China Diary Part IV

Wuxi is a medium-sized city about an hour’s train ride away from Shanghai. Investigations on wikipedia turned up the fact that the name means “no tin”. Apparently this is because there was briefly a tin mine there hundreds of years ago, which got everyone very excited and led to some kind of localized tin rush, and the town being called “Tintown” (in Chinese); however, the seam turned out to be meagre and after a few years the tin ran out – hence the name. I spent the morning wander around town looking hard for any evidence of natural tin deposits, in the hope that I could screw with the town naming council all over again. I rule.

The city is built around the shores of a large lake, so in the morning Ciga and I headed off in a cab to the eco-park on the shores and went for a picturesque wander, through tree-lined promenades and over old wooden bridges out to charming little wooden houses out in the shallows of the lake. One of these was a restaurant where we got some food, which turned out to be over-priced and pretty grim, which was a slight damper, but not enough to subsume the refreshment of wandering in the open air. After a slightly precarious journey back to the hotel – it turns out cabs are a lot easier to get in town than out at the park – he got our bags and boarded another chaotic train towards Shanghai.

Ciga was overjoyed to be back in her hometown again, and celebrated by changing into yet more exciting shoes. After a brief sojourn at the hotel, we headed to the venue, Yuyintang, which was just around the corner. Much like Wuhan, this was more familiar territory for me, a dive bar / live venue in the great rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Apparently it’s the oldest venue in Shanghai for underground music, although it has shifted its exact location a couple of times in its history. Soundcheck was easy, and afterwards we headed out into the town to meet up with Archie and his wife Claire.

Shanghai Skyline

Shanghai Skyline

Archie is an Edinburgh man who lives in Shanghai and is one half of S-Plit, the promotions company that had brought me to China. We picked him up from the side of the road and headed off into the centre of town. He’s a charming character with a healthy dose of British eccentricity who cut his teeth promoting events in the Alps, before deciding he wanted to be involved in music somewhere yet more challenging. He took us to The Bund, a dockside area where the Europeans settled heavily in the 19th Century, loading tea onto clippers and unloading opium. An impressive array of Western architectural styles clamour by the side of the river, most of the buildings now being over-priced bars and restaurants. The opposite bank of the river used to be a squat shanty town in the marsh until about 15 years ago, when the Communist authorities decided on something a little more ambitious. After pumping millions of tonnes of concrete into the marsh, they’ve raised a massive technicolour nest of skyscrapers. Sitting on the roof of an old British building, we had an arresting view of the new capitalist world, framed by a fluttering red flag. It was an intriguing contrast to contemplate over some Chinese beer. Afterwards we went back towads the venue, and got some food in a fantastic Italian restaurant – I felt a little shabby, being in China, but I needed a change after so much Chinese food and the morning’s disappointment. And I am absolutely obsessed with Italian food. Sated, we headed back to the show.

The crowd in Shanghai

The crowd in Shanghai

The gig itself was awesome – More than 300 people showed up, and I’m pleased to say that, while there was a healthy dose of Western ex-pats at the show, the clear majority were Chinese; playing to the locals is, it seems to me, much more the point of the exercise. I played for quite a while, extending the end of my set to pass midnight and thus make it one punter’s birthday celebration, and felt like the whole thing was a resounding success. I failed to make the aftershow due to getting involved in a political debate (and a bottle of whiskey) with some English guys. Nevertheless, I slept contended.

There’s one more installment of this diary to come (Beijing), which I’ll do in the next few days. For now, it’s my pleasure to confirm that I will be appearing at both the North West Music Fest in Portland, Oregon, in September, and at Austin City Limits in October. There will be more US dates in between. Watch this space. Also, A bunch of new stuff has been added to my online store: Poetry of the Deed vinyl (at last!), Love Ire & Song vinyl, new t-shirts and more. Check out the new items below and click over to the Frank Turner store to get yours.

Poetry of the Deed Vinyl Pre-Order

– First pressing limited to 1,000, with only 300 on white vinyl
– Also available in Red, limited to 700

Love Ire & Song Vinyl Pre-Order

– Second pressing, limited to 1,000 on black vinyl

There’s lots more available, so click over to the Store to check it out!

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