By the way he keeps on bringing the conversation back to the music he’ll be putting on at his new bar, you can tell Clay George is a musician that truly lives and breathes it.
“It’s always been my main occupation, since my early twenties I’ve been playing as a professional musician, I’ve often taken side jobs in bars to supplement my income. It’s a terrible career choice,” he said mirthfully over a beer on Tuesday night.
The Canadian who has spent his life living the dream (or curse) as a professional musician, said the opportunity to take over management Phnom Penh’s Garage Bar on Street 110 came purely by chance after the previous manager moved to Kampot.
“I was talking to the owner of the building and we just came to an arrangement that was pretty good for me, so I thought ‘why not, what the hell’. I live upstairs, so it’s convenient,” he said.
“I thought about it for about a day and I said, ‘yeah okay, what’s the worst that can happen?’”
While convenience could be considered reason enough, it’s easy to see how a diehard music lover would fall in love with Garage Bar.
Dark and dingy enough to have enough street cred, but cosy and intimate to make it feel like home, the bar’s walls are lined with iconic music memorabilia: The Clash’s Joe Strummer smashing his guitar from their London Calling album, photos of Johnny Cash and posters of Dengue Fever; a reminder in case the barflies forget where they are.
Even the bar’s logo is a shout-out, a banana painted by a certain pop artist for a Velvet Underground album cover.
While keeping the general aesthetic, George is giving some aspects of the bar a revival.
An old keg system has been updated, electrics and PA systems have been replaced, as well as the construction of a small stage that George has invited fellow musicians and friends to test out tomorrow.
George first arrived in Phnom Penh two years ago with the intention of spending a summer here playing some gigs, but soon fell in love with the country and the ease in which he could support himself as a musician compared to in his homeland.
“I figured if I came and I couldn’t find any work here I could use it as a vacation. But I was very fortunate about meeting the right people very quickly and getting work very quickly,” he said.
One of those friends was local musician Scott Bywater, who said he’s looking forward to playing
on the newly constructed stage tomorrow night alongside Miss Sarawan, Joe Wrigley and Steve Sutcliffe.
“As an acoustic performer I have an affection for small, intimate, well-lit bars as live music venues where there’s a chance to really connect with audiences, rather than try to shout over the top of conversations,” Bywater said.
“I’m delighted to see [George] settling in and putting down roots.”
While George said he wouldn’t be necessarily hosting musicians all the time (aside from himself), he said he has a clear focus on the kind of music the bar will play.
“There’s a lot of regulars that come here. I listen to them a bit about their suggestions and ideas, but at the same time I have something in mind that I want to do,” he said, once again bringing the conversation back to what he loves.
“I’m playing a lot of American influenced stuff, more R&B, soul, there’s definitely Velvet Underground… I have to play Velvet Underground,” he said with a laugh.
Live music is on tomorrow night from 8.30pm at Garage Bar. No. 9, Street 110. Admission is free.