Well it was a gig, but one with a difference: a chance to play at Nanjing's premier live house, Ola, normally the exclusive territory of cool, edgy Chinese rock bands from all over the country. We made our way to the far end of Xuanwu Lake, not knowing what to expect. The club's entrance was hidden away in what seemed to be an underground parkade, the unmarked door (obviously the hallmark of cool these days) opening onto a metal stairway that drilled down towards the center of the Earth...
And then suddenly we were in Ola! Ola, with its mega-stage! Ola, with its theatrical lighting rig! Ola, with its sound desk manned by competent technicians! When we saw the goods on offer, our eyes popped out of our heads, and the excitement only increased as the sound check unfolded. We could actually hear ourselves! Not only that - the balance was perfect! As one satisfied fan was to comment later, "Not until I heard you guys at Ola did I understand exactly where your music was coming from!" Well how about that, now?
All right, you're wondering, so where's the Dark Underbelly bit?
Well, the gig was billed as a "Festival", which was immediately downgraded to a "tour" when the other "bands" showed up - actually only one band, doing double duty behind their edgy, punky Shanghai front man, and a multi-instrumental lady of a certain age "who was big in the nineties". OK. No problem. Festival, tour... a gig is a gig, and in such a great venue. We were happy.
But the dark underbelly revealed itself when the edgy, punky Shanghai front man starting making demands. For money. From our friends, our guests, the fans and followers of Joker, Thief and Knight. The "tour", as he confusingly explained, was in reality some kind of fund raiser for Mr Edgy Punk, and our large group of supporters were suddenly expected to pour money into his hat - or else.
Well, as you folks probably know, the Chinese are much more civil and law-abiding than people in some other countries, and your chances of getting punched in China are a fraction of what they would be in England or the US. But down there in the dark underbelly, with only one creaky metal stairway out, things could easily have turned ugly. There were twice as many of them, although Dave probably weighed as much as any two of them... anyway, as foreigners you don't want to get mixed up with heavy shit, because white-ish faces stand out, jail keys get lost, and embassies forget.
Enter Iron Horse, better known as bass-playing singer Jeff and his faithful sidekick drummer Wei, loyal friends of JTK. The sound of throbbing motorbike engines at ground level dimmed the burning light of greed in Mr Edgy Punk's eyes, even as a scouting party from his band scurried up the metal stairs to check it out. And there they were, swathed in an atmospheric fog of bike exhaust: big Jeff like a Chinese Elvis on steroids, and little Wei, small but savage, his man bun bristling with menace. "Don't fight," growled Jeff, "if there's any fighting you leave that to me." But the sight of our two saviours revving their Harley-lookalike 125's with grim determination was all it took. After a brief Mexican standoff of smouldering glares and meaningful raises of the chin, an unspoken deal was struck. The money was forgotten, and everything was cool again. As we all descended those creaking metal stairs, back again to the dark underbelly of Nanjing rock'n'roll, the mood had changed. Now, at last, the cry on everyone's lips was...
"LET THERE BE ROCK!"
AND THERE WAS ROCK
AND IT WAS GOOD