News & Insights 31 May 2008

“Why aren’t we doing this in the jacuzzi?”

Here we are once again – back in Seoul, capital city of South Korea, invited out for the third year running to headline The Queen’s Birthday Ball at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. By now we know the city pretty well but it still has the ability to surprise us once in a while.

This week, for example, the whole place has been crawling with riot police. I mean, I say “crawling”; in fact they’ve been pretty much static the entire time. Hundreds of them, mostly boys, by-and-large looking too young to shave, clutching shields and truncheons and standing in neatly-aligned formation waiting for something to kick off. The Koreans are currently lobbying against their government for letting too much potentially CJD-ridden American beef into the country and, since the Asians are renowned for protesting in some particularly off-the-wall ways (setting fire to themselves, that sort of thing), the local authorities aren’t taking any chances. These guys are everywhere. Funnily enough, though, this doesn’t seem to disrupt the pervasive aura of calm that is peculiar to Seoul. If there were this many riot police on the streets of London, people would be starting ruckuses left right and centre.

If I’m honest though, I think they’re all a bit bored. I saw my first anti-beef protest the other day – eight or nine elaborately dressed Koreans wandering along with a severed bull’s head on a platter, peacefully protesting, singing songs, that sort of thing – and was amazed to see the riot police surround them like locusts and start chanting and shoving. They seemed to be starting a riot all by themselves. Mind you, you’d probably do the same if you’d be standing in the same place for three weeks without anything to do but count pavement tiles.

Anyhow, back to the tour. We played our first gig on Thursday night at a kind of “Meet The Lighyears” welcome party. It was supposed to be at a venue in Itaewon called The Bungalow, although due to unforeseen circumstances we ended up having to move (incidentally, when I say “unforeseen circumstances”, I’m referring to the fact that the British Ambassador was throwing a party the same night and had poached a big chunk of our audience. Not deliberate, I’m sure. Still, the ex-pat social scene can be pretty cut-throat. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there). Thankfully, Ruth, one of our hosts, offered up her garden as a substitute and we set up on her patio. Rock and roll.

Copious amounts of food and drink were laid on and we played a set of mellow acoustic numbers – Fine, Girl On The Radio, Home For The Weekend, even I Could Be, which some of you might remember from three or four years back when we used to play it at the Kashmir Club in Baker Street. Fortunately the Ambassador doesn’t party as hard as us and, as his soiree had finished early, a bunch of people turned up later on to join in the festivities. This was our cue to up the pace a bit and we threw in Emily, Sleepless and so on. 

What happened next took us all by surprise – we got a request from a member of the audience to play Posh We Are, the Peterborough United charity single we released back in May! There we were, 5000 miles away from home, and the spirit of the Midlands reared its ugly head in the most unexpected way. Needless to say, we played the song and received tumultuous applause (from the Posh fans, at least). 

The following day was split between gawking at eels in street-corner tanks, guffawing at hilarious English translations on restaurant menus (I was seriously tempted to sample the indeterminate meaty mush with noodles described as “Hairy Triton”) and wandering open-mouthed around the world’s most enormous music shop. We do this every year. Danny is starting to find this a little wearying and I can kind of see his point. I mean, each year it’s the same – George bombs around trying to uncover some exotic new brand of effects pedal, Tony gets excited about vintage 12-track mixers and I scour the various keyboard stores for rare makes of keytar which I will unvariably not buy on account of the fact that, antique or otherwise, £450 is a lot of money to spend on a piece of plastic tat that I’m probably never going to use and that would make me look like a tool if I did. Danny, I’m sorry mate. It’s just a tradition, that’s all. And you don’t monkey with tradition.

We’d been advised against staying outside for too long in the Spring months in light of the ominous yellow mist squatting over the city, which Gail had informed us was a foul and toxic pollutant smog floating over from China. Which was nice. And so we took refuge in a little bar in Insadong and bought a round of Tsingtao beers and a weird little bowl of snacks that looked a bit like Hula Hoops but could have been dried squid rings. Who knows? Tasted good though. We ended up in a discussion about what set we should play at the ball which, as our set is due to be two hours long, turned out to be a pretty time-consuming process. We’d been discussing this for about 45 minutes when George interjected with “why aren’t we doing this in the jacuzzi?” (if only that was a phrase we used more often). And so we did.

Incidentally, it is now Saturday morning and I’m writing this whilst listening to Tony and Danny testing the reverb settings on the Korean PA system we’re using for the gig tonight. Suffice it to say I have been on more thrilling library tours. “Wild Canyon”, “Dank Cave” and “Iron Man” have been tested and rejected, just 478 settings still to go.

Kill me. Kill me now.

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