The transformation of Transition’s troubadours
Imagine a British rock band pulling up its roots and relocating to Taiwan to learn Chinese and in a few short years composing hit songs in Mandarin and collaborating with a who’s who of Taiwanese musicians.
The traveling troubadours of Transition are one of the few Western bands to have achieved this impressive feat and more.
Catapulted into stardom by their first Mandarin language hit “Dui Bu Qi”, which has 1.6 million views, and their first Taiwanese style ballad, “Stay in the Moment”, which has 230,000 views, the band’s YouTube channel has gained over 2.5 million views and counting.
Over 100,000 have viewed a 30- minute online documentary about their life in Taiwan. In December 2013, when their album “Kua Yue” was released by Asia Muse in digital format, it stayed in the top 5 in the Indievox chart in Taiwan for 4 consecutive weeks.
Spotted on YouTube
Recently, they’ve been spotted on YouTube crooning fluent covers of classic Mandarin hits, like “Ni ZenmeShuo” by Teresa Teng, “Red Bean” by Faye Wong and “You are my Flower” by WuBai.
Composing those hits in Mandarin was only made harder because they had to do it outside Taiwan.
When applying for new work permits, they discovered their applications had been blocked because they had performed at a church in 2010 and were given a monetary gift, an action that the government deemed illegal and thought was worthy of a full 3-year ban from the country.
Currently fronted by brothers Josh and Jesse Edbrooke, the band had humble beginnings at the school the two attended in Bristol, England.
When Josh was 13 and Jesse was 14, the two teamed up with another pair of brothers, Niall (14) and Steve Dunne (13), to participate in a school competition. As they began to practice and perform together and write their own songs, they realized that they wanted to take the band as far as it could go.
Striving to Become Better
They chose the name “Transition” because they wanted to be a band that was constantly moving forward, changing and always striving to become better.
In 2002, Transition met some people from Taiwan who were studying English in Bristol. These new Taiwanese friends came to see their shows in Bristol and told them that their music would have an audience in Taiwan.
Knowing nothing about Taiwan at the time, they were gradually persuaded by their friends to take a closer look and search for opportunities to tour the island.
It was during this period that they were first introduced to Mandarin music through David Tao’s album “Black Tangerine,” which fascinated them with its blend of Western rock and Eastern melodies and lyrics.
In 2005, Transition took the bold step of going to the Spring Scream outdoor music festival and immediately felt a real sense of connection with Taiwan. The friends they had known in Bristol who were now back in Taiwan helped them a great deal, and they got a phenomenal reception at the festival.
Going to Spring Scream also introduced the group to the local Taiwanese music scene, including bands such as Tizzy Bac, Totem, Green!Eyes, Chairman and Chasing Sparrow.
Four years later in September 2009, the group chose to move to Taiwan because “first and foremost, it was friendship that made Taiwan feel so much like home,” Josh says in an interview with CNA.
Whether it was the friends they’d met in Bristol who had returned to Taiwan or new friends they met while performing here, there was a sense of community with people with whom they had strong relationships.
Moving to Taiwan
Moving to Taiwan was a huge learning experience, and the band’s members had to unlearn many of their Western habits to embrace the Taiwanese way of doing things. That process was helped tremendously by collaborating with other bands and musicians in Taiwan.
They worked quite regularly with Wing, who also involved them in work with A-do, Sam Lee and JJ Lin.
They also received guidance and assistance from Real of FIR, Will Liu and Jay Chou, and they were part of the backing band for Rainie Yang’s Taipei Arena Show in 2010, as well as her Singapore Indoor Stadium Show that same year.
The leap to Mandarin was a particularly big challenge.
“Singing in Chinese was something that we always felt was out of reach for us. Particularly the idea of writing our own songs in Chinese seemed impossible. But through taking things one step at a time, we found ourselves creating a whole Mandarin album!” says Josh, the group’s drummer.
His brother Jesse is responsible for guitar and vocals, and Niall Dunne, who was with the band for most of its run in Taiwan until 2013, also handled vocals and several instruments. Steve Dunne left the band in 2007, before it settled in Taiwan.
The first step was singing some simple Chinese covers. After some time, they asked a friend to translate some of their English songs into Chinese and they began to perform those, with excellent results. From there, they began to use the simple Chinese they knew to write songs that reflected their life experience.
In 2012, the band had the honor of being commissioned to compose the official theme song for Taiwan’s team at the London Olympics.
When describing the experience of filming the music video for the song “Olympic Dream” in Kaohsiung National Stadium, the members felt humbled.
“Knowing that the song was going to be the theme for the athletes who were going to London to compete and also that this was the first time that they’d ever had a theme song was such an honor for the band,” Josh says.
Unlike in Britain, when it came to performing live in Taiwan, they learned that audience interaction was much more important than looking cool.
One of the most impressive small shows they performed was in Kaohsiung at a venue called No. 18 Skyisland. There were around 25 people squeezed into a tiny room and they just played an acoustic set, but the atmosphere was electric.
“Every single person in the room seemed to be part of the music and it almost stopped being us performing for the audience and becoming all of us together celebrating music,” Josh recalls.
By the end of the show, after finishing the last song, Niall suddenly began to sing Amazing Grace and everyone joined in, creating a sense of shared spirituality.
Having just completed a successful 21-city tour of China, the band is back in Britain putting the finishing touches on a new Mandarin album.
They plan to release the album in Taiwan by the end of this year and hope to perform their new album and hit songs on an islandwide tour in December.
They would also like to make a music documentary about other bands in Taiwan.
In 2011, the band made a documentary ( https:// www. youtube. com/ watch? v= 6iwOKENrc20) about their own musical journey in Taiwan, and they’d like to be able to replicate this on a bigger scale, introducing Taiwanese musicians that they know and love to the rest of the world.