MORE SINGAPOREAN BANDS
Inmates(UK band) at Changi Youth club in singapore
Blues by Five(UK band ) at Britannia club in Singapore '65
launch called the Sea Dragon where the Quests performed in 1968.
The Sea Dragon caught fire mysteriously and burned down.
They were the band that surpassed every other Singaporean band
in the Sixties.
They were the most successful Singapore group having No 1 hits in Singapore,
Malaysia and in Hongkong. The group started in 1960 when guitarist Jap Chong
Chow Pin asked his school friend Raymond Leong if he would team up with him
to enter the Radio Talentime. Raymond agreed but they could not come up with
a name. Jap saw his school magazine titled Quests, which stood for Queenstown
Secondary Technical School, and decided that would be the name for his duo.
Thus the Quests were born. When Cliff Richard and the Shadows played at the
Gay World Stadium in 1961, Jap and Raymond decide to emulate them and form
an electric band. They needed to find a bass player and drummer. A neighbour
Lim Wee Guan offered to play drums although he did not know how. Lim's brother
introduced Henry Chua and he was interested in being in a group although
he did not know how to play guitar.
Henry brought a guitar and Jap showed him chords and strumming techniques.
The band had their members and was set. The line-up read: Raymond Leong
(lead), Jap Chong (guitar), Henry Chua (guitar) and Lim Wee Guan (drums).
Henry said, "We started out as a three guitars and drums band. We had no
bass initially. I took an interest in finding out chords to songs we were
going to do. That made me aware of bass lines and their function in music.
Since no one else wanted to play bass, I offered to do so. I was initially
playing bass notes on a regular six string guitar." All members of the group
took turns to sing.
Besides being a self-contained band they also backed Siri Perera who was
then known as Singapore's Charlie Chaplin. He was a versatile entertainer
who could sing, do comedy routines and magic. The band rehearsed and built
up a repertoire quickly and started to look for gigs. An early gig came
along during Christmas 1961 when they were invited to play at the St Andrews
Mission Hospital. They managed to get guitars and amplifiers to play this
gig for which they were given the princely sum of $20. They were off to
a good start and felt encouraged. Other early gigs were house parties where
they would get paid $30. In 1962, the Majestic Hotel in New Bridge Road
organised a talentime in which Quests participated and made it to the finals
where they played Frightened City. They did not win. Jets won that time with
their superior equipment and guitars.
Another talentime, which they took part in that year was the Cliff Richard
and Shadows sound alike talentime. They auditioned at the Blue Room of Capitol
Theatre along with other bands and singers. Again they made it into the
finals where they played Living Doll, which Jap sang, and for the instrumental
section they played Frightened City. Stompers who took first place with
Big Boy and Tornados who took second place with Sleepwalk eclipsed them.
Quests realised that they needed to have better instruments in order to
get a good sound on stage. Henry's picking of bass lines on a six string
guitar would not do when other bands were using bass guitar which made the
music sound better. Henry persuaded his mother to buy him a bass guitar
and she paid $200 for Hofner bass guitar. With the bass the sound of the
band improved dramatically. They purchased a Gibson amplifier from Edward
Tan, lead guitarist of the Jets. The two guitar players and the bassist plugged
into this one amplifier. Still it was an improvement over their earlier sound.
Their rehearsals took on new meaning and they worked hard on their repertoire.
Another talentime opportunity came, this time organised by the YMCA and having
made it to the finals they won this talentime.
While Siri Perera was still singing with the band Wilson David joined up
with them. It was a coup for the Quests to be playing with Wilson David
as he had impeccable credentials. He had sung with Stompers who was one
of Singapore's earliest electric groups having formed in 1958 and they had
the added honour of having appeared with Cliff Richard and the Shadows during
their performance in Singapore in 1961. Stompers had also won the Cliff
Richard and Shadows sound alike contest in 1962. Further Wilson David was
coming from a different angle. He was singing black. His influences were
Fifties Rock and Roll but with Sixties group influences they were beginning
to sound different. In other words Rhythm and Blues. Thus there was no conflict
between Siri and Wilson as they each had different singing styles.
Their earlier talentime win brought them to the notice of Television Singapore
and they were invited to appear on a pop program called Dendang Ria. Another
program on which they appeared was Pop Inn. In 1963 they took part in the
Radio Singapore talentime. They played Big Boy in the preliminaries and
made it to the quarterfinals. It was at this point that Raymond announced
to the band that he wanted to leave to further his studies. It was a blow
to the band but they recovered quickly and looked for a replacement. It
came to them in a flash. Reggie Verghese who was then playing in the Checkmates.
Victor Woo who was lead guitarist of the Trailers remembers a Singapore
Teachers Union dance where Checkmates, Quests and Trailers were on the bill.
He said, "Reggie Verghese was then playing lead with Checkmates but when Quests
played he also played with them. I think this was the time when Raymond Leong
had left the band and they were looking for a lead guitarist. I had been
learning guitar from Alan Verghese who was Reggie's older brother. I commented
to Alan how good he was. He told me that if I thought he was good; wait till
he saw my younger brother. This function was the first time I had seen Reggie
play and it was like his brother said. He was good. He had a fluidity of
style and his licks and sound were very good. I was impressed and realised
that he posed a threat as a potential guitar contender."
They played Nivram at the quarterfinals stage but were knocked out. The
band's performance on TV created such an impact that Radio Talentime host
Kingsley Morrando recommended the group to EMI. EMI auditioned the group and
Wilson David on the same day. Quests played an instrumental number and then
backed Wilson David for his number. The two songs were made into a test tape
to assess the strengths of the band and singer Wilson David. The verdict of
EMI was that Quests had something but they passed on Wilson David. This was
a blow to Wilson. However he took it in good grace and they decided to part
ways since Quests were going to be EMI recording artistes. Philips who was
the other major label signing and recording local acts would shortly after
While all this was taking place Quests continued with the gigging which
was their main reason for existing anyway. Wanting to play music. They started
playing at the Palace tea dance in 1964 and appeared for a total of 13 Sundays
between March and May 1964. They stopped performing there to go on a Malaysian
tour with the Maori Hi-Five from May 19 to 25 performing in Kuala Lumpur,
Ipoh and Penang. At Palace Trailers fronted by Vernon Cornelius replaced
Now that they were signed with EMI the pressure was on. Henry said, "Mrs
Daisy Devan who was the Artistes and Repertoire manager of EMI told us that
we were recording in a week and we had to have two originals which would
be our first single." This was a challenge to the band. From playing covers
they now had to think of an original tune. They decided to compose an instrumental
for their debut single on EMI. After all instrumental music was the vogue
during this time in Singapore although the Beatles had broken through a
year earlier and their type of vocal cum instrumental music was still the
rage. But there was still an audience then for good instrumental music.
Thus came Shanty (CHK 1009) written by bass player Henry Chua that the band
recorded on August 24, 1964 at EMI's studios. In Shanty, the Quests managed
to write and perform an original that was their signature tune. A jaunty
tune, Shanty featured a guitar instrumental with Reggie playing the main
melody while Jap Chong played counterpoint on second guitar. The melody stuck
in people's minds and helped to ensure that people bought the single captivated
by the melody and playing of the band. The song went into the charts and
knocked off the Beatles I Should Have Known Better off the top spot. It was
a harbinger of greater things to come.
EMI who pleased with their new signing's sophomore effort encouraged them
to record a second single to cash in on the success of the first. The band
produced another two originals; Tea Break coupled with Pop Inn Theme (EMI
CHK 1050), which was recorded in January 1965. Pop Inn Theme became the
theme song for a television program called naturally Pop Inn. It followed
the style of American and British pop shows, which showcased foreign and
local records. This gave Singaporean musicians and singers a visual medium
in getting their music across. The show had live performances and also featured
a section where records were spun and a selected panel was asked to comment
on the music. So for Quests to have an original song of theirs chosen as
the theme for a TV program was indeed a step up. Like the first single Tea
Break became a hit in Singapore. Henry Chua who composed Tea Break played
second lead guitar on this tune in addition to bass.
Quests were now busier than ever as they had a full gig book playing stage
shows, making appearances on television and radio and playing in the British
camps. At one of these camp gigs they met Keith Locke. Locke was a British
citizen of Jamaican ancestry and he had sung in Britain and with other bands
in Singapore since coming to Singapore to serve with the British army. The
Quests saw him sing and thought he had a good voice, moved well on stage
and wrote songs too. The combination seemed potentially lethal. A hot Singapore
band backing a dynamite R & B singer.
Once Keith Locke settled in with the band, they began to gig and perform
in the Services clubs. The Services clubs, which dotted the Singapore Island,
provided plentiful gigs during the weekends and Keith Locke cashed in on
his contacts in the British Army to secure gigs for himself and his backing
group The Quests. They also appeared on stage shows in Singapore and one
of these shows attracted the attention of TV, which decided to give them
a half-hour special. The show called Keith Locke and The Quests was broadcast
on April 13, 1965 and then repeated on May 5, 1965. It featured Quests playing
their own set consisting of their earlier hits and some chosen songs after
which Keith Locke came forward to sing his R & B repertoire.
Quests recommended Keith Locke to EMI and after auditioning him they signed
him to the label. They entered the recording studios and recorded Be My
Girl backed with Don't Play That Song (You Lied) which was released in June
1965. Just before the recording sessions, the band parted company with Reggie
Verghese. Henry said, "Reggie had been in Secondary Four the previous year
and he had started playing with the band even though he was still in school.
We were gigging heavily then. This resulted in him neglecting his studies
to a certain extent and he did not do well in his final exams in that year.
His father had nagged him about his studies and he decided to sit for his
exams again. That was the reason for him leaving the band." He did however
play on the two songs. It was announced that he was leaving to further his
Quests attempted to carry on with Henry moving to lead guitar while they
called in Teddy Song from Sonny Bala and The Moonglows to help out on bass.
After some rehearsals they found it to difficult to manage. They were in
a dilemma because they had a full gig book and needed a full time guitar
player. A call was made to Michael Magness who was lead guitarist with Strollers
then and he agreed to fly to Singapore to join Quests. Michael appeared with
Quests at a show at the Badminton Hall called Show of Shows. Fans who were
used to Reggie's scintillating leads were disappointed. Not that Michael
was a bad player. His style was different. Michael suggested that they call
Reggie back to the band. A call was made, a meeting held and Reggie came
back to the Quests. Michael headed for home and rejoined the Strollers.
Keith Locke and the Quests began a Malaysian tour to promote their latest
release. The tour saw them playing in Malacca on July 3, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh,
Penang and Seremban from July 9 to 13. They finished the tour and returned
to Singapore for more appearances including an appearance on Singapore Startime,
a Television Singapore show program shown on August 21, 1965.
Keith Locke's first single with Quests backing became a hit although in
later years it was the B-side that was to become etched in people's minds.
The band was on a roll. Quests released their own single in September 1965,
which featured two originals, Come On And Shout composed by Reggie Verghese
backed with Memories composed by bassist Henry Chua. Come On and Shout was
significant for the Quests because it featured vocals in a Quest recording
for the first time apart from their work with Keith Locke. Reggie used a Burns
12 string guitar to play the main guitar lines and he also doubled on organ
for this song while in Memories, Rufino Soliano did a string arrangement to
held broaden the appeal of the Quests sound. During this time, Jap Chong said
that the band would attempt to write more originals than do covers.
EMI decided to use the band as session musicians to back up singers on
their label. This had a two-pronged effect. EMI had a ready band to back
their solo artistes and the name association with Quests would not necessarily
be detrimental to the solo singer. In 1965 they backed Lam Leng on her EMI
EP (ECHK 553) containing Mandarin language versions of songs such as Under
The Boardwalk, Boys, How Do You Do It and I Feel Fine. Lam Leng besides being
very pretty had a good R & B voice, which was husky, and the combination
of her voice and the Quests backing ensured that the EP was musically credible.
Reggie Verghese's riffing at the bridge on I Feel Fine was potent and added
to the song although it was being sung in Mandarin. This was western pop
music given an eastern tinge.
In late 1965, during the screening of the move What A Crazy World, at the
Lido Theatre, Quests appeared on Sunday December 19, 1965, during the 1.30
pm, 4.00 pm and 6.30 pm screening of the show. This was a common occurrence
then to get young punters to come watch the movie by having a well-known
pop group or singer come play before the start of the show. Quests with their
single releases were hot at this point and it was certainly worthwhile for
patrons to hear them before they viewed the movie.
Their last released for 1965 was a four song instrumental EP (SEGO 70115)
featuring four originals from Reggie. On one particular track Champagne
Reggie played acoustic guitar and his playing on this track surprised many
people because it showed another facet of him full of tenderness and emotion.
Man From Madrid had touches of Spanish music with kettledrums and orchestral
flourishes provided by the RTS orchestra. The other two tracks were I'm Feeling
Good and Dum Dum.
The Quests celebrated the fourth anniversary of the band by hosting two
nights at the Singapore Badminton Hall on December 24 and 25, 1965. They got
a host of other well-known Singapore bands to come and play the two nights.
It was their way of showing that they had arrived. It had been a successful
year and they had released a few records in 1965. They had a new singer in
the band; Keith Locke and his first release had become a hit. The international
music scene was getting to be interesting too and Quests were looking ahead
at 1966 to see what was in store for them.
In early 1966, Keith Locke and The Quests recorded and released Push Push/That
You Are Mine (DO 4661) and had a big tour of Malaysia just to promote that
single. The mind boggles to think of a band touring a country to promote
just two songs. But it was a major tour and artistes such as The Falcons
from Kuala Lumpur, The Antartics, The Meltones, The Bee Jays, The Teenage
Comets and Susan Seong Koon supported them. The tour covered places such
as Seremban, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang.
There were problems on the tour. For one, Keith Locke had gone Absent Without
Official Leave (AWOL) from the British Army with whom he was serving. There
was a riot at the Kuala Lumpur show during the Quests segment. Keith Locke
delayed his entrance while the Quests did their set. He was probably quaking
in his shoes. There was a riot out there and he might just be recognised
as having gone AWOL.
The problems were not confined to the Kuala Lumpur show. There was more
mayhem at the Ipoh show. Supporters of Ipoh Falcons had turned up to boo Quests.
They were retaliating for the treatment that Ipoh Falcons and Malaysia's
Elvis Rocky Teoh (another Ipoh resident) had received in Singapore. This
was at a concert at the tail end of 1965 when the two Ipoh acts were booed
endlessly by Quests supporters. You took your loyalties seriously in those
days. Guitarist Joe Mann who was with the Antartics, another support band
on the tour said, "When we did our set there was no problem. Same with Bee
Jays. But when Quests played, the crowd got ugly. It became frightening.
The concert was stopped and the police escorted us back to our hotels."
The band came back from the tour traumatised. Riots at two shows. Then
the problem about Keith Locke having gone AWOL. Locke offered to sort out
his problems with the British Army. He opted for early discharge. This meant
that he had to go home. Leaving the band was inevitable. He recorded his
last single with the band ( DO 4664) which paired You Talk Too Much with
Lonely Street. The A side was an uptempo R & B original from Locke while
the B side was a slow contemplative piece with fine singing from Locke. With
Locke gone, the band looked around for a new singer to replace him.
One name kept cropping up. Vernon Cornelius. He was singing with Unit 4
Plus 2 Plus 1 and Quests remembered some shows where Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1
appeared on the same bill playing their more overt R & B repertoire. Vernon
had stage presence and his singing was extroverted. He seemed a perfect fit.
An approach was made to him and he did not hesitate to say yes. After all
he was being asked to join the top band in the land. Vernon's place in Unit
4 Plus 2 Plus 1 was taken over by Bryan Neale who had formerly fronted the
Easybeats. With Vernon in the band, they went into the studios to record
their next single which appeared in May 1966 (DO 4663) with Silly Girl coupled
with I'll Be Your Man. Silly Girl was overtly pop with strains of R &
B but the B side which was a S.A.Vinton composition, I'll Be Your Man was
more R & B and suggestive of Unit 4 Plus 2 Plus 1. Vinton who was the
Antartics drummer was also a budding songwriter and since his band was signed
to EMI he found avenues to place his songs with other EMI artistes.
With this release Quests were once more in the public eye. Furthermore
Vernon Cornelius had integrated into the band as an equal member, which
was a different, set up from the Keith Locke era when they were billed as
Keith Locke and The Quests. Still a concession was made to Keith Locke era
in that the band still performed "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" at their
gigs because there were still requests to do the song. Now Quests acknowledged
that vocals were important too and should not be an afterthought. Although
they still performed and composed instrumentals the thrust of their music
now was vocal music with instrumental embellishments. The gigging and shows
They toured successfully in Eastern Malaysia in August 1966 doing 40 shows
in all including broadcasts over Radio Sarawak and Radio Sabah. Coming back
to Singapore for a three-week break they again took off for another tour
of Malaysia. When they came back to Singapore they entered the EMI studios
to record their first album, which they released at the tail end of 1966.
Questing (ESX 7775) which the album was titled was the first stereo LP from
a Singaporean group. It featured the line up of Vernon Cornelius, Reggie
Verghese, Jap Chong, Henry Chua and Lim Wee Guan.
The LP featured a mix of originals and covers, which showed their diverse
range and versatility. Opening the album was Reggie Verghese's Instrumentally
Western, which was a nod to their days as an instrumental band. The LP also
contained S.A.Vinton compositions continuing his trend of contributing originals
for the band. For the album he provided two songs, one of which You're Telling
Lies had double tracked vocals from Vernon backed by quite unusual singing
from Reggie and Jap. Vinton's other composition was In A World Of Our Own
which was a more serious number featuring Reggie on piano and bassist Henry
Chua providing stellar bass lines. Vernon provided the singing, which he
said he found it uncomfortable to do because the lyrics seemed "forced".
Another instrumental track was a jazzy rendition of My Favourite Things where
Reggie took a solo playing flurries of notes, which astonished listeners
more accustomed to his Shadows, inflected playing. Here he showed that he
was listening and absorbing other forms of music and had the technical dexterity
to execute some challenging guitar playing.
Among the other songs were Lengkang Kangkong, which was a Malay folksong
given a modern interpretation by the band and Yang Di Mana Satu, which was
a P Ramlee composition. They also recorded a second version of Shanty updating
the sound to reflect 1966. The intro was more drawn out with the volume
slowly increasing from the instruments. The album sold well and signaled
a furthering maturity in the scene as bands exhibited confidence in moving
away from being a strictly covers band to exploring their originality and
They had another honour too in January 1967 when they appeared at the Yardbirds/Walker
Brothers show, which was held at the National Theatre on January 17. The
Yardbirds that came to Singapore was the last line up of Keith Relf (vocals,
rhythm guitar, harp), Jimmy Page (lead), Chris Dreja (bass) and Jim McCarty
(drums). Unfortunately just before the show Henry's father passed away and
Henry was in mourning. The band decided to get a replacement bass player
for the show.
They remembered Peter Ghouse of Malaysia's Hunters. He was the rhythm guitarist
and singer with that band. Hunters were one of the top guitar bands of Malaysia
at that time, as they had an ace guitar player in their midst, Terry Thaddeus.
They performed on many shows, which came through Malaysia featuring Singapore
bands and singers. Hunters had played at some Quests shows, and even when
they were not on the bill they would turn up at the event to talk to the
band. A call was made to Peter and he agreed to fly to Singapore to play
the show. This was going to be tricky. They were asking to him play bass
when his instrument was guitar. To his credit Peter pulled it off. Vernon
said, "We practised very hard as we wanted to of standard and be accepted
by the fans of Yardbirds and Walker Brothers." Quests opened the show and
played a mostly covers repertoire that took in contemporary British styles.
They played seven numbers and for their finale covered the Easybeats "Friday
On My Mind" which was a difficult song to do given its odd time shifts and
jagged guitar riffs.
They stood well next to the British bands. Vernon said, "The Yardbirds
were our idols from their first hit, "For Your Love". Meeting them softened
the legs, let alone standby with them in readiness to go on stage. They
had no airs and were very unassuming lads. When they went on stage they
ripped everyone off their chairs. Especially Jimmy Page, extraordinarily
dressed in Carnaby colours who ripped and raged on guitar with amplifier
volumes we'd never heard till then. Keith Relf was outstanding both onstage
and off stage and had the most charisma." Yardbirds playing had a long lasting
impact on Reggie Verghese in particular as his guitar playing after that
seemed to chart new sonic territories. Scott Walker of Walker Brothers also
had a long lasting impact on Vernon Cornelius.
In early February 1967, Quests released an EP (ECHK 566) with Malay versions
of top English hits. The songs were Sunny, I'll Be Back, The Sun A'int Gonna
Shine Anymore and With A Girl Like You. EMI wanted to break the band in
Malaysia among the Malay listeners and this EP was the result. Local musician
Yusnor Ef provided the Malay lyrics. Although the disc sold well, The Quests
never tried to make another Malay record throughout their career. They however
backed other Malay singers on their own records. One such was with singer
Eddie Ahmad who released an EP on EMI with two songs backed by the Quests,
Aduh Sarodja and Dara Ayu. The other two songs featured backing by the Antartics.
Coincidentally the Quests and Antartics appeared at the Sea Cadet Corp Dance
at the Victoria Memorial Hall on February 10, 1967.
The A Go Go craze which started in mid 1966 encouraged them to release
an EP of instrumentals to cash in on the craze. The record (EMI SEGO 70115)
which was released on April 15, 1967 contained familiar songs like Mustapha,
Rose Rose I Love You, Ding-Dong Twist and Nyonya Baba A Go Go. Mustapha had
a lopping Turkish feel to it topped off with Reggie's fuzzed guitar, which
also featured in Rose Rose I Love, You. This song had Wee Guan driving it
along with his swinging drum beat. Perhaps seeing Jimmy Page utilise fuzz
at the Yardbirds show in January had given Reggie new ideas in using fuzz
and distortion to colour his guitar sounds. This EP was released simultaneously
in the Philippines and Australia, as EMI was confident enough of the ability
of the band to sell in these overseas markets.
Their first single of 1967, Roller Coaster Man/The Dancer (DO 4731) was
also another chart topping single for them. In this single the band simulated
the sound of a roller coaster by tilting a long narrow wooden table and
rolling a Coke bottle down it. Vernon Cornelius said, "I added a sort of
crazy humming to simulate electricity in the background and the amusement
park atmosphere was helped with shouts through a megaphone and general crowd
Quests were contracted to play on Rita Chao's new LP, which was recorded
in mid 1967. The LP contained songs in Mandarin with two numbers Hanky Panky
and Sixteen Candles sung in English. Rita recorded My Lonely Heart, which
had been a big hit for the Thunderbirds in 1966. Reggie played lead guitar
on this track creating the whining sound that had been the trademark on
the Thunderbirds version. They also backed Sakura Teng on her LP recorded
at the same time titled Boom Boom. She recorded John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom
and it proved that singing twelve bar blues did not come easily to everyone
as she fluffed the phrasing of the song. Quests however played well with
Reggie Verghese adding an explosive guitar solo on this track.
The next line-up change took place when bass player Henry Chua announced
to the band that he was going for further studies and wanted to leave the
band. He left Quests in June 1967. Henry's leaving the band hit them hard
because he had been a founder member and he was also one of the principal
songwriters in the band. He had come a long way on the bass from the time
when Jap Chong had showed him the first chords on the guitar. The band had
to go on.
Quests who were then playing at the New World Ketai decided to hold auditions.
One of the musicians who turned up to audition was Sam Toh, bass player
with Bee Jays. He recollects, "I used to hang out with the CYC boys in Selegie
Road. They were the original Blackjacks and good friends of mine. Especially
David Low. They heard that the Quests needed a bass player. David encouraged
me to go to the auditions. So I rode my Vespa one day to New World. I met
the band and was introduced to the members. Then Reggie showed me Henry's
Jazz Bass and we played a few lines. I cannot remember what we played. And
that was it. I was a Quest. Just like that."
The next day the new Quest Sam was in the EMI Studios at McDonald House
in Orchard Road. Sam continues, "We listened to a song called Da Doo Ron Ron,
then we practised it and recorded some takes. The next thing I knew was that
it was the Quests new single. That was the first Quests record I played on."
EMI kept them busy as session musicians and the backed Kartinah Dahari
on her single released in September 1967 which paired Release Me with There
Goes My Everything. Reggie Verghese in addition to playing guitar doubled
on organ on the sessions. They also backed her on her next release which
was an EP containing A Man and A Woman, Somewhere My Love, Born Free and
Music To Watch The Girls Go By.
Their first opportunity to play a hotel gig came in October 1967 when they
were offered a contract to play at the Goodwood Park Hotel. They appeared
there playing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday which left them free the rest
of the week to play concerts, shows, do recordings and perhaps do short
tours. In October too they started to record their second LP and a Christmas
EP. In October too EMI released a new single from Quests (DO 4733) featuring
Da Doo Ron Ron backed with I'll Be Looking Out For You. Da Doo Ron Ron had
been a hit for the Ronettes but the Quests version suggested the influence
of Flower Power. Tablas and tampuras abounded in the track to suggest an
Eastern tinge with a heavily distorted fuzz solo from Reggie to suggest the
whining of a sitar. Here Reggie's approximation of the Jimmy Page style of
guitar playing reaches an apogee as he plays screaming licks high up on the
fretboard. I'll Be Looking Out For You was more straight-ahead pop. EMI who
felt confident in Quests abilities in overseas markets released the single
in Philippines concurrent to its Singapore release.
Quests were in the studios a lot during this period as they provided music
for various releases by EMI solo artistes. The backed Lam Leng on her second
EP (ECHK 572) which contained two Mandarin numbers, one of which Solid Gold
Rickshaw, was a duet with Henry Fu Su Yin and another song called Wedding
Bells. Sakura Teng was backed by the Quests on her EMI EP (ECHK 579) released
in October 1967 containing Puppet On A String, Yum Yum Cha Cha, Rock and
Roll Yodelling Guy and My Boy Lollipop all sung in Mandarin. Rita Chao had
an EP released this time too (ECHK 580) which had music from the Quests,
n songs like Sixteen Candles, Frankie, I'm Into Something Good and How To
Catch A Girl some of which had been recorded for her earlier LP release.
The two combined to release an EP (ECHK 589) where Quests backed them on
two Mandarin songs and Mandarin language versions of I'll Never Be The Same
and Sandy Posey's Single Girl.
The band went to Jesselton at the end of October 1967 and performed at
the Sabah Arts Ball on Saturday October 27, two Quests show on Sunday October
28 and the Peep Pop Show on Tuesday October 30. They flew home to Singapore
on November 1.
Upon arriving back home they decided to get a keyboard player. One catalyst
for this move was seeing D'Starlights play. They were a Filipino group who
came to Singapore to play after having honed their playing skills in Hongkong
where they had performed nightly for a few years. D'Starlights turned the
music scene on its head with their superior musical ability and slick showmanship.
Quests saw them using a Yamaha organ and were drawn to the richness and
depth using an organ added to a band's sound. They looked around for a keyboard
player and chanced on Jimmy Chan of the Trailers. A tentative approach was
made and Jimmy Chan accepted the offer becoming the sixth Quest. Quests
had indeed grown from a quartet to a septet. For Trailers it was an honour
to have Jimmy Chan join Quests. He was the second Trailer to join Quests.
Vernon Cornelius was also a Trailers alumnus.
Prior to Jimmy Chan joining the band as a full time keyboard player, Reggie
had doubled on keyboards both in the studios and live on gigs. He had started
to contribute keyboards from the third single onwards and onstage on certain
numbers like Telstar and later Man From Madrid he played organ on stage.
With Jimmy Chan on board, Reggie could concentrate solely on his functions
as a lead guitarist.
The Summer Of Love of 1967 did not escape their attention and their second
LP 33rd Revolution, which was released in December 1967, was their attempt
at doing a Sgt Pepper's. The opening number of the album was a pyschedelic
rendition of Hava Nagila. Bassist Sam Toh said, "The A Go Go Requests EP
was wildly successful for them. In fact when I joined the band I had to learn
Mustafa which was one of the songs on the EP and had featured Henry Chua.
The band decided to find another instrumental number to do but adept Eastern
instrumentation to it. We got session tabla players to augment us on that
track." A chime sound resonates at the beginning while Lim Wee Guan starts
the track with his drumming. Organist Jimmy plays the first half of the
melody with Reggie Verghese using a fuzzed guitar sound to play the second
half of melody. This is broken up with tabla interludes to create a contrast.
Then they both combine to play the bridge. Reggie then picks up the melody
at double speed on his guitar followed by Jimmy's organ. Reggie gets a rather
fat distorted tone on his guitar for this piece. The number evokes 1967
and the onslaught of pyschedelia well.
The next song was a cover of Every Mother Son's, Come On Down To My Boat
which was featured in the movie The Karate Killers. This song shows the
tight ensemble playing of the group. The rest of the album contained flower
power era songs. Even a commercial number like Guantanamera was covered
and comes out rather well because of the quality singing from Vernon Cornelius
and the sterling playing of the band. Reggie Verghese did not forget his
instrumental roots and did The Seekers' hit Georgy Girl as a guitar instrumental.
However it was their versions of some underground songs that really made
the album distinctive. One of them was Hallucination from the group Tomorrow
but cleverly titled Mr Rainbow to sidestep any attention from the authorities
who were likely to frown upon this homage to Western progressive thinking.
Tomorrow was a four piece UK group featuring Keith West, Steve Howe, Junior
Wood and Twink. They were regarded as one of the foremost pyschedelic groups
in UK that year. Renaming the song Mr Rainbow since the lyrics does contain
a reference to Mr Rainbow was smart as it allowed the song to be passed
untouched. Perhaps nobody caught the irony after all. Mr Rainbow was evocative
of pyschedelia as it featured tingling keyboard work from Jimmy and Vernon's
memorable lyric in the second verse, "Sometimes at night, a circle of light
shines on my pillow". Another cool song they covered was Action's Never Ever
which they raunched up and 26 Miles with its dense rhythms and heavy guitar
playing from Reggie Verghese.
In late 1967, Quests received an offer to play at the Mocambo in Hongkong.
The contract came about as the management had heard about the popularity
of the band and wanted to give them an opportunity to play there to see what
they could do in front of Hongkong crowds. For Quests this was their big
opportunity. They had never done nightclub work apart from their short stint
at the Goodwood Park Hotel. This seemed like a dream come true. A chance
to play nightly in front of a foreign audience. Even if they were Asian.
Anyway, Hongkong teenagers were reputedly more trendy than their Singapore
counterparts then with their music tastes deemed to be at least six months
ahead of Singapore tastes.
In December 1967, Quests released a Christmas EP (CHK 1063) which had been
recorded in October 1967 and was the first record to feature new keyboard
player, Jimmy Chan. It was recorded live in the studio in front of a studio
audience and the hand clapping and cheering at the end of each song is captured
to convey a party atmosphere. The songs were Jingle Bells, Santa Claus Is
Coming To Town, White Christmas and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. In other
words typical Christmas fare. They joined other bands like Naomi and The
Boys and Thunderbirds who had also released Christmas records.
The Hongkong that Quest was flying to at the end of 1967 was a very exciting
place to be then. It was nominally a British colony ruled by British Administration
but within that framework, the British administration pretty much left the
people to their own devices. Which suited the people just fine. They wanted
to be left alone so that they could make money. Whether legally or illegally.
It was this freewheeling atmosphere that made for such a heady mix of the
above ground and underground.
The Swatownese Chiu Chao syndicates had cornered the South East Asian Heroin
market and working with Corsican syndicates was refining the raw opium into
high-grade heroin to be shipped to Europe and the US. Master chemists from
Hongkong had been sent to clandestine laboratories in Lao PDR, Thailand
and Burma where they refined the techniques of distilling raw opium to get
high grade cocaine and heroin.
Back in Hongkong it was no less frantic. Events elsewhere in Asia were
turbulent and it was the era of the Vietnam War. Both North Vietnam and
South Vietnam maintained embassies in Hongkong and it was also designated
a R and R centre which meant that patriotic American soldiers fighting the
war in Vietnam could come to Hongkong to let off steam and a lot more.
The Hongkong pop scene at this time was thriving with numerous venues hosting
stage shows and tea dances being a veritable Sunday pastime then. Tea dances
afforded Hongkong bands an opportunity to play their music in front of audiences
who had a chance to see and hear their favourites in action. The Polydor
label had set up a subsidiary called Diamond and they had cornered the HK
market because of the numerous bands they had signed. Their major rival was
EMI who was a little more conservative in their policy of who they would
sign and they were displaying the same strategy that they adopted in Singapore.
Subsequently they signed a lot fewer bands than Diamond did, but concentrated
more on the Cantonese and Mandarin market as they had the advantage of working
with movie tie ins. This offered them an opportunity to tie in releases
with new movies, which were being released with factory line production
The pop scene which had started a few years earlier had thrown up bands
like Teddy Robin and The Playboys who was then riding high in the charts with
Language Of Love, Joe Jr and The Side Effects with their Here's A Heart,
Anders Nelson Group with Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind and the outsiders of
the Hongkong pop scene, The Mystics.
Quests flew to Hongkong on the afternoon of December 27, 1967. Sam Hui,
Chris Hunt and EMI representatives met them at the airport. They had only
a few days to take in the sights as they started at the Mocambo Nightclub
on January 1, 1968. Before that they had a Saturday Night Show on New Years
Eve titled Top Of The Pops. Quests played at that show and they were booed.
They were perplexed. They could not understand why. They thought they would
come in and conquer Hongkong. Now at their first show Hongkong teenagers were
booing them. They could not understand that it was only a knee jerk reaction
to a foreign band by a few unenlightened teenagers. To the majority of Hongkong
swingers, the idea of a foreign band playing in Hongkong was not anathema.
They had bands from Philippines and Italy who had been based in Hongkong
and had been playing there for years. Vernon said, "The show was the 'end
of the year music awards' with Hongkong's crème de la crème of Pop Music.
Here were their top pop bands and all of them from the Diamond record label.
We were the last minute EMI addition to the show. We looked different, our
style was different and it was like we just dropped by and only because we
had the chance to. I was not in the least upset by the boos, I was amused.
The fans were there to cheer their favourites and we were the sudden intruders."
Undaunted Quests started at the Mocambo on January 1, 1968. Initial reaction
was muted. But then Quests won them over with their brand of Singapore pop
and the crowds started warming to them pretty quickly. Their gig was tiring.
They played every night at Mocambo without a break, plus Saturday and Sunday
afternoon tea dances. Plus they had regular television appearances on HK-TVB
courtesy of Robert Chua, a Singaporean producer then working in Hongkong.
In March 1968, EMI who had released 33rd Revolution specifically for the
Hongkong market went a step further to try and break the group in the Hongkong.
They released a single, which paired Mr Rainbow with Never Ever. The single
went to No 1 in the Hongkong charts, which was surprising because only three
months ago they had been booed at their first ever show in Hongkong. This
was indeed sweet retribution for Quests because they had only been in Hongkong
for three months and now their single was No 1 in Hongkong. A rather enterprising
young lady called Angela Siu formed the Quests fan club in that month which
only added to the Quests popularity as they now had an organisation to look
out for their interests.
At the end of March, the management extended their contract by another
three months. Quests accepted the offer. They were now on a roll. Their
first single release in Hongkong had topped the HK charts. EMI decided to
capitalise on this newfound success by recording them in Hongkong and they
released an EP titled Instrumentally Yours (ECHK 587). The four songs were
instrumentals done with an Oriental slant and one song Sayonara became their
final song at their nightly performance at the Mocambo. Sam Toh said, "That
song became our signing off song and many nights the crowds there will sigh
when we played this song as it signalled the end of the nightly entertainment.
On good nights when we had a good crowd and we were giving our best there
was reluctance on both sides to end it."
Quests also appeared on stage shows in Hongkong that featured the cream
of Hongkong singers and bands. One such show was held on Friday July 19, 1968
at the City Hall at show called Young Beat Live. Other groups appearing with
them were Mystic, D'Topnotes, The Menace and Robert Lee & The Montana.
Incidentally Robert Lee was the younger brother of Kung Fu legend Bruce
Lee. Another show was a fan club party held at the Mocambo in September
1968. Quests performed there together with Peter Nelson, Sam Hui and Lotus,
Wot's Happening, Marilyn Palmer & The Reflections and Anders Nelson.
In August 1968, EMI in Singapore released a Best Of Quests LP (ESK 608)
to keep the Quests in the minds of their fans in Singapore and Malaysia. It
collected the A and B sides of their early single released with some tracks
from their albums. It was an all instrumental album. The cover showed the
six-piece line up with Vernon Cornelius and Jimmy Chan and Sam Toh but in
fact it was the line up of Reggie, Jap, Henry and Wee Guan on the tracks
except for Jimmy Chan on some tracks. What was interesting too was that a
couple of the tracks had been re-recorded and presented as new versions of
old tracks. Gallopin which had been the B side of their first single was
one of them and the new version had Jimmy Chan's organ accompanying the guitar
melody. For this track strangely bass was not utilised. Pop In Theme was
done soul instrumental style with a wah wah guitar solo from Reggie that
updated the earlier version while Tea Break was done as a tender ballad.
Henry Chua who composed Tea Break said, "When I heard that second version,
I thought they had played it the way I had originally conceived it when I
had composed it. But being young and enthusiastic then, we got carried away
and rocked it up."
Towards the end of October, Quests were asked if they wanted to extend
their contract at the Mocambo by another three months but this time they
declined. They had tired of playing non-stop nightly for nine months. They
decided to go home. Their friends in Hongkong were sad to see them go as
they had becomes an integral part of the Hongkong pop scene and people there
had started referring to them as a Hongkong group. A Farewell to Quests concerts
was held at the City Hall on October 23 with Betty Chung, Rowena Cortes,
Danny Diaz & The Checkmates, Peter Nelson, Marilyn Palmer, Irene Ryder,
Lotus and Vic Christobal and his Orchestra among those who turned out to
say farewell to the Quests in song. It was a sad parting indeed for Quests
and their Hongkong friends and fans. EMI released a cassette only recording
of their farewell concert in the Hongkong territory only. Further they released
a single World Of Tomorrows and La La La Means I Love You in Hongkong after
they had left.
Just before they returned they went to Macao to play some dates there.
They did one concert on November 3 in this old concert hall which had seen
better days but now was old and seedy. They travelled to and from Hongkong
to Macao on one of the first hydrofoils used to link the two territories.
Quests returned to Singapore on November 4, 1968. When they returned to
Singapore Vernon dropped a bombshell.
He left the band within two weeks of their return to Singapore. He had
been with the band for two and a half years and appeared on numerous recordings
with them. He said then that the hectic pace of the time in Hongkong had
played havoc with his health. They were gigging nightly at the Mocambo plus
Saturday and Sunday tea dance sessions plus radio and TV appearances. Hongkong
was to have been a stepping stone on a long term plan by the band to make
it England, the land of pop music. However they had achieved what they had
set out to do in Hongkong and it was felt that anything further would only
be repetition. They took a deserved vacation for a few days and then regrouped
as a five piece with Reggie and Jap splitting the vocal duties.
With this new line up they played their first contract in Singapore at
the Sea Dragon, which was launch docked off Clifford Pier. They started
there on December 14, 1968 alternating with Cells Unlimited. After playing
a month there, Quests again began to prepare for a second visit to Hongkong
as the management of Mocambo who wanted them to return and perform had approached
Quests arrived in Hongkong at the end of January 1969, and started at the
Mocambo on February 1, 1969 replacing Danny Diaz & The Checkmates who
had replaced them three months earlier. A week later on Saturday February
8, they played at a Music Maker organised concert at the Scene Club performing
with Teddy Robin and The Playboys, Anders Nelson and the Cesare Bruno Group.
At the end of March 1969, Quests were offered another extension by the
Mocambo Management, which they accepted. EMI released an EP (ECHK 612) titled
Conquests, featuring the five piece line-up with songs such as Jesamine,
What Is Soul, Sunshine Of Your Love and Hey Girl. The recordings had been
done in Hongkong in 1968. One other track Watermelon Man that was recorded
at these sessions was never released. On Hey Girl Reggie did the lead vocals
and his singing sounds uncannily like Vernon Cornelius. It proved that the
Quests who feared not having a lead singer when Vernon left were now able
to manage with Jap and Reggie.
They also released an instrumental EP (ECHK 613) with The Good, The Bad,
The Ugly, Sounds Of Silence, Soul Finger and Love Is Blue. The songs were
the usual instrumentals that Quests were a deft hand at putting out but
Soul Finger exceeded expectations. It was an amazing instrumental featuring
Reggie going over the top with his guitar solo. Those who had imagined Reggie
to be a controlled player can hear him here moaning and whining aurally
through his guitar as he bends and meanders through his solo. Some of his
notes hit harmonic squalling levels.
During this time, an American promoter saw them perform at the Mocambo
and sounded them out about playing in Hawaii. They prudently decided to
discuss this after their contract ended at the Mocambo. Towards the end
of July, they were again approached about extending their contract at the
Mocambo but by now the boys were tired and only wanted to go home. They left
Mocambo at the end of July 1969 and were replaced there by another band from
Singapore, Blackjacks. Keyboard player, Jimmy Chan decided to stay on in
Hongkong and work there. They wished him well and returned to Singapore
and again broke up. Before they left Hongkong, they had recorded an EP in
Hongkong and this proved to be Jimmy's last recording with the band. It
was an all covers EP with Proud Mary, Traces, Cupid being the vocal numbers
and Time Is Tight being the only instrumental number.
They got together a few weeks after their return and decided to regroup
again. Playing music was in their blood and they missed it. One of their recordings
as a four piece was backing EMI singer Fatimah Ismail on her EP (ECHK 632).
The songs were Nothing But A Heartache, Little Green Apples, Come Back And
Shake Me and Every Time I See A Rainbow. The billing reads Fatimah Ismail
accompanied by the Quests but upon listening one does not detect the Quests.
Not to suggest that the Quests is not playing there but that their playing
has been rendered totally anonymous.
After the Fatimah Ismail EP EMI approached them about making an EP and
they recorded one (ECHK 635) as the four piece line up. They did popular
chart covers like I'd Wait A Million Years, Don't Forget To Remember, Memphis
Street and When The Clock Strikes Twelve. Reggie doubles on keyboards in
addition to his guitar work. While recording was going on they could feel
that being a four piece without keyboards was going to be hard, now that
other bands were using them and also adding horns to the line up. They decided
to look for another keyboard player. Peter Richards was recommended to them.
He was approached and accepted their offer of a slot in the band. This new
line up rehearsed and was approached by Quill Organisation to take up a residency
at the Kelong, which they accepted.
Quests were still called to do sessions duties and they backed Anita Sarawak
on her EP which contained Rain, Happy Heart, Come Into My Arms and I'm Gonna
Make You Love Me. On their own they continued recording in 1970 releasing
an EP (ECHK 644) which featured instrumental numbers like Tears, Jilted,
Flower Of Tears and My Lost Dreams. These Chinese sounding instrumentals
were targeted at the Chinese segment of Singapore and Malaysia's population.
These same sessions produced another EP (ECHK 647) which had Sugar, Sugar,
He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother, Baby Make It Soon and Holiday. These were
recent chart vocal hits but again the Quests played them as instrumental
numbers. The fans were mystified. It seemed like they were reverting to their
instrumental roots and releasing purely instrumental works.
One of the very last EPs they released was in April 1970 (ECHK 649) which
featured the five-piece line up with Peter Richards. The songs again were
covers but they were interesting choices. Quests fascination with Creedence
Clearwater Revival continued and this time they did Who'll Stop The Rain.
Their version of Guess Who's American Woman was filled with Reggie's guitar
licks and his bending techniques showed that he had been listening to the
new guitar heroes of late. He uses lesser notes but wrings each of them
to get maximum effect. Elton John and Benny Taupin's The Cage is given a
quasi Latin feeling with quite intricate bass lines from Sam Toh. Here Reggie
holds back apart from the centre bridge for a mournful fuzz interlude.
The very last Quests EP (S-ECHK 659) was another Chinese instrumental EP
with strong guitar playing from Reggie Verghese but seemed to suggest that
the band was moving away from Western oriented music to Eastern. At their
gigs however, they still sang in English and played instrumentals.
To all intents and purposes it looked like Quests had run their course.
They had achieved what they had set out to do. Became the major band in Singapore,
had numerous hits in Malaysia and done two successful stints in Hongkong.
There was on challenge left. Now they were just coasting along. The members
discussed the future of the band and it was inevitable that the thought
of splitting up was mentioned. They asked charter members Jap Chong and
Lim Wee Guan what they thought. Jap and Wee Guan thought it was better to
call it quits than carry on without any real purpose. So Quests split up
in 1970 with the members going their different ways.
After the band had become defunct, EMI put out a final product by the band
in the form of an album titled The Sound Of The Quests (SREG 9514). This
consisted of their releases in the later stages of their career. Side one
contained instrumental versions of Hawaii Five O, Booker T & The MG's
Soul Finger, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Time Is Tight, Sound Of Silence,
and Love Is Blue among the instrumental numbers. The vocal numbers were Sunshine
Of Your Love, Don't Play That Song (You Lied) and Be My Girl with Keith
Locke singing, The Grassroots I'd Wait A Million Years and the Casuals Jesamine.
It was not the best Quests compilation as it featured only material from
the final era apart from the two Keith Locke era songs.
The Quests picture taken in 1967 is of them on the steps of the Goodwood
Hotel in 1967. They were performing there prior to coming to Singapore.
from a show called The Good The Bad and The Ugly which Quests had
released as part of an EP.
QUESTS AT TV SHOW IN HONG KONG
QUESTS IN HONG KONG with Michael Remedios (Mystics)
READ MORE ABOUT SINGAPOREAN BANDS
by Joseph Pereira