Thursday, August 30, 2018

Simon Lee Tak Kwang (MBE): My Dad By Michael Lee

A big thank you to Mr Michael Lee who allowed me to post his story below about his father, Mr Simon Lee, a musician who came well before anyone else during Singapore's big band scene. Mr Lee Senior was awarded the MBE, i.e. the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in 1958.
The story of Simon Lee Tak Kwang (MBE)
By his son: Michael Lee

Professional Career:

My father’s birth year was 1909 (Year of the Rooster). He lived at 10, Cuppage Road, Singapore. He completed school at St Joseph’s Institution with a Junior School Certificate. He was also a bodybuilder who was less than five feet tall but could lift a weight of 250lbs. 

He joined the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) as a junior clerk in 1928 and became chief clerk in 1945. He continued working with HDB from 1959 till 1966. He was appointed a temporary clerical supervisor for one year. 

He was entrusted to revise the Singapore Improvement Trust Standing Orders for The Housing and Development Board (HDB). He was respected by Lim Kim San, Goh Keng Swee and Howe Yoong Chong for his honesty, integrity, dedication and determination.

Stamford Raffles is known as the founder of Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew as the founding “father” of modern Singapore. However, in my humble opinion, my dad can be said to be the foundation of modern Singapore. He risked being beheaded by the Japanese. 
Musical Career:

My dad was the Billy Vaughn of Singapore in the 1950’s and 60’s. He also played a lot of Glen Miller and Edmundo Ros Latin music, together with dance music, which was popular in those days. 

His music ranged from the Kronchong, Joget, Rongeng, Latin-American, Ballroom, Marches, Hawaiian, Chinese and most evergreens. Any music that could be played on a mandolin, alto or tenor saxophone, the accordion or clarinet, my dad was able to deliver.

He played with various bands – the Kronchong and Marches were his favourites.

Later in the seventies, he still played the banjo and mandolin but more often he used a similar mandolin-like instrument and carried on playing the keronchong and marches. Before and immediately after the World War 2, he played with many bands using the mandolin. 

His specialization, of course, was playing Dixieland and his main instrument if I recollect correctly, was the clarinet. It is not an easy instrument to play as the musician needs good teeth, strong gums and a pair of powerful lungs.  As my dad grew older his teeth left him and with dentures, it became more difficult to play the clarinet.

Some of the songs my dad was renowned for were: In the Mood, La Cumpasita, Sail Along Silvery Moon, Harbour Lights, Red Sails in the Sunset and Tequila
I can honestly say that for these songs my dad was one of the best on alto- saxophone in Singapore during his time.

He often played with RTS (Radio Television Singapore) members like Renaldo Lachica, the Otegas, Louis and Rufino Soliano, Domingo Requiza and other RTM members too. Other musicians he played with were, Jimmy Topas, Baby Low, Tony Danker, Paul Low, Edward Chew and Roland Gabriel (the Rhythm Revellers). The former solicitor-general and Singapore Law Society president Francis Seow played the double bass sometimes until he migrated to the USA. 
My father was also involved with an Indian band at Tekka, current Little India (a tourist sight along Serangoon Road). He was the only Chinese playing amongst his friendly Indian musicians. 

During the 1959 pay-cut era for civil servants, my dad played at our Military Bases to earn extra money. He also played at ballroom dance halls like the Raffles Hotel and Victoria Memorial Hall. The two band names my dad often played with during the lean period were "RR" for Rhythm Revellers and the Combo A La Carte.

Often for charities or some house functions my dad and the late Singapore magician, Khoo Teng Eng (Teresa and Victor's father) were like KFC and McDonald – if you find one you are likely to find the other.

As far as I know, my dad was the only Singapore musician with an MBE The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medal. I think it should be made known to Singaporeans that there was a Singapore musician with an MBE too. The late E. W Barker, who loved music just as much, liked my dad too.  Remember The Beatles? They made international headlines when they received theirs on Oct. 26, 1965.

I shall always remember and respect my dad for his achievements and music- standing during a moment in Singapore's history when the Lion had just been aroused from its deep slumber to a new roar.
Michael Lee (above), the writer, who was born in Singapore, now lives in Sydney. This article and its photographs have been authenticated and copyrighted by the writer.

10 comments:

MICHAEL BANGAR (GUITARIST, GUEST WRITER OF THIS BLOG) said...

Wow, Andy!

Mr Simon Lee Tak Kwang (MBE) - musician extraordinaire.

I thank his son Michael Lee for doing this wonderful tribute. If not most of us wouldn't have known. A music man from our tiny red dot receiving an MBE from British Royalty. What an honour and an achievement (just like the Beatles).

This man should be celebrated. He was to music then what Joseph Schooling is to Singapore sports. now. Bet you none of our "music authorities" knew this man or what he had achieved. So sad.

Just like our previous Olympian, the great Tan Howe Liang: slowly fading into obscurity!

Salute Mr Simon Lee and once again thank you, Mr. Michael Lee, for this tribute and a reminder of times gone by.

JIMMY CHNG JB (LEAD GUITARIST 'THE DECIBELS') said...

Wow! What an interesting article by Mr Michael Lee.

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your story about your dad with readers of this wonderful blog. Singapore's very own accomplished musician and an MBE awardee to boot.

That's really something.

PETER CHUA (TALENTIME 70'S FINALIST, SINGER) said...

Wow, Mike, I didn't realise your dad was such a good musician.

All the best Michael.

Cheers.

DR ANGELINE KHOO (LECTURER) said...

Wish I could hear him on the saxophone.

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael and Andy,

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story about Mr Simon Lee. What happened to Simon during the Japanese occupation? Was he still able to play music? I have heard the Japanese usually did not tolerate jazz music because it was too associated with the West.

Best wishes

Steve

anonymous said...

Hi
My grandfather Cedric Stephens was a musician in Singapore around this time and family legend says that he was a backing musician for Earths Kitt when she came to Singapore as well as many others.

Grandfather mainly played the double bass but also trombone and piano.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you, dear Reader,

Appreciate your comment and the information you provide. Would be great if you could leave your email address (which will not be published) too.

Perhaps you could write an article about your grandad CEDRIC STEPHENS. That would be a treat.

Do consider.

Unknown said...

I remember him, he used to play his saxophone at my Uncle Paul Low's house at Holy
Innocent's Lane. That was in the mid 60s. We loved his jovial character.

Unknown said...

I remember him and missed those days. He used to play his saxophone at my uncle Paul Low's house in Holy Innocent's Lane. We love his jovial disposition.

Unknown said...


Hello Michael

That's an amazing family history, thanks for sharing. :-)

Best

Mick B