A friend recently sent me a video of Mahalia Barnes, daughter of the great Aussie rocker Jimmy Barnes, recording with her band and featuring guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

What comes through is the pure joy of musicians working together and the passion and respect they have for their art.

It made me think of musicians in Hong Kong and what, for the main part, I call “vanilla canoodling”.

Hong Kong has some very good musicians- technically- and I put music producers, engineers, arrangers and A&R people in this same “Musicians” category- but do they really push themselves to play their best- to not just “back” a singer, but actually bring something new to the mix and overall sound that such innovative session players as Steve Gadd, Steve Lukather, below, Big Jim Sullivan, let’s never forget Glen Campbell’s brilliant session work, Leon Russell, the Wrecking Crew etc have done.

THE CRIPPLING POLITENESS 1

Without Gadd’s marching band beat one doubts there would have been a “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” in its current form. Yes, it’s a brilliant Paul Simon song, but given a distinctive personality because of Gadd’s creativity just as the piano of session player Larry Knechtel- and the bass guitar of Joe Osborne- gave “Bridge Over Trouble Water”, the drama the song needed.

THE CRIPPLING POLITENESS 2

Without Steve Lukather’s guitar parts, would “Billie Jean” have been “another child” whereas without the brilliant Wrecking Crew with, especially, legendary drummer Hal Blaine, one doubts most classic pop recordings by everyone from Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound recordings to Frank Sinatra, the Carpenters to the Beach Boys would have come out the way they did.

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Yes, these were “side musicians” being paid average studio rates, but there was a genuine commitment to every project they undertook.

In Hong Kong, at least from my experience, much is promised by musicians in order to get a gig, and once this is in the bag, complacency sets in- sloppy playing, excuses for not being able to make rehearsals, which results in horrific musical upheavals during, for example, key changes, zero stage presence, and lazy, hazy adlibs and doodlings being played while minds are on Remote. And yet, audiences politely accept it while this same small pool of players hop, skip and jump from one gig to the next, often through the perfected art of bullshit- fake sincerity and shuck and jive to ensure that the cheque is in the bank.

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From those regulars who play Peel Fresco, Orange Peel and Backstage to others who take on those creatively moribund gigs in hotel lounges, there is also precious little originality. Guess one’s not paid enough to be original.

Whatever she might have lacked as a songstress, Genevieve “Gigi” Marentette at least made an effort to mix things up to try and not swim upstream with the rest of the salmon and lemmings until her career hit an iceberg when hooking up with an obscenely untalented Canadian trumpet player and serial head case. Thankfully, Gigi finally saw through this tosser, drop-kicked him, and here’s wishing her the best wherever she is.

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Who’s there in Hong Kong today making a difference in music- their music?

Forget the Canto-pop crooners and Hello Kitty moppets. The most important people to their music are hairstylists and set designers. They’re out there selling style over substance to an equally superficial audience who, basically, wish to see Aaron Kwok, or any of these showboats, as part of some way over-the-top homage to kitsch.

When Aaron Kwok brings his fucking horse onstage, something is tragically so off-putting, there’s no emogee for it. Yet.

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Lower down the food chain, venues like Sevva, the Four Season’s Blue Bar, and the Grand Hyatt’s Champagne Bar suffer from incorrect and inept people managing and booking acts into these venues.

Speak to musicians who have played at Sevva and they shudder at the thought of the imbecilic “music director” they had to deal with whereas one shudders for other reasons thinking of the ‘live’ music currently at the Blue Bar, and the chanteuse at the Champagne Bar of the Grand Hyatt. Let’s let out a Silent Scream on the count of three.

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As for pedestrian venues like Backstage, Peel Fresco, Orange Peel and even Grappa’s, well, being the only ports of call for the usual suspects who move from gig to gig to gig, they all might as well, become one melting pot as the jizz that passes wind as “jazz” is just self-indulgent, self-congratulatory back-slapping by many past their Use By Date and others hovering on the periphery waiting for scraps.

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Most are extremely boring people to “hang” with as they’re not only one dimensional, they’re part of one very small members club dependent on gigs to get by, but who fall short when it comes to delivering the goods for what they’re paid.

It’s not really through a lack of talent. It’s through a lack of commitment and not knowing or understanding what works and could work today, and droning on about what they did “Back in the day”. And, sadly, most are still “back in the day” through bad career moves and wasted time management that offers many no time to discover new music other than current Top Forty hits and understand what they’re up against from a global perspective when even a band as huge as Coldplay realises the importance in changing its sound to continue being relevant.

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Many Hong Kong singers- and bands- will be gorging on humble pie hearing relatively unknown artists out there- forget London, Nashville or NYC- in Sydney, Perth, Norway, Denmark, Sweden or, from Belgium, someone like the amazing Selah Sue. If only some of Hong Kong’s legends in their own lunchtime stepped outside their comfort zones and smelt the herring and cheese in Scandinavia and talent like Selah Sue or even Denmark’s The Asteroid Galaxy Tour that at one time seemed to have it all until they self-imploded.

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The music played- and recorded- in Hong Kong is what can be termed “polite”- safe, predictable and where average is good and Okay is good enough. But it’s not. It’s polite, forgettable music-by-numbers- even in a supposed jam session. It’s like trying to keep that orgasm in check when there’s no orgasm to reach. It’s all too, yes, polite: You first, no you first…

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For example, mindless showboating shredding by local wannabe rock gods might fool all the people- in Hong Kong- all the time, but pit these same people against unknown players almost anywhere else in the world and they’d be blown off the stage like candles in the wind. Why? They’re copyists void of originality and, sadly, don’t seem to care. They’re living la vida loca in the big fish in a small pond spawning ground. Where will any of this lead? Nowhere other than more gigs until ageism catches up.

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When Welsh singer-songwriter Ben Semmens was the resident performer at Adrenaline at Happy Valley Racecourse- sadly, another example of a muso with a lack of commitment to his craft which short-circuited what, to many, was the best gig in Hong Kong-the venue was sparse at best.

Perhaps it was shortcomings at Adrenaline, perhaps it had to do with the performances of Semmens and his band which dissipated into amateurish sloppiness and a tired repertoire performed in torn blue jeans before he was finally sent back home earlier this month. All the excuses had run their course:

ben

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxuhwLHSzqE

Today, with Jennifer Palor at the venue, it’s a revitalised Adrenaline with a packed audience, and, possibly, also a re-energised Jennifer Palor, pictured below with Champion trainer and former champion jockey Tony Cruz, who has been part of the Hong Kong music scene for over a decade and is very much a popular “Go To” singer like Tess Collins and Ginger Kwan.

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Yes, we all know of singers from Hong Kong who have auditioned for “The Voice”, or claim to have been “invited” to perform on “The Voice” and have released records, usually vanity projects as some memorabilia of one’s career, which is well and good, and, well, now what and then what?

“The Voice” never led anywhere and neither did any of those recordings. Will this latest cringeworthy video by one-dimensional Hong Kong-based actor and extremely average singer Michael Wong lead anywhere other than being a joke on social media?

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But The Wongster is likeable and has parlayed his charm into the area of branding and sponsorship and good for him. But he still cannot sing. Never could, never will. Jennifer Palor, however, can sing. Really sing.

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To be honest, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I listened to her- really listened- and she has everything going for her- except that elusive “thing” called originality.

Originality comes in many shapes, sizes and talent- from the songwriting and vocal talents of artists like Joni Mitchell, Alicia Keys and Sia, to the interpretative skills of Joss Stone, all those legends from the days of Tin Pan Alley, and the often underrated Miss Norah Jones.

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Just as Norah worked with producer and creative foil Danger Mouse, pictured above, on her brilliant “Happy Pills” record, what Jennifer Palor needs is “her” Danger Mouse to give her that edge- that Vive Le Difference- that will never be found playing with gigs-for-hire musos. That just ends at Tombstone. Adrenaline with its backing by the Hong Kong Jockey Club gives her the perfect platform from which to build, experiment, and find whatever has been missing as here is a venue that doesn’t need to worry about rent, has a ready-made audience and offers incredible flexibility.

As the venue grows and, perhaps, expands into its own branded Adrenaline Sessions onstage and online television series, so do the artists associated with it. And, right now-and looking ahead- this artist is Jennifer Palor. The venue- and the Jockey Club has a vested interest in her present and future career.

adrenaline 2

What might happen in the next few months? Anything and everything and worked around team work- but with the right team where there’s no weak link in the chain.

The weak link

What won’t ever happen are polite pleasantries and transparent bollocks that don’t lead anywhere except for laziness creeping into the music and weeks of sameness becoming months of the same until The Fat Lady sings.

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Hans Ebert
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk

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