Bonkers in Honkers Part 1

The following was written in Hong Kong, but posted in Sydney. I’m really not very good at this. Enjoy!

If you’ve been enduring my incessant social mediafying, you’ll know we’re about half way through our Hong Kong escapade, and I thought a rundown was in order. I’m here with a gang of killer musicians from New York to play with Hong Kong pop star Bianca Wu. We’ve all worked with her many times over the past six-or-so years, and this is our third visit to the area. Bianca’s a pretty big deal in these parts, and we’re here doing three shows at the 1200-seat Lyric Theatre in Hong Kong’s Academy for the Performing Arts. The shows are big- 26 songs over two and a half hours; it’s a real workout for the rhythm section, and an absolute doddle for me. The horn section is only on stage for about two thirds of the show, and much of that is spent adjusting our music stands and losing count of bars of rest. The rest of the time I’m offstage, wandering the labyrinthine hallways shouting “ROCK ’N’ ROLL!!” in a bad cockney accent. Never gets tired. There’s altogether too much rehearsing and sound checking, but we’ve had a bit of time to get into some trouble.

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To start at the start, we were met at the airport by our producer Patrick, and bundled into cabs to the city. It’s a fair hike- the airport is located on the always-satisfyingly named island of Chek Lap Kok (yep, still there), and the trip takes you through several islands, Kowloon, and under Victoria Harbour- none of which is visible from the endless freeway. We were all pretty dazed after the marathon flight, but steeled ourselves for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. My spirits lifted noticeably with the discovery that the joint’s specialty was roast meat. Suddenly, it became clear that the only things missing from my life were dead animals and weak Chinese beer. I mentioned this to our host and was presented with a whole fatty, crispy, juicy, life-affirming roasted goose, which I ate. I would have ordered another one, but fellow diners were starting to look at me with genuine concern. I wiped enough goose fat out of my eye to wink reassuringly at them, then lay down under the table. Eventually I slid back to the hotel where I took a handful of Melatonin and slept like a greasy baby.

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Next morning, I jolted my addled brain into action with a visit to one of the excellent coffee shops which are multiplying throughout the city. Traditionally, China has been associated with coffee in the way the US has been associated with thin healthy people, but this is changing fast, and I had numerous quality caffeinated options in walking distance from our digs. Alert and teeth-grindingly jittery, I joined the band for a hair-raising van ride through the city to our first rehearsal. For an hour we were thrown about like sneakers in the clothes dryer, while our lunatic driver veered across lanes and ploughed through vegetable carts and stacks of empty boxes; all the while juggling a dozen cell phones emitting incessant, piercing alerts and ringtones. When we arrived at rehearsal, it was all I could manage to crawl to a couch, close my eyes, and do nothing for two hours. Fortunately, that’s what I’m being paid to do.

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The Afterthought Horns and the rhythm section. Both doing what they do best.

Honkers is a glutton’s paradise, with noodles, dumplings and delicious animal parts of every imaginable species within arm’s reach. I had a bit of time on Thursday, so I went searching for a couple of joints that had come recommended. I wandered down to the stunning Victoria Harbour, surely one of the loveliest city harbours in the world, and hopped on the ferry to Kowloon. It’s madness over there- an engorged, throbbing, quivering mess of humanity. Tourists, locals, hawkers, beggars, millionaires, all conspiring to stop me getting anywhere. I had some pretty amazing dumplings at the famed Din Tai Fung, then fought my way back through the throng. By the time I got back to the harbour, I’d somehow managed to buy a dozen watches, four suits, and a Filipino wife. Don’t know how I’m going to fit them all in my bag.

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Ferry and junk

Then it was another ferry over to the part of town creatively titled Central, where I was aiming for a little noodle place endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. I slogged up and down tiny alleys till I found the spot Google had assured me was the one. Three mouthfuls of impenetrable, leathery noodles were all I could get down before I pushed my plate away in defeat, grudgingly paid the bill and plodded home, cursing Bourdain, that lanky, septic bugger. It was then I discovered that I’d been at Mak An Kee, ONE BLOCK from my noodley holy grail, Mak UN Kee. I’ve just checked my Cantonese-English dictionary, and it seems “Un” means yummy, and “An” means rubbery tasteless shit reserved for idiot westerners.

That night we had our first crack at the stage of the Lyric, about which I will tell you… next time. Cheers!

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A Big Finish: Tune #8 in Pictures

We made it! The last tune in the Catch and Release series is in the can! It’ll be up online next week, and I’ll put up a video outlining the tune tomorrow. But in the meantime, check out some pics from the session (as always, thanks to the brilliant and talented Una)! And we can reveal our special guest for the big finale: the great Jerry Weldon!!

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Hempton Band in Arty Noir Masterpiece!

It’s been action central here at Catch and Release HQ, which should really mean lots of posts on this blog. Unfortunately most of the goings-on are unsuitable for broadcast. So instead we bring you BY FAR the coolest video we’ve ever been a part of.

Our resident videographer, the all-around awesome Una, growing tired of my ham-fisted attempts at music videos, took the tune and her footage from the session, and whipped up this arty little ripper. Thanks Una! Hope you dig it…

Like the tune? Buy it for a buck on iTunes: Catch Up

or Amazon: Catch Up

An Internet First: Cat Pictures!!

Tune #7 went down a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, the fabulous Una was on the scene, trusty camera in hand, to show why music is not a visual medium. But Minnow the cat’s a looker isn’t she??

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“Nordberg Suite”: The Moving Picture!

Here’s a little video to accompany tune #6, “Nordberg Suite”. It features Bruce Harris on the trumpet, Jeremy Manasia at the piano, Dave Baron on the bass, Minnow the Smalls cat, and the Catch and Release robot fish in a jar. Hope you enjoy!

Dig the tune? Buy it for a buck from iTunes or Amazon!

“Nordberg Suite” in pictures!

Tune #6 went down on Monday, and again the wonderful and talented Una was there compiling photographic evidence. Some great shots of the band, Minnow the cat, the fish, and our special guest Bruce Harris! Got a favourite?
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This tune comes out Monday March 2. Missed an earlier tune? Grab them all here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/nick-hempton/id449388179

A Mad Dash

When we left off last, the fate of tune #6 was in doubt. With no tune written, no band booked, and a much-hyped snow storm on the way, we were right in the poo. And sure enough, poo-bound we remained, as the deadly snowmageddon blew in, burying the city in almost half an inch of snow. The sidewalks were crunchy that day, my friends. We hunkered down under the onslaught, afraid to leave our homes in case our shoes got wet. Schools were closed to prevent learning, and our engineer was trapped in his fortress of solitude in the frosty Bronx. So we had to cancel the recording. Since then, our drummer, Dan, has jetted off to be successful in Eastern Europe, and now we’re nine days from our due date. But we’re not giving up just yet.

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Smalls is booked for Monday. Jeremy and Dave are booked for piano and bass respectively. I tried to convince a certain older, fairly famous drummer to play with us, but according to his manager, the meagre fee I was offering wasn’t sufficient. The sad thing is, he’s a super-nice cat- I’ve chatted with him several times, and played with him once- and I’m sure if I’d caught him in person, he would have said yes. But it wasn’t to be. So I’m trying something different. Piano, bass, saxophone, no drums, and special guest Bruce Harris on the trumpet! Bruce is a killer young trumpeter with whom we’ve played several times in the past- he’s done Smalls gigs with us, and was a guest on our old Smithfield Sunday Session, but we’ve never got him into the studio. So this is going to be brilliant! All I’ve got to do is write a tune…

So, recording Monday, mixing Tuesday, send the tune to press and radio on Wednesday, and up online for you on Monday March 2! The pre-release sizzle- videos, photos, etc.- will all be crammed into the space of a week, but considering the whole thing nearly fell in a heap, I hope you’ll understand.

I should mention that the Catch and Release material is getting a great response when we play it live. We play every other Thursday at Smalls (the adults-only midnight slot. I work blue…), and we’ve been trotting out all five tunes, in various orders, to enthusiastic crowds.  If you’re in the NYC area, come down and hang with us, or if not, watch us on the Smalls live web stream. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but if you go to the Smalls website and sign up, you can watch everything that happens, live! It’s also a great opportunity to hear jazz musicians, who’ve forgotten about the cameras, engage in some fairly egregious slander. Enjoy!

Righto, that’s it for now. I’ll put up a vid of the new tune as soon as I’ve written it, and photos from the session will be up early next week. Cheers!