Written on September 9th in 2013
A few years ago I went with a friend to a recording studio where he recorded some popular standards like Strangers in the Night, Too Young, It's Impossible to name a few (check below image for list).
There was no trial run before his recording, no notes he found too high and no mistakes made in his lyrics. His rendition of the songs he selected was perfectly pitched, clearly defined and peppered with the touch and feel of a professional.
Billy Yap who is 82 this year (2013), sings like Tony Bennett with a voice so smooth ladies swoon when he sings at house parties, wedding dinners, and karaoke sessions. To me, Billy Yap is Singapore's, Tony Bennett.
"I need no big band accompaniment," he says proudly, "Just give me a good pianist who can feel my song. The other alternative is a quality, karaoke backing..."
A retired teacher, table-tennis super league player and great-grandfather Billy says he practices during Karaoke sessions with friends and family. He has been singing for the past 70s years and his musical ability stems from his mother who used to play the piano and sing after the family dinner.
Billy sings everywhere; in the house, in the car and during our kopi sessions at Thompson Plaza. He tells me he even sings in the bathroom and before he goes to bed. During a group journey overseas, Billy sang using the microphone on the tourist bus. It was a trip heading to Beijing, China. Most of the tourists in the bus loved Chinese pops so when he sang, I left my heart in San Francisco, I thought he would be in deep trouble. Instead, the 35-strong group cheered and asked for more.
When I asked Billy what he thought of today's pop scene he remarked, "Singers do not sing the evergreens like they should be sung. Nowadays current singers interpret the composition in their own way and it becomes a totally new song. It's a personal opinion." Well, Billy, I have heard his duets with some of today's pop stars. They sound great actually.
He attended the Andy and Silver Strings Concert at the Esplanade in 2009 with Kuan Min. It would have been a privilege to invite him on stage but Billy was most comfortable with karaoke or just a piano to accompany him.
He only printed about 10 copies of his CDs that come with the package. He has given them away except the one for himself. We cannot afford Tony Bennett to sing at our home parties but Billy is available if you need someone to croon evergreens. No charge actually. Just drive him to the venue and back. He would love to sing for you.
"Strangers in the night, Exchanging trousers, Love at first sight, What are the chances?" One of Billy's jokes!
(written when Billy was ill in hospital)
by: Lim Kuan Min
Not a cheery morn for me,
Billy again warded.
Now in mid 80s
Lost his usual vigour
A hand in perpetual tremor.
Can't recognise me
Oftentimes when I call.
Born in the '70s
When I was 20s
And Billy 30s
A decade plus separating.
Both Aries we click
Like an older bruh to me, he is.
A charmer with dimpled smile
That must have won the hearts
Of fair ladies aplenty with his wit
Always a kind soul
With a generous spirit,
But an easy target for cheats,
He sees only goodness in people
We travelled and bonded
Through Land of Smiles
Land of Dragons.
Once, he zoomed in from Melbourne,
Met us at Changi,
Without skipping a beat,
Off we winged to Beijing.
Wife lost thru illness,
Fire ravaged his home,
Billy survives loneliness
Material loss stoically
Sings like Perry Como
A treasured gift in my possession.
Time flies, our friendship lasts
Into our twilight moment,
Meeting, bantering, reminiscing
Of times spent in bygone days
About people, places, happenings.
Moved into a 3-roomer
His pure white Samoyed by his side,
Meetings less frequent
As aging cruelly saps his vigour
With heavy heart I pray that Heaven is kind
Whatever your illness.
Hopefully, waiting the day of your Homecoming.
Images: Google and Andy Lim Collection.