THE SCHOOL TALENT TIME THAT NEVER WAS

It was during the second-term school holidays of 1964 that the seniors and few teachers organized a Talent Time show that attracted many aspirants from the Form Three and below decided to show off their talents. I was in Form Two, old enough to have my voice heard and after some consultation from my close classmates, I decided to try my luck. The night for the showdown was just a week away and I thought I had ample time to get myself well prepared and so during recess, I went to the school hall to get my application form. This was my first try singing in public and for the next few nights I suffered serious insomnia. I must sing the right song and it took me almost two days after I finally decided on the correct song to sing.

It was customary for me to play my acoustic on the tembok of our house every evening together with some friends singing any latest songs that I had managed to grasp the lyrics. My favourite singers and songs were The Everly Brothers with their famous songs of Dream, Dream, Dream and Let It be Me; Cliff Richard’s True Love Will Come to You and Ricky Nelson’s Travelling Man. I would keep repeating singing these songs until I could remember every word sung. I used to sing at weddings too but without the guitar. This time I wanted to sing while playing the guitar

.Bobby Cliff

As usual, Kak Shidah would be my mentor and she would advise me what would be the best song for me. By now she was in Form Five studying at the Convent School. I wanted to sing O Caroll by Neil Sedeka but decided later not to because this song need some vocal chorus. Furthermore I did not have the lyrics and to get lyrics those days was a tough job. Since song books were scarce, we had to wait for the song to be aired and copied the lyrics as fast as we could. Those days we created our own song book but with few songs written as we did not have the lyrics of some of the songs. We had to copy down the lyrics from the radio. Let me share with you how we copied lyrics those days.

Those days there was a radio program where the public could make a song request. We needed to buy a special post card at the Post Office and write the song of our choice and we could dedicate the song to whomever we liked. The stamp would cost us ten cents. We would then wait for the program to be on air and if we were lucky our request would be mentioned the following week. Sometime we had to wait for two to three weeks. When the program began, the radio presenter (now we call this presenter DJ) would begin…”For our first song, we are going to play O’ Caroll by Neil Sedeka. Albert Chin of Bidor would like to dedicate this song to Angela Wong, Sandra Neo, Maniam and the rest of his friends in Teluk Intan, Perak. Johari Ahmad of Johor Bahru wishes his girlfriend Maimunah Kassim from Muar the very best of everything and dedicated this song specially for her…and so on.” By then we were ready to copy the lyrics of O’Caroll armed with a paper and pencil.

At one go we could not copy all the lines. We wrote only what we managed to hear and remember and needed to wait for the song to be aired again. Normally it would take three times of listening to complete the whole lyrics over a period of perhaps three or four days. If we wanted to have it faster, then two persons must collaborate, one would copy the first line and the other would copy the second line and so on.

At fourteen years old, my English was not good. I had lots of trouble recognizing certain words. Because of that, the words or even sentences would be drastically changed. So “O Caroll, I am but a fool” became “I am bloody fool“. In Johnny Tilitson’s “Poetry in Motion“, the words “A lovely locomotion” became ” A lovely local motion“. Sometime the whole sentence would be changed but what was important it sounded the same and as long as the listeners could understand. Elvis’ “Devil in Disguise” became “Devil in the Sky” because at fourteen I had never heard the word ‘disguise’. Somehow we managed to have many lyrics written with our own hands.

Finally I decided to sing Ricky Nelson’s “Travelling Man“. From then on I began to memorise the words. Every time when I combed my hair I would sing the song, whenever I cycled I would sing the song until finally I managed to remember every word of the song. Even before I dozed off during the night, I would sing the song. But it was in the toilet while having my bath that I would sing out loud complete with the necessary expressions. As the day for the Talent Time became closer, my confidence grew.

One day before the show, every participant must attend a rehearsal conducted at the school assembly hall. The accompanying band comprised of three guitarists and a drummer. Each of the participant went upstage and sang their songs. Some songs were accompanied by the piano played by our singing teacher Mr. Stephen Edwards. I did my rehearsal once only and was very proud of it that I told everyone I met. The songs were all the latest from Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalone, Connie Francis, etc. Fatimah Mohammad known among the urban Muarians as Che Nya sang beautifully the version of “That’s All I want From You” and Ismail Sarajuddin (Buntat) did a Nat King Cole number.

Outside the hall while talking to some friends, I saw Atan Peon, a family friend talking to one of the organizers and I came towards him. Atan Peon as we called him was an Office Boy at the Land Office and he was four years my senior. He was a good looking lad and a good singer and had wanted to take part in the competition very badly but unfortunately his application was not entertained because he came to collect the application form a day late.

He pleaded with the organizers to let him to take part but was not allowed. However, out of pity, the organizers decided that he could sing but only as a guest artist. To this he replied, “What? As a guest artiste? But I cannot draw.” Our English had never been good during our younger days, it was even worse for Atan Peon who was an Office Boy. Atan was like a brother to me and a close family friend until today. Later he went to Germany to find a suitable job which he did. He stayed in Germany for quite a period and could speak German pretty well.

There was also a competition for band groups. In 1962, Muar produced quite a number of four piece bands emulating the ways of The Shadows. There were names like ‘The White Devils, The Kool Kats, The Teenage Blues, The Dreamers and The Hell’s Angels’. There was one band we called ‘The Pengs and the Gongs” simply because all of them were rather short (Pendek) and even their front teeth missing (Gongngak). Later when the Pop Yea Yea crazed reached Muar town, many bands and singers came into the scene and that was another interesting era of my time. The most famous was “Les Flingers”. I will surely relate this period in my later post.

The day finally arrived and in the morning I began strumming my guitar singing ‘Travelling Man‘, the same song for almost one hour. My cousin Aziz Mak Enggor came over and accompanied me with his guitar who was a better guitarist than me. He was a year my senior and was my guitar teacher responsible for my ability to strum all the chords of the songs I liked. Both of us would always sing together the songs of The Everly Brothers. At times we would sing together the songs of The Blue Daimond; Ramona.

Muar town during the early 60s offered no entertainment outlet except for the movies at the cinemas. So when a Talent Time show was broadcasted among the youths, the tickets were sold within a few hours of selling time. Schoolgirls were equally excited because this would give them the opportunity to mix with boys which they hardly could. The Malay and Indian girls were mostly from the ‘Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS)’ while most Chinese girls were from the Convent and the Saint Teresa School. Parents of my time were quite strict and the reason why we hardly see girls cycling to town in the evening. Such event as the Talent Time show would only be staged once a year and would be the only time most parents would give way to their young daughters.

In school, most of my classmates and friends from other classes had by now knew that I would be in the competition and some teachers too knew. My geography teacher I remember only as Mr. S’ng did not seem to approve and would soon be teasing me on the song Travelling Man in our coming Geography lesson.

By evening the day the show would be staged, I suddenly lost my confidence and it eroded faster as the hour approached. This would be my first time singing in public and I tried very hard to comfort myself and finally managed to after some support from my mentor. I had my shirt ready and my dark trousers tailored by my favourite tailor, an elderly Chinese man with a front tooth missing whom we called ‘Mary’ simply because his shop’s name was “Mary Tailor”.

By 7pm I was ready to rock, neatly dressed and cycled to the High School. When I reached the school I observed many people standing outside the hall. Atan Peon who had by now understood the meaning of ‘guest artiste’ was fully dressed like Elvis Presley and his hair style. Ishak Hamzah wore his father’s overcoat who was the first Johor Malay doctor that eventually gained him the title of ‘Sahak Doktor’. Salleh Uzir the ‘casanova’ of Muar town came with his teenage group then known as ‘The Bad Ladds’. The girls too were there with their skirts like those worn by Sandra Dee. As I walked nearer I saw the organizers talking to some participants and there was some argument. One of the organizers then stood on a chair and announced that the show had to be cancelled as they had overlooked one important factor and that was to get a police permit. Everyone was disappointed and there went my dream of showing my singing talent while playing the guitar. However we were assured that the show would go on next week and those who wished not to proceed may get their one dollar ticket refunded immediately.

Since we all had nothing else to do, we decided to go to the Taman Selera for our dinner. When we reached the place there wasn’t any seat available and many people were seen standing. This was certainly a rare occasion that even the stall owners were overwhelmed at such a big crowd. Not a single piece of cake was spared and that night business was too good for the stall owners particularly those selling drinks. It seemed everyone at the school hall had the same idea, and so we proceeded to Pak Ma’il’s Mee Bandung and again it was overcrowded. Muar town of 1964 was not ready for such a big crowd.

The following Sunday when school began, our first lesson was geography. Our geography teacher was a very nice gentleman; Mr S’ng. Apparently he was one of the organizers of the Talent Time show and did not seem to approve my participation. After giving us some lecture on geography, he began asking questions to us. Then he called my name and asked, “Kamaruddin, name me the longest river in China. I was speechless for a while trying very hard to remember the name when he interrupted by saying;

“So Mr. Travelling Man, you are not really a good traveler are you?.” The whole class began to laugh at me. Then he continued, “Perhaps you can tell me what’s the name of your China doll in old Hong Kong?”, and the whole class laughed even louder.

As promised, the Talent Time was staged the following week. I was the most disappointed as I could not proceed with the dream because I suffered a terrible flu. In spite of the sickness I made sure I did not miss this memorable event that would only be staged in Muar town once a year or even once in two years.

These days, I have not heard of any school staging a Talent Time show. It would good if they do because music is one of the many factors that can foster good relationship among the various races of our country. It was one of the good values of the yesteryears.

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