Throwback Thursday is when we trawl through the That's archives for a work of dazzling genius written at some point in our past. We then republish it. On a Thursday.
Andrew Bull and Sally Kwok were a glamour couple fixture in the boom days of Hong Kong, from the first days of disco to Kylie’s first live concert and beyond. We caught up with them on Jade on 36 over oysters, black cod and plenty of Chianti to discuss everything from Diana Ross being the biggest diva they dealt with to hosting Renaissance man Peter Ustinov.
Bull first started visiting Hong Kong during his school holidays in the early ‘70s, visiting his British army father who was posted there. Always into music, he soon sought out what sort of scene was going on and, at the tender age of 14, managed to land a couple of jobs as a DJ in clubs in Kowloon.
“I’ve been 1.9 meters tall since I was 13 years old so nobody knew,” he explains. One of those clubs was The Scene, located in the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, where he played for five years from 1972.
“We got a good mix of people. Remember the ‘Made in Hong Kong’ era? The garment guys used to stay in The Peninsula so all these fashion names, people like [Takedo] Kenzo, Alan Flusser. At the same time it was during the Vietnam War, and all the troops would take their two weeks R&R in Hong Kong. So they would roll off the ship flush with their bonuses – for not being dead or whatever – and then party it up.”
Through the marines Bull was first exposed to African-American street funk culture.
“The white guys and the black guys used to go to separate clubs, and there were different girls that would go with the white guys than would go with the black guys. I would give drinks tickets to girls that used to like the black guys, and they would go down and wait for the boats and bring the black guys to my place.
BT Express performed their hit song 'Do It Till You're Satisfied' at The Scene Discotheque Hong Kong's 'War is Over' evening to mark the end of the Vietnam War. DJ Andrew Bull is pictured with the band and The Scene's Manager David Gilhooly, 1975
“We had a major funk scene going on, guys wearing orange suits, stacked heels and big afros with combs in – they would walk down the street dressed like that in the middle of the day in those days. So we’d have this New York high-end designer crowd – a lot of gay people – and all these marines super-funking it up, and then a mixture of bizarre characters from Hong Kong, both Chinese and international.”
In the summer of 1974 Bull decided to make the move to Hong Kong permanent.
“England was pretty grim in those days, a bit bleak. Hong Kong was quite alluring and I was working doing exactly what I had always wanted to do.”
He landed a job as with Radio Hong Kong as a cub reporter “going out and interviewing people when there was a typhoon, that kind of thing. I mean, when I was 17 years old I was reading the main news at one o’clock! There was no chance I was going to be doing that in England on the BBC so I was like, ‘Shit, this is awesome.’”
"Shit, this is awesome." Bull interviewing Roger Moore
Bull on the HK-TVB Mid-Autumn Festival Gala Special with Hong Kong Singer Teresa Carpio
Andrew Bull pictured as a young entertainment news reporter for Radio Hong Kong on the occaision of the visit to Hong Kong of Partridge Family star and teen heartthrob David Cassidy. The star performed a sold out concert that night at the legendary Lee Theatre, March 21, 1974.
It was around the same time Bull met a pioneer in the Hong Kong party scene.
“A Eurasian guy called Gordon Huthart, who was the son of the chairman of a department store company, and a gay dude. In those days engaging in gay action was illegal in Hong Kong – they had a special police department who used to sneak around trying to catch guys at it (which eventually wound down under murky circumstances when it turned out one of their own guys was gay himself, by the way).
“So it was very dangerous to be gay in those days, but when I was DJing at The Scene Gordon would come down and deliberately dance with his boyfriend, knowing security would bundle them off the dance floor and thrown them out. He was like a gay suffragette.”
Then the Saturday Night Fever disco boom hit.
“Gordon was quite well funded relative to anybody else at this time, and determined to make a statement. So when Studio 54 became the talk of New York, he said ‘Right, we’re going to do Studio 54 for Hong Kong, and it’s going be a case of [singing Diana Ross] ‘I’m Coming Out’.”
The club was called Disco Disco, the very first nightclub in Lan Kwai Fong, and Bull jumped in with him.
“It wasn’t a gay bar, it was gay friendly, a mix of people, all sorts of characters, more like a human zoo.”
Pretty much literally on the night of Bull’s welcoming party.
“It was country-and-western-themed, with live chickens flapping about the place and guests welcomed at the entrance by a guy with a horse which they could feed sugar cubes – dressing up was a big thing at Disco Disco.”
As was ostentation, it would seem…
“At the second anniversary party Gordon stuffed confetti cannons with US$10,000 full of bills in denominations of up to US$100 and fired it off every half an hour, showering the dance floor with cash.
“But working for a guy who was absolutely committed to making a social statement – changing society – doing something which was a creative force for good, but within the context of nightlife, was inspiring to me. I believe every form of creativity can be a force for good.”
Bull behind the decks at Disco Disco, Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong, 1981
Through the events Bull met a young Taiwanese fashion model called Sally Kwok, who had moved to Hong Kong in with her parents in 1977. She had been a top five finisher in the 1979 Miss Hong Kong contest, although she says could have come higher had she known how things really worked.
“Prior to the year I entered an older guy called Uncle Chung, who ran a modeling school I attended, asked me if I would like him to nominate me for the contest. But I wasn’t so sure and kind of shy, so he said ‘Well maybe wait for next year.’” says Kwok.
The following year, having forgotten about the conversation, she applied independently with four friends and was accepted. But Uncle Chung was far from happy for her.
“When he saw me he was so angry, saying ‘You! When I wanted to nominate you, you said “No,” and then you come by yourself without informing me? Don’t you know who I am? Who I know? It was only a matter of a phone call and top three was yours, you stupid little girl!’
“So at that moment I realized Miss Hong Kong was all fixed… I cried my eyes out. I was only 20, what did I know?”
“Well, if she’s won it, she’d probably be married to Stanley Ho or something by now…” Bull chuckles.
The couple have just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and have an eight year old daughter called Yolanda, adopted four years ago through Kwok’s charity work.
Bull opened a record shop, Music Boutique Bull, and then in March 1985 decided to open his own club in Kowloon “for a younger, hipper Chinese clientele.”
It was called Canton Disco, and was to become Hong Kong’s most dynamic venue for seven years.
“I wanted it to be a venue as well as a club. At the grand opening we had Divine, a drag queen who had disco hits at the time. New Order played there, Run DMC, Bananarama, Erasure, Swing Out Sister, The Pet Shop Boys, Eartha Kitt - and Kylie Minogue’s first ever live performance.”
Canton Disco grand opening flyer
Bull with Divine
Kwok with Eartha Kitt
Bull, Pepsi and Shirley at Canton Disco
Bull and Kwok with socialites Kai Bong and Brenda Chow at Canton Disco
“Kylie Minogue was still in [Australian soap] Neighbours at the time and had had a couple of hits, but never done a live performance, and her management wanted to take her to England, so they asked if they could come into our club to prepare her.”
Bull had his team captured the night on video for posterity, but, much to his frustration, the tape has subsequently been lost.
“It had busted and had spooled off, so I’d unscrewed it to try and tape it back on, but couldn’t get anywhere with it, so I put it aside somewhere and it hasn’t been seen since.
“Our maid probably tossed it, thinking it was rubbish, which is a bitch… it would be worth a fortune on Ebay if anything else – she’d buy it off me for a million!”
Ed's note: Bull has subsequently recovered the footage, and in a world exclusive you can watch a clip from the show below (VPN off):
Outside of China? Watch on Youtube here.
Kwok with Kylie Minogue
Stage setting for Kylie Minogue's first ever live performance, at Canton Disco in Hong Kong
Bull also lived in the same building as the club “so I would get a call saying ‘So-and-so is in the back bar,’ and I would put the movie on hold, head down, have a drink with them for half and hour and then go back up.”
Sylvestor Stallone, Madonna and Sean Penn, Robb Lowe and Kraftwerk were just some of the names who crossed his threshold.
Sylvester Stallone at Canton Disco
Andrew Bull and superstar Jackie Chan celebrate Li Ning's unprecedented six medals at the 1984 Olympics over drinks at Canton Disco, 1985
Bull at Canton Disco with Hong Kong superstar Danny Chan
Late great UK soul legend Robert Palmer's 'Heavy Nova' concert tour played in Hong Kong March 30, 1989. Pictured with promoter Andrew Bull at Canton Disco's Saxophone Bar are John Farris, (INXS) Robert Palmer and Michael Hutchence (INXS)
Through the club Bull was also able to mentor a small group of people who went on to be successful in the nightclub business in their own right; two of his junior DJs at Canton Disco were Jimmy Lee, founder of the Babyface, Richy and Rich Baby, and senior manager of Muse, Jimmy Pak. Meanwhile, when Spandau Ballet decided to set the video for 1984 hit ‘Highly Strung’ in Hong Kong, Kwok was chosen to play the Asian It Girl (which you can view on Youtube here).
Kwok on set with Spandau Ballet shooting the video ' Highly Strung' Hong Kong, 1984
Bull and legendary Hong Kong actor Eric Tsang in Canton Disco
As the ‘80s progressed, and Hong Kong continued to boom, rents went through the roof – and Bull was becoming bored – so when the time came to renew Canton Disco’s lease he decided against it. Being a live venue, the crossover into concert promoter was natural one.
“I would get faxes every morning saying things like, ‘Robert Palmer is considering an Asian tour, would you be interested making an offer?’ so I ended up getting a little office and doing concerts.”
As the business moved from disco to concert promotion business, Kwok worked alongside Bull in-house, doing administrative work, “Which is very important,” says Bull, “because the nitty-gritty of running any kind of business is painful, but in show business it is much more painful, because you have to deal with randomness… on a great scale.”
Ah, randomness on a great scale; with names like Whitney Houston, Duran Duran, Jason Donovan, INXS, Paula Abdul, Simply Red and Phil Collins (“That was the tour when he divorced his wife, by fax, from the road”) we were keen to hear about a bit of diva-dom.
Andrew Bull pictured with the late Ibrahim Ferrer, lead singer of Buena Vista Social Club backstage at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, 2002
Bull and Kwok backstage in Hong Kong with Mrs Ibrahim Ferrer before the Buena Vista Social Club concert
As a promoter in the 1990s, Andrew Bull presented Air Supply accross Asia, including China many times. Bull pictured here with Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock in Hong Kong.
“I’ll give you a funny story about Depeche Mode,” Kwok says, “when they refused to get on stage and the lead singer would only talk to me in private, one-on-one.”
“Dave [Gahan] from Depeche Mode decided she was his muse.” Bull continues, “Basically he had this thing where he didn’t like to see any advertising banners from stage. But this was a football stadium where they have annual deals, so I had to pay people to shinny up the stadium and put black drape over the Cathay Pacific hoardings – in total contravention of the contract – as Sally mollified him in the dressing room.”
The wine has begun to flow, and so do the stories begin to flow...
Chuck D from Public Enemy stranding the bands wives in Japan as he had taken all their passports with him to Hong Kong.
Grace Jones tricking Bull out of US$5,000 he had lent her in return for a check that bounced.
Bobby Brown’s father thinking he’d lost his passport after taking off his trousers on the back of the bus while engaging with two female fans.
And a revelation about a certain Sting peccadillo that I swore to Bull I would not print…
Kwok and Bull with Grace Jones
Bull with Grace Jones
Bull and Kwok with Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown
It is Diana Ross – quelle surprise – who was the most precious.
“We had flown her in from Jakarta business class, but when she landed there wasn’t an air bridge, her plane parked on the tarmac. So you had Diana Ross strap-hanging on the airport bus back to the terminal with the hoi polloi. She was freaking when she came out, giving an impromptu press conference from the running board of her limo, saying she had never been so insulted in her life...”
Her rider stipulated her dressing room be freshly wallpapered in oatmeal-colored paper, which must cover all air-conditioning vents.
“She disappears into the room about 2pm and nobody goes in and she doesn’t come out. Then at half past seven she emerges The Diva for the show. Still, I have to say – you cannot fault her performance.
“But being a concert promoter is a risky business. It’s like being a tightrope walker, everybody says ‘How does he do it, he’s walking across the tightrope.’ And then the one time you fall… [shake of the head] no safety net man. Luckily we made money on most of the shows we staged.
“We lost our arse on Celine Dion in 1999 though,” says Bull, who is interrupted by a heavy sigh and “That’s a heartbreaking thing” from Kwok. “I forgotten that she only has one hit,” Bull continues, “and I’d rented the old airport in Hong Kong and built a 36,000 seat venue on the runway. But the show was on a Monday night and we only sold 18,000 seats, so we lost a bit of money on that.”
Bull with Paul Oakenfold
Bull with Peter Ustinov
Bull with the Chemical Brothers in Hong Kong
Andrew and Sally Bull have provided superstar entertainment accross the world for many high end private clients. Pictured here backstage in Venice, Italy with Shakira at the spectacular wedding of Vinita Agarwal & Muqit Teja.
By the time of the new millennium Bull says he had started to lose his mojo. He had started taking some of the acts to the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, one of the only people doing international entertainment in the PRC in ‘90s, and Heineken and 555 Cigarettes had asked him about creating experiential branded tours in China, so he began to build a team of people and a system capable of doing just that.
As the 2000s progressed, he realized that he had the know how to facilitate companies in the mad scramble to reach the massive emerging market that was China, and a fortuitous meeting with old friend, Jeff Huang, a Shanghainese with a marketing and advertising background, led to him setting up Shine Communications in Shanghai, through which they “inadvertently invented the genre” of the branded tour, putting on 250 a year for the last decade.
Bull hasn't retired from the promotion scene entirely though. In 2013 he brought legendary producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger and guitarist Nile Rodgers to Shanghai for an unforgetable night at The Mixing Room. And he DJs across the world, including hosting Disco Buffet, Shanghai's only Open Decks Night, every Monday from 10pm Masse Gastro Lounge.
Kwok and Bull with Nile Rodgers
Bull with Nile Rodgers
This article first appeared in the April 2011 edition of That's Shanghai and has been modified with updated information. For more Throwback Thursdays click here.
Want more Andrew Bull? Andrew Bull AKA DJ El TORO hosts Disco Buffet, Shanghai's only Open Decks Night - Every Monday from 10 PM at Masse Gastro Lounge.