APART from Cantopop, live rock music has always been an iffy business in Hongkong. With a relatively small base of proficient musicians and a largely conservative audience to play for, it is inevitable the local music scene consists largely of saccharine cover bands and underdeveloped singer-guitarists. There are exceptions - Blue Wail, at its best, is a fine blues band and the recently-disbanded Red-X, played cover material with both taste and professionalism. But what about original music? That is, non-derivative original music, which can transcend the bars and lead to a recording studio. Contenders in this category are folk-rockers, The Shadowboxers. Comprising Gerard Tannam on vocals, Neil Harris and Jon Noble on guitars, and Jerry Strachan on drums, The Shadowboxers play music that is honest and lush with vocal harmony. But more importantly, The Shadowboxers' material is quality songwriting, both accessible and poignant. Most are writte n by Tannam, 27, who conceives the lyrics and the melody and then presents the skeletal song to the rest of the band for arrangement. ''Where it starts from for me is that the song must be everything,'' Tannam said. ''If the song is no good, then anything else that follows is going to be flawed. ''But I don't set out to write the songs, I don't say: 'Hey, I must write a song about Vietnamese refugee camps'. ''Something strikes me, it's usually a phrase, most often the chorus, and that sets me off on a lyric. And I tend to write about things other people tell me about - a true story - and I embellish it. ''In the end, it doesn't necessarily look too much like it did in the beginning.'' Although formed in 1991, it is only in the last few months The Shadowboxers became a four-piece. Before that Tannam and Harris worked as a duo. While some older fans may prefer the stripped-down, simpler sound, both Tannam and Harris are happy to be exploring new avenues. ''Because there was just the two of us, there was an awful lot of work demanded of us to turn the crowd on to our side,'' Tannam said. ''We had also been doing most of the songs in a very acoustic way and we wanted to try them in a more electric, 'rockier' way. ''I've never believed that there is only one way to do a song. And so this allowed us to attack them from a different angle, as well as through someone else's eyes. ''I really enjoy giving the music everything I can. I see ourselves as playing music for as long as we can - as long as it's fresh and exciting.'' The Shadowboxers are at Amoeba on Thursday and the Jazz Club on March 22.