Monday, 21 October 2013

Bangkok's Golden boy brings fairy dust to Hong Kong

This piece ran as the lead in the Sunday Morning Post's Review section recently, below right: 

All my life I've been searching for something, 
Something never comes, never leads to nothing
Nothing satisfies but I'm getting close, 
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope...

And I'm done, done and I'm on to the next one.
All My Life, Foo Fighters

For Ashley Sutton, Bangkok's golden-haired boy of bar design, art is long, life is short, and so is his attention span. The feted creator of Iron Fairies, Clouds, fish and chips saloon Fat Gut'z, Mr Jones' Orphanage, Five and Maggie Choo's is a restless, questing soul, never satisfied, always searching.

Sutton professes scant regard for his creations, says he couldn't care less about running bars anymore - “sh*tholes” is how he refers to them. As soon as the paint is dry on the latest talk-of-the-town Sutton special, the heavily-inked Freemantle native with the Australian Rules footballer's physique, matinee idol looks, fierce vodka thirst, raging insomnia and potty mouth is done, done and on to the next one.

Fortunately for Hong Kong's more discerning barflies, the 'next one' but one (he first has to open Bangkok Betty, a new military themed diner in the Holiday Inn on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 22) is a bigger, better incarnation of Iron Fairies to open mid-2014 in a yet-to-be-revealed Soho location. The original Iron Fairies in Bangkok's trendy Thong Lor district was a jazz-soaked, absinthe-drizzled, hard-boiled steampunk wonderland of a bar, which made Sutton an overnight sensation in Bangkok and saw the great and good begin queuing up to secure his services.

Sutton conceived the Iron Fairies mythology while driving cranes and digging mine shafts in Western Australia's rugged Pilbara region. “You’d be underground for so long you’d just about lose your mind,” he recalls. “I started thinking about fairies, and then I started doing some sketches.’’ Then he lost part of his left hand in an accident (not his drawing hand).

He visited China, set up a foundry in Dalian, and cleaned up selling wrought iron ware to Australian yuppies. His sales manager saw his fairy sketches, urged Sutton to turn them into a book, and the rest is history.

Now a three-volume set which has sold over 200,000 copies in four languages, part journal, part poetry and part mystery, Iron Fairies the book revolves around the adventures of a group of miners who live in tunnels in the rich red ore of the Pilbara.

One day, the miners begin making fairies, which exist in a state of suspended animation until they are touched by the first rays of the morning sun. Each fairy has a name, wings of a real insect, and a poem that details its provenance. the wings of a certain insect, and a poem that tells you what kind of fairy she is.

Sutton briefly opened prototype Iron Fairies bars in Perth and New York, before settling on Bangkok to perfect the concept. Entering Iron Fairies in full swing is always a trip; workers bustle about with files and moulds, leather aprons flapping. The beguiling titular fairies fairies are everywhere, coarse yet delicate, dense yet ethereal, dusted in a delicious patina of rust and verdigris. A wrought iron staircase spirals to nowhere and a New Orleans jazz band swings. Hand-tooled leather books spin fairy legends. Patrons dine on the kind of hamburgers you find in classic Australian milk bars and sip absinthe.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Divine secrets of the Bootylicious Sisterz

Greatest hits from the vault dept: Some years back, I dashed down to Phuket to interview Destiny's Child - well, let's be honest, to interview Beyonce. Imagine my surprise at finding her incapacitated by a respiratory bug ... 


She's a survivor, sure. A diva, definitely. But Beyonce Knowles is also a super-trouper. While the merest tickle in the back of the throat is enough to send most pop stars swooning off in search of a health farm, leaving a trail of cancelled gigs and shattered fans, the brains behind this year's biggest female act on the planet, Destiny's Child, has proved she's made of sterner stuff.

Despite a severe upper respiratory tract infection which had literally left her speechless, Knowles refused to stay home in Houston and flew instead to Thailand with bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.

The trio had been set to wow Asia's media and record company bigwigs with a showcase of their bootylicious ditties and hip-hop confections after a sell-out concert in Japan. Then the bug bit Beyonce (pronounced Beyon-say) and their gigs bit the dust.

Defying doctor's orders and unable to sing a note, Knowles hopped on the plane for the southern Thailand resort island of Phuket anyway. She's been told she can't say a word for three weeks, Rowland explains, as Knowles - usually the undisputed Child-in-charge - can only waggle her eyebrows, nod, frown, toss her hair and hold her thumbs aloft in agreement.

'It's been very hard for her. She did not want to miss the Asian trip, she was so excited about it. We were all ready to go, our crew was on the plane, we were about to get on board, but we had to get her to a doctor fast, because she couldn't say a word. It was right after we'd finished a very important concert and the doctor just said be quiet if you still want your voice.'

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Arctic Anna: In the ice queen's court


Here's one from the vaults, dating back to 1998 or thereabouts. My 15 minutes with Anna Kournikova's fame. Originally ran in the South China Morning Post.

ANNA KOURNIKOVA IS SASHAYING down the hallway to a Harbour Plaza Hotel suite, tight black pants arc-welded to those million-dollar legs, blonde tresses bouncing back and forth in perfect shampoo-commercial slow-motion, a crescent of tanned brown skin peeking cheekily from under her cropped black top. And for reasons best left unexplained, Sisqo's chart-topping Thong Song is looping about in my head.

The minders are polite but firm as we enter the room. 'You have 15 minutes.' It seems apposite, almost Warholian. Fame is a commodity parcelled out in slick little packets these days, and they don't come much more famous than Anna Kournikova: 19-year-old calendar queen, Internet goddess, sports bra endorser, and, oh yes, tennis player.

Her face registers instant disapproval as a blast of arctic air greets us and there is a stampede to render the temperature acceptable. Thunderheads bearing portents of chills and strained muscles roll ominously across her brow. 'Turn it to warm air,' she orders. 'Turn it to high,' agrees her father, a short and taciturn former Russian wrestler named Sergei. As a warm sigh flutters from the vents, the storm clouds recede and she settles with a coiled grace by the window.

There are probably several million males who would give their right arm to be sitting where I am now, close enough to smell her garden-fresh scent, watching the afternoon sun slanting off the harbour and turning her big blue eyes opalescent. She is truly as beautiful in the flesh as she is in the countless photographs on some 5,000 Web sites by her army of devotees; as luminous as the ubiquitous images used to boost circulation by publications as diverse as The Sun and Forbes.

Anna mania is as inescapable as it is rampant. Pity the seven other contestants in this week's Watson's Water Challenge tennis tournament at Victoria Park from tomorrow to Saturday. They were presumably cooling their heels in their rooms while, at a special 'Meet Anna Kournikova' press conference, hacks drooled obsequious inanities and panted panegyrics that would make a North Korean leader writer blush. Neither was I immune. Indeed, I had spent the best part of a week boasting to anyone who would listen that I was the chosen one, the anointed, the blessed recipient of an exclusive, one-on-one audience with Anna Kournikova.