SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

BEST ALBUMS OF 2001

It’s June 2011, almost half the year is gone and I can still hardly believe that 2001 was a decade away. That year was a troubled one as September 11 impacted the entire world and plunged everyone into uncertainly. But life still had to go on despite the circumstances and at the end of the year, Power of Pop determined that these ten albums were the best of a difficult year…

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THE LISTENING BOOTH – THE DOLPHIN SONG (ROUND AND ROUND AND ROUND)

This is my contribution to ACRES Singapore’s World’s Saddest Dolphins Campaign. Recorded at Patrick Chng’s homestudio with Lydia Low, it is my version of the official campaign song and hopefully, it will assist to get the right attention to this cause. I personally find dolphins to be emotionally sensitive creatures and for the Resort World Sentosa (RWS) to hold them in captivity is scandalous. Surely, there are better ways to make money than to abuse these dolphins in this inhumane manner. So I would appreciate it if you could share this song with as many people as possible, get the word out and to pray to RWS to “let the dolphins go…”
Kevin Mathews (ft. Lydia Low) – The Dolphin Song (Round and Round and Round) by Power of Pop

More information on how you can contribute here.

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

“15 minutes with you”

Never ever connected with “post-punk” as a genre in the 80s (I detest the word ‘genre’ to begin with). At the time, it was all pop-rock music and the words “indie” or “alternative” held no meaning for me. But certainly in the early 80s, there was a whole shitload of exciting music coming out of the UK and I spent much time, effort and money obsessively collecting singles, EPs and LPs, and reading NME, Sounds, Record Mirror (and even Smash Hits) to find out as much I could about the UK music scene. There was no local music scene to speak of and I knew very few people who shared the same passion and interest in music that I had. So it was very much a solitary obsession.

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FRED PERRY SUBCULTURE NIGHT

This special subculture night consisted of two events.

First, there was a preview of the exhibition at the Fred Perry store at Ann Siang Road where the stories of 18 local persons/collectives (who have shaped local culture – their words not mine!) were featured with personal items and artifacts. Yes folks, yours truly was included in this description! My contribution consisted of the original typewritten lyrics of My One & Only and the personal mixtape where the first demo recording of the song is featured. Truly embarrassing stuff! Even X’Ho thinks so (see below)…

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NOISE-TIMBRE SINGER-SONGWRITER PROGRAMME (2ND EDITION)

NOISE-TIMBRE SINGER-SONGWRITER PROGRAMME (2ND EDITION)

Another packed crowd at Timbre at the Substation witnessed the 2nd edition of the Noise-Timbre Singer-Songwriter Programme. In truth, the majority of the Timbre patrons may have been present for the excellent pizzas rather than the Programme itself but the whole point of the Programme is to expose Singapore songwriting (and songwriters) to audiences unfamiliar with it and so on that count, the Programme has certainly achieved its aim, thus far.

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SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

Back before streaming and downloading providing anyone with an internet account access to any song ever recorded, the only place you could listen to music (other than the radio) was the record store. In Singapore, before Tower Records introduced listening booths here, one had to actually get the store clerk to play the record of your choice over the PA in order to find out how it sounded like. Or sometimes, if you’re lucky, somebody else would be testing the record and you’ll hear something you like.

That’s where I first heard Huey Lewis & the News sometime in 1982. The song was Do You Believe In Love? (actually written by Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange!) from the album, Picture This, the band’s sophomore album. Based on that, I purchased the album and this ‘new wave’ standard-bearer has remained a favorite of mine.

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PoPINIONS

Is the Singapore indie music scene worth saving?

More than a couple of years ago, I wrote a series of articles for the now defunct Audioload site entitled ‘Saving the Singapore Music Scene’. If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes, it’s probably because broaching this topic is akin to flogging a dead horse. And I totally agree with that sentiment. It’s getting rather tedious to even talk about the Singapore Music Scene. Taking a step back and looking at this issue objectively, quite obviously, I personally have a vested stake in the development of the Singapore Music Scene. So naturally the success (or failure) of the Singapore Music Scene has a significant impact on me. Obviously then, it’s hard not to be emotional and subjective about the subject. But lately, certain encounters have narrowed my perspective somewhat on this issue such that I am even asking the question – is the Singapore indie music scene worth saving?

Before, we move any further, let’s have some clarity about what I’m talking about. For our purposes, the Singapore indie scene comprises of bands/artists writing, recording and performing original English language pop and rock music, independent of any major label support. Thus, this definition excludes the Singapore Idols (who are signed to Universal Music) and bands who play only cover music (like the Goodfellas). Anyone familiar with the Singapore music would then realize that this definition would include almost every Singapore band/artist out there playing English language pop-rock music. Sounds like this would be a rather massive grouping, right? But it isn’t at all. Relatively speaking, the numbers would be quite small. Maybe slightly more than a hundred active bands/artists? By ‘active’, I mean gigging on a regular basis and releasing recorded original material (either for sale or for free). Assuming that Singapore’s population is currently about 5 million people, then the ratio of band to persons is about 1: 50,000. Staggering, isn’t it?

However, out of the 5 million people that make up Singapore, the maximum number of people who would pay to watch a Singapore indie band play, will not be much more than 250-300 people! And the same numbers also apply to number of persons actually purchasing Singapore indie CDs! So… the audience that exists to patronize Singapore indie music is less than 300 people. This is 0.006% of the population of Singapore! Sad and depressing but true.

But… should it matter to anyone other than Singapore indie musicians? I’d like to say that it should and trot out all the usual cultural reasons and compare us to this country and that country but then I come to my senses. After all, this is a country of people that by and large do not understand pop culture or appreciate pop & rock music. Sure, we now host the F1 Grand Prix, rock festivals, two casinos, theme parks and so on BUT this is purely appreciated from a functional & economic value standpoint. Typically Singaporean, isn’t it? Almost nobody appreciates pop culture here on an aesthetic level – it’s purely a numbers game. e.g. number of Grammys/Oscars won, number of albums and concert tickets sold etc.

Thus, purely on this numbers game, Singapore indie musicians are losers and failures. Glorified hobbyists who should not be tolerated or given the time of day. Singapore indie musicians are no better than panhandlers and freeloaders expecting their family and friends to support their hobby. Singapore indie musicians should in fact get a proper job so that nobody else should be put out of pocket and they should be obliged then to give their music away and play gigs all for free. I mean, other ordinary Singaporeans do not expect their family and friends (and even strangers) to fund their hobbies so why should Singapore indie musicians?

This perspective has been formed by decades of social engineering, mind you, so it’s not surprising. After all, no Singaporean raises violent objection (or eyebrows) that the Singapore Symphony Orchestra consists of full-time classical musicians whose salaries are paid for by fundraising activities. You never hear any Singaporeans crying out – ‘get a proper job’ to SSO musicians, do you? But that’s because in the true Singaporean mindset, the thinking will be that these classical musicians actually have proper qualifications as they have obtained a degree in their (classical) instrument in this or that prestigious foreign university so they have the right to be professional musicians.

Therefore, as far as the public consciousness is concerned, the authorities have half succeeded in their determined quest to eradicate rock music from the local culture, which they pursued with vigor in the 70s and 80s. So even if they have recanted previous position based purely on economic grounds, at least they can savor the victory of turning Singaporeans against rock music created by Singaporeans, which is surely half the battle! Yes, let the foreigners make rock music and let our businesses benefit by charging people (Singaporean or otherwise) to watch these foreign rock bands but by no means, let a Singaporean rock band be able to do the same thing. No, that would be wrong… and which would send a dangerous message to our youth that rock music is a viable career option.

So if the authorities deem it as such, it’s no wonder that our sheep-like populace should entertain such mindsets, it’s so logical and ultimately understandable. So any question about educating the general public about music and so on is a losing proposition. After all the powers-that-be do not want such a scenario to materialize. Why else would the Media Development Authority in a fake attempt to explore the possibilities of aiding the Singapore indie music industry commission a foreign accounting agency (who have absolutely no clue about Singapore indie music) to conduct a study into this issue. A study that to date, there is no news whatsoever about. Why else would MDA also sponsor a Mediacorp TV program – Live and Loaded – which sole purpose was to present Singapore indie music in the worst possible light? There cannot be any other reason why the producers of Live and Loaded chose to showcase mediocre bands (including school bands!) on national TV. At least, both MDA and Mediacorp can now declare to the general public that they tried to support the Singapore indie music scene in this manner but found the ground to be less than accepting and thus any further requests to support the Singapore indie music scene can be justifiably denied! A brilliant strategy!

So where does that leave my original query? Is the Singapore indie music scene worth saving? My answer would be no. But that’s because it does not need to be saved and we should not look to anyone to save it! I have said this before and I’ll say it again – if Singapore indie music is important to you, kind reader, then support it… if it isn’t, then FUCK OFF! This entire issue has nothing to do with you then and nobody is interested in your opinion.

I feel exactly the way I felt back in 1998, after the Asian Financial Crisis brought our economy to its knees. if Singaporeans are not willing to listen to my music then I will look for non-Singaporeans who are interested (which is why I worked hard to secure US distribution for the two Popland albums and did not bother with Singapore). Now, in a perverse way, the highly popular immigration policy of Singapore has actually brought many foreigners (not pathologically prejudiced against Singapore music) onto our shores. This is the demographic Singapore indie musicians should target and aggressively as well. Also, look for fans overseas, find the opportunity to gig outside Singapore to find the fans who will appreciate your music (and not care what nationality you are). Start regionally – population numbers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines are huge and they will listen to your music without prejudice – and then move beyond South-East Asia to Japan, China, Australia, UK, Europe and the USA. Singapore bands have done this before – metal bands like Rudra, Wormrot, Meltgsnow and indie bands like Electrico, Great Spy Experiment, I Am David Sparkle, Stellarium, Etc and Caracal likewise. There’s a whole wide world of unprejudiced non-Singaporeans out there to listen to your music.

So what are you waiting for?

 

WORDS GO AROUND!

It was a week of talks for me. On Sunday (6th March) it was the Bitesize: Music Journalism 101 talk at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio (full review to follow later). Then on Wednesday (9th) and Friday (11th), I visited two schools as part of the Singapore Writers Festival: Words Go Round program. On my part, my task was to share with students my take on songwriting with special emphasis on lyric-writing. Simple enough, eh?

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THE LONG & WINDING ROAD

THE STORY OF GUM

The song – Gum – was actually originally tacked on to the end of This Savage Garden demo in 1992, with only one verse. When the Democracy album was recorded a year later, I decided to add the second verse and the Hey Jude-like coda. Remember, this was 1993 and so I was not too comfortable about the song receiving too much attention and so I made it a hidden track (very much in vogue then). So imagine my surprise when 98.7FM DJ Suresh Menon played the track on national radio! Not only that but Chris Ho highlighted the song in his Pop Life column in the Straits Times! So much for keeping a low profile.

Well, thankfully, there were no knocks on the door in the middle of the night and the song (and I) have survived till today.

Folks who appreciate the song often mistake it for a comic song about chewing gum. Well, okay, that’s partially true but in essence, the ‘chewing gum’ of the song symbolizes anything that has been taken away from us ordinary beings by the powers-that-be. It could be freedom, liberty or any other human right. Still relevant in 2011 as it was in 1992.

MAKING NOISE IN 2011

“My third Noise Showcase!”, as I remarked to Tse Wei (Noise) and probably the best so far in my experience. Van was scheduled to perform at 7.15pm (at the Concourse) and so before that I met her at Tiffany’s Cafe located at the Library @ The Esplanade as she prepared her little extra gifts for her audience. I got to help her “crafting” her special gifts (rather badly though) and meet her good friends Queena and Frannie, with whom I had fun chats with!

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NOISE-TIMBRE SINGER-SONGWRITER PROGRAMME

You could say that this event was almost a year in the making. Having spoken to Timbre co-founder Danny Loong about a dedicated programme for Singapore singer-songwriters in March 2010, it was very satisfactory to finally stand on the Timbre stage and host this event. Happy to say that the venue was packed and particularly so to see my RP students (viz Bryan, Linqi, Emily and Peiqi) turn up as well! In addition, the support of Noise Singapore has been invaluable to the cause.

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PoPINIONS

S-ROCK IS HERE TO STAY… IT WILL NEVER DIE!

It’s funny how things can change from week to week. In the days leading to the Laneway Festival Singapore, I had begun to feel a little discouraged about S-ROCK. First, there was this event organized by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, which Danny Loong (musician, Timbre co-owner and all-round great guy) was speaking at regarding local music. The idea was to raise awareness about S-ROCK, the thrust of which related to the irrelevant emphasis placed on classical music in Singapore, when more effort should be placed in promoting and developing Singaporean original pop-rock music. Well, I was disappointed somewhat with the response of the audience which seemed very negative and clueless. I’d basically given up and spent much of the time chatting with (supremely talented singer-songwriter) Ling Kai but was ‘cornered’ by Danny to contribute. So I did. My 5cts worth was this – if music is important in Singapore then we must do something to support and develop it. And if music is not important, then forget it! Music, of course, means ALL kinds of music and not just classical. There were a few heads nodding even as I finished off my ‘rant’ so who knows…but I did feel down after that.

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SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK…

I am a 70s kid. Meaning I become a teenager in the early 1970s, when bell bottoms were in… AND the popular cutting edge music then was HARD ROCK. Not metal (have never really been comfortable with that word). Simply, it’s rock (without the roll) and it was hard – meaning it was played loud and fast! The first hard rock band that I really got into was the legendary Deep Purple. Purple fans all agree that the second incarnation of the band was probably the best viz. Ian Gillan (vocals), Richie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keyboards), Ian Paice (drums) and Roger Glover (bass). Like many of the bands of that era, Purple started out as a psychedelic/garage rock band and simply got harder. My favourite Purple album is undoubtably Deep Purple in Rock, which contained classics such as Child in Time, Flight of the Rat and Speed King (see live version below)

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Well, that was the year that was 2010. Time to put it all behind and look forward to 2011.

What is there to look forward to? On the local music front, we can expect albums from The Cheating Sons (above), Caracal, King Kong Jane, Cove Red and Lunarin. In addition, TypeWriter will be playing Esplanade Recital Studio on 28th Jan.

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SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

THE MODFATHER

It’s 31st December. So what?

Tomorrow’s just another day – only it’s another year altogether. An arbitrary line drawn in the sand but nonetheless, it’s easy to get all misty-eyed and nostalgic about your life. Especially, if like me, you turn 50 in about 45 days…hum.

Most of all, for some reason, my mind is brought back to the early 80s when I was absolutely besotted with the music and image of Paul Weller (The Jam/The Style Council). I bought all the records (singles, 12″ and LPs) and grabbed every magazine he was featured in. Simply put, I was a fan.

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THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

2010

Charles Dickens wrote – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or something like that. It is probably an understatement to say that 2010 was one of the toughest years of my entire life. At the beginning of 2010, I became unemployed or to put it in a nicer way, “self-employed” and for a good ten months, money was really hard to come by. Still, GOD provided and although it was a struggle, we managed somehow. During that 10 months, I applied for the usual in-house legal vacancies but despite going for three interviews, which I felt went well, was eliminated in the first round, so to speak.

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NOISE-TIMBRE SINGER-SONGWRITER PROGRAMME

THE ART OF SONGWRITING

Why do I believe so strongly that the development of songwriting in Singapore is crucial to the “saving” of the Singapore music scene? There are many reasons but chief amongst which is the idea that in order to establish a unique Singaporean culture and identity for Singapore music, we must have our OWN songs! Makes sense, doesn’t it? What about the homegrown Chinese, Malay and Indian songs that already exist? Well and good, of course, but we do business in English, we teach in English and by and large we converse in English (or Singlish, same difference) AND we are entertained in English, so it’s not enough. We need our OWN English songs!

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THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

Okay. Finally, I have decided to continue the chronicle of my experience of being a musician in Singapore. Though I stopped at 1994 the last time out, I really skimmed through 1993, which was a watershed year for me. So… for the sake of completeness, here is my account of 1993.

Back to the Egg

Signing a recording contract was a dream come true. Honestly, I never thought it would ever happen for me. But there I was in the offices of Odyssey Music, putting my John Hancock on a legal document that basically obliged me to record music in exchange for royalty payments. Much of the credit for that deal lay with the BigO guys viz. Michael, Philip and Stephen . Definitely, they were instrumental in helping me secure the Odyssey contract. It did not hurt that my first proper studio recording – Orchard Road – was getting airplay on national radio and generally good reviews in the media.

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PoPTV

Time flies. I cannot believe that it’s already more than three years since I first met a teenaged Inch Chua at the Kopitiam in Novena Square to talk about Allura’s Baybeats debut later that year. In that interview (you can read it in its entirety here), Inch told me how she had since the tender age of 14, been a big follower of the Singaporean indie scene. Two years later, she saw Marchtwelve live and that experience inspired her to sing in a band.

Fast forward to 2010, and Inch is definitely the “IT” girl of the Singapore music scene. She is everywhere – newspapers, magazines, online, TV, on stages all across Singapore – everywhere. I am proud that ultimately, she is still that”indie” kid I met in 2007 and that she achieved her current solo success on her own terms. More power to Inch, is what I say!

And so I decided to dedicate this Sunday morning’s PoPTV to Inch and to wish her more and more success in the years to come. She deserves all the attention she is getting and more… deservedly so. Enjoy…

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MERVYN JOSEPH MATHEWS (1926 – 2010)

Dad2013

My father, Mervyn, passed away on Monday, 15th March at about 4pm. He had been suffering from lymphoma of the gastrointestinal tract and had been getting physically weaker. On the previous Monday, he had been admitted into the hospital as he had been too weak to do anything for himself at all. He seemed to get better and was due to be discharged on Saturday. Sadly, due to his lymphoma, he suffered a gastrointestinal perforation on Friday night and his condition quickly became life-threatening.

By Monday afternoon he was gone but thank God, he did not suffer too much and he had a chance to see my mom, sister, brother-in-law and his grandsons and speak to us before that. The last few days since his passing have been tough – emotionally and physically draining. However, thanks to the kind support of many relatives and friends, the situation was made that much more manageable. There were many kind condolences from S-ROCK friends on Facebook and Twitter and also Pat Chng, Josh & JBarks (of The Fire Fight), Nick Tan and Narisa Chan turned up at the wake, all of which meant a lot to me.

My initial exposure to pop music came about from listening to Bee Gees, Bread, Santana, Beatles 8-tracks in the back of my Dad’s car when I was a teenager in the 70s. My Dad was a movie buff as well and I remember watching classic scifi movies like Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, by his side. Not only that, but my Dad bought tons of comic books in the 60s, including the amazing Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Fantastic Four and the Legion of Super-Heroes comics (sadly thrown away by my mother in the 70s). So, you see, in many ways, my Dad made me the pop culture geek that I am and I’ll always be thankful for that!

My Dad was born into poverty, the youngest of eight siblings, and as a teenager during the Japanese Occupation endured a hard life. After the war, he was orphaned and soon joined the British Army to eke out a living. He would later join the Harbour Board (subsequently known as the Port Authority of Singapore) Police Force and worked his way up to the rank of inspcctor. He and my mom worked hard to give my sister Melinda and I, a life that would be better than theirs and they succeeded.

I still can’t believe that he’s gone but I’ve accepted it (knowing that he is in a much better place). So goodbye, Dad, we’ll meet again… Thanks again to everyone who graciousy shared their time to pay respects to my Dad in the last few days – I appreciate you all!!!

… still there’s more …