With St Patrick’s Day in their sights, Darwin band The Bloody Marys have landed in Phnom Penh to bring us their Celtic/ska/punk blend of sounds for a handful of gigs. One of their number, Dan Davies, a frequent visitor to Cambodia in recent years with Jigsaw Collective and other acts, spoke to Leng Pleng this week.
What’s the history of The Bloody Marys?
[Guitarist] Kane Stewart had a band called Whiplash in Adelaide in the 90s. When he moved to the Northern Territory he formed a band called Greedy Stout, heavily influenced by Celtic folk and punk, that then fell apart and became The Bloody Marys, which morphed into The Super Noras – since then it’s gone back and forth, and I’ve played with them on and off. A side project, The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum, that does second wave English ska punk, performed in Phnom Penh a few years ago, and we recorded Iggy Pop’s Candy with Srey Ka at Oscar’s on the Corner for the Angkor Pop album. I don’t know if it’s a full circle or a full figure of eight that we’re doing.
We’re back here with some of the same people and some other people, and pulling in [local drummer] Mike Forster (Phnom Skor, Checkered Past). There’s some crossover of material from the Lunatics – The Bloody Marys is a bit more focused on Celtic punk, and because we’re here for St Patrick’s Day in particular we put a lot more focus on traditional jigs, reels and hornpipes, slightly punked up. Particularly with Gaia Osborne, our fantastic fiddle player – she doesn’t mind playing fast, which suits what we’re doing.
Three of the four of us that have come from Australia have been here before. We’ve got a young bass player, James Rooney – it might be his first time overseas.
Tell us about 2019: you got a lot done.
It was a hectic year. I did a fair bit of touring in Australia with David Garnham and the Reasons to Live, an alternative country/folk band, and we released an EP called One Man Down. We went to Nashville to play at the Americana Music Festival, and found that Old Crow Medicine Show were playing in a cave in the Great Smoky Mountains a couple of days after we arrived, so we went and saw them. A couple of days later we ran into [OCMS founder] Ketch Secor. He’d been on the judging panel for the International Songwriting Contest when we won it a number of years ago, and so we were able to say: we saw you play a couple of nights ago, and do you remember us? And he did remember us! It also came out that he was quite a big fan of Warumpi Band, like me – I’ve actually played with [Warumpi Band founder] Neil Murray quite a bit over the years. So Ketch was singing Black Fella, White Fella in the middle of a Thai restaurant in Nashville.
A week or so later we did a showcase gig for the festival at a place called the Exit In. There was a huge board out the back with lists of all the people that have played there over the years – names like Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM – basically anyone famous that you can think of has played at this joint. Maybe not Elvis, but everyone else. So we were nervous. But then it turned out one of the other Old Crow Medicine Show guys was doing the sound. I think we pulled it off pretty well. The artistic director for the festival was at our gig, which is kind of a big deal, because there’s hundreds of gigs going on every night. She liked us. Who knows, we may go back one day.
Also you were part of the team that got Kampot Playboys on the bill at the Darwin Festival.
Yes. So they were able to play their first gig outside Asia, a great gig. Phare Circus from Battambang were there at the same time. After the circus show the festival bussed them over to the Playboys gig, so there was a bunch of Cambodian acrobats down the front gee-ing up the crowd. It really set the tone for the night.
There seems to be a growing sense of connection between musicians in Darwin and Phnom Penh. What do you think are some of the links between the two musical landscapes?
Any music scene takes some key people who are prepared to make the most of what resources are available. You can have the best resources but not necessarily the best scene; it takes people who have got a bit of vision to be able to pull together what they have around them. In Phnom Penh now there are those who recognise how important music is, and so they organise things. And in Darwin it’s the case as well. We go through waves depending on who’s around.
Phnom Penh’s a much bigger city, but there’s a relatively small key group that is diverse enough to gather the set of skills that are necessary, and Darwin has a similar sized nucleus of artists. Once a city gets really big you start getting into isolated scenes and cliques; a smaller place means people go to gigs they wouldn’t otherwise go to. So the heavy metal kids might go to reggae gigs, and hip hop pipeline might end up at heavy metal gigs. It creates a really fertile breeding ground for interesting things to happen.
It’s also about having spaces where people can come together and play, and will support freedom of creativity. We have the Happy Yess, the Darwin Railway Club, places that allow people the space to do something different artistically, and the freedom to make mistakes.
Darwin is a cultural melting pot, it’s not like other Australian cities with ethnic enclaves. It’s one of the few cities in Australia where you still hear Aboriginal languages being spoken on the street, along with Asian languages, Greek, Italian – but people live side by side. Your neighbours could be anyone. And that leads to interesting things in musical collaborations, more organic and less contrived.
Do you have any more specifically Dan Davies creative projects in the works?
I have been writing a little recently, and I do have some ambition to do my own thing. There’s a band called Flugendorf where I don’t strictly lead, but there’s a fairly equal collaboration between the songwriters, and there are songs that I wrote and would sing with them. We’re all hoping we’ll do some more. While all the members have got many other projects, Flugendorf is our real individual artistic expression space.
I’m leaving a double bass here in Cambodia, so I imagine I’ll be back several times this year, because it makes it much cheaper to fly if I don’t have to carry that. I’ll be poking my nose around a bit while I’m here to see what could happen, things I could get involved in. I’m interested in producing more of my own stuff.
What news of Jigsaw Collective? Might we see them back here again?
We’ve toured here now three times, and they’re keen to come back. It’s a big band to tour, so getting that many people together, organising schedules, running the finances – it’s not easy. One of the good things about playing with those guys is that they’re all up for it. They’ll drop things to go and do something interesting. It doesn’t really matter if it’s not making us a heap of money, we want to go and play.
The first night we played at Tacos Kokopelli was a very memorable night. It was such a good vibe in there, we had such a good time. And while most of the gigs that we’ve done in Cambodia have been really fun, it helps if you start the tour with something that’s great, it sets a tone. We might see Jigsaw back here later this year or early next year.
In the meantime, catch The Bloody Marys at Bassac Lane on Friday and Oscar’s on the Corner on Saturday, then return to Oscar’s on the Corner for St Patrick’s Day proper on Tuesday night (an early show starting at 9 pm, with house band K’n’E to follow). Dan will be staying around for another week for some bluegrass shows with Grass Snake Revival: watch this space.