Let me start off by saying that I’m so glad this exists. I didn’t even know Hong Kong had a folk music scene, let alone a great one. This was probably one of the best shows I’ve been to where all of the bands have been fantastic.
The first-ever Wan Chai Folk Review took place at Fill in the Blank, a loft-like space located 13 floors above Wan Chai’s more artistic area (in contrast to the seedy Wan Chai most people know and love to hate. Or love. Depending on your preference, I guess). The walls were painted in bright colors with homely decorations. The “stage” was a small space covered in Persian rugs and surrounded by couches, with instruments and speakers haphazardly piled into a corner. Very cozy.
According to the description:
“The Wan Chai Folk Review is an intimate look at Hong Kong’s folk music scene. In the tradition of all good folk clubs, much beer and banter will flow. Musicians will talk about their songs, the crowd can join in with singing and heckles, and every one will come out a little merrier.”
Heckling and banter didn’t flow until the last hour (after more alcohol was consumed), but the crowd most definitely enjoyed the music from the get go. The Homestead, a couple hailing from the Great White North, were first to perform. Beth plays the fiddle and sings back-up vocals while Aaron plays the guitar and sings lead. Their set consisted of original songs, as well as covers by fellow Canadian folk bands and singers.
Playing on the softer, folksy side, The Homestead reminds me of a more joyful and positive Elliott Smith. One of my favorites from the night:
Next up was a trio described as the “hunkiest” country folk pop band in Hong Kong. The Gatling Gun Revival (GGR) consists of three men—Erik on electric guitar, Corey on acoustic guitar and bass drum, and Zane on melodica and the other half of the drum set. (The band explained that neither could fully play on the drums so they decided to divide the responsibility between the two, which also allowed them room to play another instrument each.) Zane and Corey also share vocal responsibilities.
From L to R: Erik, Corey, and Zane
GGR is more country pop than folk, and if we weren’t a seated crowd, we’d all be dancing. Their music is upbeat, loud, and a good time all around.
The final band to perform were The Bollands—originally from New Zealand—featuring Christian (guitar) and Joyce Bolland (keyboard), and drummer Gabe.
As the hosts for the evening, The Bollands played a few originals as well as Leonard Cohen’s popular “Hallelujah,” a successful endeavor to get the audience to sing along. My favorite song was “Preacher’s Organ,” which is about a New Zealand missionary who attempts to convert a tribe of Maoris, but upon seeing how happy they were, decides to join them and sheds his religion. Now that’s a great story.
The grand finale consisted of all bands on stage, performing another well-known song for audience participation (though unknown to me). The entire session was recorded live, hence the encouragement for audience interaction. The bands had been asked to talk about themselves and answer questions/comments, but the crowd remained pretty quiet except for one guy who kept harping about diapers.
Unfortunately, the Wan Chai Folk Review will not return until September, but hopefully the individual bands themselves will be playing around Hong Kong because I certainly want to hear them again.