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.