One Giant Leap

One Giant Leap
The unauthorized account of an old punk rocker that leapt from a great height and landed back in Old Blighty.

This
week’s special Leng Pleng article is an opportunity to profile a local
musician – actually, a most colourful of characters and one who would
probably rather be described as a ‘frontman’ rather than one of those
musician things that hang out with singers just to add torment.

This
is the unauthorized (short) history on Ian Rowlett Anderson – a
well-loved fixture on the Phnom Penh music scene. It’s a kind of a rise
and fall story in which ‘Rotten Spikes’ pulls of one of his most
incredible stunts to date – a giant leap from a great height. Here’s how
he did it.

Ian declined an interview so I can’t tell you a
whole lot about Ian’s personal history. It’s best get this story
rolling, the mise-en-scène, by inserting Ian’s own Facebook bio, it goes
like this:

Sings
in Stiff Little Punks (Cambodia’s worst Punk band) and the Lazy Jazz
Drunks (probably Cambodia’s worst rock blues covers band). Used to sing
in Crazyhead. Lives, teaches and sings (sic) in Phnom Penh. Anyone can
send me good photos from the past ? Ta.

The Past
Ian grew up in Leicester in England. A while back I asked him what that was like? His reply was “Just watch the movie ‘This is England’. It was very similar”.
I guess that means a tough, racist, yobbish Britain. A shithole where
often the only good thing going on is the music scene. In fact, a local Leicester web site claims Leicester has more live bands per head of population and more
live music gigs per average week than most other cities of comparable
size. So it’s not all doom and gloom in Leicester. Many escaped the
bleakness of Thatcher’s 1980’s England through immersion in a vibrant
underground music scene. Out of all this came Crazyhead – a band fronted by Ian Rowlett Anderson. Crazyhead kicked high and toured the world and became… well…almost famous. Lumped in with bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself whose songs like, “Oh Grebo I Think I Love You” and “Grebo Guru” effectively created a label for the scene. A scene which included bands such as Crazyhead, the Wonder StuffNed’s Atomic Dustbin, Carter USM, the Bomb Party, the Hunters ClubScum Pups and Gaye Bykers on Acid.
All of these bands straddled the downtime between the Punk and Grunge
movements and, though short-lived, the scene and the style was a success
at the time and it influenced a number of later bands. Wikipedia
describes Grebo fashion style as ‘dreadlocks, partially shaved heads and
high ponytails, undercut or shaved long hair, leather bike jackets
and/or jeans, baggy clothing, boots, lumberjack shirts, loose tatty
jeans, army surplus clothing, and eccentric hats and scarfs.’

The Present
 Somewhere between then and now things changed. The fashion wheel spun and, although Crazyhead had scored some chart success, the band was dropped by its record label, the band split and the members scattered. Ian ended up in Thailand and then Phnom Penh. Although things had changed, the one constant was Ian’s irrepressible link to the aforementioned ‘grebo’ style along with a hearty appetite for an entertaining lifestyle. Soon, our peroxided Svengali was back in business. Perhaps not back in vogue but, again, fronting a rock & roll band of like-minded cohorts in, of all places, Cambodia. 
I first spotted Ian in the wee hours of an intoxicated night somewhere
around the notorious wasteland that is Street 51 – a kind of Soi Nana
on horse tranqs. Ian more than stood out against the dusty, dank
atmosphere of a beer-goggled night on 51. He slid right past me like
some kind of phantom. His figure sporting a shark fin hairdo of
bleached-white Johnny Rotten spikes. Clearly a well-seasoned pro of the
night – easily navigating a path through little blue and red plastic
chairs, through the detritus and debris, and through the human flotsam
and jetsam that lay lagan, derelict and strewn along the path between
the notorious Walkabout Hotel and the Heart of Darkness.
Unfussed by the all hustle and street hassle, the peroxided Svengali
seemed to have the uncanny ability to vanish as quickly as he had
appeared. “Note to self: who was that masked avenger?”. A moment later, I asked my companion the same question and the reply was “I dunno, he’s some kind of old punk rocker who used to be in a famous band”. Famous band huh? The Clash?
Sometime later I was on stage at Equinox sound-checking with my own recently formed band – the Cambodian Space Project. The upstairs music bar was virtually empty except for a few people, the band members, the bar staff, the sound guy and a
few early starters. Ian Rowlett Anderson once again appears. Despite
his easily identifiable garb I didn’t recognize him right away. He
lurched over towards the stage and deposited at my feet some kind of gig flyer. He was decked out in a freshly printed t-shirt (arms ripped-off Grebo style) with a Sex Pistols style font reading “Never Mind the Cambodian Space Project, we’re the Stiff Little Punks”. Hilarious stuff is this Phnom Penh scene. I thought that this guy is either a prankster, a nutter or a friendly competitor who’d noticed the rise of the Cambodian Space Project
on the small local scene. Frankly, I liked the t-shirt, but not only
because it was very funny but also because it shows the kind of
do-it-yourself irreverence that is alive and well in the Phnom Penh
music scene. It’s this kind anarchic spirit that makes the place fun.
Again, I lent across to one of my band mates and asked, “Who was that guy?”. They replied, “Oh, that’s Ian Rowlett Anderson.”.

Turns out, Ian’s band mate and long time sparring partner had actually come up with the t-shirt design. The Stiff Little Punks
had been on the scene for a while and they were known as a band that
could sometimes surprise everyone. They were mostly dreadful but
sometimes it would all come together and make for surprisingly good show
– so bad it was good. The Stiff Little Punks would play a good
choice of covers, and Ian’s charisma as frontman made the shows
watchable. However this charisma was somewhat diluted by his short-term
memory loss and his need to read lyrics of cover songs from music stand.
Worse still, the Stiff Little Punks ended up playing most of
their shows in a hostess bar to the accompaniment of a drum machine. Ian
often referred to the drum machine as “the most talented of the trio”. For Anderson, the Stiff Little Punks
were primarily an escape from his dreary day job of teaching English,
and that dreary day job was his escape from England itself. I asked Tom Baker, one of Anderson’s longtime band mates to comment:

He’s
been a teacher for 10 years but he does it purely as a means to live
outside England. Truthfully – teaching depresses him. He always says his
happiest times are when singing.
”, says Tom. After around a year in Phnom Penh Ian started the Stiff Little Punks
with a compatriot guitar player. This came about because a hostess bar
being run by his compatriot began operating an open mic on a Sunday.
After around a year of playing the occasional small bar they found a
bassist and drummer and the band became relatively successful.

Tom continues, “They
were always guaranteed to pull a big crowd. This is why bars such as
the Cavern and other venues were eager to arrange gigs for them. I’d
known Ian for around a year before we started to play together. I had
been to several of the Stiff Little Punks gigs without divulging the
fact that I was a guitarist myself. His band had a gig booked at Rory’s
on Street 178 but the guitarist had to leave the country because there
was a huge crackdown on the hostess bar scene. Ian did not want to miss
the opportunity to play in front of 10 old rockers and so he tried to
organize another guitarist with which to work. After much effort – most
of it drunk on street 51 and rambling at people who claimed to have once
or twice picked up a guitar – Ian got myself and Jimmy (a Swedish
professional poker player) to agree to play. We had no equipment and so we had
to beg, steal and borrow equipment with which to play. We ended up
getting through the show relatively painlessly – although possibly not
for the audience. This continued for a few months until the original
guitarist returned. However, Ian still wanted to continue a band with
us.

Ian and Tom soon began working under the moniker “The Lazy Jazz Drunks” with the likes of Scott Bywater, Dan Ögren, Jimmy Baeck and Ken White and later with more contemporary members Todd Anderson and Dom Rushton.
The band was soon involved in some planned and not so planned
happenings. Tom goes on to describe a now-famous occasion in the annals
of Barang rock & roll in Cambodia…

…so the gun firing
incident was again at Rory’s. We were playing at around 11pm as there
was no known sound curfew. A local neighbor came into the bar screaming
and yelling and brandishing a pistol. He then fired off a couple of
rounds into the air. The female bar manager, whom I presume was drunk,
got in this guys face and began remonstrating with him. In the end, the
pistol wielding intruder left and the manager instructed us to continue.
It was all enough for us and so we decided to just pack up and leave.

Despite some troubles, the Lazy Jazz Drunks have continued on. They have been through some line-up changes and changed name to the Lazy Drunks.
Late last year, I got to know ‘The Drunks’ frontman a bit better.
Fittingly this was over more than a few jugs down in the bowels of Golden Sorya Mall.
It was fun to hang out, exchange some banter and to see Ian tussle with
the owner of the no-named beer bar for control of Youtube video clip
programming on the bar’s big screen. Sometimes Ian would spot me coming
and queue up one of my own band’s videos – Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) – a rough and ready video CSP filmed in Macau where Srey Channthy is singing the Nancy Sinatra
classic in Khmer while wandering the dingy back streets. I think this
track and atmosphere appealed to Ian. I hope so because I really enjoyed
his programming of Youtube clips. He has a great taste in irreverent
rock & roll – from the Stooges to clips of his own band Crazyhead in its hey day. Crazyhead’s track Have Love Will Travel rocks! It is a great version of the song originally written in 1959 by Richard Berry but is best known as a garage rock classic, covered by proto-punkers The Sonics in ‘65. Crazyhead’s version really shows what a great frontman Ian was in his day.

Ian
shared with me many anecdotes about touring and about the music biz
back in the day. I’d jokingly ask him to think about donning an Hawaiian
shirt and coming out with a new image, a new release, a hint of a
holiday in Cambodia, a real lazy vibe, a kind of tropical / kind of
Calypso feel and a street scene film clip with him sitting against the
dirty walls of Phnom Penh with a small crowd of onlookers. His retort
was “Yeah, yeah, okay great. Well you get to work and put it all together for me”. Then the Swiss bar manager would walk over and insist Ian take a break from Youtube, “Please, more Rihanna, more Beyonce, more Pitbull… the girls can’t handle all this stuff you’re playing… I’m loosing customers”.

At this juncture in our story a Neil Young classic springs to mind. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) – a song that name checks Johnny Rotten.
Young’s song was inspired by the rise of punk and what Young viewed as
his own growing irrelevance at a time. Today, the song crosses
generations but sadly a lyric from the song, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.“, became infamous after being quoted in Kurt Cobain‘s suicide note. Young was shocked by this and dedicated his 1994 album “Sleeps With Angels” to Cobain. Niel Young now emphasizes the line “once you’re gone you can’t come back” in live concerts.


Dark Night of the Soul

Many
friends and music fans in local community will have already heard that
Ian left Cambodia a few months back.  Ian has gone (for the moment) but
is certainly not forgotten. In fact, just prior to his departure, old
Rotten Spikes pulled off one of the most spectacular exit-stage-lefts in
rock & roll history. Just after 9 o’clock one morning Ian turned up
to work. He was running late and crazy stuff was going on in his head.
Things weren’t right. A short time later Anderson rode his bike through
the hot and dusty city traffic to the top of the Japanese bridge over
the Tonle Sap river. What happened next was soon reported through the
local press and shocked us all. The English rock-and-rolla, the frontman
of Crazyhead who once rose to rode hight, touring with the likes of Iggy Pop,
playing shows in places as far flung as Nambia and then a re-awakening
in Moscow, who enjoyed some real success with a string of great singles,
finally… in one truly crazy-headed moment… Rowlett Anderson took a
giant leap from stupendous height of the m*****f*****g Japanese bridge!

Thankfully
some Cham fishermen, who will no doubt always remember this
unforgettable moment – the day they fished an English punk rocker out
from the river – saved good old Rotten Spikes. In my last correspondence
with Ian, he did promise a return to Cambodia and I wished him well
because it must have been a truly terrible moment. “Ian, old punks don’t
die… they should just become writers”.

So boys and girls, the
moral of this story is that rock & roll doesn’t pay. It never did
and is not likely to. It will leave you broke, crazy and forgotten. It
will cause harm and stress to you and your family and, like a hooker
working the strip, it’ll take what ever bit of money you have and leave
you as fast as you realize how vacuous love can be. Still, it’s sexy,
it’s alluring, it’s dangerous, and it’s intoxicating but be warned: it’s
so not easy.

Crazyhead, the Stiff Little Punks, the Lazy Drunks,
it’s been great to check out Ian Rowlett Anderson’s notable exploits
and achievements. Ian’s friends all tell me that he is a great guy – and
I can’t help but agree. With a very fine sense of humour (he even
authorized this ‘unauthorised’ story) Ian has been an illustrious part
of Phnom Penh’s music scene and is sorely missed by all. However, I must
warn you: he threatens a return! There’s even a rumor of a Crazyhead
reformation – let’s hope so. Meanwhile, catch the Lazy Drunks with fill-in frontman Scott Bywater keeping the seat warm for good ol’ Rotten Spikes.


For further
reading, there’s a new book out and I’d love to get my hands on this
(Ian, can you please bring a copy back with you?). It’s called “No Time to Cry: Tales of a Leicester Bouncer” and is written by Jeff Shaw, a nightclub bouncer who recalls and recounts much of the scene where Ian and his band Crazyhead first emerged: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Cry-Tales-Leicester-Bouncer/dp/1445742586