Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Martin Ong n The Swallows - Sibu/Sarawak's Cliff Richard n Shadows

Martin Ong and The Swallows
A Rashid [Drums], Stanley Tiong [Rhythm], 
Martin Ong [Vocals], James Tan [Bass], 
Wong Teck Sing [Lead/Band leader] .


I met Mr. Martin Ong through his Facebook postings and found that he is a popular singer. Martin comes from Sibu, Sarawak and is well-known in its capital, Kuching, where he performed during the mid sixties and beyond.

As it was often the case those years, his music adventure started when Cliff Richard's movie, ''The Young Ones'', showcased in his town in East Malaysia in 1965. Cliff and his Shadows, like bombs, created a huge crater where thousands of its youthful citizens were immersed in a British Invasion, caught within the fun and frolic of a musical extravaganza. And similarly, like the British lads that we copied, Martin and his swinging Swallows were dressed to the nines, with full suits, complete with ties and resplendent polished shoes [Beatle boots later]. In fact most Shadows bands dressed well in the 60s.

In Malaysia, Singapore and other South East Asian countries where Cliff with his four shadows appeared, the many thousands who followed them wanted to swing with the group's red Fenders and rock and roll on stage too. Martin Ong was one of them. 

He didn't just follow the crowd to see the movie a few times but wanted to sing as Cliff did, not in the shower or the living room but on stage and performing in front of a live audience. After all, he does sound like Cliff, has the singer's features with a very neat and attractive Tony Curtis bob to show [image 2]. We can imagine the resounding roar from audiences around East Malaysia when he appeared. The young ladies in the audience, who adored him had Martin wooing them with his, ''When the girl in your arms is the girl in your heart...''

To cut the chase, when one of the country's business bosses found that he could sing, Mr. Wong, owner of a vinyl record shop in Sibu and who knew Martin, introduced him to a group of band boys called, The Swallows. His connection with them was immediate. They practised hard, entertained in cosy venues and spread their popularity in the town and they, according to Martin, ''became the most famous band in Sibu.''

Maintaining their repertoire, they sang mostly Cliff Richard's numbers like, Bachelor Boy, My Blue Heaven, Dancing Shoes, Living Doll, A Voice in the Wilderness and the likes. He is Travellin' Light with only a guitar [above] in later years.

As the news spread about Martin and the Swallows, they were already performing in numerous gigs in town and countryside. These places included the S.R.C. Hall [Sibu Recreation Club] and other entertainment spots.  By December that year, and with Christmas around the corner, the Director of Radio Sarawak [now RTM], got them to perform at the Kuching Cinema for a 'Christmas Hamper Show'.

''Well, that's how I got started with The Swallows,'' concluded Martin Ong.

I haven't got to know or meet Martin personally but flipping through his Facebook pages I find that he rides a fancy motor-cycle, loves Elvis as much as he loves Cliff and plays the acoustic guitar well enough to entertain on stage. Martin, you are a music hero indeed. 

Today he is still actively singing, time and again, for almost four years but only when he's invited to. As for the band boys, A. Rashid still lives in Sibu but Martin has lost contact with him. Stanly Tiong had passed away while James Tan lives in Australia and Wong Teck Sing in Canada.

Comments if you wish to tell us about his shows that you might have seen.

Stanley Tiong, James Tan, Martin Ong, Wong Teck Sing, A Rashid.

[Thanks Martin Ong for your music journey which I found fascinating. East Malaysia is one place I have never visited. I hope to one day... and meet Sarawak's Cliff Richard and his Shadows.]

Images and information from this article are copyrighted by Martin Ong.

With the crew of Malaysian Airways when 
they did their flights that took them 
from Sibu to Kuching for performances.


Anonymous said...

Great story. Thanks Andy and Martin.




Oh, didn't realise that there's another band with the same name.
Martin looks stylo-mylo sporting the TONY CURTIS hairstyle.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to both DR.STEVEN FARRAM from DARWIN, AUSTRALIA and JIMMY CHNG, band leader THE DECIBELS for the interest in Martin and his Swallows.

[The reference to the band is THE SWALLOWS from SINGAPORE, a Malay band that plays both Malay and English music, including Chinese instrumentals too, which was also common in the 60s.]


Tq Andy Young for sharing the great memories .Greatly appreciated.

FL said...

Thanks to Andy and Martin for sharing this memorable story of the musical scene in Sarawak in the 1960s. Oh, I never knew there is another group, The Swallows from Sarawak. Hear it first time myself only from Andy's blog (SG 60s Sixties Pop Music). I think I immersed much of my time with pop music in my youth during the 1960s era, like listening to local radio (then, only one English station, correct me if I m wrong), reading articles in RW tabloids, sharing vinyl records with classmates, etc. etc. Our older generation will never be the same again, I think !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to FL, a special reader who has been so supportive of this blog.
Yes, it's true. We miss some good bands because of the numerous bands in our region.
But it's an opportunity to read magazines [today Facebook and other internet media sources] to explore the magnitude of such music makers from the 60s, especially in the region.

I could not download Martin's videos where he is singing but he sounds like Cliff Richard alright.



I have ever work in Sibu in early 80s, ppl there are most kind and friendly and how nice if I had encounter Martin Ong and the Swallow, guess it was beyond my time, he sure look a very pleasant guy!

Andy Young
Hi Freda, thanks for participating.
Yes, he is a pleasant person, having been in touch with him.
Let's hope he gets more gigs to sing after this C-19 goes away.

[Also today's news JAP TAN, from STROLLERS, has passed away RIP, written by Frankie DeCruz. News is from PJ and FreeMalaysiaToday.]

FACEBOOK said...


Michael Goh
Charlie Yap Locomotion
John Cher
Wesley Belaja
Tan Teck Kee
Panda Panda
Ann Teo
James Ling
Judy Hun Siang Ng
Rosalind Michael Sadin
Babeh Lanz
Erwin Wright
Lily Hillary
Stephen Sani
Tan Teck Hua

FACEBOOK said...

Freda Hanum
Frank Tan
Chow Wen Hing
Patrick Chng
Stephen Han
Ser Kiong Tan
Jimmy Appudurai-chua
Ambrose David



Once again I would like to thank you so much.
My friends like it very much.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

It is an interesting music journey, Martin.
I'd also like to thank all those who wrote in to comment.
We all hope to meet Martin one day soon either in SIBU or SINGAPORE.
Let's hope this C-19 run will end soon.



Tq Tan Teck Hua

Martin Ong
Tq Stephen Sani

Martin Ong
Tq Charlie Yap Locomotion

Michael Goh
Your photo with your friends above
will always be a “Great Shot”
Well done!

Martin Ong
Tq Michael Goh

Martin Ong
Tq Rosalind Michael Sadin

Martin Ong
Tq Babeh Lanz

Martin Ong
Tq Judy Hun Siang Ng

Martin Ong
Tq James Ling

Martin Ong
Tq Ann Teo

Martin Ong
Tq Panda Panda

Martin Ong
Tq Michael Goh

Martin Ong
Tq Tan Teck Kee

Martin Ong
Tq Wesley Belaja

Martin Ong
Tq Andy Young

Martin Ong
Tq John Ross

suituapui said...

Martin, we go back a very very very long time...back to my teenage days when he was working in Sibu. We're still in touch on Facebook! Yes, I knew the Swinging Swallows too then.