Have you ever met a Buddhist monk and convinced them to ditch their plans for spiritual enlightenment by persuading them to join a rock n roll band? I have, and we both lived to tell the tale.
When I enrolled at the detox centre at Thamkrabok Monastery in Thailand in 2003, I was just another foreign addict looking for a way out of making my own and other people’s lives a living hell. There were many reasons why this was a successful trip for me, all of which I remain eternally grateful for.
When I finally decided to return to London and literally ‘face the music’, a part of the magical Buddhist world that gave me the support I needed, came back with me. And now he needs my support.
Peter Radcliffe, (aka Phra Peter Suparo) has been many things to many people. The percussionist in The Penguin Café Orchestra. The drummer on BBC Radio award winning album ‘The Soho Hobo’ (and live drummer for that band too). A producer, engineer and musician on a multitude of recordings and live events. A Buddhist monk working at a successful addiction facility in Thailand. Translator of Buddhist text. A personal teacher of mindfulness in an ever-challenging world, and…one of my best and wisest friends.
I was a patient at Thamkrabok in 2003. Only four days into purging myself through taking a natural medicine and voluntarily vomiting each day at 5pm with the other patients (it’s a part of the treatment), I will never forget a monk walking up to me as I was re-composing myself as he said, in a warm South London drawl that didn’t go with his traditional Thai monastic attire at all: “How are you finding the puke-juice then?”. These are the first tender words uttered to me by a fellow Englishman in a world that was, after only 4 days of detox, alien to me, and it was absolutely the start of a beautiful relationship.
As a monk, Peter not only guided me through my detox and rehab at the monastery, but after my treatment when I lived there as a member of the community, he would also become the translator between myself and the monks as we all began to help each other to make music. They let me live there so I could make my music. Peter and I helped teach them how to record their music. We put on events, we recorded classical Thai musicians, Thai pop stars, we created music for the patients that one might call ‘healing music’ in the monastery — it was a heady time full of magic, healing and a lot of egg fried rice, tofu, coffee and green tea. It was also the start of me becoming a non-stop creative. Something that I caught like a bug from the monastery and has never ever left me. And in the middle of it all, Peter was there like the pivot between the scales. He was the balance, so to speak.
Musicians will know well what it is to send each other stems and Wetransfer links of musical recordings as we work on a project all day long. There’s just something rather different and exciting when the musician you are working with says things like “I will have to check with the Ajahn to give you permission to mass produce this chant because it’s in Pali and over two thousand years old.” Peter mostly addressed me as ‘geezer’ whenever we met up (he still does), and then proceeded to hammer me about Buddhist etiquette in front of monks. We had some terrific arguments during the making of my first solo album too. “I want to record a song with every monk in the monastery Peter. How do we arrange this?” said I, “Monks aren’t meant to sing Tim. Strictly speaking” said Peter. “Bollocks!” said I, “We need to do this, we need to share their energy in sound across the world so more people can be healed.” “All right, I’ll talk to the abbot” said Peter. And it was done.
Somehow, I managed to offset my evangelical petulance by giving every monk and nun a red and a white rose at the end of the session. I can still see Peter grinning at me holding his two roses and saying “You think this makes it all alright don’t you Arnold?”. With great joy, I grinned back and nodded. We’ve sort of been grinning with joy and nodding at each other during exceptional creative circumstances ever since.
Peter endured the chaotic flapping of my post-addict wings and has helped me with pretty much everything I’ve ever done creatively, ever since. He even gave up the monk-hood and came back to the UK to work on my first solo tour in 2004, where along with June Brown, Mark Beaumont from the NME, Steve Zapp from ITB and other music industry stalwarts, we brought Buddhism and Rock to the masses (including Glastonbury).
In 2011, I started performing new songs about Soho in the basement of The Spice of Life pub with Jonny Dyke on keys and Peter on…washboard. With Peter’s support, that evolved into a 10-piece band that sold out the Soho Theatre and then headlined The Isle of Wight Festival. In the middle of making these impossible dreams a reality, Peter was there, keeping the beat.
His is an energy and magic that can help you to fill in the missing jigsaw pieces of your hopes, and sometimes, dreams. He has been the green light on many of mine. And since we did our last show as The Soho Hobo back in 2018, he has been unravelling his magic back in the monastery in Thailand again, as a monk, to help addicts on their journeys to the upward spiral. He’s probably the most compassionate human being I know, and if you’d like to get in touch with Peter for a one to one on developing your mindfulness, you can contact him on his website here.
Living as a foreign monk in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand just got a whole lot harder though. As we all know, times have changed. Visas are now a tricky subject in the post pandemic world, not to mention health insurance for foreigners. Prices are going up and that is a real concern for practicing monks.
Putting it simply, Buddhist monks aren’t allowed to earn money. And yet Peter, like all foreign monks, needs to pay his way to keep doing the beautiful work he does to help foreigners suffering with addiction. So, if you’ve ever had your spirit lifted by a Soho Hobo song like The Piccadilly Trot or The King of Soho, then you’ve been lifted by the talents of this very special individual who was instrumental in me believing in myself, and therefore the creation of everything I have made in the public arena since I returned from Thailand.
It’s not considered proper for a monk to be handling money, so one of Peter’s disciples at the monastery is collecting donations on Peter’s behalf.
You will never do a better thing in your life than helping someone whose job it is to help others. Please support Peter and his monastic work and devotion to help addicts by making a donation here. Thank you.
- Tim Arnold, January 2021
For more wonders and wisdom from Peter, please visit his website here.