Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mata Mata Special Squads Roam 60's Night Clubs

Mata, Mata - The Singapore Police Force in the 1950's.
Something on my Mind with d'Starlights. Video by Mr Rainbow.

Singapore Police Force n Nightclub Scene:

"Mata. Mata lai leow. (cops are here). Time is tight man! Let's make a run for it before we get caught by the special squad!"  The nightclubs in the 1960's were usually quiet with conflicts and rowdiness more or else contained.  

But there were instances when fights and clashes erupted and the police would appear quickly to appease the situation and handle the trouble makers.  

Guru Happy, who now lives in Vancouver is here again to discuss certain tough areas that he had been patrolling those years.  Personal names have been left out and the article has been edited:
*d'Starlights: Karate-kicks on stage before music performance.
"D'Starlights, I'm sure many of you could remember, was one of the first and top band from the Philippines to perform at the El Amigo in Singapore. We would always frequent the Lounge or Nite Club (as they were known those days) located at the New World Amusement Park.

This group were karate exponents and would include some Japanese art of self-defence techniques at the beginning of their music performance to show the gangsters their own agility.
Is this a **BLACK MARIA with reinforced steel bars?
Located at Kitchener Road (City Square Mall has now replaced New World) it was one place where well-known gangsters and hard-core fugitives would also congregate and come to know me pretty well too.  We would always land up making arrests in the club when I was then with the Police Special Squad working together with one Mr Singh (Special Squad or plain clothes policemen were known as arm-pai amongst the Chinese).

Another place we used to frequent often was at the Pink Panther off Orchard Road and the Shamrock Bar and Nite Club. "If you're looking for trouble, you came to the right place, If you're looking for trouble just look right in my face (Elvis Presley's Trouble from King Creole)."
Elvis Presley spells trouble in King Creole.
Childhood Friends:

Cathay Nite Club and Restaurant at the Cathay Cinema at Mount Sophia and Handy Road was another favourite joint and that was where my present better half and I had our first date, together with childhood friends, a well-known radio DJ and another friend who was one of Singapore's great footballers. We grew up together in primary school and if we didn't frequent the nightclubs we would spend most of our time on the soccer field in Queenstown.
Nightclubs in the 50s and 60s
Besides D'Starlights I still remember Susan Lim with The Crescendos and would still listen to her on You-Tube today to recall all those memorable times where we enjoyed our T-Dances and house parties in the 60s. Yes, so much to talk about, but so little time-lah, especially when you're far away from your kampung in Pasir Ris. Original article by Guru Happy."
Angchia (red van) arrests begin with warning messages over loudspeakers.
Takes A Crook To Catch A Crook - Singapore Gangsters

Call them what you will: triad, secret societies, thugs or samseng kia, these criminal organisations were known to identify themselves using numerals like 08 or 329. In the 60's gangsters would be detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Ordinance.  In the month of February 1965 alone more than 3,000 suspects were screened and about a dozen gangsters arrested. They lived in hideouts at Geylang, Yeo Chu Kang, Havelock, Chinatown and other areas.

Undercover police officers who dressed like thugs would penetrate hideouts and together with ex-gangsters recruited by the police, raid dens and red-light areas like Geylang and Sago Lane. The exploits of these reformed criminals were legendary as they helped to capture some of the worst in our society.

Mata mata means Eyes in the Malay Language. It is the colloquial term for Policemen.
Gangsters caught by the mata-mata and arm-pai. From

Vinyl from d'Starlights: It's Soul Man with A Man Without Love, Hip Hug Her, El Pussy Cat and Louie Louie on EMI/ECHK 598.

Police vans to transport prisoners inside a specially adapted cell in the vehicle; also for rapid transport of police officers to an incident.

The vehicle most gangsters fear was the ang-chia or red van, used to round up troublemakers and placed under arrest. They would be escorted under heavy guard in these red vans and charged at the police station. Such vehicles have been phased out today and replaced with smaller ones.

Images from: Google,, Andy Lim Collection.
Original article: Guru Happy from Vancouver, BC.


MIKE SOO said...

Hi All

Singer was Boy the Drummer, Amando Sax - Band Leader, Rico Lead, Eddie Base & Rollie Organ / I was the Resident Photographer when they perform in El Amigo Nite Club Spore from 69-72 know all of them very well & their families.


Despite their founding principles of mutual assistance and bonding, secret societies have, over time, come to conjure up impressions of violence and disorder. This association, perhaps exaggerated, has been encouraged by law enforcement officers since their formation in the colonial era.


The New World Amusement Park (Chinese: 新世界) was the first of three amusement parks, along with Great World (estd. early 1930s) and Gay World (estd. 1936), that wooed Malaya and Singapore night crowds from the 1920s to the 1960s. New World was a prominent landmark in Jalan Besar, as it occupied a large area of 45,000 square feet (4,200 m2) in size. Before the arrival of televisions and radios, it attracted people from all walks of life.


Thanks Andy, and great work on your short write up about the "good old days" or should I say "bad old days" of those 50's and 60's Gangsters "thriving" in S'pore!


Elvis Presley performed the song in the 1958 motion picture 'King Creole', and his recording was included on the soundtrack of the same name. "Trouble", featuring Scotty Moore on guitar, was one of only three songs written by Leiber and Stoller for the feature. Presley's performance in the film alludes to Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. "If you're looking for trouble", he intones, "then look right in my face. Because I'm evil. My middle name is Misery".
"Trouble", with Presley's "growling snarl", is one of the earliest proto-punk rock songs.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes Andy dude, bets our Dino woulda given the police a run for there money if our great man had been clubbin' in Singapore....keeps lovin' our most beloved Dino!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks DMP. I guess you're right. The RAT PACK would certainly have packed our rats away :-)

Dino forever!

baturo45 said...

Thanks for the memories Andy!


Hey pallie,

Likes thanks ever so much Andy-o for doin' some patterin' 'specially on our Deanager Ty Michael's Dino-devotion... thanks for supportin' this youthful Dino-holic in his passion for our most beloved Dino!
Keeps spreadin' the Dino-word o'pallie of mine!

Soo Hian said...

Hi Andy,

I'm a scriptwriter, doing research about police work and night clubs/cabarets in 1950s-60s Singapore.

This is for a series of online videos about life in the 50s/60s.

May I contact you to find out more about this era?

My email is

chakap chakap said...

Those were the days Veronica. You might have forgotten me, but try to recall that night when you had another vehicle that rammed you from the back of your vehicle (when in actual fact they were trying to stop you n were up to no good), and yours truly, happened to meet up with you (I was with the Singapore Police Force then), and scared them away?? Anyway, I can still remember you If you need to know more about me, go to Andy's Blog n you'll find me there. Seasons greetings to you n your loved ones.


ABEL TAN said...

More half Babas born before 1960 dance the Ronggeng and the New World had the unenclosed Bungah Tanjong where the stage can accommodate up to 10 couples, we paid one dollar for three dances, ticket price increased to two dollars 1977, Bunga Tanjong closed by end 1981

Was told Bungah Tanjong opened 1952, an outlet at Happy World was unregular, alternating with Adek Sayang, Kucing Mas, Pagar Mas...

ROSE KHOO said...

I have only been to Happy World and Great World. I only go for the amusement joy rides during my primary school holidays☺

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, because they were mostly opened at night, the 3 Worlds were not safe bets to go to, especially for young ladies like you.🙂

Thanks, Rose and Abel for your comments. I remember seeing this ronggeng dancing too at the Happy World. They were housed in a gazebo like structure outside the stadium. Great Peranakan music, with violins and all.



Lange Brunei
James B Wright-Brown
David Neo
Rose Khoo
LynnWynn Ng
Hor Mei Siew
Janelene Leong
Zahara Azzahra Sulaiman
Jeffrey Lee Hock Seong
Eugene L. A. Tan
Bryan Wong
Boon Meng Lee
Chow Weng Onn David
Minori Owada
Gurmit Kaur Gill
Chris Hua

ABEL TAN said...

Nearly all Chinese will patronise the Great World Cabaret where one dance is One dollar


I recalled D'Starlights were involved in a fight. Some group attacked them and destroyed some of their musical instruments.

ABEL TAN said...

The rumour was because one Guest Artiste was unwelcomed.


I enjoyed reading this one. Thank you, Andy.

JOE PETERS said...

Still hunting in different places and difficult undergrounds!


James Seah
Joe Peters
Jimmy Appudurai-chua
David Neo
John Cher
Lange Brunei
Charlie Yap Locomotion
Tan Soo Khoon


Good read. In was still a young kid in Tanglin Halt back then and became aware of this as I grew up there. Thanks for sharing this.

I love reading your articles. That's history right there.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you so much, Leslie. I appreciate that you find the article a positive read.

And to all FACEBOOK friends, thanks again for the support and for liking this posting. We can never forget the gangsters that roamed Singapore.

Appreciating (GURU) HAPPY TAY who wrote this article as a good and steady friend who now lives in Vancouver, Canada.