But I’m all a-thrill / How could words express

Once upon a life­time ago, I bought a record by a trio with the less than wal­let extract­ing name Chunky, Novi & Ernie.

I sus­pect I was the only per­son in New Zealand who bought this record. I know that how? Well, WEA had declined to release the record and Direc­tion Records had import­ed just the sin­gle copy. The guy behind the counter said it was weird.

I bought it sound unheard because of the name on the rear — John Cale (as in Pro­duced By).

I took Chunky, Novi & Ernie home and, yes, it was weird. Goth­ic vio­la and key­board dri­ven jaunts through the under­bel­ly of pop, with clear ref­er­ences to the Cale strands of the Vel­vets and his own ear­ly 70s solo work.

I strug­gled at first and then one day I fell in love with it.

I’ve loved it ever since.

Nobody else has ever heard of it.

Tonight, we went to a par­ty in a pub. I rarely, if ever, got to par­ties in pubs, but we had the invite and it’s in the street we live in, so some­what reluc­tant­ly both Brigid and I did the neigh­bourly thing and went down for  the free Asahi, Tiger and Grey Goose (not quite get­ting to the lat­ter, but you try) and found the only free table in the place — in front of the band which, in a pub, is rarely the place I’d put myself vol­un­tar­i­ly.

How­ev­er, this is Bangkok and the unex­pect­ed is to be expect­ed. And the unex­pect­ed can, more often than not, astound.

So it was tonight. In New Zealand, in a sub­ur­ban bar in a fair­ly mid­dle class (not that the phrase means very much in the Thai cap­i­tal where class­es mash so, and so eas­i­ly) ‘burb I’d expect a pret­ty awful band turn­ing out clichéd feel-good cov­ers in a work­man-like way as they do all over first world sub­ur­bia.

This, though, is Bangkok and you sim­ply don’t get that1.

Instead, I was pulled back to that won­der­ful Chunky, Novi & Ernie album by an unnamed duo play­ing six string acoustic gui­tar and cel­lo, revis­it­ing, often quite rad­i­cal­ly, mod­ern and more aged clas­sics in a man­ner that Cale, in his most baroque moments, would have proud­ly claimed as his own.

The set ranged from Bill With­ers to Bowie (a deeply som­bre take on The Man Who Sold The World which drew from the much dark­er orig­i­nal, not the less­er Cobain cov­er), to the most astound­ing­ly rad­i­cal rework/rebuild of Radiohead’s Creep which gave it an almost Gersh­win-esque aura.

And then there was Care­less Whis­per — a song, if asked, I would say that I’d hap­pi­ly nev­er hear again — a song that has been beat­en mer­ci­less­ly to near extinc­tion by every two-bit lounge bal­ladeer, easy lis­ten­ing pro­gram direc­tor and muzak hack over past thir­ty or so years.

They did Care­less Whis­per.

It took a few min­utes for the melody to reg­is­ter com­plete­ly as the cel­lo tugged at and extend­ed the open­ing bars into some­thing more epic and then I found myself say­ing, with­out think­ing,  to Brigid, ‘I love this song’.

It slipped out. I said it. And I did. Just then.

George Michael’s most offen­sive­ly three min­utes of schlock had become an aching­ly beau­ti­ful melody that, at that very moment, seemed, as per­formed by the long-haired gui­tarist in the base­ball cap, and the leather-jack­et­ed punk with a cel­lo, to have become a song wor­thy of Weil or Styne.

They fin­ished and I gushed. I asked them what they were called.

We have no name’

Where do you play?

Just bars’

And that was it.

And per­haps it was just a moment, but I’m wish­ing that my Chunky, Novi & Ernie album wasn’t sit­ting in a con­crete store­room in Auck­land right now.

Then, it is Bangkok.

Show 1 foot­note

  1. you do of course, but most­ly in tourist hell or the face­less big hotels

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