From TODAY online 22.8.09
…and there’s more…
From TODAY online 22.8.09
…and there’s more…
It has been a good 2009 for Kevin Mathews, singer-songwriter-performer, as I have been playing gigs at least once every month. Never would have imagined this scenario two and a half years ago when I had decided to “give up” music! But God does work in mysterious (and wonderful) ways…
I am also extremely thankful to the Esplanade for their continued support of Singapore music and in particular, mine. Being invited to be part of their National Day Celebrations at the Concourse is/was an honour. I was specifically requested to sing my Singapore-centric songs and so that was the brief and it gave me the opportunity to debut some new material as well, which is always rewarding.
My set on Friday started at 8.15pm and the crowd was mainly old folks and young kids. A little bizarre but the trouper in me ensured that I was up for it, albeit barely. Saturday’s first set at 5pm was better. If I wasn’t late that is. You see, I met up with Rachael Teo after the sound check for a chat and the time really flew and before I knew it, I was late for my own gig. Never done that before. But somehow, it worked out (Thanks, God!) and my heightened adreneline resulted in a pretty good set, if I do say so myself.
But it was the second set at 7pm which I thoroughly enjoyed, with the benefit of a baby grand… I tinkled and banged away to some newer material including my own version of a National Day song which I believe went down well. This is the third time that I’ve done a solo set with piano/keyboards and it was immensely satisfying. Must do more!
Anyways, here are the set lists
Friday (8.15pm)/Saturday (5pm)
I Love Singapore, Pasir Ris Sunrise, High Cost of Living, Past Tense, My One & Only, Gum.
Late Night Request (Great Spy cover), Texas, Little Red Dot, My Life, Better, Happy Theme, My One & Only.
Thanks to the Esplanade crew, especially to Delvin & Hairon, for taking care of me and for Rach, Ivan and Samuel for kindest support. Oh, and if anyone shot videos, please share.
… and there’s more …
No, not the popular albeit insipid electronic game but the tentatively titled Okto TV show being produced by Moving Visuals, about the adventures of three young Singaporean musicians who form a rock band. So what does that have to do with me, you might ask?
Here’s the story. Good pals Jack and Rai wrote the music for the show and the duo suggested that Weiwen Seah be cast as one of the three young musicians (the others being Joakim Gomez and Lucas Chia) featured in the series. And of course when the script called for Weiwen’s character to have a father who is an aging rocker, guess who got the call? Yes, moi…
And so began my initial foray into “acting”. I inserted quotes because I have no idea how to act. After a couple of days to shoot my scenes, I am praying hard that my flaws will be smoothed over in post-production. Yes, I must say that it was tough but fun at the same time. Got to meet new people and spend time with Weiwen, which was cool. Still S-ROCK oriented, you might say.
What is more important than my performance are the contacts I have established over this shoot and look forward to seeing where those fresh relationships lead. In the meantime, stay tuned for the broadcast of “Rock Band” sometime towards the end of this year. On Okto.
… still there’s more …
Dreams do come true! Sometime in 2008, I posted an event on Facebook for my performance (with the Groovy People) at Rock the Sub. I got a bit of a shock when Chris Collingwood (the voice of power pop legends Fountains of Wayne) wrote on the event wall that he would love to play in Singapore!
Well, in about 5 weeks’ time, Collingwood will in fact be playing in Singapore at Baybeats 2009 on the 29th of August to be precise. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, yours truly will be backing Chris playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vox! Yes! Really!
Let’s just say that I have been a big fan of FOW since their gorgeous eponymous album was released in 1996 – the one with the kid playing Superman holding his pet bunny – and I can barely wrap my head around the fact that I will be on stage with Chris playing great songs like Radiation Vibe, Sick Day (my favorite!), Red Dragon Tattoo and Stacy’s Mom!
So, stay tuned as Power of Pop begins its countdown to Baybeats 2009, with special emphasis on my experiences with Chris in the coming weeks! Oh by the way, rounding up the band are Eugene Wee and Desmond Sim out of S-ROCK legends The Lilac Saints!
Check out my review of FOW’s third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, which I wrote a few years back. Still there’s more.
Ten tracks into this, the third and latest album from Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company, Fountains of Wayne delivers a truly incandescent pop moment with the ‘70s soft-rock evoking “Halley’s Waitress.” With the inspirations of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters trailing in its wake, “Halley’s Waitress,” with its baroque piano, poignant string arrangement, vibes and theme of wistful regret, represents the rare indications of heart (rather than mind) dictating the Fountains Of Wayne pop agenda.
This superior mood and tone is mirrored in the folky “Hackensack” and the balladic Fire Island, not to mention the radio-friendly “All Kinds of Time.”
Not that the band’s trademark driving sunshine pop-rock doesn’t in itself justify a recommendation. It’s just that I’ve always felt that this particular kind of Cheap Trick meets Pixies melodic crunch has been better served up by the likes of Weezer and Grandaddy. Worse still when juvenile urges are indulged with the rather distasteful “Stacy’s Mom” – imagine a much creepier “Jesse’s Girl,” where instead of lusting after another guy’s girlfriend, this time it’s your girlfriend’s erm mother – although I presume it’s done as a parody but why go there at all?
That aberration apart, the songwriting duo’s knack for stitching together vivid novelettes ala Ray Davies remains intact. The working class dilemma is outlined in tracks like “Mexican Wine” – “I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times,” “Bright Future in Sales” – “I had a line on a brand new account/But now I can’t seem to find/Where I wrote that number down” and “Little Red Light” – “Stuck in a meeting on a Monday night/trying to get the numbers to come out right.” Even happier to report that the boys’ sense of humour is not lost in songs like the bizarre action-replay paean “All Kinds Of Time,” which simply describes an American Football TV scene, “No Better Place” with “Is that supposed to be your poker face/Or was someone run over by a train” and “Hey Julie” which illustrates the mundanity of the working stiff – “Working all day for a mean little man/With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan.”
Hailed years ago as the Great White Hope of power pop, Fountains of Wayne do not disappoint with Welcome Interstate Managers, clocking in at 55-plus minutes and 16 tracks, discerning pop fans will relish every nuance and every lick. Indispensable.
For reasons I will not bore you with, it was important for me to get a lift this weekend, to recharge these batteries for yet another demanding week. Friday and Saturday nights promised much, first with the performance of the Great Spy Experiment at dbl O for Hennessy Artistry and then for my collaboration with Jon Chan at the For This Cycle EP launch the following night.
On Friday night, I met up with Firdaus, Audie, Nigel & Deborah for a meal before the GSE gig and had a fine time bascially talking cock (foreign visitors would need to google that). By the time, we got into dbl O, Freaky Z was on stage. The sound was less than optimal but I really dug what Freaky Z was all about. Unfairly lumped together with Singapore’s hip-hop scenesters, Freaky Z never tries to ape African-American rap culture in the way he looks or performs, instead he remains himself – Singaporean! His musical style, to my ears, is more reggae/ska filtered through indie Brit-rock, like Arctic Monkeys. I enjoyed his set. When GSE finally came on (sans Song – holidaying in Spain), the crowd rushed to the front of the stage obediently at Saiful’s prompting and from then on it was a half-hour of blissful mayhem. Yes, the sound basically sucked (inaudible guitar, distorting vocals etc) but the band soared above that limitation to deliver a heady set. The crowd certainly played its part as the connection between band and audience elevated this gig to sweet highs! New songs Wasted and The Lights stood their ground amidst “old” faves like Dance With Me, The Great Decay, Late Night Request, Siti in the City and of course the communal event that is Class ‘A’ Love Affair. I personally like the way Mag’s keyboards are more prominent in the newer material, a welcome development. So thanks to Saiful, Fandy, Mag and Khai for a magical night! Shout-outs also to Mike, Rozz, Huzaifah and Ian (The Fire Fight)…thanks!
Here’s a little “secret”, Jon Chan and I only rehearsed for our guest spot on Saturday night at 4plus on the day itself! Don’t try this at home, kids! Heh! I love Jon Chan! He’s one of our best singer-songwriters – talented and versatile. But most importantly, he’s a gent, no egos and hang ups, an absolute joy to work with. After the run through of our set, we ran over to the Cineleisure food court for a satisfying dinner with Esmond and Brian (always great for a chat). When we returned, there was a pretty big crowd (200 peeps?) waiting to enter scape, not bad for a ticketed event. No doubt that For This Cycle (aka Weiwen Seah) is going places indeed. After Fire Away Samson, Tacit Aria and Trella, we made our way onto the stage and did the set. A cover of the ever-reliable All Along the Watchtower, Jon’s wondrous new untitled song about grace – (“you know you can’t make it/and you know you can’t fake it”) and Gum. Judging from the bemused faces of most of the audience, I’d say that it was the youngest crowd I’ll played to since I started performing again but I wanna say “thank you” to the kids at the front who actually sang along to Gum. Made my night!
As young as Weiwen is, he has the mature sensibility to explore so-called older approaches in his music and as much as I agree with Esmond that he is the “Next Big Thing” in S-ROCK, I believe that Weiwen will be more than a passing fad and that he has it in him to be an exciting singer-songwriter/performer anywhere. I highly recommend you to keep an eye on this young man, and of course check out his EP (review to come…).
So that’s my re-charge sorted, high fives(!) to Jon, Esmond, Brian, Weiwen, Roland, Jordan, (Mr) Dex, Azly (thanks for the Postbox EP), Zaki (Peepshow), Joakim… later!
(Pix by Jane Liew)
… still there’s more …
And so, a week of gigs ended for me with two satisfying solo acoustic sets at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre. I got Nick Tan and Narisa Chan, two young singer-songwriters to open each set for me with two songs and it was rather affecting, I must say, to watch them delivering their own originals to the crowd.
Narisa seemed rather nervy but I think she handled herself well. Just needs more experience. Nick more seasoned now and his new song together with You (one of my favorites) pleased the audience. More to come from these two I predict.
I felt the first set was a little hard going for me – although the crowd was always appreciative – for some reason, I felt the songs weren’t coming across, especially the Singapore-referencing ones, which surprised me. Or maybe it was my own imagination. In any case, set list – Jealous Guy, I Love Singapore, High Cost of Living, The Offender, Pasir Ris Sunrise, Lament, Here, Beautiful, My One & Only.
I started with the electric piano for my second set. Was a little apprehensive about this, I don’t usually do this live but I thought that Texas and My Life went down well. And that pleased me no end. So from that point in time to the end, the set went very well and I could see many mobile phones raised recording my performance. Always a good sign! Also very much enjoyed the debut of (It’s Not A) Fact after all these years. Yes, it’s time to record some of these babies! Set list – Hey Jude, Texas, My Life, Beyond the Ashes, (Its Not a) Fact, Easy, Heaven, My One & Only, Gum.
Thank again to Chloe (and all at Esplanade) and of course to Nick and Narisa.
Pictures courtesy of Soh Poh Soo.
… still there’s more …
Recently two kind friends/fans Rick and En approached me about a short 5 minute film they were interested to make of yours truly! Obviously, I obliged! Here’s the result. Comments please.
…still there’s more…
Last Saturday, at the invitation of the National Library Board, I gave a short half hour talk on the Singapore English music scene, such as it is. The event itself was called Singapore Music 101, with the highlight being Dick Lee (possibly the most recognizable Singapore music personality ever) sharing his life story, so to speak.
My brief was really to share information on the S-ROCK scene as I saw it. Typically, I left preparations pretty late and really only put my summary together on Wednesday, 15th April, before I had to be away in Pekanbaru for two days. On the morning of the talk itself, I prepared a Powerpoint presentation of the images I had accumulated on Zach’s laptop. Which unfortunately, as it turned out, the Powerpoint file was a 2007 MS Office edition and the Library @ Esplanade only had an earlier version of Powerpoint and thus, the file was unusuable! Thankfully, my original images folder was in the USB Thumbdrive, which we eventually used.
That slight misstep threw me off slightly even as I dove into the talk. Scanning the audience, it seemed to me that here was a group of people who were totally unfamiliar with S-ROCK and thus it was a bit of an uphill task. In fact, they didn’t even look like a crowd who listened to any rock music whatsoever. Perhaps they were there to listen to Dick rather than yours truly. Nonetheless, I took this as a learning experience as this was the first time I’d ever given a talk on S-ROCK. Certainly, a lot of points to brush up on. Heh.
I enjoyed Dick’s sharing very much. Taken in the context of Singaporeans’ ambivalence towards local music, Dick’s success in the 80s and beyond is nothing short of miraculous. His “never-say-die” attitude certainly played a big part, he always believed in himself and with hard work and passion, his talent was recognized and appreciated by others, in the region (first) before his own countrymen and women followed suit. Strangely enough, this was the first time I’ve ever met him, better late than never, I guess.
A Q&A session followed and one particular question left me in deep thought – how could Singapore produce a international pop star? Should we even be think in those terms? I don’t know. Seems rather cold. My main concern is nurturing and developing our own singer-songwriters and expose them proudly to the world. After the Q&A, I did an impromptu My One & Only (what else?) on the piano and it was done. Made some new contacts subsequently – two teachers who were interested to have me talk to their students about the local music scene and a film-maker Clement who was keen on me writing music for his movie project. All good!
Thanks to Jonathan How for the invitation, Athena (NLB) for co-ordinating everything, Desmond and Samuel for coming down and everyone else who listened attentively to me even if they didn’t have an inkling about what I was talking about. Probably.
…still there’s more…
The media love a quote from someone with the requisite knowledge to provide the proper information. I guess I’ve become the “go to” person when it comes to the S-ROCK scene. Which is fine with me, as it is part of the grand masterplan for world domination but I would really appreciate it if some heads-up were given whenever my quotes were published.
For example, I-S Magazine got in touch with me to answer some questions on the S-ROCK scene, to which I duly obliged with my opinions. However, it was only yesterday that I discovered that my quotes had been used in an article called The Lion City Rocks Again (published in February!). Link here and extracted below.
Well, apart from the fact that my surname is spelt wrongly again – only one “t” – I was rather bemused at how the writer described me. I suppose I should be glad he didn’t use the word “veteran” which gets trotted too often for comfort. Heh! Any name referencing is good, I guess!
A few weeks back, Rachael Teo and I were interviewed by Chris (ex-AWOL, Peculiar Remedies) Toh for TODAY, whilst that interview has not seen light of day yet, some of my quotes have appeared in an article by Chris on MDA’s iniatives to promote the music industry. Link here and extract below.
Yes, name wrong again but this time “veteran singer-songwriter” re-appears which if nothing else is accurate, I suppose. Looks alright though I am concerned about the context of that particular quote which may result in the usual hate mail from offended bands again. Hrmm.
Still, the bottom line is getting the name out there and to that end, mission accomplished! I guess if nobody’s heard of you, then you’ll never be in a position to influence others eh?
…and there’s more…
Here’s a review from Nawira of the Jon Chan/Kevin Mathews performance at the WeekendTRIP last month.
Link to full article.
Thanks, Nawira but… only one “t”…
It was a new decade. Singapore’s only independent rock mag BigO had come out of the underground and onto the newstands and bookstores all around Singapore. And their message was simple. Singapore music is as good as any in the world and we support it. I must admit that I had largely ignored the mag for most of its existence, but it was getting increasingly harder to do so – especially with Chris Ho glaring daggers at you on the cover.
In 1991, the mag launched the New School Rock CD series and effectively kickstarted the local scene. On this CD, the talents of The Oddfellows, Opposition Party and Coporate Toil were showcased. Whilst the recording standard was very rough ( do well to remember that this was before ‘lo-fi’ became a fashion statement ), certainly the potential shone through the murky productions. In particular, The Oddfellows’ Song For Caroline left a deep impression on me and would serve as an inspiration for certain musical ideas of my own.
It had become increasingly evident that any ambitions I cherish in relation to what I could do with my music lay very much in my own hands. With that in mind, I complied a cassette of songs that we had recorded over the course of a decade and sent it off to BigO.
This little effort on my part would have greater significance that I could have hoped for. Subsequently I was contacted by Yong Shu Hoong, a writer to whom the mag had assigned the task of checking the Watchmen out. Shu Hoong was encouraging and seemed to be taken up somewhat by our material. His impressions were printed in the April 1991 issue ( which sported a Patrick Chng cover ) under the mag’s Ruff Cuts section.
” What baffles me is how they managed to remain unknown all this time. Through the years , they never stopped believing in the music that they are playing – maybe now it’s time the recording companies start believing too.” * ahem *
As flattering as it was I was cynical enough to appreciate the irony of the reality of the local scene. It was never difficult to ‘remain unknown’ in Singapore and I am very sure that there are many in my generation that possessed the skill and talent to make their mark musically and artistically but never had the chance because of the paucity of opportunity and reward to motivate development of their craft. That I had taken a first tenative step towards ‘recognition’ made me feel very fortunate indeed. I had no illusions about how far this could go and in fact, I had in all truth expected it to end there and then. My three minutes of fame had come and go albeit on a very minor scale.
The reasons for my pessimism were simple. I had no band. My colleagues were in the States and there was no contact from them whatsoever and my contemporaries were too busy pursuing career and family priorities to consider a time-consuming sideline like music-making. No, this had been the first and last hurrah of the Watchmen.
Or so I believed.
Stephen Tan is an editor with BigO and indeed a founding member of The Oddfellows. Stephen was emphatic that I should release the demo compilation I had sent to the mag. I had never seriously considered it before but his encouragement gave me the impetus to do so and thus, Who Watches The Watchmen hit the shops in August of that year. The fact that it sold out briskly ( all twenty copies !!) prompted a second release – Industry And Commerce – two months later.
Although it had been suggested that this was proof of how prolific we were, actually both tapes were culled from existing material , some dating back to 1979, which somewhat deflates that claim.
Back in the real world, Patrick Chng and The Oddfellows were taking the local scene by storm with the single So Happy and the album Teenage Head. A new era had been heralded by these releases as for the first time since the Sixties, a homegrown song topped the radio charts all over Singapore. A new phrase had entered into the public consciousness – ” indie band ” – which to the unintiated simply meant, a local band performing their own original material. It seemed as if the island could not get enough of the band, as they dominated the airwaves and meida attention for that surrealistic period in the third quarter of 1991.
Despite all the hype and publicity, sales of Teenage Head were disappointing – less than 2,000 copies – the public it seemed were not convinced of the value of local music. On the personal front, I had embarked on a homemade recording of new material together with my wife’s cousin Phoon Kwong Mun, then eighteen. Mun was blessed with impressive equipment in his bedroom – four track machine, sequencer, synthesizer & electric guitars as well a keen head for music arrangements. Our gameplan was basic, I would record the songs on a portable recorder on an acoustic guitar and Mun would flesh out my bare bones into full-blown productions.The end-product would be This Savage Garden.
1992 witnessed the delivery of New School Rock II, and the introduction of the likes of AWOL, The Shades, Stomping Ground, The Padres, Fish On Friday & Black Sun. Co-ordinated by Patrick Chng ( who esle!), the disc moved decidedly into the mainstream direction with songs from AWOL ( Postcards) and The Shades (The 5 Cs) generating chart action and national attention.
A rosy future seemed inevitable for the bulk of these bands and interest in “indie bands” reached a new high. Gigs were well-attended affairs and the major labels watched the entire proceedings keenly. Certainly, it would not be long before the masses embraced the local musician warmly to their collective bosom.
This Savage Garden was released in February and was generally well-received. This collection of political songs was a watershed for me as it proved that my music-making days were only beginning. Stephen Tan again proved encouraging and put me in touch with Patrick Chng to explore the possibilities of getting my material properly done.
Without sounding too cynical about it, I had my doubts as to how much could be achieved.
As I was mulling over limited options, the trio known as Black Sun invested their time and hard-earned cash to independently release their self-titled CD in mid-1992. Whatever one thought of the easy-listening pop fodder of the actual material, the drive, motivation and the commitment could not be faulted.
However, as with most other local releases the first weeks of release were torturously slow sales-wise. Worse, for the band, they were constantly being written off as ” middle-aged rockers ” or derided due to the fact that they were wealthy enough to pursue their dream.
But, as fate would have it, radio picked up on Love You Now, the opening single and the band found itself with a Number One Song! Better yet, the accompanying musicvideo was a feature in the MTV Asia Top Twenty !! Had Singapore pop arrived ?
Sadly, sales again contradicted. Reportedly no more than a measly 3,500 copies! What would a local artiste have to do to sell albums?
In October, my contact with Patrick Chng paid off as he invited me to contribute two tracks to New School Rock III. So it was off to the Savior Faire studio in Sim Lim Square backed by friend Stephen Huen on lead guitar and Patrick on drums. My first recording experience was quite rewarding as we churned out On Orchard Road and Please Believe Me in a day. Certainly, the satisfaction obtained by putting the songs together was something I thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted more!
1993. On Orchard Road was the first of my songs to be played on radio. It was definitely a cheap thrill I could possibly get used to very quickly. It was also the first to be made into a music video ( courtesy of Eric Khoo ) and aired over national television. Things, it seemed were begining to happened. Remarkably by May I had secured a recording deal with local indie outfit Odyssey Music. At last twenty years of unfulfilled dreams were to be resolved.
For the next year, the pace could only be described as hectic as if to compensate for the long time it took for me to reach that stage. And through it all I had to take the good with the bad. My One and Only, whilst managing to be a #1 radio hit was also summarily snubbed at the Perfect Ten Awards. At gigs, the song would be wildly received by hundreds and yet the album Democracy failed to sell more than a paltry 4000 copies. I performed ‘live’ on National Television but would later be accused of falsehoods in The New Paper by former friends and partners. The Love EP was recorded and mixed in less than 22 hours only to be ignored by everyone.
By May 1994, Watchmen were history.
Indeed, though this journey appears to have ended, I am beginning a fresh venture with The Crowd. It doesn’t matter to me how many albums I sell, or whether The Straits Times writes about me, or if the radio plays my music. This adventure is for me, my family and whomsoever is interested in jumping on board. If there is but one person who is keen on following my art then it is certainlky worthwhile to soldier on. I see Modest not merely as a demo i.e. as a means to an end but an end to itself.
My recording career has only just begun.
Well, that’s where I had left it in 1995, which is now 14 years ago! Should I fill in the blanks? Comments, please…
So far, we’ve had three jam sessions and just one performance (at the MDA Fiesta) but this little collaboration with Jon Chan that Esmond (WMUM) suggested has been working out fine for all concerned.
Today, at 10pm at the Scape Lab, we add three more songs to the 15 minute set we did at MDA Fiesta, which are basically another song by Jon (Security), a new song from me (The Secret) and a 70s cover that we’ve had loads of fun prancing around to.
I’m particularly enjoying this change of environment after about two years either playing solo acoustic or full band with the Groovy People. With Jon around, I can take a breather – a back seat if you will – and just be the rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist on his songs. Refreshing!
So hope to see as many of you guys as can make it tonight…please come up and say hello!
…yes, there’s more…
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 …
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD My Bittersweet Life as a Local Musician
NB. More than 10 years ago, I contributed an article to a book on local music called No Finer Time To Be Alive. I’m serializing the piece here at Power of Pop over the next couple of days. It’s an interesting snapshot of where I stood, as a musician, in the mid-90s. Maybe I should update it, eh? Comments, please.
The National Theatre, a hot & balmy Saturday night, sometime in the tailend of the Seventies. On stage, the impossibly thin lead vocalist ( with the incredibly tight jeans ) of rock band The Unwanted is caught in an unfortunate quandry – he’s forgotten the lyrics to that classic rock chestnut Burn – and the crowd ( naturally ) jeer him unmercilessly. Uncomfortably, he asks whether he was ‘ unwanted ‘ and receives a predictable response!
Pest Infested are next in the firing line and suicidally decide to play the blues. Midway through an impassioned run through Like A Rolling Stone, the predominatly Mat Rok crowd make their own decision – its intermission time! Those who remain, continue to heckle the luckless bluesboys with the chants of ‘ WE WANT SWEET !!! ‘ slowly but surely gaining momentum and strength. Disgusted, the group simply give up.
The snacking mass soon return to welcome their darlings – Sweet Charity – and it seems like the entire auditorium erupts into a frenzy of unbridled excitement. Led by Ramli Sarip, the band are in their element, making the right moves, striking the right poses and singing the right songs – they can do no wrong.
Welcome to a typical gig in Singapore circa 1978, where the ticket to audience appreciation is providing faithful fascimiles of classic rock i.e. Deep Purple / Led Zeppellin / Black Sabbath, and nobody but nobody even thinks of the words ‘ artistic integrity’.
As a mere seventeen year old, my own thoughts were not about whether local bands would forever be doomed to play second fiddle to their foreign cousins. Rather, it revolved around perfecting that tricky organ solo in Highway Star. Yes, it seems strange, but the ultimate goal for any local band two decades ago was to strutt your stuff on the National Theatre stage and hopefully avoid the heckling.
And being part of a fledging outfit myself, my own ambitions did not stray far from the norm. In any case, the conventional wisdom was that this was only a teenage phase and nobody would take pop music seriously either as a career or an artform.
Once the heady days of the Sixties were over, the scene entered its darkest period and would not emerge back into the sunshine for two decades. The perception of musicians as ‘band boys’ was solidified during this time as whatever artistic merit of local musicians was totally stripped away and reduced to mere functionaries to provide background muzak during dinners, parties & dances.
However as far as my bandmates and I were concerned, none of these matters concerned us as we lived from jam to gig, hoping for greater things, maybe one fine day. Our principal inspiration being The Beatles, we rehearsed and rehearsed, played at various functions and slowly but surely developed our own original repertoire.
By 1979, we knew in our hearts that a bold step was required to bring us to the next stage. And so, we set up an appointment with a A&R representative from WEA and armed with a ghetto blaster and a demo tape, we plunged into the unknown.
Memories are a bit hazy about the actual details-how this man looked like, what his office was like-but what was clear was someone pressing ‘play’ on the player and listening to the opening psychedelic strains of Fool’s Paradise fill the room. After three nerve-wrecking minutes, the man pressed ‘stop’, stared intently at us and told us that it was quite good BUT ( and there’s always a ‘but’ ) WEA were only releasing Mat Rok albums.
Now, chew on this. If indeed this man was telling the truth, it seems ridiculous. The material was ‘good’ but not ‘marketable’ i.e. it would not sell enough to make it a worthwhile risk for a record company. There appeared to be a reality gap between the value of ‘quality’ and ‘commerciality’ as far as popular music was concerned-at least in Singapore.
For us, it marked the end of an era and for me personally it was the beginning of a long and winding road that would often bring dissapointment and frustration. This experience also served as a rude awakening for me-it did not matter how ‘good’ your music was, could it sell? That question continues to haunt all local musicians to this day.
… still there’s more …
Just when you believe all that’s been said about Singaporeans – y’know that we’re repressed, not supportive of Singapore music and unable to show appreciation at concerts – you have an experience that totally blows all your pre-conceived notions out of the water!
Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the awesome reception the Groovy People and I received when running through our set at the recent Rock Your World. With each succeeding song, it seemed like the applause was getter louder and the enthusiasm was increasing apace. Halfway through, I really felt that it was going to be a magical night and in my mind I let go of every fear and anxiety and simply rode home on auto.
Inspite of the odd glitch – I forgot the lines of the second verse of Never Liked the Beatles for example – everything went smoothly and when we closed the night with My One & Only and Gum, I could not help but smile at the thunderous applause. Truly unforgettable!
My heartfelt thanks to the Groovy People viz. James, Brian, Thomas, HQ and Esther, without whom that fantastic night would never have been possible. I love you all!
Set list time –
Hot Burrito #1
Never Liked the Beatles
A Climate of Fear
Feel the Same Way
My One & Only
… still there’s more …
For those of you who haven’t downloaded watchmen@midnight Ep yet, you have till midnight, 28 Feb 2009 to do so. Cos six days after that, the highly-anticipated Watchmen movie will be released!
… and there’s more …
I will be 48 next month.
A sobering thought maybe but I count my blessings that I am still able to do what I love – write and play my music. Ever since plunging back into the S-ROCK scene after New York April 2007, things have been happening for me. So on the 14th and 15th January 2009, I made my solo debut at the Esplanade Concourse, armed with my guitar (and a piano).
And whilst it was enjoyable to be able to share songs from my 15-year recording career (such as it is), it was even more satisfying to share the stage with my apprentices – Racheal Teo and Nick Tan, two talented singer-songwriters who have the potential to make an impact not only on the S-ROCK scene but across the world. And why not?
So thanks to all the kind folk who made this event such a fun one for me – the Esplanade peeps (Chloe, Lynn, Ashton, Keith), Rachael, Nick, Gary and Janice, Georgene, Mandy, Esther, HQ, Nick, James & Mel, Es, Jon, Sherwin, Ivanified et al.
Set list –
(1) Love & Water (Rachael Teo), Late Night Request (GSE), Never Liked the Beatles, Beautiful, High Cost of Living, I Love Singapore, My One & Only.
(2) Hot Burrito #1 (Flying Burrito Bros), My Life, This Savage Garden, Keep the Faith, Oh Lord!, Always, My One & Only
(3) Lyric Space (Nick Tan), Jealous Guy (John Lennon), Feel the Same Way, Here, Mister Ong, Orchard Road, My One & Only
(4) Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks), A Climate of Fear, Easy, Damaged, Heaven, My One & Only, Gum
Hope to upload a couple of tracks recorded live from both nights soon.
… still there’s more …
And… watchmen@midnight Ep is still available for free download here.
2009 begins tonight, boys and girls!
My first gig of the year will be a solo affair, armed only with my guitar. Not entirely true actually, as there will be a little surprise for those of you at the esplanade concourse tonight for the 2nd set at 8.15pm.
Also, my talented Noise apprentices Rachael Teo and Nick Tan will be opening each night’s set with a original song of their own. These kids are gifted singer-songwriters and you can expect to hear much more of them in the months to come.
I will be singing a few of the usual suspects and many songs that I’ve never ever played live before. I’m blessed to still have an audience even after all these years and for this, I am thankful. So hope to see all you kind folk tonight or tomorrow night and please do come up and say hello…
… and there’s more …
A Climate of Fear was played on Monday (6 Jan) night on Tan[g]kap Suxx’s show on unpopular radio. You can download the entire show from the link on the site. I must say that Tan[g]kap Suxx’s DJ style reminds me of the late great John Peel. So check it out for some great music – including yours truly.
…still there’s more…