Rhythm and Blues Singapore Style.


The Singapore beat music boom of the very early sixties took their cues, first from the Shadows who played a show in Singapore in 1961 and then from the vocal and instrumental bands exemplified by the Beatles and others of their ilk two years later. Still a third stream of music which became influential in Singapore was British influenced Rhythm and Blues popularised by groups like Animals, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Mannfred Mann, Kinks etc They played the acceptable end of rhythm and blues with the emphasis on rhythm and this found favour with audiences in Singapore because the music was catchy and it was popularised by long haired groups although it drew its inspiration from black American blues. In Singapore some of this music filtered through to the local music scene although instrumental music and Cliff Richard still ruled. One of the bands in Singapore that became attracted to this genre of music was The Checkmates.


The Checkmates started as an instrumental band in the early Sixties following the general pop explosion of that period. Their initial line-up had Reggie Verghese (lead), Hans Hussein (rhythm), Benny Chan (bass) and Amir Samsoeddin (drums). The band acquired instruments, which they stored at Hans’s house in Clemenceau Avenue and held their practise sessions there as well. They also held practice sessions at Amir’s house next to the Rendezvous Restaurant in Bras Basah Road. Sometimes the Quests would come to Amir’s house and they would take turns to rehearse. Slowly they built up an all-instrumental repertoire.


They played the usual gig circuit including the British forces circuit. This proved to be a fortuitous move for them because their contact with the British servicemen introduced them to a genre of music that they had not heard of previously. Rhythm and Blues. The clubs in the British camps needed music with a beat to dance to which the Shadows derived music of the Checkmates hardly qualified for. A compromise was sought and Checkmates learnt some of the rock and roll numbers that constituted what they thought of as R & B. Reggie was a good guitar player who could execute the instrumental solos in the material they were covering with ease and their sound and style was envied by other groups around. Thus Checkmates were straddling the British camps circuit where they played more adventurous material while in the Singapore circuit proper they played music more in keeping with local trends.


The first change in the band came in mid 1963 when Reggie was approached by members of the Quest, to be their lead guitarist. He would be replacing their first lead guitarist Raymond Leong, was leaving the band to further his studies. Reggie did not have to think twice about it because Quests were then the most popular or one of the most popular bands in Singapore. He consulted the others in Checkmates and they did not raise any objection. At least he was bringing glory to the band because he was a Checkmate alumnus then. Reggie duly left to join Quests.


Benny Chan decided to move to lead. Hans would remain on rhythm. They needed a new bass player. They were recommended a bass player by the name of John Choy. Problem was they had never met him and did not even know what he looked like. Some strange circumstance got them to asking Lawrence Lee who was a neighbour of Benny in the Macpherson Road area and whom they thought was the said John Choy. Lawrence said, “ John Choy and I had a duo called Johnny and the Hurricanes. We both played guitars. They wanted to ask John but ended up asking me. I had to give a decision quickly because they were scheduled to appear on the Pop Inn Programme that following week.”


The fact that Lawrence did not know how to play bass did not deter them, as Benny was agreeable to coaching Lawrence. They were neighbours anyway and it did not make it difficult to get together with two guitars and work out chord structures and bass lines. So Lawrence Lee became the new bass player of the Checkmates. His first appearance with them came on the TV show “Pop Inn” one week after he joined them in 1963. This was after intensive coaching and band rehearsals with Checkmates performing Savage on the show. Lawrence remembered that Hans bore the brunt of the hard work because the chugging rhythm of the song was difficult on his wrists and their repeated rehearsal on this number wore him out.


With Reggie out, Benny moving to lead and Lawrence Lee coming in as the new bass player, Checkmates decided to get in vocalists since the trend was moving towards vocal oriented beat music. Since female singers fronting bands was becoming trendy in view of the tremendous popularity of Crescendos, Checkmates followed suit and found three female singers. Shirley, Irene and Susan rehearsed with the band before they gigged with the band. Shirley proved to have the more formidable voice so she became the lead singer with Irene and Susan singing back up or dancing A-Go-Go during their songs. Their most memorable song then was “Boys” which they performed with gusto. Irene and Susan dropped out shortly after and the Shirley moved to the front. Her full name was Shirley Nair.


She was then nineteen years old and shaping up as a good singer in her own right. With Shirley Nair fronting them, Checkmates secured a tea dance residency at the Cellar in Collyer Quay towards the end of 1964. The Cellar, which opened in 1961 was a basement restaurant cum nightclub that featured nightly music. They decided to hold tea dance sessions beginning in 1961, which featured their resident band and various singers. The idea of holding tea dances was to get a crowd to come in on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and have a good time. Lawrence said, “When I played at the Cellar Tea Dance, I knew what it felt like for the Beatles playing at the Cavern because of the sweaty and intense atmosphere of the place. It was a basement club and because it was popular the club had to close the main gate and there would still be people who had come in late milling about outside, hoping to be let in. Shirley would sing songs like I Saw Her Standing There, Money and Hippy Hippy Shake among other beat numbers.”


Shirley Nair did not remain long with them and she quit Checkmates while they were holding the residency at Cellar. She joined the Silver Strings soon after. Robert Song, who was then singing with The Flamingos, replaced Shirley. Even though he had joined Checkmates as vocalist he still played percussion with The Flamingos.


Robert was known as the Johnny Ray of Singapore and had started in music in the Fifties. He was adept at singing standards and rock and roll. While Robert Song and The Checkmates were performing at the Cellar, The Cyclones – two brothers (James and Siva Choy) showed up on a Sunday. They were a singing duo, which had been singing since the late Fifties and were enthralled by the new beat music that was emerging. They watched Robert Song and The Checkmates perform and during the break got to talking to the band and introduced themselves. Cyclones asked Checkmates if they could up come to sing in their next set.


Checkmates had no objection because it meant that they played more songs and time would run anyway. Cyclones went up to sing at the agreed upon time and Checkmates were surprised and impressed by the quality of the singing and harmonising. After the session was over, Checkmates invited Cyclones to come back next Sunday if they felt like it. Cyclones might not have realised it but they were being asked to come into the Checkmates line up proper. For the Checkmates it would be a bonus because instead of one singer they would now have three singers. Thus it was that Cyclones began to sing with Checkmates backing them in 1964. Lawrence recalled, “The next week they were supposed to come sing with us and they came late. The gate had been closed and they were signalling to us to be let in. Fortunately we spotted them and motioned to the management to let them in. After that they came on stage at their slotted time and began their set.”


The Cellar residency did not last too long because of the fights that would invariably break out when too many people are crammed into a small crowded space and jostling each other. Cellar ended their Sunday tea dances. However Robert Song had performed at many venues with Flamingos and he knew club owners and operators. He found out that Golden Venus was holding tea dances and he went in and negotiated a residency for himself and Checkmates there. This gig was more significant for them because the clientele here turned out to be foreigners. British servicemen who were stationed in Singapore and who were partying during their off duty hours. While they were holding down the tea dance residency at Golden Venus on Sunday afternoons they were also playing at the Celestial Room on weekend nights with Flamingos. Flamingos played Latin while Robert and The Checkmates played Rock and Roll. One precaution they took when they came to Golden Venus was that they engaged three martial arts experts to be the bouncers while they played there on Sunday. They had remembered the fights that broke out while they had the residency at The Cellar and to prevent a repeat of that they reckoned some muscle around them would not hurt.


In early 1965, Philips, which was looking at Singapore bands to add to their label heard of the band and checked them out at the Golden Venus Beat and Blues Sessions. EMI had signed Quests whose first release Shanty had been a hit when it was released in August 1964. Philips hoped that they could find a band that could provide material of a similar standard to the Quests. Suitably impressed they signed Checkmates and the band set about recording their first release, which was going to be an extended play (EP). The members decided that following the general trend then prevalent in Singapore they would release an instrumental EP where they could showcase their sound and instrumental skills. Lawrence said, “ Philips were aware of the popularity of Quests Shanty and they wanted something from us to equal the impact of The Quests instrumental number.”


Benny and Lawrence who were the principal songwriters of the band worked out four tunes, which would comprise their first EP. It was released (ME 0128 CE) in June 1965 and consisted of four instrumentals. “45 RPM” composed by Benny Chan was a fast paced number in the vein of Shadows, Ventures and Jumping Jewels. Benny Chan added some dextrous flourishes to his solo and instrumental passages utilising octaves and sliding notes that paid homage to his Jazz leanings. This song became their calling card much like Shanty personified the Quests. “Sylvia”, a Benny Chan/Lawrence Lee composition was a tender instrumental homage to Benny’s girl friend of that time. Benny gets weepy and sentimental aurally on his guitar accompanied by a steady tempo from the rest of the band.


Galaxy”, another Benny Chan composition was an up-tempo number. After stating the theme of the song, which included a counterpoint where Benny skirted the bass strings he moved into a fluid solo with Amir adding heavy drum fills in the mid sections. Lawrence Lee composed “Lady In White”. He said, “I accompanied my mum to the doctor’s frequently and I was awe-struck by this gorgeous looking nurse at the clinic.” Hence the title. It was an introspective number, which was fuelled by an interesting bass line from Lawrence Lee. Benny again utilised octaves in the middle section of the solo to provide a contrast to the straight string playing at the beginning of the solo. The style could not be said to be Shadows although it was all instrumentals, because it betrayed traces of jazz and rhythm and blues. Benny Chan's guitar was rather raunchy for this genre of playing. In June too they appeared at the Lido Cinema where the Shaw Brothers organisation had a fashion show and contest to publicise the movie Kiss Me, Stupid. Checkmates were proving adept at providing background music in stark contrast to their fiery r & b at Golden Venus.


The weekly appearances at the Beat and Blues sessions at Golden Venus began to shape a new style and sound for Checkmates and Cyclones. However Robert Song found it hard going. He came from a different era and this new rhythm and blues sounded alien to him. The combined band felt it too and they decided to look for a replacement vocalist and did not have to look far. One of the singers who were very visible then was Vernon Cornelius who had been singing with Trailers up to then. He was floating around on the scene having left the Trailers although according to him the contract of separation with the band specified that his last day with them would be May 31, 1965. Benny Chan approached him and asked him if he would be interested to sing with them. Vernon was astounded. This was definitely a step up. Checkmates were known to be musical heavies and he was being asked to join them. There was a proviso of course. He would have to sing Rhythm and Blues from here on. No more Cliff Richard. Vernon agreed.


They purchased a new PA system to accommodate their new vocalist and practise sessions began once again either at Han’s house or at the Choy family residence in Kovan Road. Since some of the band were still in school rehearsals were held in the afternoon so that all could be present. The practise sessions helped them to shape up a new contemporary repertoire that mirrored what was going down in the international scene in terms of rhythm and blues. There would be no holding back this new expanded line up.


Robert Song decided to move on after the Checkmates and Cyclones were well ensconced at Golden Venus. He sensed that they were moving heavily into Rhythm and Blues and this was a genre that he was not familiar with. He could sing Rock and Roll but not this new Rhythm and Blues, which to him seemed a beat oriented music mainly for the young. So by consensus he bowed out of the band.


The expanded combination was announced in August 1965. They were called Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1. The four was Checkmates, Two being Cyclones and One being Vernon Cornelius. There was talk that Vernon would sing on the Checkmates next single but this did not come to pass.


On stage at the Golden Venus Beat and Blues Sessions as they were styled, Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 put on a spirited show weekly. First to appear would be Checkmates who would play a few instrumental numbers after which Cyclones would come on to sing their R & B repertoire which as Siva Choy explained meant singing a lot of twelve bar styled rock and roll. Then after the Cyclones completed their repertoire Vernon would come on to sing his repertoire backed by Cyclones on backing vocals and Checkmates as electric backing. Vernon had to listen to the newer sounds of British Sixties as the Checkmates and Cyclones were playing a brand of music that differed from the norm. They were doing British R & B, which meant songs made popular by the Rolling Stones, Animals, Yardbirds and Kinks among others. Although these bands were drawing from black blues and rhythm and blues they had given it a new slant and image, which made it appealing. However in Singapore, which was still the land where Cliff Richard and The Shadows ruled, this was very much underground music.


What the Checkmates did was to make every song a performance rather than just a run through. So they would take songs like We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Animals), It’s My Life (Rolling Stones), Boom Boom Boom (John Lee Hooker), Bring It On Home To Me (Sonny Boy Williamson), The Last Time (Rolling Stones), Around and Round (Chuck Berry), For Your Love (Yardbirds), Heart Full Of Soul (Yardbirds), A Well Respected Man (Kinks) and Tired Of Waiting (Kinks) to name a few and turn them inside out rising to a crescendo. Some evidence of these surfaces in a later recorded version of Got My Mojo Working with Bryan Neale at lead vocals to give an indication of where they were taking the music to. So these performances would turn out to be sweaty twenty-minute exercises in musical mayhem. When the whole band was on stage many times it would turn out to be a vocal interplay between Vernon, Siva, James and Lawrence Lee, their bass player. These innovations made attendance at the Beat and Blues sessions on a Sunday afternoon at the Golden Venus something very exciting to look forward to.


Although Checkmates were a guitar band, they utilised organ at their Sunday sessions. The organ was played by Siva Choy who was turning out to be a multi instrumentalist proficient on guitar, harmonica, bass guitar and more exotic instruments he would pull out once in a while.


Checkmates initial audience was the British servicemen and teenagers who came to Golden Venus to listen to r & b. These sessions attracted the attention of other musicians who came to hear the new sounds played by Checkmates and if possible to go up and have a blow. One of them who graced the stage with Checkmates was guitarist Robert Suriya of Naomi and The Boys. Jimmy Appudurai later of Straydogs said, "Robert was always at Golden Venus jamming with Checkmates and Cyclones. He was already attempting to bend notes and using a treble booster to aid the sustain. This would have been 1965." Others who turned up to jam were Alphonso Soosay who was drummer of the Boys. He said, “The members of the Boys were regulars at the Golden Venus especially Robert who was there every Sunday afternoon. The rest of us would turn up occasionally but not Robert. He was there every week. On top of that at night after having food he would go to the Golden Venus Night Club to sit in with group that played nightly and jam with them playing jazz. That was his first love, jazz music.”





An old alumni of the Checkmates, Reggie Verghese would turn up at Golden Venus occasionally to jam with the Checkmates. It was a singular honour for the Checkmates to see their old lead guitarist who had gone to bigger popularity and fame with the Quests come back to jam with them. The prospect of seeing Reggie play lead guitar with Benny Chan was tantalising indeed as Benny had only come to the forefront upon Reggie leaving the Checkmates.


In November 1965, the Cyclones released their first EP backed by The Checkmates. The EP was a stunning revelation. Compared to other releases of that time this release seems to come from another sphere. The four songs were original compositions and they seemed miles ahead of anything released in Singapore up to that time. The exposure to foreign crowds at Golden Venus and exposure to new music through them had broadened Cyclones music and the ideas. It was heard to good effect on their EP. Lawrence Lee said, “For the recording sessions we asked Philips if we could record individually. They were supposed to have had a sixteen track deck and could bounce instruments between tracks. So it would be rhythm guitar first, maybe followed by drums and then bass and the other instruments coming on top of that.”


I'll” was composed by Lawrence Lee. Based on the Green Onions riff, it had Siva Choy sing a menacing lead. Siva played organ on this track while Benny played bluesy guitar riffs, different to the style he played on their first EP. On his solo too, Benny bent his strings approximating the guitar players they had been hearing on records. “She's Mine All Mine”, another Lawrence Lee composition had the brothers sing in harmony while Benny riffed vehemently behind them. The idea of using riffs to propel a song was revolutionary to say the least. It was not a simple lead and rhythm style that Cyclones was using but of riffs to create a center. James Siva Choy composed the last two songs, “Oh No She Didn’t Say” and “The Dew”. Lawrence said that the chime sounding instrument on the Dew was actually a bicycle bell, which he sounded at intervals in the song. He had gone to a bicycle shop and found a bicycle bell and recalled standing in the studio and sounding the bell while the track played. “The Dew” had another surprise. While the recording sessions were going on, the Philips A &R manager, Lee H King had come to the studios to see how they were coming along in the studio. They persuaded him to have a go at backing vocals. At first he demurred but finally relented and was featured on “The Dew” along with Lawrence.


Oh No She Didn’t Say” went to the top of the local charts and gave the Cyclones their first number one hit. The style to say the least was different. It bordered more on Rhythm and Blues and could be the coalescing of what the brothers were playing at their beat and blues session every Sunday at Golden Venus.


On December 4 1965, Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 performed at the Jubilee Hall in Johor Bahru where they were supported by Bryan Neale and the Easybeats and some other groups. These trips across to the Causeway gave Malaysian audiences a chance to see what the Singapore groups were doing. Further a band like Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 who was unconventional even to Singapore audiences would have appeared even further way out to Malaysian audiences who nevertheless loved their cool sounds. They had performed in Johor Baru’s Jubilee Hall many times and each appearance had been a success for them.


The band’s first few months had been a hectic period but trouble was already brewing from within. Vernon Cornelius had expressed dissatisfaction with his inability to record with the band. He had composed originals, which he wanted to present to the band, but their hectic performance schedule left little time to mull over his compositions and work on them to flesh them out and bring it to performance level. Then in early 1966 an unexpected development took place. He was approached by the lead guitarist of Quests, who coincidentally was a former Checkmate, Vernon Cornelius with an enticing offer. Quests would be losing the services of their singer Keith Locke quite soon and they wanted to put in place his successor in the band seamlessly. Vernon quipped, “It was always the lead guitarists who made the pitch to me. It had been Victor Woo for the Trailers, Benny Chan for the Checkmates and now Reggie Verghese for the Quests.” For Vernon this was indeed an honour. He was being offered a job with the acknowledged top band in Singapore as their singer. He did not hesitate and said yes immediately.

Vernon Cornelius’ last gig with Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 was in Kuala Lumpur on 3rd April 1966.


It was a blow to Checkmates because Vernon was their added attraction. He was a livewire and his set in the Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 was the highpoint of the Golden Venus Beat and Blues sessions on Sundays. However they could not stand in his way because he was leaving them to join the top band in the country. They discussed the matter with Cyclones who had no objections to them getting a replacement singer for Vernon. A search was on for a replacement singer. One singer’s name kept popping up. Bryan Neale. He was a British forces serviceman who fronted the Easybeats playing R & B. They had done some shows together and he looked a good front line singer. A quick check revealed that Bryan Neale had indeed left the Easybeats and was available. He was contacted and a pitch. He agreed to sing with the band and became the new singer of Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus joining them on April 23, 1966. The band could continue.


Moreover Bryan Neale was also a Philips artiste having released one EP while leading the Easybeats. So with Bryan Neale fronting Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1, it was an all Philips affair as both Checkmates and Cyclones were Philips artistes.


It was not long before Bryan Neale was in the studios with Checkmates and Cyclones to record an EP. It would be r & b flavoured to reflect what they were playing at their Sunday tea dances, in the Services camps and at concerts and stage shows. Two months of effort went into the songs that comprised the EP. Bryan under his pen name W.B.Wright had composed “Enchanted Girl” which came as a surprise to his fans because this was a tender love ballad with beautiful understated guitar from Benny Chan. Bryan also came up with “Man Hunter” which was more in keeping with his style. Siva Choy came up with one song for the occasion, “She” while the fourth song was a famous blues number, Willie Dixon’s “Got My Mojo Working”.


The combined band went into the Kinetex studios to begin recording. “Enchanted Girl” and “Man Hunter” were worked on first. In “Enchanted Girl”, which appeared as the first song of the second side, Bryan and the band handled it delicately with Benny Chan coaxing slow bends from his guitar to accompany Bryan’s singing. This was the softer side of rhythm and blues that the band was performing and it informed fans, that, while r & b was about beat and tension it could also betray a softer side. There were no such questions posed in “Man Hunter”, which was an out and out rocker with Siva Choy performing on organ and Tubon. Benny Chan added echo to his guitar to give it much needed twang in his guitar solo.


Recording continued interspersed with rehearsals to perfect the two remaining songs. Unfortunately bass player Lawrence Lee had an engagement and had to leave. The bass chair was left empty. Benny had to make a quick decision and he asked Siva Choy to deputise on bass while they rehearsed the two remaining songs, which they would record another day when Lawrence returned to the studio. Siva handled bass well enough and had performed on the instrument in their live shows during the jam sessions slots. So they rehearsed “Got My Mojo Working” which they shortened to “Mojo” on the EP and “She” to perfect the song arrangement.


It was on “Mojo” that Bryan Neale and The Checkmates with Cyclones on backing vocals showed the potent type of r & b they were performing in the clubs, bases and the Golden Venus. Bryan opens the song singing the first few lines with Benny accompanying him on a Burns electric twelve string. That in itself was revolutionary. Whoever heard of blues being played on twelve-string guitar and electric at that ? It would be next to impossible to get a decent sustain on the electric twelve string. At the end of the chorus the band comes in. They chug in pile driver fashion pushing the beat relentlessly while Bryan sings. Lawrence handles the bass efficiently while Siva Choy plays the organ heard in the track. Benny’s takes a short guitar break where he riffs ahead of the band while drummer Amir Samsoeddin whacks hell out of the drums. Then Benny lets loose a simple guitar phrase that is exciting in its execution.


Still there is more to come. The song comes to an end and Bryan and band stokes the beat further and sings soft while the band drops in volume and picks it up which allows Bryan to let loose a blood curdling scream that equals Benny Koh’s scream at the end of “Don’t Laugh You’ll Cry”. Surely a ground breaking performance from Unit Four Plus Two Plus One although on the EP it was identified as Bryan Neale and The Checkmates.


On the Siva Choy composition “She” which is the second song of Side One, bass player Lawrence leads into the song with an ascending bass line while the band falls in place behind Bryan’s vocals. “She” was more the pop spectrum of r & b and showed that r & b had many facets and could be interpreted in many ways depending on the intelligence and creativity, of the musicians involved. Philips was to release the EP (ME 0176 BE) in early 1967.

Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 was one of the acts on the Sonovox show titled The Star of Stars show held at Ipoh on Friday October 7, 1966. They played with Naomi and The Boys who headlined the show, Henry Suriya, and from Ipoh The Songket, Ravens and Blue Note. On 29th October Checkmates together with Bryan Neale and Cyclones hosted their own show at the National Theatre organised by their manager Peter Chan. They had a large cast of support acts including Naomi & The Boys and Henry Suriya, Silver Strings with Mike & Herb and Shirley Nair, Point Five who were a RAF group, Surfers, Denni Wilson who was backed by Comancheros and the Split Image.


Checkmates used this show to demonstrate their new Vox amplifiers and debut a synthesizer called Tubon, which Philips had installed, in their recording studio. The Tubon had been utilised on Bryan Neale's EP where it had been played by Siva Choy and he played it on stage with band during Bryan Neale's set. Lawrence said that Sonovox also asked them to use the Burns guitars, which had been adopted by Hank Marvin of the Shadows. Sonovox had the agency in Singapore and they were hoping to promote the sales of this guitar. So Checkmates obliged and used their guitars and a bass guitar for this show.


Checkmates provided the backing on the Cyclones second EP (Philips ME-0201-CE) released in March 1967 featuring songs like “Your Thoughts, Your Cares and You”, “A New Man”, “Stop Your Sobbing” and “I'll Be Home”. The first song was a joint composition by the brothers Siva and James and featured startling echoey vocals from the pair. Siva remembers that they had to specifically ask for echo effect and a call was made to another room and they had to wait while the echo effect was installed. It made a difference to the track. Checkmates gave it a laid back caressing effect with their accompaniment. On “A New Man”, which was a Lawrence Lee composition, Siva Choy played the lead guitar solo with the raga like figures while Benny Chan played the acoustic guitar parts. Bassist Lawrence Lee provided a strong underpinning with drummer Amir Samsoeddin to show why they were the best rated R & B outfit in town. The Kinks “Stop Your Sobbing” which was the first song of Side Two and “I’ll Be Home” was given a workmanlike singsong approach from James and Siva with plenty of acoustic guitar strumming from Benny, Hans and Siva.

Bryan Neale left Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 when he bought himself out of the British Army round about April 1967. He went back to England and began singing with a group called Him And Us. Checkmates and Cyclones were unfazed by his departure and they continued to gig at Golden Venus. They went on a tour of Kuching, Sibu and Jesselton plus other towns in Sabah and Sarawak in July 1967. While they were touring they had other bands stand in for them at their weekly Golden Venus tea dance sessions. When they returned they continued their residency at Golden Venus while playing concerts and other gigs during the week.


1967 was a year of changes in the international music scene and such changes reverberated here too. Checkmates were hearing of bands that were playing on the British Services clubs circuit who were doing music not heard on the local scene. One such band was the Straydogs who were from the Katong area. Lawrence Lee knew Jeffrey Low who was the rhythm guitarist and de facto spokesman of the Straydogs. Lawrence asked Jeffrey to get Straydogs to play at Golden Venus during the tea dance session. Jeffrey conferred with Straydogs and they did not turn down this one chance to make an impact at Golden Venus. However Straydogs decided to bring in additional armour. They called a friend of theirs from Katong, guitarist Jimmy Appudurai who was then playing guitar with a Services group Motifs. With Jimmy on board, Straydogs turned up at Golden Venus to play a support set. Guitarist William played bass for this particular set.


For Checkmates it was a revelation because they were supposed to be the R & B band in town and here was another band from nowhere really who were playing another version of rhythm and blues with their own added edge. For one thing, they had a harmonica player. Not a musician who played harmonica occasionally but a harmonica player who only did that. Played harmonica. He was playing harmonica on all their tracks which gave it a more authentic rhythm and blues feel. Checkmates could feel secure in the knowledge that even though Straydogs were like the new kids on the block Checkmates had done it all before. Playing harmonica was new yes but Siva had done it on stage many a time at Golden Venus when it was really revolutionary even to be toting the gob iron on stage. Further Straydogs were playing at volumes, which could only politely be described as loud. It was more like thundering. Benny felt protective towards his Vox amp that was being manhandled sonically by Jimmy that he went up to the stage to turn it down.


Throughout their long residency at the Golden Venus Beat and Blues sessions, many up and coming groups had appeared there as support bands. Some of them played free of charge there just glad to be given an opportunity to play there. Many British services groups appeared there and provided contrasts to the music that Checkmates and Cyclones were playing. Groups like Straydogs and Pest Infested when they appeared there were playing a different type of music to what Checkmates and Cyclones were playing. Then groups like Dee Tees who were a services group appeared there and even secured a recording contract with Philips on the strength of their performance there.


For the Checkmates and Cyclones they had a long run at Golden Venus as resident band at the Sunday Beat and Blues sessions. They had clearly come to the end of the road. In 1968 members of both Checkmates and Cyclones were considering giving up their residency and giving up music as jobs and responsibilities beckoned. Guitarist Benny Chan continued as a musician and joined a new line of Silver Strings which had also split up in mid 1968. Bass player Lawrence Lee quit the music scene as did rhythm guitarist Hans Hussein but drummer Amir Samsoeddin continued with other bands. For Siva Choy salvation came in the form of a young band that had turned up to play as support band at Golden Venus in the third quarter of 1967. The band was Commancheros and their new line up comprising Joe Chandran (vocals), Tony Shotam (lead), Mervyn Nonis (rhythm), S Raja (bass) and Frankie Suppiah (drums) played support at Golden Venus and impressed with their sound, which was rhythm and blues, but with new soul influences thrown in. Commancheros looked forward to their appearance at Golden Venus because it gave them an opportunity to play with the Checkmates much superior equipment. Thus when Checkmates decided to give up their Golden Venus residency Siva decided to break up the Cyclones as well and threw in his lot with the Commancheros who were undergoing stylistic changes as well and came up with the a new name - The X-periments. James Choy the other half of Cyclones quit the music scene completely.


Checkmates and Cyclones and their various lead singers such as Shirley Nair, Vernon Cornelius and Bryan Neale chose to play the third stream of popular music in Singapore ie Rhythm and Blues and in doing this they exposed Singaporeans to streams of music that on the surface were less appealing than top 40 pop but in the long run proved to be more durable. They of course had the support of the British patrons who gave them the initial push as they played their driving R & B in the early days of the Beat and Blues sessions at Golden Venus and the venue also proved to be a springboard for many up and coming bands who filled up the support slots over the years. The band was also a fertile ground for musicians who passed through their ranks and their recorded output while scant provide the aural evidence of this influential band in the annals of Singapore Sixties music.

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