Nan returns to ivory beginnings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 November, 2009, 12:00am

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Singer-songwriter Pong Nan will be going full circle with his concerts next week. The 31-year-old, who has enjoyed a surge in popularity and visibility on the Canto-pop scene over the past two years, wants it known that this show is about getting back to basics.

'The concert is just going to be me and the 88 keys on my piano,' he says. Hence the title of his show, 88+1. 'I want to strip away the glitz and glamour and tell people that the old piano boy is still here; I haven't changed.'

Music has always been an important part of Nan's life. His parents made him learn piano at age five, hoping he would pick up classical music. But Nan had other ideas. 'I was playing Canto-pop tunes instead,' he says, laughing.

At 11, Nan and his family moved to Canada, where he says his bond with music strengthened.

'My parents were always working and I was an only child,' he says. 'All I did was listen to music.'

Growing up in the 90s, when alternative music was on the rise, Nan felt out of place on the piano. 'Everyone had that 'guitar is cool' mentality, the piano just didn't have the same appeal,' he says.

So Nan played in several bands during his later teenage years, but everything changed when he heard the music of American pianist and singer Tori Amos.

'I never thought songs played on a piano could sound so alternative and cool,' he says.

'It's safe to say that if I never came across Tori Amos, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing right now. She's my biggest influence, without a doubt.'

When he returned to Hong Kong at the start of the decade, he uploaded the songs he wrote on the internet and performed at tiny bars and shopping centres. He caught the eye of Sony Music executives and was signed to a contract, only to wind up providing material for Canto-pop idols. Nan has written hits for the likes of Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and Eason Chan Yik-shun.

'When I started out, I'd just write songs and the publishers would pass it around,' he says. 'I wouldn't know the song had been used until I heard someone singing it on TV.'

Nan's desire to perform never waned and he continued to perform at small venues such as the Fringe Club. Eventually, he signed a new deal with East Asia Music and got his chance to be a performer.

'For the past couple of years, they've been very supportive, allowing me a bigger budget to record and perform,' Nan says of the label, whose stable includes Andy Lau Tak-wah and Sammi Cheng Sau-man.

During the same period, he's appeared on both the small and the big screen, and performed at a large Christmas show with his label-mates.

Nan is glad for the career boost, but says the newfound fame is cramping his lifestyle.

'I used to yell at people in public a lot,' he says before quickly adding, 'but only at those who deserve it; I would yell at those who gets too pushy on the MTR. Obviously I can't do that any more.'

Nan's eccentric, self-described 'emotional nomadic' behaviour has led his peers to regard him as aloof.

'I've always felt like an outsider in the Hong Kong music industry,' he says. 'People in the industry think I'm a bit icy.'

There are two reasons for that: Nan says he's shy and quiet by nature; and that in the end he's all about the music.

'In my younger days, music was like therapy,' he says. 'Now it's my reality check. I need to know that if they take away all the TV exposure and the promotion, I can still put on a music show.'

Pong Nan 88+1 Concert, tomorrow-Thu, 8.15pm, HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, 135 Junction Rd, Kowloon, HK$280. Inquiries: 2905 8168