Originally posted in 7 Jan 2009. Pulled up here again in anticipation of next week’s events.
My posts in recent times inadvertently revolve around music one way or another. Why eh?
When I was in college, I formed two different bands at two different times.
The first one was purely because I wanted to annoy people. There was this annual singing/talent contest that was organised by College X (cannot name names ok, some of them might be reading this blog!) and every year the same people would win and these, oddly enough, would be the same faces that represented the colleges or varsity in any art-related performances – choir, band, drama, dance, boria, traditional songs solo singing competition you name it. Balik-balik muka sama (it was the same faces again and again). No one else stood any freaking chance. Not that I was one of the no one else, I always try to be as inconspicuous as possible though that is impossible to do. But you know, underdogs yada yada.
So, the moment I moved to another college, the first thing on my agenda was to infiltrate this contest (let this be a lesson to everyone, never let me roam free. I will incite mutiny at almost every possible chance). I signed myself up under the ‘band’ category and then I sat down to figure out who and how I was going to form one.
Getting back-up singers was easy enough. Ina is always good for any 15-minutes of fame activities. Then we persuaded Azil, her room mate, to join us; which was easy too because all we had to do was promise her a free dinner. Getting the rest of the band members, those who would actually play the instruments, was a bit harder coz I didn’t know anyone at the new college.
There was this boy whom we called Tawau. He was just learning how to play guitar. I don’t really know him and I can’t remember how I found out that he was learning to play guitar. But the moment I knew which one was Tawau, I walked right up to him, shoved him my Applause and told him, ok Tawau, you gonna play the guitar for this contest and you are now a part of my band. Just like that. Surprisingly, he didn’t even try to protest. We practiced a few times but he didn’t seem to be able to get into the groove. One night he came to me and asked, is it ok if I bring a second guitarist in? Of course I said. It was this quiet, super nice boy called Raphael. I swear, he is so quiet he almost never speaks.
Anyway, Raphael was familiar with the songs that we chose and he was the better guitar player so he was able to help Tawau navigate through the set piece. By then we had decided to make it an all acoustic set. We made it through the preliminary round easily. Or so we thought. When it was announced that we made it to the finals, we did the compulsory wuhoo and group hugs and started talking excitedly about what we were going to do for the finals.
As we were walking out of the amphitheatre, one of the judges ran up to me and said he wanted to tell me that actually, we barely made the cut. That’s not possible, I said. We were clearly the better singers and the audience liked us. That’s not the point, he said. You guys didn’t treat this like a competition. You picked a fast number that no one was familiar with, you came in here in jeans and shirts when everyone else was dressed to the nines and you were singing and waving to the audience like this was your concert. The only reason you got to the finals was because the singing was good. You scored very poorly in all other judging criteria. Needless to say, this was long before American Idol or Akademi Fantasia came into our living rooms so judges held absolute control and absolute power.
We went to Sahur (that’s the name of the cafe), had supper and then talked about what song to sing in the finals. I mulled over Mr Big’s To Be With You, or Goodbye by Air Supply. After a couple of tries, Raphael finally spoke. He said, no. Just as simple as that. I looked at Ina and we sort of instinctively knew I had to sing something by Debbie Gibson if we want to put this in the bag.
You see, when I was younger, people tell me that I sound uncannily like Debbie Gibson. I don’t anymore, but back then I can fake it close enough so that people are fooled into thinking that I sound exactly like her. Like Wade did in the case of the previous post. So I went, uh… ok… there is this other chick song that we can try but I don’t know if we have time to transcribe the chords and work out the harmony. Plus it’s so mushy and lovey dovey I don’t know if the audience would like it……
…what song, Raphael asked. Lost in Your Eyes, I said. He thought about it for about 2 seconds then proceeded to play that song off the cuff in the most wonderful way and in the right key for my voice too! It was amazing. I can’t believe guys know chick songs like that.Needless to say, we won. Oh, and the fact I was wearing a tight fitting bustier that showed off my generous cleavage may also played a part. Raphael said I looked very nice. I am sure many people (by people I mean men) thought I looked very nice too.
The second band was formed for a different reason. You see, this was what happened. The college’s official band lost their main singer coz he decided that he wanted to sing in the Lagu Asli (traditional song) competition instead. This was part of the famed PSP week (Persembahan Seni Pentas, or Stage Arts Performance) where all the colleges compete in various forms of stage arts to win the PSP challenge trophy.
Someone told the person in charge of the college band that I could sing, so I was summoned from my room and told, as a matter of factly, that it was my civic pride and duty to uphold the honour of the college and contribute my vocal chords. Okay lah. I wasn’t picky.
The trouble was, no one informed the band that I was now the lead singer. So when I showed up at the jamming studio, the boys were uneasy and unhappy. Plus, they had found a replacement singer, one of their friends who was also there so things were awakward.
The boys were polite and they came up with a polite way to tell me to f*** off. First they asked me to sing (like I was in a bloody audition, can you believe that?). Then, they went ummm…aaah…. that was good…. ok…. ummmm….. so we have actually chosen the songs that we were going to play…. it’s called Interstate Love Song by Stone Temple Pilots, do you know that song (I did)… oh… you do…… ummmm in that case, why don’t you guys do a duet…. you sing in a higher pitch and he sings in the original key.
I laughed a little. They didn’t even ask me what I would like to sing. And who harmonizes to Stone Temple Pilots? The other two songs that they chose were Plush (also by STP) and Are You Gonna Go My Way by Lenny Kravitz. Are you f**king kidding me? I may be very well-versed in my rock references, but there was no way I was going to be able to sing any of these.
So what could I do? I said, oh well, in that case then I think it’d make more sense if you guys just stick to having a male vocalist. They nodded in agreement, I left and that was that.
Was I angry? A bit. I was dragged into this hot mess and coerced into performing my civic duty only to find that I was not welcomed.
Now, for some reason that I could not fathom, about a week later someone made the mistake of asking me to represent my college at the PSP briefing by Pusat Kebudayaan (Arts Centre), then chaired by En Zubir Ali and Dr Syed Hamzah (ok I could get the second name wrong, but he was a mean violin player). Big BIG mistake. At the briefing, we were talking about the competition format yada yada yada when I looked at En Zubir and asked, why aren’t colleges allowed to send more than 1 band? He said that’s because only one entry can be funded as the college band, there just wasn’t enough money to go around to form more than 1. I could not believe my luck. An opportunity presented itself so I seized it.
What about independent entries? I asked. What if students want to fork out their own money for the jamming sessions and use their own equipments? Can they enter? If they do it voluntarily and pay for it themselves, then funding is no longer an issue. Right?
He smiled. Earlier that year we had worked with him and the Arts Centre to stage a nationwide amatuer Irama Malaysia songwriting competition. Such competition had never been organised before. Even by proper artistic entities like RTM. I am sure it provided him with many hours of amusement. Point is, he may not know me, but he knew what I was getting at.
Ok, he said in that pleasant style of his. If everyone at this table agrees to let independent entries join PSP, the Arts Centre will support that decision and amend the rules and regulations.
Let’s vote, he said. Shall we allow independent entries?
What do you think happened?
I went back to my room, thought about it for a bit and decided you know what, I’m sending in a band. From the get go, I knew that I wanted to sing Didn’t Have The Heart, which was also by Debbie Gibson (see previous post to listen to the song). One reason was because it has this nice violin part, and the girl who was staying across the hall, Farah, was a violin player (we even went to Vanessa Mae’s concert together though we were sitting at separate seats coz I got my ticket for free while she bought hers. Long story that will be told some other day).
We went to her room and let her listen to the song. She went mhmmm…. and then said, ok I’ll be in the band. Forming this second band was a lot easier coz by then we had known more people. We recruited Wade, Capella (that’s his real name), Andy and Raphael almost immediately. Our problem was getting a keyboardist. In the end we had 3: Rina, Alex and Nawal. Add one back-up singer that doubled as the maracas player and we became a 10-man band. Just like that.
We didn’t win of course. All the other bands had their own equipment and their act together. We relied on Black Widow’s and whatever spare equipment that the Arts Centre had and the majority of us had never even played in public before, much less in front of 3000++ screaming, critical college students. En Zubir watched our rehearsal. He said, all things being equal, you’re easily in the top 3. But you won’t be, he said, in that pleasant style again. You guys are novices. Your nerves will get the better of you. And you’re using unfamiliar equipment. You’re lucky if no one vomitted out of stage fright.
Ok he didn’t say the last line. But he wished us luck and gave us pointers. Before he left, he said, try to enjoy this experience. Music is supposed to be fun, not stressful. He didn’t stay to watch the other bands. We regrouped, helped the Arts Centre people set up the stage, laughed at the wobbly state of the drum set, at the guitars that hummed and didn’t want to connect to the amps, had an early dinner together, showered (individually, in the privacy of the communal bathroom of course) then wore the nice clothes that Farah got from sponsors. Yeah we had sponsors; Farah also got us (me) a vocal coach who guided us on our timing as a band – at the end of it, I think we did became a good, tight band. He was very disappointed at our performance that night, said that we only played at probably 30% of our actual capabilities. But what can you do? We took it as far as we could with borrowed equipments and borrowed funds. All we could do was to pat each other on the back and played as the first band of the night. We had really loud applause. That was what counted.I also have something to confess. Our entry was not entirely self-funded so it wasn’t as dramatic as I led it to be. The college did somehow gave us some money to start off and granted us carte blanche use of the college’s van & drivers, whom we became great friends with afterwards. We got some more money from Neil who gave us RM500 to pay for our jamming sessions, then when that ran out we pooled our money together to pay for the last few sessions. Inexplicably, the (then) headmaster of the college, who came to watch one of our jamming sessions, told me to keep the receipts. The college will pay you back, he said. And it did, though it was close to a year later (and yes, thanks Reena for fronting some money for the cause too!).
The coach asked us if we’d be interested to play at a charity concert at the Pan Pacific Hotel. That was a nice offer but when PSP was over we were back to being students and all rock star ambitions were shoved under the double-decker beds so that was that.
A week later Ina went to see En Zubir. She asked to see the judging sheet from PSP. Imagine our surprise when we were ranked 4th, with only 2 points separating us from being second runner-up. So, we could either be very good that even with broken equipment we could still manage to get 4th place; or everyone was equally bad so the winners were the lesser of the many evils. Hahah. Either way, it was nice to know.
Months later the college held its Annual Dinner (not the dinner & dance that they organise in hotels, this was like a year-end dinner or something and it was at the dining hall). Yeah I sang (publicity whore, right? Inconspicuous, she says!), but it was just me and Raphael this time. After the dinner we saw a large group of people sitting at the balcony of the dining hall watching TV. We tried to look over people’s shoulders to see what it was all about, turned out it was a videotape of PSP week and they were watching our performance. It didn’t sound half bad, really. I looked happy and relaxed to be on stage and I was waving like crazy to friends all around the darkened hall who came to support us. Every time I did, the crowd roared. I didn’t notice that at the time. No wonder we didn’t win. I kept forgetting we were in a competition and not at a concert.I found Reena, Azil and Nawal on facebook recently. Cap migrated to Canada, Alex became a dentist. We wrote a song together, and Ina participated in a recording session for the college song that Alex wrote. Farah married her college sweetheart and for a while was in contact with Ina. Raphael found love with fellow Sabahan, Andy with a fellow Sarawakian. Wade, well, Wade’s our pet so he has been in our lives since forever though we lost touch for quite a while before I accidentally bumped into him at the Kerinchi night market. Of Tawau, no one knows.
Ina and I, we still loyally contribute to Red Box’ yearly double digit growth.
And we all live happily ever after. The End.