Duke Special at the Shanghai World Expo 2010

Hello folks,

As many of you will already know from my last post, I’ve just got back from a week in Shanghai at the 2010 World Expo with Duke Special. The Duke was invited to play three shows at the UK Pavilion last week and we jumped at the chance. This was the first time any of us had been to China and to be honest the reality of the situation didn’t really hit any of us until we were being driven from the airport to our hotel in Shanghai and Richie turned around exclaiming “We’re in China!!”.

The expedition began on the Friday night at Electric Picnic in Ireland. We were headlining the Cosby stage. Annoyingly, we were on at the same time as Roxy Music, The Eels and Public Image Ltd, but it didn’t seem to matter in the end as we had a huge crowd waiting for us when we went on stage. We had a surprise cover lined up for the show and we were joined by the marvelous Mr Phil Jupitus for Ian Dury’s Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (I’ve linked to a YouTube video here, the quality is a bit ropey, but you get the idea). We did have some time to wander round the site this time. Managed to catch a bit of Hurts and Laura Marling’s set, but unfortunately didn’t have time to see Jonsi (although did see him wandering around backstage, which was almost as much excitement as I can take… until John Lydon turned up!). The show was great fun and afterwards we drove back to Dublin to catch our epic flight the following day.

Eleven hours later we rocked up in Shanghai! The first thing that struck me like a house-brick in the face was the climate. It was generally between 31-33 degrees, with 85% humidity. Now, as many of you know, I don’t really do hot. I’m a hat and scarf kinda chap. We soon learnt that the mornings were a time to hide away rather than venture outside and that most people were wandering round like wet rags too; it wasn’t just us.

We did get a lot of attention walking around the streets of Shanghai. The Duke’s  dreads and my piercings were a particular fascination for the locals, but it was Richie and Phil who kept getting stopped in the street to have their picture taken with Chinese tourists. It was absolutely hilarious, especially in the Yu Gardens where we became a little attraction for about ten minutes in one of the squares…

Shanghai is utterly immense. It has a population of over 20 million people (four times that of the whole of Scotland!). Looking around from our base in downtown Shanghai, there are skyscrapers for as far as you can see in every direction. The city really comes alive at nighttime when the temperature drops a little (although not by much!) and the streets really fill up. The driving out there is incredible. Imagine driving around the West end on a Friday night, then speed it all up four or five times! Brilliant. The taxi drivers all honk their horns constantly; not a sign of road rage but instead to warn other drivers that they’re about to cut them up! Genius, if a little hair-raising at times. Definitely better than Alton Towers…

It was really strange having no access to Twitter or Facebook for the duration. I had a look at my website from a Chinese computer and noticed big gaps where Vimeo and YouTube videos had been blocked, my Twitter feed had been removed and any Facebook links turned up blank. As you’ll know I use Twitter literally all the time to stay in touch and not having that connection was pretty bizarre. I guess it was the one reminder that China is still a communist state. In fact, this very blog post will probably not come up in China. Hmm…

Back to the story…

The actual Expo site sits alongside the river and is almost like Disney World. To date they have received over 51 million visitors. Each country hosts it’s own Pavilion, with a vast range of architectural oddities: showcasing local food, art and entertainment, business, design and culture. The UK Pavilion was to be our home for three nights. Boasting an enormous fibre optic light installation on top of an extraordinary building, we were essentially playing on the roof. This will give you some idea…

The organisers really had no idea what the reaction would be from the Chinese audiences. There had been other acts on in some of the other Pavilions and we had several troupes of street performers working the area in front of the stage in the afternoon. Street performance and busking is banned in China so they went down a storm with big crowds gathering around them taking pictures and getting involved in the acts. When we took to the stage we were met with a big crowd sitting politely on the floor. This is what the organisers expected. They clapped politely after the first few songs. But by the end of the set the Duke had them jumping up and down rushing to the front of the stage, singing along (in a foreign language!) and screaming! Oh yes indeed folks, we definitely won them over big time! The Pavilion staff were bowled over with the crowd’s reaction and said they’d rarely seen anything like it from  a Chinese audience. Well, that’s the Duke for you…

We had plenty of time on the Shanghai trip to have a good look around during the day. We visited a few tourist-tastic areas. Amongst the first was The Bund (see above) alongside the Huangpu river, which looks out on the famous Pudong financial district. It’s a big tourist destination and great for photos! We also went down to the Yu Gardens to see some of the more traditional Chinese architecture.

We had such a great time in Shanghai. Great food, lovely people, great city! Big thanks to Tania, Bin-Bin and James at the UK Pavilion for looking after us so well. I promised Katy I’d take lots of photos whilst I was away and now have a big blog surplus, so here they are in no particular order in clickable gallery form. Enjoy!

And for those of you waiting with baited breath for news of my CD release, fear not. The Mandala CD will definitely be ready at the beginning of next week, if not the end of this week. The packaging looks stunning and I can’t wait to see them in the flesh. I shall of course post here to let you all know when it’s ready. Until then, you can still of course buy the digital version on my music page.

Until next time…

3 Responses to “Duke Special at the Shanghai World Expo 2010”

  • Steve Lawson Says:

    Great post! Sounds like all kinds of fun – and what a lovely bunch of guys to be touring with. Easy to forget how much that means from the outside, but getting to hang with Phil, Ben and Peter for that amount of time would be as much my idea of a dream-gig as playing all those marvellous choonz 😉

  • Syrinx Yip Says:

    Hi Simon! I really love your blog on Shanghai. What a nice memory! I should/will check it again when I can calm down, getting over the regret that I… (tear)…*sigh* silly me, i fail.
    I was in the very middle at the very front row on 9 Sep, at Urban Park of UK Pavilion, singing along. 😛 Flied from other city in China, Guangzhou, 1260km away to see your gig. =D Very great, unforgettable!!! :’)

  • MrFizzy Says:

    Wonderful pictures and great account of your travels with the band Simon. Although Shanghai is a multi-national city I can well imagine how exotic you must have seemed. Great crowd reaction – maybe a Far East Duke Special tour beckons!

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