A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh.
As the tagline to this column says, this is "a weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday". But what if it's your own behaviour that's worthy of the moaning? With that in mind and a desire to sleep a little easier, I must apologise to John Changver.
It was 2013 on the Thai island of Koh Chang and after a couple of beers by the beach as the sun set, me and three other Kiwis spotted a bar with a guitarist. The man was playing western hits and bore such a striking resemblance to John Denver that if he hadn't been Thai and alive I would've thought it was him. Some of the other bars had guys with guitars too, but none of them looked like John Denver. Being partial to a bit of Rocky Mountain High and Take Me Home Country Roads, this was to be our bar.
Sipping on a cold Chang beer, I informed the group that our entertainer's name from here on in had to be "John Changver". Koh Chang + Chang beer + a local who was the Southeast Asian doppelganger for the wholesome, floppy-haired 70s star? It was meant to be. So John Changver he was.
Unfortunately for us, within about half an hour we were getting restless. Not because we wanted to leave, of course not. Not when John Changver was playing all the faves. The restlessness came from three out of the four of us having almost uncontrollable urges to get up and sing too. My mate Tom said what we were all thinking: "Would John Changver mind if we did a song?" Tom is a strong singer but doesn't play guitar, while I can strum a few chords and find little in life more satisfying than nailing a harmony line in the car, at karaoke or at bars on Thai islands.
As for our new Kiwi friends we'd met at the beach, Midge and Violette, Midge is an actual proper singer/songwriter, with Violette his supportive muse. So Midge, Tom and I plucked up the courage to ask John Changver if we could play a song. "Sure thing Kiwis!" he said. Words I can only assume he later came to regret.
With Midge slapping his jandals against some sort of an upturned crate for percussion, me on guitar and the three of us sharing vocals, we launched into Take Me Home Country Roads. "This is for John Changver right over there!" I said into the mic, pointing to a smiling John in the corner having a drink. "He wrote this song in 1971!"
The song went off and the previously relaxed bar stepped up a notch. Those upper notes of, " ... to the place, WHERE I BELONG ... " really get you going. So we asked John Changver if we could do another song. Midge took over the guitar duties and busted out a reggae-infused Englishman In New York. Tom and I may have high-fived after the chorus' harmonies. People started filling up the venue. "One more song, John Changver?"
This was rapidly turning into the greatest night of our lives. Tom could sing anything, Midge and I could alternate between jandal-drums and guitar and fellow tourists were swarming into the bar to see this boardie and singlet-attired New Zealand trio.
One song became three and by the time we hugged John Changver and gave him back his guitar, we'd probably been up there for 90 minutes and 30-odd songs. We thanked him profusely and, walking back to the hotel, I'd never felt such a buzz from playing music.
Something about being a stranger in a strange land sets you free a little and the backpacker crowd seemed to love whatever we played. How nice of John Changver not minding that we gate-crashed his gig!
At least that's what I thought when I went to sleep; but bumping into him on the street a couple of days later, I saw genuine trepidation in his eyes. Who was I kidding? We'd hijacked his show, bestowed on him a new name and thanks to the talents of Tom and Midge, quite likely upstaged him. No musician deserves that, certainly not John Changver.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on iHeartRadio and writes the RoxboroghReport.com