In March 2020, on the eve of the COVID outbreak reaching Thailand, 25-year-old virtuoso guitarist ‘Nine’ from Ubon Ratchathani met bassist Kaely from Phatthalung and drummer Roger from Surat Thani at Moody’s Bar in Patong. It was there they jammed together with Moody, a well-known rock guitarist from Myanmar, before his departure. While other musicians were to return home to their respective provinces, the three of them remained in Phuket, practicing together and giving birth to the Blues Rock trio Gypsy Sun. Before the COVID crisis hit Phuket, you may have heard them playing in Michelangelo’s Bar in Phuket Town, the Ice Bar in Kathu and Coconut Live, Rawai.
I first met Nine a few years ago while I was running a series of open mic nights in the Pastel Bar in Phuket Town. Nine kindly played several times for me, and has done so once with Roger and Kaely. A natural entertainer, Nine likes to show off a little, playing with his teeth Hendrix-style on occasions. It was great fun singing and blowing some harmonica with him. I still do occasionally when I go to see them play, but I am reluctant to do so these days as their music is so much tighter and slicker now. They may have all had a tough year with COVID, but they are on a roll now after all their time practicing.
Nine first picked up a guitar at 15 in order to impress the girls, as so many young men have done in the past. He is self-taught, picking up guitar licks by listening to songs from the greats such as Eric Clapton, BB King and Jimi Hendrix. Kaely, the band’s 32-year-old bass player, was taught guitar at music school, but switched to bass when he discovered an opening. Roger the drummer is the senior member of the band at 45. Heavily influenced by Steve Gadd, Roger started drumming after watching a neighbour playing while just 15.
They chose the name Gypsy Sun in homage to Jimi Hendrix’s final band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, the band playing all of his most famous songs. However, they also play many songs from The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Police, Pink Floyd, The Doors and The Allman Brothers.
So why do I consider them to be a great up and coming band? It comes down to three things.
Firstly, they only play music they like, and you can see this in the joyful exuberance of their performances. Let’s face it, it’s pretty damn soul-destroying knocking out certain tired old classics every night for the tourists just because you feel you have to. So they just don’t!
Secondly, they are tight, and I mean really tight. All the time spent practicing last year while bars were shut or no gigs were coming in was not wasted. Lately, I have noticed the quality of their singing has leapt forward, with some neat harmonies developing. Nine sings the more bluesy songs with a baritone, raspy voice reminiscent of Howling Wolf. Kealy picks up those in a higher key or needing greater clarity. It’s a system that works well.
Finally, Gypsy Sun has that unique dynamic that comes from being a trio which I call the ‘Power of Three’. There’s just so much clutter in life, and we yearn sometimes for something simpler and purer. Just think of that lead guitarist who plays with far too much reverb and distortion, running up and down scales as fast as he can and boring the hell out of us in the process. Then go and hear Nine playing his battered Stratocaster oh so melodically Clapton-style with only a wah wah pedal, a cheap 15-watt tube amp and just his two mates backing him up. Trios like Gypsy Sun can show us you don’t need all the effects, that horn section, the backing vocalists, the keyboard player or an extra guitarist. More is not always better, less can be more.
Just think of the great Rock trios of the past: Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Green Day, Motorhead, The Police, ZZ Top and Nirvana. Playing in a trio is hard work and requires a high level of competency, but it can lead to a pleasant, more minimalistic style of music, more personal, with songs stripped down to their basic structure of rhythm, riff, melody and lyrics. For me, this is the way music can and should always be: simple and direct.
Expat Andy Tong Dee is a live music enthusiast and musician living in Phuket. Follow him on his Facebook page Phuket Music Scene.