Monday, October 19, 2015

SG First Pop Group: Fender, Hofner, Roger, Picnics

Part One with The Mates

1960 - 1970 中国器乐吉他乐队

Was it picnic music and family get-together that this group was trying to encourage in the 1960's on the cover of their EP?

With a pleasantly luscious lawn setting here's a brief write-up of the first local group called The Mates playing Instrumental Music as indicated on the front cover.

"During the heyday of the recording industry in the entertainment world while many local artiste and music groups were joining this flourishing profession, a local six-man  music band group calling themselves, The Mates was formed. It was the first local electronic guitar band formed in Singapore.
The band leader, Simon Toh himself, was a talented electronic organ player. Michael Chua, the lead  guitarist, was the most adept and experienced veteran. Although this group performed as an accompanying music group in the talentime contests organized by the Community Centres, they also performed in the night clubs and theatres.

The group was spotted by the owner of the Super Star Records Company 震星 who appreciated their talents. They were then commissioned to compose some songs for production.  Their first original debut piece entitled, ‘’马车夫之恋‘’  was excellently composed. Its music  was melodious and soothing to the ears."

[The above passage is a translation of the back sleeve cover (image 2) by a good friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Thank you YSP.]
Part Two With The Family

Thousands of Chinese-recorded vinyls by Singapore bands had been sold during the 1960's and 1970's. These bands would be using less expensive Hofner guitars (image on record sleeve) and drum-sets like Pearl or Olympic so budget could be minimised, although there were groups that used the more sophisticated Fender guits and Roger drums. 

There were also different models of amplifiers used like the higher end Vox, Marshall, Fender series but inexpensive ones were seen too. The mass market was the target and profit the final achievement for the record producers who employ these bands.
The 12 to 15 minute recordings were popular and the price of each vinyl, usually with four songs, was less than S$3.00. Extended Playing (EP) vinyls were compact and less than half the size of a twelve inch Long Playing (LP) record which could cost much more for the average teenager. To seal the deal there were attractive, colourful cover pictures on the Mini LPs.

Like their counterparts in the West where many dance records were also sold in Long Playing (LP) size with an average of about 12 songs, our local copy-cat industry did the same with Chinese ones. For both sides A and B the music would last for at least 40 minutes.
Chinese recordings would have been the best sellers bought by locals and instrumental ones were purchased for its music value as these melodies were needed for picnics, small dance parties and friendly get-together (Images 3 n 4). A portable record player was used to play these discs.

Hey come on guys, tell me about your first portable record player and picnics in the 60's.

Don't tell me about the ants!

Images: A Private Collection; Google; You Tube
Images: Black/White
Chinese 60's Bands: Planets; Travellers; Silver Stones; Tones.



To my knowledge guitar bands only came to SG after The Shadows in 1961 n that's why I was inspired by them. That's how Silver Strings was formed.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

The Shadows could have been the leaders as you explained but they were not a band specially playing Chinese music. THE MATES could be the first ones to do so as all the songs on the record have Mandarin titles.

There are many groups like THE MATES but they could be the first.


AUDIE NG said...

Hofner is definitely so much cheaper than Fender or Gibson guitars and for the status most top bands used Fender following Hank Marvin. For your information, Silver Strings used VOX AC100 and Fender and later Marshall amplifiers only. Farfisa amps and organs were the cheaper ones those years.

I believe during the 60's and later Naomi and The Boys also used Marshall.

Before Ludwig (Beatles) and Roger were the most popular, more than Pearl or Tama; Yamaha came later on.


Hofner is more for beginners. If I remember correctly there was a music shop that built guitars according to their specifications. Fender and Gibson are in the upper range class of fine guitars. They were definitely in the market earlier.

TMA and SWEE LEE were the shops that sell music instruments then.

chakapchakap said...

Picnics were always organised in the 1960's when companies had a get-together to promote camaraderie among staff. They were cheap and efficient and encouraged the mingling of members with dance, food, games and music!

The records came in handy and usually the organisers double-up as MCs and run the whole show like radio announcers, even providing requests for its staff on picnic day.

SUNNY WEE said...

Those days we tend to listen to musical songs played by local bands such as the Quests, Thunderbirds, Stylers, Checkmates, Trailers, Silver Strings, etc. These bands were very popular at parties and tea dances. Hope I got my bearings right. Not sure about the Chinese guitar bands. But good of you to share it on your blog.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you all for the feedback.

There were many guitar groups that played mostly Chinese music. But they were versatile enough to play a variety from the other language streams, even Indian tunes.


The list is unending...

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi everyone,

Hope some of you will make comments on this posting because I know there are readers among you who are familiar with Chinese recordings in the 60's. One is Mr Ronnie See (The Burns) and the other Mr Randy Lee (The Stylers).



Hi Andy

Thanks for sending me this email. I remember the Chinese music were popular during the days of Kallang Wonderland Amusement Park. It seems the music was played almost nightly by a band called The Tones.

We have a group friends who likes to go there for drinks but I cannot recall the year, it was long ago.

Those were the days.


FL said...

Yes, Andy, there were many Chinese guitar bands in the sixties and seventies. They also appeared in the Hungry Ghost getai in the evenings of the past years. The Melodians, Travellers, Silverstones, etc appeared as backing groups for singers in vinyl records in the past. I just remember there was another Chinese band called The Saints which was very popular then, other than The Stylers. I am not familiar with the Chinese bands in those past years. Perhaps, those elderly Chinese-educated could name them. Thanks.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Rickie and FL for both your feedback. Your recollection of Kallang Wonderland Amusement Park and the Getai during the Hungry Ghost Festival has jolted my memory a little. I remember Chinese guitar groups were employed and they specifically accompanied both men and lady singers for the shows on stage.

Most of the songs were in Mandarin while some were in dialects. Usually a full house I think. And most of them were well dressed for the occasion, appearing on stage in full suits and glamorous dresses.

Birddog said...

I had some experience as a young lad in the late 60s moving around with not famous garage bands. They were just plain music lovers with little money but just love to make music. Most survived on borrowed instruments & 3 chords. If they could afford to buy, they can only get Japanese guitars & amps.No Fenders or Gibsons. Japan at that time was fast coming up as a major player in making musical instruments. Their guitars were of quite good quality but were copies of US ones with slight modifications here & there to call it their own.They were not there yet but they were prolific makers & soon flooded the market with quite good quality guitars & amps at very affordable prices. They carry corny names like Guyatone, Elk,Teisco.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Birddog,

I was one of those who survived on a cheap guitar using a brand that I cannot even remember. It was when I started learning my C, F and G7 chords that went a long way because I could practically play a dozen songs with these three chords as you mentioned.

Then came Am. So with four changes you play another batch of songs. I've yet to go on stage with a guitar hanging. Other more daring devils have done so. I know one singer who had done a Philips recording but was only able to play five chords, doing Western and Country numbers.

Thanks for the memories.

FL said...

Andy, Merlin Lim mentioned TMA and Swee Lee. They were two well-known musical instrument shops in the sixties. Funny I still keep both company's catalogs mostly on guitars and amplifiers. To share with your readers, their shops addresses as follow:

a) Swee Lee Co - no. 161 North Bridge Road (Capitol Bldg) , S'pore 6.
b) T.M.A. Ltd - no. 61/63 High Street, S'pore 6

In 1965,my brother bought a cheap guitar for beginners (Brand: Congress)for S$30.00 (1965 price)from Swee Lee. Although the guitar is low-end , the sum was considered big for us at that times. From the catalog, Fender guitars priced between $850 to $1,150, Hofner $95 to $600, Gibson $415 to $1,165, etc. Jus to share the good old days !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you again FL for sharing. You have been very generous in your information about our music heritage.

Yes I still remember TMA and Swee Lee. They were well-known suppliers of most musical instruments those years.

Even then Fenders and Hofners were so costly. I remember Congress guitars too since this particular model was in the arms of many would be strummers. The price was truly affordable for the average school boy who wished to own one.

Birddog said...

I read with amazement by FL that Fender guitars in 1965 costs between $850 to $1,150. In mid 70s[10 years later] I asked TMA for the price of a Fender Precision Bass & the salesman wrote on the Fender catalogue which I still have & he wrote $780 for a rosewood neck & $860 for a maple one.I wonder how come with inflation etc, it is cheaper 10 years later. My own guess is Fender's founder, Leo Fender sold his company log stock & barrel to CBS in 1965 where the latter is more experienced in mass production thus making them cheaper. I could be wrong, any experts here can clarify?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Birddog,

Interesting chat we have here. I won't commit but will try to get Henry Chua (Quests), Audie Ng (Silver Strings) and present lead guitarist of Esquires Ricky Chng to confirm prices, etc. Check this page soon. If it's long enough I'll post it.

Thanks again for visiting.

henri gann said...

a tribute to a friend of many musician in Singapore in the 60s' Mr Tan Peck Soo who passed away yesterday in Vancouver B.C., Canada. A fine and generous man he was a friend to all who met him. He is survived by his wife, 2 son, 1 daughter and 2 grand children.
This will describe Mr.Tan's role in the music of the 60s' in Singapore.

"A notable shop was T.M.A. Ltd., a very successful music shop selling instruments, music scores and records run by Mr. Tan and his family. Mr. Tan was godfather to many of the aspiring early "pop musicians" of the early 1960s, and to encourage them on, made 'painless payment plans' to enable young musicians to afford expensive and high-quality instruments. Many of these families continued these retail and/or import/export trading activities right until the 1970s when the emergence of other shopping areas and Orchard Road, took away much of the business and glamour of High Street. Acquisition of properties from the 1970s has changed the face of High Street." ...Singapore National Library
Thank you to the man who sold the first Fender Stratocaster and Fender Reverb in Singapore to The Trekkers ( 1962 )

JL said...

JL said...

Indeed Mr. Tan of T.M. A. Ltd. was a very kind and generous man to many musicians all the years that I have known him since my school days. He was very knowledgeable in his trade and always very helpful. He made the difference in our guiding our music. He hand-built my first fuzz box for a budget price. By a stoke of good fortune, I caught up with him years later in Vancouver and we continued our coffee chat on many occasions in the last twenty plus years. He often talked about the musicians in Singapore during the 1960's era. Mr. Tan will be much missed by many baby boomer musicians for sure. He is now in a better place. God bless him. Thank you Mr. Tan.

henri gann said...

A memorial service to celebrate Mr Tan's "Celebration of Life" will be held at the home of Mr Tan's son in Vancouver BC, Canada this Sunday Jan. 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm. I will have my silent moment and pause whatever I am doing to think of a wonderful man, a special friend, who lighted up on any discussion of electronics and the world of guitars and amplifiers. By the way, Mr Tan and his equally enthusiastic electrician assistant helped the Trekkers build their first guitar amplifiers to simulate the sound of the Fender Showman and the Fender Bassman.
Here's my letter to Mr Tan's daughter Lay Tuan and son Toon ...
" Please accept my deepest sympathy and condolences to the passing of your dad. As
another day passes, I can only think of all the wonderful discussion I had with your dad on guitars, amplifiers and electronics in the cramped and cold record listening booth of the TMA store. How can I forget the " new car " smell of the Fender instrument and the "sweet sound"of Fender occasionally blasting off from a potential customer.
For a young lad in his early teens, spending the afternoon with your dad at TMA was like experiencing my little "nirvana." Thank you Peck Soo for leaving me with these wonderful memories. A big hug for your mom who is so dedicated to your dad to the very last days of his life - another true love story."

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Henri and JL for these heartfelt moments about Mr Tan's charitable and kindly ways. I shall put them together as a posting and will be published this Sunday in honour of Mr Tan.

I appreciate you both writing and trusting me with stories about a man so well loved by the band boys and girls.

Do visit my blog anytime to share your stories.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...


Henri this is a personal letter to you. If you can write in again and leave me your email address (I wont publish) I would like to write to you and ask you about The Trekkers, the members and the trail of music and memories you and your group left behind in Singapore. Appreciate.

Hi Henri,

I shall not publish your latest comment but will use it as a posting instead. Is it too much to ask you for some photographs, one or two, of The Trekkers and Mr Tan? Do send them to me if you can.

As blog owner it is awkward for me to acknowledge a tribute to someone who had passed away without really knowing the identity of the writer. I tried to check out for an email address to write to you but there is none.

As I explained, please identify yourself in confidence; just your email ad. Otherwise the letters you sent me may be difficult to ascertain as genuine.

Mr Henri Gann has responded to my request. Thank you Sir.


Good read about the first Chinese guitar group.
I remembered watching the Ker Tai in the New World Amusement Park the musicians only use one guitarist, the rest of them played piano, saxophone, and trumpets when accompanying the prominent singers of that era.

Andy Young replies:
Yes, it's an accurate scenario you painted Stephen.
Love those smaller big bands, using their own amplification with a natural sound, not blasting like the guitar groups. The guitar is a semi-solid.
Thanks for the info. Stephen.