When “Hong Kong Garden” came out, it surprised a lot of people because it definitely did have a lightness to it. Our material was always a bit heavier. But we loved great pop songs and when John McKay came up with the intro, it was very quickly pounced on by all of us.
I’d always been really attracted to Eastern imagery and sound. The story is that when I was growing up, the first Chinese takeaway that went to Chislehurst was called the Hong Kong Garden. I used to go along with my friend and just be really upset by the local skinheads that hung out there and gave the staff such a hard time – really racist, just intolerant. The Avengers were on TV around that time, and I remember us both wishing we were Emma Peel – go in there and sort them out.
The production didn’t allow the song to breathe, originally, with Bruce. Steve Lillywhite brought a lot of space and lightness, with that undercurrent of the band behind it pummelling away.
We didn’t know how much of a chance it would get, in terms of being played on the radio. We’d spent so long getting signed, it seemed like the industry was against us. The Pistols had had their single [“God Save The Queen“] disallowed from being Number One. There was a controversy about how much punk rock would be tolerated in the charts. But the song was so accessible it opened the door for us. It enabled us to carry on in the way we wanted with the album. If “Hong Kong Garden” hadn’t been a success, I don’t know how much we would’ve been left to our own devices. It paved the way for us to do what we wanted. Polydor wanted it on The Scream, but because we felt that it was pretty standalone, we insisted that it not be on the album.
Singing it now onstage is quite surreal – it’s been so long – but very refreshing in another way.
“Hong Kong Garden” was one of the songs I had in progress before I joined The Banshees. It started life as a song called “People Phobia“. I recorded a version, complete with overdubbed guitars and vocals, using two cassette tape recorders, in my bedroom. I played it to the band on the tour bus when we were supporting The Heartbreakers in 1977. Then I presented the song at rehearsals ready to have lyrics and other instruments added.
I first picked out the opening bars of “Hong Kong Garden” on an electronic xylophone in the Maida Vale Peel studio. I played it with the wrong end of the beater and the xylophone switched off, to achieve the right sound.
At Olympic, we were using Eric Clapton’s downtime. Bruce Albertine was an amiable American from the wrong musical tradition, and “Hong Kong Garden” didn’t get out of there alive. We felt at home with Steve Lillywhite, and the studio was more intimate. He recorded us as we were. He was lively, standing to work the controls instead of lounging in the “producer’s chair”, and able to transfer the fire in our performance on to tape. We all had a strong idea of how the song should sound, and all contributed.
We needed to put “Hong Kong Garden” out quickly after a long time without a record deal. We wanted a successful single, but on our own terms. We refused Top Of The Pops. We weren’t gagging for celebrity – we were a gang producing a sound we loved. We were ready to embrace success to promote what we felt was the best group in the world. We were excited – this was our first step out of the crucible of revolution into the treacherous world of the mainstream! We were going overground…