I mentioned a while back I was returning to China for a few days….
This is what happened:
Day 1: Wuhan
Head straight to Sense Club Records to hang with Ryan and his crew.
I play the first show, throwing myself through a couple of small amps and practicing with my new set-up of an electric guitar through an iRig in an iPod Touch.
A take-out dinner of lovely gingery tofu and fish soup with rich and a side of delicious aubergine and green beans.
Not long after the show we head off to collect a few things at Ryan’s before catching a sleeper train to Xiamen.
If you haven’t caught the sleeper in China then here’s the drill: Sleep on a board. Shit in a hole. Wake every five minutes to the sound of snoring, or the scent of pot noodles.
Train stations all have andy water dispensers to fill up your flasks. Great, was looking for some refreshing cool water to save on buying bottles. Ouch! Those taps dispense only boiling! That for tea, you dunce!
Day 2: Xiamen
Make our way to the Venue and Hotel. They are close by each other in a creative corner down by a small inlet of sea. The feel of Xiamen is lighter and fresher and coastal. Almost Mediterranean. Where we are I feel old.
We’re guided to a seafood restaurant which provides us a tasty fill. Simply done broiled fish in chillies and ginger, fresh greens and egg. Washed down with a refreshing beer.
The venue ‘Real Live’ is a cosy cafe type of place (I don’t play the larger live space behind the curtain). Fair enough, I’m not drawing a big crowd. I feel much more comfortable in these more intimate spaces.
After I play the staff walks over with a bottle. “That man bought this for you” she says, gesturing toward a couple making their way out of the venue. The man turns before they exit to give an appreciative nod. Well at least one person liked it, or as I often fear, felt compelled to buy me a beer in commiseration.
Ryan and I take a leisurely evening stroll and find a balcony to overlooking the port and a beer to sip. In this humid time, as you all know, one doesn’t feel like doing much.
Day 3: Fuzhou
Wander Xiamen for some breakfast (noodles) before struggling to hail a taxi to the station. We end up resigning ourselves to the more expensive route of a direct taxi to the main train station, instead of out cheaper idea of a short taxi ride to the subway to then take said subway to station. Tour compromises/cheapskate’s dilemma.
Another impressively cavernous train station to catch an ambling train to not-so-far-away Fuzhou. Some European dude in front of us in line to collect tickets remarks “Whats the point of these fast trains when you spend so long queueing for tickets” or some such needless witticism. I fail to have the brain speed to respond with anything but a throttled “heh, yes” when my long-form idea would be to set him straight on the assumption that we are all getting fast trains and his lack of realisation that the Chinese can use their privilege as natives and use the automated machines. Nevertheless, he did nothing wrong and I am just a dull misanthrope.
Fuzhou greets us with another out of town station to subway ourselves closer to our destination. We pop up in a skyscrapered fancy-pants district – and a Super 8 hotel. This US chain boasts a trio of 70’s founders on the poster in the elevator (Look like a young Des Lynam, that other one from the Likely Lads, and Judge Rinder).
Opposite the Hotel is the preserved (or renovated) alleyways, all smart and clean but unsuitable for wheeling my now broken suitcase along. But this is where the almost idyllic creative space of Maker Live is.
Some really tasty starchy chewy noodles later and we’re sat with a coffee waiting for soundcheck. An odd indoor stage with a square of standing floor space roughly the same size.
We have some interest in merchandise and some of the art-student types seem on-board. We sit and drink afterwards at the invitation of some of my audience.
Not much time after this to do anything but get some well-earned kip.
Day 4: Yiwu
After a complimentary breakfast of rice and greens, congee and tomatoes, we head back out to the rail station to catch a very speedy train to Yiwu. “The world capital of small commodities”
Reaching speeds of over 300kmph we arrive at Yiwu which feels pretty lush and green, scattered across some gentle hills. As we clamber off the train a couple of musicians clamber on in our stead. Turns out they played Gebi the night before.
Gebi is set up in an old temple in the hills overlooking Yiwu. It is a tumble-down creative space, run by live-in musicians, and housing a secluded recording studio. Underground pioneer, Shengy, of White+ and Carsick Cars, happens to be out here recording at this time.
Such a wonderful place to play – very relaxed and freeing. The food delivery from a local restaurant was also really great, albeit washed down by filthy local alcohol.
Day 5: Hangzhou
Our train trundles in and a taxi drives us up to the Blue Danube Hotel by the small canal under the shadow of the overpass. Trees and running water makes for a relatively pleasant place to stroll in this muggy season.
In contrast to casual crumbling Gebi the Hangzhou venue is a big ‘livehouse’ in a spanking new shopping centre in neat and tidy Hangzhou. A place where cars stop at zebra crossings!
Snipped to a half-hour set mid-bill it’s a different show to the others where I was the only player -but this means I’m playing to a larger audience. I feel like it went well, and so does a reviewer. I chat to some Yorkshire expats who recall my performance at Moor Music in the late 2000s. World indeed small.