Singer Mark Chan releases new album Blue Guitar

The only instrument that Mark Chan can now play after sustaining injuries in an accident is a junior-sized blue guitar.
The only instrument that Mark Chan can now play after sustaining injuries in an accident is a junior-sized blue guitar.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Singer Mark Chan is releasing an album of contemporary pop songs, his first in almost two decades after injury and loss

Singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Mark Chan went through some dark times recently.

An accident left him unable to play most of his beloved instruments and, at the same time, a long-term relationship ended.

Encouraged by his friends in the industry, he turned to music and the result is Blue Guitar.

It is his first new album in almost two decades to feature contemporary pop songs, a marked departure from the esoteric, East-meets-West blend found in his work for the theatre and arts.

His most recent high-profile work was the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival theatre production, The Flight Of The Jade Bird.

It's frustrating, so I worked backwards. What can I do? I can still write the words, I can still write the songs. I still have these wonderful people to work with, I can still sing, so let's do it.

MUSICIAN MARK CHAN on how he could not handle multiple instruments after the accident, but was still able to produce an album

The album will be released on Friday.

While he declined to divulge details of the recent turmoil, his injuries mean that the only instrument that he can play now is a junior-sized blue guitar, hence the title of the album.

Chan, 57, says in an interview at his Taman Serasi home that it ended up being an acoustic pop album since it is no longer feasible for him to be a one-man show handling multiple instruments.

"I can't really do that anymore; it's frustrating, so I worked backwards. What can I do? I can still write the words, I can still write the songs. I still have these wonderful people to work with, I can still sing, so let's do it."

The illustrious list of collaborators includes Singapore jazz stalwart Jeremy Monteiro, veteran songwriter and producer Billy Koh and producer/arranger George Leong.

Several of the songs are new versions of his old tunes. Playing It Too Cool, for instance, is a jazz take on a song from his 1985 debut album, Face To Face.

"I envisioned the song like this when I wrote it, it's a jazz bar kind of song," he says of the tune recorded with Monteiro in a studio in Germany.

Inspired by classic pop works by artists such as Carole King and Dusty Springfield, a lot of Chan's singing on the disc was from the first few takes in the studio.

"I wanted to get a raw, naked, exposed kind of sound to the vocals. I feel that too much of pop music today makes people sound very processed. They sound alike and I thought: 'What's the point?'. That's not what I grew up with and that's not what I'm about."

Chan says that including the reworked tunes is a way for a new generation of listeners to discover his past discography.

Besides Playing It Too Cool, the album also includes another song from his 1985 debut - a ballad, Stay. "It's very emo, very now, very teenage girl and boy, the kind of thing they listen to."

He adds: "This album is like a wedding: something old, something new, something blue. I've gotta make something that will not alienate older people but, at the same time, will be easy for young people to get into."

The release of Blue Guitar is not the only thing that marks his return to the limelight.

He will be working on a production for next year's Singapore International Festival of Arts, the details of which will be released at a later date.

He is also finishing his debut novel, which he has been working on in the past few years.

He says: "It's a fantasy set in real locations - Seville, Shanghai and Singapore - and it's full of strange characters."

Late last month, he was honoured with an Artistic Excellence Award by the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, in recognition of his extensive contribution to the Singapore music landscape.

And he is not quite done yet. He is already thinking of a follow-up to Blue Guitar, possibly an album of duets or pop standards.

•Blue Guitar will be released on Friday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Making his mark again'. Print Edition | Subscribe