If music be the food of love?

November 07, 2022 09:43
Photo: Neville Sarony

Late on Friday the 4th of November 2022 there was evidence that Hong Kong, like a latter day Rip Van Winkle, had emerged from its nigh-on catatonic sleep and felt again an adrenalin powered rush of joy.

Was this attributable to the much vaunted Hong Kong Monetary Authority hosted summit of global financial leaders at the Four Seasons hotel? No.

Was it the return of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, even in its somewhat confined iteration? No.

No, the warmth that coursed back into Hong Kong’s tired veins stemmed from the re-opening of live music from the China Coast Jazzmen at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Ashley Road, Tsim Tsa Chui, always referred to by its aficionados simply as ‘Ned’s’.

News of the return of these inspiring musicians and their brand of traditional jazz, covers of ‘standards’ and delivery of unsophisticated fun, was transmitted through Facebook, bringing out the fans.

Just how all-embracing Ned’s is could be measured by casting an eye across the audience; young and old, boys and girls, men and women drawn from a variety of nationalities and races.

Old friends hugged each other as they re-connected after such a long absence.

The faces of the cognoscenti split into unconstrainedly happy smiles as the band struck up their favourite numbers.

Whoops of expectant joy met band leader Colin Aitchison’s opening lines of “What a Wonderful World” and the entire audience sang out the chorus line.

The presence of several of the Hong Kong Swingers led, inevitably, to some skilful dancing and a little less twinkle-toed terpsichorean gyrations by some of the more mature participants.

But who cared, when the music reached down into your very soul, uplifting spirits that have lain almost without life for so long under the crippling restraints of Covidiocy.

Eyes long dulled by quarantines and lock-downs and endless testing and the ‘Ding-Dong’ of the Leave Home Safe regime, suddenly were alight with hope and happiness.

The sense that Hong Kongers will shrug off the listless pall of suffocating regulations and recover their innate joi de vivre was suddenly right there, vibrant and flourishing.

No-one listening would have thought that the musicians had not played together for months on end. The playing was as tight as ever, Aki Espiritu performing on piano, guitar, banjo and sousaphone.

The rhythm group of Joe on bass and Noel on drums drove the music upward and onward sending out a captivating beat to “Happy Feet”.

Joining Colin’s trombone on the front line, Benny’s saxophone and Angelo’s ever higher trumpet took the melodies and romanced them into ever changing shapes.

For a few precious hours, Hope was given lyrical and melodic shape in a way that engaged and informed everyone present.

Colin is the P.T. Barnum of Ned’s, joking with his audience and the members of the band, a Master of Entertainment not just an MC. The people loved every minute.

Sitting quietly in a corner, a blissful glow illuminating his features, Ned’s leaseholder, Mike Brown, observed this exuberant resurrection of an entertainment forum that he has nursed through the ravages of the worst economic conditions it has navigated in its 50 year existence.

His heart strings must have been dancing to the sight of the wonderful Nepalese staff weaving their way through the tables, serving a constant supply of drinks and food as though they were on steroids.

Throughout the pandemic, Ned’s owner, Tom Parker, has shared the financial pain, endeavouring to shelter it from failing, mindful too of the devastating effect on the staff, those vulnerable members of the gig economic.

Would that other property owners exhibited the same commitment to iconic establishments like Ned’s that Tom Parker has.

One of the idiosyncracies of Ned’s and its unique contribution to Hong Kong lies in the sheer variety of its followers, and its propensity to enable instant friendship over a shared table.

One elderly gentleman looked at me and said “I’ve been coming here for 30 years, you play the piano…The Breathalyzer Blues.” It took me a second to realise that he meant “The Alcoholic Blues”.

In one sentence he captured the loyal following that Ned’s engenders and their familiarity with the music.

Those who think of jazz only in terms of vibrant, foot-tapping compositions, overlook the very real balm to the soul that it provides.

The truly catastrophic effects on mental health brought about by the responses to Covid are emerging. At the core of this aspect has been the lack of human contact amongst social animals.

The road back not only to recovery but a renewed appetite for life for the people of Hong Kong was mapped out in this eccentric venue named after an infamous Australian robber.

For too many, the pandemic restrictions robbed them of a recognisable form of life. Ned’s proves what a powerful antidote it provides to that sense of loss, a musical powerhouse to uplift weary spirits.

Why, oh why did it take so long for this to be recognised?

-- Contact us at [email protected]

King's Counsel