Memories of Alphonso Soosay

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(Memories of Alphonso Soosay) The wonderful part of being with a successful Singapore’s Pop Band in the 60’s was knowing the countless lot of impressive bands and talented singers performing here and there in Singapore, in spite of these happenings, I must say that, the very first successful recording artist in Singapore was “The Crescendos”. Then rolled up the second successful recording artists “The Quest” and within a year appeared the third most successful recording artist “Naomi & The Boys” in 1965 who achieved a first Gold Disc in late 1965. Successful recording artist meaning, best sales of records, having repeated No: 1 hit songs on radio and high numbers of popular radio request daily followed by performing in Pop Shows at National Theatre and all other venues organised by top Show promoters followed by weekly Media coverage. Back in the '60s, Singapore bands were so big that it was able to topple international acts like Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Dave Clark Five, Garry & The Peacemakers, The Ventures, Jumping Jewels, The Monkeys, The Beatles and many more on Singapore's, Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s pop music charts. Every one of us has our own memories of the 60’s to cherish in our own ways. As for me: Susan Lim of the “Crescendos” always had that natural Connie Francis style of singing. Their first record, Mr. Twister, surprisingly outsold Connie Francis’ version. This convinced Philips Records International about the depth and marketability of Singapore talents, Susan Lim’s No: 1 hit was Mr Twister / Frankie, for “Crescendos”. The “Quest” perfected “The Shadows” sound with ease. Reggie Verghese was an outstanding Shadows lead guitarist. The Quest had very successful stints in Hong Kong. Shanty was the No: 1hit for The “Quests”. Written by Bass player Henry Chua. Naomi & The Boys had a very extraordinary sound of their own with Naomi’s outstanding voice that handled the lyrics with ease along with superb feel and diction. A new lineup of “The Boys” emerged in1965 with Robert Suriya (lead), Peter Thomas (rhythm), Moses Tay (bass) and Alphonso Soosay (drums) which lasted until late 1969. Happy Happy Birthday Baby / I Know, was the No: 1, 1965 hits for “Naomi & The Boys”. These were the top three in terms of No 1 hit contributions made in Singapore’s 60’s music scene plus they all had other follow-up No 1 hits too. These top 3 groups had to compete in the weekly top 10 chart with International artists like Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Ventures, Jumping Jewels, Rolling Stones, Gerry & The Peacemakers, Elvis, The Monkeys, Yardbirds, Mannfred Mann and many more western stars. These top three were Singapore pop stars who gave Singaporean’s Indonesian’s, Holland’s and Malaysian’s pride and joy of Asia’s finest pop music then . On Record; These top three were selling records in the range of 25,000 units within three months of sales and most importantly clinging on to the top spots of local music charts (which is non-existence in today’s Singapore English local charts), this was a tremendous achievement back in the 60’s when the population of Singapore was considerably much smaller compared to these days. Looking on the other side, Singapore’s 60’s was not about the top 3 only; there were many other outstanding rocking bands that made it a golden era for Singapore pop scene. Groups that made big hits too were The Checkmates (No: 1 hit song, Sylvia) plus with most popular on stage Cyclones, Siva & James (No: 1 hit song, Oh No She Didn’t Say) handling most of the vocals, they were a team, resident-band performing at the most popular Tea- Dance club called “Golden Venus” and stage concerts. Checkmates with Cyclones were the solid Rhythm and Blues band I have heard then, my favorite. They played music from groups like Rolling Stones, Animals, Manfred Mann, Yardbirds and Kinks, that’s why they were known as the musical heavies. Other popular pop groups that had No: 1 hit songs on radio were The Thunderbirds, Sonny Bala & The Moonglows, The Dukes, The Trailers, The Siglap Five, The Jets, The Sun Downers, The Commancheros, Straydogs, Cells Unlimited, Pests Infested, Clansmen, Wes Cossacks, The Antarctic’s, Diamond Four, The Swallows and many many more. Singers that made it as recording artists were Reyes Sisters, Henry Suriya, Mark Yun, Rita Chao, Sakura, Anita Sarawak, Vernon Cornelius, Wilson David, Paul Cheong, Bryan Neal, Bobby Lambert, Evey Lyn, Lara, Mona, Keith Locke, Ismail Haron, Jefri Din, Kassim Salamat and many more. Not forgetting talentime winners like Cynthia Lau, Eunice Sim, Tidbits, Sugiman, among others also contributed to the rich history of Singapore’s music. At that time there was a talented musician Horace Wee, a member of RTS orchestra for talentime shows on TV. He had great local supporters and I still remember him leading the RTS Orchestra’s performance of “Guantanamera” on TV which attracted a huge number of reviews on the media and fans too. I also remember a lovely pianist I used to listen to, Peggy Tan. Then came the popular Sunny Low & his dancers appearing on most stage and TV shows. This is the kind of pop groups, music and entertainment that we all grew with. For me, it brings back warm memories of our younger days in the 60’s, when our lives were definitely simpler, more innocent and carefree than today. There were money making Show Promoters like Robert Chua, The most creative person I have worked with. Others were Johnny Young, Fernando Young, Michael Tan and K V John as big supporters of Singapore pop groups. In the very early 70’s came the big time promoters like Jimmy Lee and Watson Tay who managed the biggest entertainment booking agency in Singapore named “Quill International”. They also brought in top International artists where local artists had a chance to meet and perform on the same stage. Promoters from The Redifussion Discovery team, Mike Ellery, Larry Lai, Joseph Goh, Tan Swee Leong and Eric Lim. This proactive team created talentime shows where some of the 60’s talents were groomed for lucrative recording contracts. This team created all kinds of contest, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Connie Francis, The Shadows, The Ventures, Jumping Jewels, Paul Anker, Johnny Ray, Millie Small and many many more. Recording Companies like, Philips, EMI, Cosdel, Decca and many more big recording companies were looking out for potential musical talents in a very big way. 1960’s, were the best years for recording artists in Singapore. Philips Vinyl Record productions were relatively well produced and were made in Holland. We had to live with of poorer quality audio recording facilities which existed in Singapore then. Now looking back, I must say thank you to the support and interest shown and given by the music industry multinationals, Philips Records, Singapore bands were given a platform for their tunes to be recorded and distributed and very often making it into the Singapore and Malaysia’s English Pop charts, elbowing comfortably next to the top hits from USA and England then. The cost of an EP was only $4.00, SP was $2.00 and LP’s were $10.00 each. Young Singaporean’s saved from their school pocket money to support their favorite groups by purchasing their records and watching live shows. I remember, there were strong but friendly rivalry between supporters of different pop groups. All these were part of the fun within a big family of local music lovers. Mind you, no fights at all at live shows. Radio Singapura and Redifussion were the official radio stations for the pop artists then. Show promoter Robert Chua came up with names like The Star of Stars that toured the 11 states of Malaysia. Johnny Young came up with the Early Bird show at Capitol cinema; someone else created Musical Express at the Odeon cinema and many more. Pop Inn TV show was the hot TV entertainment for western music lovers. Many of the local pop groups used to dream of appearing on that show. Istana Pesta TV shows were featuring all the top local Malay singers like Julie Sudiro, Ahmad Daud & his dancers, Rahim Hamid, Kathina Dahari, Ahmad Jais, M Ismail, Rafael Buang, Ernie Djohan and many more. My teenage memories of Singapore’s local music instantly bring back names like The Patricians and McCoy’s. There was one of the first teenage pop groups to appear in Singapore’s first black & white TV. I believe I was inspired into music by these groups. They were very popular on Black & White TV, radio and Redifussion those days, even before Crescendos’ and The Quest dominated. In the 70’s, my memory brings me to the popular “Xperiment” formally known as Commancheros with Joe Chandran, The Garrisons, Top Cats with Ronnie Ong and top of the chart Western Union Band. These were whopping night club and household names, and then guess who came into the top of the charts? “October Cherries”, I believe, they were known as Jade & Pepper when they first started off, then changed name to Surfers. As I move into the 80’s, I remember a new wave of Singapore acts; voted the best SBC talentime vocal winner “Ann Hussein”. Eurovision song contest winner “Ali Ahmad”, there was no lack of good talents then. Well-known pop group like “Gingerbread”, voted by SBC as the best pop group in October 1985 with a No: 1 hit song “Roses” followed by many No: 1 hit songs. Then there was a follow-up by another popular group “Tokyo Square” with number 1 hit song, “Within you will remain”. There were many other professional popular pop groups like Hangloose, Tania, New Faces, Zircon Lounge, Sweet Charity, Black Dog Bone, Street-smart, and Eurasia, also a great Rock singer named Ramli Sarip. I believe audio recordings by these groups are still popular at sing-along Karaoke lounges in Singapore and Malaysia. This was another big achievement for the Singapore pop scene. I left Singapore in late October 1985 for Perth, I believe, from that time on, musicians from the Philippines came into the Singapore market in a very strong way. It was sad that Singapore’s musician union could not do anything to help local musicians to gain jobs in the night club scene in Singapore. I have noticed that after speaking to many musicians and singers who left Singapore as far as 30 years ago still think very sentimentally of their early lives and enjoyment they had in Singapore’s music entertainment life. If only someone could write a real book of facts about Singapore’s music scene through the years since the early 1960’s up to date, then, this would be a real treasure of the century. The only person I could think at this stage is Siva Choy who was the active musician then, a journalist writing about the music scene of Singapore with media Fanfare and others. Note: Singaporeans also adopted International artists like Anneke Gronloh, the Blue Diamonds in 1960, and The Fabulous Echoes as our own even though they were not born in Singapore. Also adoption from across the causeway, The Strollers, The Falcons, Teenage Hunters, Frankie Cheah, all these artistes also contributed to Singapore 60’s shows that kept Singaporean’s still talking about the good old days. Note: 60’s music finds its origin in several places, starting as far back as the big swing bands of the pre-war era that the 60’s kid’s parents listened to as youngsters. From memory, a few of the most famous bands were Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Muddy Waters, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. Later followed by pop style, Dave Clark Five, The Spencer Davis Group, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Mamas & Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Four Seasons, The Shangri-Las, The Shirelles, The Drifters, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, then followed with singers like, Aretha Franklin, Supremes, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Sam Cook, Wilson Picket, James Brown, Otis Redding, Ben E. King, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Neil Diamond, just a few to name. Between 1965 and1967 the world saw the most amazing experience and changes in rock music ever, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, perhaps were the two most innovative recording groups of the mid 60’s. Although there were so many other great pop rock groups at that time, as for me I must say that, The Beatles and Beach Boys created such enjoyable lively pop rock music ever then. Cheers Alphonso Soosay Ex “Naomi & The Boys” drummer Perth 2009

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