By Sujin Thomas
LONG before Singaporeans celebrated music from home-grown bands like Electrico, The Great Spy Experiment and The Observatory, there was Humpback Oak.
The year was 1994 and the quartet, led by singer-songwriter Leslie Low, released their debut, Pain-Stained Morning, on the now-defunct Pony Canyon record label.
It contained moody folk acoustic numbers such as Circling Square, Void and Deep Door Down, which later went on to become radio hits. Finer Life, which addressed the angst of disaffected youth, could well have been Singapore's answer to Nirvana's teen anthem, Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Humpback Oak went on to receive the Perfect Ten (now known as 987FM) awards for Favourite Local Act and Critic's Choice in February 1995.
Two albums " Ghostfather and SideASideB " later and the band called it quits in 2001.
Yet demand for those firstprint albums, which were released in limited numbers, continued to grow, garnering the band cult status among Singapore music aficionados.
As proof of this, out-of-print copies of Pain-Stained Morning and Ghostfather were sold over online auction website eBay recently for as much as US$100 (S$140) a piece.
Low, who moved on to front experimental band The Observatory, and who released a solo album in 2006 entitled Worms, was also overwhelmed by e-mail requests for old Humpback material.
So, last week, the band re-released their three studio albums and a collection of rarities spanning the years 1991 to 1996, in the form of a novel box set.
The rarities album contains demo material as well as outtakes, many of which were digitised from lo-fi cassette tape recordings.
What makes the box set a collector's dream come true is its packaging: An unassuming, plain black box that reveals a 3-D paper mock-up of Low's former bedroom in Normanton Park.
It holds significance as the band would hang out, jam and record songs there back in their youth.
Each of the 500 box sets is serial-numbered and contains prints of handwritten notes and lyrics, photographs and a signature Oaksongs guitar pick.
The box set is a testament to the staying power of Singapore's D-I-Y music culture " which exists to this day " and adds a dollop of heart and soul to what's missing in much of the mainstream market these days.
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