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.


Reg Guitar

This man needs no introduction, Reginald Verghese ! Better known as the lead guitarist of The Quests, Reg is often referred to as the Guitar Guru of Singapore. In addition, Reg was a very successful record producer of EMI Singspore during the 70s and a talented composer who penned several Quests recordings that include Come On And Shout, Love Has Gone, The Man From Madrid, Dum Dum, I'm On Top Of The World (with Keith Locke), Instrumentally Western, A World Of Tomorrows, Gallopin', I'm Feelin' Good, Champagne and You Are Standing By Me. After The Quests disbanded upon their return from Hong Kong, Reg recorded a series of 8 albums on his own, featuring instrumental hits from both the Western and Eastern pop scene. Thank you for the music, Mr. Guitar Man !