I can’t remember whose idea it was to form a band, but I can tell you this: at the very least, you need some money for without it, it’s hell.
But we were young and needed money to date girls. So, the two of us tooled down Jalan Gasing on Ramani’s motorbike one evening after our classes – we were all in University Malaya then – and stopped at the first pub we saw.
It was called Que Somee – now it’s the Lotus restaurant – and it was run by two big-hearted Eurasian gentlemen. Donny loved music and was impressed by the fact that we were undergraduates: it was the 70’s after all and I think there were only two in the country then.
We were duly given an audition later in the week. It consisted of the two of us singing accompanied by me playing guitar. Our third member was a keyboard player but there were no keyboards around so he sort of stood around encouragingly while we auditioned.
It didn’t seem to faze either owner, and we were hired.
We were so thrilled that we refused to let our lack of equipment get us down. Luckily Guru could also play guitar and we resolved to use two acoustic guitars – both of which we borrowed – with me picking out the bass notes.
That was our way of differentiating ourselves.
The next hurdle was amplification. We got around that very simply because the pub, for some reason, had a lot of microphones. So, each of us just plopped a live mike into our guitars and hoped for the best.
When you have a live mike in your guitar, it’s best to play sitting down and with a very straight back. While it’s generally recommended for your posture, it is not at all comfortable.
But believe me, it’s the only option because the slightest unnecessary motion will cause the mike in either guitar to go “WHOMP” or screech alarmingly. It’s not generally recommended when you’re attempting two-part harmonies.
But it’s amazing what Malaysian audiences will put up with. And we became skillful at good posture. The fact that we were poor undergraduates may have had much to do with audience goodwill and, after a while, it didn’t matter: the bulk of our audience on weekends rapidly became fellow alumni and devout supporters.
But, on other days we occasionally had to put up with some less than supportive folk. One day, a large group of North Indian gentlemen sauntered in, somewhat the worse for wear.
When they requested a Hindi song, we were unfazed. Our one staple, and the only one we knew, was the theme from the hit-movie Bobby which was easy enough to play as it could pass off as a straight waltz. In fact, Ramani sang it well so we felt confident.
It was a hit. Then they only wanted people of North Indian descent to be represented on stage, so they wanted me off. They assumed Ramani was like them as he was fair. Guru, our keyboardist-turned guitarist, sported a turban so his ethnicity was quite clear.
I prudently left while my two bandmates gamely did the Bobby theme four more times. It was agonizing.
Now I know what the phrase “you could have cut the tension with a knife” really means.
Most of the customers, however, were pretty decent folk and we rarely had to pay for our drinks. In fact, we made a number of friends there.
But there is no accounting for tastes. For me at least, I think three songs should be banned from the face of the earth.
They are More Than I Can Say (until Leo Sayer saved it from itself): Country Roads, and, horror of horrors, Beautiful Sunday.
OK, you had to be there.