Archive for November, 2002


Sunday, November 3rd, 2002

Pete usually does a post mortem on the Rounds, but as the man is busy in the studio at present, it’s going to be Lorna [Tee] and me [Jerome Kugan] doing the reporting honours this time. What can we say? Despite little hiccups – such as the sound problems and performers pulling out at the last minute – it was an incredible Wednesday night at No Black Tie.

Lorna and I had originally planned the night to be a reunion of all the performers from the previous Rounds. But not everyone could make it. In the end, we had Julian Mokhtar, Tan Sei Hon, Ariff Akhir, Mei Chern, Sasha, Sherry and myself – with a tentative ‘maybe’ from Pete, subject to his studio schedule. Rabbit, Jason Lo, Amir Yussof, Rafique Rashid and Daryl Kho couldn’t make it because of other commitments.

Soundcheck was at 3:30pm. Ariff was the first to arrive. The rest trickled in one by one later with Julian being the last one in at 5pm. Soundcheck was fine, though we had a hard time trying to get a good sound from Julian’s dobro as its pickup kept buzzing. We couldn’t figure it out so in the end it was decided that he would use Sasha’s guitar.

At 8pm, we finished soundcheck and had dinner. During dinner, the first few customers waltzed in. They looked at us stuffing our face with chicken wings and fried rice. I could sense the performers’ nervousness as they gulped down beers and practiced one last time. We didn’t feel confident. There was a certain edginess in the air. Something was missing – and it was Pete. But we soldiered on anyhow. We promised Pete that we would pull it off and that he wouldn’t have to worry at all.

You should’ve seen Lorna that night. She was a bunch of nerves. She refused any drinks, saying she had to be sober to make sure everything turned out well. As for me, I was just worried about forgetting my lines since it would be the first time I would sing without the lyrics in front of me. The others? They milled around NBT, drinking or talking to friends and one another. Sasha and Sherry were at the bar, sharing drinks and laughing over who knows what. Ariff’s sister and friend came, so he hung out with them. The same with Mei Chern, though she did complain she wasn’t feeling too well, having eaten something weird the night before. Sei Hon, Lorna and I hung out outside NBT, trying to lure passers-by to come in, although I can’t really say that we were totally effective. Meanwhile, Julian was doing Julian stuff…


At that point, it was just a matter or waiting for the crowd to arrive. And arrived in style they did, as true Malaysians, blaming the weather, traffic, and what-not for being late. But slowly and surely, NBT packed out. By 9:40pm when we started the show, it was standing room only.

The first to go was Ariff. But a few lines into the song, it was apparent there was something wrong with the sound. An unpleasant buzz distracted everyone but Ariff bravely saw his song through to the end. At this point, Lorna was ready to strangle Dayak the sound guy, but she decided against it because she knew next to nothing about sound engineering. So she was nice to him and didn’t scream. We found out later that poor Dayak was new to NBT and thoroughly unfamiliar with the PA set up. Still, there were slight interruptions during the first half of the first set as we tried to get everyone to sound good.

Another thing. Due to Lorna’s brilliant PR work, there was a good showing of press and reviewers in the joint. With at least five photographers cramming around the singers, we almost redubbed the event as ‘The Photographers’ Round’. Naturally, this added to Lorna’s antsiness too.

Anyway, Julian wowed everyone with his axeman skills, pulling out the blues like bunnies out of a hat. Sei Hon, who also had problems with the sound, performed brilliantly, his songs full of introspection and wistfulness (though Lorna still insists that he had too much gel in his hair). But the star of the first set had to be Mei Chern, who got the audience spellbound by her delicate mellifluous voice and heartfelt lyrics. When she did a cover of Dido’s ‘Thank You’, we could hear people in the audience sing along, hanging to every word she sang.

Intermission came, with Lorna by the front door, hoping that Pete would be able to make it before the second set started. After 15 minutes, however, no sign of Pete. The show had to go on. So it was up to Sasha, Sherry and me to hold the fort.

I started the second set and watched as Sasha and Sherry did their stuff. It was all happening very fast, being up on stage. Sasha was wonderful as ever, with her haunting voice and lyrics (and cute pigtails) captivating the audience. Sherry had everyone nodding and smiling to his magical songs. After three previous performances in the Rounds, it was no mean feat that Sherry could still manage to silence the room – even though you couldn’t see his face because of his hair. Then, when finished his ‘Jimmy’ song, and I was about to introduce my third song, lo behold, I saw Pete’s silhouette in the doorway, and heard Lorna shout out triumphantly: “He’s here!”

If there’s one thing that can be said about Pete, it’s that the man has the ability to make everyone pause at attention. He walked straight up the stage with his trusty guitar and Erhu player Kum Loong. After Lorna handed him his first beer of the night, the man exploded into song. We all had the wonderful opportunity to be entertained by a rendition of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and the third rarely heard song from the Marianne trilogy [Hush Marianne] – both with erhu and second guitar accompaniment. It was brilliant. The erhu just added that extra oomph to Pete’s songs. If anything, it just made everyone there all the more impatient for Pete’s album to come out. The second set ended with, of course, the unofficial theme song of The Songwriters’ Round, ‘Jesselton Tonight’. Pete hates performing this song because everyone else loves it and knows the lyrics by heart. But, the true performer that he is, he mesmerized us all anyway.

As the featured acts drifted off to the bar and helped themselves to more drinks, the open mic performers moved up to the stage. Peter Hassan Brown, having waited patiently all night, performed two songs from his album ‘Warm’. Up next was Reshmonu, who warbled as his friend played the guitar. He also managed to get the crowd to sing along with him in a slightly uncouth rendition of that cringey classic, ‘Ding-A-Ling’. Please look out for Reshmonu’s upcoming debut album, ‘Monumental’. After Reshmonu, Kum Loong took to the stage to perform two exquisite pieces on the Erhu. Spine-tingling it was too. Next up was NBT regular, Zarul, who exhibited quite a talent on the harmonica. Lastly but not least was Shanon, who serenaded the few leftover hardcore audience with two original songs on the piano. He was brilliant. You guys will be happy to know that Shanon will definitely be featured in upcoming Rounds.

With that, Round 5 came to an end. With a sigh of relief, Lorna went for her Sangria at last.