400 ladyboys… and us.

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400 ladyboys… and us.

Thursday 11 October, 4.15am (McDonalds Restaurant, Patong, Thailand):
We are sitting in McDonalds. Eating burgers. In Thailand. “Tourists!” I hear you cry. But allow me to explain how we got here.

We played a gig tonight at The Green Man in Muang. Word had obviously spread since we announced the show two days ago and the place turned out to be almost full. Because we were using another band’s gear there were a few restrictions – Tony had to sit down at the drums, at the back of the stage, and I was playing an inexplicably quiet grand piano that I had to pound the hell out of to be heard (“Don’t go breaking my piano” the owner had warned me before we went onstage. He said it with a smirk but he’s a big guy and he’d seen me knocking seven bells out of it on Monday so I think he meant it). Nevertheless, the gig was a lot of fun and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it. Turns out they don’t get many British bands out here. Emily went down particularly well, I think – and we also chucked in our rocked-up version of Twist & Shout after the singer from the house band, upon spotting we had three vocalists, introduced us as “band from England, like The Beatles!”.

Once again, in order to leave people wanting more ahead of the climactic gig on Saturday, we graciously decline the crowd’s emphatic requests for an encore. Must stay focussed, must be professional. If people want to hear more they should buy tickets for Saturday – that’s the deal.

Which is why, four pitchers of Singha lager later, we are back onstage, sans instruments, lined up in front of the house band, singing into radio mics like some kind of beered-up imitation of Westlife and belting out three-part harmonies to Daydream Believer. What a bunch of nonces. The stage is invaded by drunk Australians and, shortly after that, everything goes a bit blurry.

When the smoke clears, we are in Patong. Patong is the party district of Phuket. The place is crawling – absolutely crawling – with prostitutes. I’m talking 400 ladyboys, and us. Patong has a fierce reputation in the area but even that couldn’t quite prepare us for the sobering sight that is Bangla Road (A.K.A. “Bang-A-Whore Road”). Oddly enough, however, despite the army of rent-girls dancing suggestively on the tables, the place doesn’t actually feel that seedy. Perhaps I’ve had too many Banana Daiquiris.

Five minutes later, we’re standing outside a bar being soundly thrashed by a group of ladyboys at a street game that basically entails trying to hammer nails into a severed tree-stump. It’s a popular night-time diversion around here – the idea being that the drunker you are, the harder it is to hit the nail. It seems like good clean fun although I can’t help but think that all this frantic banging is intended as a precursor to something else. Gulp. Time to move on, I think.

The next bar we visit has an in-house band. And, before I know it, Russell (our agent in Thailand) has persuaded them to let us jump on their instruments and bash out some tunes. This cannot be a good idea. And yet, somehow, 30 seconds later, I’m onstage, wielding a Les Paul guitar – the house band don’t have a keyboard player – and staring out at the assembled revellers. I haven’t played guitar on stage for about 12 years. This could be interesting.

If I’m honest, I have very little idea how we sounded. But the drunk people in the front row loved it, and if that isn’t a stamp of approval, I don’t know what is. “Good job mate,” Tony says to me as we step offstage. “Playing that guitar, you actually looked… cool. Maybe you should do that again sometime…?”. Cripes. I feel like I have betrayed the Worldwide Covenant Of Keyboardists.

After we’ve finished, Russell congratulates us heartily and presents us with another round of beers. “Well done Lightyears. These drinks comes courtesy of the landlord,” he explains, indicating a sharp-looking guy standing by the bar, “and he’s pretty important round here so he’s worth impressing”. I check the guy out. He looks a bit scary. “What does he do then?” I ask Russell. “What, the landlord? Oh, he’s the Head of the Thai Mafia”. That’s good then.

One more bar, one more round of cocktails, one more insanely loud band playing Hendrix covers. Everyone’s pretty whacked by this point so we head out to find some food.

…And that is how we came to be sitting here in McDonalds at 4 in the morning, unanimously inebriated following the consumption of one-too-many enormous Mojitos and eating crappy junk food out of polystyrene trays. In our defence, though, we did try and persuade the guys flipping burgers to serve us something local.

“Good day sirs. I would like to purchase a Thai Green Curry With Prawns. Post-haste. I don’t want a burger, I want prawns.”

Apparently the Prawn McCurry is still in development. Chicken nuggets it is then.

Chris Lightyear

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