Hun­gry once more

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - > FROM PAGE 5

1984, cov­er­ing ev­ery­where from Machang in Ke­lan­tan to Teluk In­tan in Perak.

But it was a con­cert in Arau, Perlis, just be­fore Kon­sert Rak­sasa, that earned the band earned se­ri­ous street cred and some no­to­ri­ety, too, cour­tesy of its fans.

“We saw no one at our sound­check, but af­ter the gates at the expo (expo shows were com­mon­place in the 1980s, where mu­sic and fun­fair en­ter­tain­ment was all rolled into one) opened, 100,000 peo­ple rushed in. The place was so packed that we couldn’t drive in to the stage, so we had to walk nearly two kilo­me­ters,” Madasamy re­called.

“That show was re­ported about in the news and the pa­pers the next day be­cause about 20 peo­ple were in­jured in the stam­pede. I re­mem­ber see­ing peo­ple’s faces and shirts with foot­prints on them,” said Mokhtar, cast­ing his mind back.

At the height of the band’s pop­u­lar­ity in the early-to-mid-1980s, Blues Gang opened for a slew of in­ter­na­tional acts like the Ian Gil­lan Band (1982) and the Cli­max Blues Band (1983) at Sta­dium Merdeka, and Uriah Heep (1984) at Sta­dium Ne­gara. The shows were all great suc­cesses for the band, al­though the Uriah Heep one didn’t go with­out in­ci­dent.

“Heavy rain had drenched our equip­ment, so we needed to dry it all out. When the au­di­ence got edgy be­cause of the de­lay, Uriah Heep’s roadies de­manded we go on im­me­di­ately. The sit­u­a­tion reached a head and I re­mem­ber pick­ing up a mike stand and swing­ing it at one of the guys. For­tu­nately, some­one pulled me away in the nick of time, so it missed,” Ito said with a hearty laugh. The mike stand might have missed its tar­get, but his cussing and spit­ting hit the spot.

The quin­tet main­tained its pro­lific al­bum out­put through the 1980s, but piracy was never far off, forc­ing the band to rely on the live cir­cuit and con­cert tours to make ends meet.

Blues Gang’s wheels started to come off some­time in 1986. Ito left first, and was soon fol­lowed by Ghani. The band then signed off the 1980s with 1988’s cryp­ti­cally-ti­tled Men­cari Penye­le­sa­ian.

In an at­tempt to stay afloat as a band, Karim’s younger brother Shaik Ab­dul­lah was roped in on drums while the older sib­ling stepped into the front­man’s role. The band even added a sec­ond gui­tar player with Az­izi Ith­nin join­ing the ranks for a while, but by then, the band had lost its mojo, al­though it car­ried on into the early 1990s be­fore Mokhtar left in 1993.

Ito had two solo al­bums out by then, the aptly ti­tled Aku and Perem­puan, but joined Madasamy and Karim’s club band Pur­ple Haze later on for a while. “I think my join­ing them al­lowed for the con­ti­nu­ity of our re­la­tion­ship, which is why we are here now,” Ito ad­mit­ted.

Af­ter leav­ing WEA, the band signed on to Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic and re­leased Ribut Pen­damai in 1998, with English­man Ian An­der­son on gui­tar. It gave the band a sec­ond wind of sorts at the turn of the cen­tury, but fans and band mem­bers har­boured for a re­turn to the glory days, which is why Blues Gang has kept up with nu­mer­ous re­union shows over the years with its clas­sic line-up.

The re­cent fund-raiser by the Na­tional Press Club at Is­tana Ho­tel in Kuala Lumpur was a case in point. Al­though it was the hits that the au­di­ence was there for, the big­gest news for the night was the band’s plan to re­lease an al­bum next year.

“We are think­ing of re-record­ing a cou­ple of our old tunes, and writ­ing a few more new ones. Be­tween, Karim, Ito and I, we should be able to put a bunch of songs to­gether. We’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to this,” Madasamy said.

It’s ev­i­dent that the dy­namic within the band is still firmly in­tact, even with the in­clu­sion of Az­izi once again.

“Blues Gang is the best band I’ve been in. Ev­ery­one is on the ball and in fact, it’s more fun do­ing this to­day ... maybe be­cause we’re hun­gry again,” Ito en­thused.

He laments at how times have changed, with the ban on cig­a­rette com­pa­nies – who were re­spon­si­ble for the growth of the rock scene in the 1980s – sponsoring con­certs. He still has one wish, though, which is to get the en­dorse­ment of RTM again.

“We owe a great debt to RTM for spread­ing our mu­sic back then, like­wise the me­dia and our fans,” Ito said.

Blues Gang has sur­vived the times, from piracy to ill-ad­vised busi­ness ven­tures like the band’s blues club, K Blues Mu­sic House, and from chang­ing fads to Karim’s de­bil­i­tat­ing di­a­betes, which saw him lose two toes on his left foot. But through it all, the blues has kept the band on the straight and nar­row.

“I never imag­ined a 40th an­niver­sary. The blues has al­ways been about the at­ti­tude to suc­ceed, in­de­pen­dent of per­sonal hard­ship. If the Rolling Stones can do this even now, we are go­ing to try, too,” Ito con­cluded.

This all seems a far cry from the days when Madasamy and Karim sat atop the hills at Bukit Tim­balan in Jo­hor Baru and dreamed of the big time. Who would’ve thought that 40 years on, the Blues Gang would still be singing the blues?

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