The Taiwan International Blues Festival 2007
You just never know what will happen in life, it is all random chance, it really its. Someone's lottery ticket was drawn, another lost his wallet and lost all his money, some other get involved in a traffic accident, so on and so forth. For me, it was the ultimate nightmare of a guitarist : at the critical moment, erstwhile tried and trusted equipment folded up without notice and left me literally stranded on stage. It was a nightmare I would prefer to forget it the sooner than later. Just how will I ever forget, I really don't know. But as it turned out, it turned out to be one of the best shows I have ever played.
For two consecutive days on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th November, 2007, the Taiwan International Blues Festival organized by The Blues Society in Taiwan were staged at the Dream Community Centre in Kunyang in Taipei. The event is called "Blues Bash". The casual name chosen for the event belied the vast scope of talent assembled for and the international character of the occasion. This was a truly international event : four acts from the United States, one act from Japan and one from Hong Kong were to take part in the festival. All these overseas artists (with the exception of me), all have been playing music professionally in their respective countries for a long time and all were acknowledged and respected fine musicians. I am the most junior of them all but I am absolutely thrilled to have been invited to take part in the festival. The festival featured the following acts :-
From the United States : -
Mitch Woods the Boogie Woogie piano maestro
Ken "The Snowman" Minaham award-winning Blues guitarist
Shun Kikuta ace guitarist Shogun of the Blues guitar
Ben Hernandez & Nathan Jones 2007 International Blues Challenge winners
From Japan : -
Fumi Wataribe & Naoto acoustic blues duet
From Hong Kong : -
Tommy Chung yours truly
From Taiwan : -
BoPoMoFo, Muddy Basin Ramblers, Black Sheep, Kenyatta Trio, Boogie Chitlin',
Blues Vibrations, Three Day Bender, Barrelhouse Fire
Just a brief glance at the list of artists taking part in the event you will feel the enormity and the complexity of the undertaking. I have arranged for some fairly large concerts (by Hong Kong standard) and they were complicated affairs. Looking at list of artists taking part in the event, I wouldn't know where to start. And this event is the brainchild of Mr. DC Rapier. Mr. DC Rapier and the Chairman of the Taiwan Blues Society. I met Mr. Rapier in May, 2006 when I played some shows in Taiwan at the invitation of my friend Ronald Shum. Mr. Rapier is the band leader of his Blues band BoPoMoFo, the number 1 Rhythm& Blues band in Taiwan featuring a line-up of international musicians. From the first moment we met, Mr. Rapier and I got on like a house of fire; both of us love the Blues and it is our passion to play the Blues. In June, 2007 he asked me to take part as an overseas act in the 2007 Taiwan Blues Bash. This is the sort of thing I don't need to be asked twice. I contacted my friend Ronald in Taiwan and he kindly agreed to play bass for me and also undertook to look for a drummer. Everything was set and I couldn't wait to get on a plane to fly over. On Thursday 15th November, my wife and I arrived in Taipei and after settling down at the hotel, I went for a rehearsal straight away with Ronald and our drummer Jadee.
After rehearsal, I had dinner with Mr. Rapier and a host of the international artists playing at the festival. After dinner we went to Al Capone, an Italian Restaurant with a live stage. Al Capone's was one the official sponsors of the event and Mr. Rapier's Jazz band is the resident house band. This band features a three piece horn-section with keyboards, bass and drums. Mr. Rapier sings and play saxophone. Mr. Rapier's Jazz band normally performs here on Fridays and his Blues band on Thursdays.
After warming up the stage, Mr. Mitch Woods, the Boogie Woogie maestro was invited to joined the band on stage. Mr. Mitch Woods really needs no introduction, world-renowned Boogie Woogie piano player and fantastic showman. Aki san and Isao san, guitarists from BoMoPoFo also went up on stage with their guitars.
Mr. Woods literally set the stage on fire and that was when they invited Mr. Shun Kikuta on stage. Mr. Shun Kikuta, an ace guitarist and a regular guitar player of Miss Koko Taylor's band, walked up on stage with his custom made Telecaster and immediate lit up the stage further with his fantastic fretwork. They really brought the house down.Then they invited me on stage. On stage was the great rhythm section of BoPoMoFo, with Mr. Mitch Woods on keyboard, Kikuta san on guitar, a three piece horn section plus Mr. Rapier on saxophone. With such a line-up, I could hardly wait. It is always great to play with players of such calibre and the rhythm section was solid and swinging. I really enjoyed playing in such a distinguished line-up and trading licks with Mr. Kikuta. This jam was really something else.
Shun Kikuta Shogun of the Blues Guitar
The stage at Al Capone's that night saw many musicians on its stage and I could not remember when we finished with the music, but it certainly was a highlight of my trip and it was so good to meet so many Blues musicians. I always feel for people who love the Blues they all belong to the same brotherhood.
Day 1 : Saturday 17th November 2007
The venue is a park called "Dream Community" and we were to play in open air. The first thing that sprang to my mind was "Pray don't rain!!". The stage was set up at one end of the park with an overhead canopy. The control and mixing desk was set up in a tent in the middle of the park. Around the park were make shift stalls of every description selling souvenirs, pearly beads, bracelets, ear-rings, Cds and lots of other mumbo jumbo. At the opposite end of the stage were hotdog and hamburger stalls and a bar. The whole set up just reminded me of Woodstock. Of course this was on a much smaller scale and we didn't quite have free love in the middle of the park, but the whole set-up, the aura surrounding it and all that pertained to it just brought back to me the indelible scenes from Woodstock. It was like traveling back in time. This was the rundown of the first day :-
There weather was really good and the sun was shinning all day with a light breeze. Perfect weather. I was enjoying the good weather, music and food and soaking in the atmosphere of the place when it was about time to get ready to get on stage. I was really looking forward to get on stage to play, I just could not wait. Shortly before 7:00 p.m. we were given the cue to go on stage to set up. During the set up of each band was a lucky draw which took up around 10 minutes or so to allow the band to set up.
The gear I was to use for the show were my Steinberger guitars and my road-tested effects housed in a Boss effect pedal board. The Steinbergers and the effects were so reliable that they had earned the sobriquet of "the infallible". I have taken those guitars and effects pedals everywhere I went and I never had any problems with them, ever. The were trusted friends so to speak. But the unspeakable happened.
The Boss effects pedals board with my effects
When I got on stage, I plugged the iSpot multi-voltage power supply to the nearest electricity socket, plugged in the wireless unit to my guitar and connected the pedal board to the amp. Nothing came out of the guitar amp. I checked the pedals again but saw nothing wrong. Still no sound. By this time, the lucky draw was half way through but I still could not get anything to work. I bypassed all the effects and plugged my guitar straight into the amp and guitar amp came to life. Obviously something was wrong with either the connecting cables of the pedals, or one of the pedals was not working or there was something wrong with the pedal board. These a myriad of variables that could be the cause of this predicament. But time was running out on stage and I needed to get everything to start working at once. I started re-connecting every connecting cable but still no sound. At this stage, the lucky drawn was over and Mr. DC had introduced me to the audience who were waiting for me to start. There was only a slight problem : I could not get a sound from my guitar.
At that point in time, I knew something was very wrong. I had been using the same guitar and set-for two consecutive days before the rehearsal and everything as alright but now for apparently no reason, nothing would work. I knew I was in deep trouble. My friends Aki san, Isao san and Klause came up to stage to help me and later on even Shun Kikuta san also came to help. I tried switching things round, changing cables but still nothing worked. It would take a lot of time to check out every piece of equipment to find the precise problem and time was what I did not have. In the end I asked Aki san to lent me his Blues Driver and his tuner and used this simple set up to get started. By then I had taken quite a lot of time on stage even before I played the first note. It was really embarrassing to get bogged down like this when you were supposed to be a professional act and expected to deliver a good show on such a big occasion. But there was nothing I could do, my gear just refused to work at the crucial moment. Anyway, after what seemed like a life-time, I managed to get started.
As soon as I got started, there was another problem : my Steinberger started to give. For reasons unknown the output of the guitar was only half of what it ordinarily was. And that was not even the end of my trouble (no, I don't believe it either), the locking mechanism of the Trans-tran broke lose and my guitar could not stay in tune. Everything was happening at once. I was feeling frustrated, embarrassed and I knew I was letting everyone down and in particular myself. Such bad luck, why does it have to happen to me? What does it have to happen at this moment? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? It was just so unfair. After two songs I had to abandon the guitar which was really out of tuned at this point. I picked up my other Steinberger and started on a medium fast shuffle tune played with the slide in open tuning. I suddenly realised I had the Blues!!! I was feeling down and out, bad luck and trouble all here to stay and the Blues was so thick I could cut it with a knife. I found a vent for my anger and frustration on the slide guitar. Aki san was kind enough to lent me his Fender Telecaster. I then did a slow Blues and I sang my heart out and I meant every word I sang and every note I played. I closed my eyes and channeled all my emotion into the music to exorcise all that bad things that had happened to me since I walked on stage. From that moment on, I was at one with the music and time just flew past on stage like a rocket. I had to cut short my rundown as I had taken up quite some time trying to fix my gear. The audience were so kind, they gave me a great ovation amid shouts for encore. This performance which started off so ominously turned out to be one of my best ever performances and one of the most emotional and memorable. I really had the Blues and I sought to exorcise it through my music and in so doing I turned the table round, and turned what would undoubtedly have been a disaster into a personal triumph. I heaved a hugh sigh of relief when I walked off stage. It could easily have become a calamity.
Day 2 : Sunday 18th November 2007
For me, there wasn't even a Day 2 : after Day 1, I don't know when, how or where, I pulled some muscles on my right thigh and found it difficult even to walk on the next day. Hence I did not go the festival. What was worse was the sky cried : it rained all day from dawn till dusk. A farewell jam was to take place at Al Capone's 11:00 p.m. after the conclusion of the festival. I joined them at Al Capone's and had another great jam with everyone. Due to the rain, quite a few of the programmes on Day 2 were curtailed. But we still had a great time at Al Capone's.
There really isn't anything like taking your music out to other parts of the world to share with other people and there is nothing like meeiting fellow Blues musicians. The fact that everything went so well is just the icing on the cake, the most important thing is friendship. I believe I have made some life-long friends in Taiwan. Without music, I would never have made so many friends. But for the Blues, I would never have visited so many places. A couple of musicians I know are still bad-mouthing and back-stabbler one another. Life is too short for this, I certainly don't have time for this. Enjoy music, make peace not enemy.
And thanks again to Mr. DC Rapier for inviting me to take part in such a prestigous festival and such a memorable event.