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.