Take Rawai for example. The Freedom Bar at the north end of Rawai Beach has been a live music venue for 20 years now, the last seven under the management of Rung and her British partner Keith ‘Popeye’ Starr.
They would love to see live music every night once again, but for now, from 8pm onwards on a Friday or Saturday night, you can listen to the excellent Filipino band ‘February Cherry’ playing. This band played at the Hard Rock Cafe in Patong pre-COVID, so as you can imagine their standard is top-class and the bar is packed. However, the Freedom Bar now has some new and very strong competition from the other end of the beach.
The Coconut Bar first opened in August 2008 under the management of Tip. Her British husband Ken Guy felt that life post-COVID in Rawai was somewhat dull and needed some uplift. So Ken sought the help of one of his friends, retired EMI rock and pop talent scout Stuart Watson, also from the UK. Stuart got busy checking out local musical talent while the bar was extended and reconfigured to suit live music. Now the Coconut Bar is often so full it is wise to reserve a table.
Stuart discovered Filipino band ‘Naughty 5’, which plays soft rock and pop there on Monday and Wednesday nights. Nick, a Filipino solo guitarist, performs on Tuesdays from 8 to 11pm. My friend the rock veteran Colin Hill plays classic rock on Thursday nights, supported by Nick, with a short quiz during breaks. With Thai tourists now increasingly frequenting Rawai’s bars, a Thai duo, Aya and Nong, play Thai music on Friday and Saturday nights. This means customers can now choose what type of music they want to hear from some of the very best musicians on the island.
Stuart told me about when he first heard Aya sing: “I was hugely impressed by her relaxed, natural approach and beautiful voice. Singing was then a mere hobby for her, but we encouraged her to find a guitarist to accompany her. The talented AYA & NONG duo is the result.” Who knows what future stars Stuart will discover and promote next?!
But that is not all there is to live music in Rawai. Take the Promthep Cape turning at the south end of the beach. After 200 metres you’ll find the Paradise Beach Bar run by Annie and her daughter Waan – one of my former English students as it happens! They have started Sunday live music from 5pm onwards with February Cherry mentioned before. When I last visited, there was also free food of a good standard. Again, this weekly event is proving so popular it is best to book a table.
Finally, although I usually only hang out in live music venues, there is one Rawai bar where I make an exception. This is the Sunshine Bar about a third of the way down the beach. This bar has a lot of staff – rather more than needed. Why? Because they like to dance the night away! But don’t worry, it’s the kind of bar you could take your grandmother to. Get there early about 9pm and you will be rewarded by the staff doing KPOP-style dance routines to Isan music. Later on, and the staff are too busy serving customers to dance much.
Strangely, I find it is here that all my time spent climbing up things with the Royal Marines before I retired was not wasted. This is because there is a pole in the center of the bar with a bell at the top. Climb up and ring it and you get a free beverage.
Ok, I’m usually up for it, and I always get a cheer and a kiss or two, but I find getting up that damn pole harder now with every passing year!
Expat Andy Tong Dee is a live music enthusiast and musician living in Phuket. Follow him on his Facebook page Phuket Music Scene.