Keeper Of Classics

Music fan Vernon Cheong has fond memories of the now- defunct Capitol Theatre, just steps away from the cafe in Capitol Building, where this interview took place. It isn't classic films that he reminisces over, but local English language bands like The Quests, that would hit the theatre's stage on Sunday mornings back in the 1960s. "Those performances, held at the Capitol and Odean cinemas, would start at 9 am and end usually by 11 am" said the 56-year old airline operations manager, who is married with two daughters in their 20s. "I remember paying $2 to get in." Over the years, Mr. Cheong has amassed an impressive collection of 1960s and 1970s Singapore music in vinyl records that even music company EMI Singapore had to tap into when they were compiling local golden oldies into CDs.

Recollecting Singapore 60s, launched just before Christmas last year, and its Volume Two, which was released last month, contain popular 1960s hits by local bands like The Quests, The Blackjacks, The Straydogs, as well as a sprinkling of more recent tracks, like songs by Tania and Sarah Chen . According to an EMI spokesman, many master tapes of such recordings were misplaced over time after office moves, so the songs were mostly transferred from selected albums and singles that Mr Cheong has recommended from his library of approximately 200 discs of local music.

The tracks were then digitally enhanced to ensure sound clarity, though Mr Cheong pointed out that most aficionados wouldn't mind an occasional vinyl pop or hiss in their bid to secure these rare recordings. "I'm not paid for the loan of my records." he admitted. "The main motivation for my participation in this project is to share my collection with music lovers of my generation and to preserve it for generations to come." The O level graduate had saved his pocket money while studying at Beatty Secondary School and later used his pay from National Service to splurge on singles and albums priced at $2 and $10 respectively. "In those days, there was a fair mix of local and foreign bands being played on radio." he said. "Local bands were also frequently invited to appear in variety shows on television, with regular gigs performed at the Singapore Badminton Hall and National Theatre." He added " After the British withdrew their military forces from Singapore and an influx of Filipino bands entered the night scene, local music began to show its decline during the mid-1970s."

In his spare time, Mr Cheong manages an MSN group called Recollecting The Quests, an online forum dedicated to his favourite band. On the forum, members wax lyrical over recent retro concerts or the latest sightings of Quests members like Vernon Cornelius and Reggie Verghese. He no longer keeps taps on the pop scene now, he confessed, chuckling that he is too entrenched in music hailing from his formative years." The best music is what you grow up with," he said. "Hopefully, our current generation can also appreciate that fact that good local music was produced and supported in the 1960s."

- An article featured in the Straits Times by Yong Shu Hoong.


Anonymous said...

Gee ! That's what I call a library of dreams ! You are tempting us with your precious gems again. Ta, old pal.


mei said...

some day you should start a section at the local museum on music

it would be great
hey you should find some way to make an entry of joe wu's channel


Good idea Mei ! Anything goes for brother Joe. Done ! Cheers.

mei said...

his clips are well worth preserving

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories, Vernon & Joe.


JoeWuSeattleWaUSA said...

To Vernon and Mei:

Thank you so much for the linkage to the YouTube site. So thoughtful of Mei to make that suggestion. Thanks, Mei.

To everyone else reading this:

Dear friends,

I am a most fortunate person. The gods in heaven have really smiled on me.

It has been my distinct pleasure, privilege and honour to be a friend of Vernon Cheong and HJ Teo the past 5 years. You folks will not believe how much they have done to help me to recollect my childhood music after I had been away from Singapore for 35 years. My two bros are the ones who have brought a lot of joy into my life the past 5 years, and for that, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Above all, I find these two guys to be real gentlemen and true friends. In some societies, I think by now we would be required to slit our palms with a knife and let our blood mix. You think that's too primitive? Maybe we can just substitute that ritual with a round of Bloody Marys after a big feast in a most fancy Chinese restaurant someday.

It has been a blast to Recollect The Quests and Singapore 60's Pop Music with everyone the last few years.

By the way, the old "RECOLLECTING THE QUESTS" forum was mentioned in this March, 2007 article, and some of you nice folks were also members of this forum.

I enjoyed participating at RTQ. I really enjoyed the flow of the many different discussions there, and, most of all, the participation of friends who told me things about The Quests and Singapore 60's Pop Music that I did not know or had long forgotten. Good times, good exchanging of thoughts.

RTQ served its purpose well, but when Vernon made the decision to shut it down a few months ago, I supported his decision, especially since I knew he really took a lot of time to think it over before turning off the lights.

For whatever reasons, the format of msn.groups did not appear to entice all fans of The Quests and Singapore 60's Pop Music to join up. Anyone could easily tell that there had to be more fans around than those who joined as members of msn.groups blogsites.

Judging from what is happening at YouTube, the time is ripe to open up the platform here and reach out to some other fans around the world. You know, make new friends.

I am very happy that my bro Vernon has found new joy and excitement in this new blogsite, "SINGAPORE 60's POP MUSIC HALL OF FAME." I wish him continued success in this adventure and a cornucopia of friends around the world, both existing and new.

I am flirting with the idea of naming my next-born after his or her Uncle Vernon. Yep, it will be either Little Vernon or Little Vernona.

Best regards always,
Joe Wu

Anonymous said...

Dear Joe,

It was a joy reading your comments here. Gives me a feeling of "deja-vu" or "Yesterday Once More" ! RTQ may have been closed but the spirit is very much alive here. You've taken the words off me in your comments about Vernon. I guess the only thing I may add is that this nice guy likes to share his collections with fans. EMI Singapore would not have been able to release Recollecting The Quests Vols. 1 & 2 without his contributions and they duly acknowledged it in both the CD sleeves. Like you Joe, Ms Pearl Wong of EMI Singapore was also very lucky lady to get to know him ! There was the added bonus of Recollecting Singapore 60s CDs Vol. 1 & 2. The other benefactor here was of course The Quests themselves, as his untiring efforts has contributed much in keeping their legend alive till this day. Thanks for everything, Mr. Roller Coaster Man !

Jet Jon

Lesley Rudge said...

Hi Vernon,
I am hoping you can help me out.
My father - Patrick Rudge - was quite famous in the 60s - he was also known as the "Birdman of the East".
He recorded one original song he wrote - On the Beach - and it was released by RTS(Radio Television Singapore) as part of a compilation
Would you happen to have it?
Please respond either way - lezrudge@gmail.com - I am very impressed by this website.

Lesley Rudge

Vernon Cheong said...

Dear Friends,

In celebration of the recent revival of local music with the release of Universal's "100 Greatest Singapore 60s" boxset of five CDs, I have added 20 more tracks of local music from the 60s and 70s on this blog for you to reminisce further....

1. Cotton Fields – The Sundowners
2. Under The Boardwalk – Lam Leng & The Quests
3. Single Girl – Lara Tan & The Trailers
4. Sylvia – The Checkmates
5. Forget The Time – The Mysterians
6. I Miss Your Love – The Thunderbirds
7. Casino – The Fabulous Falcons (Malaysia)
8. Nancy Pancy – The Antartics
9. Miss You – D’Starlights
10. Gallopin (68) – The Quests
11. Soul Finger – The Quests
12. Just As I Am/Do What You Gonna
Do – The Strollers (Malaysia)
13. Sayonara – The Quests
14. Freedom – The Straydogs
15. Repent – The Straydogs
16. Windows Of The World – Eunice Sim
17. To Sir With Love – Elaine Kang (Malaysia)
18. Geraldine – The Xperiment
19. Chinatown Rock – The Xperiment
20. Roses – Gingerbread

Best Regards,

Anonymous said...

That's a real "Pow Wow!" A solid mix of 60s & 70s songs and groups. Special thanks for The Mysterians' "Forget The Time". As they recorded on the Cosdel label, its very unlikely that Universal or Warner will feature this favourite song of mine in any of their releases.

A good show of force from the 70s with the strong presence of Eunice Sim, Elaine Kang and The Experiments. What a gem from the Antartics' "Nancy Pancy' led by the ever popular SA Vinton.

If you thought "My Lonely Heart" from The Thunderbirds was great, listen to "I Miss Your Love", just as good if not better. I think this is one of the most under recognised song from the 60s. It should rank among the best.

Thanks also for the Malaysian flavour, led by The Strollers with their two greatest hits made into a medley, The Fabulous Falcons from Ipoh, and the charming Elaine Kang.

I'm sure "Sylvia" brings special meaning to The Checkmates, one of their originals. Plus a little bit of Rock & Roll and Blues from The Straydogs....yes, give me my Freedom!

Last but not least, The Quests with their wide repertoire of music from Galloping to Soul Finger plus plus.

Kudos to a well balanced selection of fine songs from the golden era of local music. Thanks.

Ben Wong

Rach said...

That's a another positive Hoot ! from the Roller Coaster Man. Cotton Fields from The Sundowners is a rare one for sure. Where did you dig this up from ? A much slower version of Gallopin' is a good reflection of the years gone by since the original was released in 1964, composed by the Guitar Guru Reg himself. This melodious version is more suitable for matured fans like us. My favourite picks here are the unique Rap run of To Sir With Love by Elaine Kang and the sound-alike My Lonely Heart cut of I Miss Your Love by The Thunderbirds, another one of those rare gem from your dusty closet ? haha..

Geraldine by The X'periments, Wow ! who's this special lady ??? Thanks for sharing yet again, pal.

warm regards,

Laila said...

Hi Vernon,

Didn't know that you are an Xperiments fan as well. Must be their brass and horns that linked you up on this band. I remember them, Joe Chandran, Mervyn Nonis, Tony Shotam, Frisco Lim, Kenny Barket and also Siva Choy - the original line-up ? I think when the Chinatown Rock LP was recorded on Warner Music, the line-up has changed quite abit by then. Its a great album which included a few of their original works, notably Living in The Past, Waiting - two of the most requested songs during their Lost Horizon days. I think Geraldine was also penned by one of the members.

Now that Warner Music has taken over EMI's interests here, maybe there is hope that they will release some of these good local works on CD and the Chinatown Rock LP would be a good choice for starters. The sky is the limit if we trace back the roots of EMI's local talents here. BTW, I've bought a copy of the 3rd print of Recollecting Singapore 60s, impressed with its bright cover design and quality of the audio, at least they bother to dust-clean before recording.

Thanks for your compilation of local music on the blog. Its my private radio station now. Rgds