continued from Part One
I was in Form Four at the Muar High School in 1966 and since there would be no important examination, I spent most of my time improving my guitar skill by learning a few other difficult chords. As I did not learn the musical notes, I learned the chords through some books that provide the diagram of the chords and more important was the bass notes
1966 was the year the phenomenal rise of the Pop Yeah Yeah music. It was the influence of the Beatles’ “yeah, yeah, yeah’ trademark that many Malay bands came into being. About the only difference was these bands played only Malay songs. It started with A. Ramlee and The Rhythm Boys of Singapore as well as Jefferydin and the Siglap Five, also from Singapore. A. Ramlee’s “Oh Fatimah” became an instant hit while Jefferydin’s “Termenong” followed neck to neck. By and by, many Malay singers accompanied by their respective bands started to record their own composition. By 1967, Malay singers and their bands grew like wild mushroom throughout the country. We had names like Kassim Selamat and the Swallows, A. Romzi and the Hooks, A. Rahman Hassan and Orkes Nirwana, A. Rahman Onn and the Strangers, and many more. In Muar town, we had our own famous singer, A. Halim and D’Fictions.
Back home in Muar town, our local A. Halim’s Kesah Dan Tauladan hit the number one chart and managed to stay on top for several weeks. Then our singer Zainal Omara suggested that we did our own recording and we all agreed. We needed four songs of our own composition and I was asked to compose one song and the lyrics was by Zainal himself. The title of the song is “Tetap Setia”. When all the four songs were ready, we headed for Singapore and did our recording. We stayed at a small hotel for the night and proceeded to Singapore the next morning. The did the recording under the name of The Dreamers, featuring our two singers Zainal Omara and Shahrin Shah.
Although the song which I composed did not reach the top of the local chart, it was frequently aired over Radio Malaysia and I felt proud to have contributed a very small part of the music industry of that period. From then on, our band became quite famous and we performed at weddings practically every week.
One incident I can never forget was a wedding held at a remote kampung somewhere near Sungei Mati. It was on a Thursday evening and immediately after school, I rushed home to have my lunch and having done so, had my bath and out on my new clothes and cycled to the bus station near the site of the ferry. I parked my bicycle at the side of a food stall and looked for a taxi. I managed to get a taxi going to Sungei Mati and I showed the driver the address of the house where the wedding was to take place. My band members had gone to the kampung early in the morning to set up the instruments. They had asked me to skip school so that I could come with them but I had to decline because apparently that morning I had to sit for an important examination. The driver told me that this kampung was quite far from Sungei Mati town. It had to pass through some rubber estates to reach the destination. I told the driver that I was willing to pay extra for the fare and he agreed.
When we reached the town of Sungei Mati, it was almost three o’clock and I was sure my band had started the show. But we had an earlier arrangement in that the event I was late, Alias was to play the bass guitar while our lead guitarist had to strum and play the solo as well. They did just that but they played some simple songs because Alias could not cope with other songs with difficult bass works.
The journey to the kampung was indeed far and we had to pass through some rubber estates. The road was so narrow that it was only passable by one car but luckily throughout the journey the taxi was the only car using the road. When we reached the house, it was so crowded that it looked like a mini fun-fair. Many small rectangle flags of various colours were hung on tree branches and when I stepped out of the taxi, all eyes were focused on me that I felt like a celebrity and my band members were so relieved to see me. I was immediately taken to a special table and was served with plenty of food. Obviously I would not eat everything that was served and furthermore I was never a big eater. After the meal, I joined my band members and we entertained the kampung people with many songs of the pop yeah yeah as well as songs from the legendary P. Ramlee. The kampung people really enjoyed themselves and we lasted until 12 midnight. There were three taxis that would transport us back to Muar town and by the time we reached the bus station where I parked my bicycle, it was almost 2.00am in the morning. This was the actual part that I could never forget. Cycling alone to my house at 2.00am in the morning.
Muar town of 1966 was a small town and the night scene was truly eerie. Although the journey to my house was hardly ten minutes of cycling, I felt it was like an hour of spooky journey. From the bus stand, I had to pass by the government building. The street lights were so dim that they did not help much, especially those blocked by the tall tree branches. It was a cold night and dark because there wasn’t any glimpse of stars in the high heavens. There wasn’t any soul on the street except me. After passing the government building, I reached the front of “Istana Hinggap” of the Johor Royal family and I could feel the eeriness as I negotiated a turn toward my left which was the start of Jalan Omri and down the road after three junctions was my house. I kept on cycling pretending to be very brave and I immediately stopped when I saw a white figure walking towards me. It was approximately 50 meters from where I was.
Ghosts stories in Muar town of my growing years were plenty and of various nature. There was once a rumour of a woman who died after giving birth to her child came back home after midnight to look for her child. Whoever created that rumour should be given high marks as most people would stay indoor during the night for fear of encountering this woman whom many called as pontianak. However, none of my neighbours and friends had experienced any encounter. There was also a rumour of a ‘flying coffin’ terrifying every housing area that no one dared to cycle alone at night. Now here I was cycling home alone at 2.000am in the morning and there was another using the same road; a white figure walking slowly towards me.
I was clueless what to do next as I watched the figure reaching slowly towards me. No words could describe how terrifying I was and the only solution that immediately crossed my mind was to turn back and cycled to my friend’s house which was just a short distance away. I did just that and I cycled as fast as I could and soon I was in front of my friend’s house. I knocked at his window where he usually slept and he was quick to respond. He came out and asked me what happened. I told him what I just experienced and we both sat down at the stairs of his house while I tried to stabilize my breath. A few minutes later, we both noticed the white figure walking towards the front of my friend’s house and we both ran inside and locked the door. Both of us peeped at the window to see a glimpse of the figure and not long before my friend smiled at me and said, “That is Sarop Singh, your neighbour”. What a relief and I decided to cycle home to have a good sleep as I was extremely tired. The next morning, Yem (my friend) made fun out of my experience last to all our friends and they couldn’t stop laughing.
I met my neighbour Sarop Singh and asked him why was he walking alone in the wee hours of the morning? He told me he couldn’t sleep and decided to have a good walk to enjoy the breeze of the cold night. When I asked him whether he was not scared of encountering a ghost, Sarop replied, “Where got ghost one, it’s only our imagination”.
However, cycling alone in the middle of night in Muar town of the sixties had been a routine for me and throughout all these periods I have never encounter anything spooky.
Apart from performing at weddings, our band would perform at fun fairs, guest artiste at Talent Time shows and quite often we would perform alongside famous pop yeah yeah bands such as A. Ramlie and The Rhythm Boys and M. Osman of the Suzana fame.
Another interesting episode of my life in the music industry was when my good friend Sahak (Ishak Hamzah) requested me to have my band The Dreamers accompany him to record his voice. Sahak was not a fantastic singer but he loved singing very much. When I decided to help him, the first thing I did was to consult my cousin Aziz.
Aziz was already schooling at a boarding school in Kuala Lumpur but he would return home to Muar practically every week. In Kuala Lumpur, beside schooling he was in a band he had formed together with our childhood friend Daiman. It was called “The Beatniques”. When he returned one Saturday, I met him and we both discussed about helping Sahak to achieve his dream. After quite a lengthy discussion, we both agreed to form a temporary band just to accompany Sahak and we needed the materials; four songs for the single album. I composed three songs while Aziz composed one song.
Another important issue that we discussed was the budget needed. We were still students and there was no way we could raise the amount needed. Together with Sahak, the three of us approached Kadar Shah, the son of a prominent person in Muar town. After listening to our plight, he agreed to finance the costs needed to produce a single album. Now that the project had the necessary budget, we had to have the players for the band.
Aziz suggested that we invite Daiman to play the lead guitar and Ramlee to play the drums. Ramlee was then the drummer of the famous “The Strollers” of Kuala Lumpur. Aziz returned to Kuala Lumpur and met up with both of them. In view of Aziz’s good relationship with them, they both agreed to assist in our project. Two weeks later, both Daiman and Ramlee arrived in Muar town. We introduced them to Sahak and later to Kadar Shah. We discussed many things on how to make this project a success.
The four songs that we managed to compose were frequently practiced and we kept on improving them. Sahak wrote most of the lyrics and finally after over two weeks, we were ready to leave for Singapore to do the recording. Kadar Shah then suggested a name for this temporary group and he came out with the name The Prematures. We managed to produce good music but apparently Sahak’s voice did not reach to the required standard.
An Indonesian music producer who heard our music suggested that we accompany a famous Indonesian singer Ernie Djohan to do a recording but we have to turn it down because we were never an item. We did it only to help our good friend to pursue his dream but unfortunately he didn’t make it.
I continued playing with my band The Dreamers in a few wedding functions and sometime we were invited to perform as guest artiste during concerts organized by some schools.
In spite of being one of the well known bands in Muar town, we did not have a proper set of instruments. Every time we had a function, we had to rent them. Until one day when our leader Shukur suggested that we look for a financer to buy for us a complete set of instruments. We managed to convince the owner of a famous bookstore to finance and manage us. He was none other than Encik Manaf of Manaf Bookstore.
To be continued.