my one remaining back up all the way. Yoshio and I went for some lunch while lappy was in surgery. I tried sukiyaki for the first time. In a nutshell, lush strips of juicy beef, fried on the hot plate table and dipped in your own little dish of raw egg yolk. Mmm..delilcious! I'm sure I said this before but I've never had a bad meal in Japan. Never.
Then...rushed back to hotel to drop of lappy and rushed out again to meet Coppe!
What a crazy and fantastic studio she has. Here's a video clip of it. Coppe's_studio.mov
Meeting Coppe - I've just watched it again and you can't see at all what's in her studio coz I whizzed around it too fast. Doh! One thing she has in there amongst the whisks and waterphones is an mbira. Now any of you who have seen my live over the past 2 years know what that is right? That's how we were introduced through the Array Mbira big daddy himself Bill Wesley
, the crazy madcap musical instrument inventor. He thought we'd get along. We'd been emailing each other excitedly for about a year but hadn't met until this night. I arrived and couldn't quite believe me eyes on her Mickey Mouse collection. She LOVES Mickey. Within about 20 mins she had me in the studio with her playing vegetable collinders, drain pipes, toy trumpets and of course, the mbira. The music in the background you can hear in the clip is a snip of us improvising. Most of what we did was complete nonsense but it was great fun. I've left her to sieve through the hours of playing we did together. I wonder what she'll do with it and whether it'll end up on her next album. I can but dream. We then went and had my favourite food on the planet, Okonomiyaki down the road with a ton of her mates. It was great. What wasn't great was the 5 am get up the next morning! Ew! Here's some leftovers for you. Sorry, we ate it all up.
Sooooo....Hong Kong. I stupidly decided to take the train in and not get a cab. If I'd just done the maths I would have realized with the exchange rate it would only have been about 15 quid for the 30 minute journey. The train was super slick. Got off the plane, picked up bags etc in no time then on the same level as baggage reclaim, hopped onto the train into the city. Now that's a bit more like it. The airport flying in reminded me of an early James Bond movie with Sean Connery in it or something. Men in white coats on little carts driving around large stretches of tarmac between giant futuristic terminals tied together by the monorails stringing them together. I have a shed load of luggage with me. Cameras, stands, mini keyboard, hiking boots, laptop, various cables for every possible situation, shoes, books...you name it. I bought everything I needed though. Haven't needed to buy anything since i've been out, though of course...I have. I changed trains to get off at the stop nearest my hotel. When I got off the last train it was SO hot. I could see the hotel from the station, towering over the city's foreground. It didn't look that far so I decided to walk it. I ended up going through a large live chicken and fish market at peak time with all the locals out buying their groceries. This was a very small alley squished between two dilapidated many storied concrete buildings coloured head to toe in washing, drying and dangling from the windows above. There was me, a six foot sweaty english lass trying to navigate her way through the bustle, dragging two very large dead dogs (sorry, that's what it's like, not that I've dragged a dead dog but I imagine that's the weight of them, how morbid...), over peoples feet and holes in the road. One bright blue, one bright orange and a massive carry-on-luggage bag around my shoulder. I was at least tall enough to see over the crowd to what I had to dodge next. I ended up just laughing at myself and how rediculous the whole situation was.
I checked in and headed out. I only had 48 hours in Hong Kong now if I was going to make the festival. I dived onto the metro and headed for the famous harbor. I'd read that every night at 8 o'clock there's a light display from all the buildings at the edge of the water. I was there on 1st May which is a public holiday. So not only did I get to see the light show of Hong Kong Island but there were fireworks too from the tops of at least 30 skyscrapers. I couldn't have timed my introduction to Hong Kong more perfectly. Here's a little video from it. Though I didn't record the best of it. Hong_Kong_Harbor.mov
I haven't quite mastered the art of photography either as you can see.
I couldn't get to grips with Hong Kong in the short time I was there. It's just like visiting any city for the first time. I needed to get my bearings. I went to a couple of places I was told were good but it wasn't really what I was looking for. I was looking for street food, markets, fishermen out on their boats, small alleyways not the glossy brochure Hong Kong which is what I found. I loved the view from the harbor. It was breathtaking. I hopped on one of the star ferries which busy all day and well into the night, carrying people two and from the various ports around Hong Kong. I went to the Lan Kwai Fong district where a friend of a friend had a bar in. This was where all the other bars were too. Tons of restaurants, clubs etc. 99% tourists. There was every cuisine on the planet apart from Chinese. I ended up at this Malaysian restaurant after being waved over to a table by a nice looking young Greek man. He was eating alone and asked me if I'd like to join him. So I did. We chatted and were having the same problem in finding somewhere where visiting people like us weren't. I'd heard of this place called Temple street in Kowloon near where I was staying. A street food market. We agreed to go there for lunch the next day and get a bit more adventurous. We had a nice chat and some beers. The next day I sorted out the visa for going to Beijing (you need a visa to go into mainland China). We met up at Temple street around 1pm only to discover it was a night market! We ate a little tasty something in the only place that was open for about 50p. He said I should head for the Peak if I only had a day, which I did. Got there eventually in the baking heat. Hong Kong is not really for pedestrians. I found myself walking an extra 5 mins every time I wanted to cross the road because of all the barriers and walkways. I got to the Peak Tram which takes you up to the top. It pulls up a really really steep hill. It's a great ride. Got out, went up to check out the view but it was pretty cloudy from pollution and I couldn't really see anything. On a good clear day I'm sure it'd be spectacular. I wasn't having much luck was I? I found a little restaurant (again, no chinese food!) and had some fish. I spoke to the waiter there and he told me all these places I should have visited but I couldn't get there in time now. Next time I'll know a little more where to not and where to go! I only had a few hours before a meeting as I wanted to hook up with the guys who'd released the album out here so we can talk about the new one and ideas etc. I decided to wander about the Peak a bit. it was good to walk about for a couple of hours. I listened to Coppe's new album she'd given me (no.11!). She's working on no.12 now. That girl doesn't mess around.
Soooo....the next morning, got a cab to the airport etc and went to Beijing. I was super excited to go into mainland China. Beijing's where the Forbidden City is. If you've seen The Last Emperor
, that's the first film ever to be shot there. The big thing that will hit you is the major facelift Beijing's getting, gearing up for the Olympics (I am so looking forward to the london ones. I've always loved watching it on TV). There's construction everywhere and among it people drive like maniacs on the roads as cars have become in recent years, an affordable option. Everyone toots, all the time. It's more a "hello, I'm here, right up your rear end...just to let you know" rather than a "get out the way". Taxi's weaving through cars and accelerating between the small gaps in the traffic. My heart was in my throat on quite a few occasionas. It's not at all the Beijing I had in my mind. Imagining roads full of bicycles (there are of course still quite a few out there pedaling all kinds of things). Times are indeed a changing.
The first 3 days were Greenpeace days. Meeting up with those guys and doing bits and bobs of press/radio and of course the gig. Tina (Dave Stewart's assistant) and I ended up hanging out on our own quite a bit while the others involved were practicing for their bits. Dave was meant to do the gig but got the flu so that's why I was there, to fill the gap along with this Jamaican girl Nadira X. Tina and I ended up at the nightlife tourist hot spot around Hohai lake (running theme) on my first evening there. We had a not so good meal but the lake, lights and lanterns, with little boats poodling about was really pretty to watch while we were eating (again, hardly any chinese food in sight). After that we hailed a rickshaw and met up with the others for some more drinks. The next day was the gig. Tina and I rushed around Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City and she had no other time to go and we only had an hour before we had to go the festival site. I went back to the Forbidden City a couple of days later to get a better look. We also got on another Rickshaw and got a little tour of a local Hutong
A lot of the Hutongs are being torn down and thier residents moved out the city, clearing the way for fancy homes and shops as part of the Olympic overhaul. Our guy told us a little about what the various decorative stonework signified. Like how many mythical creatures (dragons and such) one house has and why. The most amount of dragons seen on a building would be 11 lined up on a roof. That amount though is strictly reserved for the emperor. The empresses has Phoenix's on their buildings and outfits. So according to the amount and what you had on your roof told of your status. Dragon's were not to be worn by anyone else unless the Emperor says so. If someone's caught with a robe in his closet with one on, without permission...he'd be up for the chop. Tina took this
clip of the guy explaining something. I kind of understood what he was saying most of the time, I think. I look quite convincing though apparently. I haven't seen it yet as YouTube is banned in Thailand
coz someone said something bad about the King here on it.
I still hadn't figured out what I was going to play at the concert. It's hard only choosing 2 songs to play to people. I had no idea what the crowd were like either. I decided about a minute before I went on I'd do "Speeding cars" and an old favorite of mine "Blanket". Just on the piano. No boxes this time. I headed onto stage and the crowd were chanting something. I felt very awkward being up there. Like I'd walked in on a house party I was intentionally not invited to. I was paranoid they were saying something like "get off!" I thought it was a full on rock festival though I hear there was all kinds of music. I did see a lot of spikey hair doos in the crowd. I felt like a right pansy with flowers in my hair and my cobbled together stage gear from the only clothes I took with me on the trip (mostly floppy clothing for being in the heat). I later found out they were chanting for the girl who'd just been stage to come back for one more song. She had a huge hit in the 90's. That was the only song she sang and they wanted more. Anyway, I interrupted them after a minute or so of waiting for them to stop. I was then up for a real surprise. I started singing Speeding Cars and a chorus of people began to sing along with me! I was sooo taken aback. I didn't expect anyone to know my stuff out there. Completely caught off guard I forget all the lyrics to the 2nd verse and ended up fumbling something. The only word that I could make out was "tree" in my panicked lyrical improvisations. The crowd were still singing the right words though, so perhaps they didn't notice and the rest of the crowd were none the wiser so I think I got away with it. What I should have done next was play Hide and Seek but I was still flustered so I just carried on with the original plan. I was only down for 2 songs and when I wondered off then they were chanting for Hide and Seek! Doh and double Doh! There was a couple of great moments when I felt like I had the crowd's full attention. I got a round of applause for the "rap" section of Blanket. This on the Urban Species
album was done by beautiful Mintos. Then at the end I trailed off with a long melody against only the sound of the silent crowd in the evening air followed by tons of clapping. yay! I'll be back to make up for my lack of homework touring the next album. xxx
I made a new friend or two that night. One was a girl called Sheena (Xiao nan). She was stage manager at the festival and did a really great job too. We met up a couple of times after. She was in the first ever all female rock band in China, called Cobra
. Cool ha?! Another was a good friend of hers, Jerry and her boyfriend Marcus.
The third day all of us went to the Mutianyu
section of the Great Wall of China. Wow, wow, wow, wow and more wow. That's all I kept saying to myself. It clings to the top of the craggy hills not letting anything get in its way as it dissappears into the distance. As a result some of the stretches are quite a hike. Here's a load of pics I took. They do the job better than I can of explaining it's wonder.
We went up in a cable car and zoomed, one by one down a tabboggan run on wheeled wooden carts, as you do! It was brilliant fun! If you waited a little bit to clear a run, ahead you could pick up quite a bit of speed. Again again! Here's the video of it. Tabboganing.mov
At the bottom was a hairy camel.
On our journey back in our interior designed (by the driver/owner) cute lovebus/minvan I stretched out across a row of seats, listened to my ipod and blissed out watching the flick book sunset, between the rows and rows of trees passing by.
On my 4th day I was out and about with a guy called Michael Fong. I wanted to try some real chinese food. He took me down a side street of a major shopping area called Wang Fu Jing. There were all kinds of crazy foods on display. Still moving little scorpions lined up and skewered waiting for a grilling, some insects that I still have no idea what they were. They looked like really big crickets in the foetus position. Whole octopus. Soup of sheep brains. All of these were a little outlandish for my rather conservative tastes in comparison. It was great to have a look at it all though. I settled on a plate of sheep intestines, heart, liver and stomach. It was cooked at least! (i had a plate of back-up noodles also). I tried a little of each and I must admit to the taste being very nice but my brain was still trying to adjust to the idea of eating them. Michael said that the only parts of animals the chinese don't eat are the nose, eye balls and hoofs apparently. I've heard the only thing the chinese won't eat with 4 legs is the dinner table! Across the road from us was a small cafe with Dog on the menu.
After this we went for a little wander with him I ended up at the Forbidden City
again. This time we got a guide and spent a good few hours in there. It is a fantastic sight. You can't help to feel sad that all the future holds for this place and many other imperial relics, is for people like me to peer in through the dusty windows onto a once colorful, rich and dramatic ruling history that spanned over many millennia still active until only a hundred years ago. Emperor Xuantong, later referred to simply as Puyi was the last to live there. It was opened up as a museum to the public in 1925.
Once the various concubines were chosen for the emperor they were forbidden to ever leave of their own accord. They lived in a confined space purely to wait on the emperor should he desire their company. All kinds of dark goings on happened behind the walls as the concubines tried to get the emperor to favour them over the others. I can't imagine it was a very nice place to live. Beautiful and ornate but very claustrophobic. Here's a picture of a picture through a glass cabinet of the Last Emperor playing tennis. Looks like he was a lefty like me.
We then walked up the hill just to the north of the city called Jingshan Park
. Here you can walk up to the top and get a look at the enormity of Beijing. Officially 15 million people live there. That's over 2 times as back home in London.
Michael and also a guy called Stephen were two guys I met from Sony China. My plan wasn't to do anything on that side of things but seens as I'm here, it's been good to meet the people who i'll possibly be working with on the next album. I told them both about this crazy boat idea (will let you in on it when I have a bit more figured out). In fact I've told nearly everyone I've met on this trip about my "secret" crazy boat idea. Give me a fortnight and I'll fill you in. You won't believe what I'm going to try to do!
On the last day I took another near death experience taxi drive to the Summer Palace. I wanted to get some fresh air and have a walk about. It's about a 40 minute cab ride from central Beijing. I had no idea how huge it was! Glorious imperial gardens spanning as far as the eye can see. Lakes, with wooden temples and shrines dotted about with thousands of beautifully hand painted scenes of old China on just about every wall and ceiling. It would take you a good month to look at every piece. I didn't really get any decent pics as I'd forgotten to put the battery in my fancy camera, so used my phone. It was overcast too. I got a pot noodle snack thing from one of the stands at the base of the Hall Of Buddhist Incense (pic below).
I couldn't find anywhere out of the way to slurp up my noodles amongst the peaceful crowds milling about. Slurping by the way is totally acceptable. It makes complete sense as the air rushes up into your mouth alongside your boiling hot noodles and creates a fast cooling affect. You also don't get whacked in the face by lairy stray strands because there's more room for them to maneuver on their way into the mouth. I spotted some boats on the water. So with the last hour looming I got myself a six seater vessel. It had a little table and canopy over it so I got me in one and headed out into Kumming Lake. I lady at the ticket desk laughed at me when she saw me pick up my steaming pot of food after I'd paid. Here's a clip of me on the lake, bombing about at the top speed of 7 mph. Captain_heap.mov
On a little side note. 3 times on this trip I had separate incidents of people just wanting to take their picture with me. Not for any other reason than I was a really tall english bird with flowers in hair and this amused them somewhat. All in a days work!
Well well well...this all brings me up to date pretty much. I'm here on Koh Samui in this fantastically lavish villa that's WAY to big for one person but I got the deal of a lifetime so there's no way I'm turning it down. I recorded some vocals with the new finished words of Tidal, that I wrote almost 24 hours ago at the start of this blog. I thought I'd try out a Thai massage so someone could pat me on the back. A lovely lady came over. We were outside on this bed, it was dark, with strong winds coming in from the sea, lapping hungrily at the shore just 10 feet away. I had no idea what to expect. I've only had about 5 massages in my whole life. I had no idea what a Thai massage was like. Soon enough she was pulling and stretching me like an elastic band from all angles, cracking bones and kneading me with her feet!. I was laughing quite a bit with her about it all. It was totally exhilarating. I'm going to have another tonight.
My next door neighbor is a guy called Peter Green (not the founder of Fleetwood Mac!). He's there with his mate/business associate, Dominic and I was invited to dinner with them my 2nd night (last night) and to set off a good luck lantern from the beach. They lit the coconut oil and it began to burn. The white waxy paper in a tube around it started to tug toward the nightsky. Dominic and I held the lantern and once the lantern was ready to go up, we made a wish and set it free. It shooted up, way way up. It just kept on going a really long way. It was as small as a star when we lost it to a cloud but it was still going strong and probably went even further up until it used up all it's fuel. They're letting off some more tonight so I'm going to join them again. After this, Peter has a chef over there who rustled up this amazing dinner. The pomelo salad was out of this world. My friends Milosh and Yen are coming over tomorrow, so I've asked if he could come over here to cook us the lunch of kings. Yummy!
These are my last few remaining days. I can't believe how the 9 weeks have sped by so quickly. I hope before I leave for England on the 17th to finish the lyrics to "Raise your right hand" and "Not now but soon". I'm not totally convinced on the melody to the first but I'll write the rest of the lyric with the one I have and find a better one when I get back.
One more thing. There's this noise that was going on outside my bedroom in the house on Maui. I thought it was some kind of a generator. Last night I heard the same noise again here in Thailand. Peter told me it was a bullfrog! They make the noise after the rains come (i guess they get a little excited) to attract a nice lady frog. It is SO loud and It just comes from one tiny frog. I can't believe it. I'll try to capture it if I hear him again.
There'll be one more blog from this trip that I'll probably write on the plane home. Then it's the start of another stage. I'm not exactly sure what's happening at the moment but some of it involves moving my studio to a place in the country about 40 mins outside of London. I'll fill you in about all that too. It's a really nice story.
Love fluv from me and the local leapers.