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Phuket Music Scene: Colin ‘Illy’ Hill rockin’ on strong

Phuket Music Scene: Colin ‘Illy’ Hill rockin’ on strong

Phuket’s veteran rock guitarist Colin Hill played with the band Dating Blondes last Saturday (Feb 20) in the multi-genre music show ‘The Lost Legends’ at the Grind Café at Underwoods on the bypass road, an event which may well be repeated. Andy Tong Dee interviewed him after the show.

By Andy Tong Dee

Saturday 27 February 2021, 11:30AM

You last did the Lost Legends Show in 2016. How did it feel doing Lost Legends again?

Brilliant, especially with this new line-up, doing a wide range of songs with five singers. It’s great to be back on a big stage with a good sound system and with the best players around and in a well-promoted event.

How much work was involved?
There was a lot of very good promotional work done by Mango Yordbear at Underwoods. Dating Blondes was put together for a special event and all the players were busy doing their own things, so it’s difficult to get everyone together. We did that show with no rehearsal whatsoever, just by remembering the songs from previous times we performed together, and lots of online chat about who does what, when and how. This proves the calibre of the musicians!

Are there plans to do it again?

Yes, for sure, but probably with different acts to keep it fresh. We hope to play there again as it has a perfect big stage and the audience reaction was extremely positive.

You’ve played here for 14 years now. Do you think there has been declining demand for western rock music generally around the island?

No, not at all, even though the tourist demographic has changed quite a lot in the last two years. I think the demand for loud pub rock died out a bit, but it was balanced by more acoustic style venues and melodic rock gigs.

So the volume level has gone down over the years?

In some venues, most certainly, but you adapt to still play with power and aggression where needed but at lower levels. These days I do not use amplifiers at all except for big events gigs – everything goes through the PA system, but I still pretty much sound exactly as I did in the ’70s as a youngster.

Is there declining demand for full bands rather than just using backing tracks?

Yes, absolutely. It’s just an economic reality all over the world even before COVID. To stay employed we must become adaptable or go the way of the dinosaurs. When I first arrived in Phuket 14 years ago, I started as a solo act with backing tracks, but within six months I had formed a band and continued this way up until about two years ago. By then 50% of gigs had shrunk to solo or duo acts and many of these were pure acoustic style. I have had to reduce the price of the band to keep the band playing.

Has your playlist changed much over the years?

It’s totally dependent upon the venue’s choice, but not really. Classic songs from many eras are still popular, but when I add new songs they are nearly always from the ’70s or ’80s era. That fits into the demographic market I perform to mostly.

Do you have fewer students now who want to learn rock guitar?

No, there are still plenty of students, both young and mature, who like to learn rock guitar. I’m so proud that Nong Ten, one of my students, performed an excellent solo opening set tonight. One thing I do notice is that very few young students know about the ’90s music era. Mention Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Metallica and even Nirvana and you are met with blank stares. Talk about Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix and they know who they are.

We are now in a very different world with COVID. How are you coping?

I’m surprisingly busy. Four full days teaching and four or five gigs a week, so I am blessed, but tired! I believe it is because I play a different repertoire to most acts and I make the guitar the centerpiece of everything I do. Audience turnout varies, but generally is still quite good. I am almost the last man standing from the heady times pre-COVID. Sadly, many foreign musicians have had to return home.

How do you think music is likely to change genre-wise in the future?

The rise of independent [Indie] music online will guarantee it will remain varied and healthy, but the financial returns are going to be massively reduced. A lot of pop now is computer programmed and not organic in a music sense at all. It all uses the same four chords and samples. 

It seems likely we will see more Asians on holiday here and fewer and younger westerners in future. Are rock’s days numbered? 

There will always be some kind of demand for any kind of music. As Neil Young said, “Rock n Roll can never die”; it will live on forever. Many of the ground-breaking rock bands will go down in history on the same level as the classic composers such as Mozart. However, Pete Townsend of The Who has stated that guitar rock “has gone about as far it can go”. Yet people never seem to get tired of a three-chord blues song played with feeling. It’s as organic as music can ever be, no matter where the tourist audience comes from.

So when do you plan to retire as a professional musician?

Not yet! I am still playing well enough to get standing ovations for guitar solos, which still surprises me! I still get hired for top level recording sessions with 10 albums recorded for various artists in Phuket alone and I’m busy as a guitar teacher. One day I will return to Tasmania and take up gardening or just ride motorbikes. I have done about 16,000 gigs in my life over a 48-year career with almost no breaks, all over the world, but I’m starting to feel it a bit now. But there is still life in this old dog yet!

Colin, thanks to you and to the band for such a spectacular performance tonight. I’ll be at the next one for sure!

Expat Andy Tong Dee is a live music enthusiast and musician living in Phuket. Follow him on his facebook page Phuket Music Scene.

Dating Blondes, Phuket’s new ‘supergroup’ comprises Colin ‘Illy’ Hill (Lead guitar/vocals), Mike Mitchell (Bass guitar/vocals/keyboard programming), Vic Toria (Vocals), Rob Cooke (Lead Guitar/vocals) and Mike Trinidad (Drums/vocals). 

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