MAGAZINE

transmitCHINA - Changsha Day 1
// by Louise Upperton, photos by Tobyn Ross / May 30, 2010

It's another 7:30 am lobby call at the hotel in Guangzhou. This morning, the full transmitCHINA touring party is off to Guangzhou airport to catch a 9:55 am flight to Changsha.

Some of the crew are heading straight on to Beijing, but the bands are splitting up – Wil, The Racoons and Parlovr play in Changsha today and then head to Wuhan to play the following night. Flash Lightnin', Ohbijou and illScarlett will all perform in Changsha on Monday and then Wuhan on Tuesday.

 

It's a scramble to get a travelling party that's approximately 40 people deep through airport security, but everyone makes it just in time to board the plane. It's one and a half hours to Changsha, which is in the Hunan province and has a population of more than 6 million people. To put that in perspective, the total population of Canada is 34 million people. Changsha is also where the founder of the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong, began his political career and converted the country to Communism.

Like Guangzhou, Changsha is one of China's major industrial and commercial centres and signs of the city's massive growth and development are everywhere – large industrial buildings in the outlying areas of the city, massive consumer markets, fields of construction rubble, buildings enclosed in scaffolding, chaotic traffic and heavy pollution. Changsha feels like a massive metropolis and even after the tour bus enters the city, we are driving for more than 40 minutes.

Bands and crew check into the hotel and then it's off to soundcheck for Wil, The Racoons and Parlovr. This time the venue, Live House 4698, is conveniently just down the street. The members of Flash Lightnin', Ohbijou and illScarlett all have a day off in the city today, so they wander off to explore. The prospect of finding lunch quickly in Changsha is daunting. There is very little written in English. Ohbijou's cellist Anissa Hart will attest to that challenge. "We've definitely faced some language barriers with ordering food. Today we went to a restaurant and it was so difficult. We tried to order, and everyone was trying to speak a bit of English but we are just so hopeless at Mandarin that it was really difficult… but we ended up with some great food!" She adds, "Heather is vegetarian so that's been a bit of a challenge!"

While exploring the city of Changsha, members of Ohbijou also made a stop in a more commercial, trendy shopping mall. "That was just overwhelming because there was just such huge volume of human traffic… you couldn't even walk into some stores because they were so packed! It's was a little insane," Hart comments. "It definitely makes you appreciate the space that we have in Canada – personal space, street space. It's a different world here. I love being able to escape North American culture completely, but it definitely makes you appreciate things about home – like space – more now than it ever did before."

Two and a half weeks before coming to China, Ohbijou toured in Japan and Taiwan. Hart says coming on the transmitCHINA Ginger Beef tour was a great opportunity to play in a new market and the idea of sharing that experience with five other Canadian acts was exciting to the band.

Also on a relaxing day off, illScarlett opt for the luxuries of the Sheraton Hotel, about a 30 minute walk from the venue to Changsha’s downtown central business district. There, they discover Zenbar Restaurant on the third floor, which offers italian fare and a great wine selection. The Changsha Sheraton also boasts a decent Hunan restaurant called Feast, where another bunch of the transmitCHINA group enjoy fresh noodles, Chinese green vegetable, bean curd, crispy baby prawns, barbecue pork and plenty of Tsing Tao!

In the early afternoon following a massive lunch, a large group congregates at Zenbar for a spirited sing-along around a grand piano. The Zenbar staff are thoroughly amused and provide microphones for the occasion. Soon after, the gents are puffing on cigars, the Prosecco is flowing, and transmitCHINA's photographer, Tobyn Ross, is belting out the tunes alongside illScarlett's John Doherty and Alex Norman, as Anthony Carone tinkles the ivories. Doherty seems to know the words to every song written by Billy Joel and manages to get the entire group singing on a lounge rendition of "Band On The Run" by Paul McCartney & Wings as well as Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." We spend more than five hours on the third floor of the Sheraton hotel and illScarlett are endlessly entertaining – even on their day off.

Back at Changsha Live House 4698, Wil, The Racoons and Parlovr are ready to take the stage. In comparison to Guangzhou's lofty venue, 4698 is a much more intimate night club environment. Fans surround the stage but also sit at small tables covered in checkered tablecloths and tall stools at the tiny bar at the rear of the club. At the shows in Changsha, the performances from the Canadian bands will be interspersed with local talents for the first time – tonight the local act is Red Truck.

Following his performance tonight, Wil seems pleased. "There were just a lot of happy faces looking at me and smiling, he says. "You want to engage with people. It kind of says it all when you finish your set with how people respond – it's a really great meter to establish whether you've done your job properly and well, and that's pretty remarkable. I know there's a natural fixation with North Americans, and they have a bit of an affinity for that and our culture, but I think that can immediately change when you start to portray your art… It shifts from 'gosh, it's so cool' – the look of the North American culture – to the sound of it, the emotion of it, the human being of it. Then you contact them as a human being, and it's no longer about what looks cool because they are literally moved."

To see the full gallery of Changsha Day 1, visit Tobyns Website HERE.

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