BREVIEW: Phil Wang @ The Glee Club 11.03.18

Phil Wang @ The Glee Club 11.03.18

Words by Helen Knott

Phil Wang emerges on stage at The Glee Club to the strains of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, setting the scene for an evening where the influence of his East Asian heritage is never too far away.

During this 90 minute show, titled Kinabalu – named after the highest mountain in Malaysia, Phil Wang covers a multitude of topics, from Chinese New Year, to his aim to die a hero’s death, to his dislike of scary movies (which he dismisses as “a purely western privilege” as no one needs to watch scary movies in Syria). Wang‘s on-stage persona is of a 28-year-old man who is probably not quite as cool as he thinks he is. He may equate buying lube with being a true adult, but he’s buying it in Waitrose and he’s not happy about the high price.

The set is littered with brilliant gags (personal favourite: “You ever done a fart so bad you lose a bar on the Wi-Fi?”) but Wang is most compelling when he concentrates on serious issues. His heritage – he’s half Malaysian, half British – gives him a strong voice on subjects such as Brexit, colonialism, and racism. Wang may have lived in the UK for his entire adult life, but he maintains an outsider’s point of view: for example, he feels more comfortable being patriotic than his British-born friends because he knows what it’s like to live somewhere without the things we take for granted. In short, “You can drink your tap water!”

Wang’s section on Brexit may include some fairly straightforward quips (“I voted remain, as you can tell by my vocabulary”) but it comes through the filter of his childhood in Malaysia, which was part of the British Empire. He argues that globalisation, which brought his parents together and Wang to the UK, came about because of entities like the British Empire. Therefore, in his eyes it’s not a wholly negative period of history, for Malaysia at least. He suggests that the EU is “the first empire built by peace instead of war”, and he’s disappointed that the British public rejected it. It’s interesting stuff, and a take on Brexit (a subject that no comedian seems to be able to avoid at the moment) that is genuinely fresh on the stand up circuit.

Despite the show’s focus on Phil Wang as an entity – his family, his career, his relationships – you get surprisingly little sense of Wang the man. He still has his guard up, often referring to himself in the third person and continually punning on his own surname for a cheap laugh. The only part of the show where it feels like you see the authentic Phil Wang is when, after a section about his girlfriend, he admits that they split up a month ago but he hasn’t bothered to change his material. It’s a fleeting feeling however, as the newly-single Wang quickly turns it into a hammy call-out for groupies.

As a show, Kinabalu is a little too long and doesn’t have much of an overarching thrust – it really just peters out at the end. But when you have jokes as good as Phil Wang, it doesn’t matter too much. Although on his next tour I’m hoping for maybe fewer lube stories and more insightful political analysis.

For more on Phil Wang, visit

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ALBUM: Mountain – Howie Payne 27.10.17

ALBUM: Mountain – Howie Payne 27.10.17

Words by James Attwood / Pics courtesy of Sonic PR

After an eight year break spent gathering musical influence from the mellow mundane of real life, Howie Payne is back with his self professed ‘best record so far’.

The result of this is Mountain, Payne‘s second solo LP since the dissipation of his previous band The Stands in 2005, which is set for release on the 27th October on Full Stack Records. Recording sessions took place at London’s prestigious Ark Studios during final week of July, whilst the rest of the UK witnessed a heatwave. This in mind, Payne and band still slaved away ruthlessly to produce a well crafted songwriter album, and if anything this added to the atmosphere of the album.

The influence of Americana and the great American songwriters of the 70’s is apparent throughout Mountain. However, this does not necessarily mean that the album sounds dated or appeals solely to the older generations.

Album opener ‘Quick as the Moon’ is reminiscent of the heartfelt, earthy folk-pop of modern artists such as Fleet Foxes and Father John Misty. With its several layers of vocal harmonies, tambourine and subtle upright piano melodies, ‘Quick as the Moon’ lends itself effortlessly to the Americana/Folk genres, as is the case for other tracks ‘All of these things’ and ‘Hold steady the Wire’. The vocal harmonies heard throughout Mountain assist Payne‘s songwriter style arrangements in escalating into grandiose chorus’, similar to those of innovators such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

‘Some Believer, Sweet Dreamer’ is driving by ballsy country guitars and could easily be a single by Neil Young back in his heyday. In a time of synthesisers and programming it’s nice to hear an album that utilises predominantly organic instruments and in particular, the human voice. “But you’re quick like a hurricane, bright like a rising sun…” shows Payne‘s mastery of imagery within his lyricism, alongside his clear knack for arrangement and composition.

Lead single ‘The Brightest Star’ is the most commercial moment of the album, with its blend of piano hooks, strummed acoustic parts and shuffle drumbeats that form a clear pop structure and four chord chorus. if it’s the lazy rootsy-Americana of Gold-era Ryan Adams that you seek, you will also find plenty to occupy yourself with on ‘Holding on’, a love song that floats along steady and shows Payne‘s band at their finest.

The story is much the same for both ‘High Times’ and ‘After Tonight’. Here Howie Payne is accompanied solely by his acoustic guitar, yet the songs are as engaging as those that surround it. ‘After Tonight’ also provides an effective moment of solitude on the album, whilst ‘Thoughts on Thoughts’ is a modern folk number using traditional guitar melodies to create hooks and layers of harmonised vocal to add an almost medieval sound to the music.

Then, finally, we have ‘Evangeline (Los Angeles)’ – a grand, perfect summary to Mountain, combining layers of vocals once more, yet reverberating electric guitar parts that provide the sonic backdrop for tender picked acoustic guitar.

All in all, Mountain is a joyous and pleasant listen. And although its genre is arguably dated, and some may say holds little relevance to today’s popular music climate, the album is still intriguing to the ear of someone who appreciates music at its core; Mountain carries a wholly organic and refreshing sound. Plus, as I have already mentioned, Howie Payne‘s use of his own voice to create layers of texture brings an entirely different edge to his music – this is also to be applauded and hooked me upon listening.

With an album as well crafted in every respect of the word such as Mountain, Payne fully deserves a place up there with the great songwriters of today.

‘The Brightest Star’ – Howie Payne

Mountain, by Howie Payne, is released on 27th October via Full Stack Records. For more on Howie Payne, including online album sales and live gig dates, visit 

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