Like all great ideas, it was conceived as on a night out. My mate Rory and I had spent the night at a rock & roll bar called Zeppelins, famous for its temperamental Taiwanese DJ who surrounds himself with vinyl behind a low brick wall. He plays 70s rock and if he really likes you he’ll greet you with a salute as you enter the bar. You can make requests, but if he is not in the mood you’ll definitely know about it — “Eagles? Don’t think so. Sit down.”
He is the soup Nazi of DJs.
Anyway, as the Tuk-Tuk bounced us home, Rory, the Tuk-Tuk driver and I began belting out a rendition of The Beatles’ classic Two of Us. The three of us couldn’t stop smiling. It was in between verses that Rory suggested beginning a Tuk-Tuk Sessions much like the infamous Black Cab Sessions. A couple of guys, sitting in a tuk-tuk, driving the streets of Phnom Penh, singing some tunes. We immediately glanced at each with excitement.
It wasn’t until the next day that sober heads took control. Would we offend anyone? Would it be uncouth? Would we be just another pair of awkward pale men in embarrassing shorts? We decided to proceed with caution. One song, one take. If it proved to be ok we’d continue. If not, we’d never tell a soul. We’d burn the tapes and move somewhere far north with an average snow fall of 12 feet. We’d effectively go off the grid and live beneath kerosene light. The street level reaction would determine all.
Our fears were put to rest as we organised our first Tuk-Tuk Session. Numerous drivers gathered around and encouraged us to play as Dustin prepared his camera. They picked and prodded. They ran their hands over our guitar necks whispering gently. They looked on in wonder at what the hell we were actually doing. As the Tuk-Tuk clambered towards the road people continued to look on in a mix of bewilderment and joy. Moto drivers pulled alongside to clap, smile or sing and sometimes all three. I watched in amazement as they commandeered their vehicles under such conditions, while we busted out Dead Flowers by the Rolling Stones.
It’s amazing how the Khmer are drawn to music. If I’ve stayed back long enough at work, just enough time for the sun to sink into the horizon and the heat to fall away, I’ll usually pass four or five groups of young men sitting outside houses singing and playing guitar. As the Stones sung, “What a wonderful buzz”.
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The Tuk-Tuk Sessions were born out of a necessity to share music and provide our friends and family with a visual tour of the vibrant street life in Phnom Penh. It’s difficult to capture the smells, sights and contrasts of this bustling little town in emails and Facebook updates.
We’ve recently been in touch with local bands that have jumped at the opportunity to perform on the Tuk-Tuk Sessions. The goal is to invite as many Khmer, travellers and expats as possible to perform aboard a Tuk-Tuk and share their music as we continue revealing corners of this wonderful city, one chapter at a time. Think of it as an enjoyable tour of Phnom Penh from your office/house/mobile device.
So what started as an off-the-cuff Sunday hang-over cure is turning out to be an interesting project. Rumours Bob Dylan will be touring continue to grow.
Angkor Wat Tuk-Tuk session, Bob?