'60s Syngaporean Bands
Universal Press Release.
Universal is proud to announce the release of a new series of Sixties Singapore releases called Treasures From The Past. These releases constitute records, which were originally released by Philips between the years 1964 and 1968, which constitute the golden years of Singapore pop. Philips Holland sensed that the worldwide pop explosion of the Sixties had also taken root in Singapore and a great number of bands and singers were performing then. Beginning with Crescendos, Philips continued signing and releasing artistes that presented a rich tapestry of Singapore pop. It helped that many of the releases contained original songs.
Universal is presenting the discs in their original format meaning that an extended play is represented as a four-song compact disc with both original front and back cover, used, to house the disc. In the case of a single play, two of them are combined, to create a hybrid four-song compact disc. The songs have been remastered to bring out the tonal qualities of the songs. However no new textures have been added to preserve the original essence of the recordings.
The first release contains Naomi and The Boys second EP, which was released in November 1965 and contained their second number one “Happy Happy Birthday Baby”. Another number one, “I Know” is also present in this disc. With remastering, the music has been given depth to support Naomi Suriya’s powerful vocals. Then Cyclones, the duo of James and Siva Choy present four innovative R & B originals supported by the dynamic Checkmates. Listen to songs like “Oh No, She Didn’t Say” and “The Dew” to appreciate how modern Singapore music was sounding in late 1965. Next comes Thunderbirds with two singles combined. “My Lonely Heart” was a number one in 1966 and inspired cover versions in Mandarin in Singapore and Hongkong. “My Hula Girl” was a later single whose flip side “You Were Made For Me To Love” captured listeners attention and has been a firm favourite all these years. Last but by no means least are The Crescendos who were the first act to be signed to Philips and paved the way for the rest. Here they are represented by their 1965 EP which contain thumping versions of “Everybody Loves A Lover” Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, “He’s The Boy” and a number one hit single for them “Silver Threads And Golden Needles”. They drew from fifties Rock and Roll and Doo Wop roots in their performances.
Volume One of Treasures Of The Past will be the first of a series and future releases will see artistes like Checkmates, Jets, Sonny Bala and The Moonglows, Bryan Neale, Bobby Lambert and The Dukes, Reyes Sisters, Henry Suriya, Shirley Nair, Mike and Herb, Silver Strings, Evey Lyn, Siglap Five, Valentine and The Phantoms, Cells Unlimited amongst many others being released. Singapore Sixties Pop will never be the same again.
The Straydogs The Pests Infested Fried Ice The Jets
In the annals of Sixties music of Singapore, the Straydogs rank as one of the pioneer bands of r & b and blues music. They formed at a time when the music scene was itself evolving internationally. The first wave of beat groups that had rode on the Beatlemania wave had crested and even the Beatles were undergoing changes themselves after they did their last US tour at the end of 1965. Folk Rock was burgeoning and R & B was starting to mutate from a poppy outlook to a harder and more potent form of blues. It was with this swirling backdrop that two blues fans gathered along the Katong shores talking about music, listening to music and trying to create music. The two fans were Ronnie Kriekenbeek, a young harmonica player and Dennis Lim a music fan. Dennis recalls, "We heard the Rolling Stones and we thought, "That's us ! We want to play like that." Ronnie remembered hearing Rolling Stones "Not Fade Away" which he found he could follow on the harp.
In April 1966, The Straydogs came together with Lawrence Lim (vocals), William Lim (ld gtr), Jeffrey Low (rhy gtr), Ronnie Kriekenbeek (hrp, org), Dennis Lim (bs) and James Tan (drs). The name Straydogs came from Arthur Woo, a friend who remarked they were always loitering about in the Katong area and could be liken to stray dogs. Jeffrey Low remembers that it was originally going to be called Lawrence Pariah and the Straydogs but Ronnie insisted that following the trend of having singular names Straydogs would be more appropriate. William was the only musician in the band according to Ronnie and he taught Jeffrey and Dennis how to play guitar and bass respectively. Their early repertoire was the mid Sixties standard R & B repertoire which meant mainly British R & B songs.
The band practised in the early days at the house of a rich friend who had a full set of instruments. Their first gig was at the 21st birthday party of Ng Eng Tee, the son of rubber magnate Ng Quee Lam. They also made guest appearances with other bands but stuck mainly to the RAF circuit. Ronnie Kriekenbeek, recalls, "When we started playing, a lot of people were thinking what are these guys up to, harmonicas screeching, guitars hanging as low as your knee caps, dressing wasn't like uniforms the other bands had."
It was not long before they acquired their own set of instruments. Ronnie said, "Jeffrey and myself were walking around Tanjong Katong Road and we stumbled into this brand new music shop that had just opened up. At that time it was called Robert Piano. He had two Teisco amps and two or three guitars hanging on the walls. We got in and started talking to the man and paid him nightly visits. We told him of our venture. He wanted to start his music shop off, we wanted to start our band off, so it started off on a trust. He said, "You can have these two Teisco amplifiers, these guitars and we will start you off on an instalment plan."
Ronnie who doubled on keyboards was taught chords by William but he figured the rest out on his own. He said, "I think that too much harp on every song, every night can get too monotonous, too boring." His using the keyboards added texture to the band's sound as they had two guitars and a keyboard to fill out the sound. Now armed with their own set of instruments, the band began to rehearse and build up a repertoire. Dennis said that they had rehearsed for quite a while before they began to play. Their early engagements were at RAF clubs and house parties. Every weekend they had gigs and then it came to the point where they were playing at least three or four gigs per week. Jeffrey recalls that they would play at RAF Changi Youth Club on Wednesday, RAF Seletar Youth Club on Thursday, the Armada Pavilion on Friday and Saturday at the Chalet Club.
The soldiers who heard the band at these clubs were also frequenting the Golden Venus at Orchard Hotel which had been hosting Beat and Blues Sessions on Sunday afternoons from 1963 onwards. The resident band then was Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 which was Checkmate (4) plus Cyclones (2) plus Vernon Cornelius (1). They told the band about this hot R & B band that was playing in the RAF clubs. The Checkmates were intrigued because they had not heard of the Straydogs in the circuit. The Straydogs gigs were mainly in the RAF Clubs and they did very few gigs outside of the RAF clubs.
Soon they were confident enough to approach the top R & B band in town, The Checkmates, who then held a residency at the Golden Venus Club in the Orchard Hotel about giving them a support slot at the Sunday afternoon Beat and Blues Sessions. Jeffrey Low approached Lawrence Lee, the Checkmates bass player, who had been his classmate in school about giving his band a chance to play at the Golden Venus. Lawrence agreed and Straydogs made their first appearance playing support at Golden Venus and even the Checkmates were stunned.
The Straydogs were blowing an authentic brand of R & B that veered closer to the roots. In Ronnie Kriekenbeek they had a harmonica player who was par excellence. With the Straydogs supporting, the Beat and Blues Sessions at the Golden Venus were beginning to heat up. Before playing at Golden Venus however, the Straydogs had supported The Dukes at their tea dances at the Prince Hotel Garni in Orchard Road. In late 1966, the Straydogs were also given an opportunity to play a one month contract at a new restaurant that opened up in Changi. The club management did not know of the brand of music that they played but engaged them anyway. The patrons started asking for offbeat which was Singapore lingo for cha cha. The band knew no cha cha but they did know Otis Rush's All Your Love. That song had been the opening number on the John Mayall Bluesbreakers album, John Mayall and Eric Clapton and had a cha cha tempo. Straydogs played that song satisfying the management and the patrons that they did indeed knew how to play offbeat. Ronnie said, "After playing that, we went back to our normal repertoire."
Ronnie remembers that the division between the cool crowd and the offbeat crowd was very pronounced then and it could be quite harrowing to handle a hard core off beat crowd when you did not know any music that they could dance to. He remarked, "Do you know The Palace ? We did some guest appearances there prior to appearing at the Golden Venus. There it was all off beat." Benny Koh and Trailers were the stars there and they could handle off beat music very well although they played Western music equally well too.
In March 1967, The Straydogs celebrated their first anniversary as a band by having a dance at the Mandarin Hall of the Chinese Swimming Club. The band was supported by Cells Unlimited and Ray and The Deltons at this gig.
In 1967 after they had been playing as a guest band at Golden Venus for some months, Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1 decided to quit the Golden Venus Beat and Blues Sessions and they asked The Straydogs to take over as the resident band.
Toward the end of 1967, the band was approached by EMI to record a single and they produced an original for the A side, Mum's Too Pampering. The music was by Ronnie and Dennis with Lawrence providing the lyrics. The flip side was cover of a Van Morrison composition I Can Only Give You Everything. The band looked real sharp on the picture sleeve dressed in pyschedelic clothes. That too reflected the times with the Summer Of Love of 1967 still fresh in everyone's minds. Dennis Lim recalls that the band still flirt with Pyschedelia. He said, "Yes, we went through that period. That was our freak period. You know, kurtas, incense, things like that. During that time, we were doing Traffic's Coloured Rain, Fifth Dimension's Aquarius. We went through a couple of months doing pyschedelic stuff. It felt great doing those songs. But it was only for a little while. Then we went back to playing r & b."
The first change in the line-up came when rhythm guitarist Jeffrey Low decided to quit the band and concentrate on his career as a journalist. He however maintained his contact with the band becoming their defacto manager. The replacement they brought in was ace blues guitarist Jimmy Appudurai. Jimmy had been playing lead guitar with a band called The Motifs which comprised Mick Davies (vcls), Ray Archer (bs) and Bill Lunn (drs). The Motifs played on the services circuit and in fact they had The Straydogs playing support to them so that by the time they approached him about becoming their lead guitarist they were not an unknown quantity to him. Dennis said, "We were a r & b band then. When Jimmy came in, then band became more of a blues band. Played more slow blues then. We would play a song that would last for 45 minutes."
With Jimmy on lead guitar, William Lim the original lead guitarist moved to the role of a rhythm guitarist and the Straydogs were apparently going from strength to strength when another disappointment hit them. In October 1969, Ronnie announced to the band that he wanted to leave the band as he was going to migrate to Australia. This was a blow to the band because apart from Jimmy on guitar, Ronnie was their other front line instrumentalist and he was reckoned to be the best harp blower in Singapore then. Less then two months after Ronnie left, the band broke up ! Dennis recalls, "There was a period when we did not play and Jeffrey who was our manager suggested that we split since we were not going anywhere. Everybody agreed. We met at my place and divided up the equipment. Everybody was so downhearted but it had to happen. We had to split. James got the drumset. Poor chap. That was the cheapest piece of equipment we had. But he became the richest." The band broke up because they had reached a plateau and were not making any progress.
The split was short lived because Dennis was contacted Lim Thian Soon, former guitarist from the first hard core blues band in Singapore, Pest Infested. Pests Infested who had formed in May 1967 had started supporting Straydogs at the Golden Venus and the kinship between the two bands was strong. Soon had left Pests Infested in early 1970 and he was looking for a band to play with. Surprised that Straydogs had split, Soon suggested to Dennis that they form a new band. They approached Terry Tan, singer-organist with Rotten Bodies, another Rock band on the scene, Jimmy Appudurai and drummer Jeff Angus from Damestic Creation. By this time all these bands were defunct. After toying with idea of naming the new line-up Second Move the band decided to retain the name Straydogs.
EMI gave them another opportunity to record and in early 1971 they released their second double sided single Cold Morning/Freedom. The single went to Number One in the Malaysian charts the week it was released. They hoped that with the release of the single more avenues would open up for them in terms of more gigs and recording opportunities. But this was not to be because their music although very good was considered too radical. They did a one month stint at the Happening Club in Macpherson Road in 1971 but only barely made it because they would not compromise their music to suit the crowd. Another recording opportunity presented itself in 1972 and they went in to the studio to record their next single and came up with Repent/Rocking Our Blues. This single too went up the charts in Singapore and Malaysia. Repent was an ambitious effort with producer Reggie Verghese ex lead guitarist of the Quests adding strings to bring grandeur to the sound.
Rocking Our Blues was their statement of their musical philosophy featuring duelling guitars from Soon and Jimmy. With all the promise suggestive of the group still being not enough to make a breakthrough for them disillusioned some members of the group and both lead guitarists threw in the towel. Jimmy left for the further studies in England never to return while Soon went to look for musical fulfillment elsewhere.
So ended a second chapter of the Straydogs. Dennis Lim kept the group going until 1978 when the band disbanded for good. It was a good long run for twelve years. In dim mists of time, Straydogs appear to be just another band doing their thing in r & b but to those who lived through that era they could appreciate what it took to go against the grain and to stick to your covictions and play the music that appealed to you. Regardless of acceptance, support and having to face the prospect of industry wide condemnation and ridicule. The members of Straydogs now can look back with pride and say, "We stuck to our guns ! "
Straydogs still likened themselves to a r & b band. But to Pests Infested lie the mantle of being the first hard core blues band in Singapore. The genesis of Pests Infested lay in another band known as Maggie and The Pests. The band formed in mid 1966 and had Margaret Pereira (vocals), Francis Chan (lead), John Ali (rhythm), Ernie Koh (bass/vocals)and Francis Heng (drums). The band played in a r & b mode and their early gigs was on the Services circuit mainly through John Ali's contacts. Margaret remembers that the band played at Seletar and Tengah which were British bases and they also appeared at the Fraser and Neave Hall in a variety show. Their longest gig was at the South East Asia Hotel supporting Naomi and The Boys. Margaret said, "Naomi and The Boys had heard about us and they invited us to play at the club in South East Asia Hotel.
We auditioned and we passed the audition and played there for a few months as alternate band to Naomi and The Boys." John Ali remembers, "We started playing there as support and after Naomi and The Boys set, they would stay in the club to watch. We had a similar line-up to them and they wanted to see what we could do. That made us very nervous.
Once, we were playing Cry Me A River and the instruments were tuned to piano tuning which made it difficult for Maggie to sing. I asked the band to transpose to a key more comfotable for Maggie and they did. After that we became more comfortable and we carried on playing our set. Another song I remember us performing was Fly Me To The Moon which I used to lead off with." Of Maggie and The Pests John Ali says, "The trend then was to have bands fronted by female singers, like Naomi and The Boys, Shirley Nair and The Silver
Strings so we looked for a female singer. We found Maggie. Maggie was known to Derek Fitzgerald of Thunderbirds and he introduced her to us." When Maggie and The Pests broke up, John Ali decided to form a new band and out of the ashes of that band rose Pests Infested which formed in May 1967.
The name Pests Infested was coined by John Ali. He said he was influenced by the new sounding band names which was not someone and something but just names. He said that he thought Cells Unlimited was a good name and he wanted a name in that vein. He decided on retaining Pests because he thought it sounded cool and he thought of Infested from the association with pest control. They put the two together and had Pests Infested.The first line-up was Francis Chan (lead), John Ali (rhythm), Ernie Koh (bass/vocals) and
Sng Say Juan (drums). John Ali was the guiding light and initial inspiration for the band.He said, "I worked at the British Ordnance Depot (BOD). My mates who were British were very much into the British and American blues scene of the time and they used to pass me albums to listen to. I became influenced by the blues and I in turn influenced Ernie to listen to it. We knew each other from the Princess Elizabeth Estate area. Juan was one of our followers from the days of Maggie and The Pests. He wanted to be in the band. We asked him what he wanted to play. He said drums. We told him to go and learn drums. He came from a rich family and his father bought him a drum set. Juan got himself a tutor and began to learn. Initially it was difficult going but he began to pick it up."
John got the early gigs for the band because of his contacts within the British camps. He said, "We were playing in the British camps and we developed a following among the British servicemen. We also played at Serene House which was an R & R centre for American GIs coming in from Vietnam. The place was out of bounds to Singaporeans except women. There were many Malay women in there. They had a club with a bandstand and we played there many times."
The first change in the line-up came when Francis Chan decided to leave the band. They continued as a trio for a while with John taking both lead and rhythm roles but the band found it difficult to cope with and they looked for another lead guitarist. That produced Lim Thian Soon. Soon was an excellent guitar player who had played jazz previously and was in four other groups before joining Pests Infested. With Soon in the line up they band went from strength to strength and their frequent gigging on the Services circuit was bringing them to the notice of many Servicemen and they were still a cult band.
The next change in line-up came when John Chan, formerly bass player with the Shades Of Blue joined the band. This freed Ernie from bass playing and he could concentrate on singing and playing the harmonica. Word reached The Straydogs, who had taken over the residency of the Golden Venus about this hot new blues band from the Princess Elizabeth Estate area of Bukit Timah. John Ali said, "Jeffrey Low, the Straydogs rhythm guitarist and spokesman contacted me because I was the spokesman of our band and asked us if we would be interested in performing at Golden Venus as the support band. We agreed to it and started playing there while still doing gigs in the British army camps.
As we had our followers in the British camps they would come to see us play at Golden Venus and that ensured that we held the support slot there for quite a while."Sng Say Juan left the band in November 1968 to go to England for further studies and his place was taken by Gerry La Chica formerly of Gerry and The Ohms. The band landed a gig at the London Scene in Hotel Malaysia. John Ali recalls, "We had a gig at London Scene supporting Pietro and The Warlocks. Soon was at that time in National Service so we called Robert Suriya of Naomi and The Boys to play lead with us and we did the gig for six months. During this gig, Gerry did most of the singing because he had a greater range and Ernie would sing the blues and r & b numbers."
They also used Ray Anthony a couple of times for gigs when Soon was still serving his National Service. Gerry La Chica left the band shortly thereafter to join the Flybaits. He was replaced by Richard D'Silva. Pests Infested was popular with the blues loving segment of Singapore music fans and their appearances at National Theatre shows were spectacular. At one show they opened with John Mayall's instrumental "The Stumble". John Ali was dressed in a Red Indian headdress, bare footed and wearing only his underwear with his face painted. He recalls, "The National Theatre had a revolving stage, and we appeared playing the long opening notes to The Stumble. The crowd contained a large contingent of our supporters and they applauded our entrance."
John Ali left the group in late 1969 followed by Soon in February 1970. The band auditioned a host of guitar players before they settled on Alam Shah. They put an advertisement in the newspaper for a guitarist. John recalls, "I knew Chris Vadham from
his band High Ground, which also had British Servicemen in the line-up. One day I saw him in the Estate. I asked what was he doing there since he lived in the Jalan Kayu area.
He said he was there to audition for Pests Infested." John watched him play with Pests Infested and thought he was suitable because he was a good singer as well as being a good guitar player. The band however thought he was not suitable thus Chris never joined.
Then they auditioned Rex Goh who was formerly from Tani's Titans where he played bass but Rex thought the Pests were too rough and it was not his type of music anyway. Rex learned guitar from Benny Chan of The Checkmates so his influences and standards were different anyway. Rex would go on to join Australia's Air Supply during their hit making period in the late Seventies. John continues, "They considered Robert Suriya too because he had already played with us before and knew our style and type of music.
He had been playing pop but when he played at London Scene with us for six months he knew the repertoire well enough and played very good guitar."
They auditioned Philip Hardie from Damestic Creation and John thought that Philip was ideal for Pests Infested because he had played with the band on a number of occasions in place of Soon and he was from Princess Elizabeth Estate and knew the music that PI played. In John's opinion Philip could put most of the other guitarists in his pocket. He
was that good.
Alam Shah, the new lead guitarist in Pest Infested awaited a trial by fire as the new line-up started to rehearse the Tommy Rock opera which they performed some years later. It was also to mean a turning point for Shah as he matured as a guitar player during the relentless
rehearsals and learning of the songs that constituted the Rock opera. The tragedy of Pests Infested has been that they never got around to recording. The band lasted until the early Eighties before they mutated into Better Days. They had many fine musicians go through the band and is Singapore equivalent of the Bluesbreakers or Paul Butterfield's Blues Band. Perhaps somewhere out there in the universe someone has a recording of a live performance by Pests Infested. It's a tantalising thought.
Fried Ice first appeared in the news when their Sunday tea dance gigs at the Wisma Auditorium in Orchard Road were advertised with the wording running thus, "If you groove to the sounds of John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream and are unable to catch the band live, you can come to the Wisma Sunday afternoon and watch Fried Ice recreate their sounds". That introduced Fried Ice to the blues enthusiasts in Singapore. Their line-up itself was revolutionary. They were a three piece band in the mould of Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who.
Further in Raymond Anthony they had a guitar player who in addition to being a good guitarist was a visual treat as well. He played a right handed guitar upside down and left handed. Think about that for a minute. Jimi Hendrix was a left but he played regular for a left handed person. Ray was playing left handed and upside down. He never saw it as a disadvantage. It was natural to him. When asked if it meant he had greater leverage in sustaining notes by pulling down instead of up he replied that it was not always the case. In most instances he would pull down but there were some notes that he would pull up.
Raymond Anthony started playing the guitar in the early Sixties and his first band was a four piece playing Shadows type music and they gigged at private parties. He went to England to study art from mid 1965 to 1969 and it was while he was in England that he blossomed as a guitarist. He joined a band while there with three other guys playing blues and rock. He said that he was there at the right time for he had a chance to see the new English Rock then formulating in England which showcased a new breed of virtuoso instrumentalists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Peter Green and the transplanted American Jimi Hendrix.
Being left handed brought him comparisons to Jimi Hendrix and Ray recalled that he was him live once in a club and even went up on stage to jam with Hendrix. It must have been a shock to Jimi to see another left handed guitar player come on stage and jam with him.
He returned to Singapore in 1969 and sensed that the musical scene in Singapore was undergoing changes too. Soul was the in thing in the clubs but outside of the club scene bands were doing different things. Ray soaked the scene in while he planned his moves for forming a band. He roped in Mathew Tan formerly of The Systems as bass player and singer and Gerry Bheem to play drums. In Mathew Tan, Ray had a very good bass player and singer and one of the truly bohemian Singaporean minds who was very open to influences. The name given to the band was Fried Ice, which was itself suggestive of the underground and names that does not necessarily mean anything outwardly.
The word was out on the musical circle about this hot new trio that were playing strictly rock with a blues influence. The gigs came quickly enough. The Straydogs through their manager, Jeffrey Low contacted Fried Ice about doing support slots at the Sunday Golden Venus sessions which they did starting September 17, 1969 while Pests Infested who had a residency at Britannia Club introduced them there. The Bee Jays got them a slot at the Wisma Auditorium for their Sunday afternoon tea dances which the Bee Jays headlined. Shortly after, Fried Ice took over as the headline act at the Wisma Auditorium for their Sunday afternoon blues sessions giving Singapore fans a choice of two venues on Sundays to hear the latest sounds. Either Golden Venus where Straydogs held court or Wisma Auditorium to hear Fried Ice.
It was hear that Singaporeans first had a chance to see Raymond Anthony stun them with his guitar pyrotechnics while they performed the latest rock sounds. Their signature tune was Tim Rose's "Morning Dew" which they transformed to an all out Rock workout. They were also times when Damestic Creation played as support to Fried Ice and their appearance threatened to be a showdown between two titans as they had a stellar guitar player in their line up - Philip Hardie.
After the closure of the tea dances by a government decree in January 1970, Fried Ice still kept active playing the Services circuit where they had regular gigs plus appearances at concerts and parties. The inevitable change in line-up came when Mathew Tan left the band as he was migrating to Canada. Undaunted, Ray and drummer Gerry recruited Atwell Jansen (vocals, harp, flute) and Ashley Jansen (bass) from the defunct Tenth Storey to play in the band. A few months later Gerry left the band as well to take up a professional engagement in Bangkok. He was replaced by Charlie Sundaram formerly of the Esquires. The band was also beginning to experiment with original works and their first original composition Rock and Roll Ball with its very funky beat and choke wah strumming from Ray proved to be a big hit at shows when they played it.
Even with such high standards of performance and potential showed by the band was not enough to sustain them and the band soldiered on for another two years by which time they had been further personnel changes and the addition of an organ to their line up.
Fried Ice ranks in Singapore's Sixties history as one of the first bands to play blues inflected hard rock and raise performance standards through their virtuoso musicianship. The band never recorded although Raymond Anthony went into the recording studios in 1975 and laid down two tracks with his then band Heritage consisting of Atwell Jansen (vocals, harp, flute), Ashley Jansen (bass) and Zulkifli (drums). The songs were "May Day" their original composition and "Morning Dew", Tim Rose's folk ballad which Ray had debuted at Wisma with Fried Ice. The two tracks came out on an EMI compilation album (EMI SREG 9844) titled Come Together that same year. That is the only legacy this guitar strongman had left to Singaporeans. We are all the poorer for it.
The Jets formed in October 1963 with a line-up reading Edward Tan (lead),Alan Poh (bass), Harold Chiang (rhythm) and Bertie Lim (drs). Thomas Ang sang with the band. Bertie Lim left in October 1964 just before they recorded their first disc. He was replaced by Richard Tan. The band signed to Philips and went to record their first EP. They toured Malaysia with Honeycombs, Millie Small and Kings.
Jets released their first EP in May 1965 on the Philips label with Aurora and Meteor composed by Edward, and Fantasy and Escapee, jointly composed by Edward and Alan. Aurora hit the Philips sales charts and was No 1 for three weeks.
Harold Chiang left the band on June 15, 1965 and was replaced by Willy Lau. Thomas Ang stopped singing with the band in June 1965 and there was talk that Andy Young who had been singing with an early version of Silver Strings would sing with the Jets but this was not to be.
In July they released their second disc with Blues Away/Express Train/The Big Beat/Alice In Dreamland. Following this they backed Wilson David on his Philips EP with I'll Never Be Mad At You, Yours, I Love To Be By Your Side and Jezebel.
Willy Lau did not last too long with the band and he left in September 1965. Richard Goh came in as bassist and Alan Poh moved over to rhythm guitar. The band did not slacken on the touring and they toured Sarawak and Sabah and Brunei with Hi-Fi Twins and Kings. In August 1966, they toured
Borneo. They were the first Singaporean group to tour overseas.
When three quarters of the Jets left the band in December 1966, Edward decided to get in fresh blood and called for auditions. Ricky Tay and Patrick Seet from the Echo Jets turned up to audition and passed but told Edward that they played as a team and if he wanted them he had to take them in tandem. Another bass player Alfred Ratnam had also turned up to audition and had passed. Edward was in a quandary because Ricky and Patrick made a good rhythm section and worked well together. He asked
Alfred if he would switch to rhythm which Alfred agreed to thus becoming the new rhythm guitarist in the band. Mustafa Al Johari formerly with Silver Strings also auditioned and passed and thus a new
edition of the Jets was born.
The new Jets line-up underwent another change when Alfred Ratnam was replaced by Roland Shepherdson former lead guitarist with Ronnie and The Burns. Edward Tan rehearsed the band for seven months from December 1966 to June 1967.
This edition of the Jets released an EP in August 1967 under the Lee Chong Record Company on the Blue Star label. The songs were all covers with 500 Miles/Unchained Melody/When I Was Young/Fever. Unchained Melody featured three of the band on vocals while When I Was Young which was a cover of the Eric Burdon and The Animals hit had guitarists Edward Tan and Roland Shepherdson play snarling guitar riffs which showed they can raunch it up with the best of them. Fever the old Peggy Lee classic, had more fuzz sounds in the opening and closing guitar riffs.
The Jets were active completing a two month tour of West Malaysia with Siri Perera and Linda Lam and then embarking on a tour of Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah that started on August 19, 1967. They also appeared at the Musical Express Show at Capitol Theatre in Singapore and also in Kuching.
The band broke up the following year but had a good and long run with three EPS under their own name and others backing singers such as Wilson David and Veronica Young.
One of the bands that emerged out of the blues boom in Singapore was High Ground. The band consisted of Rod Hill (bass), Ted Hamilton (drums), Neil Smith (guitar), and Chris Vadham (guitar). Rod, Ted and Neil were British servicemen while Chris who was Singaporean was just out of school. Rod said, "High Ground was formed in late 1969 and was a direct follow up to 4 Lbs Nett. I think we thought the band name (4 Lbs Nett) was a bit naff. The line up was the result of a few comings and goings." The band initially known as 4 Lbs Nett gigged in the British Services circuit and also played at the Golden Venus tea dance supporting Straydogs.
Rod recollecting the formation said, "Chris who only have been about 14 at the time, used to come up to my room because he heard I had a guitar. He would sit there showing me what he could play. It also gave him the opportunity to hear the latest pop music, as all the RAF boys had the latest stereo systems and Hi-Fi set ups." The band initially started with Ted Hamilton, Rod Hill and Chris Vadham.
The band acquired their instruments from a downtown music shop. Rod said, "I bought a drum kit as originally I was going to be the drummer and Ted the guitarist. Ted bought a guitar and amplifier. When we had done a few rehearsals I found I was teaching Ted the guitar parts and he quite liked drumming so we decided to swop. We had a bass player who was a corporal in the RAF at the time. I am afraid he wasn't very good and I had the job of telling him he was out. He told us he could play but we had never heard him. Things improved after that."
The band rehearsed at a fire station in the Seletar camp. Chris said, "There was a room there where they allowed us to rehearse and we stored our instruments there as well. We used to practise a lot." The band changed their name to High Ground and continued with their stream of gigs. Chris said, "We had a manager, John Marriot. He was really good as a manager. Got us a lot of bookings. We did the youth clubs and clubs in British camps all over Singapore." Rod added, "John Marriott was in the same room as me and he volunteered to be our manager."
They started off learning Creedence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Casuals and pop songs of the day. Rod, "My girlfriend from back home sent me Cream's Wheels Of Fire. That seemed to change our sound a lot. We then went more into rock and blues, John Mayall , The Doors and Steppenwolf." Chris added that they also played Pretty Things soul music like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and other soul artistes popular then. Rod added that they never went too pyschedelic in their music. They appeared on stage dressed in the fashions of the period donning military jackets which were popular and could be purchased from the flea market in Sungei Road for two or three dollars. The band also donned long hair wigs and at the end of one performance at the Golden Venus, Chris dramatically took off his wig to give it to Siva Choy who was in attendance and told him, "Here, you keep it."
The band started the usual round of Services camps gigs, parties and eventually played the tea dance circuit. Rod said, "When we started doing the tea dances, the Straydogs or some of their members came and played with us, even jammed along on a few Canned Heat songs. I remember one of the Straydogs, Jimmy Appudurai, had a Fender Esquire with a tremelo which I always coveted. They were the guys we ended up playing with at Golden Venus."
He remembered that at one of their sessions, drummer Ted who was a diving enthusiast had injured his foot and could not play so they got an Italian drummer whose band had a residency at the Tropicana. Rod said, "He was a really good drummer. He broke one of Ted's bass pedals with his playing.
I was now playing guitar in the band, but Chris was the main man on lead. This was when Stu Hewlett joined the band as bass player. Neil Smith left the band when he returned to UK. He was replaced by a keyboard player.
Rod recollects playing at the Wisma Auditorium in Orchard Road once. He said, "We had great 200 Watt Meazzi amplifiers. A huge following had come from all over. The place was packed. Girls screaming and trying to drag us off the stage. That was the height of the High Ground band."
High Ground was one of the support acts when Eartha Kitt did a show at the National Theatre. The Shadows were also on the bill. Rod remembers going to Hotel Singapura to see the Shadows after the show. He said, "Bruce Welch had Olivia Newton John with him. It was a big scandal at the time because he was married. I think she broke his heart when she finished with him." The band also appeared at the Raffles Institution for an Interact Club charity fun fair. Rod remembered that when High Ground played, people stopped buying things to watch the band. He said the band was given money to spend at the fun fair which they did. While they were busy spending the money given, an entourage had formed behind them to see what they were spending on. Rod remembers this gig as being one their highlights. He said, "That day I put the guitar down and leapt all over the stage. The backing was just coming from Chris, Stu and Ted."
High Ground did not last too long splitting up in 1969 when three of the band left Singapore when their tour of duty with British Army in Singapore ended. Rod said, "The only reason we split was because I had to go home. I even tried to extend my stay but the RAF would not let me. I think poor old Chris cried when I left and it was very sad fo rme as well." Chris was devastated but he recovered quickly enough and formed his next band Rubber Band with Abel Gan (keyboards, bass), Shedick Marican (drums) and Rennie Ho (vocals). Within a year Rubber Band had metamorphosed into Western Union Band and stardom beckoned.
by Joseph.C.PereiraGo to Singaporean bands #2
No reprinting of any part without permissionTo know more about Syngaporean bands
See more photos
Read Joseph's Legends of GOLDEN VENUS-Bands that rocked Singapore from the '60s to '90s
10 interviews 128 page with many photos
You can buy the book on Timesone Books