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PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2009 3:34 pm 
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Location: Pak Kok Village
Beats and Scores: A weekend of roots and rugby

by Nick the Bookman - 27-29/03/2009

(unedited, full version; edited & abridged version in Lamma-zine)

Whine-ssprtz-crackle...Nick, where the bloody hell are you? I can't believe you'd be missing this for a Friday night at the Sevens. Big mistake, huge. Click! (a phone message from Kelly, Friday 2126 hrs.)

I've just caught the 2130 ferry home from Central, after attending most of the opening night of the 2009 HK Rugby Seven's at the Government Stadium. My streak is intact. I've been to every tournament since the Seven's kicked off in 1976. Don't want to stop now. So, a big thanks to Nick the Referee for getting me a ticket. And a big two fingers to the HKRFU for scrapping The Overnight Queue in favour of selling the tickets through Ticketek. Near impossible to get through. One friend told me he was on two mobiles, a land line and two computers and still couldn't get a ticket. Yet, somehow, all 4,000 local tickets went in less than two hours on January 17th. I've done all the queues to date and as long as you get to the Stadium early enough, you're in with a chance. The Ticketek method (which should be scrapped asap) is unfair. It penalises people who don't have credit cards or can't get access to a computer in time, And you can't just rock up and pay cash on the day either. In fact, the tickets weren't available until a fortnight before the Tournament started. Anyway, enough muttering about the inadequacies of the HKRFU for now. I'm sure I'll have more complaints later.

There's about 30,000 people in the Government Stadium for opening night. There are 24 participating teams, so 12 games on the night. Plus the Women's final between recently crowned world champions, Australia and China who are sensational underdogs. Australia, with more experience, win 24-7 after both teams are level 7-7 at half time. If the Chinese ladies keep improving at this rate, they could be world champions within a decade. As for the men, Fiji, Argentina, New Zealand and England keep their opponents pointless. Scotland upset the USA 19-17. Samoa win a tight match 14-10 against Canada. Wales, who won the World Cup Sevens in Dubai recently, struggle to overcome Japan 14-5. It's shaping up to be a wide open tournament. My major complaint is they still keep running the fucking clock backwards! Why? It just confuses the drunken hacks who may think they're at a basketball or ice hockey match, The clocks don't run backwards in the World Cup, Six Nations, Tri-Nations or other rugby competitions. Anyway, I've left early to make sure I can get the 2130 ferry home. That's because an Italian rockabilly/punk band Astrophonix are making their debut in The Island Bar tonight. The gig is co-organised by Dean from El Destroyo as a little teaser for a big event in Grappas Bar tomorrow night - Saturday 28th of March. That show comprises Lamma favourites, Transnoodle, El Destroyo, a Hawaiian surf/soul/reggae band called Go Jimmy Go and Astrophonix.

The Island Bar is buzzing as I walk by. Kelly grabs me and tells me about the above message on my answerphone. Astrophonix are on a short break, but will perform a second set before catching the last ferry to Central. Kelly thinks they're the best band to play the Island Bar in any of her lifetimes. Most of the other usual suspects concur. I spot Frasier the Cur in the crowd. He's had the Gaellic Gall to fly in for this show at the last moment. Good to see you again, mate! I'm going to tomorrow's gig at Grappas, thanks to John Transnoodle who's sorted me out a ticket. But it's good to get a sniff of their set tonight. Astrophonix are a power trio. Lead guitar, double bass and drums with all members contributing vocals. The band mine some of the same sonic terrain as El Destroyo, but there's a slightly more loungepunk appeal in their performance. A fine surfadelic vesion of "Let's Go" invoking the spirit of Buddy Holly. A searing version of "Summertime Blues" which recalls Eddie Cochrane, The Who and the grungy feedback of Blue Cheer. There are detours into the works of Cab Calloway and a fine call-and-response segment rousing some of the audience from their torpor. There's a version of "I Fought The Law" where The Johnny Fuller Four meet The Clash. And a splendid re-working of "Brand New Cadillac". The Stray Cats back catalogue gets a thorough airing and workout as does a rockabilly rendition of "Sweet Dreams" by The Eurhythmics. There's a blast of "Smoke On The Water", a re-worked "Pipeline" and hints of a spaghetti western version of "Ghost Riders". Astrophonix shift effortlessly between speeds, styles and tempos and I'm really hoping I'll get a chance to see them tomorrow night. And from what I overhear, there's going to be a full Island Bar outing at Grappas. Not even the fetid blasts of Frank's stinky stogies can dampen the joy and enthusiasm on display tonight. (Note to myself. Must learn their names by tomorrow.) Right now I'm knackered and there's a big weekend to get through.

Get home, watch the TVB highlights of the Rugby and pass out...I've overslept. The dogs need their morning run. I need breakfast. It's about 0920 and too late to get the ferry to town without missing any of the games. So, time to stay in and watch the live action on TVB. Not to mention getting under Marilena's feet all day. We do a deal. She gets the bedroom all day and I grab the sofa, I like the tv action. Get a decent commentary and all the rugby highlights. Its a make-or-break day for Hong Kong who were beaten 28-0 last night by Argentina. The boys cause the first upset by trouncing a strong Portugal team by 24-7 after leading 12-0 at the break. China almost inflict a first defeat on the Welsh world champions. They lose 19-17 after drawing level at 12-12 by half time. Li Juan scores a hat-trick for China as they lead 17-12 until the final seconds. It's the closest they've come to slaying the Welsh dragon in four matches in HK. Fiji are stuttering it seems. Fiji, the two-time world champions, lost their title in the Dubai tournament quarter-finals. The "big name stars" were no match for a rampant Kenya who overturned them 26-7. This after the talismanic Waisale Serevi was sacked as Manager. Now, they're in HK with a bunch of rookies. They managed a 33-0 win over Taipei on Friday and sneak a 26-17 win over Canada in a close, tenacious match. Meanwhile, England and New Zealand won 54-0 and 59-0 respectively on Friday.

The stalwart Kiwi commentator Keith Quinn has just told me of a tragedy in the New Zealand camp. It seems Wimiru, the younger brother of Zar Lawrence has just been killed in a car crash in Auckland. Zar was woken up at 0400 to receive the dreadful news. He's decided that as he can't get an earlier flight home, he'll stay with the team and help them try to retain their HK title. The family are dealing with the tragedy and Zar hopes to get back by Monday. In the meantime, he takes the field with a white memorial armband that says "Minu", his brother's nickname. I don't think any of the Saturday audience are aware of this tragedy. This just ratchets up the pressure on the Kiwis who aren't having a great year. They lie 3rd in the table, behind joint-leaders, England and South Africa. Logically, it makes sense for Zar to stay in HK with the team, but emotionally, he's torn up. Listening to Keith Quinn describing "this rare act of courage", I recall a similar tragedy also involving New Zealand. It was Boxing Day 1953 and the Second Day of the Second Cricket Test against South Africa at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Before play started, Kiwi fast bowler Bob Blair was informed that his fiancee was among the 150 people killed in the Tangiwai rail disaster on New Zealand's North Island. It had occured only a few hours earlier. He was too distraught to play - a feeling shared by other members of the team who were waiting for additional news about the disaster. The Second Day commenced. New Zealand were 1-0 down in the Series. The first six Kiwi batsmen were injured by South African fast bowler Neil Adcock who was fuming at being dismissed for a duck in his previous innings, Kiwi batsman Bert Sutcliffe was hit in the head, collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It was unsure if he could bat again. The score was 82/6, two retired hurt. Echoes of the Australia-England Bodyline Series of 1932. Sutcliffe returned from hospital, his head swathed in bandages, to resume his innings. He received a standing ovation for his bravery and later said he was playing on guts and scotch. Adcock continued to wreak havoc and the total soon reached 154/8. This was the setting for Bob Blair's finest moment. The crowd went eerily silent and Sutcliffe looked up to see Blair walking out to bat. His face was masked in tears. He had been listening to the game on the radio and decided to help his mates out. Kiwi reporter Dick Brittenden later remarked that to come back from injury like Sutcliffe was one thing, but to come out when your whole world has crashed around you is courage of an altogether different kind. Bob Blair made 6 runs before being stumped. Bert Sutcliffe finished 80 not out. The New Zealand innings ended on 187 and that Boxing Day performance is now the stuff of legend. South Africa won the match by 132 runs and later took the Series. Back to the Sevens. Fair play to the All Blacks for coping with the pressure. Zar scored one try on Friday night - quite possibly his brother saw it on tv in the waning hours of his life. Zar scored two more against Zimbabwe before being subbed. New Zealand have pledged to retain their title for "Minu", but it might be a hard ask of them.

Meanwhile, England are imperious. They put another 50 points on Japan and have a crunch match against Wales to come. South Africa are building up steam. 53-0 against Uruguay. HK win their second match, edging a tough Tonga team by 14-12 to finish as runners-up in Group D. Scotland eke out another 19-17 win against the West Indies to finish second behind Kenya in Pool F. New Zealand struggle against trans-Tasman rivals Australia, winning a hard battle by 17-5. The Kiwis top Group C. Samoa and Fiji play a 12-12 draw - the only one of this weekend. Samoa top Group E on more points scored. England are 26-0 up against Wales at half time, before the wheels come off the sweet chariot. Final score 26-19, Not a good performance boys, you're not concentrating. The Welsh winning streak as world champions lasts two matches. South Africa need a late rally to snuff out the French threat 26-12 and top Group A. Right, games over. Time to get ready for Grappas.

It's been a couple of years since I've gone to any gigs at Grappas. Saw Plump DJ's, Lisa Lashes and John "00" Fleming perform their turntable trickery on late nights. I remember they seemed to be rather sticky/messy events. Spilt drinks, imploded brains. lurid, leering pairs of dribblelips everywhere I looked. And never mind the eyes... Overall, three great gigs. The John Fleming show was the first review I wrote for HK Clubbing. (it's not that good). I'm not doing reviews for them anymore. Partly because the Police read their web site to find out which parties to bust. Partly because Nick W. can't spell "fuck". Mostly, because they promised tickets/entry to two shows and f***ed up. If I held my breath waiting for an answer I'd be bluer than the cast of "Braveheart" by now. Anyway, I'm here and there's a large crowd, about half from Lamma. Big hi's to Dave and Eva. Clive and Annie and Annie and Vicky. Ciaran and Ellen. Jill. Kelly (of course). Barnaby Bruce (twinbro Sam is DJing at a corporate gig in Beijing). Mike and Marcus. Simon Pinder on a rare outing... I'll tell you what. I'll just leave a gap so anyone else who was there and wants to gatecrash this story can feel free to do so. Just tell the organiser to slot you in. But hurry, because I'm sure that in a few years in the rosy glow of nostalgia, the audience will be enormous. Something like the 16,000 or soldiers who swore they were the 12 SAS troops who raided the Iranian Embassy in London in the early 80's. John has my ticket and Transnoodle are on in about 15 minutes. Jamie is doing a fine job of spinning the plastic platters. He used to live on Lamma and is the drummer for Bone Table, the other group that Maggie from El Destroyo plays in.

I've got a good drink and a place front and centre stage. The 'noodle are an eight-piece tonight. From left to right across the stage there's Matt (keyboards), John (guitar and vox), Josh (mainvox), Magnus (drums), Kevin (bass), Andrew (second guitar), Sarah (sax) and Orlando (trombone). I've missed their last few performances, but it all comes right back. A joyful familiarity like pulling on an old and cherished pair of crushed velvet/suede jeans that still fit from the 60's. A big grin of delight like sitting on an electronically warm toilet seat when it's -50 degrees outside and you're in Antarctica. The sound is crisp and punchy. Drums and bass mesh well. John keeps the rhythms tight and Andrew weaves the melodies in and out. I said before he reminds me of Neil Schon of Journey with his fancy fretwork. Sarah and Orlando are a horny duo unleashing the funk. Josh prowls the stage, sweating easily in the heat, and telling the tales. Briefly, a beguiling mix of ska-folk and r'n'b taking in elements of The Pogues, Oingo Boingo and The Beat. Now and then, Matt goes cyberdelic, jabbing out the keyboard riffs. Quite a lot of people are pretending to dance. The 45 minute set includes "Port Royale", "Bambi", "Deli Lamma", "Spicy Island" (which is in a new state of possibly temporary non-being) and "Po Wah Yuen". It's Andrew's last performance with Transnoodle for the immediate future. He's off to do other things.Anyway, it's been a damn fine swansong, Jamie whacks on some Clash and El Destroyo begin to set up.

The band are a teensy bit more formally dressed than at their recent Island Bar gig. Maggie has the phwoar-factor times ten in a knee-length black floral cheongsham. Hair pinned up. No omnipresent cowboy straw hat tonight. Dean's a bit more formal in jacket and shirt and Tjunde obviously prefers Charlie Watts as a fashion icon than the sock-on-the-cock attire of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their set is louder and cleaner than at the Island Bar, but it's pretty much the same show. Maggie enchants with her brief screams on "Vampire" ands rocksteady thumping bass. Dean rips through a grab-bag of spacy licks, augmented by his FX pedals. There are cybertwangs, Link Wray rumble runs, a few hints of prog-rock. Big crashing chords careen into time changes. A bit of The Cramps at times, some Dick Dale,a touch of Johnny Cash on "Sam Hill". There's even the lascivious rendition of "Snatch" - his take on the immortal Kevin "Bloody" Wilson. Most of the tunes are instrumental and seem to get better with each performance. I've seen them five times now and each show is an event. (And why isn't Steve Cray here tonight? They're his "drug of choice" after all). And let's not forget, it was Dean and El Destroyo who put this show together tonight. A massive thank you for that and here's to the next one.

Both bands have played about 45 minutes each to allow the two headliners more time to entertain us. It's looking like I'm not going to see much of Astrophonix who are going to close the show. I don't want to do a sampan back to Lamma. Nor do I want to get the first ferry only to rush home, collect my ticket and try and get to the Stadium in time for Sunday's action. So, it's the last ferry to Lamma for me. Still gives enough time to see Hawaiian sextet Go, Jimmy Go. These surf/soul/reggae boys haveen playing for a good few years. This performance at Grappas is the final show of their brief Asian tour. And they are entertaining with irridium coated knobs on. The group is Bison Friedman (vox), Ian Ashley (guitar), Jayder (bass) and Shon Greggory (drums). Then there's another horny duo of Eric White (sax) and multi-tattooed trombonist, Ryan Kunimura. The three bands tonight are a gestalt complementary performance. Ska-folk-punk meets groovy rockabilly meets Hawaiian surf-soul reggae, There's enough places in each performance where the musical lines and motifs flow together. And almost all of the songs are originals which can mean if you're playing badly, maybe people won't notice. Not that there's any danger of that tonight. GJG have pulled a lot of people onto the dance floor and around the sides of the stage. The only cover I recognise is "A Message To You, Rudy" by The Specials. Cue, mass singalong, beaming smiles and spontaneous outbreaks of happy feet. Another song, possibly called "Raise Your Head High"(?) is Steel Pulse go to Oahu while Jimmy Cliff drops in to croon along. There's some Don Letts punk v dread moments on "Set Me Free"(?) , but mostly it's cool reggae and New Orleans happy horns. At one point, Ryan is playing trombone right in front of me and when he slides it out, it's like a 3-D visual. Bison commands the stage. He's an excellent frontman, cajoling and cheering on the other band members. At this point, I've lost the ability to write anything legible or intelligible. Basically, this was a way cool evening. Haven't had so much fun since the MTV Tour with Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys hit town several years ago. That and the Second Wanchai Festival in Southorn Arena. And Clockenflap last year. And the Second Rock-It Festival. If anyone wants to get in touch with Go Jimmy Go, you can email Eric@GoJimmyGo.com. I'm guessing it's all in small letters. Thanks guys and I'll be sure to see you next time you come back. Now, it's almost time to catch the last ferry home. Most people are staying to see Astrophonix who are Simone on guitar/vox. Tommy on beard and double upright bass. Massimo is the drummer. Based on what I heard in the Island Bar, they're going to scorch some ears tonight. If I wasn't going to the Sevens, it would be worth the chilly sampan back from Aberdeen.

It's Sunday, Ciaran is working at the Stadium and tells me to call him and he'll see if he can get me in a box. Average waiting time yesterday was about 45 minutes - or nearly three matches. Probably be the same today so I'll keep my options open. I get in my usual area high in the East Stand with a good view off both video screens. Don't move all morning. Tried to see if I could enter the South Stand, but there was a sign saying queues could wait about one hour. This at a time when the South Stand is one quarter full. A jug of Pimms is $170. Meat pies are $37 each. A Dairy Farm drumstick (icecream cone) is $22 while a Dreyers Joystick is $35. I think they've gone up a little. It's definite that the Stadium McDonalds is both the most limited and expensive one in Hong Kong. Anyway, today is Final's Day. No clear front-runners. HK's heroics yesterday are rewarded with a Plate QF against Canada. It's a game too far as they lose 26-5. Keith Robertson scores the only try for HK at the death. If HK had lost yesterday and saved Saturday's form for today, they would have most likely won the Bowl for a seventh time. As it is, their tournament is over. Portugal romp through to a Bowl Final against Uruguay and beat the South Americans 14-12 in a hard-fought contest. Wales edge the USA 22-21 in a thrilling Plate QF. They were 21-12 down, scored two unconverted tries and grimly held on. Their reward was to get stuffed 19-10 by Canada in the SF. Tonga beat the semi-unpopular French 19-10 in the other Plaste SF. France and Australia are the two nations that are consistently booed, but it's all tongue in cheek these days. Both teams were guilty of heinous transgressions against other popular teams (HK and Fiji respectively) back in the dim, dark and distant drunken daze of the early Sevens. Tonga claim the Plate with another narrow 14-12 victory over Canada. Interesting to note that HK beat both the Bowl and Plate winners on Saturday, so kudos again guys.

It's business as usual in the Cup QF's: South Africa dispose of a jaded Australia 24-10. The match has a massive punchup in the second half. This is not shown or mentioned by the commentators. Nor are the several pitch invasions that occur throughout the afternoon. No one is naked. The fat security guards got a humiliating work out, trying to tackle the kids. At least no brutal displays of thuggery by the security as occurred last year. And none of the guards were charged with assaulting minors because the HKRFU didn't have the guts to follow through. Just like they ignored reports of underage girls being sexually molested by grown men at the 2007 Sevens. The HKRFU did decide to make the South Stand an X-rated adults only area from 2008. Fair enough. It closed a loophole on underage drinking. Now, the police and Government are deciding how to deal with the rolling brawl that broke out in Wanchai early Saturday morning. A former Fijian Seven's player was fined $500 for clobbering a cop who doused him in pepper spray. Up to 50 police, rugby players, bouncers and other security were said to be involved. But the rugby boys were all here for the HK Ten's at the Football Club so that's alright then.

Samoa edge Argentina 15-12 with an extra time penalty after the two teams are tied 12-12 at the siren. Samoa are the masters of taking penalties and drop goals during the Sevens. It's a legal way to score and boost a team's points tally. Might be boring for the fans, unless it's your team that kicks the winning points. Generally, everyone feels that a team must ONLY score tries at all times, which is patent crap. Nerw Zealand and Kenya serve up a thriller in the third QF. The All Blacks go 7-0 up and are pegged back by relentless Kenyan pressure. Remember, the African side accounted for New Zealand in San Diego (the event before the Dubai World Cup.) Kenya score a try. No conversion. At half-time it's 7-5. Thw second half is all Kenya. They get another unconverted try wide out and dump New Zealand out of HK by 10-7. It's their second successive win over the Kiwis. Cue much elation and a fervent prayer that England don't cock it up against Fiji in the last QF. Unfortunately, someone forgot to wake up the real England team. It doesn't help that England's inspirational Ben Gollings was injured on Saturday and is out of the tournament. But, when you've got the big fast boys capable of making space and scoring tries, fucking well use them properly. Yes, I mean you Ben Ryan, the England coach. Tom Varndell got the ball about four times and weaved and squiggled his way ACROSS the field and into trouble. The two big English Fijians, Drauininiu and Damudamu ambled and dawdled on the ball and got tackled. Fiji had a man sinbinned for two minutes near half time. England had the free kick, about five metres out and in front of the posts. Take the kick and it's 5-3 with about 90 seconds to attack Fiji again and use the man advantage. Did they do that? No they fucking didn't. They didn't even learn from Samoa's example earlier. England's only try and conversion from a break through and Vickerman followed up to score between the posts. After the siren went, Fiji had a second yellow card, but also the free kick. Play was delayed while an injured England back was treated. Despite being a man down, Fiji tapped quickly. Two passes to the left touchline and the winning try for Fiji. Watching England was like watching a team of Baldricks, but less amusing. From elation to depression in about 20 minutes. I can see why Tom Varndell doesn't figure in Martin Johnson's plans at the moment.

So the two Cup SF's: Samoa drop a goal to open the scoring against South Africa. Half time score is 14-3 to South Africa, 29-3 at full time. They're looking good bets to win the Cup in HK for the first time. Meanwhile, the Fijian rookies are growing visibly in confidence. They exact revenge on Kenya in the second SF, winning 24-7. Payback for Kenya dumping them out of the Dubai World Cup by the near similar score of 26-7. So the Cup Final is a repeat of the 1997 World Cup Final, held in HK. Fiji won that thrilling match 24-21 and won the World Cup for a second time in 2005, beating New Zealand 29-19. Now it's time for an 11-minute musical tribute to the spirit of rock and roll. It's been kept a surprise and bigged up in the programme. I'm not expecting a half time showpiece like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, or Michael Jackson at the Superbowl. Or even Janet Jackson/ Justin Timberlake at the now legendary "Nipplebowl". But... Did it have to be this bad? It "stars"Tomos Griffiths from the Macau Venetian Hotel and the CBC dancers. He pops out of a box in an ill-fitting Elvis wig and and fat jump suit. The choreography is enthusiastic, but random. Somewhere between bad calisthenics and schoolyard gymnastics. "Elvis" warbles his way through "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog". Then he cuts loose on "I Love Rock And Roll" by Joan Jett and "We Will Rock You" by Queen. Points for trying gamely, especially as some other pitch invaders were still running around to add to the unintentional hilarity. If the Superbowl shows were like watching the Cup Final, then this performance was like watching the mini-rugby. Played by dead people.

The 2009 Cup Final more than makes up for the musical interlude. Fiji are transformed. They cut South Africa to shreds and are 19-0 up after about five minutes. (Note: The Bowl and Plate Finals are seven minutes each way. The Cup Final is ten minutes each way). South Africa slowly claw their way back, scoring twice. Half time shows Fiji leading 19-12. All to play for. More Fijian magic in the second half and they extend the score to 26-12. Fiji then have another man sinbinned and South Africa make the score 26-19. A second Fijian is yellow carded in the last minute and South Africa score by the South stand video screen. That's 26-24 and the tension is nearly visible, If Mzwandile Stick can convert, it's 26-26 and sudden death. He kicks and...misses in front of the posts. Fiji have won their tenth HK Seven's title (plus two World Cups, don't forget). It's their first title since 1999. I leave the Stadium to a backdrop of fireworks. Here's looking forward to 2010.

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