I first met Ioleen by chance late last year (2011) when she was chatting with a friend at the Lido Cinema in Orchard Road. She was carrying an expensive Ovation (image) and when I asked about her guitar and introduced myself she remarked, "I thought you look familiar." With my grandson beside me, I requested Beautiful Sunday, his favourite. Ioleen whipped out her guitar and burst into the Daniel Boone classic. She still busks today, at the Orchard Road area.
During our conversation I was surprised when she revealed that she is the daughter of the late Mr. Chia, who used to run the Garrick Cinema at Geylang Serai in the 1950s and when young Bollywood was trying to woo the world with its music and dance fantasies.
I remember long lines of Indian, Malay and Chinese Singaporeans queueing for movie tickets at this cinema which was situated at the entrance of Onan Road. It ran for four decades, from the 1920s until 1965, when it became the more sophisticated Galaxy Cinema. When I told her I have a blog and my keen interest in documenting 60s bands she agreed to tell her story.
Here's Ioleen's experience from mid 60s to early 80s:
"I started playing the drums, which is my first love, at the age of 13. My brother who was also playing in a band inspired me. He taught me my first tempo which was the twist. After he left the group I took over the drums and with 4 other members called our new line-up D'Aces. We did a lot of singalongs, current pop songs and even played jazz numbers.
Eventually we did gigs at the Royal Air Force Singapore during the weekends and this contract lasted for a couple of years. We also appeared on local television, at tea dances at the Golden Venus and played with the Trailers during their stint at the club. Other nightspots that we performed at included the Barbarella Disco at Ming Court, Talk of the Town at High Street and even at the Garrick Cinema.
I played with the Valiants too (a Singapore group and not the one from Malaysia) and for some time with an all girl group call The Tepees who was under a Korean musician. Because of my studies I left the group. We disbanded and could not take up an offer to play in Europe.
After completing my studies, I went solo doing the circuit and accompanied myself on the guitar. I was contracted to play at the Imperial, Cockpit and Equatorial hotels. There was a period when I was singing duet with Simon Koh who played the keyboard. l learnt a lot from Simon.
I performed in Japanese cities like Nagoya, Fukuoka, Kumomoto and on Kyushu Island. After Japan I entertained the folks in Taiwan for a couple of years and also had stints in Malaysian nightclubs and engagements in Kuching.
In later years I performed at the Marco Polo Theatre and the Golden Million Lounge at Peninsula Hotel. Those were memorable years. By the end of the 70s, bands playing western music weren't much of a draw at the pop clubs, hotels and entertainment establishments were hiring Filipino groups rather than local musicians. They were inexpensive to engage. By then Chinese music was getting more popular too.
I had stopped playing music for many years but since I was missing all the fun I decided to come back on the scene and started busking about 2 years ago. It is less wearisome and stressful and I have more time for myself. As a music maker I am an all rounder and it isn't difficult to please the passing crowd with my repertoire of songs. I try to play all types of music."
When I left Ioleen that day with my grandson beside me she was singing and strumming a jazzy version of Charles Chaplin's evergreen, Smile as we said our goodbyes. Thanks Ioleen, for the memories.
Please support Ioleen and all our local buskers always.Images 1: Along Orchard Road. 2: A Jam Session. Andy Lim Collection (Copyrights Reserved).