How to Get a Gig on the Road.

Hey gang, I’m writing this article because recently I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me if I can book them some shows. Unfortunately I’m busy running my own career and booking tours for others is something I’ve not got the time for nor interest in right now. That’s not to say I don’t want to help. After all that’s what this is all about. Feel free to write to me if you have questions or need some advice but when it come’s to the nitty gritty you’re going to have to get your own hands dirty.

The point of this article is to accompany my Gig Profiles. There are many types of gigs out there and all require slightly different approaches. I’ll do my best to cover as many bases as possible but this is not the be all and end all for booking shows. For example; I wont be touching on festival applications, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

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It’s best to kick off this process approximately 3 months in advance.

Finding Venues

There are a few different techniques I use to find potential venues in a new city. Firstly, the most obvious Google. Just a simple search, for example when looking for shows in Manchester google “Live music venue Manchester”. Straight away you’ll have a list to start with as well as a map with all of their locations. Go through the list and do a bit of research. Check out their website, their Facebook pages, their trip adviser reviews and whatever else you can find. Single out the venues that are going to suit your sound. There is no harm in sending off an email to all of them but you are going to want to concentrate your efforts on those that seem compatible. No point in trying to get a gig in a hip hop club if what you do is acoustic folk music, and visa versa. This will narrow your list down and by now you’ll probably have one or two favorites. The venues that really stick out.

spiritualOnce you’ve found one or two compatible venues, check out their upcoming shows/events. Usually they will have a different theme for each night. For example Monday night might be acoustic Singer Songwriter night, Tuesday Open Mic, Wednesday Jazz, Thursday rock…..etc. Knowing which night you are applying for is going to help. Also in their upcoming events they will be advertising the upcoming acts. Research the local talent. Find a band or artist that is similar to you and your sound. Get in contact with them, let them know you are coming and that you’re looking for shows. Often local acts are turning down gigs because they are already booked or they are looking for support acts. They may be able to palm you off a gig before you’ve even spoken to a venue. Next check out their upcoming shows. This will give you a list of venues that you already know are compatible. You can do this with more than one band. Before long you’ll start to get a feel for the scene you’d like to be a part of, in a brand new city, that you haven’t even visited yet.

Making Contact with the Venue

So you’ve found your scene and you have a list of potential venues that will suit your sound. Next you need to know how they book their acts. First place to start is the contact page on their website. Most venues will have an email address there for the booker. If they don’t have a website, check their facebook page. If you can’t find a specific music booker email then you’ll need to contact the venue directly. You can either give them a phone call or shoot them an email. Remember you are not trying to sell yourself just yet and more than likely the person that will be receiving you phone call/email will be busy so keep it short, polite and to the point.

e.g. “Hi, my name is Simon Wright. I’m a travelling musician and I’ll be visiting Manchester soon. I was hoping to get a contact for whoever is in charge of booking your live music. Thank you for your time.”

Usually they will give you an email address but sometimes a phone number. I always prefer to communicate via email. Too many times in this industry have people broken promises. If it’s in black and white it’s much more likely they will keep their word. So if they do give you a phone number, make the call, introduce yourself, then ask if you can continue the conversation via email.

Securing a Date

Now is when you want to sell yourself. This email is the most important part of the entire process. Where you will secure your show or forever be looked over by the venue booker. You can make a template for this email which you constantly update and improve, like a resume. Do not however, send the template without personalising it for the venue you are contacting. Here is a short check list for this email.

  1. Let them know that you have researched the venue. It doesn’t have to be much. Something simple like “I’ve checked out the venue, I think my sound will really suit the place.” It shows you are serious and you’ve done your homework.
  2. Always ask for a specific date. For example if they do Funk on Saturdays and that’s your thing then write something like “I think Saturday’s Funk night will suit my show the best. The Saturday I’m hoping you have available is Nov 19th.” This is doing the bookers job for them. All they need to do is simply look in the dairy, if the date is free, slip you in, done. Rather than, deciding which day will suit, then finding the next available free date, making an offer which you reject as you won’t be in town till the following week…. blah, blah.
  3. Mention your engagement with your audiences. The bookers job is to find entertaining acts for their punters. They do not care how many years you studied the bass clarinet in university before moving on to guitar to be more accessible. They just want to know that you’ll entertain the crowd.
  4. Mention your latest and greatest achievements. You want to keep this email short and punchy. Do not rattle off everything you’ve ever done from winning a battle of the bands in high school to supporting Adel before she was famous. Just mention two things, your latest, and your greatest. Myself, I mention my #looptheworld tour on which I have performed over 270 shows in 15 countries (latest) and in 2013 I was nominated Australian Independent Music Awards “Live Artist of the Year” (Greatest)
  5. Include a video of you performing live. The sound and even the performance are not that critical here. What is important is the way the crowd are responding. So pick your video wisely. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s the best performance of your life if the video has one guy in the audience checking his phone. What you want is something that has a big audience that are all glued to the stage and having a good time.
  6. Links! Use them for everything! A link to your Bio, a link to your website, your facebook, instagram, soundcloud, youtube. It’s a way of putting a lot more information in your email with out cluttering it up. If the booker wants to research you more they have the option.
  7. A brief description of what you do. Remember try to keep it short and simple. e.g. “I’m a loop artist. I layer acoustic guitar, beatboxing, base lines and backing vocals to create a full band sound and call on the influences of blues, soul and hip hop.”
  8. Compare your sound to a well know act. This is the easiest way to give the booker an idea of what you do. I have difficulty like any of us when asked the question “So what kind of music do you play?” I could yabber on for hours the intricacies of my sound and performance. However I find it gets the point across a lot quicker if I say something like “My performance has been described as Dub Fx meets Ed Sheeren”.
  9. Let them know how long you are in town. You never know, if they like what you do they might offer a second show or even a residency.
  10. Be confident, professional and most importantly polite. Don’t be unsure of anything. If you are then they will be too. Professional just means good grammar, spelling and language. And polite, we all know what that means but remember to stay polite. Sometimes you will have a back and forth with the booker as they try to decide if they will have you. At times they can come across as rude, cold or unappreciative of your time and effort. They speak to cocky musicians every day. Being rude is a symptom of their job. Don’t take it personally.

 

I like to use this video however sometimes it’s not appropriate. I also play a lot of restaurants and cafes. This is not the vibe they are after. Know your venue.

Getting Paid

Don’t mention money in the first email unless they ask you to. It’s best to let the booker decide if they will have you first. That way you have more of a leg to stand on when it comes to negotiating. If you over quote in your first email, you’ll never hear from them again. If you over quote after they have offered a date, at least they will write back to let you know it was too much and you can go from there. When deciding how much to ask for it’s always a good idea to know what they pay other musicians. One of the bands that you found earlier should be able to help you out with this. Some people, like myself don’t like to give out the details of how much they get paid so put the question more like “How much should I ask for?” Rather than “How much do you get?” Then remember, there is always a little give so quote just a bit higher. Getting paid, particularly internationally can be tricky. Most venues won’t want to do international bank transfer. In the past I’ve had to ask a local friend to use their account. Make sure you sort this out before the show. You don’t want to be left high and dry once it’s all over.

After the Show

The best time to book another show, is straight after a show. Always invite the booker to your show. They do this for a living and don’t turn up to every show they book. But, if you get to play for them live they will feel a lot more connected to you.
Plant seeds, if you are leaving town, let them know when you’ll be back and that you’ll be in contact about another show when you are on your way. If you ended up getting the Tuesday night but you really wanted the Friday, let them know. “I had a great night, next time I’d love it if we could organise a Friday show.” And always write a thank you email. Let the booker know you enjoyed yourself, the staff treated you well, the food was delicious, whatever. Give them pride in their venue and harbor the friendship. These relationships will be your bread and butter.

Best of luck, get out there a get a show. Let me know how you go if if you have any hints and tips that we could add to this piece.

 

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Gig Profile: Milk & Madu Canggu, Bali

This will be the ninth installment of the #looptheworld Gig Profiles. As I travel the world playing music for a living I will be writing up these Gig Profiles in an effort to help out those that dream of doing the same. I hope you find the information helpful. If you have any questions feel free to contact me. I’ll do my best to help out as much as I can.

Milk and Madu is a favourite amongst the locals in Canggu. Not necessarily as a music venue but more for their amazing breakfast menu and delicious pizzas. In fact, music is only a new thing for them, I believe I am their first live musician. Pablo, one of the owners, recently invested in a PA and tells me that he plans on making live music a regular thing.

milk-and-madu-3The setting is perfect for the Sunday afternoon show. A grassy yard with views of the sunset over the surrounding rice paddies. The weekend attracts families so there is always a group of kids playing on the lawn. Last week they even brought in a jumping castle. I love playing for the children. They are fascinated by the music and either jump around dancing with no inhibitions or stand motionless staring wide eyed as I loop up another track. At some point they will all have a go of my tambourine or shaker.

The vibe they are after is obviously family friendly, so keep the big kid words out of it. Also it’s a Sunday session so avoid the pub rock stuff and stick to some feel good acoustic vibes. You are more than welcome to play original music and you’ll find both the punters and the staff are very supportive. It’s predominantly a restaurant so don’t expect a dance floor (from the adults anyways, the kids will be cutting up a rug for sure.) And be respectful with your volume, people are there to enjoy the music but also the company of their friends and family.

The PA is basic, 2 x 15″ Behringer powered speakers and a 12 channel mixing desk with built in effects, but that is all you need. The show is outside so you shouldn’t have any issues with feedback or strange room EQs. They also have 2 x wireless microphones and stands so all you need to bring is your instrument. The gig starts at 5pm and finishes around 8pm. At this stage they are only doing Sundays, but who knows, if it’s successful they may introduce new nights. It’s always worth asking.

As I mentioned in the last Gig Profile for Old Man’s you will need a work permit to gig here in Bali. Immigration take it very seriously and you don’t want to wind up being deported. The process is easy enough. Just contact www.baliexpatservices.com and they will walk you through it. You are going to need to stay in Bali at least a month to earn enough to cover costs but trust me, once you’re here, you are going to want to stay longer anyway. You can back up this gig with weekly shows down at the bigger venues like Old Man’s and Deus and there are a bunch of small live music venues in the area too.milk-and-madu-2

Location: Jl. Raya Pantai Berawa No.52, Tibubeneng, Kuta Utara, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80361Gig contact: Pablo Fourcard via Milk and Madu website or Facebook Page
Pay: 1 to 1.5 million IDR
Gig season: All year round. High season is during the months of July and August, during Easter Holidays, and Christmas / New Year (December till 1st week of January). This is the time Bali is the busiest. However, for many reasons, best time to come to Bali is April, May, June and September, just before and just after high season.
Max Capacity: Approx 200
In-house PA, no soundman.
Milk and Madu links: Facebook, Instagram, Website

Gig Profile: Old Man’s Canggu, Bali

This will be the eighth installment of the #looptheworld Gig Profiles. As I travel the world playing music for a living I will be writing up these Gig Profiles in an effort to help out those that dream of doing the same. I hope you find the information helpful. If you have any questions feel free to contact me. I’ll do my best to help out as much as I can.

Old Man’s is a well known drinking hole in Canggu. A place to be seen and the place to go on a Wednesday night. There is plenty of bar space and large beer garden looking out over Batu Balong surf break. Canggu is known for being a little more expensive than other parts of the island but you can still get a decent meal for less than 80k IDR ($8 AUD). Bintang, Indonesia’s most popular local brew will set you back 25k IDR ($2.50 AUD), which is pretty typical in the area. Happy hour is 5-6pm where drinks are two for one.

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The gig itself starts at 7pm on Thursday nights, which is known as the acoustic night. You’ll share the show with a DJ who plays from 6pm, then again in your break and after you finish. You’re expected to play 2 x 1 hour sets with a  hour break in between. You’ll be provided with an in house sound man who will set up and run the PA for you. He is a very friendly fellow and will be happy to answer questions and help out however he can. If you are touring with a band then you’ll want to ask for the Friday night. The gig is slightly later and always has a great turn out.

The PA is made up of 2 x 15″ FOH speakers as well as a couple of subs and a 15″ foldback speaker. Your under a roof but it is an outdoor venue so sound issues should be minimal. They also don’t seem to have sound limits so you can turn it up which is always nice. Additional to the main PA the signal will be sent through the in-house system with small speakers situated through out the establishment meaning you can be heard everywhere. Mic’s and stands are also provided so just bring your instrument.

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Wednesdays at Old Man’s is always a party!

The clientele are young surfers from all over the world but there is definitely a higher percentage of Australians. Ripped and tanned, half naked young lads and ladies fresh off the beach fill the bar from sunset onward. They are more than keen to hear some live tunes and I found them to be very supportive and attentive. If you keep the second set up beat you’ll be sure to get a dance floor vibing. I was even encouraged to play some more original music which is always a pleasure.

To perform in Indo you are going to need a work permit. They take it very seriously and if you are seen to be breaking the rules you’ll not only get yourself in trouble but the bar as well. Not to worry though, securing the paperwork is very simple and can be done after arrival if you don’t come prepared. I got mine sorted at www.BaliExpatServices.com It only took one quick visit and a one off payment. Cost depends on how long you are staying and it’s best to have as many gigs booked as possible before getting it done as they like to know where and when you’ll be playing. That’s not to say you can’t pick up extra shows on the side.

I suggest staying for at least a month to give yourself time to cover the costs of visa, flights and living. If you back this up with a few other gigs in the area, you can live quite comfortably in island paradise. The longer you stay, the more likely you can save some coin. I rent a scooter for transport which will set you back about 50-60k a day or if you rent it monthly about 40k a day (just over 1 million IDR a month or $100 AUD). Alternatively, if your not so comfortable on a bike, you can employ a driver for a little more money that will pick you up by request. Accommodation varies but I got a lovely room with hot water, air con and wifi for 3.5 million ($350 AUD) per month at a place called Janur  Kuning. About a five minute ride from Old Man’s.

Location: Gig contact: Sean Cosgrove Via Old Man’s Facebook or his personal profile
Pay: 1 million IDR (Solo) 3–4 Million IDR (Band)
Gig season: All year round (high season Jan-Feb and July)
Max Capacity: Approx 1000
In-house PA and soundman.

Australian Musicians: “Get a Real Job!”

Australia, you need to sort out your juvenile attitude towards the arts. Actually no, it’s not juvenile, children have an insightful view of art and expression. Australia, you need to stop with this “get a real job” rhetoric and start recognising the cultural and financial enrichment the arts bring to all of our lives.

Since first venturing across the seas I’ve noticed that my beloved home country is a long way behind when it comes to appreciating what the creatives give us. Just last week the Australian federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, dismissed an entire industry as a “lifestyle choice” after announcing almost 60 diplomas in the arts will no longer be eligible for student loans. Since the Abbott Government in 2014 we have already had $204.8 million dollars cut from the arts budget. Just today I read a deplorable article in the Advocate by Elanor Watt –  Is Exposure Payment Enough for Musicians in which she argues that if you are passionate enough you should take any opportunity offered to you “because we have all seen the movies, anything can happen.”… urgh. There is an attitude in Australia that working in the arts is a cop out. A job for pot smoking couch potatoes, or worse, not even a “real job” at all.

real-job

Unfortunately this comes as no surprise to me. I first met with this attitude in my youth. Fresh out of home and learning to earn a living for my self I met with hard times. Unemployment benefits were the closest thing I have ever received to assistance in developing my trade, and thank god they were there. Newstart gave me time to find my feet. Time and time again I was asked by Centerlink “what is your profession?” and time and time again I was told “that’s not a real job”. Simple recognition would have made the progression of my career a lot less stressful and possibly a lot quicker. Back then, though it was not enough, I was making more from playing music than anything else. Now, music is not only how I travel the world but it is also how I pay my taxes.

Thanks to national research at the University of Tasmania we now know that the live music sector contributed a whopping $15.7 billion dollars to the Australian economy in 2014 with $3 worth of benefit to the community for every $1 invested. Even more than the footy. These figures are no secret, yet still it doesn’t take much effort to find the typical attitude on public forums of “Why should my tax dollars pay for your hobby?” At face value it may seem like a legitimate question, however dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see that the arts are paying more than their fair share in tax revenue and economic stimulation. Unlike the fossil fuel industry, for example, this is achieved in most part with little or no government assistance.

“Our research shows that for every dollar spent on live music, three dollars of benefit is returned to the wider community. This is a significant, and unrecognised, contribution that includes the dollars that flow to the national economy as well as the ways experiencing live music enriches people’s lives.” – Dr. Dave Carter, Lecturer in Music Technology at University of Tasmania.

One of the first things you notice when travelling through Europe is their pride of culture. I’m not talking about nationalism or patriotism, though they do come into it. I’m talking about their love of food, music, language and heritage. It’s a beautiful thing. Dedicating ones life to the arts is a virtue celebrated by all. I see the same across Asia. I’m yet to visit the Americas or Africa but from my research into future destinations, I keep seeing the same thing. The arts define heritage and heritage defines us.

Maybe it is Australia’s distance from the rest of humanity. We sit alone at the bottom of the world. A nation barely 200 years old, with a tendency to ignore the rich depth of art history laid out by our indigenous peoples. Possibly for the fear of admitting the cultural genocide committed by our forefathers, or maybe because white Australia doesn’t feel as if this is their heritage to be proud of. Maybe it’s a symptom of Australia’s tall poppy syndrome, where we hack at the things we admire most. Maybe we just haven’t properly discussed the situation yet.

In any case, music is my love, music is my life and music is my profession!

*UPDATE
It’s recently come to my attention that Elanor Watt, the author of the article “Is Exposure Payment Enough for Musicians” mentioned in the above blog post works for Fairfax media group. The same group that asked Sydney based reggae band black bird hum to play for free at Fairfax Media owned Noodle Market. Strong arm corporate bullying! Shame on you Elanor. I wonder if this young journalist is aware that she is a pawn of this evil media manipulation. I also wonder if she avoided mentioning Black Bird Hum by name in her article as that would be free promotion, in which case she is promoting herself off the back of the musicians she criticized for not taking an “exposure” gig.

“She’s always ahead of me, I’m not too far behind. We’re like peas in a pod, we’re two of a kind. Music this lucid partner of mine.”

P.S to all you creatives out there, click here to check out some inspirational words on the topic from my man Tony “Jack The Bear” Mantz.

A moment on Ios

Ios dreaming

I am living on the top of a very large hill looking out over Ios village. It is a lovely place to stay, slightly out of the hustle and bustle. The sky’s here are calm, hardly ever a cloud to be seen. I love to sit on our balcony and soak in the dry serene beauty that is Ios. The view certainly is quite a juxtaposition to the crazy night life here. The walking streets of Ios village are a beautiful maze. Lined with white walls, blue doors and paved in old stone rich with history, they tumble and collide in amongst each other. The first time we weaved our way through the village we were not entirely sure of what we would find and then, all of a sudden, we were there in amongst it. Streets seemingly on top of streets, bars on top of bars. Music pumping. Humans everywhere. Ios nightlife is unlike anything I have experienced and it took me a little while to aclimatise. It’s as if it has ADHD. Generally the bars are quite small, 50 people and it feels packed. One minute the bar will be packed to bursting and then in the next moment, everyone has disappeared, skipping, dancing, shouting and laughing their way to the next bar and thus the cycle continues, people bouncing from one bar to the next, all night and then some. It is not unusual to find yourself stumbling home with the sun glaring at your eyeballs after a crazy Ios night. But not before stopping to grab a famous gyros of course. Club SandwhichMy favourite late night food on Ios was introduced to me by Tallulah, who you can read about here, head to Club Sandwich and instead of ordering the normal Gyros, which are wonderful as well, order a chicken gyros without chips on a pancake instead of the pita bread and with special sauce. Trust me, it’s amazing!

Harmony looptheworldIt was a very busy month this past month, Simon was gigging nearly every night at Harmony. The staff there have become my Ios family, they are such a friendly bunch of humans and they certainly know how to party. If you are ever on Ios I would highly recommend a visit to Harmony, the food is excellent, the people are excellent, they have live music and the view….. the view is spectacular. Just be sure to book a table as they are booked out most nights.

lotus imageOn the few nights that Simon did have off he ended up playing at another wonderful bar called Lotus. I loved Lotus for it’s chill vibes, the old wooden flooring, the palm trees, the stars overhead, the tunes, a game called ‘shut the box’ and of course, the absinthe.

This month has been a slightly difficult month. The main focus for me on Ios was my diving. I am currently only a few days away from becoming a qualified dive master, which is very exciting because not only do I feel that it will open up a lot of opportunities for me but mainly, I just love diving! Unfortunately I did not have a wonderful experience at the dive school that I chose to study with and as I was there nearly every day it did have an impact on my time here. However, as the saying goes “what doesn’t break you will only make you stronger” and so, as in all things, I will learn from this experience.hannah mylopotas

My favourite part of each day is taking the 20 minute walk down the hill to Mylopotas Beach which is where both the dive school and Harmony are situated. The view on the way down is spectacular, there is something very special about it, the dry rocky mountains of Ios climb up to my left and the calm, deep, endless blue of the Aegean stretches to meet the horizon on my right. It inspires a sense of calm and contentedness and it certainly reminds me each and every day of just how blessed and lucky I am to be here with Simon on this #looptheworld adventure.

simon ios walk

If you have any comments or questions please let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

The Beautiful People We Meet #2: Josh Allen

Josh allenWe didn’t meet Josh on this particular #looptheworld adventure. We met him on our last trip to Thailand in February earlier this year. However Josh is one of the beautiful people that we met on that holiday who inspired us to stat this column. We had just stepped off the airplane in Surath Thani, Thailand, which is not a glamorous airport and we were looking to book our ferry ticket over to Koh Tao. Alas, each counter that we went to were sold out. Standing in the line at the last counter we discussed that if we couldn’t get the ferry to Koh Tao we could head to Koh Phangan for the night instead. I mean, a night on Phangan is always a good adventure. We were interrupted by a tall handsome man standing behind us who commented on Simon’s guitar. The normal “oh you play guitar? Me too…” conversation followed and pleasantries were exchanged.
Koh Tao, sold out. We purchased our  tickets and a Phangan sticker was placed on our shoulder. With no accommodation booked and the full moon party only a few days away we did wonder if it was going to be difficult to find a place to sleep but didn’t stress on it too much because “the universe works wonders”.
We’re piled on to a bus and drive for about 45 minutes. Anyone that has travelled will know as soon as you have had even one small exchange with someone it seems that the next time you bump into them it’s like seeing an old friend. At the dock Simon, Josh and I got chatting about our travels, music and life. A few beers in and we’re on the ferry bound for Phangan. A few more beers and we’re talking religion, philosophy and music and just for good measure we talk a little more music. I love those moments, which seem to happen more frequently whilst travelling, where there is an instant connection between people and it truly does feel like you  are old friends. By the end of the ferry ride Josh had graciously offered us a bed in his room and we were all looking forward to a night out on the infamous Phangan.
We were sad to leave Josh the next day but managed to convince him to come to Koh Tao after the full moon party.

From left: Hannah, Josh, Terry, Simon, Lia, Tanya, Reeve,  Ethan, Jordan.
From left: Hannah, Josh, Terry, Simon, Lia, Tanya, Reeve, Ethan, Jordan.

Josh is one of those magnetic people that you meet who are happy and comfortable within themselves and so always attracts other good humans. When he arrived on Koh Tao a few days later of course he brought with him more lovely friends who he’d just met. For the next few days we explored Turtle Island via scooter, snorkel and foot. Josh is a musician, photographer, videographer and film maker. When we met him he was on his way home from a pilgrimage style trip in India were he traveled to small towns and large cities filming a documentary on Indian music and learning as much as he could. I’m really looking forward to the finished product.
Josh generously suggested that he make a video clip for Simon. One night at Fishbowl Beach Bar we filmed a set with one GoPro and one DSLR. He edited the clip upon his return home in New York.
This is what he created. Enjoy!

Thank you so much Josh. We are so pleased that we met you and look forward to more adventures somewhere else in the world.

Check out some more of Josh’s work at http://www.vimeo.com/joshallenimages

A quiet observation of island life.

Koh Tao from the Lamprayah

A few people stared at me when I told them I was going to a small island in Thailand for a month. “Oh, make sure you go inland. Go see temples. Elephants! Don’t support elephant cruelty. Eat street food. Don’t eat street food. Have you packed enough clothes? Everything’s cheap there! But not that cheap. Don’t get ripped off. Hide some money in an inner thigh wallet. Don’t go down dark alleys. *and so on and forth*”

I have traveled a lot in my years on this planet and I made this decision, to be ‘stranded’ on a small island, very consciously. I cannot drive or ride my own vehicles. I can’t just saunter down the road and converse in broken Thai/English. No, what I wanted here was to sit down somewhere else and watch. Learn. Get to know the little things about one place instead of being in that strange frenzy one gets when travelling – the need to jump from place to place, to take selfies with the famous or not-so-famous symbol/monument/shrine of that place, to sample the local delicacy (or in some cases, non-delicacy) and in a sense, to lift your leg and splash your mark onto as wide an area of territory as possible. I should know, I’ve been in its grip before. Sans the selfie thing, I detest them.

I’ve been on Koh Tao for three weeks now. With one more to go. Sairree, one of the three ‘towns’ of the island is lovely. I stayed at the Banyan bar for the majority of this time and have slowly started to get to know a few locals. There’s ‘smiles’, the western guy that works at the bakery next door. You honestly have to try their pastries stuffed with pumpkin, spinach and cheese or the ham and cheese – they’re to die for! He, despite a missing tooth, always has a beam for me and a chat.
There’s the person that runs the healthy breakfast bar stand out the front of Banyan of which I have never been able to work out what gender he/she is. That doesn’t matter, after a few days s/he warmed up to me and now every morning I walk the 15 meters to get my breakfast smoothie or bowl of fruit and exchange ‘Good mornings’.
There’s Maria, the Asian descended, widely traveled woman who works at the Serenity Bar who can spell in ASL (American Sign Language) and thus established a bond the day I stumbled, sweating heavily, into that little place on the top of a practically vertical driveway that is at least 100 meters. That trek up nearly killed me with the kilos of camera gear on my back!
Fernando ‘Nando’, the manager of Fishbowl and instant fan of my photographs who is perennially trapped in the corner of the bar being surrounded by adoring suck-ups probably trying to get a free drink and patron of Simon’s music.
Over the road there’s a superb, cheap place to eat called ‘Orange’, run by what seems to be a husband-wife combo. The little dude, once his hair goes white, is going to be the epitome of what a ‘wise sensei-san’ looks like, perfectly unkempt little goatee and a shock of hair on his head.
There’s the tattooed Buddha with a ponytail just down the road past the seven-eleven that rented out a couple of bikes to my friend and I wave at him every time I go past.
One lean and mean, clean-shaven old Thai dude called Ali runs a crepe cart just outside the seven-eleven. He’s quite amusing to watch as he does his ‘performance’ with each and every crepe, jerkily yet smoothly smashing the dough onto the steel, stretching it, tossing the waste out the other end into a strategically placed basket and just doing his job day in and night out. He’s always there. He never smiles on the job. Lately, I’ve noticed a new person there, looks like he’s handing over the cart to him.
There’s a woman in the money exchange cubicle just up the road from that cart who I have mentally called ‘Vain Dreamer’. She always has a heavy coat of makeup on and always looks bored with a faraway expression on her face. I wonder what her dreams and goals are. I hope she achieves them.
Moon-face owns one of the taxi boats on the beach. He smiles a lot as he handles his boat with superb skill through the shore reefs and out into the sea. He is never late to pick us up from whichever beach he has dropped us off.
Banyan is owned by Brian, a blue-eyed windswept hair guy. There have been some huge nights there but he never fails to turn up around midday and never seems the worse for wear.

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These people and many many more I’ve begun to know. Perhaps not personally but their faces are inside my library now.

And then there’s Simon and Hannah.

I’ve known Simon since I was a teenager in high school. Over the years I’ve watched him blossom as a musician and the way he pours his heart and soul into every gig he does. The highs and lows. Over the years he and I have had many debates over a few drinks into the wee hours of the morning about music, why is this better than that? How can you justify that? What IS great music? In this respect I see him as my sensei and me as his kouhai. I hope I have given him fresh perspectives on music from someone who will never experience it in all its wonder and glory. He certainly has given me a lot.

That’s why I’m here.

When I arrived, I was presented with the most incredible sunset and then a lightning storm. The next night there was a massive water spout and several little ones on the horizon and some more lightning.
There have been crystal clear days and monsoon torrents. The sand is almost pure white and the water crystal clear. Weather changes here when it decides to and in many ways it can be slightly overwhelming, the island bends with the weather instead of trying to fight it.

This place reminds me that I am simply living on this planet. No matter what I may do, she has the final say.

 

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I have seen thousands of fish and coral formations, some of which have colours I simply cannot describe. Some I would have said only exist when there’s blacklight present. Rainbows. Dancing ripples on the bed. Swarms of fish that you usually only see in documentaries. Mini-me sharks. If I didn’t have my snorkel and swimmers on, I would almost feel like Robinson Crusoe, stuck on a deserted island that has been almost untouched by time and man.

Palm trees everywhere, butterflies sparkling their ubiquitous zig zag along, birds zapping past, insects everywhere, geckoes being ninjas and one solitary huge bird circling overhead as the sun sets. Coconut carcasses slowly rotting their nutrients into the soil. Tropical flowers advertising their beauty where-ever you look, some very familiar and some not.

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Then you walk down the ‘main’ road, watching the tourists, farangs, stumble around oblivious to the scooters hurtling past them. On the road, the car is king. Everyone parks where-ever they like except right on the middle of the road. It really interests me how when you remove the rules, there is still order in the chaos. I have yet to see anyone run over which in itself is a miracle. Or maybe not. You do need a lot of trust in others here.

I was fortunate enough to be here for the annual Koh Tao festival which runs for two days and nights. For a small island, they sure went all out! The main stage was huge. HUGE. I had just moved into a cabin right next to the sand on the beach a short walk ‘opposite’ the paddock where this festival was held. It was all fun until I stumbled home at about 11.30. Just to clarify, I’m completely Deaf. I can’t hear anything at all. I was kept awake until 4am, the hard spring coils of my mattress and the wooden cabin perfectly amplifying the roar of the enormous speakers from the main stage. Seriously, for me this was certainly an unique experience, being kept awake by thermonuclear explosions of beats over half a kilometer away. The next night I wisely decided to get slightly smashed and that did the trick, I managed to pass out at 2am.

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At night, the island lights up. There’s thousands of lights and colours. On the beach you can see fire being twirled out the front of various bars. The horizon is speckled with the lights of fish trawlers. Music is everywhere then. The drinks flow ceaselessly and the smell of food is rampant.

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Smells pervade Koh Tao. As a person brought up next to the sea, I recognise the smell of salt in the air. It’s kind of the base ingredient upon which every other smell is based on. Some of the scents are beautiful, Thai cooking, kaffir lime, fried food (of which this island abounds in) and massage oils.
And then there’s the stench. Dead fish on the streets, rubbish, burning garbage, stale alcohol and cigarette smoke as well as open sewers.

All these things and more creates a Pollock-esque mosaic that is at once instantly recognisable and ultimately unforgettable.
Once you’ve been in South-Eastern Asia, when you go back you know. It just is.

And that’s really all one can say about Koh Tao. It just is. I’ll be back.

Edan Chapman, June 2015

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