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.