Pandemic music: The Oddfellows back with new album after 29 years

The quartet hopes that shows can resume again so that the band can play the new songs live. PHOTO: LITTLE ONG

SINGAPORE - Home-grown indie trailblazers The Oddfellows were one of the first local bands to start gigging late last year (2020) after live performances were allowed again under a pilot scheme.

Rather than just play old songs from their discography that dates back to the late 1980s, they decided to write and debut a new song about life in the pandemic, New Future, for their two sets at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre in December.

Frontman Patrick Chng, 53, says: "We enjoyed the shows very much. We had a discussion and said to one another, 'Why don't we record the new song?'

"It inspired us to write even more new songs and we had some older songs that we've never recorded, so we thought, 'Yeah, why not just go all out, let's record a whole album.'"

The band also comprise guitarist-singer Kelvin Tan, 57; bassist-singer Vincent Lee, 55; and drummer Johnny Ong, 46.

The result is What's Yours And Mine, their third album, released 29 years after sophomore album Carnival (1992).

They started recording the follow-up to Carnival in the late 1990s, but the sessions were abandoned after their record label then, Springroll, folded its Singapore operations due to the Asian financial crisis.

The band were most active in the late 1980s and 1990s, achieving feats such as becoming the first indie band to hit No. 1 on local radio with 1991 single So Happy.

And while they have been largely out of the limelight since then, they have released several singles, compilations and EPs - such as Bugs And Hisses (2001) - over the years. They also played, in Chng's estimate, "about one or two shows a year".

Lee used to travel out of Singapore extensively for his job in the automotive industry, but stopped after the pandemic started. That meant that the quartet could meet more often to work on music.

Says Chng: "We told ourselves, okay, every Monday, let's just go into (music studio) TNT to either rehearse the songs or to record. So we were quite disciplined in the sense that we went every week."

They also recorded in Chng's home studio.

While Chng did most of the songwriting and singing in their previous releases, the new batch of songs featured more creative input from Tan, Lee and Ong.

The first single, Silent Worlds, for example, was written and sung by Tan. Chng says he was so inspired when he heard Tan's song that he ended up composing two new tunes - Restless Heart and It's Not Easy - and rewrote lyrics to older songs Where's Your Heart? and A Lullaby (For You).

Most of the album lyrics are about staying positive while living life in a pandemic.

Tan says: "The whole idea is that we are going to take what's good about life right now and make it meaningful."

Adds Chng: "We wanted to make this entire album uplifting and life-affirming."

Chng, the only one who was part of the band's 1988 founding line-up, never thought that The Oddfellows could last so long. Tan and Lee joined in 1991 and Ong in 1993.

Tan says it was their friendship that has kept them together. "We've had our differences and tensions with one another, but the thing is, we also genuinely like each other as people. We have this respect and reverence for the music and because of that, we put egos to the side and we make it work."

The quartet hopes that shows can resume again so that the band can play the new songs live.

But Chng is also fine if that does not happen. "I'm quite happy being a studio musician. But we will continue making music. I don't see a reason to stop."

What's Yours And Mine is on music streaming services.

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