MANILA, Philippines - He’s a familiar figure in the art and music scene. Anyone who’s in a band knows Romeo Lee (or at least should know him) especially at a time when the alternative music scene was just about to explode in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s—and before recording companies took notice.
Romeo Lee, who made his hyperactive rendition of “Wild Thing” famous on campus and in various rock concert gigs, is also an artist, punk hero, UP icon, concert organizer, mountaineer, and ukay-ukay connoisseur. He is also the chronicler of the alternative music and art scene. Wherever there is a concert or art opening, you’ll most likely see Lee taking snapshots with his camera. A Facebook group, Paano Mo Nakilala si Romeo Lee, has been created with various people answering the question and featuring hundreds of photos taken by Lee (or Lee posing with various people) throughout the years.
In the ‘90s, in his trademark Doc M’s, tattered Levi’s jeans and t-shirt, and his wild hair, Lee was already herding bands and staging concerts all over the country. And most of the time, even a small budget will do. But Lee and the band didn’t mind. It was all about being able to play their music, having fun, and reaching out to an audience.
Lee first met Karl Roy during those times when the latter was still doing the lead vocals for new wave band Advent Call. But even then, Roy already showed signs of being a good vocalist.
He would get Roy and his next band, P.O.T., at the now legendary ‘Elvis’ concert series hosted by Lee and organized by the UP Mountaineers. The annual concert, a Christmas treat of sorts every December, has been held for most parts of the past two decades now. It’s said to be the Woodstock of the UP Diliman campus as certified rock stars and legends (yes, Pepe Smith) along with other emerging bands would converge and just have fun with their music and audience. The most recent Elvis concert was held last year, titled Elvis Rides Again, revived after a five-year absence.
Lee found a kinship in Roy as both would get the chance to perform together onstage, Lee with his Mick Jagger-like wild dance and Roy with his equally animated movements and soulful voice would excite the audience and bring them to loud cheers and delighted howls. The natural rapport was palpable.
Off stage, however, Lee also saw another side of Roy—a compassionate and kind person who cared deeply about his music and other people. Once, Lee relates, he found Roy sleeping on a bench in Vinzons’ Hall in UP after an ‘Elvis’ concert. It was 4 a.m. He woke up Roy and brought him out to have coffee. Down with his last buck, Lee surmises, Roy even managed to give a child some money. Beyond the fierce onstage performances, his tattooed skin and body piercings, Roy says Lee, was really a good guy with a lot of heart. “Natural na mabait talaga siya,” he said, “Mami-miss ko din siya.”
Here’s a video of Romeo Lee as he remembers his happy times with Karl Roy.