21 November 2003

Indie singer-songwriter Pete Teo does not look like a person who gets stage fright. But on the opening night of his recent Heineken Green Room concert at the Actors Studio Bangsar, you could see he was a tad jittery.

By Gerald Chua, New Straits Times

As he stepped onto the stage, the audience expected some manner of greeting or introduction. But no, Teo walked to the centre of the stage and straight away launched into his first song – Leonard Cohen’s 1970s hit, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ – by himself. The audience, many of whom came out of curiosity, having heard a great deal about this new star, didn’t quite know what to make of all this. When the song ended, there was a slight pause before the applause began, in sporadic fashion.

Teo’s main difficulty was to break the ice with the audience and get comfortable with his surroundings. But it proved not to be too difficult to get into the mood. The singer had a lot of experience to draw on.

As he continued his performance with ‘Street Where You Live’, joined by a five-piece band that included Charles Wong (drums), Joshua Wang (bass), Justin Lim (keyboards), Chan Kum Loong (erhu) and Greg Lyons (saxophone), the crowd began to relax…

The energetic ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was next, a familiar tune, which immediately warmed him to the audience, and vice-versa. Soon, he was telling us stories about his next song, ‘The Red House’, a song about an ex-inmate trying to start over. Passionate about music, Teo writes lyrics that are based on his observations of life, about the people he meets and the places he visits – real or imagined.

And so the show began.

When Teo went for a three-week tour of Japan in September, where he played the Asia Acoustic Music Festival, he discovered to his surprise that he has a Japanese fan club. Not surprisingly really – talented, hardworking and brave (in following his heart), Teo has carved a name for himself within a short span.

He also founded the “Songwriter’s Round” a couple of years ago. It rapidly gained a cult following with monthly gatherings at No Black Tie in Kuala Lumpur with its stated purpose of supporting indie musicians as well as sharing their love of music.

Still, the Heineken Green Room session was a different stage altogether for Teo. The singer-songwriter is now a star. The fact that Heineken went out of its way to promote a local folk singer, other than its usual jazz acts, was to Teo, a wonderful acknowledgment of his talents and a seminal landmark in his music career. The sponsors pumped a lot of money into the concert to promote its branding as well as to support Teo, whose album ‘Rustic Living for Urbanites’ was launched in June. Two of the songs from the album, ‘Arms Of Marianne’ and ‘Jesselton Tonight’, have been getting regular airplay on radio stations.

Meanwhile, at the show, as one song followed another, both singer and audience shared the magic of the moment in such songs as ‘Where’ve The Years Gone?’, ‘Blue’, ‘Alive N Free’, ‘Arms Of Marianne’, ‘Marianne Called’ and ‘Hush Marianne’.

From a hesitant start, Pete Teo had arrived.