Hot words in scramble for a spot

IT MAY be billed as an ''international'' festival, but this year's Wan Chai music bash has provoked a series of simmering rows among Hong Kong bands anxious to fill the ''local spots''.

A row over which bands will get to play on the same bill as Apache Indian and the mainland masses has resulted in angry letters to newspapers, public slanging matches between different groups and even a fictitious feud between organiser Mark Thompson, ofthe Wan Chai Association, and the owner of a popular live music establishment in Wan Chai.

''There were 10 spaces available for local bands, and we got loads of applications from local bands wanting to play,'' Mr Thompson said.

''At last count it was 24, I think, and obviously some were going to be disappointed.'' He did not realise how disappointed. After some bands were turned down, Mr Thompson found himself vilified in the press.

Some bands questioned his criteria for choosing local representatives, others accused the organisers of ignoring the grassroots Wan Chai live music scene, and there arose a bitter debate over the merits of ''cover'' bands against those playing original material.

''The only thing I ever said was that the best quality bands would play, and because the objective of the whole festival is to mix east and west, we would need both local Chinese and expatriate bands,'' Mr Thompson said.

''But obviously we cannot ignore the Wan Chai bands because we are the Wan Chai Association. However, it would be unrealistic for every band that plays at The Wanch [the bar] to get a spot.'' He also denied there was a row between himself and Howard McKay, of The Wanch, a staunch supporter of live music in Hong Kong.

''There will be representation from The Wanch,'' Mr Thompson said. ''There has never been any problem with Howard. In fact Howard will be part of The Wanch's representation at the festival [the other Wanch regulars are A.W.O.L. and The Bastards].'' Although the final line up of local bands has yet to be completed, Andy Ingkavet, Huh!? and Danny McGill's group will be joined by Chinese band Tai Chi.

Other bands and musicians in with a chance include Tats Lau, Blue Wail and a number of Chinese groups which have appeared on Radio Free Hong Kong bills.

''I think the local bands are up to the challenge,'' Mr Thompson said.

''And I think the line up we choose will be balanced and entertaining.''