February Cherry

If you have never heard of the Hard Rock Café, then you must be an alien visitor from another planet who needs to get out more, for there are nearly 200 of its establishments now around the world. Hard Rock Phuket opened on November 29th 2009, 12 years ago now, but the first Hard Rock started up in London in 1971. I can still remember my excitement when I first went there in 1979 just after I left university. So I was delighted to be invited to Hard Rock’s official reopening ceremony in Patong on November 1st, arguably the jewel in the crown of Phuket’s live music scene.

Hard Rock’s success as a brand is built on a number of factors, just one of which is providing live music of the highest quality.  I was pleased to meet Tom Prior from Florida, the Hard Rock’s general manager for the last six years, who has huge enthusiasm for rock music. It seems the frustrations of the pandemic have made him like a compressed spring, desperately awaiting release. I listened intently to his plans for the future, plans that involve ambitious events headlined by famous Thai and Western acts I can’t mention here by name at the moment. So watch this space!

However, the main reason I was so happy to be there was that it marked the homecoming of my friends in February Cherry, Hard Rock’s Filipino house band, after 18 months away. The band was formed originally in 2016 by Josef and Liza, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. I first saw them play at the Hard Rock before it closed because of COVID-19 and I often wondered how they survived the frustrating, ensuing cycle of lockdowns. I would see them perform somewhere for a time, only for them to suffer the frustration of yet another lockdown soon after. Josef told me, ”The pandemic taught us a lot. It was a very tough time for us, but there was a positive side to it. We gained lot of new friends and followers and this helped us survive the crisis. There were so many kind-hearted people who supported us during that time for which we will always be thankful.”

Tom told me about how he first saw their potential, hired them and nurtured them as an act. Showing a fine example of how managers should treat their musicians, he quickly became a much-loved father figure for them. No wonder the band spoke to me emotionally that day as “coming back home”, such is their affection for Tom and the Hard Rock.

However, “coming back home” is no certainty in a competitive business world. It took February Cherry a lot of commitment and hard work to do so, and… perhaps some divine help from above? As Josef explained, “During the pandemic, we did our best to keep our talent intact. The most valuable lesson that we learned is that we should never stop loving and learning music because it resonates with our souls and helps us achieve our dreams. In such ways, the pandemic brought us closer to God.”

To conclude, the Hard Rock is back, providing a high-class venue for Phuket’s acts to aspire to playing in again, thereby raising the standard of live music here. Not only that, the Hard Rock’s reopening marks a crucial milestone in Phuket’s rebirth post-COVID, a highly-visible statement that Phuket is now open again for business and that we can party again.

© Andy Tong Dee

This article appeared in the Phuket News on 26th November 2021.