Down memory lane

WHEN four-piece instrumental groups were a rage in the 1960’s, local teenage bands, wanting a piece of the action, started to fashion their musical persona after their idols such as The Shadows, The Ventures and The Jumping Jewels or even a semenanjung group called The Falcons. The Quest from Singapore came much later.

Some of the home-grown talents came pretty close to sounding like the originals, especially the Tornados, the Blue Rebels and the Swifters, to name a few.

Two popular local female vocalists at that time were Rose Iwanaga and Janice Wee who parlayed their much sought after performances on stage and at the local radio station into memorable recording stints.

Rose’s recordings of Please Tell Terry and Too Young were hits among the younger set in the 1960’s while Janice’s recordings, including Johnny Cash’s smash hit – I Walk The Line – and a new composition Two Of Us Together Shall Be One, also had a sizeable following of fans.

As an afterthought, if you are serious about becoming a recording baritone or tenor, make sure you have a barrel-chest like Mario Lanza’s or Andrea Bocell’s. Lung power and voice control are key to classical singing. Being Italian also helps.

In the 60’s, doing nightclub gigs was a good way to make pocket money for job-hunting school-leavers who organised themselves into four-piece bands. There were entertainment joints in Kuching only too happy to sign them. Business was good, especially with the presence of foreign servicemen during the Confrontation years. Most pup and nightclub operators back then were laughing all the way to the bank!

Elvis and Cliff

During those far away years, Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard (later Sir Cliff) ruled the local pop airwaves.

The legacy of the hip-swivelling pop icon from Graceland, Memphis, USA, is perpetuated by Elvis impersonators who come all decked up in Elvis garbs – bejewelled pants, high-collar jackets, belts, shoes and even special Elvis visors. Among the slew of first local Elvises was Iskandar Yaw. There are more Elvis impersonators now – follow journalist Valentine Tawi among them.

Cliff Richard’s most celebrated hit is, of course, The Young Ones. The song was made popular in Kuching in the 60’s by Jimmy Kueh, backed up on the lead guitar by Ashari Manis.

The popular British pop singer’s early records included Schoolboy Crush and Move It. And it was one of his songs Oh Boy that put Cliff and his backing group The Drifters (later The Shadows) in the limelight. I first heard this song sung around a picnic campfire by the late Josiah Lee Lai Soon. He was also the one who inspired me to learn to play the guitar.

School days are usually the most memorial times in our lives. Just imagine how we and our classmates from the 60’s have changed with the passage of time. For sure, we aren’t getting any younger.

Over the years, many of our schoolmates have successfully scaled the pinnacle of their careers and some have gone on to become big shots. There are, among them, prominent politicians, top civil servants and professionals in various fields.

In the old days, teachers were still teaching well into their 60’s. Some examples were the late Mr Lee Teck Huat, the late Mr Samuel Gawing and the late Mrs Wong Foo Lum. Nowadays, teachers, like other civil servants, retire at 60.

For a taste of the outdoors in the 60’s, there were three favourite picnic spots – Matang, Bau Lake and of course Karangan, a stretch of pebbles-strewn coastline (hence its name), directly opposite the Bako National Park and some distance from Kampung Buntal.

To get to Matang at that time, you had to cross the old Satok Suspension Bridge to the other side of the Sarawak River, then travelled along a gravelled road, negotiating some sharp bends before reaching your destination after some 13 miles of rough road.

The Matang waterfall was much more pristine back then. Should you decide to stay the night, you had to pitch a tent near the waterfall because there weren’t any bungalows around. The stillness of the night was broken only by cascading water and insect sounds from the surrounding jungles. There was always the oft-chance of an encounter with the good brothers, depending on how strong your aura was!

Bau Lake is about 22 miles from Kuching. To get there in the 60’s, you had to cross Upper Sungei Sarawak by a PWD ferry. The old Bau road was a farcry from the present one, winding most of the way to the town, comprising two rows of shops, just a stone’s throw from the famous Bau Lake or Tasek Biru, once an open cast gold mine.

Picnickers would camp by the lakeside and spend most of the day swimming in the greenish blue water or playing on a raft kept afloat by oil drums. Even the legend of the white crocodile was no deterrence – mainly because the reptile was believed to be a creature of benevolence that had saved many a would-be drowning victim from a watery grave. Whether there was really such a creature or not, no one knows for sure.

When the lake was drained to restart mining operations in the 1980’s after a lapse of many years, no white crocodile or albino Bujang Senang was found.

For many, the best picnic spot was Karangan. From its sea-fronting wooden bungalow, standing on karangan-covered ground, ran a nipah bridge to a jetty. Some 600 metres from the bungalow is a sandy beach and paddling there in a sampan was always a challenge, especially at high tide when the willowy waves promised a slow-motion roller coaster ride.

They say things at these three picnic spots have changed out of sight. Indeed, time and tide wait for no man!

Over the years, we all have flown the roost and gone our separate ways. We know
most of our friends are still out there and the remote chance that we may run into them again offers some solace.

It’s always a pleasant
thought that we may still meet people we care about. Our long lost friends, like us, are consoled by the fact it’s always possible to get together again – sometime, somewhere, somehow.


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