Through Bopfest 2017, DB rockabilly musician Chris Parker aims to put a bit of swing into all our steps. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
“Laptop, tattoo, got to be a writer, ”says Chris Parker amiably after marching up to where I’m putting down my gear at a coffee shop table, (by way of explaining how he guessed this, I was likely the person he was there to meet). The same could be said of Chris himself. The (mostly) Bristol native and rockabilly musician looks every bit the part: slouched Levis, black brogues polished, but not quite to a patent leather shine, graphic rock band t-shirt. The only thing he’s missing is the expertly coiffed pompadour: Chris is bald.
In this day and age of EDM, jazz rap and Viking metal among hundreds of other music genres, rockabilly remains a bit of an outlier – something Chris is set on correcting as slap bass player for The Triplejacks, what he calls 21st century rockabilly. That might seem like a tall order in Hong Kong, but if there’s one thing that can be said for the SAR it’s that anything goes.
“There is a certain amount of rockabilly here in Hong Kong, a little tiny bit. Occasionally. There is an underground music scene here, and anyone into slightly alternative stuff will love rockabilly,” says Chris, pondering the fate of his upcoming Bopfest 2017: Hong Kong Rockabilly Boogie Night.
In the works for November, Chris’ plan is to make Bopfest an annual shindig, something a little different where adventurous music lovers can enjoy an alternative night out. Organiser of the inaugural event and set to perform on stage with The Triplejacks, Chris will also be behind the decks as CJ the DJ, one of two DJs on the night.
“As with all things creative, it’s about getting people to try it for the first time. The thing about rockabilly is that there is something for everybody. There’s big band, there’s blues, bop, garage style. So when you finally get along to a ’do, you might realise ‘that’s too country for me, but I like this’. To me, that’s really cool. People are also attracted to things that look cool, but there’s not much I can do with that with this hair,” he says with a smirk.
Chris’ love of rockabilly started 40 years ago in the UK when the new-school revival swept across Europe. Initially listening to his mum’s old 78s – Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard – he was resistant to the glam rock and punk of the era. Then all of a sudden, as if by magic, Stray Cats appeared. “Mind well and truly blown,” he recalls with a laugh. “I remember sitting there watching them on Noel Edmonds’ Swap Shop on the BBC. Never heard of them and I thought, ‘That’s what I like!’ That’s kind of how it started.”
The passion for retro-swagger followed Chris to Hong Kong when he relocated permanently in 2007. When he landed, he was working in training and executive education, and had to find a new career after the 2008 financial crisis. Currently the Asia-Pacific chief for limousine services provider Carey International, he travels across the region, from India all the way to New Zealand, for work, something he’s been doing since the late-’90s. That’s how he discovered Hong Kong felt like home.
“I’ve been coming here since 1999, when I was travelling. I loved it at that point. I had a friend in Shanghai who I came out to see regularly and I always stopped here to get a visa. Eventually I preferred to just stay in Hong Kong,” he says. “Every time I came back it was like coming home. So when I got a job here I was over the moon.”
Now a permanent resident, Chris and wife Arlyn have settled into life in Discovery Bay, even though they don’t have kids or a dog. “That does present a challenge in DB but that’s neither here nor there,” he says with a grin. “There’s no two ways about it: It’s a great place to live. It’s like living in a tropical paradise resort.” And for the record: No. Arlyn isn’t really into rockabilly. “It’s not quite her cup of tea.”
Rock this town
And therein lies the rub. When most of us think ‘rockabilly’, if we think of it at all, images of greasers and Studebakers come to mind; it’s a form that harkens the past. But rockabilly is also about impeccably styled hair, hip suspenders, stylish tapered jeans and the spirit of individuality. For lack of a better word, rockabillies are the original hipsters. Ironically, it’s also about community.
“Back in the 1970s and ’80s we had sub-cultures, which no one really gets anymore. You were a rockabilly, or you were a Teddy Boy, or you were a skinhead, or a greaser, or a New Romantic, or a Mod, or any of these sub-sub- genres,” argues Chris. “And you could define yourself a little bit by it. And you had a group of friends and a social life based around it. It was new, it was fresh and it was exciting. And it’s stayed with me.”
The first step is Bopfest. The Triplejacks – Chris and two Australian mates, the former guitarist for Fireballs and drummer for The Living End – will have their official debut at the event, and expect to follow that with a tour around Asia in the autumn.
If you catch The Triplejacks, don’t expect to be regaled with chestnuts like Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. Chris leans decidedly high octane and off-the-beaten- track: Tenpole Tudor’s Swords Of A Thousand Men and glamrocker Alvin Stardust’s Coo Ca Choo are favourite covers right now.
If Bopfest turns out as enthusiastic and welcoming as Chris himself is, the event should be with us for a long time to come; it might be time to invest in a pair of saddle shoes. “Absolutely, there will be dancing,” states Chris. “Bop, jive, stroll, pogo. We don’t care what you do as long as you don’t bother anybody else and you enjoy yourself.” It doesn’t get more rockabilly than that.