Archive for August, 2002


Saturday, August 24th, 2002

You can always tell the success of a show by it’s post gig party.

After a poor gig, people are often subdued and overly polite to each other, the performers are embarrassed and sneak home early, the audience either sympathetic or disgusted depending on whether they know the acts on a personal basis or not, the drinks taste odd, the conversation is about anything but the show, you develop a headache and so you beg off too, you get mugged in the car park, you drive your car over your neighbour’s cat when you get home, and when you’ve finally disposed of the evidence, the damn car won’t start and it begins to rain; it is then you discover that you’ve lost your house keys…

Well, the post gig party on Thursday night wasn’t like that. Not by a million miles. I know for a fact there are list members here who are faint of heart and nervous of disposition, so I won’t go into it in all its gory details. Suffice to say that people were happy and the party only broke up at about 5am. When I finally got home, I didn’t run over the neighbour’s cat or lose my house keys. I went to bed contented. As my skinny body miraculously became muscle bound, I dreamt of pretty girls in swim suits. Zhang Zi Yi appeared at some point. So did my childhood sweet heart. They were strangely friendly with each other. Just as things were getting truly interesting, I was woken up by the prudish ring of my phone.


Anyway, one of the most gratifying part of producing a show like the Songwriters’ Round is the uncovering of fresh songwriting talents within our community. In the three shows we’ve done so far, we’ve already been privileged to witness the ‘first gig’ of a few brilliant young voices here in KL. Thus, in spite of excellent performances by Amir, Sherry and Jerome, Thursday night belonged to Mei Chern. It was her first billed gig, she survived the often tiresome process of soundcheck, the pre-show butterflies, a room full of strangers, and she mesmerised everyone with her brand of urban contemporary folk. All through, she was calm and professional, and when it was her turn to sing, she was quiet, sweet and arresting. Another fresh voice. More stories to tell and be told. The start of a long road for her, I am sure. And may it be a good one.

As I stood from the back of the room watching the show unfold, there was a distinct feeling that original songs in our community are alive and well. It also offered a timely remembrance of why, despite my fascination with other manifestations of the arts, I keep returning to songs. As it was, in one corner, we had the sardonic wit and all consuming intensity of Sherry (the singing mop of hair) – through a voice so brittle it broke as it soared, he told us stories full of indignation, but tinged them with wit at the same time. In the other corner, we had Jerome Kugan, whose world is hard to describe because it is beyond gender, beyond politics, and beyond conventional song structures – all bravely delivered with a voice that quivered with uncertainty at one moment only to fall into resolution a moment later. In the middle, we had Amir Yussof, short of hair now, but not of personality and ability – a voice deep in confidence and experience, singing melodies that floated on air. And finally we had Mei Chern, sitting somewhere in between anger and contentment, angelic and vulnerable, simple but never trite, wise but uncertain, soft spoken words in a city of bluster. What a show. As Amir said towards the end, whoever said our community lacked songwriters of talent is wrong. Dead wrong. Yet, in spite of several invitations to record labels, and hosting packed houses every time we put up a show, the Round (and as far as I know, No Black Tie) has never been visited by industry A&R people. Why not?

Shrug. Although I remain fiercely protective of my independence as a musician, I am far from a mindless opposer of the business end of music; but sometimes, I do wonder if the music business is interested in music at all. Now, before any of you jump down my throat, I am not referring to the same old (and tired) chestnut of labels being ‘only interested in making money’ and all that. Labels are businesses and businesses exist to make money – I don’t necessarily see any problem with that. Rather, I am pointing out a much simpler question – ‘are the people who run record labels music lovers to begin with?’.

I have met heads of labels in my wanderings, and I must say that many of them aren’t at all interested in music in any form. To them, a music label is simply a set of financial accounts, nothing more or less. This has always intrigued me. I would have thought that, to run a successful (say) biscuit business, you’d have to at least have a fondness for eating them. And because you are fond of biscuits, you’d also be interested to discover new recipes for making them, and how to sell them to consumers who might be as fond of biscuits as yourself. So, why should it be any different for the music business? Yet, it seems this fundamental business truism has not been mandatory for the music business in recent years. Odd. Perhaps that explains why 4 out of 5 of the majors lost money last year. And aside from piracy and competition from video games, perhaps such lack of passion for music by label management themselves also explains why the global record industry is in such a mess. At the end of the day, if people can’t find artists that they can relate to, they’d end up listening to less music. Hell, I’ll be honest and say that I only bought 3 records this year. Why? Because very few records promoted by the majors are records that I find intriguing and would like to own. Yes, there are great music being made and marketed out there, but other than a lucky few who successfully cross-over into MTVland, it is very hard to find them. I can’t buy what I can’t find. And so I buy fewer CDs overall…

I think this feeling is remarkably common.

Oh well. Enough griping. The next few weeks will be occupied by making preparations to get into the studio for my record. I’ll be rehearsing, scheduling musicians, drafting contracts, booking studios, grovelling to people about costs, booking plane tickets and so on – all the joys of making an independent record. And when recording is done by early November, then I’d send the tapes to Hong Kong to get mastered by my friend and funder Leo. Then I’d have to grovel to artist friends to design the sleeve and covers for next to no pay. Then, its time to talk to distributors and licensees. Then I might put up a few ‘Pete Teo’ shows at No Black Tie. Then I might go to Tokyo in January and do some shows there. Then we’d launch when we are ready. Then I’d sell a million records and get to be filthy rich. Then I’d travel first class and buy a new car. Then I’d become an unspeakably arrogant and egotistical bastard. Then I’d have a manager and an expensive team of lawyers. Then I’d eat lobster and oysters every night. Then I’d own a few Goodall Guitars and more Lowdens. Then I’d have groupies oozing out of my pores and Zhang Zi Yi on my every beck and call.

Then I woke up.

Oh well.

And what of Thursday night? A good show, as said earlier, and great performances by all four songwriters. But the last word goes to those who came up for open mic – Daryl, Ijah, Sei Hon, Jerome, Amir, Sasha and that really good tabla player whose name I forget (Sherry and I also did a few things we’ve been working on). A good time was had by all. A reporter from New Straits Times was present in the crowd (many thanks to See Ming); he had a jolly good time, and promises to write a piece about the show. The house remained packed till way past 2am on a Thursday night. Many friendships were made and alcohol consumed. I got home safely and didn’t kill the damn cat. Or lose my keys.

Though I did dream of Zhang Zi Yi.