Luxury Travel Magazine story: ‘Myanmar – Cuba of the East’, July 2015

August 19th, 2015

A feature story for the Winter 2015 issue of Luxury Travel Magazine. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt below.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. It’s okay to call it Myanmar. “Most people here don’t care,” our guide, Ye Thiwa, says. “They just want stability. They want prosperity.”

The military junta in control of what was then known as Burma made the decision in 1989 to change the country’s name. Why? Because, Ye tells us, the Burmese people are actually just one tribe out of 135 distinct ethnic groups — but also the largest, accounting for 68 percent of the population. The generals wanted a name that better represented the overall population. And a popular vote wouldn’t have changed a thing.

That’s the official logic, at least.

And — yes — you should visit. Aung San Suu Kyi — Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a living oracle for Myanmar not long released after two decades of house arrest — now welcomes visitors to the country, as long as it’s through private companies interested in developing responsible tourism.

Right now, Myanmar is something of a Cuba of the East. The two countries have vastly different political backgrounds but both have suddenly sprung open to the world after decades of isolation. It means you should visit Myanmar now, before the tourism economy — official numbers of which have visitors trebling since 2012 to 3.1 million — and any associated exhaustion begins to take hold.

You can still see the curiosity of a foreign encounter in the faces of the people. Quite literally, in one sense: the thanaka, a yellow cosmetic paste applied to the cheeks of women and children to help moisturise and protect from sunburn, is a distinctive cultural trait. But more-so in the way they deal with you: with warmth rather than the weariness of a people worn down by a succession of big foot westerners.

We mainline a dose of untouched Myanmar on our first day in Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, taking a dusty train trip south from the airport into the centre of town. The carriages are packed with locals, many making their way to the iconic Bogyoke Market to sell fabrics or gemstones or perhaps yoghurt flavoured with jaggery (concentrated toddy palm sap).

For the full story, visit Luxury Travel Magazine.

Tiger Tales story: ‘Barbershop Quartet’ – November 2014

November 18th, 2014

The cover story for the November-December issue of Tiger Tales Australia. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt below.

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It’s the place where men get chatty, swapping sartorial secrets and giving up their best buys. Matt Shea chats with the sharpest of Australia’s new wave of barbers.

Holders of secrets. Givers of advice. Purveyors of the finer things in life. There’s not much a skilled barber isn’t across for his or her clientele.

Barbering is everywhere right now, a 2014 take on an age-old trade. These days, a barber will take your booking before you get to the shop and might just Instagram their handiwork before you leave again. But everything else remains much the same. They still know why your team isn’t winning and your girlfriend refuses to talk to you. And they still know where to go for the best cigars and whisky.

Tiger Tales wanted to find out what makes a barber’s life so special and why the trade is enjoying its blockbuster renaissance. More importantly, though, we wanted to tap into that repository of knowledge; the barber always knows, as they say. So we gathered together four of the best from around the country and got the skinny on what’s what in their hometown.

For the full story, visit Tiger Tales Australia.

Tiger tales story: ‘Go to the Triffid in Brisbane’ – November 2014

November 18th, 2014

A feature story for the November-December issue of Tiger Tales Australia. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt below.

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Former Powderfinger bassist John Collins only just arrived, but is already talking about the Go-Betweens. “Why did they call it the Go Between Bridge? And not the Go-Betweens Bridge?” he asks.

I’m not sure how we started on the topic of the recently built Brisbane River overpass. But you soon learn that’s John Collins — or JC, as he’s known — all asides and sudden digressions, the mind running quicker than the mouth will follow. “If you’re going to name it after a band, name it after the band,” he says, incredulously.

Collins is of course a founding member of a group arguably even more important to Brisbane than the Go-Betweens. Powderfinger played their last show just on four years ago, but plenty of fans refuse to come to terms with the fact that the five piece have laid down their instruments for good. For the 44-year-old Collins, there was a similar sense of loss for a year. “Sure, I was sad, emotional,” he says. “But it was a good thing. And I realised once we stopped how much of a machine we were. How much pressure we put on ourselves without even knowing.”

For the full story, visit Tiger Tales Australia.

The Big Issue story: ‘Track Record: Kimbra’ – October 2014

November 10th, 2014

A feature story for The Big Issue #470 — a profile of New Zealand musician Kimbra and her recently released album, The Golden Echo.

Click the image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

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KIMBRA LEE JOHNSON gets bored easily. “Especially when you’re about to start an album,” says the singer-songwriter, who’s known by her first name. “I had to get some new inspiration.”

Kimbra’s new inspiration turned out to be Los Angeles, which has been her home since moving from Melbourne a year-and-a-half ago. Even over the phone, it’s easy to imagine ennui setting in for the 24-year-old: she tackles ideas like she’s hill-climbing, words are exerted in thick torrents until she crests her thoughts and relaxes again. “LA exposed me to a lot more music,” she says. “I was hanging out with people like [bassist and producer] Thundercat and learning a lot about the dance scene here. Obviously there are a lot of musicians in LA who worked on records with Michael Jackson or Prince, around funk and soul and West Coast hip-hop. There’s so much going on here. So much history.

“And it’s funny because I’ve done a complete 180 on this city,” Kimbra continues. “When I first came here I really disliked it. I just couldn’t find the soul of the place [but] it’s that age-old cliché: when you do find the community of people you connect with and you find a nice place to live that feels homely, that changes everything.”

It was a plucky move. For most Australian-based artists, the pro forma would have been to capitalise on the initial success of a platinum-selling debut – in Kimbra’s case, Vows (2011) – with a second album and tour, and then perhaps think about tackling foreign territories. But the New Zealander instead rolled the dice on a country that knew her mostly for her bitter riposte on Gotye’s double Grammy-winning single, ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’.

Was it a risk moving to Los Angeles when she did? “Maybe,” she says. “The natural thing would’ve been to go back to Melbourne and settle there for a bit, but at the same time I’d been living in Melbourne for almost six years, so it was really time for a new experience… I never thought of it as a risk. I saw it as something that would shape me into a better musician.”

The result is The Golden Echo, an ambitious, giddy, hour-long second album. It’s Kimbra’s jazzy electro-pop and R’n’B opened up to a technicolour palette of sounds and influences, one that moves her towards the cutting edge of pop music in the US.

Kimbra claims she wasn’t nervous about how the album would be received by her Australian and NZ fan base: “I went for a pretty audacious choice for a first single [‘90s Music’] and I think in some ways that’s more nerve-racking,” she says. But there’s no doubt it’s a bracing adjustment for listeners, the album zigzagging its way through a variety of influences and sounds. “Many [career] decisions I’ve made so far are about saying, ‘Hey, this is maybe not what you’re going to completely expect from the second record, but it’s going to be exciting, and all from a place of authenticity’.”

Perhaps more impressive than the intent is that an album like this negotiated a major-label system renowned for scuppering creativity. Kimbra talks about being expected to have a clear vision for The Golden Echo, as well as the collaborators to whom she now had access: John Legend, Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Silverchair’s Daniel Johns all worked with her on the album. Perhaps most important to Kimbra, though, was the involvement of legendary producer, Lenny Waronker.

Waronker has built his reputation on prioritising music over business. “When that’s your day-to-day person advising you, it’s always a very musical conversation,” she says. “It was about: how do we make this as timeless as possible and as great as possible? There’s always going to be a dance recognising that you’re still a commodity to a company and you need to produce something that’s marketable. But that’s all stuff that I try to leave at the door when I go into the studio. All those conversations will come [later].”

Now come the live shows. Kimbra remembers with bitter disappointment the short-lived Australian tour with Janelle Monáe last May, which ended after just one Melbourne set from Kimbra when Monáe fell seriously ill. “It sucks there’s no footage,” she laughs. “It almost feels like a phantom tour now. It was great, though, and I feel like the songs translated amazingly well. We’re embarking on a US tour in October, and that will be the time to really showcase these songs live. [From] the little I’ve seen I feel like it’s going to be a really explosive experience for people.”

And Australia? There are just two local tour dates so far, but after the experience with Monáe you get a sense of unfinished business. “Of course. That was such a hard time,” Kimbra says. “We all understand that Janelle was totally sick… [but] it was so hard for everyone to be so prepared and for it not to go ahead. I’m absolutely looking forward to coming back.”

by Matt Shea

» The Golden Echo is out now. Kimbra performs in Melbourne and Sydney in late November.

The Sydney Morning Herald story: ‘David Brabham plans to crowdfund return to F1’ – October 2014

October 15th, 2014

A feature for the Sydney Morning Herald‘s ‘Executive Style’ section about David Brabham’s plans to crowdfund the family name back into top tier motor racing. Excerpt below. Click on the link at the bottom of the post to read the full story.

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It’s 6.30am in Banbury, England, but David Brabham is watching Formula One cars circle a racetrack half a world away. “I’ve been checking out practice at Suzuka,” he says. “Normally on a Friday the place is packed. But not this year.”

Getting up at the crack of dawn is not unusual for a racing driver, particularly one who’s as busy as Brabham. Two weeks ago the youngest son of three-time F1 drivers’ champion Sir Jack launched Project Brabham — an ambitious scheme to crowdfund the family name back into professional racing after a two-decade absence.

Still, you can’t help but fancy Brabham is trying to see the future in Suzuka Circuit’s iconic sweeps and hairpins. Project Brabham’s roadmap is straightforward: a three-year Le Mans Prototype 2 program beginning with next year’s FIA World Endurance Championship, followed by a graduation in year four to an LMP1 constructor. But the ultimate dream is front-end loaded on the press release: a return to Formula One.

For the full article, visit the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Big Issue story: ‘Radical Son: From Cell to Studio’ – September 2014

October 15th, 2014

A feature story for The Big Issue #468 — a profile of Indigenous Australian musician Radical Son and his recently released album, Cause & Affect.

Click the image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

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IT’S HARD to imagine David Leha ever serving time in prison. On the phone he’s a quiet man, thoughtful to the point of solemnity.

“Going to prison was perhaps inevitable, considering the things I was doing,” Leha says. “I was a behaviourally dysfunctional person. To get wasted was normal. To do illegal things was commonplace in the circles I’d been a part of. It was inevitable.”

Leha was just 19-years-old when he began an 18-month stint in Long Bay, Goulburn and Parramatta Jails — nine of which would be spent in solitary confinement. He’d been a promising rugby league player, already signed to the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ junior squad. “I got word I was to go up to first grade the next week, and that was the week I went to prison … I drank more and took more drugs than your typical player. I was probably lucky I didn’t make more money to do even more.”

Not that prison reformed Leha. The young man loved life behind bars — a thought that now frightens him. Tall and strong, he commanded respect among his inmates. And by the time he was released, still aged just 21, he had a flourishing heroin habit. Now 38, Leha didn’t kick the opiates until last year. “This is the longest time in my life that I’ve been off drugs,” he says.

Leha credits a move from Sydney to the New South Wales Central Coast as helping him give up heroin. But there have been other changes for the half-Kamilaroi, half-Tongan man. He’s talking from a studio at the University of Newcastle, where Leha is currently studying music. And this on the eve of the release of his debut album, Cause & Affect.

Recorded under his performing name, Radical Son (which refers to an “awareness of being different”), he has turned in a remarkably accomplished collection of music. Nestled in the familiar sounds of post-millennial dub and reggae, Leha’s refined songwriting and distinctive voice — the sustained sweetness of a Polynesian tenor tempered by rough-hewn timbre — enliven Cause & Affect, casting it very much as a soul record.

Ultimately, it’s the result of a fortuitous meeting almost 14 years ago. Steve Balbi, bassist with popular Sydney band, Noiseworks, was running a songwriting program in Redfern. “He was the man who really discovered me, if you can call it that,” Leha says. “A sister of my ex was involved in the program and I’d taken her to be recorded, and that’s where I met him.”

Leha had started dabbling in writing and at Balbi’s insistence eventually performed himself, delivering a spoken-word piece named ‘Black Baptism’. “It was quite an aggressive delivery and I guess Steve kind of dug that,” he says. It was enough to light a fire under their relationship, and soon enough Balbi was helping Leha develop his impressive singing voice.

Almost a decade and a half later and Leha is set to release Cause & Affect via Wantok Musik. But this is hardly an endgame. Leha claims to have still not immersed himself completely in music, and Cause & Affect isn’t defined by confident answers or proclamations of hope. Rather, like all good soul music, it rails against the injustices of the world with a passionate but weary spirit.

In conversation you don’t have to dig very far to find the remnants of Leha’s own rage. He talks with bitter disappointment about the system that failed him and in his mind continues to fail so many others. But, curiously, that bitterness never turns to spite. Instead, it backhandedly created a defiant motivation — Leha is a believer in doing things yourself and as a community, and not relying on the government. “We like to believe we can vote and change things but it’s like Midnight Oil’s [1983 song] ‘Short Memory’,” he says. “It’s one thing after the other, one politician after the other. It’s just a cycle and people have this belief that they can make a difference, when I don’t think they can.”

It’s not just talk, either. Leha is keen on being a positive role model for troubled youth, playing with Archie Roach in July at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct in Victoria. As a boy, he idolised his father, a humble Sydney cab driver who had little time to spare for his kids, and reckons young men look up to any kind of male figure in their lives. Now, as an adult, he struggles to be a role model for his own children. “It’s very difficult,” he says. “It’s not a one-man job or the parents’ job; it’s a community job.”

And Leha himself? Does he still feel any guilt for the suffering he sings about having caused when he was younger? “It’s more pissed off,” he says. “Pissed off that the same mistakes my grandfather made, my father made and I made, and I see our kids make. I’m sick of these cycles, man. I’d like to see a change.”

by Matt Shea

‘Cause & Affect’ is out October 3

Tiger Tales story: ‘Tatt’s My Town’ – September 2014

October 2nd, 2014

A feature story for the September-October issue of Tiger Tales Australia. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt below.

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“I basically painted what I thought Melbourne was to me,” says Dynamic Tattoo’s Jake Fraser, “which is live music, coffee and football.”

While many cities around the world boast such virtues, the 30-year-old reckons it’s Melbourne’s easy ability to mix together the arts and sport that sets it apart. “I feel like it’s a very creative and energetic city to be in,” he says. “All you need to do is walk down the street here in [inner eastern suburb] Richmond to notice that pretty quickly. Every shop is a bar or a cafe now!”

Fraser’s distinctive style, with its bold lines and refined use of colour, was established during a stint tattooing in America. “The shop I worked for there was pretty renowned for that traditional, old-school tattooing. I’d like to say I’m pretty diverse, but when people come to me they usually want that traditional style.”

Fraser loves getting to the football, galleries, and any one of the many punk rock venues in and around town. Still, his first love is surfing and the often-forgotten breaks that exist just outside of the city.

“I find that easy and comforting,” he says. “In Victoria, you can drive an hour and find an uncrowded wave, which isn’t the way farther north. The beaches are terrific.”
Richmond, Vic,

For the full story, visit Tiger Tales Australia.

Tiger Tales story: ‘Weekend Warriors — Brisbane’, July 2014

September 10th, 2014

A feature story for the July issue of Tiger Tales Australia investigating Brisbane’s indie music and arts scene. Click the image to read a PDF of the story or check out a brief excerpt underneath.

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We asked two very different travellers, Matt and Kate, to visit Brisbane for two very different weekends. They chose what to do, they took the pictures and they reported back to us.

We shake off the travel cobwebs and head to Bean (Laneway 181, George St) for a coffee hit. One of Brisbane CBD’s best cafés, Bean sources its coffee through Bellissimo (who, more than one friend tells us, are the best roasters in Brisbane). We grab some takeaway, staying for a minute to check out the art.

Ben and Nick Chiu have a reputation that these days extends to the southern capitals. And it’s all because of Apartment (, the brothers’ Albert Street boutique that has been decking out Brisbane menfolk for eight years. We chat to the bros, before picking up some new Chup socks. Thanks Nick. Thanks Ben.

The Barracks (61 Petrie Tce, city) has become Brisbane’s hottest new precinct. We head up the hill west of the city and settle in at Italian eatery Cabiria (6 The Barracks, 61 Petrie Tce;

Long before hip bars became a thing in Brisbane there was The Bowery (676 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, thebowery., which retains its reputation as one of the city’s best joints for an aperitif or cheeky cocktail.

For the full story, visit Tiger Tales Australia.

Tiger Tales story: ‘Go Indie in Kuala Lumpur’, July 2014

September 1st, 2014

My first story for Tiger Tales Australia’s sister publication, Tiger Tales Asia, looking at the independent music scene in Kuala Lumpur. The full story appears underneath; click the image below to view as a PDF. Special thanks to Razlan Shah for helping pulling this together.

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Everyone knows Kuala Lumpur has its fair share of glitzy bars and thumping dance clubs but what about venues dedicated to good live music? Up-and-coming jazz singer Razlan Shah gives Matt Shea a tour of his favourite spots.


At the top of my list is No Black Tie (NBT), located on the edge of the busy Changkat Bukit Bintang area. You can go to No Black Tie to listen to all kinds of jazz and well-established local bands. Every time I play there, I’m reminded that it’s a venue built specifically for good acoustics. And when I’m in the audience, I love how intimate it feels. Some musicians get really up close and personal, and it’s great for a date or an easy night with good friends. The drinks can get expensive, but go for the music – it’s some of the best in Kuala Lumpur. John Ashley Thomas Trio, Rozz and Cheryl Tan are favourites.

17 Jln Mesui, KLCC;


This café-cum-music venue at Jaya One is popular with younger crowds, attracting theatre and music students from the nearby college who want a place to share and collaborate ideas. That spirit is maintained at a second larger space, which opened in Publika, a fantastic arts-centric shopping mall in Mont Kiara. It’s a terrific looking venue – converted warehouse with wood and exposed brick. Both venues attract many professional acts, including international musicians, but it’s their open mic on Tuesday nights that sets them apart. They’re extremely popular with people from all over Malaysia and even tourists trying to get their voices out in front of very supportive crowds.

36B, Level G2, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Jln Dutamas 1 50480 and 2A-G, Block K, Jaya One, 72A Jln Universiti, Petaling Jaya;


The Laundry Bar is another place where you can check out more recognised musicians, both local and international, playing everything from hip-hop and dance to rock. It’s an inviting outdoor- indoor bar: there’s a big stage, an elevated platform, vintage couches, masks on the wall and great lighting. Laundry has been around for something like a decade, so they must be doing it right. Every musician I know regards it as a place you should play.

Lot 72, Ground Floor, The Curve, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya;


Merdekarya is the most amazing, DIY, hole- in-the-wall place you can find in Petaling Jaya, and maybe the whole of Malaysia. It sits above a mamak stall, far from the tourist beat. Author and musician Brian Gomez and his wife Melani Delilkan founded Merdekarya. There are artist- painted walls, wood pallet shelves, and books by local authors. A lot of people don’t know about this jewel and part of me doesn’t want to give away the secret!

352 Jln 5/57, Petaling Jaya;


Tigerair flies to Kuala Lumpur 27 times a week from Singapore. To book your holiday, visit

AskMen story: ‘5 Things to do in Sandakan’ – August 2014

August 30th, 2014

A travel story for AskMen looking at Sandakan, an often overlooked destination for visitors to Malaysia. Excerpt below. Full story via the link at the bottom of the page.

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War stories might take people to Sandakan, its Memorial Park becoming an alternative to Gallipoli for those wanting an ANZAC experience, but the town is increasingly a magnet for other types of visitors. In particular, Sabah’s former capital and second-largest city is becoming an epicentre for Sabah’s focus on conservation and eco-tourism. There’s a reason it’s often nicknamed The Nature City.

Sandakan’s other nickname is Little Hong Kong. And pay a visit to its ramshackle old-mixed-with-new city centre and you’ll know why, the long rectangular blocks overflowing with street sellers and divey-yet-delicious restaurants. But the comparison extends to the city’s surrounds as well. Sandakan’s steep hills, luscious vegetation and wide azure-blue bay make for a gob-smacking sight.

For the full story, visit AskMen.