Hong Kong’s Beating Jazz Heart

An Interview with Colin Aitchison

Every night for 40 years, a house band has taken to the stage at the Australian pub Ned Kelly’s Last Stand on Ashley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. It hasn’t always been the same band, and sometimes new musicians come, and leave, and come back again, but the jazz has been flowing out of Ned Kelly’s uninterrupted for the past four decades.

After Dennis James & The Jamestown Five and Ken Bennett & The Kowloon Honkers threw in the towel as resident bands, it was time for Colin Aitchison & The China Coast Jazzmen to take over the entertainment-duties at Ned Kelly’s. And some 15 years later, they’re still there.

Today, Colin, who sings and plays various brass instruments, is the longest serving bandleader at Ned Kelly’s. He was asked to come in as the bandleader full-time in 1998. By that time, Colin had already been familiar with Ned Kelly’s for a long time.

The first time he played there was in 1986. “I was working on cruise ships, we used to call into Hong Kong. And this place was known to the musicians for being that sort of place where you could bring your horns along and have a sit in with the band. And that’s what I used to do, myself and the guys,” he says.

DSC 0164 300x200 Hong Kongs Beating Jazz Heart

Bands from cruise ships still come down to the pub to play with the band, Colin says, as do some military bands when they’re passing through town. But Ned Kelly’s reputation has also attracted other guests over the years, bringing some of the jazz scene’s big names by, such as Sergio Mendes, Kenny Ball & His Jazzband, Matt Monroe, and Grammy-award winner Bob Wilber.

On December 18th, this beating heart of jazz celebrates its 40th anniversary. A couple of weeks before that, on December 6th, RTHK Radio 3  will do an one-hour live broadcast from the pub in honour of the anniversary, allowing fans from across the globe to partake in the celebrations via the web. The event will run from 9-10pm, and is tied in with Operation Santa Claus, a charity fund-raiser run by RTHK and South China Morning Post. Operation Santa Claus is also celebrating their anniversary, namely their 25th, so to mark this special event, Ned Kelly’s Last Stand will change name for the day – to Santa’s Last Stand.

If you want to stay updated on what else the boys at Ned Kelly’s are up to, log in to facebook and join their fan page.