Rod Ladgrove's China Tour Diary Part 1
Rod Ladgrove is heading to China for some shows, and he's going to document it for us.
'China/House' by Rod Ladgrove.
So I'm heading to China next week.
Diving head-first into the underground scene, packing my acoustic-house vibes, and selling my wares in the Wild West. I'm going to be a roving reporter too, telling you all about it.
It's a place I've been once before. Shook me up big time.
In 2009 I was playing with Shakey and Ted Marks, a couple of boys from Adelaide. These guys spent their adolescence in Chongqing and Qingdao, and Shakey in particular had his fingers in the scene there. He raised the possibility of touring China and for some reason we all
jumped at it.
We landed in the July hot season. Greater Chongqing has a population of 28.8 million people. They call it the 'Unofficial Biggest City in the World', and most people have never heard of it. I hadn't. If one fact sums up the enormity of China that might be it. The food is spicy. The smog is thick. The buzz is constant. Always noise. The place is so big you don't bother trying to grasp where you are; North, South, East, West. You're just there.
We picked up a local bass player slash tour manager, Lyon, and rented a practice room underneath a music shop. We put in a 12 hour day in 40 degree heat. It was enough to forget the world and get so absorbed in the music that nothing else mattered. We got our set really
tight, bonded big time, and drank lots of Chinese beer. Great fun.
Our Chinese bass-man Lyon was a one-of-a-kind character, dark and dry. We called him 'The King of Chongqing'. Just having him around added some weird kind of magic. Lean and sinewy, tan and tattooed, with deep, black, sunken eyes. Larger than life; he wore a famous pair of white undies for the entire 14 day tour. Seemed to be all he wore off-stage. All that was left by the end was a tattered rag. Every morning you'd find him asleep in an outrageous pose; head on the floor, legs on the sofa in lotus position. Or on a staircase. Upside down. He was like a cartoon character.
One day he tricked us into thinking our entire rig had disappeared on a bus. Probably ten grand worth of equipment. While I went into meltdown, and Shakey chain-smoked two packs of cigarettes, he kept the charade going about an hour longer than he should have. No one thought it was funny. It threw us off for the whole day. Dark and dry.
He was a bit of an outlaw too. You could tell from his eyes he was sensitive to a lot of things, highly streetwise. The outlaw thing was real; on a sleeper we were playing poker after midnight in the food car. A couple of paunchy, middle-aged Chinese cops came in and sat
opposite us, trying to shake him down.
"Go to bed." said the cops.
"I'm not tired," was Lyon's response. Things heated up.
"You paid for a sleeper. It's after midnight. You're not eating. Go to your bed."
It was turning into a face-off. All I'd learnt about China was people don't muck around here. Lyon pressed his point.
"I paid for my ticket. I am allowed in the food car. I will go to bed when I'm tired."
This went back and forth for a few minutes. Both sides posturing. The officers were using stand-over tactics. Lyon just kept that upper hand.
"I paid for my ticket. You can't do anything."
He sure passed the balls test. We kept playing cards.
Shakey said the cops would have sussed Lyon out as a bit of a rebel and wanted to take him down a peg. They also wanted to sell the dining car seats to some desperate hoboes. The fact Lyon stared two of them down left me pretty impressed.
Some people live life one day at a time; with Lyon it was one minute at a time. In a big way he was exciting to be around. It could be 3am, midday, mid-show, mid-train ride, it felt like time was nothing to him. Anything was anything. Kind of the opposite to me, pretty
inspiring in lots of ways.
I suppose it was that philosophy which led to him smoking a 'jazz cigarette' pre-show in Chongqing. He was all over the shop, and, in front of his home crowd, turned his back on the audience for the entire 40 minute set. In his altered state it must have tempered the
shame. In his mind only.
But hey, that was Lyon. You didn't begrudge that, it was part and parcel of who he was, and the magic he brought to the table outweighed a drug-addled set here and there.
For a while I thought he hated me. I just got the vibe. In my mind he thought I was a hack, uptight, not in the zone.
But I was wrong. It was just his style. And once you felt the love with Lyon it was worth it in a million ways.
Lyon is just one of the crazy characters in the Wild West. A place where expressing yourself makes you an outlaw. One of the few positives from that is you meet some damn interesting people. You meet some folks who slip through the cracks, live off the grid, close to
the edge. Rebellion isn't a tattoo in China, it's a way of life.
Anyway, I had my own little meltdown over there. We'd rush from a full-on gig, beefed up on adrenalin, to an overnight train. Ride that for 12 hours to the next town, taxi to soundcheck, do the gig and repeat the dose.
A combination of the sleepless freneticism, love from Chinese fans and adrenalin overload flicked some weird switch one night. I noted it at the exact moment it happened. Mentioned it out loud: "guys, something just changed in my head". Ended up being true.
But hey that was a few years ago. I'm all positive. China is nothing if not dynamic and exciting. I can't wait to go back.
There's a hundred interesting things about China and I'll be reporting from the frontline. Sending back my thoughts on the underground of 2015. And glad Shakey will be with me.