(The Dreamers of Muar 1966. From left: Alias (Rhythm guitar), Yours truly (Bass guitar), Shukur (Lead guitar) and Shaari (Drums).
I had always enjoyed music since I was very small. Most of my uncles were music lovers and I grew listening to their kind of songs. I knew the names of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Benette, Doris Day as well as the name of the songs they sang when I was as young as seven years old. Most of these songs have such wonderful melodies that listening to these songs now would bring me back to those wonderful years. My grandfather too loved music but he always sang Japanese songs. Perhaps he learned to sing these Japanese songs while Malaya was under the Japanese occupation. Every evening he would sit in one corner of his bedroom and sang these songs with his eyes closed and I could see that he really enjoyed those few moments.
At the same time, I loved listening to the Malay songs aired over the radio. We had two radios, one was a Grundig and the other was a Philips. During those early years, Indonesian songs too were frequently aired over the radio. We had names such as Bing Selamat, S. Effendy and their women singers such as Titeik Puspa. Our local Malay singers of that time were names such as P. Ramlee, R. Azmi, Jasni while the women singers were Momok Latif, Noormadiah and of course the legendary Saloma.
My first appearance singing in “public” was in 1956 and I sang in front of our class a beautiful song of P. Ramlee’s Berkorban Apa Saja. I learned singing this song after watching his movie “Hang Tuah” in Singapore. Every minute of my time I would sing this song. When my class teacher discovered that I always sang this song in school, he invited me to sing in front of my classmates. It was on one occasion when he brought us to the school field and invited some of the students to show their talents. Some students showed off their “silat” skill pretending to be Hang Tuah. When my turn came, I sang this beautiful P. Ramlee’s song and at the same time showing off my missing two front teeth. At the end of the song, my classmates clapped their hands and I thought my voice was quite like that of P. Ramlee’s. I was so proud that I told everyone I met, even to the Kacang Putih seller and the Rojak seller. I guessed they were not amused because they just nodded without smiling.
Not far away from where I lived, was the house of my paternal grandmother. It was situated within the vicinity of Tanjung. Every Thursday evening, my uncle Wak Chad (Arshad Ali) would come and take me to this house and I would be spending my time here until Saturday. My unmarried paternal uncles and aunties lived in this house together with three children; my elder brother Farouk who was three years my senior, my cousin Atek (Afrizah Abu Bakar) who was two years my senior and my cousin Ajis (Aziz Abu Bakar) who was a year older than me. During the day we would be running around the house with our antics and return for lunch to “recharge our batteries”. Before dusk, we would return home to take our bath and ready to fill our stomach during dinner time. After dinner, we would play some inhouse games and sometimes we would play ‘teacher and students’.
Being the eldest, Farouk would be the ‘teacher’ and the three of us his ‘students’. There was once a ‘maths class’ and being so stupid in arithmetic, I would always blink when asked. Atek and Ajis were always quick to answer any question asked while I would be pretending to think, which was not necessary as I did not know the answer. But the ‘teacher’ was always kind to me and he would teach me the answer. When Ajis could not answer a question, the ‘teacher’ was quick to shout at him and called him ‘bodoh’ (stupid). Sometime the ‘teacher’ would ask the three of us to sing a song and he would be the judge. We were asked to sing only one song; Hitam Manis. It was like a singing competition and I would always end up being the winner. If we were to have this kind of ‘teacher’ in all the schools today, I am sure all the students will be very dumb.
My passion in music grew even more when a close relative formed a musical band called ‘The Teenage Blues’ and apparently he stayed at the house of my paternal grandmother. Uncle Bakar Salim was a student at the Day Training Center (DTC) and was good in playing the acoustic guitar (refer to my article Bobby Cliff and The Teenage Blues). My cousin Ajis was fortunate to be able to learn playing the guitar from him and it was Ajis who then taught me. I was able to strum the guitar with some simple chords and by the time I was twelve years old, I could strum while singing some songs. I was very influenced by my British singing idol Cliff Richard and knew all of his latest hits. Somehow, I was not crazy about Elvis Presley who later became known as The King of Rock n Roll.
Ajis and me would always sing together emulating the style of The Everly Brothers of the USA. Then came The Blue Diamonds, two dutch brothers who came out with their famous song “Ramona”. We would bring our acoustic guitars to Tanjung and sang these lovely songs by the river-side throwing our voices with the highest pitch. When some schoolgirls passed by, we sang even louder.
Sometime in 1962, a young boy of Ajis’ age named Daiman Mat Nor came to Muar town following his parents where his father was posted as the district’s Labour Officer. They lived in a two-storey bungalow which was a walking distance to the house of my paternal grandmother. Daiman eventually became very close to Ajis as he was a fine young guitarist. When I first met him, he was playing his guitar with the song ‘Walk Don’t Run’ made famous by the four piece from USA, The Ventures. For a young boy of thirteen, playing that kind of song would obviously fascinate me. Daiman did not stay long in Muar town and two years later he moved to Kuala Lumpur following his parents but his relationship with us remained for a very long until he passed away sometime in the late 90s.
Ajis at the age of fifteen had joined a band called ‘The Dreamers’ as the bass guitarist. The band became the most famous Muar band of that time. The lead guitarist was a Javanese descent whose parents sold satay around Muar town. His name was Tukur but we called him Shukur. He could play the lead guitar like Hank Marvin of The Shadows. The rhythm guitarist was a shy boy named Alias while the drummer was Sha’ari. The Dreamers was the most sought band for weddings and other musical functions. Sometime I would follow Ajis to observe the group performed at weddings.
As I did not wish to be left behind in the Muar musical scene, together with my cousin Ungku Tik (Tik), we both form a band called The Kool Kats. We invited Hamzah Bachik as the rhythm guitarist and Sheikh Ibrahim (Yem) as the drummer. After school, we would practice at Yem’s house until evening.
One day we heard there was going to be a Talent Time show at the Cathay cinema and we all thought to give our new band a try. But Tik had an idea nobody ever thought. He suggested that our band should be accompanied by our own dancers. It was something like the ‘Shindiq Dancers’ that we watched on television. I can’t remember who was responsible in getting the girls to dance but surprisingly we managed to get eight schoolgirls from the Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School. The girls created their own dancing style as at that time we had never heard of a choreographer and obviously there would never be one in Muar town of 1966. They practiced while we boys played the song of our choice for the Talent Time. I remember the names of only four girls; Nazli, Aishah, Sofiah and Jenny Chong. The song was ‘Galloping’ by The Quest of Singapore.
On the night of the Talent Time, we arrived early and had our dinner at the ‘Kedai Siang Malam’ while the girls came later. Many good Muar bands participated and The Dreamers was among them.
The Kool Kats and their dancers. I played the bass guitar standing on a stool.
Cathay cinema was crowded on that night. This was most obvious as we seldom had this kind of entertainment in Muar town. The Dreamers did a number of The Shadows called ‘Geronimo’ and they played extremely well. The other bands that I remember participating in the show were The White Devils, The Jumping Jewels, Hell’s Angels and The Waves. When our turn came, we all thought our performance was good. The girls danced very well too. When the result came out, we were not even considered for the third place. We were very disappointed and consoled the girls and thanked them so much for their great efforts. However, one of the judges came looking for me after the show. I remember he was a teacher at the Ismail School I whose name was Mr. Edward Steven. Mr. Steven told me that we should not have entered the Talent Time show but should have taken part as a guest artiste. He then suggested that we took part in a future musical show as a guest artiste. I had to turn down the offer because these girls were schoolgirls and we never had any intention of having dancing girls for our band. We did it that night just to entertain ourselves.
The next day in the evening, we heard that the girls were called by their Headmistress and were given a stern warning not to ever participate again. We felt so sorry for them. Today some of these girls had become grandmothers and I am sure whenever they reminisce about their wonderful years of growing up, they would surely remember this event.
On the same year in 1966, Ajis left for Kuala Lumpur to study in a boarding school. Before he left for Kuala Lumpur, he suggested to his band members to take me as his replacement. I was introduced to all the three band members and we played a few songs with me as their new bass guitarist. I was finally accepted as their new bass guitarist.
TO BE CONTINUED…PART TWO.