Saturday, August 29, 2015

Adventures On Board A 1950's Singapore Bus

                                            Bus Stop: Hollies (1966)

So much has been discussed about our transport system in Singapore today. The news pieces have jolted me to write about my own experience in the past when we did not have the luxury of the MRT trains and beautiful air-conditioned buses.

This posting is not about buses in general but one about the excitement of taking Singapore bus rides in the 1950's as a teenager. Whether I was as lucky as The Hollies I cannot tell now but I did have an encounter. So be warned. 
The Excitement

In the 1950's there were different modes of transport on the road. I could take the tramcar, the trishaw, the taxi or the private car. Strangely, it wasn't any of these vehicles that excited me (images above). The buses did.  These large vehicles had always been a fascination for a teenage boy like me.  Although I still have a phobia because I was hit by one as a child at school I still love to ride in them.

A bus could take me further than my bicycle. (*Remember my bike adventures which took me to school and my vinyl record buying spree?) I had never thought of taking any other mode except the bus. 

I started taking buses in between my bicycle trips. I would cross the road from my shop house and wait at a Singapore Traction Company (STC) bus stop near the Queen's Cinema at Geylang. When the bus number 15 arrived from Tanjong Katong Road, I would board it to go watch a movie at the Odeon or Capitol Cinema at North Bridge Road. Depending on the time of the day, the bus could sometimes be packed.
Boarding A Bus 1

I got excited when it was full because I could purposely position myself precariously at the entrance and hold on to the side-bar.  Those years buses had the same entrance and exit. It was exciting standing at the step-landing of this entrance.

The idea was to feel the full force of the wind on my face and the adrenaline rush that ensured.  I would 'land' at every bus stop on the way and get on again when the bus moved.  Best thing was, nobody bothered. The bus driver didn't bother; the bus conductor didn't bother; the passengers didn't bother. Freedom.

Actually many of the bus commuters, especially the younger ones, were just trying to avoid the heat and sweat in the bus because it was furnace hot inside, especially when one took the mid afternoon buses. Standing at the entrance was one of the best places to be when taking a ride since buses were not air-conditioned then. "Cool wind in my hair."
Boarding A Bus 2

The other 'adventure' was avoiding the bus conductor and this idea was brought about by a school mate.  The conductor would usually go round in the bus with a little canvas satchel when passengers had to buy differently priced tickets depending on the distance.

I had always paid my five cents for the ride when I was inside, especially when the conductor asked for payment. We would be given a clipped ticket for the exchange. But this friend would play hide and seek with the conductor and would try to avoid him for as long as he could until he paid for his ticket or was chased out of the bus.  
Since long seats were arranged on both sides of the vehicle there was much standing room for most passengers in the belly of the bus. A crowded bus was like a forest of people inside so it was easy to avoid the conductor. If he came to the front a commuter could snake easily to the back and vice-versa and sneak out of the bus when it stopped to avoid payment.  I had always paid for my trips.

Boarding A Bus 3

One of my worst experiences was when I started boarding the bus at the Tay Koh Yat Company terminus at the junction of Aljunied Road and Geylang Road across from the Post Office. It was my connection point to reroute to my school.

A young man in his twenties started getting friendly with me and even wanted to pay for my fare. He was on the bus almost every day and as much as I tried to avoid him he would somehow acquire a seat next to mine and would start talking to me.

I knew what he was up to. At 14 years old I had learnt a lot instinctively.  Since I read books often and experienced much from movies I was aware of his intentions.  I guess in today's language one would call him a stalker. In later years my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the movie, **Never Take Candy From A Stranger.

I could not avoid him so I learnt to be friendly with him but had always avoided his advances and invitations to, "go to a movie" and "eat satay at the Rex Cinema."

Boarding A Bus 4

Many years later and just past my teens, an early evening drizzle cheered me up when I took an occasional bus to the Odeon Cinema in town. It was there that the lyrics of The Hollies song became meaningfully real as I boarded the bus:

Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella...


Today I have started taking the buses again but it's a different experience. Air-conditioned comfort without having to think at which direction I'm heading and bus captains that have been very helpful. Also a tap with your card to pay your fare. 

But no long, cool woman in a black dress...

Did you enjoy your bus-rides as a child? Come tell...

**Never Take Candy From A Stranger was a 1960 thriller. The twin themes are pedophilia and sexual abuse of children, and the way in which those with sufficient pull can corrupt and manipulate the legal system to evade responsibility for their actions. 

Film is regarded as bold and uncompromising for its time in the way in which it handles its subject matter. (Wikipedia.)

Some Songs with bus titles:

1. Waiting for the Bus; ZZ Top
2. Magic Bus; The Who
3. Trailways Bus; Paul Simon
4. Thank God and Greyhound; Ray Clark
5. Tie A Yellow Ribbon; Dawn
6. Wheels on the Bus; Folk Song

Images: Google and Singapore Heritage Board Websites.

You Tube: The Hollies with, Bus Stop.

This original article is copyrighted.

*My bicycle story:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

1970's Peter Chua: Best Singer Singapore Produced

With the focus on the 1960's these last few months because of the SG50 National Jubilee, readers of this blog have learnt a bit more about Singapore music and need a respite. So, for a change, we go into the 1970's and allow John Cher (drummer and contributing writer) to introduce yet another one of his music buddies.  

"In 1987 for the first time I decided to join a church group.  This was the Music Ministry of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Quite strangely it was through this group that I really got to know Peter Chua Hung Yong.  Mr Talentime himself.
Peter attended the same school as I, (Montfort Primary and Secondary Schools) attended the same church and lived in the same kampong in U.S.A. Singapore. USA means, Upper Serangoon Area.

Peter first entered a talentime contest while in secondary school. He participated in the solo section.  He sang There Goes My Everything and not unexpectedly, he came in first.

Three years earlier I was in the school talentime, but in the band section.  My band came in second.    But then, there were only two bands!   For this particular contest my rhythm guitarist was a friend, Henry Tay.  

Henry had his own band and he had this fantastic guitarist. When I first saw him play, I was blown away. He was probably about 15 years old then.  The man was Rex Goh (image right).  Years later to be the lead guitarist of Air Supply!

Back to Peter Chua.    He first entered the TV Talentime series in 1976 and subsequently in 1978 and finally in 1980.   Almost immediately after the 1980 Show, he decided to join the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) as a full time singer.   He remained with SBC for nearly ten years.  

Back in those days, with the exception of Tracy Huang, I think an artiste is well known either on Channel 5 or on Channel 8. But not on both.  In the case of Peter he was well known on both channels, meaning he is known to both the English and Chinese speaking audiences.  
At that time, around the mid-80's,  the local press had hailed him as arguably the best singer that Singapore had ever produced.  Johnny Young Productions had offered to engage him to do concerts in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  However Peter declined because he could not agree to some of the terms and conditions stipulated by JYP.

During his tenure with SBC, Peter represented Singapore for a number of international cultural and music events, notably, the ABU  (Asian Broadcasting Union) Event.  He was also selected by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) for a series of shoots in various exotic locations, ranging from Club Mauritius, The Maldives, New Zealand as well as the major popular attractions of West Malaysia.

After leaving SBC,  Peter became a CD producer.  He was engaged by record companies to produce albums. Though he did some pop recordings, he was mainly into producing gospel songs and church hymns. He also had his own band,  The Swinging Js and later Peter Chua and Frens.  With his band, Peter played a lot at private functions such as company D and D,  weddings, anniversaries and other gatherings.  

The Ponggol Marina was new in the 1990's and Peter sang on board The Columbus, which was owned by Ponggol Marina.  Lawyer William Lai, the boss of P.M. was a supportive and good friend.  Doing his bit for charity, Peter was an integral part of the Lions Club Changi Band. Together with Veronica Young, guitarist Tony Kwek, Joe Woon, Victor Lum and others, they did several charity gigs for various good causes!
Peter and his band were one of the first performers to do the Coffee Shows at the Esplanade. They had performed five times at the Recital Studio. These were tribute shows to John Denver, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones and other stars from the 1960's. Of course there was an 'Oldies" show.   I had the opportunity to play the drums on three of those shows.  

Some of your readers will recall that Peter appeared on the original Rollin' Good Times with Douglas Oliviero and Lauretta Alabons some years ago. His fans must have missed him for the recent RGT series which was aired in May this year. 

He still gets lots of invites to sing at both commercial and charity events.  He enjoys these functions as he gets an avenue to keep in touch with his passion for singing and music and to meet with old friends.   In October this year, Peter will be the guest singer for Jerry Fernandez at the Pek Kio Performance Hall.
              Peter Chua: Love Me With All Your Heart by elvinkangsuperstar
I wish that the producers at MediaCorp  will plan a music show featuring artists such as Peter Chua and others from his era. This would facilitate to record the works of our very own singers and musicians.  It is a matter of time before it is too late to ever do it!  And that would be another opportunity lost.

Good luck Peter Chua and all local musicians!  All of you have, in your own way, helped to place bricks in the construction of our local music industry.   It may not be the greatest thing to happen in fifty years.  But it is not always about being the greatest or the best.  It is about all the fun and joy we shared during our journey together.

The best is yet to come!"

Comment anyone?

Written by John Cher.
Images from You Tube, Google and a Personal Collection.
Copyrights Reserved.
Thanks again to John who has so obligingly contributed another post.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Singapore 60s Chinese Records Are Disappearing


The getai (歌台) or song stage that is back during this month's 7th Moon Hungry Ghost Festival tries to appease roaming spirits and hungry ghosts.  The performances of the artistes remind me of Chinese singers who sing in Mandarin or English in the good ole' days in Singapore.

Black Plastic Discs

Twelve hit songs from the 60's on one vinyl record may not mean much today but take the situation back 50 years ago, the Long Play record above could have been a best seller. It was actually a hit record, otherwise the boss of Precious Urn Records wouldn't have churned them out by the thousands.  These Chinese businessmen knew what they were doing when they pressed black plastics to sell to a Chinese educated market. It was a lucrative enterprise way back when.

I *wrote about Lisa Lim's recordings on this blog but they were found mostly on Extended Play vinyls (four songs per seven inch record) but this one I just bought has a full selection of all the songs she could have recorded within a particular period.
The Disappearing Act

But who cares about these Chinese L.P's. They might have been popular half a century ago but today? You will be surprised that these records are still in demand but there are less on the shelves in the vinyl shops as compared to numbers displayed five or six years ago.

Vinyl enthusiasts from around the world come to Singapore, Malaysia and the region to buy them but not to re-sell for profit.  These music lovers are still listening to the evergreens. 

One Caucasian gentleman I met in a shop told me the songs reminded him of his "evenings in Singapore's Chinatown" when he was here in the 1960's. There was a large record spread in front of the **Majestic Theatre as the songs blasted over the loud-speakers. Brand new gleaming records sold by vendors for cheap.
Treasure or Rubbish?

On the other hand some owners of these records have been throwing them away. Aren't these discarded vinyls music treasures that we should keep or have they been thrown away because the records are too old. Anita Kapoor, TV host for Treasure Hunt on CNA told me once, "Andy, I love the crackle and hiss on old records."  

Some others moaned that the sound engineering techniques are not up to today's standards and the artistes are neither glamorous nor able to enunciate in proper English.  (Lina Lim is posing in front of McRitchie Reservoir if you had noticed and possibly without much make-up. And she's so simply dressed in a business suit.)

A Japanese lady who spoke a smattering of English explained that, as a child she lived in Singapore in the 1970's and still remembers the Western favourites sung by local music makers.  She bought many of these records from Sungei Road.

"Now they are mostly gone...'' and added, "a lot of collectors from my country."
So there you are folks, there is no price for these vinyls. I got mine for two dollars; you'd probably get yours for the same or much more but as long as they can be played on the turn-table they are worth it. 

Copyright Issues

I'm still wondering how these record producers managed to record popular copyrighted songs without even printing the names of the composers/lyricists on the sleeve or inside labels, nor paying a fee for them. Or did they? 

I used to listen to many of these songs on You Tube but hardly see any today. Have they been taken off because of copyright reasons?  You may also have noticed blank spaces on many of my postings on Chinese records. They have been deleted by members who posted them. In time to come you need to own these vinyls and a turn-table if you wish to enjoy the melodies.
Meantime try to appreciate a pop culture that may not be around for too long.  
If you are familiar with recording production and procedures of the past do write in to tell us.


** In the evenings when the streets cleared in front of the Majestic Theatre in the 1950's and 1960's, night market stalls sprung and lighted up the area. Some of them sold 78's, Single, Extended Play and Long Play records. 
Images: A Private Collection and Google.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

British Invasion Of Goodwood Park Hotel: 1965

   "If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" Freddie/The Dreamers 
   Video Edward Kemp.

A fun Singapore National Jubilee 2015 contribution from Allan Thompson:

Around February 1965,  some Britons tried to invade Goodwood Park Hotel at Orchard Road in Singapore. This plot included Allan Thompson from the RAF,  a strange twosome from Philips, Freddie Garrity with his Mersey henchmen and a couple who worked in a Brunei oil company.  About ten people involved.  No laughing matter this. 

It all started with a telephone call to Mr. Thompson's HQ @ Changi.  And after 50 years, below is his report:

Dear Andy,  

One morning in early 1965 I received a phone call at work (Modifications Control, HQ Far East Air Force, Changi) from my cousin, Jean Muir.  Her husband, Ross, worked for one of the big oil companies in Brunei and they were having a holiday in Singapore with their two very young children, staying in the Goodwood Hotel.   

Jean invited me to have dinner with them the following evening and I was delighted to accept.  The only problem was that I happened to be almost broke, having only about 15 dollars to last me until pay day which was the day after the dinner date. (At that time I was saving almost half of my salary with a view to purchasing my discharge from the Royal Air Force). 
I asked all my friends if they could lend me some cash until then but, without exception, they were in a similar situation that week.  In addition, I realised that I would need to wear a jacket in the Goodwood,  but the only one I possessed had been given to me by one of my colleagues when he was posted back to the UK.  I had only accepted it because it was very similar in colour to my lovat-green slacks, but the stitching was coming undone on the shoulder.  What to do?  

At lunch time I went into Changi village and asked a dry-cleaner if he could stitch the shoulder and then clean the jacket for me.  He said it would be ready the following morning and that I could pay him later in the week.  I was stupidly hoping that dry-cleaning the jacket might lighten it a shade nearer the colour of my slacks.  
When I collected it next day, I tried it on with the slacks and they didn't look too bad in low artificial light, which I was hoping for inside the hotel.  I had still had no luck in trying to top up my cash, so I would have to own up to Jean and Ross that they had caught me on the hop. Carrying my jacket, I took a pick-up taxi from Changi to the Capitol cinema, costing me 60 cents.  

Then I took a trishaw from the Capitol, up Orchard Road, and asked the driver to drop me just before the hotel.  That was a dollar, including a tip.  As dusk descended, I strolled into the hotel drive, climbed the front steps, and entered the not-too-brightly-lit foyer.  
          Writer Allan Thompson in all his splendor at the Goodwood.

A male member of staff phoned Jean's room, and while I waited for someone to come down for me, I glanced discreetly at my reflection in a wall mirror and was relieved to see that my mismatched 'suit' looked okay in the artificial light. Ross then appeared and took me upstairs where I met Jean and the two toddlers who were just being tucked up in bed.  I hadn't seen Jean since I was about 9 years old, and had never met Ross before.  

They were very easy to get on with, and we all had a drink before going down for dinner.  The spectre of my lack of money was making me sweat, and I was trying to pluck up enough courage to confess when Ross told me that the evening was on them because I was their guest.  I hoped my sigh of relief was inaudible!  
When we had finished our drinks and the children were safely in their beds, we left them in the capable hands of an amah and went downstairs to the Arundel Room which was a large dining room with dozens of tables and a raised stage. The lighting, thankfully, was very low and I was feeling more at ease in my jacket with every passing minute.  The meal was excellent and it was the first time I had ever eaten a prawn cocktail which was served in a tall narrow glass with a single prawn hooked over the rim.  Very tasty.  

Entertainment was provided by Jan and Kelly, a pair of very pretty British girls dressed in cowgirl outfits with very short mini-skirts.  Some of their songs were quite risqué but they were received enthusiastically by the diners.  It was a very pleasant evening and I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the company of these kind people.  I worked out that if I took a trishaw back to the Capitol and caught the last bus, the 'Changi Flyer',  it would cost me less than two dollars, leaving me about nine dollars until I was paid the next day.  
I was quite alarmed when Ross told me he had asked Reception to get one of the hotel's own taxis to come round to the front to take me home.  I dreaded to think how much that would cost and whether I had enough to cover it.  I suppose I could always get him to drop me round the corner in Orchard Road and then hire a trishaw and still catch the last bus. As we waited for the taxi to appear, a noisy group of European men came into the hotel. They turned out to be none other than Freddie and The Dreamers who were due to perform a few days later.  
When the taxi arrived, Ross told the driver to take me to Changi and we all wished one another good night and I thanked them for a wonderful evening.  The taxi turned out to be air-conditioned and it was with some trepidation that I asked the driver how much the fare was to Changi.  

"Nine dollars, sir," was the reply which produced my second silent sigh of relief that evening, and I settled down to enjoy my first, and last, air-conditioned taxi ride.  When we arrived at Changi, I thanked the driver and gave him ten dollars, including a tip. Then, with my jacket slung over my shoulder, I walked along the road to bed, pleased that I still had enough money for a coffee in the morning before I was paid.

Best wishes, 
England, U.K.

Thank you very much Allan for giving us so many of your Singapore 60's music stories for this blog.  50 years later and you're still contributing to our welfare. 

Images: Allan Thompson, Goodwood Park Hotel (for this blog only), Google. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Silver Strings Celebrate Singapore 50th Anniversary

It rained on 7th August, 2015

The Silver Strings
@ Promontory
Clifford Pier/Marina Blvd.
Friday 7th August
'Strings' Show Time: 6.30 - 7pm
8.00 - 8.45pm
Audie, Andy, Rickie
                              Nick, *Merlin, John 
Serene, Percy.
MCs: Moe Alkaff, Irene Ang

*Merlin Lim is the original rhythm guitarist for Shirley Nair's "You're The Boy" recording in the mid-sixties. 

Rain Refreshed The Music

The 7th August Concert at the Promontory was nearly a washout when heavy rain flooded the pitch. So the show was officially cancelled but when it subsided, the organisers decided to carry on. 

It was too late as many concert goers did not turn up and the supportive fans who dared the weather were challenged with a muddy field and intermittent climatic changes. Worse, the gig started later. But those who came had a treat...

The Silver Strings with MC's Moe Alkaff and Irene Ang
The huge stage with performance screen
The supportive audience

Audie, Rickie, Serene, Merlin, John, Nick: 
Sound check and practice

The evening sets in as the stars appear

Andy, Serene and Percy
My Hometown, You're The Boy and Johnny B. Goode

Back stage with audience, comedienne Irene Ang 
MC Moe, Andy, John 
After the show. Good night and Good bye.

Images: Google and Personal Collection.