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‘Piss off! We’re not an NGO band’

Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Stewwy Ramone (left) and Dave Maybe aka Dave the Punk. Photo: Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan

Hard to get a booking, Stiff Little Punks played first played in Phnom Penh’s girlie bars. Now they seem to be hitting big time, writes Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan.

Dave Maybe the British-born frontman of Stiff Little Punks grew up on a diet of The Cult, the Ramones, Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols. Over three decades later he’s still trying to tear down walls and wreck pubs with the kind of music that thumbed its nose to pop and all kinds of commercial music.

“Who says punk is dead,” he screams in the mic at The Stage Bar last Saturday, which was packed with past-life punksters, now dressed in casuals – minus the ripped jeans, torn T-shirts, steel-capped boots, mohawks and weirdo hairstyles.

The mosh pit, too, where you can get down and dirty to show the world how truly badass you can be, did not happen. I guess it was a generational thing – if the Stiff Little Punks were playing in Showbox to a younger crowd, bodies would be on top of each other in the pit.

But Dave Maybe quickly points out that this could be comparing oranges to apples.

The Stiff Little Punks rocking the house at The Stage Bar last Saturday. Photo: Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan

“We’re never going to be a NGO band. They are not our target audience. We’re looking for those who like our music. Very rarely does the likes of Leng Pleng [Phnom Penh’s top music listing service] ever say anything good about us. But every time we play we draw a crowd. That is what keeps us going.”

Nonetheless, punk was resurrected in Phnom Penh on a Saturday night. The Stiff Little Punks played their hearts out with a set list of 34 songs, performing non-stop for two-and-a-half hours.

It would be an understatement to say the Stiff Little Punks’ repertoire, from the Clash to The Buzzcocks, the Ramones and the UK Subs, and of course Sex Pistols, was superb. They were absolutely fantastic!

Dave Maybe and Stewart Villa Mcdonnel’s (aka Stewwy Ramone) screeching vocals, together with Tom the Mop’s pounding bass, Boombarr’s mad drumming and Maybe’s weird guitar work – power chords combined with muted chromatic single-note lines and non-bluesy quarter-step bends.

But Dave Maybe is humble about his guitar prowess. “Ten years ago I couldn’t play three chords. Now I can play four.”

Dave Maybe doesn’t use pedals but routs the signal from his electric guitar into an Orange amplifier and tweeks the sound expertly using the knobs, to get that dirty punkish sound. And Maybe is no stranger to sound engineering and was for many years the manager of Sharky’s Bar, the first rock-and-roll pub in Phnom Penh then owned by the late New Yorker Michael Hsu. He also was the founder member of Sharky Ramone Blitzkrieg, a Ramones’ cover band, and also Shambolic 69, Clash City Rockers, Ricky Rotten and Goo Goo Muck Muck, The Zombies (Cramps) and not forgetting Sexploited.

Tom the Mop is from the original Lazydrunks band, then fronted by the iconic Ian Anderson, a Phnom Penh teacher.

“Tom hates punk with a passion. So he’ s ideal for us. He wanted us to do Gloria Gaynors’ ‘I will survive’. The answer of course was a universal f**k off,” Maybe tells Good Times2.

My highlight of Stiff Little Punk’s performance was their rendition of UK Subs’ Warhead. UK Subs was one of the first London-based punk bands and seeing Dave Maybe and Stewwy Ramone sing Warhead brought back memories of the Subs’ Charlie Harper, then 65 years of age, performing it at the 20th anniversary of the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany.

Bring your earplugs when you’re at a Stiff Little Punks’ gig. Photo: Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan

Warhead’s lyrics are haunting, more so now when we have an aberration by the name of Donald Trump in the White House:

Well I don’t know what it is but I feel something coming,

Stuck in the middle of the Yankees and the Russians,

Better get moving guns are getting loaded,

Fast to the border where the tanks are a rolling,

There’s a nation in fear another nation crying,

One nation killing and another nation dying,

Talk about guns and escalation bye bye planet let alone a nation.

And the crowd in The Stage Bar sings along:

Warhead, warhead, warhead,

Warhead, warhead, warhead,

Warhead, warhead, warhead,

Warhead, warhead, warhead.

“We play for the craic. We play for the fun. And we play for the people that like to hear the old standards from that punk era. To see guys and gals singing their hearts out to Warhead makes it all worthwhile,” says Dave Maybe.

There was a time when Stiff Little Punks could not get a booking in any regular joints and could only play in go-go and hostess bars.

“When we first started nobody would book us. So we played in the go-go and hostess bars instead. The girls in Candy Bar, 99 Bar, Up Down Bar, and Shanghai Bar loved the energy we generated. We played and the crowds kept coming in,” David Maybe points out.

But things are changing and Stiff Little Punks will be at Oscars on the Corner tomorrow and Kampot Pond on January 27.

“You don’ t listen to us. You sing along with us. Everyone knows our songs. This ain’t rocket science. It’s giving the audience an alternative to listen to,” says Dave Maybe.

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