SINGAPORE - What was supposed to be a 12-day regional concert tour turned into a 3.5-month ordeal for local singer Joel Tan, also known as Gentle Bones, and 13 others.
Just after he and American singer-songwriter Kina Grannis finished their Sept 16 show in Jakarta - the first stop of the tour - their passports were impounded and they were barred from leaving the country because of a problem with their performance permit.
They were allowed to leave Indonesia only on Tuesday (Dec 22). Their other performances - in Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila, where the tour was to end on Sept 27 - had to be cancelled, leaving fans in the dark.
"We were advised not to go public about what was happening," said 21-year-old Tan, who performs under the name Gentle Bones, explaining that lawyers were worried this could delay their legal fight to leave Indonesia. "I'm bummed out that we didn't get to play in all those countries, because it was such an exciting opportunity."
It was supposed to have been Tan's first overseas tour - he was the opening act for Grannis, who shot to fame after posting her music videos on YouTube. But he ended up having to cancel his Dec 10 show as well, his first ticketed concert, at Esplanade Concert Hall, which had been sold out a month after tickets went on sale.
Fans were told by Universal Music Singapore, his record label and the concert's organiser, that it had been cancelled due to "unforeseen circumstances beyond our control". But Tan, who returned to Singapore on Tuesday night, has now revealed the real reason for all the cancellations, describing the entire episode as shocking.
The tour group had consisted of six Singaporeans, two Malaysians, an Australian and five Americans - including Grannis and her husband Jesse Epstein.
Tan, the first home-grown act to be signed by Universal Music Singapore, revealed how immigration officials showed up after their two-hour show at Komunitas Salihara, a concert venue in Jakarta, asking for their passports.
"Apparently we didn't have performance permits," he said.
A spokesman for the tour's organiser Ellipsis Live, an entertainment and tour promotion company based in Australia and Asia, told The Straits Times that another promoter, Creon Asia, was responsible for the logistics - which included getting the permits - for the shows in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila.
"Creon Asia had purchased the rights from us to stage and promote the shows," she said, adding that the two firms had worked before on several shows. "There were some issues in procuring the permits and investigations are ongoing. Creon Asia assumed full responsibility and took care of all expenses incurred during this period, including logistics and accommodation."
She said the two Ellipsis Live representatives on the tour helped to seek legal counsel and consular assistance when the group was stuck in Jakarta.
After a court hearing last week, Tan's record label Universal Music Singapore paid a fine of $5,000 on behalf of the singer and his entourage of four people. The others in the group of 14 had separate trials. Creon Asia and Ellipsis Live were also fined.
During the legal wrangle, the group stayed at the Aston Simatupang hotel for more than two months before moving to budget hotels.
Tan's parents and younger brother visited him thrice in Jakarta. "Thankfully we still had freedom and were allowed to do our own thing," he said. "We went to malls and cinemas and out for nice dinners now and then. I also tried to work on my music in the room, liaise with producers over e-mail on new music as much as I could."
Tan said only their families and some people from the music scene knew about their predicament.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told The Straits Times that the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta had helped Tan and his friends after they were denied permission to leave Indonesia to "assist in investigations".
Universal Music Singapore is working on rescheduling his first solo concert to next year.
Tan, whose self-titled debut EP of folk/pop songs topped the Singapore iTunes charts when it was released last year, said: "Everyone's parents were worried and it was quite hard to explain to them what happened because we were not sure ourselves.
"It was all very weird. It feels like three-and-a-half months of our lives just disappeared."