Archive for December, 2002


Monday, December 9th, 2002

I was going to be lazy and not write a report for Songwriters’ Round 6. I mean, look at it from my perspective – it’s Hari Raya, I am starting on a few side projects that will have big impact on my record launch, I’ve had a splitting headache since Friday, and the day job is beckoning again. So I thought I’d give it a miss this time. Submit to rationalisation. Too busy, that sorta thing. It’s stuff of everyday existence anyway – so it’ll be credible. Yeah. ‘Too busy’ is good. It’ll make me sound really important too. Nod nod.

But then my mother interfered. See, I was brought up by mummy to feel the full weight of the sort of puritanical guilt that would make Calvin himself proud. So, the Holy Spirit descended upon my conscience over the weekend and put a gun to my splitting head. Anyway, Round 6 was the first time we’ve featured a non-English songwriter and it’ll be poor form to start being lazy about it. On top of that, everyone had a great time, we had a good show, the performers were all great. Sigh, I’d feel like a real Judas if I didn’t do the customary report for all you folks who didn’t come down. Hell, you might miss binning the report with a flourish on Tuesday and blame it on me. So here it is. My two sen’s worth.

I think I’ll start by paying tribute to one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated people who help put the Round together – the soundmen (‘or women’, says mummy). If you’ve never played ‘live’ in public, you wouldn’t understand, so let me explain.

In most ‘live’ situations, everything you play is wired through the sound system. The instruments go through jacks and cables, and your vocals go through mics and cables. Everything comes out of the houses speakers through a mixer. Now, you might think that performers appear on the night and sound as professional as they do, but that cannot be further from the truth. What you hear when you go to a gig is the result of at least one afternoon of ‘soundchecking’ – where the soundman and producer put the performers before the mics, patch them up into the PA system, so to speak, and fine tune the sound. A bad soundman can make the best act in the world sound like an amateur. Too much reverb and you’ll sound as though you’re singing in a cave. Too much compression kills whatever life you have in your voice. Too much equalisation and you’ll sound like mickey mouse. So the guy who sits behind the console at the back of the room is really crucial to a good show.

Got it?


At No Black Tie, the soundman is even more crucial than normal because the house sound system and equipment is really elementary. Yet, one of the reasons why people keep coming back to the place is how good the sound is. Now, there are a lot of reasons why the sound at No Black Tie is as unique as it is (wooden room, small intimate place, quiet audience, etc), but the most important of these is that the soundmen who work the gigs there are, by and large, good ones.

As for the Round, we were very fortunate to have Rafique Rashid man the console in our first few shows. Rafique remains one of the best ‘live’ sound engineer I’ve ever worked with. He is neurotic beyond belief (a quality in anyone who has ever strived for excellence, in my opinion) and the fact that he is a really accomplished musician and performer himself is a huge and helpful bonus. Then we had Aloq, who took over the console when Rafique was unavailable, and did it according to setting diagrams and instructions that Rafique left behind. Then Aloq became unavailable and we suffered a little at Round 5, when a newish soundman Dayak took over and did not know the system enough. Unfortunately, Round 5 was also one of the most difficult shows to engineer because 8 acts were involved instead of the normal 4, and the stand-in producers (Lorna and Jerome) didn’t know much about sound engineering. Poor guys. We ended up with a show that was plagued with feedback and crackling bad connections. The pressure on the sound and production guys was no joke. But even then, everyone enjoyed the show – and that is the most important thing. Lorna was very hard on herself because of the sound problems associated with that show, but she shouldn’t be – it was a tough one to do, and the soundman wasn’t experienced enough to solve problems associated with a multi-act show. Anyway, Evelyn asked Alvin to engineer Round 6 last week, and he was good. The guy is enthusiastic and keen – a wonderful asset in an engineer. He was also very experienced, having worked for years at ‘Kings Studio’ as a studio engineer. Okay, so there was a touch too much reverb on Sara’s vocals, and Eugene’s mic is muffled, but that was as much my fault as anyone’s for not spotting it before and during the show. Overall, we achieved a fairly okay sound, and had people coming up to us complimenting it. So great job, Mr. Alvin!

But this is not a tribute for Alvin alone. I must also say thank you to Rafique (whose presence is missed), Aloq (good luck for the new gig), and Dayak. Without them, there would have been no show. And sound people remain unjustly the most under-appreciated people at live events. Hell, I’m as guilty of it as anyone else – for I forgot to thank Alvin after the show on Thursday. Bad Pete. So here’s one for the sound people. From the heart of my guilty bottom. Yam Seng.

And what of Round 6?

Well, it’s full house on Raya eve. If that is not an achievement, what is? Half the damn town was away for the holidays and we were a standing room only show. Makes you wanna do a saucy Britney dance routine. And didn’t we enjoy ourselves!

Eugene started the ball rolling. Our first Mandarin songwriter. He came highly recommended from a friend and justified the hype. Sweet voice and tasteful guitar playing. Songs to melt the hearts of all those not dulled by the cynicism of the years. And what stage-craft. You can always tell a natural performer from the way they behave on stage. Eugene seemed to loosen up onstage and oozed boyish charm – even in his halting English, he was effortless – I’d love to see him when he is in full flow Mandarin. I can see him featured on a MTV Taiwan already. He has been signed and we should see more of him in the years to come. Good luck Mr. Eugene.

Then came Chak the ever enthusiatic and chatty. Armed with a repertoire of snappy happy songs and committed delivery, Chak is a perfomer with a big big heart and is not afraid to wear it on his sleeve. Cheered on by a vocal crowd, the big man with a small guitar bashed and hammered his way through a repertoire of John Mayer-esque originals with his eyes shut and mouth agape throughout. Heh. His is a refreshing look at the bright side of even the most heart breaking moments. Chewing gum angst. Tongue in cheek stuff. Chak is a rare breed amongst songwriters – an optimist. A happy journey to you, sir.

Then up came Jordan, Rauf and Dique. The electric grunge band writ acoustic. They may have shedded the natural aggression of their normal electric sound for this gig, but their material carried a natural attack that none of the other acts on the night had. Theirs is a riff-based chomp through accidents and incidents of love and anger. Jordan’s vocal delivery is a strange one, to be sure, painfully thin and breaking at the edges at times, and in full flow at other times, but it always engages. So, a band with something to say. A mixture of punk and sexy lounge. And edgy as hell. Grungy folk with a bit of garage thrown in for good measure. Fun.

And lastly came Saz Lo, the sibling of Jason, orange of hair (hidden under a bandanna) and sweet of voice. Sara possesses something not many songwriters have – an equal ease when writing and performing happy, sweet tunes as heartbreaking, introspective ones. Although halting and uncertain on the guitar (she was backed by the reliable and tasteful Fahmi on second guitar), Saz’s voice is something rather special. It has a confident presence but is simultaneously not afraid to be vulnerable. I can trace the influences of her vocal delivery, but that knowledge never detracted from the strength of her own personality. Why the hell isn’t she plastered all over our airwaves by now? Ah well, I’m sure she will be soon enough.

Then came the last song, Saz’s by composition but participated by all on stage. A group-sing of a brilliantly simple but affecting song – the name of which I forget. From where I was, when Eugene broke into his backing singing bit and the band grew into a cresendo, my hair stood. It’s that good. You guys who didn’t come missed something there. The crowd who yelled their way into pandemonium will bear witness that I bullshit not. Nice end to the featured part of the show. Thank you all.

It is seldom that the open mic segment did not see a thinning of the crowd as the night deepened. But Thursday night was an exception. Whether it was as a result of the holidays, the quality of the featured acts, or the advance warning of who was playing at open mic, I do not know. But we had a full house into the wee hours. So, first came Rezal, a returning student from Australia, who has such a unique vocal delivery and brave musical style that my jaw was dropping before his first bar was done. I’d love to see him again. Then came Hassan and Markiza Brown with their own brand of social conscious folk. Then the effervescent and keen Shelley, who did an improvised blues ditty based on the words ‘Lemang’, ‘Sex’ and ‘Pete’ that brought the house down. Then the multiple award winning Jason Lo came up and continued the sexual theme with his hit ‘Rise And Fall’. Then Amir Yusoff came up and charmed his way through three songs, one of which was a Paul Simon cover. His voice is so deep – does the guy gargle pebbles for breakfast? Anyway, I played a few songs in the end too, but it wasn’t terribly good – so you didn’t miss anything there.

Then, as customary, the tequila came. I chatted with some new friends who stayed behind, and fooled around with some old friends who had no homes to go to, apparently…


Bah. Silly question. Of course I got pissed. Hence, the headache for company in the weekend. Strange enough though, now that the report is done, my headache is gone…

Must be a sign.