There’s a certain luck those born in the 90s must be feeling right now, with their favorite bands who “introduced” them to music in their youth either returning to or visiting Manila for the first time ever. I would know, having been part of that, ehem, forever young gen who relied on cassette tapes of Boyzone, Westlife, Backstreet Boys, and Boys II Men just to feel something—and now have the purchasing power to enjoy their nostalgic music live. No shame there. There’s a recent progress to make myself and many other titos and titas—who as children grew a sore thumb from pressing “Rewind” and “Fast Forward” just to skip tracks—say, “We’ve come full circle!”
It’s A1’s Reunion Tour.
A1, the British-Norwegian band behind ballads “Like A Rose,” “Everytime,” and “One Last Song” among others, arrived around in town five days before the first day of their Philippine Tour. There are three crazy truths there. One, that it’s a comparatively long allowance between a foreign act’s arrival and concert day. Which then brings us to two, that they’re indeed staying here for a longer time as they have a nationwide tour. And then that they have a na-tion-wide-tour, yes, with four days of performances in the Philippines. A1 had their first concert night at New Frontier Theater, Quezon City last Sunday, and is repeating it on Monday. The band heads next to Davao and Cebu for two more nights, respectively.
A1 is making the tour a big deal, obviously, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary and with Paul Marazzi rejoining the group since 2002. On the first night of the concert series, I got to watch the boy band legends slip into all black and gray, kinda age-inappropriate casuals (Ben Adams in a sequined bombery jacket!) and perform their hits with so much jolt the crowd could’t help but stand up almost the entire time. It was a sight to behold for my fellow oldies and I whining to “Heaven By Your Side” and dancing at to “Same Old, Brand New You” in unison. Never mind the boys’ facial lines and unsynchronized dance steps that only betrayed their age (they’re in their late 30s to early 40s now)—the band’s energy, untainted vocal prowess, and familiar British wit all made up for it.
After years of being apart and with the musical scene starkly changing up because of technology, A1 didn’t seem to have any problems in fueling their passion—much less, maintaining their fanbase. In fact, they’ve fittingly adapted to the digital times. Online, the band has its own Instagram account at more than 10k followers. Except for Paul, each has his own handle, with Ben having the most followers at 41k.
I suddenly remembered Mark Read telling me at their press con how the band has dealt with the changes—you know, where Spotify is the new LimeWire (high five if you get the reference!)—just in time for their reunion tour.
Mark would first recall about A1 among the first bands to have its own website. “Of course now we've got YouTube and social media that completely changes the way we communicate with our fans. So, in terms to how we've adapted over the years, obviously our music has developed, grown up, and matured. But because we're older, we felt like we've found a way to bring a new level of depth to our music. So, even the songs we've performed back in the day, I think they sound even better now.”
He continued, “I think we've all grown as performers… We have this energy that is still here amongst us all, but it's just we've learned how to just relax into our music. We felt like we're a little bit more in control!”
A1, of course, didn’t just thrive as some pack of good-looking wolves (Remember Ben’s iconic curtain hair?) who can both gyrate and do those Usher-ish R&B slurs. They’re also songwriters and instrumentalists, with Mark and Christian Ingebrigtsen playing the keyboard and guitar, who each had the knack to create music that was too catchy and lovey-dovey it was… tangible.
And so after launching with its debut album Here We Come in 1999, the band now continues with their songwriting via “Armour”—something I’d easily classify as under the millennial-friendly genre of folk rock. Listen to it, it’s not cheesy and sounds as fresh as what The Lumineers would sing.
Age is just a number, I went on to insinuate to the band at the same press con.
“I don't know. Really, to be honest, we've always looked kind of young,” Ben would tell me, as I lightheartedly asked how they had maintained their youth and good looks over the years. He then looked to the prodigal Paul who is yet the only dad (he has her second daughter incoming in six weeks) in the group. “You have absolutely more sleepless nights!”
Mark would add in jest, “‘Because I think for the rest of us, we've kind of shied away from responsibility—managed to stay young and hopeful, avoiding getting married and hard work!”
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Photographs by Vyn Radovan