Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Without The Gift of Song In Aberdeen, Scotland.

Serene, University of Aberdeen


A Story About Heritage

I will never forget the lesson I learnt in the early 1980's when I attended a British Council course at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. There were four representatives from Singapore, myself and three ladies.  We had been selected to attend an English Language, English Literature and Linguistics programme.

Since a good number applied at the Singapore office, candidates had to go through an interview but we had been lucky and managed to get a place.  For the attractive summer holiday, post-graduate course we were provided text books, meals, lodging and visits around Aberdeen's neighbourhood. Daily lectures and workshops by **distinguished professors were usually held up to lunch time. There were none during the weekends.
Singapore representatives. Thistle among the flowers?

After our arrival and having settled in at the university we were ushered into a large room the second evening, where our course students met for a cultural get-together.  Most of us were quietly ready for a night of food and fun but surprised by what happened next because as Singaporeans we had not been prepared for the 'task' at hand.
Cultural Night at Aberdeen University

After a full and fancy meal, Scottish style but without *haggis, we found ourselves shaking hands with the young and old from many places around the world.  They had come from Asia, Europe and Commonwealth countries. That night, each country representative was supposed to entertain the gathering with either a song, a dance, a reading or a sketch.

Yes, my dear readers. Everyone was prepared. But Singapore? No, because we had no song to sing. Don't forget it was the beginning of the 1980's and the national songs that had been composed were only available from 1984. We had come a little early. If only we had arrived in Aberdeen two years later, then we could be so proud singing, Stand Up For Singapore. Or if we had come in 1986, Count On Me Singapore would have been available.

Panic. The four of us huddled together trying to think of one we could sing as a foursome. I told them there was one. It was called, Singapura, a pop song. But it wasn't a patriotic song.  And I remember it was by Sandra Reemer an Indonesian/Dutch singer. How could we be singing a song that wasn't composed by our countryman?  Although we knew the melody, we didn't know the lyrics. Then there was our National Anthem.  But we couldn't be singing the anthem for amusement.

What about Sing Your Way Home? Was that a Singapore song?  I knew that one. As we racked our heads, I remember songs we taught our children back home. These were, Chan Mali Chan and Di-Tanjong Katong and Rasa Sayang.  I knew them in Malay but they weren't really our songs.  We shared them with our neighbours when we were part of Malaya.
A Dance from Greece

Meanwhile, during the show, some of the students danced so well as they demonstrated their intricate steps and swayed to the rhythm of their own hand clapping.  I remember a rather stout gentleman who was so lithe and vibrant when he did a Greek dance and pranced the floor with his arms outstretched for a good ten minutes.

Others sang their national songs as duets and trios, some with guitars while a few brought their own musical instruments to accompany their singing. The people there were such a talented lot! Poetry recitals in European and Asian languages, short skits that threw us into laughter and even a parade of Shakespearean soliloquies.
Sketch or recital? 

We applauded, looked at each other and gave the three titles to the lady in charge and made preparations to sing it. But here's the strangest part. Up till today, I cannot remember if we ever went up on stage.  I searched for the photographs of this performance but now I am not sure if we sang that evening.  
I found one picture though (image above) and this photo jolted my memory because I realised I did a sketch with this bearded gentleman from an Arab country. He was friendly, quick witted, full of humour and I will never forget what he told me,  "Take pictures, Lim. Immortalise yourself so when you look at them 50 years later you will realise how young you were when you came to Aberdeen." 
In newspaper wrapping

It was such a relief when the night was over. We enjoyed the performances by other nationals, the food and camaraderie.  We became friends and the ice was broken. Ice? We realised, as we left the room, how cold it was as the doors opened.  But the beautiful Scottish air refreshed us. A little foggy perhaps. "Hark when the night is falling, / Hear, hear the pipes are calling..."
With University mates @ Aberdeen, 2 from Singapore and on my (dark glasses) left and right from HK.

After a good night's rest, we ended up the next morning bright and early outside the university grounds, grouped together and heading for famous Bennachie Hill.  It was the weekend and I had my first genuine fish and chips wrapped up in a newspaper (no not in a five-pound note) at the Fish Market.

On the way to town, I saw this lone figure in front of a castle.  He was the finest bagpiper I've seen, dressed up in the most elaborate Scottish costume and blowing his pipes in the gusty wind.  It was a beautiful sight. "Wild is the wind to meet you, Staunch are the friends that greet you... "
The Lone Bagpiper. Unimaginable.

So you see folks, if you have been complaining about our patriotic songs being played day in, day out and night in, night out on TV, radio and everywhere else before National Day, remember out plight that evening when we had none to sing.  We need these songs as they are representative of Singapore to remind us of our own sunny isle and national heritage.

Of course, we were too proud to tell our Scottish hosts and the other delegates from the other countries that we didn't have folk songs. Singapore was only about seventeen years old then. But today?  Today, we've got plenty and you can "count on me to give my best and more..."  Today we've got the gift of song.

So sing your National Songs this 2017 and belt them out.
Cowdray Hall, Girdle Ness Lighthouse, Bridge of Don, Fish Market.
A 1980's Postcard.

 is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onions, oats, meat, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach.

**It has been some time since I left Aberdeen but I still remember the music, moments, places and people, especially lecturer Ms Avis who drove me to London from the university in 12 hours flat when she offered me a ride back in her tiny Ford Fiesta. We only stopped for lunch at noon and had tea in the car. She was about 60 years young when I met her in the early 80's. It's hard to forget a kind lady like Ms Avis. God Bless Her Soul.

1980's Hit Songs in the UK

1    Dexys Midnight Runners: Come On Eileen
2.   Survivor: Eye Of The Tiger
3    Irene Cara: Fame
4    Tight Fit: The Lion Sleeps Tonight
5    Culture Club: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
10  Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder: Ebony And Ivory


University of Aberdeen, Scotland; British Council Summer Course; U.K., British Council Scholarships; Cultural Night, Scotland; Fish and Chips in Newspapers; Haggis from Scotland, U.K.; Bridge of Don, Scotland; Fish Market, Aberdeen, Scotland; Girdle Ness Lighthouse; Singapore Patriotic Songs; Singapore Heritage, Sung50

Peter Shaffer:

I learnt too, which was actually one of the objectives of going to Aberdeen, about another great playwright. Peter Shaffer was at his peak in the 1980's and reading a play like Equus was certainly an eye-opener for me. 

Teaching Literature at school had been tough and a challenge, so I came with an open mind and learnt the ways of this university professor who tried to put across this piece of art (it wasn't an easy one) to his students in the simplest way possible.

Images: A Personal Collection and Google.


JK said...

I'm currently a researcher attached with the... under the... programme.

I'm now finishing my research on punk in southeast asia and planning to go into 60s pop-yeh-yeh next.

I wonder if you're available for an interview...

(The above email has been edited.)

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi JK,

As you requested, I have not published your full letter. Thank you for the information you provided and your connection with the famous Malay Pop Yeh Yeh band you mentioned.

I am willing to help provided you give me further details. You need to give me your email address but it will not be revealed on this blog, otherwise I can't give you mine.

chakapchakap said...

Aberdeen, Scotland's third most populace city. Also called, Granite, Grey and Silver City with the Golden Sands. The country discovered North Sea oil in the 1970's.

Top pop stars from Aberdeen include, Annie Lennox and Nirvana.

anon said...

Singapore Patriotic English Songs:

Count On Me Singapore
Five Stars Arising
It's The Little Things
Moments of Magic
One People, One Nation, One Singapore
Singapore Town
Singapura Sunny Island
Song For Singapore
Stand Up For Singapore
There's No Place I'd Rather Be
We Are Singapore
What Do You See?
Will You.

From Wiki.

Sing 50 said...

Hello Andy,

I want to thank you for all your posts on Singapore's history. Your passion and dedication to educating our younger generations on our musical heritage is truly inspiring. They're extremely helpful in painting a picture of what life and music was like then.

Sing50 (hope you've heard of it!) is a concert to be held on Aug 7 this year, celebrating 50 years of Singapore music. If you ever want to keep in touch with us, our email is at sing50enquiries@gmail.com & our Facebook is fb.me/SGSing50.

Cheers, and please keep doing what you do. Written on behalf of the Sing50 social media team.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Sing 50 social media team,

I am flattered that the team recognises my posts and find them helpful as I have been doing it for 6 years now.

I am aware of the big show to be held on August 7th and wish it will help establish and reinforce Singapore's musical heritage.

Do keep in touch.

AJAY SINGH said...

"Stand Up For Singapore". In my opinion, the best National Day song out there.

From You Tube.

kanda said...

Cant believe this song is made way back 30 years ago in 1984. Totally overshadowed the current 2013 (and the previous 10 years) ndp songs. Here is one aspect that we keep failing to improve for the past 10 years, our ndp songs. Strangely enough, this song seems like it came from the future where things are expected to be better.

from you tube: about Stand Up For Singapore.

Angelineofficial said...

i am from singapore but i live in england now but i totally love and remember this song!

You tube: about 'Count On Me Singapore'.

Linda said...

So that's what Haggis is! Thanks for describing it, Andy, it sounds like something I would not be keen on trying. :) I do love Shepherd's Pie, and so I have heard the Scottish version is made with lamb instead of beef, which is great for me because I love lamb but am not very keen on beef. Great post!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Linda for feedback. Shepherd's Pie is my favourite dish too. Commercially though, they sell them with more potatoes than the meat within.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

This posting has been rejuvenated for National Day 2016. Happy Birthday Singapore. And with songs to sing!!!

DICK YIP said...

Haha... if I was there it'd be different.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I'm sure, with your expertise and repertoire :-) Thanks for comment.

FACEBOOK said...

Thank you for liking post

Toh Richard
Yen Chow
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Dick Yip
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John Cher

Anonymous said...

With Singapore being so well-known to foreigners and have almost everything except natural resources, it never occurred to me that we were once in an awkward situation whereby we had no folk song to present in an international event. Feel sort of taking things for granted. So thanks for sharing your experience.

National Day songs that always give me the patriotic touch are
Home 家
Stand up for Singapore
We are Singapore
Count on me Singapore

The song 'Home' is especially significant to me especially when one is working abroad, feeling helpless and alone. It just give that warmth and courage to move forward after listening to the song. Fantastic song!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you very much for such a heart warmer. I am so glad that you appreciate the posting. Such an accolade comes few and far between from my readers but I am glad I have touched the feelings of at least some folks.

Again thanks, and for visiting the blog too. Hope you'll come back again.

henri gann said...

Enjoyed reading that. You have brought back my memories of our vacation in 13th Century Dalhousie Castle, Scotland many years ago. My young daughters felt like princesses living in a castle. Sure love those Scottish Fish and Chips. Thanks Andy !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you, Henri, for sharing your Scottish experience. Yes, we explored a castle too. Can't remember which one though. So many of them dotted around the country.