I love Koh Tao. I have since the first day I set foot on that rock in the middle of the Thai Gulf. There is magic there. Until you experience it you will never know it. I’ve traveled there many times now over the past 4 years. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to share with my close friends from back home. It was only February this year that I finally got to share it with Hannah, and like me, she fell in love with the place as soon as we landed at Mae Haad Pier. This June though, when Hannah and I were half way through our Koh Tao leg of #looptheworld we were visited by a bunch of our good friends from back home. Shout out’s to Jonno, Edan, Danielle, Mikey, Anton, Mick, Anthea, Dave, Casey and Hayley. So good to share Turtle Island with you all.
Not only did I get to share the magic of holidaying on Koh Tao with my friends but also a little of the creative side. Casey and I did a couple of shows together. One at Banyan and one at Choppers. They both went down in Koh Tao history. Mikey and I did a couple of shows together at Fishbowl. One was shut down early by the most epic of tropical storms which Edan Chapman Photgraphy was patient enough to get the million dollar shot of. But one of my favourite collaborations on the island is this one right here.
On the 11 June 2015, Jonno, Edan and Andy Stock (a guitarist friend that lives on Koh Tao) came together at Fishbowl Beach Bar with as many cameras as we could muster up including 5 x GoPro’s and 2 x Cannon DSLRs and shot this clip. Jonno later edited together the 40+ Gigabytes of footage for Straight Jacket Productions and now we have a Koh Tao memory that will last forever and that we can share with all of you.
The song is a mash up between Al Green’s classic “Let’s Stay Together” and the hip hop verses from my own track “You Don’t Know” from my 2009 EP SW&theE. I love Al Green, I was lucky enough back in 2011 to see him live in Melbourne at the Palace Theater in St Kilda with my good mate and fellow loop warrior Andy V. The show was everything I expected and more from the living legend. Andy and I used to play this song years ago jamming in Melbourne town and last year we recorded a version on our EP Live on Koh Tao which you can download free here. That version happened to be recorded live at Fishbowl almost exactly one year before this one.
I hope you enjoy and please help me out by commenting, liking and sharing. The success of my #looptheworld adventure depends on the support of you guys. Thanks so much for watching.
I should have written this weeks ago. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding it or even putting it off, actually I’ve been looking forward to it. There is an explanation to my laziness but only those that have spent a bit of time on a tropical island will truly understand. Hannah and I have come to refer to this phenomenon as Island time. Tomorrow doesn’t actually mean tomorrow on Koh Tao, it more accurately translates to eventually. The hands on a Koh Tao clock don’t point to specific hours of AM and PM but more a rough target at which we’ll aim. Those that refuse to give up their slave to the routine ways of the cities we live in find it extremely frustrating, but being frustrated will do nothing to change island time. It’s best to give in and let the island dictate your schedule. Today the island decided I’d write my blog post. So here it is.
We have been here on Koh Tao, a tiny little island in the middle of the Thai Gulf, for almost 6 weeks now and I have enjoyed every second of it, even the Thai belly, it’s like a constant reminder I’m on an adventure. It does make me worry occasionally when I’m on stage in the middle of a set and I get that turning feeling in my gut, but luckily, so far, I’ve not had to drop my guitar and make a b-line to the closest lavatory.
My gigging schedule has been hectic. Easily the most busy I’ve ever been as a musician. I’m performing a three hour show every night except Fridays between two venues. 3 nights a week at Choppers Aussie Bar and Grill and 3 nights a week at Fishbow Beach Bar. I’ve also done the odd show at Banyan Bar and Maya Beach Club. It’s getting me fit. I’ve lost about 10kgs and I can now manage the hot, sweaty shows without the assistance of an M-150 or the need for a power nap post performance. Playing every night also does wonders for my progression as an artist and a looper. And though I am working hard, I love my job. It sends me to tropical islands and attracts me to beautiful people. It pays my way and supports my partner. It never boxes me in, rather it encourages me to push the boundaries. And it’s got to be one of the only occupations in the world that inspires the boss to buy you a shot when you’re doing a good job.
Which brings me too the drinking. Hang over management is a big part of Koh Tao life. If you are not careful you will end up with the worst hangover you’ve ever experienced. Tropical hang overs are like tropical storms, they come on hard and fast and no matter how many times you see one the intensity is always awe inspiring. The cheaply brewed Thai alcohol mixed with the humid, hot nights of sweating means hydration is a constant battle.
These days I steer clear of the cheap Thai whiskeys and just stick to beer. “One beer, one water”. At first I get laughed at like I’m some kind of amateur but the tide turns when I bump into those that were laughing at the 7-11 at 3am and I’m still clear headed and walking straight while they are hunched over a bin throwing up the cheap buckets and late night street food. I can’t help myself but to remind them. “One beer, one water”.
One thing that has been so beautiful this month is the visits we have received from back home. A big shout out and thank you has to go to Danielle, Jonno, Mikey, Edan, Casey, Hayley, Dave, Mick and Anthea. It was so amazing sharing this little island with you all. I hope you fell in love with it as I have and it continues to be a destination for you all for many more years. Then from old friends to new friends.
I’ve met so many beautiful people on this island and formed some amazingly close bonds. I hope I can keep those relationships as close to my heart as they are now as we move on to the next leg of #looptheworld. Hannah and I will be back on the island in January we think. For those of you that will still be here I look forward to seeing you again. For those of you that will have left Tao, stay in touch. Maybe we’ll come visit you in your country.
We are three months in now and the idea of living life on the road still feels fresh and exciting. Sadly, on Thursday this week, I play my last show on Koh Tao. Friday we go to Bangkok, Saturday we Fly to Moscow, Sunday to Athens then a ferry out to the island of Ios where I start my Greek Island gigging schedule. 7 Nights a week this time, wow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In June 2014 I met up with Andy V on Koh Tao in the Thai Gulf to play a string of shows over 12 days. We played every night except one in two venues. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays we would play at an Aussie Bar namedChoppersand on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays we would play at a bar on the beach named Fishbowl. Though Andy and I have played a lot of music together in the past it had been almost 3 years since our last jam (With the exception of one hip little gig at a whiskey bar in Byron Bay). In this time both Andy and myself had started playing with the Boss RC loop stations. I am on Beatbox, guitar, vocals and MCing and Andy takes control of bass, keys, sax and vocals. It’s amazing what two guys with loop stations can get cooking.
It was great fun working with Andy, I learnt a lot and played some of the best music of my life in a tropical paradise. Good times.