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11 May 2022

The Gaffa Tapes: Don’t shoot me, I’m only the sound engineer!

by Brian Coleman

Snippets from the archives of a bygone era

Witnessing a waitress fleeing in tears after two off-duty Manila cops dumped bullets as payment on her serving tray was a stark reminder that I was working in a country with a gun control problem.

Scouting for talent around the Philippines in the 80s was often fraught with danger, but you could wander into any one of Manila’s five-star hotel lounges and be entertained by a sax player who emulated the sounds of Charlie Parker or hear singers and musicians that could rival the best in the business. That’s why Filipino artists went on to make up one quarter of the cast of Miss Saigon.

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Amidst this wealth of talent, I found a standout band playing in a Manila Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. At the time, I was two years into installing and operating sound and lighting equipment and managing Filipino bands in clubs catering to GIs just off the US Air Base in central Luzon. I signed the band to a contract and put them in residency at Rosie O’Grady’s, the leading club in the town. However, the American owner, who was in the process of drinking himself into oblivion, couldn’t realise their potential, nor would he sign them to a contract. I was his Entertainment Manager, and when I objected, he fired me for dissent. I changed the band’s name from Sweet Dreams to Magenta (named after Lee’s 113 colour gel) and signed them to a new US owned club, The Third Eye. This earned the ire of Rosie O’Grady’s owner.

Magenta at Cal Jam

The Third Eye was generously outfitted with JBL equipment powered by Crown amplifiers; thus began my professional relationship with the local JBL dealer Lin Gomez, who had a showroom and workshop called the Music Box. Lin imported JBL speakers direct from the US. He was also the distributer for Crown, Shure, Soundcraft, and dbx. He built the enclosures locally to JBL specifications, which for the subs were 4520 J-Bins and also 455OA bins, not folded horn W bins that I had been using and were mostly used in Australia. I began to love the 4520 with its front load bass punch and sub-bass pumping out of the J curve.

Lin Gomez

It wasn’t all plain sailing at The Third Eye as we were summoned to make several court appearances wherein Rosie O’Grady’s alleged they held title to Magenta’s contract, presenting a bogus contract as evidence. Previously, in an attempt to settle out of court, they had sent a drunken off-duty cop over with a .38 revolver tucked under his T-shirt to have a chat with me.

It was on the drive home from The Third Eye some weeks later that my new employer, who was the major partner, narrowly survived an attempted assassination. He failed to notice a vehicle from a nearby gasoline station emerge without headlights and follow him. Then, on a lonely stretch of road a few kilometres out of town the vehicle overtook his and a would-be assassin fired off a volley of shots. Badly wounded, he detoured from the main road and sped off, however, he was soon rendered unconscious and crashed into a power pole. He spent some time in hospital and eventually sold his shares in the club and returned to the US.

The shooting may well have been coincidental to any nightclub rivalry. Nevertheless, we were all on edge and the remaining partner, who purchased the shares, also purchased a handgun, which was a .22-calibre Saturday Night Special. I declined a similar offer as gunplay wasn’t my preferred choice of Saturday night entertainment.

After only one week of gun ownership the new owner was confronted with the theatre of his neurotic wife locking herself in their bedroom with the loaded weapon and threatening suicide. He then decided to part company with the firearm, and ultimately his wife.

Magenta began to pull huge crowds at The Third Eye nightclub and we also had a contract with the Air Base doing USO shows for the military. Magenta’s allure also attracted some unwanted attention from the political sphere.

In December 1985, some two years after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr, Ferdinand Marcos was gearing up for the 1986 snap election to be contested by Aquino’s wife Corazon (Cory).

Marcos’ lawyer and Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza was officiating the Pampanga Day festivities and the organisers wanted to book Magenta. I didn’t want any part of it. “You cannot refuse these people,” I was told by Lin Gomez, who was acting as an emissary. So I quoted a ridiculous fee. A few days later Lin paid me a visit. “They’ve agreed to pay the fee,” said Lin.

“But will they pay?”

“I will guarantee the payment,” he said.

The Pampanga province north of Manila was home to just under two million people, and an estimated ten thousand attended the 1985 Pampanga Day outdoor concert. The promotion was used as part of the campaign to win back dwindling support for the Marcos Government, and Mendoza was also campaigning to be Marcos’ running mate in the forthcoming election. Lin Gomez set up a massive JBL system and mixed the first few acts before handing the mix over to me for Magenta’s performance.

After the band finished their agreed sets, I was taken backstage to meet the Justice Minister. Mendoza offered a cold, lifeless handshake and his aide quickly ushered me aside to tell me the band was required to play more sets. My initial protest was abruptly shut down as he ominously told me, “You don’t understand; this is political.” I then scanned the perimeter of the stage, which was dotted with infantry armed with M16 assault rifles. I had few misconceptions about just how ‘political’ things could be in the Philippines, so I agreed. On the drive home my two lead female singers, who were now hoarse, let me know of their displeasure.

We eventually won the court case over the contract, and I retained management of Magenta, but then came another challenge. The biggest rock ‘n’ roll club venture of all time in the Philippines was about to open in Olongopo City, home to the US Seventh Fleet. Cal Jam (California Jam), named after the famous 1974 rock music festival was an 800 seat venue, and they wanted Magenta.

Once again Lin Gomez, who did the massive PA installation at Cal Jam, acted as an emissary. I agreed to meet with the owners who arrived at my club complete with their minder who had a poorly concealed ‘piece’ inside his jacket. But on this occasion, there was no intimidation; it was just business, and I saw this as an opportunity to keep Magenta under contract plus sign a new band I was negotiating with for The Third Eye.

I managed Magenta during their Cal Jam residency and also wrote and produced their single (which flopped), before releasing them from their contract so they could pursue other ventures including overseas engagements.

I consider that I got off rather lightly during my four-year stint in entertainment in the Philippines. I was only threatened with weapons a couple of times, arrested once on a trumped-up charge, and spent a year in court. Lin Gomez paid us for the Pampanga Day gig but, unfortunately, he never got paid.

Lin Gomez’ brother Chito at Cal Jam, 1986

Disambiguation: Magenta (Philippines band) formed 1985 is distinct from Magenta (Norwegian band) formed 1995 and Magenta (Welsh band) formed 1999.

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