Sundowners - Bengawan Solo - Video: Vernon Cheong
Reflections from 1963:
The English lyrics for Bengawan Solo was composed by the brothers' father Thomas Seow and the arrangements for both the songs were their own. They had an All Stars Quintet to accompany them. They explained that the public would not pay for a carbon copy of a popular song when they could buy the original, so after working with the songs for about three months the father decided on the keroncong backing with a twist tempo to keep the music current.
Reflections from 1963:
It was a lucky break for two brothers and a cousin when a popular Indonesian folk song Bengawan Solo (a 1940 Gesang Martohartono composition), was released with original English lyrics on world label Warner Brothers by the three lads. Covered by so many artistes that it's hard to list, this evergreen Asian favourite was given a new twist.
The flip side of the single was Cotton Fields, a 1940 composition by Huddie Ledbetter. It had been covered earlier by Harry Belafonte and singers like The Seekers, The Highwaymen, New Christie Minstrels, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, CCR, Elton John, Johnny Cash and even in French by Petula Clark.
Tony Seow (image 1, left) and brother Lawrence (right) at 18 and 16 with cousin and group guitarist George Lim at 17 (centre), singing schoolboys from St. Andrew's, pressed the 7 inch single with their parents' blessing.
The single (image 3) was released officially for sale in July 1963 for both Singapore and the international market. When the trio, who called themselves The Sundowners, first heard their own recording at their home in Serangoon Road, they beamed with joy and excitement and felt they owed their success to a supportive family and encouraging friends.
Don't forget that it was the early sixties and, according to the news report, was the second singing group in Singapore to cut a record for world-wide distribution. You must surely know who the first local group was?
During a newspaper interview after the release, The Sundowners had ideas of including a girl since they were hoping of expanding into Malaya and making it big. But, according to the group, if the plan did not work out they had to think of other ideas.
The Sundowners had also released a second single in 1964, Malaysia Wonderful and That's The One For Me accompanied by The Tornados (image 2) comprising, Derek McCully, Freddie Koh, Stanley Lee, Lennie Lee.
You may think it strange today that three Singapore boys would want to praise Malaysia in song? But the situation was different because our island was still with the federated Malay states in 1963 when the vinyls were recorded. Singapore's short-lived merger with Malaysia ended when it left the federation in 1965.
Just wondering how these recordings would go down in history? Any comment?
Images: Andy Lim Collection.