Ronnie See at extreme right.
Whether 40 years ago or today, Ronnie See is as handsome and articulate as ever. When I requested an interview, Ronnie decided to cast in stone his thoughts about the Singapore 60's pop scene from his own perspective, naming names that were important, relevant and connected to a once thriving industry. The write-up is one of a two part series by Ronnie.
Years With The Burns
Ronnie and The Burns started in mid 1964. I thought in giving the band an easy name, with the audience, Burns was chosen because we love Burns guitars, so I thought that was quite relevant. It sounded good – Ronnie and The Burns.
The initial line up was Jeffrey Wong (lead), Roland Liaw (rhythm), Harris Noel Albert (bass), Philip Poon (drums) and me, leader/vocals. The image also shows Kenneth Gomes, next to Ronnie, who is Singapore's Cliff Richard.
The band first practised in a Singapore Improvement Trust flat in Tiong Bahru Road. It was rather elementary during start up as we could not afford any proper instrument. We had to make do with a home-made bass amplifier, another home made amplifier for rhythm, a Gibson amplifier (for lead) was something special and a Rossini drumset. The band started with Hoffner guitars as during that time we had no means to buy Burns guitars.
The PA system then was of mishmash quality as a proper sound system was just a dream. It did not matter because the enthusiasm was high and that was enough to carry us through.
We continued rehearsing and the band progressed quickly. We played at house parties and saved enough to acquire a complete set of Burns guitars over time. Common to most groups however was the feature of group dynamics, the band went through several changes as we scouted for more committed players.
As the band was rehearsing and shaping a repertoire we made regular appearances playing at house parties where we were paid modest sums for the performances. The band’s modest fees were an inducement to keep going and get better. We kept on with our regular rehearsals and accepted whatever bookings came our way.
The band needed a spokesman a role which I assumed in negotiating terms for all the gigs. However the rehearsal venue in Tiong Bahru was less than ideal being a residence and the band moved to another place in nearby Margaret Drive and continued to rehearse there. At this time, the band had already quite regular gigs and earnings were ploughed back into the band to upgrade the equipment.
We purchased a second hand Vox AC30 amplifier together with some other instruments and gadgets. The band was now considered quite well equipped and with the upgraded equipment made a difference to the band's sound and it began to give the band an identity.
All these, were the hard work and commitment to get the band ahead. Eager to test their sound in front of a live audience, the band played a gig at St. Matthew's Church in Neil Road. We played to a full house with proper instruments. I sang Cliff Richard's "Living Doll", "Lessons In Love", "Thinking Of Our Love", "Please Don't Tease", "Theme For A Dream" and some other songs.
Along the way, we found new players and the band became more popular. With more competent players the band was capable of handling a wider repertoire which was starting to veer in the direction of rhythm and blues.
In September 1965 Ronnie and The Burns participated in a Beat Band contest which was held at Great World Amusement Park. It was quite a grand event with about ten bands participating in the band finals. LBJ and The Presidents took top honours with Ronnie and The Burns coming in a credible second.
In addition to the engagements in many gigs we had, the band even appeared on Istana Pesta (a local TV programme) in 1965, arranged by Zain Mahmood who was a local big wig on the music scene.
In 1966, we organized one of the largest events at the Singapore Conference Hall then, the event was called Ronnie and The Burns Night featuring many local top bands like, Shirley Nair and The Silver Strings, The Checkmates and The Cyclones, Naomi and The Boys, *Rony and The Echo Jets. That event night had a full house.
After the 1966 event, the band was engaged by Cathay Organisation to travel to Malaysia for a six months contract playing at different states in Malaysia. We travelled from Johor northwards and the show went on smoothly until Kuala Lumpur, I decided to leave the group and came home when the condition did not permit me to continue. So it was at the end of 1966 that I decided to leave the band I loved."
*Pastor Rony Tan is the founder and Senior Pastor of a mega-church called Lighthouse Evangelism in Singapore.
Part II continues when Ronnie joined The Stylers. Check it out.
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