My Brother

I met Dave* when I was 9, and he was 7. Life revolved around church, both of us at an age when we had to follow our parents every weekend for mass or retreats. It was the only form of social life I had as a kid. Dave was always the “naughty one”, he was bold and always got into scraps or skinned his knees.

We spent a lot of our time playing together, or getting into trouble together.

Fast forward years later – as teenagers, Dave and I drifted apart. I was a few years ahead of him in school and I didn’t see him in church often. I wasn’t going regularly myself. I wondered if he was able to cope with his studies.

I was 17 when Dave died. My dad broke the awful news to us the moment he came back from work. This was before the Internet and social media. No one really knew what happened. But from what I gathered, Dave was found hanging in his bedroom.

Losing someone is unbearable. When it happens suddenly, without warning, it shatters our lives, the very ground we walk on. Although we were not close friends at that point, it was like someone hit my chest with a bag of sand. At Dave’s wake, everyone from church was there. I cried, though I tried not to. We all were crying. Someone handed me a tissue. At his funeral, I watched as they lowered him into ground. A woman collapsed, sobbing, by the side of his grave.

I was moody for a while in school and I remember a friend in writing me a note to cheer me up. She told me to remember the good times I had with Dave. I do remember them. We might have been great friends, he might have been one of my groomsmen, been there to celebrate my daughter’s full month party or an awesome beer buddy for Fridays, who knows? I’ll never get to know him as the man he could have been.

It’s been nearly 20 years. From time to time, I think of Dave, remembering him as a young boy and wondered how he would look as an adult. One day, I tried looking up his name on Google, just to see if anything had been written about him over the years. I uncovered an obituary by his family, published five or six years after his death. There is not a day that they do not think of him.

There are no words I could say to his family, even now, that could offer any comfort. Writing this post is painful. But through this song, I want to acknowledge Dave for the friend that he was and could have been.

He did what he did, for whatever reasons he had, and it left a gaping hole in many of us. A sense of loss, frustration and constant pining for someone you will never meet again.

Whatever happened, I’ll always remember you, Dave. I’ll always remember the good times we had.

For me, this is closure. This song is for you, Dave.

*I’ve changed his real name and age because this happened a long time ago and I don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to his family.

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Happy Children’s Day!

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— Photo by Marvin Lowe

Today is Children’s Day in Singapore.

I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to Children’s Day, ever since I graduated from primary school and it stopped being a school holiday. Yup, kids older than 12 don’t get the day off. So, this day meant pretty much nothing to me until September 7, 2014, when my daughter Natalie was born.

That changes today. Today, I celebrate being a dad. And from now on I’ll actually pay attention to Children’s Day, along with other significant events such as Father’s and Mother’s Day, which will have new meaning for Carol and I.

I’m still reeling from the newness of it all. The endless cycle of crying, feeding, burping, diaper changes… But I must say the first few weeks with Natalie have been amazing. She’s captured my heart, as I knew she would the first time I saw her as a blip on an ultrasound machine.

That was when I wrote this song, The Yellow Room.

As our close friends and family know, we set aside a room in our home for our child(ren) ever since we moved in two years ago. Its walls are painted bright yellow. When I wrote this song back in March, I knew it would become something special and personal to me. It captured that sense of anticipation that only a soon-to-be father would know. It was as if everything that we had worked so hard for was for this baby, this little soul that was growing day by day in Carol’s womb.

And so, on Children’s Day, I present to you The Yellow Room. Enjoy the song, and the video, which is a glimpse into our home and lives. And if you so wish, you may buy the song on iTunes. That would mean a lot to me.

More pictures of baby Natalie and me, thanks to Marvin Lowe Photography.

On becoming a dad

In about a month’s time, I will welcome my little daughter into the world.

A child is something Carol and I have wanted for a long time, and now it’s really about to happen… We are so grateful for God’s precious blessing, and for the smooth pregnancy so far. After months of scrambling to doctor’s appointments, scans, tests, childbirth classes, scouring baby shops for furniture and clothes, we are ready as any first-time parents can be. Which means we’ve done all we humanly can, and now we wait with bated breath for nature to take its course.

After that, it’s uncharted territory.

Our little miracle, you have been growing so well from the first time we saw you as a little blue grape on a screen. Now, you move with so much energy you take your mother’s breath away – quite literally. When I rest my hand on mummy’s belly, you press back as if to tell me how strong you’ve become. When I sing to you my favourite songs from Mary Poppins, you pause for a while to listen, then you kick my mouth.

I can’t wait to meet you, carry you against my chest so you can fall asleep to the sound of my heart beating; to look into your eyes and know that – for now – we are all you need; to hear you cry, laugh and one day, speak; to have you run and hug me below my knees when I get home; to watch you grow up…

There’s a room in our home we’ve set aside for you from the first day we moved in. It’s painted bright yellow. It will be all yours when you arrive. Here it is… it’s pretty much ready. We’ve worked so hard on it and we’re so happy you’ll be here soon.

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Grateful…

… For the opportunity to play on bigger and bigger stages.

For a wife so wonderful, she makes me want to love her more and more.

For a place of our own, and a kitchen filled with home-cooked scents.

For two black-and-white cats that have a special place in my heart.

For a new guitar that I simply adore.

For long-time friends who have seen me through thick and thin.

For the new friends I’ve made along my musical journey.

For two upcoming albums (fingers crossed) – one with TGS and a long-overdue solo effort.

For a new-found love – Yoga.

What are you grateful for?

A birthday affair

I’ve performed at a handful of private parties before – weddings, corporate events, New Year countdowns – but always with a band and most of the time singing covers.

Now, I can proudly say I’ve done it solo.

It started after one of The Glad Stones’ Starbucks shows last month. An audience member approached us to perform at her birthday party which was to be in a few week’s time. Since Jaye wasn’t going to be in town, I told her TGS wouldn’t be able to do it, but if she didn’t mind I’d be happy to sing a few of my songs for her. I didn’t expect her to say yes, but she did 🙂

The party was at a condo near Bukit Timah, at an open-air function area which had a pavilion and barbecue pit. It was a pretty cool way to celebrate a birthday – having great friends who’d plan everything for you, a friend who’s a chef to whip up a barbecue fiesta, and another one to emcee at the party.

For gigs like these, busking gear always comes in handy. The Stagg battery-powered amps, which TGS used for busking and for our entire Starbucks tour, do reasonably well in outdoor performances, but the vocals sometimes get a little distorted at loud volumes.

I played a 45-minute set with a mix of my originals and a few covers. It felt good connecting with people who don’t already know you, and observing how they react to your music. While it’s natural that people will continue with their conversations while you perform, especially in a bar, I was heartened to see a handful of guests just sitting, watching and listening. Seeing that made my evening.

So yeah, thanks Sabrina for having me! I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Anyone looking for a birthday singer? 😉

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With Sabrina, the coolest birthday gal ever, and emcee Suffian.

Japan!

Japan – two words: simply wonderful. I fell in love with the people, the food and the culture. It was a short trip – just a week – but it was a good mix of sightseeing, shopping, and of course performing with The Glad Stones.

Tokyo
Spent three days in Tokyo with Carol and her colleagues who were there on a company trip. We were fortunate to be put up at the luxurious Hilton Shinjuku for most of our stay. I enjoyed just soaking it all in, walking around the streets at night with the temperature below 10 degrees:

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It’s colder than it looks.

We also had time to squeeze in short trips to the Harajuku fashion district and the famed pedestrian crossing at Shibuya. Carol took this shot of Shibuya from the Starbucks outlet there:

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View from the Starbucks – Shi-booya!

One of the highlights of Tokyo was an amazing dinner the bunch of us had at an upscale Japanese restaurant. We sampled everything from sea urchin to tuna belly sushi. It was the first time I actually enjoyed sake (Japanese rice wine), it was warm and fuzzy and the cold made it taste heavenly.

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Sushi with a dual topping of Sea urchin – the yellowish stuff on the right – and salmon roe (the orange balls).

Kobe
We travelled to Kobe via the Shinkansen (bullet train), a journey of about three hours. Shinkansen tickets are pricey (about 14,000 yen, or S$180, one way), but thanks to the Japan Rail Pass (available only for tourists), we had an unlimited number of rides on the high-speed train – and other trains run by the Japan Rail company – for 7 days, all for about S$360 per person! It was a sweet deal.

From the Shinkansen, we changed to a local line bound for Sannomiya, the biggest downtown area in Kobe, where two of our live gigs would be. This is me on the regular train, acting emo:

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On the road again…

In Kobe, our hotel of choice was the B Kobe. I was glad that we picked it, despite having to lug our suitcases and my guitar up god knows how many steps at the station. It turned out to be an extremely central location in the heart of Sannomiya. The room was bigger than the ones you usually get in Tokyo.

Like the true food connoisseurs we are, and having heard so much about Kobe beef, we decided we just had to try it the moment we arrived 🙂 Just across from our hotel was a decent looking restaurant, and it was open even after 10pm. So we popped in and got a set for about S$80 each. Here’s Carol’s medium steak:

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Kobe beef: Succulent and tender, and the meat seemed to melt in your mouth. Worth the price.

We spent the rest of our first evening in Kobe just walking around Sannomiya, which had a multitude of bars, shops, eateries, and interesting architecture such as this:

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The next day would be TGS’ first gig at a live music house called Varit. It’s a good-sized venue, with a large, spacious stage and two dressing rooms backstage.

How live music houses usually work in Japan is that bands pay to perform. Yes, they pay the venue in order to have a slot. It’s a strange practice that I don’t entirely agree with, but that’s how it is there. What I gathered about Varit was that bands from Kobe have to pay a certain amount, but bands from out-of-town don’t. Generally, foreign acts are exempt from this.

We arrived at the place at around 4pm for the sound check, then returned in the evening for our 30-minute set. It was nice to see this at the entrance:

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And this backstage:

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The somewhat-dynamic duo. Lights always add a touch of grandeur.

Varit is well-run, and boasts professional gear and lighting. It was certainly a pleasure performing there. There were three acts that night, a solo singer-songwriter and a young funk band played first, and when it was our turn a modest crowd had gathered.

You might wonder how it feels to sing to a non English-speaking audience, and I must say, apart from Jaye having to (with great effort) translate everything I said in between songs into Japanese, I noticed that people were grooving and getting into our music, proof that music does indeed transcend boundaries and languages.

We hit Andy’s Imagine the following night. It’s a cosy bar owned by a nice British man named (you guessed it) Andy. He’s been running the place for nearly 13 years, imagine that! The bar is located in the Rokkomichi area of Kobe, a place with high-rise apartments that look just like the HDB flats of Singapore!

Anyway, at Andy’s, everyone knows everyone, and it’s a great place for intimate performances. It’s got a corner that’s been carved out as a stage and we played two sets there. Andy himself got into the action by urging his customers to buy our album (he got one himself :)). After the gig we spent the rest of the evening mingling with the people.

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TGS and Andy!

Sometime before leaving Kobe, Carol and I managed to see the last of the famed sakura (cherry blossom) at a shrine near our hotel. It was lovely. We were lucky because we arrived just after the end of the season but there were a few trees still in bloom. And we did the touristy thing by snapping pictures and buying some good luck charms from a souvenir store there.

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Osaka

Osaka is a 40-minute train ride from Kobe. Our plan for the last day of our tour was to busk at the Osaka train station, which is about as crowded as Tokyo’s Shinjuku, and a very popular spot for “street music”, as it is known there.

But before leaving for Osaka, I had to get a portable battery-powered amp for the performance. The good thing about Japan is that music stores are large and well-stocked. I found a decent Roland at the Ishibashi store in Kobe. That’s me trying out the guitar and mic functions. Cost: about S$200.

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Armed with gear, Carol and I boarded the train and arrived in Osaka in the afternoon. We spent some time walking around Shinsaibashi, a popular shopping street, and she went crazy at the Sanrio store.

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Busking night, and there were performers literally at every corner outside Osaka station. So we decided our first spot would be on a link bridge above the bustling traffic. It was freezing out there in the open, but we gave it our all. At the end of our set, Jaye’s friend Marina – who’s a trained opera singer – jammed with us. The moment when acoustic folk music met classical opera, was awesome.

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TGS & Marina

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The second spot we picked was at a large pedestrian crossing at one of the station entrances. It was a strategic location because we could get the attention of the crowds waiting to cross the street.

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The night ended with both Jaye and I playing our solo creations. I did a few songs with Carol harmonising with me.

To all the good folks who bought our CD as we busked on the streets of Osaka, a big thank you! To the fellow-musician who came up to us as we played and got our CD, keep the tunes alive mate. It was a fantastic feeling connecting with an audience from a different country, and seeing them enjoying our music.

I respect musicians in Japan. They take their art very seriously – even on the streets. They give their all, as if they were holding a performance for a 50,000 strong crowd. We saw so many bands, all dressed up and with their gear, taking a long train ride somewhere just to perform. Watching them inspired me to work even harder.

Thank you, Japan. I have a feeling I’ll see you soon.

What’s next for TGS? We’ll reunite in June for some shows in Singapore, so stay tuned!

The Glad Stones in Japan!

That’s right, I’m heading to the Land of the Rising Sun with Carol tomorrow for a week! It’s our first time there and I’m sooo looking forward to it. Will spend a few days in Tokyo before taking a bullet train to Kobe, where Jaye is based. There, we have shows lined up at three of Japan’s quintessential live music houses. Here’s what the schedule looks like right now:

11th April at Varit
6.30pm

12th April at Andy’s Imagine
8pm

13th April at Center Street Live
8pm

Gonna attempt to update this blog while I’m there, or I’ll just post random stuff on TGS’ Facebook page. Oh, and if you missed our recent Starbucks Singapore tour, you can catch up on on what happened on our Facebook page as well.

Oh, and here’s a recent shot of us, courtesy of Ivan Joshua Loh of Pigs Can Fly photography:

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