Archive for May, 2003


Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

You know, I’ve been feeling really guilty that it’s almost 3 weeks after the fact and I have yet to post a report of Songwriters’ Round 8. Life nowadays is just one fire fighting charge after another as the album release deadline looms. I mean, it’s not if I haven’t tried to be as conscientious as mummy had taught me and get the report done pronto, but it has truly been rather difficult. The truth is, even when I’ve had a night or two of slack from being totally swamped, I’ve been very disinclined to sit down and write the thing. After 9 months of non-stop activity, I suppose I am getting close to burn-out.

Still, I did try. See, on the Sunday right after the show, I went out and bought myself shit-load of groceries, tidied up the flat a bit and then sat down to write the report. I was determined to write a good one – because the show was amazing – so I wrote and wrote for all of 30 minutes…

For what’s its worth, this was what I wrote:


“So here I am – breezy Sunday afternoon – the birds are singing outside, ‘Astral Weeks’ is on my cheap hi-fi, the ceiling fan is twirling and I’m lying on the sofa with a laptop toasting my tummy, typing when I am not dozing. I slept well last night but I remain tired. I guess months of abusing my body is finally coming back for coffee and cupcakes. But it’s a good kind of tired – you know, that breezy aftermath-of-exercise-and-shower feeling – so I don’t mind it. Anyway, this is the first weekend for months that I haven’t had to work like a madman, so I am determined to enjoy it. I got some good music lined-up, loads of food to last the day, the embrace of a comfy sofa, a very important televised football match to look forward to later, and memories of what was really a rather special Songwriters’ Round 8.

Okay, I’ll admit it – the embrace of a sofa, however comfy, is never going to match the arms of a good woman – but sometimes, you just gotta be content with what you got. And what I’ve got right now is Van Morrison singing ‘Madam George’ on a Sunday afternoon. Hell, I’ve said as much to two friends on two separate occasions this week to this effect and I’ll say it again – I’ll settle for a lot less if I could ever write something as absolutely beautiful as that. Thinking about it just now, I seem to have spent the whole of last week evangelising ‘Astral Weeks’. In spite of first hearing the record almost 15 years ago, I still haven’t tire of it. In fact, quite the opposite – I find myself gushing about it almost uncontrollably any chance I get. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favour – go get it down at a good record store. When you get home, unwrap it with reverence for it is one of the most influential records made in the late 60’s. Then shut the world out and put it on. Gently – for it is a gentle record. Then sit back and wait for it. Now, you might find it strange at first because it has nothing that recalls ‘hit songs’. But give it a chance. Play it a few times and then I wager that it’ll become a habit. A small window into the soul of Van Morrison and Ireland. A perfect combination of great words and great music. And, of course, that VOICE. That whining passionate voice howling up a storm. Anyway, it’s without a question one of the best records ever made. A record to be buried with when you die – when I die…

But hopefully it’ll be a while before I die. Especially after last week – a week that began like any week in the last 4 months – frantically and stressfully – liasing with CD factories, printers, labels and a million other things. But by mid-week, things began to turn interesting. I guess it all started with the interview at KLUE, where I met a DJ by the name of Badboyben, who together with me, was co-subject in the interview. In spite of some initial misgivings about the angle that KLUE was taking, the interview went well and we had a rather good time talking about issues relevant to making a living out of music. This was followed by more charging around town on my part trying to get the CD out before the deadline, then followed by a KLUE party in the evening…”


Up till then, it was rather good, I thought. Okay, its less psychotic than what I normally write, but not bad. I guess listening to ‘Astral Weeks’ tend to make me breath smoother – so I was rather excited by this smooth version of Verbosity Pete as opposed to the normal manic and hyperactive one. In my head, I was looking forward to flowing like the Taklamakan, telling you how I enjoyed the KLUE party, how I met Badboyben again and we got to know each other better at the party, telling you how Jerrica and Kubaer danced beautifully in that angular way they do, how I had quite a lot to drink and closed the night eating Bak Kut Teh with new friends. But just as I finished formulating my thoughts, I got interrupted by the phone and had to stop…

Two weeks later, the cursor was still blinking exactly where I had been interrupted.

So here we are. A slack Tuesday night after a busy but fruitful day. 10 days before my record hit the shops and the scary publicity train begins its merry-go-round. Two years of adventure in indie land reaching a watershed. It has been really hard work, but really gratifying too. I’ve met many friends, encountered a lot of kindness, not to mention detractors who regard what I write here (and what I sing on stage) as some sort of unholy and irreverent blasphemy. Sigh. So much action – I guess I should be excited and up for it – but I’m tired, lazy and haven’t had anything to eat all day. So – should I plonk myself in front of the box with a tv dinner, read Dylan’s biography, write a song, or write the belated report on Round 8? It was a close-run thing – but my puritanical upbringing won the toss eventually. Thanks mum.

So here I am. A second bite at it. Better late than never. Bah.

Where do I start?

Yeah. I’ll start with my shoes.

See, I’d always believed that whether I played good on the night has everything to do with the shoes I happened to be wearing. Now, due to wonderful work by Sandy the publicist, lots of press would be coming to Round 8 – so it was important I didn’t have one of those off-nights when I forget lyrics or misbehave unashamedly onstage. In other words, I had to be wearing the right shoes.

Now, I am not Imelda Marcos. I only own a few pairs of shoes. Of these, there are only two pairs I’d ever consider my lucky stage shoes (the rest are day job shoes that make me look more of a demented pencil-necked wuss than I really am). Actually, the lucky ones are not shoes at all but boots – one a brown pair I bought in New Orleans years ago, and the other a black pair I bought in New York last year. Both are repository of lucky memories and both magically make me look like someone who knows what he’s doing. I had spent the previous night thinking which pair I should be wearing for Round 8 but could not decide. On one hand, New Orleans is a HUGE pair of flippers and very comfortable – they also look really folksy and ‘country road’ – an indestructible pair of boots that endow me with just the right touch of homeliness. It seemed like the right pair for the occasion when I was brushing my teeth. But then New York muscled into my consciousness as I jumped into bed. It is shapely and cool, kinda menacing in a harmless kind of way – Lou Reed in cardigans – just the right thing for an image of contained edginess. Tough choice, I am sure you’d agree. Tough enough that the question remained unresolved as I fell dribbling into slumber.

Anyway, so it was the first thought on my mind when I woke on Round 8 day was shoes.

What is it to be, Pete? New Orleans or New York?

Hm. Can’t decide still.

Then, from the back my frazzled mind, I sensed something wrong. What is it? Oh, that’s it! I haven’t practiced or played the guitar for months! Hm. Now, my friends will tell you I’m slightly unhinged in some ways, but I’m not demented enough to believe that wearing the right pair of shoes could ever absolve me from preparation before a gig. I mean, lucky shoes make me lucky, they don’t turn me into Jesus Christ. So, I need to practice. A quick glance at the clock revealed that I had a few hours before sound check. Oh good. I jumped out of bed and charged into the living room where my guitar sat. Then I practiced like a good boy every conceivable song that I could imagine playing on the night. I don’t normally enjoy practices – not when I was a kid and not now when I am older – but strange to say, I really enjoyed myself that day. I guess anything is better than drafting distribution contracts or devising delivery orders for the CD factory. Anyway, I enjoyed myself so much that I forgot all about shoes for a few hours…

I was going through ‘Last Good Man’ for the 3rd time when I glanced at the clock again. Shit. Time flies and all that. It’s time for sound check already. Argh. Not good if the bloody producer is late. So I dumped the guitar and charged back into the bedroom, washed, changed into something presentable, charged out into the living room, packed my performance stuff (e.g. guitar, amp, strings, nail-clippers, snake oil) and charged downstairs to my shoe rack.


Which pair?

Fuck. No time. I’ll put on New York for now but bring New Orleans with me also. Decide later.

10 minutes and 2 illegal u-turns later, I charged into No Black Tie. Evelyn was behind the bar. She glared at me and barked out some pleasantries. I mumbled something and charged straight past her. Rafique was already there and was setting up the stage. I greeted him. He turned and gave me a bear hug. As he was doing that, I noticed Eugene sitting before the piano. He looked different from the last time I saw him. Ah yes, he’s dyed his hair. It’s yellow. Cool. If I was 24, I would have yellow hair too. But I’m not. Too bad. Forget it Pete, old dogs can’t fly. Rafique released me. I looked around. Mia hadn’t arrived yet – and Mei Chern emailed a few days earlier to say she would be late. Phew. Good. I’m not too late. Just then, Mia walked in with her mother. As a rule, mothers don’t normally like me very much, but Mia’s mum was nice to me. Strange. In fact, both of them were really nice. So I dug deep and summoned up a few moments of civilised charm – my mum would have been proud of me. But it’s hard to be false – so I gave up and morphed back into a grunt 3 minutes later. Sorry mum. Time to get down to work.

I love sound checks. I mean, I get to be onstage and fool around amplified in an empty room. It’s immense fun. Or at least I think so. This is especially so when Rafique is doing sound. He is not only great at the job but knows how to make me sound better than I really am. So I relaxed whenever Raf is doing sound and just have a great time clowning around onstage during sound checks. I launched into an improvised cowboy number the lyrics of which entirely consists of a nasal whine. Eugene, having appeared at the Round twice already, is used to my malarky and soon joined. Mia looked at us funny. But dear old Mia is not only one of the most talented young singers in the country, she is also a good sport – so she soon joined in the whining too, in harmony. Raf, deep in concentration before the mixing console, ignored us.

Anyway, so we part sound checked and part clowned around till Mei Chern appeared at 6pm. Raf had sorted out the sound for three of us by then and it was Mei Chern’s turn to sort things out. Now, Mei Chern is one of the calmest people you’ll ever meet. I suspect that’s the secret to the amazing intimacy she is able to impart in her music. Still, it took about 30 minutes to get things really straight. We then decided to do one of Mia’s songs as the group ensemble piece to end the show. That took an hour. By then, Khai the journalist from Dragon magazine had appeared by prior arrangement to research the behind-the-scene happenings of the Round. He looked a little hassled – so I bought him a drink. Then we sat around, had dinner, and chilled for a bit. Pretty soon, people began to trickle in as the room slowly filled. By as early as 9pm, the room was already packed and I knew then it was going to be one of the best attended Rounds ever. I got started on my pre-gig beer binge, said hello to our guests from the press, bantered with old friends and made some new ones. Then I looked around for all the performers and found them calm and relaxed. Ah, we have a bunch of confident performers tonight. Good.


10pm now. Another standing room only gig. Far more standing room only than ever before. The room sweltered. Smoke, conversation, alcohol, stuffy. Classic NBT. ‘Ah it’s good to be back,’ I thought. And just as I was about to grab another beer, Raf caught my eye and signaled – 5 minutes to show time. Woo. It’s a packed show, the performers are all relaxed, I’m well lubricated. Let’s go. I’m ready. I FEEL GOOD.

Yes, it felt good to be playing again after months of doing nothing but acting like a deranged label exec. It’s not that I look upon the last 5 months of making music business deals with distaste, but I’ve always conceived of myself as a musician – not necessarily a deal-maker – but I’ve had to do it. I mean, if I don’t do it for my own record, who’s gonna do it? It’s not as though I can afford a manager. And anyway, now that the shoe is on the other foot, I think…


Damn. I froze.

5 minutes to show time and I still had not decided on which of my lucky shoes to wear.

Now, I could bore you with the logical calculations and psychotic anal retentivity that fired through my mind at that moment, but I won’t. Hell, I’m releasing an angsty singer songwriter record in just over a week and there is ‘artist image’ to upkeep after all. As it is, people are already having a tough time reconciling the way I write on this list to the way i write songs – so there is really no need to make things worse. Besides, there are over 60 new members to this list since the last time I wrote (welcome, people!) and I don’t wanna scare them lest they unsubscribe at the first scent of my torrential verbosity. This means you’d just have to make do with being told what decision I made during that 5 seconds of panic-stricken nausea.

Ready? Here goes:

I decided to wear both.


New York on the right foot and New Orleans on the left.

You might think this is funny. But it is not really. Well, it wasn’t funny to me when I was charging out into the car where I had left New Orleans. It wasn’t funny when I took off half of New York and put on half of New Orleans. It wasn’t funny when I charged back into NBT just in time for Raf to announce me. It wasn’t funny as I walked onstage to introduce the performers, hoping that no one would look down at my shoes. No it wasn’t funny at all.

Anyway, as the audience cheered the show’s opening, no one seemed to have noticed I had different shoes on each foot. So far so good. But I’m not an anal retentive nutter for nothing. So I changed my seating position to make my shoes less noticeable. Still no strange looks or fits of laughter. This is looking encouraging. The room descended into quiet. We started. To be frank, I don’t remember much of it, totally consumed with self-conscious paranoia as I was. I do remember Eugene being totally in command of himself that night, switching between boyish charm and heart stealing vocals with the sort of ease that typifies a talent that will go very far indeed. I also remember a grasp of delight from a table at the front the moment Mei Chern sang the first few words of her opening song, such was the intimate spell she immediately cast. I recall too Mia’s amazingly thick voice and brilliant technique wowing the audience into silence. What about me? Well, I was just me – hovering between messing up and getting by – constantly worried about my mixed up shoes.

And so we played.

Fast Forward.

The last song of the night. We did that group ensemble song written by Mia. It went okay. Good. Thank you. End of. I can go change back into same coloured shoes now. What a relief. But then something unexpected happened – the room exploded and the audience cheered for encore from each performer. Wait a sec – the show had always been tremendously received by its audience – but an encore had never happened before. Cool. And so it was we did our first ever encore at the Round. Mia did one of her originals. Mei Chern did a cover by Dido (I think). Eugene did a brilliant version of Bryan Adam’s ‘Heaven’. Me? I paid tribute to my friend Bartez (who passed on last year) by playing ‘Street Where You Live’, a song I had written some time ago for another dead friend but which I seldom play at gigs. I concentrated for the first time that night. The audience was dead silent throughout. Over 120 people crammed into the room and you can hear a pin drop. Magic.

Then it was over.

Then half the room stood up.

We got a standing ovation.


Better than sex.


You know, I’ve been thinking about this – it’s quite an achievement to get a standing ovation anywhere, especially here in Malaysia, where audiences tend to be fairly reserved. So I will look back when I am a decrepit old lecher 30 years from now (if alcohol poisoning don’t get me first) and remember Round 8 very fondly indeed. More than 20 years of playing music and that was my first experience of a standing ovation. A bit late in the coming but top stuff anyway. There is no way you can describe the feeling in words, so I shan’t even try. Just know it was very special. For this, I thank Eugene, Mia and Mei Chern for being so brilliant – and on their behalf, I also thank you folks who were there for being so generous.

But most of all, I thank my shoes.

Seriously. Come on. If you enjoyed the show that night, you’ll have to thank my shoes too. They were brilliant. Go on. Admit it.

Anyway. We took a break after that. The cigarette smoke in the house was so dense by then half the audience piled outside for air. Then we had open mic. Apart from Shanon, I’m afraid I can’t remember who else played although I know loads came up and entertained us (Oh yes Chak and Shelley too) – apologies to those whom I’ve forgotten. Still, those of you who were there will bear witness to a wonderful show. I’ve had many emails since expressing kind words about Round 8. Some regulars say this was the best Round so far. The press was duly impressed. Mia wrote and said she had the best time of her life. Eugene got very drunk several nights later. Mei Chern? Well, she remained calm and very collected. Cool chick, that one. Me, I had a great time and surprisingly didn’t get drunk at all. To those who were there, I’d like to thank you guys again for being such an amazing audience that night. Needless to say, your enthusiasm represents a huge source of encouragement to all of us. Please come back again. To those who weren’t there – boo – no tequila for you.

As said, I wasn’t drunk that night. To be truthful, I did not want to get drunk that night. Some things you have to be sober to savour. Besides, I had respects to pay before the night was done – and I didn’t want to be inebriated and did it badly. So it was when I got home at dawn, I gently got out of those shoes that had served me so luckily and well that night. I put them back on the shoe rack and made a mental note that I must polish them soon. I shut the lid of the rack gentler than I ever did. Then I climbed upstairs and carefully took out my guitar. I sat down and played ‘Street Where You Live’ again. For Jessie and Baterz. You see, Baterz wanted to play bass on my record. He even sent me a tape of his bass arrangements to all my songs. But before we could work on it in detail, he got very sick and passed. That was almost exactly a year ago. In that year, I’ve been real busy making the record. And now it will be released in 10 days. Peace be upon you my friend.

Good night.