MALAYSIA: This is one of my most memorable tours. It was organised
by Cathay Organisation, the cinema chain. The tour was scheduled
for East Malaysia during August 1966. There were a total of 42 shows
covering eight towns, beginning from Kuching in Sarawak on Aug 2
to Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu) in Sabah on Aug 26.
other towns visited were Sibu, Brunei, Seria, Miri, Labuan and Sandakan.
Another town, Tawau, which was in the original itinerary, was cancelled
as it was close to the Indonesian-Kalimantan border. Indonesia had
started a confrontation towards the newly-formed Malaysia and there
was a spate of bombings targeted at crowded places. We were glad
the Tawau shows were cancelled. I could imagine the great risks
involved in playing to a packed house so close to the Indonesian
night before we left, on Aug 1, we stayed in the studio to finish
the recording of our first album. By about 6 pm we had put down
on tape In A World Of Our Own and My Favourite Things, the latter
from the film, The Sound Of Music.
went for a quick dinner at the corner coffee shop next to McDonald
House (where the EMI studio was), and then got back to the studio
to rehearse for the tour till midnight. The air-condition system
was shut off and we had no choice but to rehearse in the sweltering
heat. I remember guitarist Jap Chong was perspiring so much that
he stripped right down to his briefs while we choreographed our
steps. It was a comical sight watching him with his red Jazzmaster
hung on his shoulders and doing the "Shadows walk" half-naked.
Today, it would have been a scream if we had incorporated it in
our act. In those days to appear half-naked would be unthinkable!
Jap could have been the original inspiration to Madonna, had he
not been too early.
Performing at the Fraser & Neave Hall in River Valley Road
in the '60s. From left: Jap, Henry and Reggie.
We were the first big act to arrive in East Malaysia and therefore
received the biggest billing this part of the country had ever seen.
I remember stepping out of the plane at Kuching airport and being
welcome by an entourage of reporters and radio announcers. Each
of us was garlanded with a ring of flowers by some good looking
girls. The reporters were all hovering around us as we walked out
of the airport to the waiting limousines. They started throwing
random questions, hoping to receive some answers. After a quick
photo session we were whisked straight from the airport to the Radio
Sarawak broadcasting station. We did an interview, which was recorded
and broadcast on the same afternoon.
the interview, we performed some of our hit songs and tunes in the
studio, which were recorded and broadcast as well. We were then
rushed off to our hotel for a short break before going to the venue
to set up our equipment and balance the sound for the evenings
took us two hours before we completed our stage setup and the sound
test. I noticed at one side of the stage there was a banner advertisement
for Fender musical instruments, which were what we had brought along
for the tour. During the sound test, we learnt that all the tickets
for the shows were completely sold out and touts were selling tickets
at three times the normal price.
went back to the hotel for dinner, a quick shower and a change of
clothes and rushed back to the venue for the first show. It was
a hectic schedule.
our vehicle neared the cinema where the shows were held, we noticed
a large gathering of people, hundreds of them, milling around the
compound of the cinema complex. Policemen were busy trying to control
the crowd. We thought an accident had happened, or perhaps a riot
driver tried to pull up close to the rear entrance, but the crowd
gathered around our vehicle, tapping the windows and waving excitedly
at us. It then dawned on us that these were our fans. The crowd
surrounded us as we got out of the car to get into the rear entrance.
They were happy to see us and tried to touch us and shake our hands
as we squeezed past them to get into the theatre.
when we thought we were safe in our dressing room, a reporter came
in and requested an interview. He had somehow sneaked in the back
door to meet us. We were ready to oblige but the Cathay management
led him out as they were afraid the show would not begin on time
if we did the interview.
Wilson David with The Quests at the Goodwood Park Hotel Arundel
Room. The band had to maintain their volume at a respectable level
so as not to compete with the sound made by the cutlery of the diners.
We started the show with a rousing curtain riser. The tune we chose
was Rhythm And Greens from the Shadows movie of the same name. It
was an easy 12-bar boogie, which we pieced together very quickly
during the previous nights rehearsal in the EMI studio. There
was a lot of "ooohs" and "ahhhs" in the tune,
which served to put the audience in the right mood for what was
to come next.
had never played to such an appreciative crowd before. During most
parts of the show we could hardly hear ourselves because of the
screams from the audience. People got up and danced in the aisle
to the music. The police on duty did not stop them, they simply
smiled and enjoyed the show too.
were originally scheduled for three evenings in Kuching doing two
shows each evening. But due to the overwhelming response and success
we had to extend another night. And as there was no dedicated concert
hall at that time the shows were always held at movie halls.
had to do two shows every evening in almost every town. One was
at 7 pm and the other at 9.30 pm. Each show lasted about two hours.
By the first 30 minutes, our shirts were soaking from our perspiration.
In between shows we were rushed to our hotel for a quick change
of the other songs we did were Silly Girl, Ill Be Your Man,
Shanty, Tea Break, The Sound Of Music, My Prayer a Platters
favourite and some Supremes numbers like Baby Love, which guitarist
Reggie Verghese sang in falsetto with the rest of us backing in
one of the evenings when we got back to change in between shows,
we discovered that our rooms were broken into. It was the work of
some fans. But they did not take much except some shirts, hankies
and underwear. We guessed they wanted them to keep as souvenirs.
I thought these things only happened to the Beatles and the Rolling
daily newspapers were filled with articles about The Quests and
rave reviews of the previous evenings shows. We were all instantly
recognised and mobbed when we went out to Kuching town for lunch
and a little shopping. The fans were everywhere. We had to sign
our autographs on almost anything. On their hands, arms, magazines,
diaries, on the backs of T-shirts and so on. Some gave us flowers
and chocolates. We received lots of hugs and kisses.
left Kuching reluctantly after our concerts. There were tearful
fans at the backstage door and at the hotel on the night of our
last show. They had come with flowers and little souvenirs. Many
brought along our records for us to autograph. We also had to oblige
many by posing for photographs with them. It was at least past midnight
by the time we returned to our rooms.
mode of transportation between the towns was mostly by van or jeep.
However, we arrived in Brunei from Sibu by air. It was a Dakota
twin propeller aircraft, which landed on the grass runway.
evening we performed at the Cathay Cinema. We were informed that
the Crown Prince of Brunei was in the audience in the front row.
As the show started, I began to feel rather queasy, not because
of the presence of his Royal Highness, but because I was coming
down with a flu due to the stress and the travelling. Halfway into
the act I felt I simply could not continue playing. Instinctively
I handed my bass guitar over to vocalist Vernon Cornelius, as he
was the only other person on the stage with his hands unoccupied.
I then struggled off backstage to flop on an armchair. Poor Vernon!
He was absolutely dumbfounded. He could play some chords on a six-string
guitar, but had never played bass before. In that split second,
I actually left him no choice but to hang the bass over his neck
and he pretended to play. He faked it for the next half dozen songs
while I tried to recover backstage.
say he actually did a very good job, as even in my weak state, I
could still listen to his notes. Of course, there were some little
odd excusable mistakes but they were not glaring enough except to
the very discerning ear. I managed to get back on stage in the later
part of the show after a couple of Aspirins to finish the gig.
With Mr Dynamite Keith Locke... the group could have arrived
before The Who but they did not have the heart to smash their guitars.
From left: Wee, Jap, Henry, Keith and Reggie.
The next day, we proceeded to Seria by road. I arrived dead sick
with the flu and immediately got to my room to sleep. While trying
to do so I heard knocking on the door, but was too ill to answer.
An hour or so later the knocking resumed. I managed to crawl to
the door to open it, expecting to be greeted by some autograph-hunting
I found the cinema manager standing in front of me. He had come
to fetch me to the doctor. He was a really kind man. I felt sorry
that he had reddened his knuckles from all the knocking on my door.
We arrived at the clinic and the doctor confirmed I had the flu.
He asked me if I was allergic to penicillin. I was not sure, so
he injected a test dose and asked me to wait for a while. As I did
not go into convulsion or anything of that sort from the test, he
gave me the whole dose. We thanked him. There was no bill. Public
clinics in Brunei are free even until today. I recovered very quickly
during that afternoon and was prancing happily again on the stage
our vehicle neared the cinema where the shows were held, we
noticed a large gathering of people, hundreds of them, milling
around the compound of the cinema complex. We thought an accident
had occured. It then dawned on us that these were our fans.
The crowd surrounded us as we got out of the car to get into
the rear entrance. They were happy to see us and tried to touch
us and shake our hands as we squeezed past them to get into
MALAYSIA: Based on the success of the East Malaysian tour, Cathay
organised another one the following month.
lasted from Sept 15 to 30 and took us to Johor Bahru, Kluang, Batu
Pahat, Tampin, Port Dickson, Klang, Bentong, Raub, Kuantan, Kota
Bahru, Kuala Trengganu, Seremban, Malacca and Muar.
happened during this tour that we would never forget. We were on
the Raub cinema stage in Pahang, and a quarter way into our act.
Reggie was trying to adjust the height of his microphone stand when
there was a sudden spark of electric current from the stand. He
stumbled back and fell right on to my bass amplifier, toppling the
equipment. He lay down still for a few seconds. There was no reaction
from the audience. They must have thought it was part of the act
as The Quests acts were full of surprises. I was frozen stiff for
a while as I thought he was gone.
quickly got the curtains to close. We huddled around Reg. Thankfully,
he was not harmed. He took a sip of water and very soon recovered
from the shock. He regained his composure and we resumed the show.
We had to take care that we did not come into contact with the microphone
stand so as to prevent the leakage current from playing havoc again.
goodness Reg recovered from the accident. If anything adverse were
to happen that evening it could have meant the end of the tour,
and the group. There would never be tunes like Roller Coaster Man
or some of our later hits.
next morning while we were having breakfast at our hotel, Reg received
a concerned telephone call from his father who had read in the Singapore
Straits Times about the incident. Reg assured him that everything
was all right and we were proceeding with the rest of the shows.
rest of the tour proved to be equally exciting and educational for
us. We ran into all kinds of problems along the way.
were on our way to Kuala Trengganu from Kuantan, when the engine
overheated. As we did not carry any spare water, someone got the
great idea of using some plastic bags to fill up water from the
rice fields. It worked until the leaking radiator drained all the
water again. So it was a matter of stopping every five kilometres
or so to top up the radiator. We were grateful the farmers did not
mind us taking the water from their fields. We finally arrived in
the town very late in the evening. Luckily for us, there were no
shows scheduled for the evening.
was also on this tour that I had my first experience of migrating
birds. We were at a small town called Bentong in the central highlands
of the mainland peninsular of Malaysia. There were thousands of
swallows flocking in the sky. We were told they had flown all the
way from China. The sheer number blocked out the setting sun, hastening
the dusk. In the evening as we took an after-dinner stroll on the
main street, we could still see them perched on the electrical overhead
lines running along the stretch of the town. Directly beneath the
lines their droppings could be seen. We were careful not to become
their innocent targets.
last stop of the tour was the town of Muar. I was beginning to feel
the strain of the tour and ended up getting sick on our way back.
I could not eat anything the whole day and was feeling nauseous
during the return journey to Singapore. I was puking all along the
whole route with my head out of the window and leaving a trail of
my digestive juices on the road. It seemed like an endless journey
to me. We arrived home in the afternoon with me as sick as a dog.
I quickly got home and flopped onto bed, completely bushed!
* * * *
concert appearance was the easiest job. We commanded from $1,500
to $2,000 for a 20-minute appearance. It was easy and big money
then. We were the crowd puller and the show organisers could not
do without us. We could also demand special treatment, like top
billing, appearing in the slot just after the interval, our own
dressing room, refreshments, paid transportation, special microphones
and so on. All the time our requests were met. In retrospect, I
still believe our requests were quite mild and basic. I am sure
today, our local TV stars are better treated.
considered every show very seriously and always had a plan for each
of them. Each of us was aware that the Quests needed to be very
different from the average neighbourhood band who was happy just
to be playing the right chords and to be singing in tune. We had
set ourselves a standard which we did not want to compromise and
were therefore meticulous in the planning of our act, right down
to how deep we should bow to the audience.
repertoire had to be selected first. We always tried to have a good
mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers for our set.
the repertoire was agreed upon, only then did we begin our rehearsals.
Most of the rehearsals were done at Japs place in Tiong Bahru.
Sometimes we were lucky to be able to use the EMI studios in the
evenings. I will try to paint you as detailed as possible what went
on during a typical rehearsal.
phone would ring and Jap would be on the other end.
Henry, band practice this Friday, two oclock, my place,"
you called Reg yet?" I would sometimes ask. I did not refer
to Wee as he stayed only four apartments away from Jap in the same
block on the ground floor and I always assumed he would have done
I already did. Can you find the chords for Bus Stop? he replied,
referring to a popular Hermans Hermits song, which he
might like to sing for the show.
the official "Chord Finder" of the group, I got down to
Friday, Wee (drummer Lim Wee Guan) and I would be at Japs
place just before two. Both of us were usually the early ones. Jap
would sometimes be home when we went over. Sometimes he would still
be at the movies with his girlfriend.
slightly over two, Reg would appear in a taxi. He would want to
grab something for lunch first, as he had not eaten. We would accompany
him to have his noodles at the coffee shop opposite. In between
noodles, we would discuss the suggested repertoire.
would then cross the Moh Guan Terrace road to Japs place.
The first thing we did was to get our guitars in tune. As a guitar
was being tuned, the rest of the boys tried to keep as quiet as
possible as everything was done by ear. I noticed sometimes with
a less-experienced group, everyone would be tuning at the same time.
The result was sure to be catastrophic.
the guitars were tuned, I would show them the chord charts for the
songs I had prepared. I only needed to prepare those new numbers.
For the more familiar tunes that we could play by heart, we just
had to run through them quickly.
would also memorise the new tunes by playing them over and over
again until we could play them instinctively. As far as we could,
we would also try to add some stage choreography in our act. We
would rehearse this part in the more spacious living room.
Jap lived on the ground floor of the block, we would usually shut
all the windows when we rehearsed for some privacy. However, this
did not prevent our fans from climbing and perching on the window
ledge to peep in at the free show. They were all very appreciative
though. We would sometimes let some of our close friends in and
even asked their opinions on our act.
were also very fastidious about our overall appearance in front
of the audience. We had to decide on the suits to wear, right down
to the similar shoes and socks. We even had to agree what Vernon
or Jap was to say to the audience over the microphone.
sometimes stuck little cue notes on the back of our guitars. These
had the repertoire written on them. They were also used to mark
some personal cues too. For example, Wee might want to remind himself
which songs he needed to cue us in, or perhaps a change of key in
the song for us to note.
usually arrived in the afternoon at the venue of the show to conduct
our sound check, spending at least an hour or so. The equipment
was thoroughly checked and rechecked during the sound tests.
were particularly careful with the guitar leads. The leads we used
were at least 20 feet in length. We needed these so as to enable
us to fan out and take up positions right at the front of the stage,
instead of being shackled to our amplifiers by short leads. Wireless
transmitters were not available then. We also made sure we carried
some spare leads on the stage. The only things we did not have as
spares were the guitars. We simply could not afford another spare
set of guitars. In fact, in those days no other local groups did,
for the same reason. If a string broke it was plain hard luck, although
sometimes another group might quickly loan you another guitar from
the side of the stage. But as we all knew, playing on someone elses
axe would never be the same. Luckily for the group, Reg and myself
had never broken a string on the stage. Jap however, was not so
fortunate. He constantly broke his strings.
way we positioned ourselves on stage was pre-determined. From the
audiences perspective, Jap was always on the left, Reggie
on the right, and myself in the centre. As the three of us were
about the same height, visually we looked better than most groups.
Wee would normally be perched high up on the drum rostrum if there
seemed to be a great line up even till today whenever we get together
for a reunion concert. Over and above all, alertness to each other
is a priority during live concerts. We simply deplore false starts
and un-coordinated endings to a song. We figured that if we could
begin and end a song together, then everything in the middle would
fall in place easily.
guitarist knows that it is one of the most sickening moments when
you break a string during a performance.
The Quests had our fair share of such experiences. Reggie and myself
had burst some strings before, but the champion title must surely
go to Jap. Somehow it seemed his habit to burst a string while strumming
his guitar, and during a performance too!
for us, the Jazzmaster he normally used came with a tremolo-arm
lock. That is to say the action of the tremolo, or vibrato arm,
as some may prefer to call it, is defeated when the lock is in operation.
A broken string would hence not affect the guitar tuning when the
lock is in the "on" position. But we would still lose
the full tone of the chord. Imagine a note missing from a triad!
Unless it was a stage concert, we would take a break while he put
on a new string and retune, whenever it happened.
were glad that he was not using a Stratocaster then, as this model
does not feature a tremolo lock.
usually bursts the high-E or the B string. But there was a time
when even the low-E became a victim of his aggressive rhythm.
was a great guitarist widely admired and followed. He still is.
He was Singapores first guitar hero. Many other groups tried
to emulate his playing style and his sound but mostly without much
success. He had never learnt music formally although his sister,
Clara, was a piano teacher. He amazed us by playing the piano too.
I wished I had half of his talent. He could simply ad-lib a phrase
without any pre-arrangement. Most of the guitar lines in our records
were done in the studio. Before the takes, all he had to do was
to fiddle around with the chords and suddenly produce those famous
phrases. It was amazing.
spite of all his ingenuity, he had never mastered the knack of setting
up his equipment. I suppose good musicians do not make good technicians.
All the while before any gig or stage show, either Jap or myself
had to plug in his amp and effects for him. He only had to plug
his guitar into the echo effect like a star. We were simply his
day, during a sound test, he called out to me from the stage. "Henry,
help lah, theres no sound from my guitar."
course, he tried to play his guitar without even plugging it in!
Sometimes he panicked because he forgot to switch on the standby
switch of the amp. Well, we have a lot of other stories on Reg too.
Often he could be a little baby being the youngest in the group.
But luckily all of us understood him well and therefore tolerated
him well too.
performed at many of the RAF (Royal Air Force) Camps. There were
three RAF bases where we performed regularly Changi, Tengah
and Seletar. The Quests Combo usually did these contracts, although
at the beginning only the four-member group appeared.
enlisted servicemen who had seen us at a tea dance told their camps
social committee to invite us. The first contract we received was
from Changi camp. The members of the mess were mostly young servicemen.
We did a lot of Beatles and Shadows numbers. I remember doing Please
Please Me, She Loves You, I Should Have Known Better, I Want To
Hold Your Hand and other hits. Another Beatles number we did was
If I Fell, which was a three-part harmony with Reg, Jap and myself.
Vernon was not with us yet. This was in early 1964.
initially played as a guest band on the dance floor with the audience
around us. The sessions usually lasted about an hour. Everyone stood
around us to watch and listen. Sometimes they would break into a
rock n roll dance with their partners.
drank a lot. We drank a lot of free beer. Correction, Jap and Reggie
drank a lot of free beer.
the beginning, we performed mostly as a four-piece group with Reg,
Jap, Wee and myself. We were doing a lot of Shadows, Jumping Jewels
pieces. Jap starred in the Cliff Richard songs, and all of us chipped
in to harmonise the Beatles numbers. Sometimes we performed on the
dance floor as a guest artist group, other times we were the resident
band on the stage for the whole evening. For the second type of
contract we needed to prepare at least 70 to 80 tunes in our repertoire
to last us for a four-hour evening.
money was good. The group was receiving about $500 for each gig.
We did not split this immediately. The money was banked into an
account managed by Mrs Devan for us. I must give credit to this
extraordinary lady. Being the A&R manager of EMI she not only
managed our professional well-being, but also our personal matters.
She took it upon herself, without any payment from us, to try and
run our monthly accounts.
this account we drew our fixed monthly pay. We were lucky to get
about six to eight contracts a month to keep us going. Together
with the radio and TV shows and the live concerts we were quite
happy with what we were earning. For sure, we were the highest paid
band in town then. Imagine just some three years ago we were paid
the paltry sum of $20 for a whole evenings work! We had arrived,
or so we thought.
was a period when we were two bands. We had the usual lineup with
the four of us and Keith Locke. At the same time we also played
as The Quests Combo. The Combo did not perform as a stage act, only
as a dance band. Reggies elder brother, Alan, and another
friend, Rajan, enjoyed following the group to the RAF gigs. Besides
the free beers (as they passed off as our roadies), there were the
opportunities with the girls too. The band was too busy on stage
almost the whole evening and did not have much opportunity to strike
up any close relationship with our fans and groupies. Alan and Rajan
were on the floor and had all the opportunities.
after we thought why not add some Latin percussion to the band.
Thus was born the Quests Combo.
chose to play conga drums, while Rajan played the timbales. Another
of Reggies friend, Eugene Seow, joined the combo on tenor
saxophone. On and off, we had another friend, named Moody, playing
piano. Otherwise Reggie would play the piano and the vibraphone.
The combo taught me a lot musically. We were into Latin and jazz
standards as we played very frequently at the Officers Mess
at the RAF camps.
officers and their wives were great dancers and they wanted more
variety of music to dance to besides rock n roll. We
had to work hard on our repertoire to ensure a steady stream of
contracts. I remember we hired a piano for a few months, at Wees
place for the combo rehearsals. Imagine a cramped living room with
seven musicians and their equipment. There were cables and percussive
instruments everywhere. To excuse oneself to the toilet, one needed
to be very careful not to trip over Eugenes saxophone or Reggies
Strat, otherwise hell would break loose.
practised and played a lot of Latin numbers, or at least evergreen
melodies rendered in rhumba or cha cha rhythm. Occasionally, we
threw in a couple of tangos like La Paloma or La Cumpasita.
We tried to emulate famous Latin bands like the Edmundo Ross, Prez
Prado or the Xavier Cugat orchestra. My fathers tango records
came in handy instantly.
enjoyed the gigs the combo had at the camps. It was always a fun
social evening. Imagine a hired van piled with musical equipment
travelling from Japs home in Tiong Bahru with the three of
us to pick up the other four along the way to the evenings
venue. We would usually pick up Reg and Alan at Bukit Timah, then
to Serangoon for Rajan and then to Sennett Estate to pick Eugene.
Unfortunately after the gig the four of them also dropped off after
supper, leaving Jap, Wee, the van driver and myself to lug the instruments
back to Japs home.
gigs were very enjoyable for us and there were also some interesting
and amusing episodes on some evenings.
never forget this one. Eugenes favourite tune was Stranger
On The Shore, a tune made very popular by Acker Bilk, a British
clarinet player whom, I was informed, learnt to play while serving
as a POW during World War II. I must say he, I mean Eugene, did
the tune fairly well if he managed the correct lipping and the reed
in the mouthpiece did not misbehave. If you could tolerate the occasional
squeak it was quite listenable. He performed the tune at almost
every gig. It was his signature act.
evening while we were playing at RAF Tengah Officers Mess,
an officer came up to the bandstand and requested to jam with us.
He had brought along his instrument, an alto saxophone. Of course
we could not refuse his request and he happily got up on stage and
began blowing his horn so expertly that we all could not help noticing
Eugene trying to melt into the corner. You bet we did not hear Eugenes
saxophone very much that evening, let alone Stranger On The Shore.
It remained in its carrying case for the rest of the evening. The
next time when we had another gig at the same place Eugene made
sure that our horn blowing friend was not around before he attempted
his signature tune. Eugene was a very friendly chap. Years later,
he went abroad to study advertising and, ultimately, became the
big boss of Ogilvy & Mather in Singapore. He later left to start
Ball Associates. We met again in later years at a friends
episode happened at the McGregors Club at the Tengah base.
McGregors was an NCOs club and therefore much rowdier.
evening the men were treated to a topless revue. There were six
showgirls who paraded around and danced to taped music. We were
on the stage when the act came on. As the music sped up there was
some vigorous dancing and, as one of the girls jumped and landed
on a scissors-split position, her G-string came undone. The fighting
men roared in wild excitement.
were deafening catcalls and table thumpings while the poor lass
fumbled to arrange her flimsy costume back in place. We never knew
what they saw, but it must have surely made their day! The next
time when there was another such act, you could be certain we would
not be so silly as to be on the wrong side of the stage.