Saturday, November 22, 2008

35) My Life several decades later

As I write, I am recapping the fond memories of the years gone by. I have retired from civil service, have a wonderful wife and two equally wonderful grown up sons. I am still doing solo gigs for functions and also jam with a band playing lead guitar and keyboards. Music is still an important part of my life.

I have kept in contact with most of the guys who are mentioned in my story. As for the members of the Fabulous Falcons, sadly, Christopher aka 13 has passed on. He was an unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run accident. Thomas Ham is residing in the United States of America and I last visited him when I was in Boston a few years back. We still keep in contact through email. Tommy Ong is in Kuala Lumpur where he owns a recording studio. Recently I have been in close contact with Andrew Thong my partner at Miners’ Arms through Facebook. He is now a chef in London. Michael Ho, my bandmate from The Drifter days still lives in Ipoh and is retired from RTM. We meet up occasionally.

After all that is said and done, I think my life has turned out great and I am still residing in Ipoh with my wife Liz, the girl I met at Romy’s party. Both my sons are working in Kuala Lumpur. Although they are professionals in their own fields, I am glad that they, like me, have found the joy in music and made it part of their lives although not as a career.

34) Royal Ipoh Club ........... Idris Room

In Ipoh, there weren’t really a whole lot of places or night spots to play. Since I started with the Golf Club, I decided I will try my luck at Ipoh Club. After some negotiations, I got the contract to provide a band for the Idris Room playing six nights a week. I got together, Tony who was a veteran pianist/trumpeter, Yus on drums, Guna on guitar and me on keyboards. It was already the late nineteen eighties. It was a welcome change for me playing with a four piece band after going solo or duet for so long. We provided soft music for dining and dance music for the later part of the night.

In 1991, Guna had to leave us due to work commitments so my elder son, Donovan joined the band playing the lead guitar. He was just a seventeen year old lad, fresh from school and just started college. In spite of his age, he fitted in well with the veteran members of the band. I know it wasn’t easy for Don as he had to attend college till evening, do assignments and then off to play music at night, but he never complained. As for me, I was glad that I got the chance to spend extra time with my son and took the opportunity for father/son bonding.

This went on till the mid 1990s when Liz and I decided that I should not struggle with the late nights anymore. Don and I usually got home by about 2 a.m. and I had to clock in by 8 am for work each morning at Government Service. I hardly had time to see my wife and younger son, Jay who was a teenager by now. Although it was great being able to bond with Don, my firstborn as we played together each night, I was missing out on being part of Jay’s growing up years. I decided that I was never going to take up a gig with a contract ever again but concentrate on only playing for functions which paid really well. This will enable me to spend time at home with my family as I don’t want to regret waking up one day and realize that my family had grown up without me.

While I was busy working day and night, my younger son, Jay, developed his musical skills. He was already playing the guitar and his preference was more for bass and he could also sing so together with my elder son Don, we performed as a trio singing in harmony to songs by the Beach Boys, the Beatles and so on. This didn’t go on for too long as Don had to leave Ipoh to take up employment in Penang as an Engineer and Jay had already finished formal schooling and was in college. On hindsight now, I am glad I did not take up any more contracts for at least I got to spend some of their formative years being home with them after my day job.

The Navel Gazer's Simple Stories

Today started really well for me. Alexandra Wong, the Navel Gazer a Star columnist that my wife Liz and I befriended not too long ago, did a story on us. Came as a real surprise when Alex sms this morning to tell us to read the star !

Thursday, September 25, 2008

33) Royal Perak Golf Club ..... Tiger Bar

Me and Guna at the Club
Me, Guna and singer Maya
Me, Guna and singer Zaharah

After this short break of a few months, I teamed up with Guna a guitarist and we got a contract to play at the Royal Perak Golf Club. We were to perform at the Tiger Bar for 3 nights a week. This really suited me just fine because during the short break, I was entertaining at company functions and weddings and found this to be more lucrative than holding a contract. This way, I had four days free in a week to do whatever I liked and when functions came along, I could accept them without having to worry about getting a replacement for Tiger Bar.

We played at the Tiger bar for nearly three years. I felt I needed a change, maybe a different place and a different crowd. I was already in my late thirties by now and time seemed to have “zoomed” by so fast. I scouted around for another venue and another contract.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

32) A short break to spend time with my family and to get some rest

After so many years of holding a day job and entertaining at night, I felt I needed a break to catch up on some sleep as I had less than five hours of sleep each night for the last 6 to 7 years when I was entertaining. My elder son was nearly eleven already and my younger son who was an infant when I went back to music was already nearly 7 years old and I missed many things in their lives. Although I provided well for the family when I was entertaining, I feared I might fail them emotionally. This was a welcome short break that I took to refresh my mind and to spend quality time with my young growing family.

Monday, September 8, 2008

31) Miner's Arms ..... Joe partners Andrew

After my six months’ contract with Green Fern another offer from Tambun Inn came my way. I was to entertain at the coffee house of Tambun Inn, a hotel along Tambun Road. This was already in the early eighties and my two boys were growing up fast. Financially, we were comfortable but I had this sadness of not being able to spend time with my family and was afraid that I will lose out on my sons’ growing up years. But sacrifices had to be made and I decided to stay and earn as much as I can as I was getting much more from my music than my salary with the civil service. I can’t recall how long I was entertaining at Tambun Inn but must be close to 2 years.

By this time, Green Fern Coffee House had a change of ownership and one of the new owners of the coffee house was my friend Matthew. He offered me a contract to return to Green Fern once more. I was happy to move around as this made the offers more attractive each time I moved. I seem to be holding the trump card as I was able to command a better contract each time I negotiated for one. I entertained in Green Fern for nearly a year until I met up with Andrew Thong. His partner Joey had just left him and he was looking for a new partner to team up with as he had a contract at Miner’s Arms, a pub and grill in downtown, Ipoh. Although Green Fern made me a counter offer to stay on, the offer at Miner’s Arms was too good to resist and after all, money was what I was working so hard for. I accepted the offer and teamed up with Andrew to play at Miner’s Arms, me on the keyboard and Andrew on the guitar while we took turns to sing. This partnership was to last for 2-3 years until finally our contract ended and Andrew decided to leave Ipoh.

30) Farewell Christopher aka 13

Christopher Choong aka 13

After The Brain disbanded, Thomas Ham left for the US and Tommy started his business in Kuala Lumpur. Christopher aka 13 returned to Ipoh. He got sick and was no more his usual self. I used to see him occasionally when he dropped in at Green Fern to see me or at times, Johnny Lee aka Matt Monroe of Ipoh brought him to our house. I remembered so well the Christopher I used to know, the fun loving guy who had a mind of his own and a genius where music was concerned. Not long after, I was saddened by the news that Christopher was the victim of a hit and run accident at Fair Park. He died shortly after. The Star interviewed me and they wrote a feature on his life titled “The day the music died”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

29) Loggers Wine & Dine

Me performing at Loggers
Performing at Loggers
At the keyboards in Loggers

Advertisement in the Star
After the contract with Green Fern ended, I was offered a contract with Loggers Wine & Dine, a pub and grill at Fair Park. It was a new establishment and was owned by four partners one of whom was KK Chan. Kg Simee Road where Loggers was situated was then the most hip and happening area of Ipoh. It commanded capacity crowd nearly every night. My contract was renewed so many times, that finally they decided to leave it open for me to choose whether I wanted to leave or stay. I was happy to stay as the terms they offered me was really attractive.
Green Fern was still doing well as there were several other extablishments in the same building. Latin Quarter a cabaret, Basement Lounge which was a pub and of course the bowling alley attracted a crowd daily. Green Fern offered me a lucrative contract to return as their resident entertainer. It was something too good to pass up, so I finally left Loggers and returned to Green Fern. At around this time in my life, I met up with Christopher again.

28) 10 Years after The Fabulous Falcons.......Music rekindled in my life at Green Fern Coffee House

Add caption
Joe at Green Fern coffee house

My first gig on my return to music as a solo artiste was in 1977 at Green Fern Coffee house. At that time, Green Fern was a real happening coffee house and I was glad to be able to earn an extra income to feed my family. As I was out of touch with music for nearly 10 years, my nephews Nicky and Kevin who were teenagers at that time, helped me to compile my repertoire by supplying me with cassette tapes of more up to date songs. Liz was home typing out lyrics for me every day and night.
Life got better for my wife and two sons as financially, we were much better off now with the second income. This was the beginning of many more gigs at different establishments. Things were looking rosy and good for my music career as I became more known again as a solo artiste playing the keyboards and singing. I was sad that I never got to play the lead guitar again as I couldn’t get a suitable keyboardist to team up with. On my return to music, I was pleasantly surprised that many people still remembered that I was the lead guitarist with The Fabulous Falcons. There was a tinge of nostalgic sadness as this brought back memories of the good times we shared as band-mates a decade ago.

27) My Life after The Fabulous Falcons

The rest of the guys, decided to leave it all behind. They headed to Singapore where they formed another band The Brain. In the boring town of Grik, I somehow lost touch with the world of music and the exciting life I used to lead. I was stuck in Grik working in a mediocre job that I really didn’t like. My band-mates and I have taken completely different routes in our young lives and soon I lost contact with them too.

Since I left the band, I completely lost touch with music and I left the happy band days behind. In Grik it was just work and then off to the club for a game of cards with colleagues and sleep. It was the same routine day in day out till the weekend came and I travelled back to Ipoh and returned to Grik on Sunday. Life was really lousy and I felt I was wasting away in Grik. Then after three and half years in Grik, the good news finally came. I was being transferred back to Ipoh, my hometown. It was already April 1971 and I was glad to leave the village kind of life I led in Grik to at least a more civilized life in Ipoh. I was glad to be home with family and Liz.

On December 23rd 1972, Liz and I were married and the following year in October, our son Donovan was born. I was happy once more with a family of my own and I never thought much about music anymore. We had our own little nest and were doing ok until Liz had to give up her job to stay home with our firstborn, Don. Times were difficult with only one income now and we had little help from family. In April 1977 our younger son Jason was born. My young family was now complete. My wife, Liz took care of all the household chores besides taking care of our two young sons and I had to bring home the bread, so to speak. With my civil servant’s salary, I found it really difficult to make ends meet with a very young family to feed. This same year too, Liz’s mother passed away and my brother-in-law Andrew stayed with us briefly. Knowing of our situation, he suggested that I get back to music as a way of a second income. So that was how I bought an acoustic guitar from Andrew and started playing the guitar again hoping to get a gig to restart my music career.

26) Albums by The Fabulous Falcons

25) More pictures...more memories

The Fab. Falcons at the fountain in Ipoh
The Fab. Falcons performing at a show.
Relaxing time for us
Posing at the fountain
With the late Les Lee performing at a show.
Me at the fountain

24) Pictorial Memories of The Fabulous Falcons

The Fab. Falcons performing at a show in St. John's Ambulance Hall, Ipoh
Belting out a number at the show
With the late Rocky Teoh
With the late Les Lee

23) The Sad End to The Fabulous Falcons

Early 1967 we had a busy year with practices and performances lined up for us. It was the pinnacle of our fame and life was really exciting and we thought that nothing can ever go wrong. The first blow that brought us back down to earth was that Romy had to leave us. He was having some personal problems and left Ipoh, so we were left hanging without a manager. Tommy’s father stepped in to help out with the band. Things went on great for awhile but not for me, as I was having some problems at home as my parents were unhappy that I still haven’t settled down to a full-time job with a steady monthly income. Although Tommy’s dad called for many meetings with the band and our families, my parents were adamant and insisted that I had to leave music and the band completely to concentrate on getting a job.

I knew that the time was near when I had to leave the group due to parental pressure. Towards the end of the year, my sister got me a job in the civil service. I tried to delay taking up the posting to Grik, a small town north of Perak as this would mean that I would have to leave the band for good. Grik was a good three and half hours away from Ipoh and transport home to Ipoh was going to be a problem as I didn’t even own a car or a driver’s license at that time. To make matters worse for me, was that I had to leave my sweetheart behind in Ipoh. It was a truly difficult time in all our lives, a group of young people who were caught up in a situation that we found no solution to. It left me with a heavy heart having to leave the band in the lurch. I was trying to figure a way out but found no alternatives. So it was finally agreed by my parents and sisters that I would have to leave the band and accept the posting in Grik. There was no happy ending for any of us. Nobody was happy but I didn’t want to upset my parents and family anymore.

On 1st December 1967, with a heavy heart I travelled by taxi to Grik and took my posting in the little town of Grik. So that was the end of The Fabulous Falcons and for me the music died.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

22) X'mas '66 party at Romy's ....and romance for me

As Christmas drew near, Romy was planning a Christmas party at his house and we were to perform for the night. At this time in my life, changes were to happen. There was a girl, Liz whom I used to admire from a distance. She was of mixed parentage and was also from my church. I was hoping that I would be able to take her for this Christmas party but was too nervous to even ask or to make a move. Luckily for me, Thomas and Christopher were dating girls who were friends of Liz. So I begged Christine and Jasmine to invite Liz to the party. As fate would have it and to cut a long story short, she attended and we got to know each other and started dating for many years. Thanks to the intervention of good friends.
The party was a huge success and the band’s performance was polished and articulate. The guests enjoyed themselves and after this function, we practiced everyday and even stayed at Romy’s house in Jalan Istana most of the time so that it would be really easy and convenient for practices. We were to perform for many more gigs after this
At our manager Romy Tan's Christmas party
Performing at the Christmas party with our Burns guitars
Another pic of us at the Christmas party
I met my future wife Liz (second from right) at this party

Friday, September 5, 2008

21) Our New Manager.....Romy Tan

In early 1966 the late Victor Leong, a close friend of the band and a great supporter, introduced us to Romy Tan. He told us that Romy was interested to manage a band. If he was keen to be our manager, we were definitely keen to have him as The Fabulous Falcons never had a manager before. So that’s how Romy became our Manager.

Romy was a tycoon’s son and he was working for his father in Ipoh. He definitely had the funds to finance us and he had a wide network of well- heeled friends.

The Shadows, at this time, were using a new range of guitars named Burns. Romy had the means so he pumped money into the group and upgraded all our instruments. He purchased three Burns guitars, Vox amplifiers, a Vox Continental single-deck drawbar organ, Ludwig drums and also a twelve stringed Burns guitar. With the range of new instruments we had, I started to play songs by The Animals, The Dave Clark Five and Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs on the single-deck organ. It was a totally new repertoire for the band and this went down really well with the fans.

20) Back to Malaysia....Home sweet Home

Upon completion of our contract in Thailand, got ready to return home to Malaysia. We were given a grand send-off by our new friends and fans. We were excited to be going home as we missed our families but at the same time there was a tinge of sadness too as we have had such great support from the people of Thailand and Ventianne.

I returned home with shoulder length hair, and this didn’t go down too well with my parents. Before long, I got tired of it and cropped it off. With the exposure to the kind of music in Bangkok, we had new ideas what we wanted to do with our music and expanded our repertoire to include some music by American bands. The Searchers’ music was very popular in Thailand and we got to like it very much so we decided that we will definitely have to include some of their songs like Love Portion No. 9 and Needles and Pins into our song list.

After our return from Bangkok, our popularity grew even more and contracts were much easier to come by. Tea Dances gained popularity in Malaysia at about the same time as our return to Malaysia. We started to perform every weekend at Hotels like Kowloon and Winner. These tea dances were held at about 4pm till 7pm. Although it was called tea dance, liquor was served and many of the youngsters got intoxicated and it would be the beginning of ugly brawls and fights. Bouncers were a very important part of the tea dance scene back then as they were the strong men who could control rowdy crowds. So this tea dance performance went for months until our contract ended.

19) Christopher falls sick

We had a week’s break when we returned to Bangkok before our next engagement which was to be a two week engagement at the dining room of the Amarin Hotel. This was something quite different from what we were used to as we were required to play dining music, but it turned out fine for us.

The first couple of nights went without a hitch, until Christopher fell ill. He was down with a virus that made him really weak and required plenty of bed-rest. We thanked our lucky stars that it was just dining music at the Amarin so all we had to do was to rearrange our setup. Without Christopher, we got Tommy to sit in on drums while playing bass. At that time, we didn’t have any sophisticated gadgets like the beat box or drum machine so we had to improvise our playing. It wasn’t easy for the three of us but we were glad that Christopher recovered soon enough and returned to play for the rest of the engagement.

18) North of the Border

After a month in Bangkok, we were required to head north to Vientiane, Laos for a two week performance. Initially, we were asked to perform in Phnom Penh, Cambodia but there was political unrest in some parts on Phnom Penh. As they couldn’t guarantee our safety and being a foreign band, we were advised not to go as the risks were too high. We were disappointed at that time but on hindsight, it was definitely not a good time to go.

Instead we travelled by road across the Korat Plateau in the north of Bangkok to Udorn Thani, a city near the Thai-Loatian border. We discovered that although the culture and the people are the same, the food was slightly different from what we had in Bangkok. Somehow the food here was less spicy and more to Chinese cooking. Here we performed at a nightclub for a couple of nights with two other local bands. From Udorn Thani, we travelled by road to the border town of Nong Khai. At Nong Khai we had to take a long boat up the Mekong River and onto Ventianne. Laos. The journey was quite an experience for us. Upon arrival by the long boat, our agent picked us up and went straight to our hotel. We noticed that Ventianne was vastly different from Bangkok as it had French influence with it’s French architecture and the weather was much cooler.

Our shows were held at their movie theatres and we played to pack houses mostly every night for two weeks. We were treated like celebrities and were specially invited to attend dinner parties hosted by the Governor of Ventianne at his residence overlooking the Mekong River. Our fans would come up to shake our hands and get our autographs wherever we went. Here too, we were introduced to a local dance tempo called Ramwong. It was a very popular, graceful dance.

After the two weeks’ stint at Ventianne, we travelled by long boat back to Nong Khai and by road to Udorn Thani to resume another week of performance before we head back to Bangkok. Another local that was performing alongside us, played the Beatles’ number “Don’t Bother Me” in Romvong beat and I found that fascinating.

17) The Little Stars of Bangkok

The little stars with Luan standing in the centre

During our stint in Bangkok, we met up with an all-girl band, The Little Stars. The band consisted of all university students. Luan, their rhythm guitarist was closest to us as she spoke a little English and would translate our conversations as the others spoke no English at all. Thailand, at that time was more influenced by the American music scene and not so exposed to British music like us in Malaysia. So The Little Stars were also playing more American Music and when they met us, they liked our British influenced music as we played music of The Shadows, The Beatles and other British artiste. On our part, we were impressed with the American music and in a way it influenced our music when we returned to Malaysia.
Luan and the Little Stars showed us around and introduced us to other local bands in Bangkok. In one of our performances for a show together with other local bands, we were awarded the title ‘The Shadows of Bangkok by one of the dignitaries. We considered that a great honour and to top it all , the next day, we were featured in the local newspapers and our photographs were all over the newspapers. Of course it was all in Thai and Luan had to translate it for us.

16) Opening Night at The Lido, Bangkok

On opening night, at The Lido Nightclub, we made a grand entrance and was introduced as The Shadows of Malaysia to a full house audience. They applauded with such enthusiasm and gusto when we, four jittery teenagers emerged, that any nervousness we felt dissipated. We were really glad and mildly surprised for this warm reception.

Our opening song was our signature tune ‘Midnight Express’ which got the crowd cheering and screaming, when the sound and whistling of the train came from my lead guitar coupled with the chugging which came from Christopher’s superb drum playing and my guitar. I must admit at this juncture that the effect of The Swiss Echo Unit greatly enhanced the sound of the Choo Choo Train. Unlike bands of today, the swiss echo was the only gadget we possessed.

Midnight Express really got the party going for us. As we played the song, we made our moves with arranged footwork and guitars behind our heads. This got the crowd wild and we got thunderous applause for every song we played and it was really a joy playing to such an appreciative audience. Our performance on opening night was a huge success. The Lido Nightclub in Bangkok and the engaging crowd at the nightclub that night will forever be etched in our memories.

15) Off to Bangkok, Thailand

In late 1965, the four of us together with Rocky Teoh, and Kai Leong aka technician headed north of the peninsular border to Thailand to begin our tour. The Fabulous Falcons as a band was offered a three months’ contract while Rocky was to perform for only a month. Arrangements were made for us to travel by road from Ipoh to Butterworth. From Butterworth, we were catch the train to Bangkok. This journey will take approximately 24 hours. Although it was going to be a long tedious journey, we were excited and full of enthusiasm as the train chucked its way across the vast countryside and paddy fields of southern Thailand. At every train stop, we sampled quite a bit of the local food as there were sellers who sold their food from alongside the train outside and passed it to the commuters through the windows of the train. One that I remember well was the little parcels of rice topped with thai green curry wrapped in banana leaves.

When we arrived in scorching Bangkok, we were whisked off to our hotel for a much needed shower and a short rest. The next couple of days was free and easy for us so we took the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the city, the people, its food and its culture. We were to perform only on the third day at The Lido Nightclub on Rajdamri Road, Bangkok, so this was the time for us to do the touristy thing before work began for us.

We were amazed at the vast number of nightclubs and bars in Bangkok as compared to our hometown Ipoh in Malaysia. In Bangkok at that time, the huge presence of the American forces stationed there greatly contributed to the booming business of the nightclubs. We could see that they catered mainly to the American soldiers as Bangkok was a Rest and Recreational venue for most of the American forces during the war with Vietnam. Entertainment was one of the top revenue earners for Bangkok during that era.

14) Our Time with Rocky Teoh, the Elvis of Malaysia

Together with the late Rocky Teoh at a show.
Rocky's Single with the Fab. Falcons

n 1965, Cathay Organisation offered us a contract to perform at their Cinemas, together with Rocky Teoh , Malaysia’s Elvis Presley. The trend at that time was to have live bands perform at the movie cinemas. On nights when the live bands performed, for a full two hours, movies will not be shown. We were crowd pullers at that time and nearly always performed to capacity crowd.
It was during this time that Rocky Teoh did a recording at Kinetex Studios, Singapore with us as the backing band. It was a single with ‘Crying in the Chapel’ and There’s Always Me’ on the flipside. At this stage, our fame rose and offers started pouring in and an offer came from an agent in Thailand requesting us to perform in Bangkok. We were thrilled with the offer and wasted no time to accept it. We figured this stint in Bangkok would give us more exposure and to be known outside Malaysia.

13) My Reunion with The Fabulous Falcons

It was during this time that The Fabulous Falcons was having problems with their drummer Tony and wanted him out. They invited me to rejoin the band. Of course I didn’t need much coaxing as I actually had nothing better to do at that time but to while my time away. I took up the offer without batting an eyelid. I took over the lead guitar while Christopher went back to his first love, the drums. He was an extremely talented drummer, so now he is back to doing what he does best, playing the drums. So there we were, Thomas Ham on rhythm guitar, Tommy Ong on bass, me on lead guitar and Christopher, the band leader on drums. Since school is out for most of us, we had all the time in the world to practice. Tommy Ong’s house in Canning Garden was the venue for all our practices.
In 1965, we toured with Rocky Teoh, the Elvis Presley of Malaysia in our road shows within Malaysia and for one road show in Singapore. In this one show in Singapore we performed alongside some of the leading bands from Singapore like The Quests . It was during this show that an untoward incident happened and the Singapore audience, being territorial, booed us throughout our whole performance. This didn’t go down well with our own Malaysian fans. Later the action of the Singaporean audience will backfire.
Later, The Quests from Singapore had a show with some other Singaporean artistes in St John’s Hall in Ipoh. Of course the Malaysian fans had not forgotten the ugly incident when Rocky Teoh and The Fabulous Falcons performed in Singapore a few months back. Halfway through the performance of The Quests, the crowd got really rowdy and uncontrollable and starting booing and taunting the band. As a consequence, the show had to be called off and they had to be escorted back to their hotels. This was an incident I would rather forget, but somehow the story of this one incident, will be the one thing everyone wants to hear when I mention about the band much later on in my life.
Somewhere in mid-1965, we did a recording in Kinetex Studio in Singapore. It was my first recording with the band although for the rest of them, it was their second recording (the first one being Midnight Express). We spent several days in Singapore where we befriended Vernon Cornelius of The Checkmates, a Singapore band. We recorded 4 songs on two singles. Mayflower and Hotspot on one record and Lonely Star and Misty Breeze on the other. We were disappointed that we were not allowed to use our own amplifiers as it was a requirement of the studio that we use theirs. As a result we actually didn’t get the sound we wanted. That was a big letdown for us. This was something that we were sore about but had to contend with. Though we were disappointed that offers from renowned recording labels never came our way, and record sales for our singles were not up to expectations, we were still proud of the fact that we were recording artiste, at a tender age of seventeen. On hindsight now, I guess it was down to poor or non-existent advertising on the part of our band as we were inexperienced and lacked managerial expertise.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

12) Hooray ! Exams are over

1964 was an uneventful year for me as far as music went. As I said earlier, I was busy studying and trying to make my parents happy. In December 1964, I took the Senior Cambridge School certificate exam and what a relief it was when I finished my last paper. Free as the wind…free at last !! After the exams, we had to wait 3 months before the results were announced. Some of my class-mates went on to Form Six while others opted to look for jobs. I did neither. I decided to let fate lead me on. We were so fancy free in the sixties and many of us weren’t as ambitious as youths of today. We rode with the wind and believed that things will turn out no matter what. So I did nothing and waited for something to happen.

11) Name Change for the band... The Fabulous Falcons

While the Falcons were busy making a name for themselves in the Malaysian music scene, another group of younger musicians consisting of Jerry Felix and his boys from Kuala Lumpur also emerged into the music scene. A problem arose as they were known as The Little Falcons. Of course Christopher wasn’t happy about the similarity of the names of the two bands. People might get confused so Christopher and his bandmates marched to the Straits Times office in Ipoh to issue a statement about the originality of the name of the band, The Falcons and who should have the right to use the name. The next day, the article appeared in The Straits Times and there was much talk about it. However, although there was a buzz when the article appeared in the newspaper, the matter eventually fizzled out. Of course Christopher wasn’t happy so he came out with an innovative idea to rename the band ‘The Fabulous Falcons’, to avoid any more confusion. But even till today, many people tend to get confused when the Fabulous Falcons are mentioned. But I guess, we should just let the matter rest now as neither band is fabulous nor little anymore.

10) The Revival of The Falcons

The first EP of The Fabulous Falcons
Second Single with me in the band
Third Single with me in the band

Since Form 4 was considered the honeymoon year for most of us students as we had a year to relax before preparing for the Senior Cambridge Examinations School certificate exam in Form Five, it was back to music again for me with the guys. I was actively playing for gigs with Kenny, Vincent and the other guys in the Drifters until the end of Form Four and the following year with be a crucial year as I will have to take the Senior Cambridge School Certificate Exams. At this juncture, we decided to split up and go our separate ways. So this was the demise of the band called The Drifters.
Meanwhile, Christopher and Tommy Ong who was another of our classmate, teamed up with Thomas Ham and Tony Lee aka Kar Chat (which means cockroach in Cantonese) to to revive The Falcons. Christopher played lead guitar while Thomas played rhythm, and Tommy on bass while Tony went on drums. Together they played for roadshows in both east and peninsular Malaysia. It was also at this time that Christopher penned his composition ‘Midnight Express’ which they later recorded on the EAP label. Road shows were very popular in those days as it generated income for the band and more importantly gave them more exposure and created a larger fan base. Many bands in Malaysia like The Teenage Hunters,and The Strollers and Singapore bands like The Quests, The Checkmates and The Cresendos did Road Shows too. Of course, The Falcons had to jump on the bandwagon too and had a busy schedule performing at major towns all over Malaysia and had a huge following.
I wasn’t part of the band as yet for I felt I owe it to myself and my family that I had to concentrate on my studies as I had always made music my priority over my studies up until now. I had to put aside music for this one year and will get back to music after the exams so while The Falcons were performing all over Malaysia, I was preparing hard for my Senior Cambridge School Certificate Exams

9) Meeting up with Christopher aka 13 again

In 1963, I was in Form 4 and at this time too, Christopher Choong, who was from a Chinese medium school was transferred to St. Michael’s Inst. He was placed in the same class with me. As I was a tall guy, I was made to sit at the back of the class and Christopher sat next to me. It was the beginning of a whole distracting year for me as Christopher would be talking to me all the time and mostly about music. He would play with his imaginery drumset, using pencils to strike the geometry box as a snare drum, bottles for cymbals and the desk as his bass drum. It was a bit disruptive to the class and he would get punished. I was also punished as it was “guilt by association” as far as the teacher was concerned although I didn’t get to talk much at all sitting next to Christopher. If you know Christopher, you will know that if he is talking nobody can really get another word in. He seem to have music in his head all the time and nothing could ever distract him from music, not even punishment meted out by the teacher. He was a really creative and talented guy. He might have been born with drumsticks in his hands !! Of course it came as no surprise to everyone, that Christoper became the top drummer in Malaysia at that time and was a truly respected musician. His idol was Gene Krupa a world famous drummer

8) Drifting around

Our group got together to practice as often as we could at Vincent’s house in Ashby Road now known as Jalan Hospital. As a matter of fact, the General Hospital now stands on the land where Vincent’s house used to be. I was busy practicing with the band and seem to have forgotten about the upcoming LCE examination or somehow pushed it aside in my mind. I just to seem to be so happy being able to play in a band and perform. Of course my family was never too happy about the whole scenario.
One day, our manager Peter decided to take us to his sister’s place in Sungkai, a small town in Perak not too far from my hometown, Ipoh. We were there for a week to practice for an upcoming gig. We treated the week away from home as a working holiday of sorts. We were pleasantly surprised on our first practice in Sungkai because the town folks gathered there to listen to us and we felt like celebrities of sorts. The townfolks were deprived of entertainment and we had the pleasure of a good audience. The first practice in Sungkai became a truly memorable one for us as we had a really good crowd to cheer us on like we were already performing on stage. That one week there did us a world of good and we were felt ready for our gig and many others that came along later.

7) Fomation of The Drifters as Michael had to leave

Everything seemed perfect for a time and things were moving smoothly for our band, Teenage Fentons when another blow hit us. Michael who was a few years my senior in school informed us that he secured a job as a Broadcasting Assistant with Radio Malaysia and had no choice but to accept the appointment and had to leave the band. Kenny and I were in a dilemma once again and knew that we had to get a bassist quickly to replace Michael.
There was a group of guys that Kenny and I used to hang out with in Cowan Street. We were there nearly every night just to chill out and watch the girls go by. Among the group, there was a guy nicknamed *Kai See who can play the bass guitar and another guy nicknamed Vor Lut which in Cantonese means “bald”. I was never sure why he got that nickname as he had a head full of curly black hair. Anyway, both of them took turns to fill in as bassists for our band which we eventually called The Drifters comprising Kenny on rhythm guitar, Vincent on drums, me on lead guitar and of course on bass it was alternating between Kai See and Vor Lut. In spite of the change of name for the band and a change of line-up in the group, Peter Lean continued to be our Manager.

6) The music doesn't stop for me....Teenage Fentons

So now it’s back to the grind of preparing to resit for my LCE for the second year but this didn’t deter me from playing music although my family didn’t approve. I was quite a rebel at that time I guess. One day, Michael and I met up with another group of guys. One of them was Kenny Ham, the brother of Thomas and Vincent Joseph, his cousin. Kenny, like his brother Thomas, played the rhythm guitar and Vincent played drums. Together we formed another band called the Teenage Fentons. A friend named Peter Lean aka Peter Mow Put agreed to manage the band and would provide the necessary instruments for us. This got us excited all over again. We started practicing as a new band playing mainly songs by the Shadows as we just had a new Fender Stratocaster. It wasn’t long before we were offered gigs to perform at dances and as guest artistes at *talentimes. In the sixties, it was common that a band performed live before the start of Musical Movie and we were offered to play at the Shaw Brothers Cinemas. We had our fair share of fun and fame although we were only paid $40 for a night’s gig. During this time too, there was an explosion of singers who really made names for themselves by impersonating and singing songs by Cliff Richard, Elvis, Matt Monroe and Ricky Nelson. In my hometown of Ipoh, some of the famous personalites were : Ho Kok Onn as the Cliff Richard of Ipoh and Les Lee as the Elvis Presley of Ipoh, Johhny Lee was the Matt Monroe of Ipoh and Richard Ng as Ricky Nelson of Ipoh. Our band was always the back-up band for all of them when they performed at the movie theatres like Lido and Rex Theatre. It was still early in the year and exams were still quite sometime away, so we were happy playing music without a care in the world.
Ho Kok Onn left Ipoh in the late sixties to start a business in Kuala Lumpur. Recently I heard he has a tyre shop somewhere in Petaling Jaya., Selangor. Les Lee and Johnny Lee (not related) have both passed on. God bless their souls. Richard Ng had an unfortunate accident and lost a leg. He can be seen in front of the Station Road Public Bank selling lottery tickets.

5) Robert pulls the brakes

We, the four young teenagers, known as the Falcons, were happily playing for gigs around Ipoh. We were proud that we had a manager and was happy that we had instruments provided for us although they weren’t the best around. But we were happy all the same and thankful that we were the only band in Ipoh at that time to have a Manager. Everything was hunky-dory for us until the day Robert called us for a meeting. Things were to change drastically for us, as he told us that his father wanted him to stop as manager of the band to concentrate on bigger things like the family business. It came as a shock to us. We had no choice but to disband as Robert sold off all the instruments. This saddened us but we decided to cool it off and concentrate on our studies instead. Robert gave us the stuffed Falcon as a farewell gift so we could use it as our mascot. Although we were disappointed that it had to end this way, we were grateful to him for his support all this while. We decided that Christopher aka 13 should keep the Falcon while we went on with our lives and school work. Anyway, it was an important year for me as I will be sitting for my Lower Certificate of Education and had to study and prepare for such an important exam at that time. But I guess the time I spent playing with The Falcons took its toll on my studies and didn’t do well for the exams and will have to resit the exam again the following year. This of course didn’t augur well with my family.

4) How The Falcons got its name

The band practiced diligently at Robert’s house to make sure that we would not fumble in the event we were offered any gigs. This really meant a lot to us, a bunch of crazy young teenagers. The hard work paid off when we got an offer to play in Federal Hotel in Cameron Highlands which was owned by William Chong. We were really excited at finally getting a chance to perform especially on Christmas Eve. But wait!!! What do we call the band? We can’t just go on and perform without a name. So we all sat down and picked our brains as to what name to give our band. Brainstorming definitely helped because as we gazed round the hall of his house , we noticed that Robert’s dad had some stuffed birds (which must have been his prized possession). We immediately took one of the beautiful eagle-like birds in our hands and Robert said that it was a Falcon. We unanimously agreed that very minute that our band will be named after the beautiful, powerful bird and thus ‘The Falcons’ as a band was born. It was a great experience for us that night in Cameron Highlands playing till way past midnight and seeing people enjoying our music. After our first gig at The Federal Hotel in Cameron Highlands, our spirits were lifted and our confidence as a band grew. We were to play for many more gigs all over Ipoh and we continued to practice to increase our repertoire.

3) Learning to play the lead guitar

I moved on from just strumming to learning how to play the lead guitar. I wanted so much to learn how to play lead so I used to watch other guitarists play but it wasn’t enough. I knew I had to do much more than that. In my parent’s house there was a Grundig gramophone and I used to play the black vinyl records over and over again so I could pick up the songs and commit it to memory. With guitar in hand, and an ear as near as possible to the gramophone speaker, I slowly and painfully picked up the notes of the songs.

Michael Ho and I then decided to form a band as we were from the same school. We knew a guy called Christopher Choong aka “13” (Sup Sum in Cantonese). He played the drums really well and together with a young boy Thomas Ham, an Andersonian, we formed a band. Forming a band was easy but what about the instruments. We definitely didn’t have the funds to purchase expensive instruments being just school boys then. We cracked our heads wondering what we should do and our prayers were answered in our schoolmate Robert Ng whose father was a tin miner. As he came from a wealthy family he agreed to be our manager and would purchase all the necessary instruments for the band. Cool! In those days, it was really something to have a manager in the band but we didn’t see the necessity to give the band a name. We would gather at Robert’s house, a bungalow in Greentown for practices everyday. We would practice for an hour or two, then stop for a break. We really had a great time then, because at break time, his servant and “Mah Cheh” would prepare tasty munchies for tea. We worked really hard and played even harder then.

2) Getting to know the guitar

This chance meeting with Michael Ho, also a Michaelian like me and Peter Goon who was an Andersonian was to start the ball rolling for my music career. As Michael and Peter were always getting together to jam, they invited me to over to Peter’s house aka “Blue Heaven” and there they showed me the basics of guitar playing. I was a greenhorn but they were kind enough to teach me from scratch. So it was then that I tried learning the chords and I practiced until my sore fingers didn’t hurt anymore as I got accustomed to the feel of the strings. We met often and jammed, with me still trying to master the chords but Michael and Peter were really patient with me and I am so grateful to them to have given me this boost to music in my life. I was also fascinated with talentimes as they were really popular then. I recall several popular contestants at each talentime contests in at YMCA, Ipoh. One of them was the late Danny Choo who accompanied himself on the guitar while he sang. He was really popular with the crowd. It was interesting watching guys playing the guitar and singing. Deep inside I was wishing that some day, I would also make it up there on the stage doing my thing.

Time flew by and I made the acquaintance with Roland Foong who used to be a bassist with a band from Kuala Lumpur called The Saints. He had left the band and was back in Ipoh staying with his family in Canning Garden. He used to jam with another guitarist from my same school, Jimmy Oliveiro. Jimmy had been a regular feature in the school talentime together with his cousins Brian and Derek Surin. I used to admire them as guitarists during the talentimes. We knew each other by sight as Jimmy and Brian were my seniors and Derek was my peer in SMI. Another personality that was hugely popular at Talentimes was Ernest Freeman I don’t recall when or how I got to know Roland Foong but somehow we got to know each other and Roland invited me to over to his house where he would teach the finer points of guitar playing. I was elated and happy to have made his acquaintance and lost no time at all. I used to cycle to Roland’s house regularly where I was exposed to much more than just simple chords. It was a learning experience as Roland showed me the correct way to use and apply chords to various songs. He was extremely patient and was a really good teacher and friend. Thank you Roland ! As I improved with Roland’s help, my interest in music grew. I was eager to form a band as was fashionable in the sixties and hoping to meet up with other guys who had the same interest and aspirations as me.

The Story of The Fabulous Falcons

1) From Hockey to the Guitar
In early 1961 when I was a young lad of fourteen, I was a keen hockey player. I was staying in Greentown, where most of the civil servants were housed in government quarters. As my father was a civil servant, we stayed in one of the government quarters in Fifth Avenue in Greentown. In the quarters, there were so many families that it was never a problem to have friends who will be interested in a variety of hobbies. As for me, at this stage of my life, hockey was my favoured past time. I would meet up with a group of neighbours to play hockey at the Cator Avenue School grounds which was very near my house. This group included hockey greats of those days like Thilainathan, Anandarajah just to name a few. Some of these players represented the State of Perak as well as the Malaysian National team. We, the younger ones felt privileged to be playing alongside them and at the same time learning a few tricks from them. With ample practices and being trained, by some really good players, I improved and was drafted in to play for my Alma Mater, St Michael’s Institution. To me it was a great honour to represent my school and I enjoyed playing hockey until one of my team-mates was injured during a match with Anderson school. This incident was to have a great impact on my love for hockey. It changed my mind about playing hockey further.
When I gave up playing hockey, I found a new interest in music. It all began with the school talentime. In my school, St. Michaels Institution, Ipoh, the talentime was held every year featuring the Hawaiian Rythmaires as the backing band for every hopeful contestant. The band consisted of the school teachers like the late Albert Teh, Lee Peng Han and Kee Ying Wah, Of course the other equally important band member was Louis Rodriguez. I was particularly impressed with his bass guitar which resembled the one used by Paul McCartney of The Beatles.
After watching them, I was really eager to learn the guitar. My late brother Andrew who was six years my senior and my only brother, bought me a Kapok guitar. It was an acoustic guitar and I was proud to own a guitar even though it wasn’t a fancy brand. In those days, there weren’t much choice in Ipoh and brands like Hofner and Fender were not publicized or that any of the bands would be able to afford those brands anyway. My brother was just an occasional player and played the guitar just to amuse himself but at least he knew a few chords. So that was how I started. My brother taught me the C, F and G chords which I had difficulty trying to play as my fingers really hurt. After a while, I gave up I put the guitar aside for the time being. Although I was disappointed in myself for not accomplishing the guitar, the interest to play the guitar was never doused. Later a chance meeting with some friends will bring music into my life.