Sometimes they suck: the crazy world of the Table 6 Miniature Harmonica Orchestra

One of the more unusual musical developments of 2020 in Phnom Penh was the emergence of the Table 6 Miniature Harmonica Orchestra (T6MHO).  You may have heard reference to them towards the end of the Kampot Radio Top 100 Songs Of All Time Countdown on New Year’s Eve; they may have even asked you to vote for them.  In a time when we all need a laugh or two, they have been happy to step forward to be laughed either with or at, depending on the mood.  Leng Pleng screwed its courage to the sticking place and sat down at table six with Table 6: David & Hayley Flack and Zoe Trickey.

While the origins of the T6MHO remain not so much mysterious as vague, the location is not:  it all happened at Mexican restaurant and music nook Tacos Kokopelli, formerly the Alley Cat.  Consensus places the starting date in late 2019; after many years of sitting at the bar during the Sunday Sundowner Sessions (a regular open mic which began in mid 2013) David and Hayley moved to the now famous table six.

David:  Hayley had been moving to the booths more and more often.

Hayley:  I couldn’t see anything, Dallas was in the way.

David:  And Zoe got her first harmonica, and it sort of spiralled from there.

Zoe:  I brought along my first miniature harmonica, and I saw the joy in their eyes when I started playing it, so how could I resist getting everybody else one?

Hayley: I’ve got a feeling it was approaching Christmas.  I nearly cried.  I hadn’t got a present for years, and then when I saw what it was I was just so tearful.

Zoe:  I’ve always been aware of miniature harmonicas, but it’s just finding the right place for them.  A lot of people regard such things as Christmas cracker toys and such like, but only those without a musical ear.

David:  They’re no connoisseurs.

Zoe:  And we do get the high quality ones.

Hayley: We have bought some inferior quality ones, and it’s just a waste of money really.

Zoe:  We play the equivalent of the Les Paul of miniature harmonicas.

Leng Pleng asked them about their individual musical histories.

Zoe:   My first instrument was the recorder.

David:  Same here.  When I was five I was forced to play the recorder.  Then piano – I actually passed my grade one, and then failed my grade two.

Zoe:  We’ve all got a similar music thread going through us.  Recorders, pianos.

David:  Then I was more into voice.  Although I wasn’t in the school choir I was picked to play the part of Benjamin in Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, the school play, which we then performed at a local festival in Billericay.  Someone from the English National Opera was there, and three of us – myself included – were picked to perform in a production of Carmen at the Coliseum in London, as part of the urchins chorus,.  It was the largest permanent stage in Britain at the time.  And that was my first professional gig.  I got paid £1 and 25 pence expenses, so considering that both parents, my gran and my brother bought tickets to the opera that day it didn’t go a long way.

Zoe:  I was an oyster in The Walrus and the Carpenter.  That was my first stage performance I think.  I was Jesus in shadow play, because I had the longest hair.  They dressed me up in a sheet and got me to stand behind a screen.

Hayley: I can quite see you as Jesus, actually.  I started off with percussion, all manner of percussion instruments, that’s why I now play the guiro, the scrapey stick thing.  And the triangle.  Plus I nearly went to stage school, but that was more for singing.  I’m pleased I didn’t go, I’d be in EastEnders, can you imagine it?  Everyone who went to that stage school ended up on Grange Hill and then EastEnders.

Zoe:  I’ve played piano since I was seven, but I was thrust onto talent contest stages as a child and hated it.  So it became a really insular thing for me.  Now I teach piano.

Leng Pleng notes that the performer in each of them has been somewhat re-awakened, assisted by the uniqueness of the Sundowner Sessions.

Zoe: It was finding the right setting I think.

Hayley: I think being in a band makes a lot of difference.

Zoe:  It’s embracing the community.  With us as the resident miniature harmonica and percussion band we are growing immensely in popularity, which is telling in itself.

David:  I’m sure if we were to turn up at The Box Office for their open mic we’d get kicked out.

Hayley: I doubt it actually, Hugo [St Leger] is a fan.

Full orchestra in session, 13th September, 2020.  Photo: supplied

Having made their conquest of at least one of Phnom Penh’s lanes, last October they took to the road for a tour of Kampot, where they played in a series of bars and private residences.

David:  We started off at Kennel Pub, which used to be the Doghouse.  Really we were drowned out by the rain there, but we did get a new fan, someone who was very interested.

Hayley: My goodness, he was really serious.

David:  He asked “Did you all play miniature harmonicas before you met up?”

Hayley:  I said yes, we all played, but we didn’t know each other, and we just all happened to sit down at Table 6.

David:  Then we moved on to the next gig, at Top Cat.

Hayley: And that’s when we presented our first super fan, Simon [Bird], with an award.

Zoe:  We awarded him with a signed set list.

Hayley: And we got a photograph of it as well.

Zoe:  I’m sure he’s kept it.  It’s probably in a pocket somewhere.

Hayley: He did look very excited.

Simon Bird, with the setlist, doing his best to be excited as the band plays on.  Kampot, October 2020.   Photo: supplied

And then the world kind of changed.

Zoe:  We were invited to go and musically hang out at the Banyan Tree with a couple of the Kampot Playboys – they obviously heard us when we went to [Rage Against the Machine cover band] RAGE JAM the previous night.

Hayley: Yes, because we were up on stage with RAGE JAM.

Zoe:  Well, at the side of the stage.  But we did play.  Along.

Leng Pleng suggested that they joined in with permission being not important.

All: yes.

David:  We weren’t amplified, we don’t need amplifications.

Zoe:  What rockstars listen to permission?  That’s what gets rid of the talent nowadays.

David:  Did Lemmy ever say “Do you mind if I come on stage?”?

Hayley: I’ve seen you jumping on enough stages uninvited, Scoddy.  The same stage, actually.

David:  But we were on stage at Samurai Saloon, after RAGE JAM.  They supported us.

Hayley: That was an open mic night.

David:  It was open mic after RAGE JAM and our performance.  Unfortunately no audio exists of that, it’s only photographs of the three of us on stage performing.

Zoe:  But we like that sense of mystery.  You’ve got to be in it to hear it.

“We don’t need amplification.”  T6MHO on stage at Samurai Saloon, Kampot.  Photo: supplied

David:  So we were invited to Banyan Tree, they were begging us to go, weren’t they?   We kept getting text messages saying when are you coming?  Mark [Chattaway] and Chiet [Ukham] were there, singing Creep by Radiohead as we walked in.

Hayley: It was hilarious.

Zoe:  Still the best part of the tour.

David:  They were both singing.

Zoe:  On their own, completely empty Banyan Tree, all in darkness.

David:  And really it was their idea that we sing along.

Zoe: Coerced we were.

David:  We came up with the idea singing Dead Flowers and dedicate it to Karen [McArthur], the departed member of the band.

Zoe:  Obviously it was one of her favourite sing-songs.

David:  And we asked Mark to record it, which he did, and then joined in with the singing.  Chiet played along on guitar.

Hayley:  I think they just revelled in the fact that…

David:  They were allowed to join us.

Hayley:  Collaborate with us, yes.

Hayley: And to be honest, Mark got quite emotional about it.  He really did.

Zoe:  Tears were shed.  And that’s not a lie.  Although that was during my solo.

David:  And then a month later when the Kampot Radio Top 100 songs of all time poll was announced we thought why not?  Let’s see what happens.

And so the almost accidental recording of Dead Flowers by T6MHO with a couple of Kampot Playboys was nominated for the Kampot Radio Top 100 Songs of All Time Countdown 2020.  Crazier things have happened.  The Table 6 lobbying effort was ferocious, despite the poor sound quality – a combination which inevitably led to the track receiving a record number of votes but an eventual ranking of zero, due to the recording falling short of broadcasting standards, despite the efforts of a crack audio production team.

Leng Pleng wondered if they believed they were assisted by the fact that the voting number was 106.   Like ten, six, table six.

Zoe:  Luck was certainly on our side, because I live on St 106 on the sixth floor.

David:  And I was fan number 106 in the Hanoi Rocks fan club back in 1983, which I revealed to Zoe just two days before our number came out.

Zoe:  We called it the angel number, because it seemed to come to us, rather than us going to it.

David:  And one and six added together, and a lot of people like seven.

Zoe:  Yes.  I don’t.

The number one spot was instead taken by Sochi & Stan’s Cheap Charlie, but there are no hard feelings.

Zoe:  We’re very appreciative of Stan and Sochi, that they could take a little bit of the limelight off us.

David:  We are still friends with them.

Zoe:  We couldn’t be number one as well as getting the world record breaking number of votes, could we?  That’s just too much for some people to bear.

Hayley: We saw Stan last night, he’s still laughing at us.  Without us, Kampot Radio wouldn’t have got that many people tuned in.  We had people all over the world listening that didn’t even know what Kampot Radio was until we got in contact with them and said “Can you vote for us?”.  I know for a fact David’s brother was listening in from Southampton in England.

Zoe: Of course it’s heightened our popularity, and highlighted the politics within the music.  Not that we’re a political band.  We have managed to get a few other groups to get their game up a bit.  It’s the kick up the backside you lot needed.

Hayley: You’ve all become so complacent.

So they will nominate again next year?

David:  Once we get the album out there’ll be enough tracks on there to fill out the whole top ten.  So if you get number 11,congratulations.

Zoe:  We’ve proven what we can do on a phone, with an ad hoc spur of the moment performance.  Other bands and soloists need to be just a little bit worried.   I just hope you all don’t feel too threatened and intimidated by us, and actually take this as an opportunity to say yes, we can be like them.

Hayley: Even K’n’E have gone up like that [indicates an upward trajectory], and I’m sure it’s to do with us.  Although how they might have heard of us I have no idea.  But the other week K’n’E were playing, and Srey Ka was urging us to come on the stage, get on the microphone!

David:  But Zoe wasn’t there, so we couldn’t think of doing that.

Zoe:  They do need the practice though.  They were getting a little bit stagefrighty.

David:   One time we helped Geography of the Moon, I think they were a little reluctant to play during our performance, and they didn’t want to degrade it.

Hayley: It really annoyed Dallas, he wanted them to play here, and then they got all stagefrighty because of us.  And then they didn’t play, and I felt a bit bad about that.

Zoe:  We allow our fans to get close – although not too close.  We have to employ somebody to deflect the groupies.  You get a bit tired of it, really.

David:  We’re thinking about getting a velvet rope.

Zoe:  We really have to think about security on the door.

David:  And checking people who are bringing tape machines and such like.

How do they feel about people using phones to record them in public?

David:  If it’s for personal use, fine.  If they want to profit from it by selling bootleg tapes at Russian Market…

Zoe:  We welcome people recording us, taking photos, and we never turn down a photo opportunity for fans.  But we have to be very careful that there’s not any counterfeit merchandise.  Look out kids, don’t get the fake merch.  I think the key is in the 6.  So if you see anything like T8MHO don’t buy it.

David:  Or T9, upside down.

Leng Pleng observes that there are new instruments creeping into the ensemble – percussion, kazoos, and weird tadpole-shaped things.

Zoe:  What respectable band constrains themselves to just one instrument?

Hayley: We do need a bit of diversification.

David:  Harmonica will remain in the name, and it will remain the driving force.  But we like the otamatones.  And hopefully when RAGE JAM finally play in Phnom Penh we’ll be on stage with them with kazoos.

A very special Schkoot guest, Adrien Gayraud, tries out an otamatone.  Photo: stolen

Zoe:  We have a very special surprise for our fans – new instruments that were due to be delivered last April by a member of the Stiff Little Punks; unfortunately that trip was cancelled because of COVID, so our new instruments are stuck in the UK.  What they are will remain a mystery, because they’re very special, and we do have to make sure that we have time to train ourselves to the high standard required.

David:  And we don’t want anyone else jumping in, in front of us, and playing this instrument before we do.

Zoe:  Various reports have come back from the retailer who supplies us with our miniature harmonicas, that they’ve become quite popular over the last few months.  People are going in and trying to get their own miniature harmonica.  I’m hoping it’s because they adore us.

Hayley:  Last time we went to get some they only had a few left.

David:  And we bought most of them.

Beware, though: miniature harmonicas are not for the faint of heart.  They have their dangerous side.

Zoe: I have breathed in a reed.

Hayley: I have too.

David:  I’m sure I have too.

Zoe:  There was a stage when our instruments were getting quite faulty.  One day Hayley was suddenly gagging…

Hayley: I couldn’t suck anymore.

David:  Some people say the whole band should be gagged, but…

Zoe:  There was a bit of a kerfuffle in our corner, Hayley kept gagging.

Undaunted, T6MHO made early bids for the big time, with a rapidly advanced social media footprint.

David:   We feel it’s necessary in this day and age.  We have a web page, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter.    Contact us to get the full list.

Pornhub?, Leng Pleng asks innocently.

David:  No, not yet.

Zoe: We’re saving that for our groupies.

David:  On demand only, and subscription rates are going to be very high.

A rare behind-a-microphone moment: Hayley Flack steps forward to take her solo.  Photo: supplied

Do they think success will spoil them?

Zoe: No, we just know our worth.

Hayley:  That’s one of the reasons we had to get rid of Karen, because she was getting a bit – it was all going to her head.  She went back to Australia, I think it was actually serendipity really, because we wanted her gone, and then a flight turned up.  Zoe even went to the airport to make sure that she left.

Zoe: That she was really on the plane.

Hayley: And we had such a party that night.

Zoe: I mean, what people may think it’s just all fun, but we are serious musicians, and Karen, she took a bit too much liking to the rockstar lifestyle.  Didn’t practice.  Drank too much.

Dallas [Fellows, of Tacos Kokopelli, who has joined the table with his six month old daughter Dalica, also a super fan]: The Syd Barrett of Table 6.

Dalica Rain Fellows, the youngest fan, with former member Karen McArthur.  Photo: supplied

Hayley: People have suggested we might need a manager, but I don’t think we do.  Zoe’s very organised.  And we just listen and obey.

Zoe:  And our silent member.  Are you aware we’ve got a silent member?  The original T6MHO is me, Karen, Dave, Hayley and Taber [Hand].  Taber is our fifth member.  He was issued with a mini-harmonica on the first day.

David:  But he never plays it.

Zoe:  He does every now and again.  Every now and again he’ll play a sneaky little note.

David:  And then of course there’s Mark [Eastty, of Tacos Kokopelli], who’s a wannabe member.  Really he’s Table 3.  He’s not up to Table 6 standards, he’s only halfway there, but he does sit there and annoy the musicians – even more than we do.

Hayley:  It is interesting that every week this table’s always packed.  Sometimes there’s empty spaces, but people congregate to the beautiful noise.

Zoe:  With Karen departing – whichever way you want to construe it,  jumped or pushed – we do have an opening.  And we have had a lot of people interested.

Hayley:  Even Colin [Grafton, Blues Routes, Blue Wave] realises that he’s not Table 6 material.  Although he does play along with us from time to time.  That’s fine.  We can cope.

David:  A certain Myanmar female decided to jump into the empty space while we were on our Kampot tour, so we gifted her a couple of miniature harmonicas.

Hayley:  Then she did a Karen on us.  She wouldn’t bring them out.

David:  She turned up at the first gig without her harmonica.

Hayley: And she had two of them, not just one.

Zoe: Some people think that we’re a bit of a comical band, and our new prospect has to understand that that is certainly not the case.  We have high standards.

Hayley: And we take it very seriously.

David:  Fortunately she was able to act as special photographer for the tour, even though we didn’t let her play after that.  Even when she did bring her instruments.

Leng Pleng asked them how they felt about the rumours of Karen recording a solo album.

Zoe:  Nonchalance is my mood, I think.

David:  It’s not going to get anywhere.  It won’t be played on the radio.

Hayley:  She’s writing poetry as well, Scoddy, how do you feel about that?

Zoe:  It’s nice for her, isn’t it?  It gives her something to do now that she’s away.

David:  Really the satellite band is the Chattaway family in England.  There’s several of them with miniature harmonicas.

Zoe: What we are doing, of course, is training up the youth.

David:  Mark and [his son] Mon, and Mon’s cousins as well.

Zoe: They have all been equipped with the proper Les Paul harmonicas.  And they’re all keen, Mon especially.  On his last day here, before he left for England, he just rode the streets around playing it at people.  That’s what you want.

David:  I mean, we would have them as our support band on the world tour, when we eventually get around to it, but child labour laws are quite restrictive in some countries.

Leng Pleng attempts to get a summing up from T6MHO.

Zoe:  We’re raw.  We’re all-compassing.  We’re unique, and we certainly send the punters home with a memory.   We’re actually supporting the tourist trade here: in a year from now, it could be “Phnom Penh, home of Table 6”.  All these things are possible.  And we are getting prepared for an influx of stardom-like attention.  That’s why we’re getting our arses in gear to get the merch sorted before the counterfeit stuff goes out.

Leng Pleng tries again: can you describe T6MHO in one word?

David:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Hayley: Mesmerising.

Zoe: Onion.  There’s so many layers, and we might make you cry.  No, wait, a better one:  Victorious.

Leng Pleng’s answer?   Can we describe T6MHO in one word?  No.


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