I felt particularly sorry for my Thai friends in the opening act Gypsy Sun, playing Classic Rock. The arena was empty and the sun hot, but they played admirably well nonetheless. Things were not much kinder for the following acts until it cooled down and people started to arrive in numbers during Rob Cooke’s band Black and Blue, perhaps to hear his fine, sizzling guitar solos. If this event is repeated, it should be a two-evening event rather than a one-day one to be fairer to such great musicians.
Colin Hill with Jimmy Fame were next, followed by the Bebop Bar Band where Khun Boy played what I believe to the best rock guitar solo of the day – not a bad achievement for a jazz musician on his day off! Then it was Dasha D’Arai with a short, powerful set with Gary’s son Blaze on guitar. Perhaps the band of the day was Gary Crause’s own band Dark Fibre, playing an all-original set with strong vocals from Rannze Davies and terrific gritty guitar from Rob Cooke. My only disappointment was watching an empty drum stool and hearing electronic drums when there were so many fine drummers there that day!
Blaze Crause was then up with N.E.E.T. and Tidy before the FUZZtonez took over, my friend and veteran rock guitarist Alf Hodges singing what I consider the best original song of the night, Millionaire. The NAUGHTIES wound up a great day with tight and exciting songs, their last just having to be ‘Lean on Me’, where they invited 40 people to sing along on stage, ending the day on a high but emotional note.
As it’s just not possible to say something in any depth about so many bands here, I want to focus instead on just two promising young singer-songwriters at the event: Gary’s 20 year-old son Blaze and Dasha D’Aria from Russia. Both have been groomed by the Phuket Academy of Performing Arts (PAPA), and both plan to move to North America in search of fame when studies here end, Blaze fancying Austin, Texas.
Blaze played 12 songs with N.E.E.T. and Tidy, all but one original. While his father encourages him to write commercially viable songs, Blaze prefers an “edgier, unhinged sound”. His songs were mostly aggressive, tacking hard-hitting subjects of depression, self-doubt and abuse. This is not the kind of stuff you’re likely to hear on a compilation of love songs.
The band started with a manic, one-minute song called ‘Seasonal Depression’. You can’t say much in a minute, so it was very much a wake up song. The songs that followed built in quality. It’s normal, every band plays their best songs last! By the time I got to ‘Melodrama’ halfway through, I was getting drawn in. Some words stood out: “Judge me by the songs I write and not the person that I am." This got me thinking, is Blaze somehow escaping from this world into that of his songs? Another heart-on-a-sleeve song was ‘Holding Out Hope’, a gentler song about the angst of a teenage relationship breakup, the lyrics suggesting a lack of confidence: “Will I ever be good enough? I’m running around in circles again.” Mmm… It’s clear Blaze isn’t holding back on his emotions in his songwriting.
Finally, we came to the grand finaIé. I loved ‘Rockstar’, which he started playing when just 17, with a glorious riff, the lyrics full of teenage rebellion and excess. Then I caught him backstage to ask a few questions.
So Blaze, who is the real you? The Blaze of your songs or the Blaze outside writing them?
Blaze: “It depends on the song. I started to write N.E.E.T. and Tidy songs as a therapeutic creative outlet, whereas earlier songs I’ve written in the past were more just to have some fun. In songs, you can write the situations to reflect yourself in any light you want.”
Are you able to express yourself freely and genuinely while still assisted by your music producer father?
“There is still some distancing required, which I find healthy when songwriting. Lately, I have been writing songs by myself in my bedroom. Only after posting them online did I show them to my parents. This showed them I was going to start to take music more seriously.”
Dasha D’Aria, today just 17 years old, has been ambitious to be a singer/songwriter from an early age, so her family moved to Phuket in 2015 so she could attend PAPA where she recorded her debut album in 2019.
Dasha has a terrific voice – warm, slightly dark and perfectly controlled, with faultless vibrato and pleasantly restrained when needed, powerful when not. It speaks of confidence and maturity; a singer needs to know when and where not to try too hard. She sang two excellent covers in her set, but I was particularly interested in her three own offerings.
‘Venus Rising’ is a slow number with a chorus with the lyrics, “Is there anybody out there to carry me home?” It’s full of the melancholy of homesickness, perhaps for her native Russia in these times of COVID. I can easily imagine her looking wistfully into a darkening sky “as Venus shines bright in the night.”
And ‘Then I found You’ is another slow, sad song. It starts with the lyrics, “I was lost and alone on a lonely path, I was the only one.” When it comes to the chorus we hear, “And then I found you,” but without much sense of joy and empowerment. This is a song with potential, but in need of an uplifting chorus if it is to be more commercial.
‘Circles in My Head’, is a well-crafted song about love and inner confusion, full of tension and which ebbs and flows wonderfully between verses and choruses. Now we were hearing hit song quality. Then I met her after her set to ask her:
Did you collaborate much with anyone in writing these songs?
“I often collaborate with Gary in writing my songs.”
There is a lot of sadness in your songs. Do you think you’ll need to write some happier ones to balance things out?
“I have thought about writing happier songs, but I want my songs to reflect me and my state of mind.”
Are you doing much songwriting at the moment?
“I started writing songs and song ideas for a new album during the lockdown in 2020. Whenever I get time, I write more songs.”
As English is not her first language and she’s just 17, it’s not surprising she often needs some support lyrically from her mentor and co-songwriter Gary Crause. However, in everything co-written she makes the decisions on chordal choices and, presumably, melody.
To sum up a great day, it’s said that you need three things to succeed in the music industry: Potential, motivation and good fortune. Young Blaze and Dasha undoubtedly have the first two, but the last is always uncertain. So I’ll end by just thanking these two youngsters, soon to begin their musical careers, for their time, and by wishing them…. GOOD LUCK!
Andy Tong Dee is a live music enthusiast and musician living in Phuket. Follow him on his Facebook page Phuket Music Scene.