Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wolfgang, Winnipeg, Winter Wonderland: Story 2

My Valentine's Day 2016 Posting:

         *Mozart - Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (complete)
(About the music: The common perception is that the symphony is tragic in tone and intensely emotional. Charles Rosen has called the symphony a work of "passion, violence, and grief".  Interpretations differ but it is one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's most greatly admired works and frequently performed or recorded.)

If I remember correctly, it was around Valentine's Day that I went through a delightful movie moment and learnt the harshness of a Winnipeg Winter with Mozart in my mind.

Classical Music Influence
It is safe to say that my classical music knowledge is hardly sufficient to write a blog but what little education about classical music I have are the vinyl records and CD's on renowned composers and the literature about them in the home cupboard. 
A bright eyed and animated sister-in-law who is an expert in the field fills the gap in between to help but she is hardly in town since she lives on the West Coast of Canada, far away from the city about to be described below.

It was nearly the Spring of 1985 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when I went to see the 1984 film version of Amadeus.  This film was popular then with super star director Milos Forman and F. Murray Abraham as Anthony Salieri. 

Having read the Peter Shaffer play in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1982 as a university text I was very excited with the notion of seeing the movie interpretation and only knowing later that the film won 8 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards and other achievements. 

I could not remember the name of the cinema but it was a small building and a little out of town. I managed to struggle into the downtown bus which took me there. 

It is one of the coldest cities in Canada and getting a bus is not easy since most everyone drives. Outsiders make fun of the place and call it Winterpeg

In Winter the temperature could go down below freezing, way, way, down to minus 40 degrees centigrade. And that my dear reader, is very cold. Breathing is a problem sometimes and nearly every door-knob touched gives a static electric shock. The spark can be seen between the knob and finger (image).

Since it was Spring I was glad I could move around but still in my woolen overcoat, muffler, mittens and snow boots. Coming from a temperate place like Singapore, living in Manitoba was like existing in a giant refrigerator. 

And it was impossible to get used to, even after three years.  But it wasn't too cold that night at a mere 11 degrees C. Some locals were walking around as if it were already summer time. 
A Classic Movie Experience
I expected a crowd but did not see many people. Thinking it was still early I bought the ticket and waited inside the building. There was not much air-conditioning to keep me warm but it was comfortable enough. 

After waiting for fifteen minutes or so I decided to go in since the movie was about to start. After checking in with the door attendant, I sat in the last row of the small cinema and found I could lean my head on the back wall. Just above me were the peep-holes for the projectors. 

Meantime I noticed that there were no other patrons in the cinema. Half an hour went by and the movie had not started, so I went out to find out what had happened. The attendant standing by surprised me with his statement:

"So sorry sir, I didn't know you are inside. I will screen the movie now!"

It took me a while to realise what had happened but alone I sat and saw Amadeus in comfort and quiet, munching popcorn in the dark. It was my first experience ever. 

Winter Wonderland
This particular theatre was not part of a cinema complex or cineplex but a smaller movie house that had no patrons. It was not because of the movie but because of the weather, its distant location in nowhere land and the social situation. 

Not many readers will find this experience surprising as it is a common occurrence in the West. And with the advent of DVD's, home cinema and computer streaming these days I guess it is more prevalent.  

Another reason is the notoriously ill repute of the city as Winnipeggars hardly go out at night because it is the **crime capital of Canada and the siren from police cars doesn't stop screaming; an incessant cry, 24 hours a day.  Despite Winnipeg's reputation, it is still a beautiful place to live in, a winter wonderland from October to March.

I had a difficult time waiting for a bus in the late night after the movie. The bus-stop was just an open glass shelter and the snow came fast as it pounded on the panel. The heavy woollies I had on saved me.

A Happy Valentine 2016 To All Love Birds.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

My knowledge of Mozart is near zero but I do remember the music I am familiar with as (b) below:

a) The Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183/173dB, was written by Mozart in October 1773.  Its first movement is widely known as the opening music in Miloš Forman's film Amadeus.

b) Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550, in 1788. It is sometimes referred to as the "Great G minor symphony," to distinguish it from the "Little G minor symphony," No. 25. The two are the only minor key symphonies Mozart wrote (You Tube).

Click below to read Story 1:

Images: A personal collection; Google.


Friday, February 05, 2016

'Charming Bird' (迷人小鳥), 'Enter The Dragon' (龍爭虎鬥) Singers' Vinyls

A Happy 2016 Lunar New Year To All.


A Chinese New Year Posting

Are Charming Bird (迷人小鳥) and Enter The Dragon (龍爭虎鬥) stars Connie Chan Po Chu (陳寶珠), Betty Chung (鍾玲玲) and other singers' vinyl records depleting?

The local Chinese vinyl records seen below and on this blog are collected by enthusiasts from many countries who sometimes come to Singapore and other S. E. Asian cities to buy them. The group includes Caucasians, mainland Chinese, Hong Kong islanders, Malaysians, Japanese and other nationalities.

The practice has been going on for years.  I am uncertain if our locals are aware of it but some buyers are not hoarding them because they can sell them for a higher price but because they appreciate the unique pop culture where English songs are translated and sung in Chinese and of Chinese singers rendering English songs. Such vinyls have depleted due to these collectors.

Because it's the Chinese New Year season I rummaged through my record cupboard again to write on a few gems.  

The selected Extended Play (E.P.) vinyls, 7 inches in diameter, have a few common factors i.e. (1) except for the guitar group, the singers are Chinese ladies from the 1960's; (2) the titles on the back sleeve covers are in the two languages and (3) they were more popular with the Chinese educated crowd.
EPs were small enough to carry around for portable play during picnics, T-Dances and private, C.N.Y. parties. 

This personal selection has four artistes including two big stars and a band with a very unique name.
Vinyl 1:

There are thousands of these vinyls on sale from the 1960's. They are mostly covers of English hit parade songs. The one above is by Grace Chi. Simple and sweet she looks like the girl next door. She must have been a star in her own right given that her records sold well. 

There is no information about her so if you are able to tell more, please write in. The EP (Extended Play) has a Po-Lo label and the singer renders them with a strong Chinese accent. Could this be a reason why some Caucasians buy these vinyls? The four songs are The Kingston Trio's 500 Miles, Jimmy Rodgers' Bimbombey, the singalong, You Are My Sunshine and one called,  It Happened Last Night.  She is accompanied by the David Soo Wah Poh Quintet.
Vinyl 2:

Judith Ho sings an Elvis hit in Chinese on this Polar Bear Brand EP titled, Summer Kisses, Winter Tears. The other three songs are Stupid Cupid, Lipstick On Your Collar and Shakin' All Over. Two were Connie Francis hits and the other by Johnny Kidd, all sung in Chinese (Mandarin). 

Ms Ho has a reasonably strong voice, but, as explained the record suits dancers rather than listeners. No comparison with Connie Francis. But buyers could be the same patrons who would have heard the songs in Chinese in cabarets doing the a-go-go at the Happy World and Great World amusement parks in Singapore. Again there is no information about Ms Ho.
Vinyl 3:

The EP was chosen more for the unique name of the band rather than for its songs.  It isn't Shadows' music but on the turntable the melodies heard had the usual Chinese-guitar-band sound and acceptable by record buyers then.

THE VANTOMITES play four instrumentals with a definitive oriental flavour called, Easy To Remember You, Met You In My Dream, Chase and Because Of You. All the songs are unfamiliar and could be original compositions but like the usual bands during the 60's, create the atmosphere for lively jiving fun. And for $3 a piece.  The synopsis on the back sleeve cover describes the history of the group, their dreams, aspirations and musical ventures.
Vinyl 4:

Recorded in 1967, this vinyl was a cash-in for its producers with songs from a very early screen musical with three titles, The Charming Bird, The Charming Little Bird or The Young Lovers.  The subject could be a reference to the singer Ms Connie Chan Pao Chu (陳寶珠) or the plane sketch behind her.  It was the period from 1967 to 1969 when airbuses were the talk of the aviation industry and the public excited with flying in larger planes.
A Flight Stewardess was called an Air Hostess then. No coincidence here as the song titles are: Air Hostess, Thousand Miles Flying, Twin Birds and Spring Dream. The songs are in Cantonese and sung by a super star who is both an actress and a singer. This lady has made dozens of movies from 1958 to 1972 and like *Taylor Swift today, has put many boys and girls in a swoon just by hearing her name. She did 31 movies in 1967 alone.

Vinyl 5:

This EP has pretty, sexy and talented Betty Chung (鍾玲玲), another Hong Kong singer and actress in the limelight.  She became popular in the mid sixties, with her recordings of English covers and Chinese songs from 1966 to 1977. Unlike some Asian singers, Ms Chung speaks in impeccable English without the hint of an accent. 

In this recording she sings, Bell A-Go-Go, Sugar Town, Puppet On A String and Summer Wine in Mandarin. With her clear voice, perfect pitch and pronunciation, Ms Chung has gone a long way into her career. She had a part as Mei Ling in Bruce Lee's mega-hit Enter The Dragon in 1973 (image).

Both vinyls 4 and 5 were produced by Pathe/EMI records, a quality and best selling brand name those times. The recordings are excellent. And Vinyls 1 and 2. Who are these ladies? Still unknown today but with sweet voices, these ladies will remain a mystery. The Vantomites too. Are the members still around?
It is a pity indeed that thousands of these records have been whisked away by buyers from everywhere, knowledgeable of the fact that they are treasures from our South East Asian countries. And what do our sellers get from the exchange? Money. What a waste.

I have gone round record shops and must verify that these EPs are hard to get today. There are still shops selling them but not at the price sold three years ago. This category of records include our local hits by our Singapore pop bands and singers.
(Similarly with Malay Pop Yeh-Yeh records which have been bought over by our neighbours. And the Indian vinyls? Don't see many around.)

*Taylor Swift: Top best selling singer of all times with 40 million albums sold and 130 million single downloads current.

This article is a personal opinion/observation. 

Images: Google

You Tube Videos: 
1) 500 Miles by The CoverHeaven.
2) Sugar Town by Francisco Raquiza.

Friday, January 29, 2016

"Number Of Bands Gained Record Deals..."

Since I started this blog in 2008, I have had many requests for interviews regarding my opinion on the 60's music scene in Singapore.  Obliging the dozen or more of them, it is the first time I've requested for a copy of a completed article to be posted on this blog.

Below is a combined effort of a such a write-up by two young ladies who are students studying for their degree/diploma at a local university/polytechnic. They interviewed me at my usual haunt and came out with this piece for HYPE Magazine #41 (August - January 2016):

CHRISTA CHOO (left) and SAMANTHA CHOONG go in search of musicians from the 60s, to learn more about why many still call it the heyday of Singapore music:

When we think about the music from the 60's, Singapore bands would not usually come to mind. But put aside Marvin Gaye and The Beatles and step into the world of The Quests. The 60's was essentially the heyday for local music. A number of bands gained record deals with the help of radios lauding the music they produced.

Rewinding back to the past, there was indeed a whole lot more support for local music then. 

Mr. Andrew Lim, better known by his stage name Andy Young, who runs won the Paul Anka competition in 1959, and led Silver Strings shortly after. His music career only took flight for all of two years, when he decided it would clash with his teaching career. He says that he "had some time free in between, because teaching then was half a day."

"Silver Strings started in the band leader's house and from there we got contracts to play in night clubs," says Mr. Lim. "We only played for a few miserable dollars. It was more for the fun of it."

Mr Lim recalls how parents would warn their daughters to stay away from band boys. "Musicians today are backed up by society, it wasn't so then," he explains. "Today's musicians are accepted, in a sense, because now we have so much backing by the authorities, the government."

Mr Lim adds: "You can go for a full music course or degree at Berklee College of Music. At that time, there was no such thing. If you were a musician, you were on your own. Those were the days."

You can read the full article by clicking on the connection below:

Image and Article: 
1) A Personal Collection
2) Google
3) HYPE Magazine
Copyrights Reserved.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Before Fender 'Stratocaster' Was The 'Broadcaster': Post III

1) Stories abound regarding the birth of the well-renowned Fender solid guitar especially about its use by The Shadows and other 60's guitarists. There can be no truth if the whole truth is not told. Here's the beginning of what is to be a success story in the world of pop instruments from a book by Wade-Matthews and Thompson:

"Although the first solid-body electric guitar was built by Les Paul, it was first mass-produced by Leo Fender above (1909-1991), and became a key element in rock n roll. Fender, a California-based guitar and amplifier manufacturer, had often been asked by musicians if he could give more volume and at the same time eliminate screech and feedback from the electrified instruments of the time.

He came up with the solid-body guitar that he developed just after World War II. His first model, the Broadcaster, entered mass production in 1948, and its sharpness and attack made it an instant success, especially with country musicians.

In 1950 its name was changed to the Telecaster, and it was this instrument that gave the rock of that decade its distinctive sound.  In 1951 Fender introduced his solid-body bass guitar and, five years later his futuristic Stratocaster.

One of the pioneers of electric guitar-playing was Muddy Waters (left), 1915-1983, who moved up to Chicago to Mississippi.  In 1944 he bought his first electric guitar one made by Fender, and within two years had formed his first electric combo."

The article comes from:

Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson
'Rock and Pop' on Leo Fender: Page 76. 
Hermes House
Anness Publishing Ltd (Print: 2003).

2) Birddog, a regular contributor and reader of this blog, has provided a comment about Leo Fender after the above article has been published. It is a big piece item so I've decided to give the writer ample space. Thank you Birddog:

"This unassuming giant of a man whose innovative inventions and contribution to the music world especially in guitars is legendary. Hardly there is any genre of modern music that is without an instrument synonymous with him.

Besides guitars, his company also made the equally famous Rhodes electric pianos and amplifiers which carried his name. To me I believe his single greatest contribution to the music world was his invention of the electric bass. Before he came out with that, the bassist had to stand immobile in a corner playing the massive acoustic 'doghouse' bass. It was huge and backbreaking to carry one around. 
After his success with the guitars, he came out with the electric bass thereby freeing the often ignored bassist to the forefront to share equal glory with the guitarist. Most of his inventions from the 50's were so bold and futuristic, that even today his iconic instruments are still highly popular and much sought after by many professional and aspiring amateur musicians alike. 

The legacy and footprint he left behind is immense. Not bad for a man who could not even play the guitar well. I believe he is the 1st non performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Image: Louis Johnson and Leo Fender.
Louis Johnson (1955-2015) was an American bass guitarist, best known for his slapping technique and session playing with his group The Brothers Johnson. His was the best selling album of all time, Thriller and hits in the 70's/80's. His signature sound was from Music Man StingRay Bass which Leo Fender made for him to first use.

Read the story below about Mr Tan from TMA who sold the first Fender Solid Guitars in Singapore.

This posting neither promotes nor try to sell any product.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Guitarists Henry Chua And Horace Wee Pay Tribute: Post II

The letters keep pouring in about Mr. Tan in response to his passing away last week. Henry Chua, former bassist of The Quests and Horace Wee, guitarist with RTS Orchestra, wrote a comment each for the blog and because both had much to share I decided to share their stories. Thank you Henry and Horace.

Mr Tan of TMA by Henry Chua.
"My recollection of Mr Tan is still vivid in my mind. This man struck me as a kind and helpful human being.
I studied at Raffles Institution at Bras Basah Road in the 60’s. I was given just 20 cents for bus fare to and fro to school from my home in Tiong Bahru. Had to change buses for each trip. One the way home I need to take the STC bus from the St Andrew’s Cathedral and then changed to a No 6 Hock Lee bus at North Canal Road. Very often just to save 5 cents I walked from school to North Canal Road.
The walk was money saving and also it provides me some time to visit the music stores along the way. The first was Swee Lee at the Capitol Cinema complex. Then Sassoon, next to the Union Jack Club at the open car park next to Capitol. Sassoon was the importers of Vox guitars and amplifiers [image: Henry Chua].
The last stop was TMA at the junction of North Bridge Road and High Street. It was opposite the Metro departmental stores. There was also B.P. de Silva and Polar Café along TMA’s side of High Street.
I would always make a visit of the TMA shop to look and drool at the guitars. I was a 12 year old kid and had dreams. There was a circular display in the middle of the shop. Vinyl record racks on the left and a glass show case on the right as you enter the shop. On this glass case were displayed a few Fender guitars. 
I recalled seeing a Stratocaster priced around S$700, mega bucks in those days for a kid with 20 cents in his pocket. There was a sound room to listen to the records you wish to purchase. I remembered the friendly uncle who put on a Dave Brubeck LP for me to listen. My first introduction to jazz including the 5/4 Take Five and 7/8 rhythm.
Some years later in 1964 we (The Quests) got to befriend Mr Tan. He was helpful and loan us the whole set of Fender guitars and amplifiers for our gigs. We just had to pick them up at his home along Mountbatten Road. That house is still there. He even allowed us to pay for the things we purchased from TMA by installments. No contracts, just gentlemen’s honour.
He even rewired Reggie’s Stratocaster to achieve the neck and bridge pick up combination. He kept this rewiring secret between the Quests and him alone. That’s where we got our sound. Thanks to Mr Tan. Of course these days most would know how to acquire this fix. 
He was the service engineer for TMA. I usually find him in his little room fixing and repairing things. No matter how busy he was he would always find time to have a chat. He was a very patient man and I had never seen him enraged even on a difficult day.
We bought a Fender spring Reverb (S$400) from him and most of our guitars from him. At one stage he loaned us a Fender analog tape echo to test, but unfortunately there was just too much wow and flutter and the echoes were flat, so we couldn’t use it. Finally he imported the famous German Swiss Echo and that was our tape delay for all our recordings since Shanty.
How could I not remember him as the friendly, kind uncle who helped us in our musical journey.

RIP Mr Tan, the Singapore music world loves you."

"Hi Andy,
My take on Mr. Tan of TMA 

This has to be one of the kindest persons I have ever known. Besides being a great salesman, he was able to relate and support the young of that time who aspired to be a famous band or musician. The comments on your blog attest to this.

Every time I look at my Fender Twin Reverb, Stratocaster guitar and Swiss Echo machine (all of which I still own) I still think fondly of Mr. Tan of TMA from whom I bought these instruments in the sixties. Much has been said on how he offered the Fender instruments on loan, installment payments and other generous offers of sponsorship and promotion . 

But the friendship I formed with him was a passion for electronics and at that time the dawn of guitar effects pedals. He would share his information on circuits with me and likewise I would do the same. 

When he was about to leave for Canada, he took the trouble to see me in order to introduce his US contacts to me in order that I might be able to have some business connections with them. Something that he did not have to do, but it illustrates the generosity and big-heart of this man [image: Horace Wee].

In all the years that I've been in music, there have been very few music stores or salespersons (IN THE WORLD) that I can say that I was happy to have bought from them. Mr. Tan of TMA is one of them.

RIP M. Tan. It was a privilege to have known you, I shall never forget you and I hope to meet you or someone like you again,in some other lifetime.

Horace Wee."

Images: A Private Collection.
Articles: Henry Chua and Horace Wee Copyrighted.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Godfather of Local Pops: Tan Peck Soo TMA Music: Post I

I received a note from blog reader Mr Henri Gann who announced the demise Mr Tan Peck Soo, former owner of TMA Pte Ltd. @ High Street, a music shop in the 1960's. Any band boy who played decent guitar would have met and known him. He was the Godfather of local 60's pop.

Mr Tan passed away on January 11th, 2016 in Vancouver B.C., Canada. A fine and generous man he was a friend to all who met him. He is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter and two grand children. 

According to Mr Gann, he was the man who sold the first Fender Stratocaster and Fender Reverb in Singapore to pop guitar group, The Trekkers ( 1962 ).  Mr Tan and his equally enthusiastic electrician assistant helped the Trekkers build their first guitar amplifiers to simulate the sound of the Fender Showman and the Fender Bassman. 

Thank you Mr Gann for your personal tribute.

"The Trekkers tribute to the man they called Mr Tan of TMA (Pte) Ltd - Singapore 1960's.

Peck Soo had vision
The year was 1960. The 2 major guitar shops were Swee Lee and TMA. The former had an advantage guitar product being the sole agent for Gibson. TMA only had the Bellafonte calypso guitars and ukelele and was focused on Hohner harmonica and accordion. 

I had just met Peck Soo. He had returned from a tour of the musical factories in Europe TMA represented. I showed him a Fender catalogue. He convinced his dad to import Fender even though Fender was a little unknown custom shop company in America. The Fender Stratocaster was later made famous after the death of Buddy Holly and the surfing music of the 60's. 

Peck Soo was a born banker
I was just a kid. Peck Soo offered me one of his first Stratocasters on credit. Buying things on credit was almost unheard of at that time least of all to a kid with no credit. The man knew relationship was key to business success.

Peck Soo was a gifted salesman
Store products were primarily displayed in the showroom and occasionally advertised in the newspaper for early Singapore. Peck Soo went a step ahead of the others. He had the Trekkers played his showcase amplifier on stage and especially at the British R n R club on Beach Road and the stores would be filled with British servicemen asking for the Fender products the next morning.

Peck Soo loved his electronics

He scanned his Heathkit catalogues daily like some people shop Amazon today and owning a Fender Showman and Bassman then was like having a Tesla today. Peck Soo saw it in our (Trekkers) eyes with the Fender amplifiers and said that he could build us one and he had a very sharp electrician who could do just that. Peck Soo knew his speakers well which was key to designing a good sounding amplifier and Geylang had great custom cabinet maker. The Trekkers build the first look alike and sweet sounding Fender tube amplifiers in Singapore in 1960.
Peck Soo was a funny man
We had one travel together from North America to Singapore. The year was 1985. Yes we did travel on SIA business class. Our first stop was Taipei,Taiwan. Peck Soo had his Sherlock Holmes rain jacket on and moved impatiently from one line to another as we were clearing immigration till I lost sight of him. 

When I found him after clearing customs he was the only person left at customs and they were making him empty his pocket and unroll his US$100 bills while another official was looking closely at his passport. He looked bewildered after the cross examination by customs.

Peck Soo said to me many times that he had a full life.
He was a good son to his father and moved to Canada only after his father decided to close down the business in 1980's. He immigrated to Canada to give his children and wife a better life. And he achieved his Canadian dream by having a good life in his retirement years. 

Thank you Peck Soo and I like to send this closing song tribute to you...
Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven - Eric Clapton."

Eric Clapton: Tears In Heaven: Tribute to Mr Tan Video by: Toni Charlie cs.

Many band members from the 1960's are familiar with Mr Tan. If you are, do write in to tell us.

Henry Chua (Quests) and Horace Wee (RTS Orchestra) letters will be posted after this one next week.

Further reading:

Images: 1) Courtesy of Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board; 
             2) Henri Gann's Private Collection.

Video: You Tube by Toni Charlie - cs.

Article: Henri Gann Copyrighted.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Growing Up With Jerry Murad of 'The Dukes'.

Crystal Abidin (left) is an anthropologist, ethnographer, and percussionist who grew up in Singapore and now lives in Perth. She used to play classical percussion in orchestras and now sings harmony in church. Reach her at
This young lady is completing her PhD studies and we 'met' on her website. I wrote to ask if she could write an article about Singapore music in the 60's. She agreed and I must thank her for the kindness to do so. Find out what she reveals and who she really is:
A labour of love: Growing up with Jerry Murad of The Dukes.
By Crystal Abidin
My father has five brothers and two sisters, which makes for a whole lot of cousins for my sister and I to play with when we were growing up (and every Raya is a mini logistical nightmare, but that’s another story for another time).
Uncle Murad is secretly my favourite one.
Many veteran musicians in Singapore know Jerry Murad as the front man and lead guitarist of the 1960's band, The Dukes. My father, Zainal Abidin, was the bassist – he has several magazine covers and vinyl covers from his treasure trove to prove that they were once young, fine, eligible young men.
While many great musicians of his cohort have gone on to fulltime jobs in other sectors, Jerry Murad is one of the few musicians who has managed to maintain a career (and raise a family of five) as a professional musician for over five decades.

Here is a snapshot of his life.
I know Jerry Murad intimately. 
He is the uncle who showered me with the most gifts when I was growing up. 
As a child, I remember weekly visits to Nenek's house where Uncle Murad and his family live. There was a glass cabinet by the window in the living room, in which my uncle kept all his musical scores, meticulously filed and labeled.
I soon learnt that if I lurked around for long enough while intently peering through the glass door, Uncle Murad would come over, ask what I was “interested in”, and offer to hand on another one of his precious scores to me.
I never really asked for anything out rightly, because I was a polite child. But seeing as how a good third of my current collection of scores were gifts from my uncle, I guess being sneaky and patient pays off.
When my sister later started recording herself on YouTube and playing at gigs, she inherited a couple of guitars from Uncle Murad. It would have been nice if he had a few spare marimbas or vibraphones laying around for me (FYI Uncle Murad, my birthday is in March).
Uncle Murad is also the resident one-man band at every one of my cousins’ weddings.
It is almost a family ritual for Uncle Murad to rock up with his mics, e-guit, portable amps, and miscellaneous electronica at every family function, big or small. He has his signature batik shirts, a badass ponytail, and a library of song dedications for everyone. It only gets embarrassing when at weddings he makes song dedications to all the “single nieces and nephews”, wishing we would “find love and happiness… maybe at the wedding”.
I also know Jerry Murad professionally.
Some time in 2009, I sat down with Uncle Murad and interviewed him about his life as a professional musician for a school project. Today, I revisit these fieldnotes to share some snippets of our conversation.
Crystal: So! How did it all begin?
JM: My scouts days were the best of my life… James Cook Petrol Boy Scouts. We were so famous in school! During camping, hiking, canoeing, we always sang our own songs, so during one campfire, we formed The Dukes, our own band. Then we got famous and signed a record with a record company), and played for many years. But then we grew up, some migrated, some had to work
Crystal: You’ve done this for over fifty years. Is it tough being a professional musician in Singapore?
JM: I already know from the start that it’s gonna be tough in the music industry, you know? I was prepared for it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I just have to face the difficulties. After all, I’m earning money for my passion you know? How many people can say they love their jobs? For me, my passion became my job.
Crystal: Do you think musicians are sometimes under-valued or underpaid?
JM: Well… Sometimes I play past the allocated time, or play even though they cannot afford to pay me my rates. I’m quite flexible, but only because to me the music business is not all about money. If you play solely to earn a living, you will be miserable. I always go all the way, I give everything I’ve got. I’m really just playing because I love music.
The Dukes with Selina and Rhumba de Havana, two of my favourite hits. Video by Malaysiaboleh

Crystal: How do you maintain relations with your clients?
JM: Sometimes my clients are Chinese… so I will secretly prepare a Chinese song to sing without telling them. If it’s for old people, I memorize some Hokkien songs that they all like. When they see a Malay putting in effort to make their event memorable, they will remember me. 

Crystal: Has age affected your business?
JM: Asia is very different, they think old people are useless. In the US, you see all these old men, they walk on stage with their walking sticks…these black people…but once they take out their instruments…magic! They are so skilled you know! But in Asia, people just see your appearance first…
Crystal: Any gig that was particularly eventful?
JM: I played for the Hong Kong-China handover... But I played for two bands! My big band and combo band… I was the only one, what a good experience. Before midnight when we played, we were playing for the British… then after midnight, I was still playing, but now for China… who else can say they have played for two countries in one night? 

I watched the royal queens yacht passing… cruising to England… hearing the bells ringing at midnight, like the last bastion of the British empire… then I saw the red flags marching in, choreographed so beautifully… really blessed with the experience.”
Crystal: Do you have plans for retirement?
JM: I don’t want to stop playing. I want to die with a guitar in my hand, and maybe ‘go down’ to jam with MJ (Michael Jackson) and Elvis!”
Copyrights Reserved: Crystal Abidin.
Images from You Tube and A Personal Collection.