Peter Millward never would have guessed his iron stomach would end up being a career asset. In 1990, a colleague at a local music-production company, Eddie Chung, took him out for yum cha, and a great friendship was born.
'He fed me cow intestines, and I really liked it,' says the fortysomething former Londoner of Chung. 'We became friends.'
In 1997, the two formed their own music production company, Drum Music, which since then has worked on TV commercials for at least 2,000 companies.
They invested their money in a digital sound studio in Causeway Bay. Working with all the big advertising agencies in Hong Kong, Millward and Chung brought in top session musicians to play and sing their jingles.
A year ago they hired two composers, Eugene Pao and Clement Fung. 'You name a brand in Asia - we've done it,' says Millward, citing most of McDonald's spots in China, as well as Coca-Cola.
Hongkongers may remember a tune Drum Music came up with for the Pacific Place mall several years ago, featuring the lyrics, Have you seen the man in black? / Walking down the railroad track / Have you seen the way he's looking at you? / Have you heard the question - do you know what to do? 'It got played a lot,' Millward says. 'It drove people crazy.'
Now that they're established in Hong Kong, the partners hope to open a branch in Shanghai in the next six months, to take advantage of China's growing advertising market. 'They're all slowly increasing their ad spending,' says Millward. 'People can afford to buy televisions. The government is slowly relaxing what can be in advertisements.'
Putting down roots wasn't on Millard's mind in 1990, when he came to Hong Kong from London, where he'd worked as a sound engineer recording reggae and alternative-rock albums and writing 'weird dance music'.
Photo exhibits he'd seen of Hong Kong and China piqued his interest, and he decided to come for a year. Once he got here, says the Happy Valley resident, 'I was having such a good time I never went back. And I never will.'
The commercial music scene he found was much less competitive than London's, allowing a newcomer to quickly find the work that had eluded him back home. 'Here, everyone wants to be doctors and lawyers and property speculators,' he says.
Millward has also found a niche here for the music he continues to make on the side. In 1992, he formed a band called Celestial that produces what he calls Asian chillout: 'It's laid-back, with a lot of reggae and traditional folk-music influences.'
Band members include: Hsin Hsiao-hung, who plays the erhu; Eugene Pao, a jazz guitarist and composer; Sur Sudha, a Kathmandu trio on flute, sitar and tabla; and Sunny Yeung, who plays the shakuhachi, or Japanese flute. Millward plays keyboards, bass and guitar, does all the mixing and arranging, and designs album-sleeve graphics.
Celestial's first album, Spirit House, released in 1996, sold about 30,000 copies around Asia. Their second, Happy Valley, included Plum Crazy, which was featured on the Southeast Asian version of the popular Cafe Del Mar series. Millward is still looking for a distributor for their latest, Hong Kong Dub-Station.
'I think it's the best one yet,' he says. 'It has more reggae influence, more improvisation.'
The first two are on sale at Shanghai Tang in Hong Kong. If sales go well, distribution will be broadened to its 11 other outlets around the world. Millward says his music fits well with the retailer's 'proud to be Asian' brand philosophy - and as a brand-maker for thousands of companies, he should know.