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Martial Law’s Saving Grace: A Vibrant Music Scene

Quick. Before Alzheimer’s sets in…

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With September 21 just around the corner, my mind automatically rewinds to the best deal we ever got from martial rule: a fabulous ‘live’ music scene in Manila – as if, to compensate for lost freedoms.

Night after night, you had the finest Pinoy musicians performing at a nearby club – you heard right, every club was nearby since the phrase ‘traffic jam’ didn’t exist then.

So off you’d go to Rino’s on Roxas Boulevard to catch Boy Camara & Afterbirth performing their Elton John set – Honky Tonk Cat, Take Me to the Pilot, My Song…

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Immediately followed by the red-hot Emil Mijares & Time Machine with Celeste Legaspi and Anthony Castelo on vocals.

One sure thing, you ALWAYS got your money’s worth since three or four other bands were on the same bill including Pink & Purple or Bits & Pieces rocking the ‘stay in’ night away with solid tunes from Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Jethro Tull and Yes.

If soul music was more your bag, it’s off to Flame (down the road) with resident band Andre Wilson and the Howlers doing a string of James Brown hits and an occasional Tower of Power ditty.

A little farther down the road, Eduardo’s beckons with the Sangkatutak Band featuring Richard Merk and Ivy Violan.

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For a bit of senti music, your destination can only be Wells Fargo… where the New Minstrels held court.

Over at Romulus, you can catch the Downbeats with the Juan dela Cruz triumvirate of Pepe Smith, Wally Gonzalez & Mike Hanopol.

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Or you can detour to Calesa Bar at the Hyatt where Bong Penera & Batucada transformed every night into samba night.

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A few steps down to the basement finds you at Circuit with the Hi Jacks and drummer Eddie Dizon doing their take on Chicago hits.

Your ‘pilgrimage’ wouldn’t be complete without dropping by Pension Pilipina in Ermita for a dose of Circus (wow, Boy Katindig… Walter Calinawan… Gerry Paraiso… Paco Gamboa… Rudy Lozano… Ray-an Fuentes… Basil Valdez… Richard Tann… Hajji Alejandro… Pat Castillo… Jacqui Magno… Ceres Jacinto… and two Fil-ams from SFO) who’ll make you drool with a heartstopping Earth, Wind & Fire set.

If you’re feeling extravagant and really want to impress a date, the only place to be seen in is at Third Eye (by the side of Luneta Hotel) with Philly group, Masters of Time, alternating with local rock band Red Fox. Almost every night, you’ll catch a glimpse of blaxploitation actress Pam Grier dancing the night away. A special treat for patrons was Sam Peak, sax player of Masters of Time (and future member of Philadelphia’s MFSB), jamming with Red Fox. Imagine the sound of the Stones/Hendrix punctuated and pummeled by an Afro-American sax player as big and menacing as Muhammad Ali.

Those were the golden days of Pinoy ‘live’ music when bands were diverse, daring, distinctive… long before the scene became boring and… turned comatose… to the tune of “Happy”.

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