Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Brief Encounter; Keith Locke And I

"Don't play that song for me/ Cause it brings back memories/Of days that I once knew/Of days that I spent... (Ertegun, Ahmet/Nelson, Betty)."

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!

When we were introduced I thought to myself that this is not my impression of Keith from record covers pictures etc.   But he was really nice and I think we hit off and somehow we were able to gel instantly.   After the regular musicians did some songs, Keith was invited to join us on stage.  He did a few songs with us.  This was entirely impromptu and of course, no one expected a great performance.  However, I must say in all honesty that his singing wasn't exactly what I would expect from Keith Locke either.

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  realised 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 realised 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 to 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 Commission 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 wonder 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 in 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.

God Bless Keith!

With love from Singapore!

Written by John Cher.

Read John's and Keith's other stories by clicking Labels below.

The 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; Fred Ching, William Chan (YouTube grab); Google.

From Fred Ching's Facebook message:

Keith Locke with Fred Ching: (18th May 2017, Keith Locke's birthday).

Brother John, thanks for sharing!!😊 I met Keith during Veronica's Fund Raising Concert. We were seated next to one another and I thank him very much for those wonderful years with The Quests. 

Throughout our conversation, I gather he has also a good character of being humble and down to earth to the people that we mingled during the interval. We continue our conversation over supper with Veronica and after that, I brought Keith for a car ride and drop him off at Joo Chiat Place. It's so unfortunate that today, I read of his predicament that he's going through. 

His time with The Quests was unique and special. Sometimes things develop differently than we would have expected them to be during his stay here. At his age, I felt for him. Just would like to share an old pix. taken after the concert. Nothing fancy, but these are the little memories in life which are cherished and remembered. Bless you, my friend. Have yourself a wonderful day😊


Victor said...

Wow, what a touching and well-written story! So it was John's son who operated Wheels & Weinners. Because the story was narrated in first person, I thought that you were the author, Andy.

Bird Dog said...

I hope he is well back in Jamaica.Sad to see him in such situation at his age.In the 60s he served his NS for Queen & country based in Spore & should be regarded a UK citizen. I guess something must have happened as to why he went back to to live in Jamaica. As a famous recording star in 60s SE Asia seems to be not financially rewarding. It does lead to fame but sadly fortune is not included.I remembered reading John Chee of Crescendoes recently gave a work out on the amount he earned as a recording 'star'.

PAMELA said...

We will always remember Keith Locke, and will always be on his trail as Joe Wu has mentioned. He was one of the best who graced the local scene. Thanks for the music and memories.

Fond Memories of Keith Locke
From the same blog of Vernon Cheong.


"In hindsight, looking back 43 years now, "Be My Girl" was really a simple song, very easy to sing to, but its simplicity only greatly accentuated the raw talent and animal sex appeal of Keith Locke, which is why to this day I am still a devotee of the Keith Locke cult."

(On July 19th, 2008, Joe Woo from Seattle, WA, USA wrote the above comment and was published in Vernon Cheong's Singapore's Pop Music Hall of Fame Blog.)

chakapchakap said...

Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea, comprising the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles. It is the fifth-largest island country in the Caribbean and lies south of Cuba. It is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Jamaicans refer to their home island as the "Rock".


Andy, I just shared my Christian act of love and concern. Was very happy that I met Keith. I did bring him around to the clubs I performed, even at one of my shows at the Esplanade - Recital Studio - 2012, introduced him to the audience and they did acknowledge him.

I wish I could have done more. After he left the shores of Singapore, no news from Keith. Brother Vernon Cornelius did his part too and I believe there were others who did the same.

Lastly, he was a name in the 60's. He had a great personality and still very much remembered in the Singapore History of Pops.

Keith wherever you are, cheers and God Bless my brother...

AUDIE NG said...

Salute that man John Cher who doesn't even know him but go all d way to help him. That's what i call a friend, even tho they are not. Even Jerry at JC. Both know him as a star of the 60's but not personally n yet tried to help him.


Like I shared with you the music scene is pathetic. Only n unless u get people who sincerely want to share n make a decent living can they survive together. That is why Spore music standard is so far behind world development that they either have no clue or ignore. Even if we support local musicians it does not pay off cos there will be too much undercutting.

VICTOR KOO said...

Thank you Andy for featuring quality blog posts on your blog...

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

If it's quality writing you're looking for I must thank John Cher for elevating this blog to a better level. When I first met him and asked him to contribute to the blog, (this was just before our appearance on Rolling Good Times), he agreed. Now with two articles under his arms he will, I hope, write more for a wonderful readership of friends and fans.

Thank you all for the comments and the support.

FL said...

Hi, Andy, thanks for featuring John Cher's piece about Keith Locke on your blog. I m yearning to hear news about Keith Locke, and at last. I did comment about him in your blog sometime back. We are not sure whether to feel sad or happy reading Cher's article. I was a secondary student when Keith Locke was very popular when he teamed up with The Quests with songs like Don't play that song, Be my girl, Push Push. etc. I bought these vinyl records on hard-earned saving daily pocket money. In the sixties, I remember a single play (SP)record was about $1.5O to $1.80. Keith is now in his advanced age, we hope he keeps himself fit and in good health.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi FL,

Thanks again for supporting the blog all these years and your comment about Keith Locke. His vinyls are hard to find and collectors will not part with them. I have extracted your previous email and produce it in full below.

"Keith Locke was one of my favourite singers in the 1960s. Of course, he was backed by the ever popular group, The Quests back then ! Those years, the radio & Rediffusion played their songs on air frequently with songs like, Don't play that song, Push Push, Be my girl, etc. I regret that I did not keep those vinyl records I bought those years ! Hope you have the latest info or update of him, and what he's doing now. Thanks."

FCJ said...

Wow! You are in Dick's program! Well done!

GYAN said...

Talk about the early sixties, dancing at Bob's party, how we met, also about you being SG PAnka. Nice reminiscence.


Thanks Andy for the update. Keith Locke used to work for the RAF too during the 60's n started his gigs at some of the waterholes in the Base. Did not really get to know him, though I was with the RAF then.

Bird Dog said...

Read today Reggie Verghese has left us for the big gig in the sky. RIP

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I think he will be at peace and at rest with the others. Thank you Bird Dog.

Anonymous said...

Tracy Huang held a concert over two nights in Taipei on 16 and 17 May 2015. Look out for her concert in Singapore, probably next year.


18 May, 2016

Today is the birthday of Keith Locke. He was born in the year 1936. That would make him 80 years old today! He was last in Singapore in 2012. Unfortunately everyone who was in contact with him during that last visit has not been able to reach him anymore. We hope and trust that he is well and leave it in the hands of the Good Lord!
With love from Singapore!

Michael Lee: Well at least you got an autographed guitar for keeps. Cheerio.

Andy Lim Keith Locke: one of Singapore 60's music artistes to remember.

John Cher Thank you Mike! You are absolutely right! Cheers!

John Cher Hi Andy. He is one of the iconic entertainers who will always be remembered and loved by Singapore and Singaporeans!

Dennis Tan Chin Eng I was there in Grassroots Club where he was backed by the Neu Faces. He signed all my Keith Locke SPs/EPs. He was here in Dec 2011.

John Cher Hi Dennis. As you know, Jerry Fernandez is such a caring and helpful guy. He did whatever he could within his means for Keith. Taking him on his gigs and introducing him to the audiences was a great way to make Keith feel good! That was really nic...See More

Dennis Tan Chin Eng Yes he's one in a million guys. Knows him about 8 years ago I meet a lot 60's bands & musicians including you. See u at the show.

Bernard Chin Hi John, is Keith Locke still alive? I heard someone asked Brain Richmond about him over the radio 90.50 sometime ago and our veteran DJ said something like when his RAF detachment stint was over he went back to UK but die years later in an road accident. Please cfm.

Hi Bernard Chin. Good to hear from you.This photo was taken of Keith and myself at a pub (no longer in existence) known as WHEELS & WEINERS in early 2012. I have 2 hand written letters from Keith. Both were sent from Jamaica. One dated June 10th 2012 and another with a post mark August 21st 2012 but which was received by me on September 19th 2012. During this period of time I also received 2 emails from him. I have spoken to some of the people who were in touch with him when he was last in SG, Vernon Cornelius, Jerry Fernandez, Paul Shankar and Ronald Wee and all have confirmed they cannot reach Keith. If an accident indeed took place, then it will have to be some time after August 21st 2012. This is all I know Bernard. Should any FB reader/s know of the whereabouts or status of Keith, please let us know. All the best Bernard! Cheers!

Veronica Young: Hi John, I last spoke to him end of 2012 asking me if he could visit me than bring him to Paris etc than followed up with couples of email. Beginning of 2013 I tried calling him but no respond so I still try a few time hoping someone will pick up.

John Cher Good morning Veron! Thanks for new information about our mutual friend. You are the only one I know of who was still in contact until late 2012.. If ever you do get a response from his number please let use know. I believe there are many people who are concerned about Keith. He is such an iconic figure in the music history of SG. All the best Veron! Cheers!