My son used to run a restaurant with live music at 25-A Perak Road. It was called WHEELS & WEINNERS. The place was frequented by Harley Davidson enthusiasts. One was a pretty well known singer/guitarist from the 1970's Singapore circuit and I remember jamming with him during a visit.
My friends and I jammed there once a week. Sometimes twice. The musicians would include our local guitarists, pianists, singers and others. On one of these sessions, a friend called me prior to the actual session to inform me that he will be bringing *Keith Locke. He told me not to concern myself with paying him as he will give what he is receiving from me to him. I told him that was most charitable of him!
Keith came a few more times after this first visit. On one visit, he was delighted to meet a fellow Jamaican. We had conversations over drinks. Pleasantly, I discovered that he is not one to take advantage because someone else is paying for the drinks. He limited himself to one beer and at most two. I have the greatest respect for such people in the "drinking circuit".
Many are the exact opposite of Keith. We had lots of conversations and it wasn't long before I realized he was in a very rough financial patch. He had come to Singapore on the enticement of people who had assured him of gigs and possibly a concert and such. After he had arrived on our shores he realized that the fact of the matter was there was absolutely nothing concrete and nothing was forthcoming either.
The people closest to us are the people who can inflict the deepest hurts. This was what Keith was experiencing. Keith spoke fondly of Vernon Cornelius. Vernon had gone out of his way to take him to some of the places he was having gigs at and introduced him to the audience. He had also given him free accommodation for one month.
We had several coffees and simple lunches over a period of a few weeks. On one such coffee meeting at a McDonald's outlet, I bought him a couple of Toto tickets for him at the nearby Singapore Pools. I wished him the best of luck. Of course as can be expected, no such luck!
I drove him for various appointments. He wanted to return to England but could not. He was holding a Jamaican Passport. I took him to Robinson Road to an office of the British High Commision that process applications for visas. During the waiting period for news of his application, he would take trips to KL and returned after a few days, so as to extend his social visit to Singapore.
During these trips I would fetch him at about six in the morning from his backpackers hotels. One was in Joo Chiat Place and another at Upper East Coast Rd. He was truly punctual and would be waiting when I arrived. I was always about ten minutes before the appointed time and I did wondered how long he was waiting for me already. I found out much later that it was Jerry Fernandez who had helped him to arrange for these accommodations. It cost S$20 per day. The small gigs he had at Wheels and Weinners and at other venues which helped to pay for these basic necessities.
One day we drove past the Intercontinental Hotel and as if talking to himself, he said this was the kind of hotels he used to live in. I could see the distant look in his eyes and could feel for him the frustrations and heartbreaks that came from failure, disappointments with "friends" and rejections.
Before his last trip to KL, he told me he was planning to proceed from there to Thailand, to teach English to adults. I don't think it happened. A few days before he left, I went with him to a guitar shop at the basement of Peninsula Shopping Centre. He bought a new acoustic guitar complete with casing, spare strings, guitar strap and the works. The shop was also recommended by Vernon.
The very last time that I sent him to the bus company on Kitchener Road, he gave me his old acoustic guitar to me. He wrote a message for me on the guitar. This was in appreciation for taking care of him and for the meagre financial assistance I had shared with him.
He called me from KL a few times. He was living in another backpackers hotel in the KL Chinatown area.. I lost touch for several weeks. Then I received a hand written letter from him. It was from Jamaica. He was asking me to try to help raise money for him to return to Singapore. He was even considering the possibility of becoming a Singapore citizen by marriage!
In the letter he mentioned a few people he knew and whom he thought may be in a position to help. He also enclosed a Jamaican newspaper cutting which had a picture of him being a roadside food vendor with the caption "reduced to selling sweets to survive". The headline was "THE RISE AND FALL OF THE TOAST OF MALAYSIA".
Below the above headline were in bold print 'HOME TO A HELL HOLE".
Keith had given me an email address but after a couple of exchanges, I lost all contact with him. I have sent Christmas, New Year, Birthday greetings. All to no avail.
His birthday was on the 18th May 1936. That would mean that he is 79. I hope he is as well as could be, given his advanced age. I pray for him frequently. Especially when I see the guitar he gave me.
With love from Singapore!
Written by John Cher.
Read John's and Keith's other stories by clicking Labels below.
Material is personal and Copyright.
*Keith Locke (he was called, Mr Dynamite) recorded 10 songs with one of Singapore's top guitar group, The Quests, when he was in Singapore in the mid 1960's:
Don't Play That Song (You Lied), Be My Girl, Push-Push, That You Are Mine, I'm on Top of The World, I Want A Home, Mockingbird Hill, Earth Angel, You Talk Too Much and Lonely Street.
Two songs that he sang at a gathering but which were not recorded were: Runaway and A Hundred Pounds Of Clay.
Images from: John Cher; William Chan (You Tube grab); Google.
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