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December 3, 2010

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Old-time rockers get in a groove

GUITARIST Zhou Zifeng has gone out and handpicked an all-star lineup of musicians to form Cream in Hand. The rock band says music is in their blood and that it's definitely not about the money. Nie Xin reports.

Zhou Zifeng is proud to be a musician. He even regards himself as one of the few "old-timers" who has struggled to make ends meet in Shanghai's independent music scene.

"People may think I am poor," he says. "And while it's true I can not earn a lot of money through music, everybody has a sense of self-worth. I just want to ask 'Are you happy'?"

"It doesn't matter if I can earn money through music or not, I can not get rid of it. My life revolves around music and this will continue forever," adds Zhou, former vocalist and guitarist of Iron Yulan, the first rock band in Shanghai.

Over the years Zhou says he has played most types of music but rock and roll has always been his passion. This is why he formed Cream in Hand at the beginning of this year.

The guitarist says he choose "legendary" musicians from other Shanghai bands. Cream in Hand also features vocalist and guitarist Wang Yihao, who formerly played with the band Lan Ting; keyboardist Xu Jing, also with Lan Ting; drummer Liu Qi, former member of Red Band; and Li Dalong, the bassist who was once a part of Eclipse.

For those who know quite well about the city's music scene, the line-up is rather impressive - it's like the best bands have all dispatched their best member to form Cream in Hand.

"The average age of our band is over 30 years old." Wang says. "We have gathered together after we all experienced a long struggle in this circle."

Wang says he met Zhou at the age of 17 when he was in high school. They have been close friends for more than 13 years. Even though they have been in different groups, they have collaborated on many occasions.

Zhou says he started playing music in 1988. "I am proud that I am still here and have come back to my favorite - rock 'n' roll," he says.

Now they all get a fresh start in Cream in Hand, or Nai You Li Xiang.

Zhou says each member has played everything from R&B and jazz to reggae and pop, but that rock 'n' roll is in their blood.

"When we were young we listened to The Beatles, and rock came into our blood," Zhou says. "We said to ourselves, 'We are going to be like that one day'."

While rock music in Beijing features more Chinese characteristics, Shanghai's scene has an undeniable international flair.

Zhou says his grandfather speaks fluent English, listens to old LPs, smokes cigars and loves chocolate.

"I was born in a family of this kind. So it has always been easy for me to accept Western culture and develop an interest in music due to this background," he says, "This is a feature of Shanghai that is perhaps hard to find in any other place in China."

Zhou is a talkative soul and bounces from question to question with enthusiasm.

He has a 13-year-old daughter who admires his passion and enjoys going to his concerts.

Wang has a 3-year-old daughter and he hopes one day she will also become a musician.

Cream in Hand has recently been playing gigs, usually once a week, at SIVA Lounge, a new bar on Changping Road. Almost all bars, organizers of commercial events and public parties regard it an honor to invite Cream in Hand to perform, but the band prefers to keep their schedule flexible.

They don't plan concerts too far ahead - a month in maximum.

Having witnessed the city's music industry for such a long time, Zhou says the band is disappointed with the market today.

"The lack of experienced management makes it difficult for local bands to survive," Zhou says. "But on the other hand, the bands that do survive are multitalented, with good music, good self management and good marketing skills."

Different Voices On Their Music

From fans

"Cream in Hand is a party band, which plays old school rock and roll from the 1950s to 1980s."

"We think Cream in Hand is all about haipai (Shanghai-style) rock, which represents local Shanghai culture, combining old and new, international and local."

From Cream in Hand

"There is no old school rock or haipai rock. Rock is rock - the music that's in our blood, 100 percent pure and full of our independent attitudes. All the tags of this kind are just labels.

"When we were young, we listened to the Beatles and rock came into our blood. We said to ourselves, 'We are going to be like that one day'."

Who We Are

"We are like retired champion soccer players. As they get old, some become coaches and others change their career path.

"After total retirement, they gather again to organize some friendly soccer games, only for fun, for interest and to relive their young dreams.

"This is what we are doing now."


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