Thursday, August 20, 2020

A Music Journey: Watching Movies @ Singapore Cinemas: Michael Bangar Memories

This posting tells how the movies influenced Michael on his music journey as he relates the cinemas he visited to watch these popular rock and roll films that presented a whole array of the biggest stars from the West. It was novel, it was crazy. Remember there was neither the TV set nor YouTube, only the big screen. In Singapore our own 60s guitar groups appeared on stage to full houses for every show. Thanks Michael. The stage is yours.
The picture above has been taken from good friend Lam Chun See's blog, Good Morning Yesterday.  Thanks Chun See. Open-air cinema @ Somapah Village 1952.

Bill Haley & His Comets ( Rock Around The Clock ) article and the mention of the old Roxy Theatre, Katong owned by Shaw Bros. ( where today stands Roxy Square 1, East Coast Road side. Roxy Square 2 faces Parkway Parade Mall, Marine Parade Road side. Both are now Malls cum Office Units ). A must share story,  Bro' Andy.

     I don't how many of you can recall. For those of us in the 1950's, who grew up or schooled in the East Coast, there were a few so called open - air cinemas. They were all zinc and wood structured and had long wooden benches for seats ( no numbering -  1st. come 1st. serve seating ) and some standing room. Tickets were small rectangular shaped 2.5 ins. × 1 in. sized printed on paper with the theatre name and price on it. 10 cts., then slowly increasing to 20 cts. then 30 cts. when inflation ( a word we only learnt much much later ) started setting in. 

They screened movies from that period after they've had their run in the bigger Shaw Brothers' & Cathay Organisation Theatres. Cathay Org. owned a cinema Garrick Theatre at Geylang Serai ( where today stands The Muslim Converts' Association Building at the corner of Onan Road ). There was also a Taj Theatre ( Shaw owned - name later changed to Singapura ) opposite the old Geylang Market that specialised only in Indian and Malay movies. It only occasionally showed English movies. 

Kok Wah Cinema at Yeo Chu Kang Road was around in Singapore  50's

     These open - air cinemas had names like Lily Theatre, Broadway Cinema, both along the Joo Chiat area. Central Theatre in Jalan Eunos, Kaki Bukit ( now part of a HDB estate ) and Kembangan Theatre, now the site of the Kembangan MRT station. Both of which I frequented in my school days. 

As you can tell these cinemas though cheap to construct were privately owned and served their purpose quite well. When we attended our favourite movies there we had to bring along our umbrellas 'cause if it rained we all got soaked as these places had no roofs. If it rains when any movie is on, from wherever you are viewing that particular movie, every scene will be a scene filled with rain.😎😁😂 Because the rain passes through the movie rays coming from the movie projector before it hits the movie screen, making every scene look rainy.


    These theatres featured movies of multi - languages but English ones were the majority. Chinese movies were the majority films shown at Lily and Broadway theatres.

My favourite films were the music ones and  watching so many of these shows at these little movie halls helped me hone my music skills with me only realising it  many years later.

Naomi and The Boys: As Life Goes On With brother Robert Suriya on lead guitar.

     In the 50's at these little movie theatres, for 10cts. per show I got to watch early Great Rock & Roll Movies like Rock Around The Clock, Rock Rock Rock, Rock Pretty Baby. They featured the early R & R Stars singing and playing their hit songs : Bill Haley & His Comets, Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and groups like The Platters, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, The Coasters, Dion & The Belmonts, the list goes on.

     Also on the list, the early movies of one Elvis Presley, in the not so  distant future to be bestowed the title King Of Rock & Roll. Also for the small sum of 10cts., I  got to watch his early movies : Love Me Tender, Loving You, the classic Jailhouse House, King Creole, G I Blues, Flaming Star, Kid Galahad, etc.

The Alhambra Cinema along Beach Road was a popular place. The movie, Sing Boy Sing was shown with Tommy Sands in the starring role.

     We also got to watch the classic movies of the times in these movie houses. Musicals like Flower Drum Song, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, etc. Westerns like Gunfight At The OK Corral, Billy The Kid, Rio Bravo, etc. Action Movies like The Longest Day, House Of Bamboo, Sands Of Iwo Jima, etc.

     At that point in time, every now and again my friends and I also watched shows at The Roxy, The Garrick and The Taj Cinemas when they featured movies we were keen to see. I can't recall what movie I saw in which of these theatres or the open air ones.

 Then in the early 60's, two more larger cinemas were built along Katong.The Palace Cinema ( where  today stands Eastgate Office Complex ) and The Odeon - Katong Theatre ( today - name still the same, but most part of it is The Cornerstone Church and a couple of karaoke pubs ). Both were run by Cathay Organisation ). The Palace was immediately next to The Roxy and the other, diagonally across.  They showed movies as well as held Tea Dances and Musical Shows that featured the hot music stars and bands of the period. Singers Sakura Tang and Rita Chow, Khartina Dahari, Ahmad Daud, Rahim Hamid, Theresa Khoo and Winston Filmer, T F Tan, Walter Koh. Bands like The Dukes, The Checkmates, The Cyclones, The BeeJays, Brian Neal & The Easybeats, Sunny Bala & The Moonglows and maybe even The Silver Strings.

The Odeon Katong had the biggest happening during Singapore 60s music golden years, where as Michael Bangar mentioned, our top aces performed.

     Ah, what pleasant times and great memories we all have of that era. It was great to be young. All these experiences stay embedded in our memory bank and sadly will slowly fade with time. I don't think that era will ever return. Sigh ! 

In the early days Roxy, Garrick and Taj had ceiling fans for their cooling system. They later upgraded when air-conditioning arrived. Palace and the Odeon-Katong started off the air-conditioning phase. Smoking was allowed everywhere. Even in cinemas smokers were puffing like chimney stacks.

Rock, Rock, Rock from Alan Freed's big rock and roll production, where cinema queues in Singapore snaked round the building and 'black market' tickets cost a bomb.

Tickets at these places were priced at 50 cents, one dollar and one dollar fifty for the circle seats upstairs (balcony). So when we completed school and had jobs we patronised these air-conditioned cinemas and avoided the roofless ones; regretfully when I think about it now, these cinema places has helped me in my musical journey. If the owners of the simply built cinemas happened to be reading this story, I want to say to you all: Thank you guys, for all you've done for me!

Thank You, Brother Andy ! Cheers !


Michael Bangar.

Cinemas do not only screen films but use the stage for Singapore 60s musicians to perform the pop songs of those years which were relevant to the movies being shown. Above Johnny Lion and the Jumping Jewels performed on the Odeon stage at North Bridge Road and Rita Chao too with The Trailers (the late Victor Woo is behind Rita) at the Majestic Theatre in 1967. (Cathay, 55 Years of Cinema: Lim Kay Tong).


Jimmy Appudurai said...

My driver.who brings me to school own the new million open air cinema in siglap.watched so many great films in the 50s including rock around the clock

Anonymous said...

Great reminiscences, Michael. A wonderful read.



FL said...

Andy, I think Michael's recollection of the past entertainments (movies, open-air cinemas & theaters, pop concerts, etc), esp during the 50s & 60s, is very close to the hearts of peoples from the PG & early years' MG generations. I lived thro watching movies in an open-air cinema located at the field very close to the former Singapore Harbour Board (SHB)'s port in Tg Pagar area. The actual road name is East Reclamation Road (no longer now). My late mum was avid cinema-goer in late 1950s (mainly Chinese dialect movies) and I was (still a young kid then) accompanied by her to the shows. The open-air cinema operated 2 shows nightly (7 pm and 9 pm). But one thing I can recall is that in this cinema, we experienced many flying insects at night, mainly grasshoppers and mosquitoes !! Wonder anyone been to this cinema b4 ?


Best of the best here.


Interesting article
Brings back the good old days
Remember the open air cinema
at Haig Rd towards Geylang Rd
surrounded by government quarters.


Very nostalgic indeed.
Great blog that brings back
good of simple days when music
and movies brought communities
closer. As the words of an old
hit song goes..."those were
the days, my friend. We thought
they'd neve end. We'd sing and
dance forever and a day..."

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

One of the blog's most successful postings and Michael's too.
Thanks to all who wrote in, each one of you gave some reflections of the goings on during these open-air cinemas.

I attended one like Anthony's and FL's. It was at Geylang Serai. And like Michael described, it was, my bad luck, raining. And I didn't want to miss the show, have paid about 20 or 30 cents for an entry. As luck has it I sat through the movie drenched to the bones. But being young and fancy free, I enjoyed myself.

I had a drenching instead of a thrashing when I reached home, with wet clothes sticking to the skin and a night bath in cold water. We didn't have hotwater heaters then. To get hot water we had to boil it in a kettle and mix it with water in the huge earthenware pot.

Whatever, it was worth the movie: John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in RIO BRAVO.


Thanks Andy,
Interesting to see how movies played and continues to play such an integral part of our lives.
My fondest memory was my first movie - Bruce Lee's 'Fist of Fury' - it was perhaps my first experience sitting in the dark, with wide-eyed excitement and anticipation of a new experience - and when the opening score came on, I was pulled into a world so stranger similar yet so different that I've held a lasting fantasy of movies.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Wayne,
That's an exciting episode shared.
Yes, my experience with Bruce Lee took me home to enlist in a TKD class.
Didn't last...


WOW Andy!
All great and wonderful comments, including yours.
Thanks a million.


With high interest I just read an article by Michael Banger and
was pleased to learn in detail about music scenes in Katong where
I lived. By the way do you think he is familiar with music pubs
on Mountbatten Road? A few years ago I learned that there is a pub
there called "Uncle Tom's Cabin," but I could not find it when
I visited its address I found in the internet.