Chasing The Dawn

“And in that very moment,
away behind in some far corner of the city, a cock crowed.
Shrill and clear he crowed reckoning nothing of wizardry or war,
welcoming only the morning that in the sky
far above the shadows of death
was coming with the dawn.”

                                                                         -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The Glory That Was The Dawn

the dawn 1986

The Dawn Circa 1986

I was not a big fan of The Dawn in the 80s. Largely due to the influence of my father and my friends at that time, I was more inclined to listen to music created by the tried and tested folk rock musicians of the 70s like Asin and CSNY and the compelling hooks of the Apo and America. In my book back then, these were the singer-songwriters who mattered as they have paid their dues by way of hit singles you can learn on the guitar and well-received albums you won’t tire of listening to or so I thought. But my younger brother had the makings of a bona fide Dawn fanboy. In fact, it was my brother who introduced me to The Dawn on the strength of its music at that time not being considered mainstream. My brother’s zest for what was new and cutting edge musicwise matched and, at times, exceeded my passion for what is now called classic rock. I can still vividly remember the cassette copies of I Stand With You (i.e., The Dawn’s sophomore outing) and Beyond the Bend (i.e., their third) which he would play over and over on our old reliable Panasonic stereo cassette player even as he would convince me no end to check out their music. The characterization of The Dawn as being cutting edge is validated by Eric Caruncho in his Poets, Punks and Poseurs – A Reportage on Pinoy Rock where he refers to the Dawn in the 80s as “new music” innovators…(that) made the breakthrough.” (pp 41, 265)

the dawn debut

The self-titled debut album of The Dawn (OctoArts Records, 1986)

Those of us who grew up in the 80s, would remember that the Dawn, initially comprised by the late Teddy Diaz (vocals and guitar), JB Leonor (drums), Caloy Balcells (bass) and Jett Pangan (lead vocals) practically defined the local rock music scene in the 80s. Founded by Diaz, Leonor and Clay Luna (who was actually the original bassist of the band before Balcells replaced him a year after the band was formed) in 1985, The Dawn drew inspiration for its name from a book entitled The Dawning of the Holy Spirit which was handed by a group of nuns who were friends with Teddy Diaz, a devout Catholic who went to mass regularly and imbibed clean living. Perhaps that might partly explain their almost surreal rise to fame in a little over less than 3 years. Their story was every start-up rock band’s dream of making it big as they successfully graduated from bars and bistros to concert halls and stadiums within a short period of time. Pure, unadulterated talent and songs that connected with the Pinoy youth of the 80s might be another logical explanation.

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Jingle Magazine Coverage of The Dawn’s 1988 Concert at the Folk Arts Theatre

Thanks to over a dozen Pinoy rock hits that they cranked out from 11 studio albums, their place in the history of Pinoy Rock is indubitable even if they may no longer pack halls and stadiums “tulad ng dati,” as one of their more recent songs would put it. Among the most notable from their self-titled album The Dawn (OctoArts Records, 1986) were “Enveloped Ideas”and “Dreams.” Off their sophomore album I Stand With You (OctoArts Records, 1988) there was “Magtanim ay Di Biro,” “Love Will Set Us Free,” “Let Me Dance,” and “I Stand With You,” the single. Beyond the Bend (OctoArts Records, 1989) produced “Salamat,” “Beyond the Bend,” the single and “Little Paradise.” Their fourth outing Heart’s Thunder (OctoArts Records, 1990) spawned “Alam Ko, Alam Nyo” and “Run Away.” Iisang Bangka (OctoArts Records, 1991) which was their first greatest hits album immortalized the 1991 hit of the same title. 1992’s Abot Kamay gave rise to “Babaeng Mahiwaga” and “Abot Kamay,” the single. Puno’t Dulo (OctoArts Records, 1994) launched “Salimpusa” and “Talaga Naman.” To top it all, no less than the San Miguel Corporation headlined them in its Ultra Storm rock concerts all over the country in the 80s. The pinnacle of their popularity back then may be said to have culminated with “Salamat” (1989) and “Iisang Bangka” (1991) taking center stage in regular San Miguel Beer commercials that were played both on radio and television. In a word, their presence and their music from the mid80s to the early 90s was inescapable. They had made their mark.

the dawn opm collection

The only available CD anthology by The Dawn today

Clearly, Vin Dancel of the band Peryodiko was not exaggerating when he noted in 2013 that, “Every decade there would be bands that’d break open the floodgates for Pinoy music and Pinoy musicians. Juan Dela Cruz in the 70s, the Eraserheads in the 90s…The Dawn did it in the 80s” (“The Dawn: And the Band Played On” by Kristine Fonacier, Rogue Magazine Jan-Feb 2013 issue)

And The Old Became New

the dawn harapin

Harapin (Warner Music Philippines, 2004)

Given their impressive body of work and their assured niche in the history of Pinoy Rock, The Dawn could have gotten away with holding greatest hits concerts till kingdom come. But playing it safe is apparently not what this band is at its core. And so it was that with the dawning of a new century, the band unleashed an album of all-new material with Harapin (Warner Music Philippines, 2004). It was, by all indications, what OPM enthusiasts would happily call an album “na walang tapon.” “Tulad ng Dati,” the lead track was the most memorable rivaling even the best Dawn track from their glory days in the 80s both in the melody and lyrics department. Not surprisingly, it opens and closes the album albeit as a remix version in the latter with a little help from Raimund Marasigan’s Squid 9. Following closely is “Traffic,” a bouncy post-breakup song the words and music of which are guaranteed to make the 6-hour gates of hell traffic of Manila tolerable for at least 5 minutes. “Laging Narito” matches the steadfast pledge of loyalty and fidelity implicit in its lyrics with a melody line that gradually builds into a soaring chorus. “Change is Breaking Us Apart,” “Behind the Sun,” “Breathe You In,” “Push Forward” and “Harapin ang Liwanag” all sound like vintage albeit contemporized Dawn at the top of their game in the early noughties.

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The Original Film Poster of Tulad ng Dati

And then there was Tulad ng Dati (2006), the movie and the studio album of the same title. At the time that the movie was helmed by Mike Sandejas who also wrote and produced it, Atsushi Matsuura had been replaced by Francis Reyes on guitars. Ehead Buddy Zabala had taken on the bass duties of Mon Legaspi. Only JB Leonor and Jett Pangan remained of the original lineup. Tulad ng Dati, the movie was part fiction, part band bio and part tribute to Teddy Diaz. The film “starts in 2006. It revolves around the character of Jett Pangan who is nearing his 40s. He has lost his passion for music and life and entertains thoughts of retiring from the band. On a fateful night, Jett is assaulted by a burglar and goes into a coma. He wakes up with no memory of his life after 1988. He remembers that he is 19 years old and is at the peak of his career with The Dawn. Not satisfied with how things turned out with his life, he tries to change everything back to the way it used to be. The path he takes while finding his place in this strange new world proves itself to be a tough, emotional and sometimes hilarious journey – accompanied by the celebrated music of The Dawn, both past and present.” (culled from the DVD notes of Unitel Films’ Tulad ng Dati) The movie ends on a hopeful and optimistic note even as it succeeds in making you appreciate the musical legacy and the prospective future contributions from this iconic Pinoy rock band. Interestingly, it boasts of cameo roles by the late Karl Roy, Ehead guitarist and Sandwich frontman Raimund Marasigan and Imago. It would go on to win the 2006 Cinemalaya award for Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Editing and the 2007 Gawad Urian for Best Sound.

the dawn tulad ng dati lineup

The Dawn Circa 2006

The two-disc studio album of the same title showcased “rock-till-you-drop” and therefore, edgier revisitations of 18 Dawn classics occasioned by the quartet comprised by Pangan, Zabala, Reyes and Leonor. It also boasted 6 music videos including an 80s throwback recording of Teddy’s guitar solo and the official trailer of Tulad ng Dati. Capping the second disc are two moving acoustic renditions of “Abot Kamay” and “Salamat.” Overall, the album was not just “tulad ng dati.” It was several notches better than “tulad ng dati” – a “little paradise of dreams and enveloped ideas,” if you will, reworked and reengineered for the new century.

the dawn later half of day

The Later Half of Day (Universal Records, 2008)

Perhaps spurred by the renewed interest in their musical legacy via Tulad ng Dati, the band pushed the envelope further by attempting yet another reworking and reengineering not only of their signature songs but also of covers that have long been associated with them. The Later Half of Day (MCA Music Philippines, 2008) presents itself as an engaging retrospective featuring 7 of their greatest hits along with their covers of songs by some of their most important musical influences led by U2, The Police, Simple Minds, The Cure, Modern English and Todd Rundgren. What set it apart from your usual rock anthology is the surprise jazzed-up flavor and unplugged treatment accorded to the songs featured in the album. Their acoustic and hitherto, untried and untested rendering of “Iisang Bangka” unraveled musical layers that were not there when it was first unveiled in 1991. The reimagined versions of their most well-loved concert staples such as “Enveloped Ideas,” “Love Will Set Us Free,” “Run Away,” “Dreams,” “Little Paradise,” and “Beyond the Bend” took these songs to places and spaces long-time fans did not know existed. Sung and played as they’ve never been heard before, these versions uncovered facets and aspects of these Dawn classics that may have been lost from their overplay. And just like that, the old became new.

Chasing The Dawn

A year before the band turns 3-decades old (that is, if you count from 1985 when they started as a trio  and if you include their almost 5-year hiatus when they disbanded in 1995 and formally regrouped via Prodigal Sun in 2000) and almost 5 years after their 2009 largely experimental studio album Sound the Alarm (albeit “Hatak,” “Lumulubog,” and “Tuloy-Tuloy” can hold their own vis a vis’ the best tracks of Harapin) the Dawn – whose literal meaning in Filipino is “bukang liwayway” – continues to be true to its name by chasing the dawn of yet another beginning.

the dawn habulan

The Dawn’s 2014 Single

Wittingly or unwittingly, they appear to be doing the chasing by implicitly invoking the so-called rule of three. Consider, this 2014, not only is it releasing a new single entitled “Habulan” (and eventually, invoking their muse to kick start a new album hopefully), it is also introducing a new guitar player in the person of Sancho in the wake of Kenneth Ilagan’s departure for the U.S. in 2009 and notwithstanding the already formidable support provided by Kit Mendoza on guitar and Lenie Llapitan (formerly of Identity Crisis) on keyboards. The band is also apparently rebooting its live performance with a concert aptly titled Landmarks happening at the Music Museum on August 8, 2014.

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The Official Poster of The Dawn Concert at the Music Museum

Through a series of happy coincidences this writer recently caught up with them to pose a mixture of questions that would no doubt interest both the Dawnlister (as its fans are called) and the casual observer of Pinoy rock. Our thanks to Lisa Nakpil.

You have a new single entitled “Habulan” which made its debut at Myx accompanied by a well-thought out BTS YouTube post. Jett Pangan says it’s essentially about chasing one’s dreams, the attendant difficulties and the challenge to go for it just the same. Who composed it and what was the context of the song?

JETT: Buddy composed and arranged the music while I (Jett) came up with the vocal melody and originally wrote the lyrics in English. Then one day, we thought the song can reach out better if the lyrics were in Tagalog so we called in Peryodiko’s Vin Dancel. Vin has worked with the band in one way or another prior so we didn’t doubt that his creative input would prove valuable. He basically captured the essence of the English lyrics without doing a totally literal translation.

As for the idea behind the words, I just had this image of a race or more specifically, a person trying to keep up with someone. It ended up reflecting the basic human condition of always chasing after someone or something as if there’s never enough time.

It’s been 5 years since Sound the Alarm, do you have a new album that will come out in the heels of “Habulan”? Is Landmarks the title of the album?

JETT: As far as releasing new material is concerned, we’re taking it one song at a time. We may end the year sitting on three or five songs or an entire album. What’s important to us now is that every song we put out there should leave a mark.

“Landmarks” is the title of the Aug. 8 concert at the Music Museum. The Dawn has been around for almost three decades, so it has existed alongside quite a few milestones not just in our history, but of the nation as well.

Were you in any way consulted by Polyeast with the vinyl release of The Dawn Greatest?

JETT: Not really. We were just told about it, so my wife and I went to a music store and bought one 🙂

What was your reaction when you learned about this vinyl reissue?

JETT: It’s nothing new to me, since the Dawn’s first three releases came out on vinyl and cassettes. I guess it’s a novelty nowadays, though.

Have you listened to  the vinyl reissue? What are your impressions re: its sonic quality and album art?

JETT: I haven’t opened our copy yet because I don’t have a turntable.

The Dawn is turning 30 years old by 2015, any plans of releasing an updated best of or even better, an anthology box set to celebrate your upcoming milestone? What about a coffee table book a’la U2 by U2 or The Rolling Stones: 50?

JETT: All of that would be nice and we’ll surely work towards making them happen (if we’re still a band by then).

The only Dawn albums we still see in record stores these days are mostly The Story of The Dawn (Polyeast, 2001), Sound the Alarm (Sony Music, 2009) and a couple of copies of The Later Half of Day (MCA Music Philippines, 2008). How come there are no longer copies of Tulad ng Dati OST? Or The Dawn Live which only appeared on high grade cassettes? Does the band have any long-term plans to make available their entire album catalog for fans to complete?

JETT: Dude, we can only wish we had power over these record labels to command them to keep stocks of our albums in stores but sadly that’s not the case. I do believe you can still buy directly at their head offices.

There is a continuing demand among OPM enthusiasts for The Dawn vinyl albums and CDs. Tulad ng Dati OST currently sells for Php 3,000 if sealed and Php 1,500 if near mint. Prodigal Sun sells for Php 8,000. Your early vinyl albums command a Php 2,000 and up price tag. How aware is the band about this? What do you think of all this?

JETT: Being a semi-collector of stuff myself, I think it’s all good if you have the money for it. Whether it’s overpriced is not for me to say. If they want a cheaper deal, they can always watch us live 🙂

the dawn albums on vinyl

Hard to Find Vinyl Albums by The Dawn from the Personal Collection of Edward Cruz

 

Of the 11 studio albums, 3 compilaton albums and 1 live album you’ve released so far, which is your personal favorite? Why? (addressed to individual members of the band)

JETT: I’ll tell you what I like the least: the first album. I was like, 17 or 18 at the time, I sounded like a whiny kid with a cold. Plus we didn’t know anything about recording, so the songs basically came out sounding like they were recorded in a tin can. Teddy Diaz sounded great, though.

BUDDY: My favorite is the newest release, “Habulan.” It’s a single we’d worked on the past few months. With all the revisions and tweaks we tried out on this song, we can’t wait to try out the new stuff we’ve learned on the next few songs. The latest work is usually my favorite.

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Buddy Zabala on bass with JB Leonor on drums (Photo courtesy of Julius Rosaldo)

JB: I like all the albums, all had their unique set of challenges to overcome.

SANCHO: I’ll defer to the other three since I have not been part of any album release yet.

If Spotify/ITunes/Deezer/Spinnr were to ask you to draw up the Ultimate The Dawn Playlist, what are the 10 tracks that would most likely make it to the list?

JETT: 1.“Susi” (first album), 2.“I Stand With You (second album), 3.“Habulan” (latest for 2014), 4.“I Saw You Coming” (Prodigal Sun), 5.“Standing By Your Heart (Prodigal Sun), 6.“Love Will Set Us Free” (2nd album), 7.“Abot Kamay” (re-recorded version, Tulad ng Dati), 8.“Tulad ng Dati” (Harapin album), 9.“Harapin ang Liwanag” (Harapin album) and 10.“Salimpusa” (Puno’t Dulo album)

SANCHO: 1.”Habulan,” 2. “Enveloped Ideas,” 3. “I Stand With You” 4. “I Saw You Coming In,” 5. “Standing By Your Heart,” 6. “Dreams, 7. “Love (Will Set Us Free), 8. “Salamat,” 9. “Iisang Bangka Tayo,” 10. “Beyond the Bend”

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The Dawn’s New Axeman Sancho with Lenie Llapitan on keyboards (Photo courtesy of Julius Rosaldo)

JB: Ok… when I make a playlist for friends, the songs I select are usually light and easy so as not to overwhelm or overpower the conversation. Here’s my list: 1.“Hatak,” 2.“Pedestal,” 3.“Little Paradise,” 4.“Abot Kamay,” 5.“Dreams,” 6.“Talaga Naman,” 7.“Runaway,” 8.“Laging Narito,” 9.“Traffic,” 10.“Change is Breaking Us Apart.”
(The next 10 would be) 1.“Kalayaan,” 2.“I Saw You Coming In,” 3.“Standing By Your Heart,” 4.“Can You Tell,” 5.“Take Me Back,” 6.“Glitter Baby,” 7.“This is The Time,” 8.“Hey Isabel,” 9.“Give Me the Night,” and 10.“Habulan” and the whole album of Later Half of Day.
(Note to the reader: The online download launch of “Habulan” is on August 11 for Spinnr and Aug 18 for Spotify, Deezer and the like.)

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The Current Dawn Playlist on Spotify

What is your fave Dawn song at this time, one you wouldn’t mind listening to or playing over and over again and why? (addressed to individual members of the band)

JETT: “Habulan” and “I Saw You Coming In”

BUDDY: “Habulan,” it’s a great soundtrack to your day.

JB: Years ago, I would always say “I Stand With You” but, I’ve now realized that my favorite song changes or shifts depending on the situation. Now, since we’re rehearsing for Music Museum, my favorites are “Habulan” and “I Saw You Coming In.”

There was a time that I really hated this song called “Magic Dragon¸” another one of The Dawn’s infamous lab experiments. I heard it a few months ago with a friend who had it on his phone. It’s actually pretty damn good!

Teddy Diaz’s favorite would definitely be “I Stand With You.”

SANCHO: “I Stand With You” and “Habulan”

How come you have no official band FB and IG accounts? Is this a conscious decision or it just so happened that it is not a priority at this time? The Dawn (Philippines) appears to be the FB site of serious The Dawn fans unlike say, The Oktaves, Pupil, Imago, Up Dharma Down, Sandwich or even The Juan Dela Cruz Band which all maintain official FB sites.

JETT: Yeah, it’s only recently that we’re making more “tutok” via our site administrators.

Locally, who/which are the top 3 musicians/bands who continue to influence your music as a band?

JETT: As a band? No one in particular but we do pick up cool things from this and that group/artist.

Internationally, who/which would these be?

JETT: Lately, we listen to stuff from The Killers, Imagine Dragons and bands with nice keyboard arrangements.

JB: U2?

What keeps you guys going? What fires you up individually and as a collective?

JETT: Personally, it’s the fact that I do things outside of The Dawn (musical theatre, hosting, etc). It keeps things fresh for me. As a collective, it’s our pure and simple, meat and potatoes love for music and playing live.

JB: The adrenaline rush of a live performance.

SANCHO: I’m a big fan of music, specially guitar-driven songs.

After Music Museum, where can we expect you guys to play next?

JETT: We have gigs lined up which you can track on our, ehem, FB page 🙂 and Twitter, etc.

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Jett Pangan on what keeps The Dawn going: “…our pure love of music and playing live” (Photo courtesy of Julius Rosaldo)

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Ely Buendia: The Pinoy Rock Icon as Vinyl Hobbyist

ely buendia pic

Photo courtesy of Heima

Here is the short interview granted by Pinoy Rock Icon Ely Buendia, frontman of the Eraserheads, the Mongols, Pupil, and the Oktaves. Excerpts from this interview were featured in the “Back in Black” article which appeared in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine last December 2013. This first appeared in Wired State where I posted it in the heels of the publication of the said article. It’s straightforward and to the point but it does give us a clear idea that this is one Pinoy Rock icon who takes the vinyl format seriously. The select annotation in parentheses are new.

How and why did you get into vinyl records?
I was finally able to find a turntable that I really liked. For a time, I was mostly buying vinyl for childhood nostalgia. It was only recently that I found for myself that the sound quality really was a far cry from all the other formats.

(The “plaka” is, of course, referenced in “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” possibly the greatest Eheads song of all time. The song has been covered by Lea Salonga, Rico J. Puno, The Company and Sungha Jung, among others. Recently, the “plaka” was referenced by Ehead member and Sandwich  frontman Raimund Marasigan in “Betamax.”)

Paraluman

“Kamukha mo si Paraluman…”

What do vinyl records give you that CDs or MP3s cannot?
Vinyl still retains that mystique of the record buying lifestyle. It makes me appreciate the music more.

(Appreciating the music more is, of course, what is often cited by vinyl hobbyists as the most rewarding aspect of collecting vinyl records. Intrinsic to this appreciation is the album art, the liner notes, the lyric sheets, the gatefold cover and the warmer and rounder sound of analog stereo recording compared to CDs and MP3s.)

How many vinyl records do you have so far?
Less than a thousand as far as I can tell.

What are your top 3 all-time favorite vinyl records? Are these the 3 featured in “Sugod”?
It varies. Right now, in terms of sound it’s still The Beatles box set, the Clash’s “London Calling” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”

(Buendia’s interest in vinyl is well-documented in “Sugod,” a TV program anchored by Solenn Heussaff, where he shared a number of his prized vinyl collection housed in his very own “Camp Big Falcon.” It is noteworthy that at that time, the three vinyl albums that he chose to share with Sugod televiewers were the Beatles studio album box set, the Elvis Presley studio album box set and the Guns N’ Roses box set.)

ely buendia sugod vinyl

The “Sugod” episode that featured Ely Buendia was posted on Eraserheads on Vinyl FB site.

 What are the top 3 must-have vinyl records in your tracking/wish list?
Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall,” The Beach Boys’ “Sunflower,” and The Cure’s “Head on the Door.”

Which music genre are you most interested in?
Country

(Interestingly, in his latest outing with the supergroup Oktaves, two out of the twelve tracks that make up their impressive self-titled recording debut, namely, “Olivia” and “Langit Express,” are country-flavored songs. See The Oktaves [MCA Music])

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The debut album of The Oktaves (MCA Music)

Who are your top 3 fave OPM acts?
Juan Dela Cruz Band, Rico J Puno, APO

Who are your top 3 fave foreign acts?
The Cure, The Smiths, The Beatles

Describe your analog set-up.
a. turntable brand – Rega RP1
b. amp brand – Yamaha
c. speakers brand – Bose

(It is noteworthy that in “Sugod,” the turntable that is featured is the TEAC retro portable. He has apparently upgraded since then.)

What advice can you give those who are getting into this hobby?
Don’t scrimp on the hardware.

(The analog hardware normally consists of the turntable, the speakers and the amplifier. A decent brand-new hardware set-up normally requires a cash outlay of Php 50,000 to Php 60,000.)

Do you think the vinyl resurgence around the globe is a fad? Or is this format here to stay? What are its implications to OPM and musicians?
I think people are starting to realize the value of music again. I hope OPM goes back to vinyl, too.

(To date, of course, we do know that Polyeast Records has been leading the vinyl releases of OPM icons like Joey Albert, The Dawn, FrancisM, True Faith, among others. There are unconfirmed reports that the Apo, Jose Mari Chan and Noel Cabangon are being lined up next. All these augur well with the current demand in the local vinyl market. Case in point, the current going rate for 45 rpm Eheads vinyls is Php 500 and up regardless of the condition. There is also an FB site called Eheads on Vinyl. It was put up by Eheads fans led by LA-based Le-Van De Guzman. As of today, it has 464 likes and counting. But the most well-documented OPM vinyl clamor todate is the 21st century release of the Juan Dela Cruz Band albums. Used mint copies of this band’s past albums from the 70s currently go for Php 10,000 and up per copy.)

My thanks to Le-Van for facilitating this interview.

 

Begin Again

Begin_Again

Official Movie Poster of Begin Again

“The birds they sang at the break of day

Start again I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what has passed away

Or what is yet to be”

                                        -Leonard Cohen

Cohen, Travers and Zafra

To be sure, Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” (1992) is not part of the Begin Again soundtrack. Yet its core exhortation to begin again “at the break of day” was all I could think of after my wife and I caught the screening of Begin Again – an impressively-helmed film about what ensues when a struggling heartbroken singer-songwriter crosses paths with a down and out veteran record producer. Being passionate about music, I made a mental note to catch this movie  the first time  I  laid eyes on the movie poster showing Keira Knightley’s character Greta conversing with Mark Ruffalo’s Dan as they’re nursing their cups of coffee against the backdrop of a sedan and a guitar case between them.

When I came across the two separate reviews by film critics we closely follow, my wife and I just had to watch it ahead of schedule.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine opens his glowing review with “No disease. No teens dying. And yet Begin Again, from writer-director John Carney (the Irish dream-weaver of Once), hits the summer sweet spot by breezing in on waves of humor, heartache and ravishing romance. And irresistible music you can’t get out of your head.”

Back in her element after her recent health scare, Jessica Zafra observes that “Begin Again works, and we like how it skirts the corny fake-romantic turns that make movies of this sort so irritating…Rating: Recommended. It’s not often we hear melodies rather than explosions at the cinema these days.”

How To Begin Again

The movie kick starts with two of the main characters hitting rock bottom. Greta is betrayed by Dave, aptly portrayed by real-life rock star Adam Levine a month after he makes it big as a solo recording artist. The context of their five-year relationship and their songwriting partnership reminiscent of Buckingham-Nicks is what makes it doubly painful. Dan is fired from his job by the recording company he helped build even as he is reeling from his failures as a husband and a father after 18 years of marriage. Like a well-thought out record which you gradually get to love  by listening to the melody of its tracks, mulling over its lyrics and reading the liner notes, this movie grows on you. Thanks largely to its engaging musical and dialogical vantage points. Vantage points that were carefully crafted for the viewer to  understand and appreciate the descent to near despair of Greta and Dan and their individual and collective attempts to begin again despite the odds. The mostly acoustic introspective love songs  collectively composed by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Rick Nowels, Nick Southwood, John Carney and Glen Hansard and  gloriously channelled by Keira Knightley and Adam Levine are wonderfully complemented by the engaging dialogues written and directed by John Carney.

It is noteworthy that this movie does not oversimplify the process of bouncing back. The cliche about having nowhere else to go but up when you’re down may be true. Alas, it is easier said than done. Down there, despair and hopelessness offer themselves as the logical and at times, the ultimate option. Thus, Dan’s alcoholic downward spiral and Greta’s decision to give up on her dreams and go home to England. Until their paths cross that is. And this is where the movie takes an interesting turn. Thankfully,  it does not let up until the closing credits. Cohen writes how “there is a crack in everything…that is how the light gets in.” The cracks in the lives of Greta and Dan eventually turn out to be opportunities for them to discover  that they can indeed begin again. Their passion for their craft, their faith in each other’s abilities and their hope of creating an unconventional record minus the usual studio funding prove to be the light that gets through these cracks. Make no mistake about it though. There is no way they are able to pull this off without a little help from their friends who come to their aid when the going gets tough. There is Greta’s Steve (James Corden), a close friend and a fellow struggling musician and Dan’s Trouble Gum (CeeLo Green) who owe him his thriving recording career. Together these light-hearted friends and their innate capacity for humor as defiance make us understand why musicians and other members of the music community continue to fight the good fight even if material and commercial success continue to elude some of them. Together they call to mind a great line in another anthem by Jackson Browne entitled “Lights and Virtues.” “The pleasure of love and friendship, the courage to be alone.” It’s an apt line to describe how Greta and Dan are on their own and how they are, at the same time, part of a bigger community, make that a bigger family of like-minded souls who live for the music.

(L-R) KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and MARK RUFFALO star in BEGIN AGAIN

An Out of the Box Recording Project

 

Three Compelling Add-Ons 

Complementing the core message of the film are three elements which inescapably make this a memorable movie experience.

Keira Knightley’s Greta reminds me of the singer-songwriters I came to love when they first started – Suzanne Vega, Jewel, Sarah Mclachlan, Dido, Julia Fordham and Tracy Chapman. All heart and unadulterated talent. No put-on personas and absolutely zero makeovers. Indeed, the most enjoyable parts of the film for me are the ones where her character sings either solo or in a band. There’s her East Village singing debut of “A Step You Can’t Take Back” where Dan visualizes the great possibilities a proper arrangement can do to an otherwise sleepy acoustic number. And then there’s her raw rendition of “Lost Stars,” a song she penned as her Christmas gift to Levine’s Dave. Equally worth citing is her “Like a Fool” which recalls the post-breakup themes of Alanis Morisette and Taylor Swift. “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” would make a great carrier single. Her band’s rooftop jam reminds me of the festive atmosphere accompanying U2’s surprise rooftop performance in Rattle and Hum. Indeed, the scenes where she records with Dan and the band that he put together through his personal network are like MTV tracks that can stand on their own even as they seamlessly reinforce the plot of the film.

Yet another highlight worth citing is  Dan’s keen observation of how music has a way of transforming seemingly banal aspects of life into profound life-changing moments. They then spontaneously proceed to prove his point by sharing their respective playlists using a “splitter” that allows them to hook up two headphones to one smartphone. Truly, songs you grow up with inevitably become  the soundtrack of your life.

The movie seamlessly showcases the glamorous and not so elegant facets of New York City making it a part homage to the great city where poets, punks and poseurs fight for their dreams no matter what. After watching this film, it’s almost next to impossible to resist the idea of one day visiting this great city that never sleeps and checking out these sights for oneself.

All told, this is one rewarding movie viewing experience. Here’s hoping John Carney gets inspired by the raves this movie has been earning to release the full-length Greta album as a separate record and while he’s at it, the Greta sessions in Europe and in other parts of the US that Dan and Greta were conspiring about. In the meantime, let’s relish the great soundtrack to remember the movie by.

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Greta, the Singer-Songwriter

Joey Albert: Then and Now

Crush ng Bayan

Despite the fact that EO 255 is still in the process of being fully implemented, interest in OPM recordings is curiously on the rise. OPM enthusiast and Wired State (i.e., an online audiophile forum) moderator Jon Agner attributes it to nostalgia, the drive to create one’s own OPM library and the psychic reward of owning a rare OPM recording. Agner’s perception is reinforced by online discussions and exchanges in social media devoted to OPM singles and albums most of which are out of print. New Haven for OPM Collectors which was put up by Bennjude De Castro and Pinoy Music Then and Now maintained by Rene Rivo are just two of the growing number of sites devoted to OPM-related posts and updates. The global resurgence of the vinyl format had the net effect of firing up interest in OPM albums even more. Interestingly, that was, in fact, the intent of Richard Calderon when he led the vinyl project of Polyeast Records. “With OPM vinyls, it (the vinyl format) will make people go back and appreciate more the local talents and music,” he wrote back when pressed for how he thinks their project would impact OPM. Despite the flak that came his way from concerned local audiophiles who complained about the disparity between the sonic quality and album art of the latest releases versus their counterparts when vinyl was the dominant storage medium in the 80s, that is exactly what has been happening.

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Joey Albert’s Self-Titled Debut Album on Vinyl Format        courtesy of Rene Rivo

Joey Albert is one OPM icon who received renewed interest from OPM collectors and long-time fans and followers in 2013. The release of The Hits Collection on vinyl last year sent OPM enthusiasts scouring for her vinyl releases at the height of her fame in the 80s. Depending on the condition of the vinyl, a Joey Albert album could easily fetch Php 1,000 says Ronald De Castro, a long-time vinyl collector and seller. Joey’s self-titled debut commands a Php 2,000 price tag according to Bob De Leon, owner of Bebop Records. One of the most ardent OPM vinyl collectors at Wired State with over 800 albums and counting is Edward Cruz who practically has all her vinyl albums. Cruz agrees with De Castro that a near mint vinyl album by Joey Albert could easily set you back by a thousand bucks. Among his Joey Albert albums, the self-titled debut is his personal favourite. Unfortunately, his friends and the friends of his friends shared his preference which led to his prized collector’s item getting lost in the process. This is why he is thankful to Polyeast for including “Tell Me,” the carrier single of Joey’s debut album, in her Hits Collection. This, he says, would do for now as he continues to try his luck in search of his lost Joey debut album in vinyl swap meets and analog sale events.

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The Joey Albert Vinyl Collection of Edward Cruz

Such interest in Joey Albert’s recordings may be best explained in the context of her place in OPM history in the 80s. A place that was secured for her by over a dozen Pinoy love songs that most of us grew up with in the 80s. It is remarkable that a number of these songs continue to hold their own when played alongside contemporary OPM hits in the 21st century. “Tell Me” which earned her first Gold Record Award in 1984 was reimagined by Side A in 1995 eventually endearing the song all the more to Filipino romantics. It has, in fact, been covered by Regine Velasquez, Lea Salonga, and Zsa Zsa Padilla. “IIsa Pa Lamang” became the theme song of an award-winning movie of the same title in 1992. It was revived as the theme song of a 2008 telenovela of the same title. Erik Santos rerecorded it in 2012. The same is true of “Sa Yo Lamang” which was rerecorded by Juris in 2010. “Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin” (1986) recently found its way to Martin Nievera’s Off the Record vinyl album in 2013. One other incontrovertible proof of the relevance of her body of work in this century is the 2001 release of The Story of Joey Albert, the Ultimate Videoke Collection. Featured in this anthology are 16 of her greatest hits guaranteed to cater to the “senti” side of Pinoys and their unquenchable need to sing along. Among them are “Over and Over Again” (1984), “Million Miles Away” (1984), “Say You’re Mine” (1984), “Memories” (1984), “Points of View” (1984), “Yakapin Mo Ako” (1985), “I Remember the Boy” (1985), “It’s Over Now” (1985), “Na Sabihin Mo” (1985), “Without You” (1986), You Threw it All Away” (1986), “Porma ng Porma” (1988), “Back in My Arms” (1988), and “Mixed Emotions” (1988.) And these are only from her studio albums with Polyeast. In her 30-year career as a musician, she has released a total of 24 albums.

Thanks to the fortuitous mix of the fluid connectivity of social media and her naturally kind and friendly nature, we were able to recently catch up with Joey Albert to ask her about the vinyl treatment accorded to her OPM legacy, what she has been busy with since leaving Manila and her future plans as a musician.

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Still Lovely After All These Years

What was your reaction when you learned that your greatest hits were coming out on vinyl in 2013?

Ecstatic! I myself am a vinyl record fan and have again started a new collection. I fortunately kept some of my dad’s LPs.

Any songs which you wish they’d included?                                                              

It would’ve been nice to see the hit songs recorded with Dyna like “Iisa Pa Lamang” and “Sa ‘Yo Lamang” but I understand why not so given that, the selection is good!

What do you think of a second vinyl anthology?

Oh… that would be even more awesome like the unreleased songs of Joey Albert. There are a few that merit good exposure and were never released as singles… like “Say You’re Mine.”

Which among your many hits are your personal favourites and why?

“Million Miles Away”…. it’s simply beautiful.

“Tell Me”… short and to the point… legendary…

“Iisa Pa Lamang”… I love watching the first few bars disarm my audience even before I sing the first note…(same with “Tell Me”)

“Ikaw Lang Ang Mamahalin and Yakapin Mo Ako”… I feel connected with my late father and sister every single time I sing those songs… they were written for them.

“Brief Encounter”… in another time and place, I know this would have taken off… it’s cool…

“Roses In The Rain”… I always thought this was going to fly too…touches my heart every time

“Just For Awhile”… Gino Padilla was brilliant here… a better duet than “Points Of View”, personally.

“Say You’re Mine”… this should’ve been released… beautiful melody.

“Ngayon Wala Ka Na”… I still think this would be a great movie theme.

“It’s Over Now”… looooove the Bob Aves guitar solo in this one

“Sa ‘Yo Lamang”… because of the hope it gave me…This was the last song I released before I sadly left. I thought my career was over. Then a month after I left I received word from sister/manager in Canada… the song had won Best Theme Song for the movie entry of the same title in a film festival…My heart swelled with hope… a voice inside said it is not over…

When did you leave Manila?

1995

Was there a compelling reason to migrate at that time? Was it in any way related to your illness?

In a way, it was…My husband had applied for Canadian immigration… it was to obtain international educational opportunities for our children… but I didn’t expect it so soon. I was very hesitant at first. Then in February 1995, I was diagnosed with my first bout with cancer which served as a wake-up call of some sort. It made me realize my career was not more important than the chance of being a full-time mother… so I left.

You have been cancer-free for more than 10 years already. To what do you attribute your remarkable recovery?

God’s love and mercy – it is true when they say His grace is sufficient… my family and friends…the sea of prayers… the gift of an unwavering faith… a good health system and the cancer research facility here in British Columbia…

What insights and realizations did your illness evoke in you which you consider of value to those who follow you?

I know how Filipinos love music… I will answer that by way of a song which has become the soundtrack of my life since… it’s called “The Last Day”…

What do you make of the current OPM scene both in the country and in Canada where you have resided permanently?

There isn’t much of an OPM scene here (in Canada) and I’ve not kept myself abreast with it there, too but it doesn’t seem like it was in the 80’s which I fondly refer to as the golden age of OPM…

Do you have plans of recording a new album? If yes, could you kindly share with us what the motif of the album would be? Do you already have a tracklist in mind?

I do have one more record album contract with Viva and I have an idea of what I would like to do except that it doesn’t seem feasible at this time as it involves another artist who we can’t get into a commitment yet… hahaha! I’ll keep you guessing : )

Would you have any plans to mount a solo concert anytime soon?

No…. not a solo concert… it would require my being there a longer time than I usually stay. In the far future, perhaps.

Would you have any idea as to the kind of following you have at this time?

Actually, no… you know… I’ve never had a clear idea of the following I ever had. Sometimes, I still get overwhelmed when I do a concert and hear a thousand people singing my song with me… every lyric, every swoon… how does that happen?

How are things with you in Canada? How often do you perform in public?

I don’t perform in public very often here… I’ve chosen to lead a semi-private life here to give my children the focus and normal life they deserve. I do most of my performances abroad… mostly, the States, Europe and of course, there in the Philippines. Here, I’m primarily a mom, a wife and a daycare teacher and owner. I run a Catholic daycare/preschool called The Good Shepherd DayCare here in Coquitlam where I live. Google it! : )

What would be your singular message to those who listen to your music both here and abroad in 2014?

Just thank you… thank you for keeping my music in your hearts. I was always a fervent recording artist… industriously promoting my singles… climbing the stairs to every radio booth in Ortigas… and do you know why? Because somehow I always had this innate sense of an ending… this persistent purpose of wanting to be remembered… and remembered well at the end of my life. It would be my music that would achieve that.

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“His grace is sufficient for me.”