Philippine Music: Spy Rocked The House At Handle Bar
Spy, although based in the Philippines now, was originally formed in Paris, France, and had three musicians in their line-up: a French dreadhead bass player named Maurice Casanove, a funky white boy Austrian drummer Fritz aka Dr. Sticks Barth and a Pinoy rockstar icon guitarist called Sammy Asuncion. The trio specialized in a fusion of rock, jazz and reggae, or what I would classify as World Music. Someone just got the impression that they were a reggae band because they covered Bob Marley songs, but then when you listen to their own compositions – the bit of reggae is shown an exit to the window, and some jazz-rock, funky-delic something else takes place. Like I said – World Music.
The three recorded a couple of albums, and based themselves here in the Philippines where they would have regular gigs around Malate, especially at the Verve Room during Wednesday nights. Some of their albums include Cosmic Blah Blah, Spy By Spy, Reggae Man and I’m certain there are a few others that I just can’t recall at the moment.
Anyway, after several years in the Philippines, the dreadhead bass player Muarice Casanove eventually left, and then the band had no choice but to explore the possibilities of finding new band members. At one point – they brought in Paul Zialcita to perform percussions, Louie Talan of Razorback to do the bass chores, and once upon a time even Anabel Bosch became a vocalist for Spy.
Personally, I miss the old Spy, but then that’s the nature of music and bands. Someone goes away, and someone’s career has to continue on. Of course, Spy is still a fun band, and I remember being blown away by them every Wednesday nights at the Verve room in Malate – and on one of those days I stopped being a groupie, and ended up being friends with the band, especially Fritz “Dr. Sticks” Barth.
Fritz and myself have had so many memorable occasions together. We found our connection through Dom Um Romao during an unforgettable sunrise at Puerto Galera. I was drowning from Tanduay unleaded at 6am at White Beach, Puerto Galera, Fritz was having a manicure. Weeks later, I would bring the Dom Um Romao vinyl record, but with lack of a phonograph player (or a turntable), we turned to The Lobby at Malate to allow us to use their turntable set-ups during Monday nights.
Monday nights at The Lobby featured DJ Fritz and DJ JJ (yours truly!), bringing in a tray of hash brownies and a whole bunch of old vinyls like Weather Report, The Doors, Herbie Hancock, Lou Rawls, The Beatles, Cream, Les McCann, John Klemmer, Barry White, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan among others. We had Motown, Disco, Old School Jazz and Rock n’ Roll. ON VINYL!!! We weren’t pro deejays. It was more like – we played whatever we felt like it.
When Fritz says, “I don’t like this track!” he’ll skip the needle to the next track in the middle of the song along with the scratch and popcorn sound effects. “Sorry,” he says. No one notices. The brownies are kicking in, and everyone is finding a comfortable spot on the many couches.
Apart from our deejaying stint at The Lobby, Fritz was my happy hour buddy in Boracay. At that time, Fritz lived in Blossom’s, and I would make a frequent visit there from time to time to catch up on Boracay island gossip.
Back in Manila – I would be groupie to Fritz when he teamed up with DJ Danger Sanchez and Mon Mancio to form the tribal house percussion band Tribo Manila. Eventually, Fritz just recently headed back home to Austria to catch the festive atmosphere of Euro 2008, and when he got back he did bring me an authentic Euro 2008 souvenir cap. Yup, we’re tight. And if there was any reason for me to go to a Spy gig, then it would primarily be because Fritz would be there. The awesome music was just a bonus.
Well, throughout the years, Spy has been out of circulation. Sammy Asuncion got very busy with his own gigs, including a stint with Pinikpikan among other things. Louie Talan, who became the mainstay bassist of Spy to replace Maurice some time ago, has his plate full. After all, Louie Talan is one of the most revered and talented bassists in the country, and his expertise has him playing with the likes of Razorback, Cynthia Alexander, Kapatid and Pinikpikan.
Fast forward to a few nights ago at Handle Bar along Polaris St. in Makati City, and I was hoping to get together with the guys of Spy. I even called up Fritz Barth to ask him what time he was going to be there. Unfortunately, Fritz was surprised. Apparently, he doesn’t bang the drums anymore for Spy. For what reasons – I do not know. When I got to Handle Bar, it was a different Spy on stage.
Sammy Asuncion was present (as always), Louie Talan was on the bass. But then, there was a new drummer, there was a saxophone player and then there was Budet on percussions. Well, it was hard listening to them at first. I mean – don’t get me wrong – Sammy and Louie have a tight performance and they really know how to feed off each other on-stage, but then the fact that Dr. Sticks wasn’t around made it hard to watch. After all these years of getting used to the funky white boy behind the drumset at every Spy gig, it was just different.
Nevertheless, out of nostalgia, I stayed around and enjoyed the different flavor of the band, especially with the saxophone. There was tequila galore as usual, and they did play my favorite hits of theirs like Let’s Get High .
And while Spy may have been different, the crowd who usually pop up at any Spy gig was still a bit consistent. It was fun to see the familiar faces that used to hang out at Verve Room every Wednesdays and still doing time to keep in the loop to catch up with a Spy gig. In any case – here comes the society column part of this article.
I had great fun hanging with the likes of Lynn Sherman, Micki Poe, Piaget Martelino, Salim Assad, Maxine Eigenmann, Mooney Castillo, Martin Legarda, Gio Bacareza, Rambie Lim, Nathalie Danks, John Besa and Chad Rialp.
Well, to quote a Spy song – “Let’s get high on the peaceful! Let’s get high on the wonderful!”
I still have to say – it isn’t the same without Dr. Sticks!