The 2nd installment of The Long and Winding Road, an article published in the No Finer Time to be Alive book on the S-ROCK scene of the 90s.
The Eighties was a lost decade for me and my muse. Other commitments stood in the way. My bandmates had flown over to the other side of the world, I had to serve my country, spend four years paper chasing, get-a-job and marry my sweetheart. My songwriting continued a pace as and when time permitted. On the odd year that my displaced colleagues returned, we recorded whatever material we could. In 1983, I sat at the piano and came up with My One And Only, a demo recording was made the following year. Most who heard it wasted no time to tell me that it would be a hit. And though I had faith in my own material, I knew that that would never come to pass. Or so I believed.
The local scene saw the sporadic releases from the likes of Heritage, Dick Lee and Zircon Lounge but no matter how accomplished the music was, as usual public consciousness was hardly dented. In the mid-Eighties, Before I Get Old or BigO( ‘Singapore’s only independant rock magazine’ )was born from the ashes of the defunct Sunday Monitor and with it the seeds of a local music scene was sown, though fruition would only be seen in the Nineties.
Whilst marginally interesting, my own attentions were not focused on these events and in fact entertained absolutely no thoughts of ever achieving anything substantially with my music. But i was soon to change my views-thanks to a certain gentleman named Patrick Chng.
It was 1989, the ubitquitous Chris Ho’s Pop Life article featured a motley trio of odd fellows who were touted by Ho as the next big thing locally. I poured through the contents of that piece religiously. What interested me most was that the band had released their own demo tape ( Mild ) independently! Definitely, I had missed out on something the past couple of years. My mind and heart raced, if these ordinary boys-next-door-types could do the business, there was hope for all would-be closet musicians. It certainly suggested the possibility to me.
Fuelled by this renewed optimism and faith in what could be achieved in the music scene, my bandmates and I decided that this was the year that things would finally happen for us as a group. With that in mind we set down to record as many songs as possible with the hope of releasing them either with an established record company or even independantly.
Thus during my bandmates’ summer vacation, we spent some time holed up in a bedroom – a true-blue homestudio and emerged with a few genuine tunes. That then, we concentrated on the next task-convincing someone somewhere that our material was worth a shot on the commercial market. I managed to obtain a few names from a former lawschool classmate who worked with COMPASS and certain phonecalls were then made.
Deja vu gripped me hard as we sat in the producer’s office. I had been given to understand that this person could give us the lowdown on our chances in the local music scene. If he was impressed enough, he would take us on and make that recording deal a reality. And so, it really seemed like the years had been peeled back to ten years before with that WEA A&R rep as the producer slided our latest demo cassette into the tape player. He would listen to a bit of each track and then fast-forward to the next one a thoughtful look passing over his bearded face everytime a new song was heard. I glanced at my bandmates – it seemed ( to us anyway ) that he could not but be impressed – our stuff was hot!
When he finally stopped the tape for the last time, he looked at us with a slight smirk and in the most patronising of tones asked, ” Are you guys fans of the Lettermen ?”
He continued, ” Is that why you call yourselves the Watchmen ?”
We were too flabbergasted to come up with a suitable reply. What the hell was he talking about? We adopted the name because we loved Alan Moore’s comic. And no, we were decidedly not fans of the Lettermen.
It got worse. ” You guys are too old to make it in the local scene ”
Huh? I beg your pardon? Yes, we were in our late twenties then, but I daresay we were not knocking on the doors of the old folks homes. Not yet anyway.
He elaborated on his twisted logic. ” The only people who buy local English music are the kids. These kids want to see a young face. Let me show you what I mean.”
At which point he produces from his drawer a cassette and plays it for us. Commercial and inconsequential, the music contain the typical radio fodder of the day.
“Disco”, I said, rather disdainfully. I was corrected. ” Soul music, from an album called the First Time.”
And for those who were still in diapers back during those exciting times, this release introduced to the kids such notable personalities like Shawn De Mello and Jessica Soo.
” Nobody in Singapore wants to listen to local versions of the type of music you guys are creating. There’s no market for it.” so concluded our expert on the Singapore scene.
Disappointed and a little deflated by this man’s completely negative analysis of our craft, we trooped out of his office a dejected lot. Personally, I’ve never taken this kind of situation well. I regarded it as a slap in the face. Furthermore, with my partners leaving for the States again, things were again looking bleak. I had resigned myself to the fact that our last chance had come and gone.
… and there’s more …