They met in kindergarten, were separated in primary school and then reunited on joining the V.I. in 1955. Like all Victorians of the Lewis era, they were all-rounders. Lee Kor Voon played rugby, made model aeroplanes, flew in the Air Training Corps and met Jesse Owens who inspired him to hurtle winning distances in the long jump. Classmate Stanley Loh Hing Tai, with shorter legs but bigger lungs, shelved books as an Assistant Librarian, played soccer for the School's B team and swam for both House and School, breaking two records on the way. Both were drawn to each other by a common interest in music and, in particular, the guitar. Their musical partnership was nurtured in the numerous concerts, social functions and talentimes of the V.I. and matured in state and national singing competitions, bringing the duo awards and accolades for their memorable rendition of the sounds of the fifties and sixties, in particular, those of the Everly Brothers. Music gave and continues to give them immense pleasure and a life-long hobby that has bonded them in a fifty year friendship spanning two continents.
Kor Voon was schooled at the V.I. from 1955 to 1959. In 1960 he joined Blackrock College in Ireland to prepare for the Irish School Leaving Certificate. At Dublin University's Trinity College he read English, economics and psychology and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1967. He read for his M.A. three years later. During his student days, he was chairman of the Malaysian-Singaporean Students Association in Dublin in 1964/65. After graduation, Kor Voon completed a post-graduate course in Management Studies in Liverpool. There, he joined the Littlewoods Mail Order and Chain Store Organisation to embark upon a career in buying and merchandising. In the early 70’s, he moved to London to join the Burton Clothing Group where he worked for 20 years. In 1993, Kor Voon became the General Manager of a private security and communications installation company near his home in Cambridgeshire.
Stan joined the V.I. with Kor Voon in 1955 as well but stayed on after 1959 for another two years to complete his Higher School Certificate. He was Treacher House Swimming and Waterpolo captain and swam for the School as well. He set the Selangor 50 metres back stroke record in 1960, and was a member of the V.I. relay team that broke the 4x50 metres freestyle Selangor Schools record. He was secretary of the V.I. Musical Society as well as the V.I. Geographical Society. After graduating with a B.A. from the University of Malaya, Stan worked as an editor at the Oxford University Press, as a senior marketing analyst at Esso, as Advertising and Promotion Manager at Tractors Malaysia, and in various other executive positions in Canada. His diverse written output includes a ghostwritten Malaysian geography text book and a Canadian guide on how to operate a video store. Stan is presently a director of Advanced Interactive Inc., an IT company which he co-founded.
Below, Stan and Kor Voon share their separate V.I. memories and tell of their love affair with the guitar and how this instrument brought them pleasure, fame and acclaim.....
My Romance With Music - A Nostalgic Walk
by Stanley H.T. Loh
t started as a passion for singing and song writing, a hobby that spanned some 45 years. I began to sing and write pop songs at the young age of 13 or 14, having just learnt to play the guitar by watching fellow Victorians and friends. Under the tutorship of the famous Francis Gomez, I was taught classical violin, an instrument I grew extremely frustrated with. One can either be very good with the violin or very bad. I was the latter! Notwithstanding that, I gave several performances on various occasions, including the V.I. Speech Day Concert in my earlier Forms. But soon as I learnt how to strum the guitar, a new love began, and the violin was cast aside - I don’t even own one today.
Some of the best times of my romance with music were collaborations with my best friend, Lee Kor Voon. I call him Kavye - an endearing name from schooldays. We have been fast friends since V.I. days. Actually we went to the same kindergarten at St. Mary’s School in Kuala Lumpur in 1947. (St Mary's is actually a girl's school but its kindergarten was co-ed at that time.) Naturally, we do not remember much of this phase of our lives. I understand that we both enrolled in the Batu Road School, a feeder school of the V.I. and, later, Kavye transferred to the Pasar Road School, the other feeder school. In 1955, we were reunited in Form 1C at the V.I.
At that time I was still playing the violin. That year I teamed with Johnny Lim and played Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen at the School Concert. It wasn’t my first concert. As a young child I was exposed to playing for audiences in church (every Easter and Christmas) and at old folks homes. My gratitude goes to my aunt, Dr Hilda Yuen, who gave me the violin scholarship. Her annual philanthropic mission was to bring cheer and gifts to the poor residing at old folks homes and I was always part of her entourage. I also played my first school concert at the Batu Road School in my first year at school. Then in my third year, in Standard 1, I actually was placed second in the school's talentime. I remember I played Bells Of Scotland at that time.
Kavye and I formed a team called the Kaverley Duo in 1959. The origins of this wonderful duet-team came from a Form 4C class concert when we formed a rag-tag "pop-rock" group called The Rhythm Boys. This group comprised Tan Seng Tor, self, Kavye, Kon Chee Kong, Low Siew Khoon, Chu Jon Hau, and Bobby Cheah. I do not know where Tan Seng Tor is, but I met him in 1976 in Toronto where he sported a huge Afro hairdo! Goh Loke Heng (a fellow Victorian working together with me at MoneyBar) had led me to Seng Tor. Nor do I know where Chee Kong, Jon Hau and Siew Khoon are. But I had heard that Bobby Cheah is a professional musician somewhere in Malaysia.
The Kaverley Duo years spanned a mere two and a half years of music bliss. We enjoyed regular practices, and learnt all the songs of the Everly Brothers whose spectacular harmonies in Felice and Bourdleaux Bryant songs still thrill us today. We won many competitions, and wrote several songs that can be heard over the Internet: http://www.soundclick.com/bands/stanloh. We performed in many places, honing our skills in show business. A Radio Malaya producer, Len Thorne, took a liking to our music, and featured us on all his show productions including a gig at the Federal Hotel one Christmas.
As a sideline, I also had lots of fun in the V. I. Swimming Pool where, in 1961, I succeeded in becoming a joint Selangor Schools Champion. I also managed to set a backstroke record which, I hear, still stands to this day!
Sadly, the Duo had to break up when Kavye went to Ireland for his studies. I took on other singing partners - Hajeedar Majeed, Roger Lum Chee Keong. But the magic of the Kaverley Duo was missing, there was no edge. Turning solo, I even guested with local K.L. groups like the Blue Jeans - a popular rock group in those days - in a Radio Malaya presentation and at social gigs. In addition, I sang with The Ghostriders with Bobby Cheah as its bass player. The Ghostriders played my first instrumental composition, The Young Generation, on television and stage. Then in 1963, at the University of Malaya I met some American students and formed The Travellers with them and learnt to sing folk songs by The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and others. We sang in theatres and cinemas, and even had a half-hour Christmas Show, produced by the late John Machado, on Radio Malaya.
I wrote That’s The One For Me in 1962. The Sundowners, a popular Singapore group, recorded it under the EMI Capitol label. I had met the Sundowners while organizing Universarama, a charity variety show for Welfare Week presented by the University of Malaya Students Union. They were our anchor draw for the sold out show. Honestly, the work that we put into the organizing with ex-Victorians Vong Choong Choy, Chan Yuen Tuck, Chee Seng Chee and Kanesalingam, the promotion and the marketing of Universarama gave me with a firm foundation for business. In any case, that song made it to the top for two weeks in Singapore and Malaya. It remains my one and only cut. Recording artistes in the U.S. are "holding" some of my songs today but they have yet to be recorded.
Kavye came back to Kuala Lumpur for a short vacation in 1965. We had a few weeks of good music, and even played at a Malaysian Film Unit concert. John Machado produced our first half-hour television live duet. Subsequently, I appeared in television where I played my compositions - Don’t Go, Don’t Let Your Doggy Out Tonight - for kids programs.
Although I was interested in music, I had never considered it as a means to a career. In the environment those days in Malaya (later Malaysia,) musicians did not make good living. Hence, being more practical, I pursued a career in commerce. I worked in three different firms, Oxford University Press, Esso Malaya and Tractors Malaysia, ghost wrote an OUP Geography book on Southeast Asia, Book 4 of the Oxford Progressive Geography Series, got married and raised two sons, Kevin and Keith.
Then we moved to Vancouver, Canada, in October 1974. One would say music was not a major part of my life then. In fact, I foolishly sold a beautiful Gibson guitar for a measly RM150. Then one day our church in Vancouver had a shortage of musicians. My wife urged me to step up and help and so, without even knowing what was going to happen, I found myself joining two other church members and we were winging the service. This led to a long-term musical involvement with a church music group. As a result, I wrote several inspirational songs. The core group exists today as One-Take Turtles, and you can hear us on Sound Click.
Although on different continents, Kavye and I stay closely in contact. We meet with one another as often as we can and, on such occasions, we (and our families) enjoy a few hours of jamming. On reflection, V. I., swimming and music has been very good to me. But I cannot close these memoirs without thanking my teachers at the V.I., the headmaster Dr. Lewis who gave me the opportunity to continue my studies at the school that I love, and of course, Kavye, my pal.
Burnaby, March 2003
My Musical Memories at the V.I., 1955 -1959
"…And now, ladies and gentlemen, the winners are - K V Lee and Stanley Loh!"
midst the enthusiastic applause from the audience, Stanley and I proudly stepped up on to centre stage to receive our first prize - the princely sum of $50 from Len Thorne, the compere of the show. It was 25 May, 1959, the venue was the Chin Woo Stadium, K L and the occasion was the "Gee Whiz" Stars of Tomorrow Talent Show sponsored by Radio Weekly and presented by the Englishman and radio impresario, Len Thorne.
What a dream come true! Only a little over a year earlier, we had just started to learn to play the guitar and to sing together and if anyone had said to us then that we would be performing to 3,000 people at K.L.’s Chin Woo Auditorium, we would have told him to get lost! Yet there we were, not only did we manage to perform on stage at K L’s biggest indoor venue, we had actually won the first prize with our performance of the Everly Brothers’ number one hit song All I Have To Do Is Dream, and, indeed, how appropriate the song title was.
Winning the "Gee Whiz" Talent Show was our first taste of real success and it was to become our launch pad for further musical escapades which Stanley Loh and I were privileged to experience and enjoy for the next twelve months or so and, indeed, even beyond that.
THE BEGINNINGS OF A LIFELONG FRIENDSHIP
How did it all start? Well, it began with my reunion with Stanley Loh Hing Tai in the V.I. in 1955 after several years at separate primary schools. We had first met in 1947 when we were just five years old and were playmates in the St Mary’s Kindergarten in K L. Stanley was assigned as my "partner" and this "partnership" developed into friendship as we progressed to primary school at Batu Road. However, after a year or so at Batu Road School, I was taken out and enrolled at Pasar Road School when my family moved to the Lower Ampang Road area.
In 1955, I was admitted into the V.I. in Form 1C and - lo (or should I say "Loh" ?) and behold – who was there too in the very same class but Stanley! Fate had certainly brought us together again. We were delighted to be reunited and, from then on, we became really great friends and went on to regard each other as a brother.
In the years to follow, our common interest and active participation in pop music cemented our friendship at the V I. At that time, Stanley was already playing the violin and my first memory of his talent was his performance of "Habanera" from Carmen by Bizet in a school concert with piano accompaniment from a classmate, Johnny Lim. I was rather impressed by their performance and thought they were very brave to go up on stage and play before the whole school.
THE SINGING OF THE SCHOOL SONG
I am sure all you Victorians remember the Friday morning assemblies when the whole school would assemble in the school hall where we reviewed school activities and then honed our vocal skills with the singing of the school song. I am sure you all remember Mr Pavee and his piano accompaniment and one of the teachers, Mr Chew Ah Kong, (later, it would be Mr Vincent Voo) conducting us. Mr Pavee would provide the cue by playing the first few bars of the song and then under Mr Chew Ah Kong’s direction, we would launch into the school song:-
"Let us now with thankfulness,
Even today, I still remember the tune of the school song well enough though I cannot claim to remember all the words. That I still know the first verse though is due largely to one of the most popular pupils in the V I in 1959. Fuziah Ahmad was the school’s Head Girl then. She oozed charm and personality and more often than not, she would have caught many a V I boy’s attention when she scooted by on her Lambretta. Fuziah had quite an impact on our lives for a couple of years or so. How she came to befriend Stanley and I will be told later. For the time being it will suffice to say that she had written the first verse of the school song inside the front cover of a song book which Stanley and I started. That song book is a treasured memento because we started it when we first began singing and playing the guitar. I also need to note here that the school clerk and Old Boy, Mr Richard Pavee gave us some valuable hours of his time coaching us singing during afternoons. Thanks to him, we learnt about things like pronunciation, rhythm, expression and presence.
AFTER-SCHOOL ACTIVITIES IN THE V I
Before proceeding to narrate further on the musical activities and memories of a musical nature in the V I, I like to set the scene as it were, and briefly describe some of the other activities available to all pupils at the V I in the late 50’s.
In my five years at the school, there was rarely a dull moment. Apart from the inter-house games and sporting activities, pupils could join the numerous, thriving societies and clubs and participate in the activities organised by them. There were the Debating Society, the Geographical Society, the Photographic Society, the Musical Society and the Aeromodelling Club, to name but a few. You could also enlist with the Scouts, the Cadet Corps and the Air Training Corps.
In 1958, Stanley and I became members of the Geographical Society. Among the Society’s activities was the organising of field trips to places of geographical interest including one to Bangkok. That was in December 1959. To a large extent the trip was made viable by the fact that at that time the Thai Ambassador’s son, Likit Hongladarom was a pupil at the V I. He was able to offer help and advise in arranging the trip.
On another occasion, in July 1959, the Society organised a trip to the Cameron Highlands where we visited a tea plantation and experienced the cooler temperatures of the region. I also recall trips to the East Coast states of Kelantan, Trengganu and Pahang. There was also a trip to Morib which included a visit to a match/timber factory near Klang.
I always had an interest in aeronautics and this led me to join the school’s aeromodelling club in 1956. I became Secretary and Chairman of the club respectively in 1958 and 1959. (By the way, this was one activity that Stanley did not share with me!) The school allowed us the use of one of the small rooms behind the stage in the school hall for members to meet and build their model aircraft. We held flying days in the school field and, for safety reasons, they were mostly restricted to Saturdays and Sundays when there were not many people around. Hence, not surprisingly, only few V.I. pupils knew the existence of the aeromodelling club. The club also participated in model aircraft flying displays and flying competitions with other schools in K.L.
My aeronautical interest also led me to join the V.I. Air Training Corps (ATC). On Sunday mornings, I would cycle from my home in Lower Ampang Road all the way to what is now the old K.L. airport to attend drills and parades. Sometimes, the drills were held at the school grounds. One of the best perks of being in the ATC was the opportunity to get free joy rides on aircraft of the Royal Air Force which was stationed at K.L. airport at that time. To get a free ride in an RAF plane, you simply donned your ATC uniform and turned up at any one of the RAF flight mission stations at the airport and requested a ride. Your chances of getting a ride depended on whether or not there were flights scheduled for that day, the nature of the flight mission and on the discretion of the pilot himself. My first flight was on a Valetta aircraft that was on a propaganda leaflet dropping mission to a jungle area in Negri Sembilan. On another occasion, I got on board a Dakota DC3 aircraft that was on a voice broadcast mission to another jungle area in Negri Sembilan. On both occasions, the missions were to urge the Communist Party members to surrender. I also managed to obtain a helicopter ride on a routine flight to a nearby base and back. Thus my long and arduous Sunday bicycle journeys to K.L. airport were well rewarded!
The school placed a strong emphasis on sports activities and constantly encouraged healthy competition between the Houses. As to be expected, the degree of inter-House rivalry at sports was rather intense during those days – Dr Lewis’ arrival at the V.I. in 1956 saw to that. He revamped the school’s approach to athletics in an effort to raise the standard of athletics and make the school more competitive in the sport. He made it compulsory for all pupils to participate in all the qualifying rounds including the cross-country run. He turned the annual sports day into a spectacular affair with an Olympic-style parade in which every pupil felt proud to participate in and enjoyed.
I can recall that towards the end of 1955 that great American athlete, Jesse Owens, actually visited the V I. At the 1936 Olympics, he had won four gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres, 4x100 metres relay and the long jump. He broke the existing long jump record by leaping a distance of over 28 feet. Jesse Owens came to Malaya to coach and advise local athletes. Like all other V.I. boys who were present on the day of his visit, I was privileged to meet the great athlete himself. I was aware of his achievements and I am sure it was his inspiration that aroused my interest in the jumping events. I had no talent for running but, being tall, I had the legs for jumping, I guess. In 1957, I won the V.I. Class 2 Long Jump and came second in the Triple Jump (it was called the "Hop, Step and Jump" then). Later that year, I won the Triple Jump event in the Selangor Combined Schools Athletics Meeting which was hosted by the V.I.
While I was active on the sports field, Stanley excelled in the water. He did not know he was a good swimmer until one day he won a 50m freestyle event - (it was called the "crawl" then). From then on, he became a member of the School’s relay team, swimming third leg and broke several school records. Stanley’s 50 metre backstroke record still stands today. In 1960 he was co-champion for Selangor Schools. I understand that Stanley does not swim any more today.
DR LEWIS' FAVOURITE SPORT
If there was a sport that was especially dear to Dr Lewis’ heart, it was Rugby Union or "Rugger" as it was better known then. Sure, he pushed athletics to the forefront and encouraged the participation of all sports in general but, without doubt, he always displayed a fondness for rugby. This was understandable as Dr Lewis was Welsh and, as we all know, the Welsh have a great passion for rugby. At the V.I., Dr Lewis did his utmost to encourage the school to excel in rugby.
I played rugby for my house, Shaw House, and I recall Dr Lewis taking personal interest not only at inter-School matches but at inter-House games as well. Often, he would come on to the field and give advice and discuss tactics. Some of the tactics he taught us included making dummy passes and kicking the ball "to touch" in the opponents’ territory to gain ground. Such tactics – as any rugby fan will tell you - are still employed today. In 1957, I was selected for the V.I. under-15’s rugby team. Dr Lewis attended every game we played. He was always on hand to coach and encourage the team. I recall playing against Federation Military College (FMC) at Port Dickson, Anderson School in Ipoh and King George V School in Seremban. The return match with FMC was played at the K.L. padang. Unfortunately, despite Dr Lewis’ close involvement, we lost both the home and away fixtures to these keen rivals.
THE POP MUSIC SCENE
In the mid-fifties western pop music enthralled the youth of the V.I. as it did others all over the Malaya. American singing stars like Bing Crosby, Frankie Laine, Doris Day, Patsy Cline, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, gave way to a new crop of stars like Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, Connie Francis and Bill Haley. Then, in 1957, all broke loose, so to speak, when a certain Elvis Aaron Presley burst onto the scene with a song called That’s All Right Mama. This was followed by hits like All Shook Up, Don’t’ Be Cruel and Hound Dog, which took the pop music world by storm and the rest, as they say, is history!
Of course, Elvis was not alone. Who can forget other pop giants like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Platters and Jerry Lee Lewis – just to name a few? Together with Elvis Presley, all these pop stars truly grabbed the public’s attention. Stanley and I regard most of them to be the pioneering greats of pop music for Rock 'n Roll started with them. Their hit songs still ring clearly in our ears today. Most were naturally gifted singers and performers and they became well-known throughout the world. Their influence, especially upon the youth of the fifties, was pervasive and lasting. I can even recall our parents enjoying and humming the songs of these trend-setting pop stars. My father worked for the Malayan Film Unit and he was exposed to the changing trends. Stanley’s father loved to sing and he played the violin as well – can you imagine Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White played on the violin? Well, I’ve heard it! Xavier Cugat, turn over! I suppose we were lucky. We had no cultural problems at home.
INFLUENCE OF REDIFFUSION
In the fifties the two main sources of home entertainment were the single radio station, Radio Malaya and Rediffusion. It is my belief that Rediffusion played a huge role in bringing pop music to the masses in Malaya those days. Most homes and most public places like coffee shops and restaurants had Rediffusion. Through it, you could listen to piped music most of the day. Of great interest to Stanley and me then was Rediffusion's weekly broadcast of Talentime shows sponsored, I think, by Beechams, the makers of Brycreem. We followed the shows avidly. We also looked forward to Sundays when, for one hour, the U.S. Top Twenty pop songs were broadcast. We would be glued to the Rediffusion speaker box listening intently to the top singing stars and monitoring their progress in the Top Twenty Chart.
Young and impressionable then, the American pop music culture imperceptibly moulded us. At that time I had just started to learn to play the piano. However, in no time at all, I had abandoned my piano lessons because I wanted to mimic Elvis and his omnipotent guitar! In due course I owned a guitar and before long, Stanley did too! Before that, in 1958, we had a class item for the annual School Concert. We formed a pop group called "The Rhythm Boys". As you can see, the two of us were guitarless and there were only two real musical instruments...
.... and sorry, I definitely do not regard a sand-filled canister pretending to be maracas an instrument! Nevertheless, we belted out current hits like In the Middle of an Island and Bye Bye, Love.
Although Elvis Presley was all the rage at that time, there emerged at the same time, a singing duo who as far as we were concerned, stood head and shoulders above all the other singing stars of that era. Their fine blending voices and their unique harmony singing were unrivalled and unmatched by any other vocal duo or group. Moreover, we were also greatly impressed by the deep and distinct sound of their black jumbo-sized Gibson acoustic guitars. Most of their hit songs were characterised by the unique introductory chord sequences played on those deep resonant Gibson guitars. Boy, Stanley and I would have given our right arms to have guitars like that!
The names of this dynamic duo were Don and Phil Everly, better known as "The Everly Brothers". In 1957, their first single release – Bye, Bye Love shot straight up to number one in the American pop hit parade charts and further big hits like Wake Up, L'il Susie, Devoted To You and Bird Dog followed soon after. From then on, Stanley and I wanted to be like the Everly Brothers; Elvis was relegated to second!
Without doubt, the Everly Brothers stimulated, influenced, shaped and propelled our singing "careers". We emulated them and I guess we did a decent job of it because we became known as "The Everly Brothers" all over town. Later, for fun and partly as a tribute to them, we called ourselves "The Kaverley Duo". Note that "Kaverley" rhymes with "Everly" and that it coincidentally also rhymes with the initials of my name – K V Lee and StanLEY.
HAVE GUITARS, WILL PLAY!
Such was the scene in 1957 when I ditched my piano lessons and Stanley cast his violin aside so we could learn to play the guitar. Actually, we learned to play the ukelele first. They were ideal for songs like In the Middle Of an Island and Corina, Corina. We started with ukuleles because initially we could not afford to buy guitars. I remember the occasion when Stanley and I went to the Lee Wah music shop in Mountbatten Road to get our ukuleles. They were pineapple-shaped and cost us the price of several packets of ang pow money as well as many weeks worth of pocket money. We had great fun learning to play the ukuleles. There was no one to teach us, so we taught ourselves. We learned to play a few chords and a few basic rhythms. We both have a good ear for music and we soon learnt to apply the chords to songs like Blueberry Hill and Red River Valley. I distinctly remember how excited we were when we first sang to the accompaniment of our ukuleles.
Fine though the ukuleles were, there was no doubt that what we really desired and needed were guitars. Eventually, the following year, 1958, we scraped up enough money – again from ang pows, and from our parents - to buy our guitars. (Actually, Stanley had previously owned a guitar. It was a no-name $15 unit that unsurprisingly gave up the ghost after a few months.) This time, Stanley purchased his arched top Hofner guitar with f-shaped holes from C. Nang Hong, a well-known music shop in Batu Road. I went back to Lee Wah’s and bought a Hoffman flat top round hole acoustic guitar, which looked rather like a Spanish guitar. It must be said that my parents’ help in contributing towards the purchase of my guitar was a sure sign that they were impressed with our musical and singing abilities!
With our newly acquired guitars, we spent lots of time either in my house or Stanley’s playing, practising and rehearsing songs. We worked out suitable chords and chord progressions for various songs. We obtained song lyrics mainly by copying them down whenever we heard them played over the radio or Rediffusion. Of course it took several "takes" before we got the words for a whole song written down. (If only we had a record player or even a tape recorder then!)
The favourite place where Stanley and I really enjoyed practising or singing for fun was the landing half way up the flight of stairs at my house. The high ceiling at this particular location of the house had a nice acoustic resonance when we sang. My parents were quite bemused by it all. Fancy getting all cramped up half way up the stars with a guitar when there were lots of room elsewhere, they thought! Stanley and I loved harmonising. I normally sang the main melody while he provided the harmony. Stanley had a more flexible and wider voice range than mine. Therefore he was better coped to handle the higher notes when we sang.
On one occasion shortly after acquiring our guitars, we were messing around at Stanley’s house and he brought out his violin and played the guitar boogie with it while I accompanied him on the guitar! His father heard us and laughed his head off. We thought it was rather amusing too and laughed with him! Using a violin to play a pop song, never mind rock and roll guitar boogie, was quite a novelty in those days!
THE V.I. MUSICAL SOCIETY
A brand new school society, the V.I. Musical Society was formed in 1957 with an initial membership of 87. The aims of the Society were to foster appreciation of music and to encourage members to participate in musical activities. At the inaugural meeting, the Society made plans to hold a Variety Show and fortnightly music sessions. It also had ambitious plans to stage an all-V.I. Talentime competition that was to become an annual affair. It certainly attracted a lot of attention in the school and there was no shortage of budding contestants! Stanley and I joined the Musical Society the following year. By then we had already been bitten by the pop music bug and had already been singing and playing our guitars endlessly.
At the Society's musical sessions, Stanley and I exchanged views and musical knowledge with fellow members and thus supplemented and expanded our musical knowledge. From other guitar-playing members and, in particular, Lee Wee Kee, we learned some new chord formations, progressions and rhythm techniques. In due course, a circle of musically-minded friends formed around Stanley and me. We met at school and sometimes outside school and we would talk about guitars, pop music and the latest hit songs, etc. Thanks to Dr Lewis, the Musical Society was allocated a spacious basement room below the school hall for members’ use. We used this room for practising and informal get-togethers.
Earlier I had mentioned Fuziah Ahmad being an impact on us. Well, she had quite an influence on Dr Lewis as well, for it was through her efforts that she commandeered that room for the Musical Society! Fuziah showed a keen interest in our musical ventures and helped in no small manner by being the official scribe of our expanding song book. As to be expected, Stanley and I began collecting song lyrics when we started singing and playing the guitar. I bought a 500-page exercise book with a hard cover and we endeavoured to write down in it the lyrics of all the songs we liked. Fuziah’s contribution to this book was significant.
"THE STARLIGHTS" ARE BORN
With talentime fever in the air it was inevitable that we
would form a band and so "The Starlights" was born
in 1959. The core members of the band were: -
Percy Chan – violin, drums
Low Siew Khoon – tea chest "base"
Stanley Loh – vocals, guitar & violin
Lee Kor Voon – vocals, guitar & piano
Form time to time, depending on the occasion or function,
the following joined and played with The Starlights: -
Kon Chee Kong - guitar
Tan Seng Tor - maracas
Chu Jon Hau - vocals
Chong Sze Nen - guitar
Wong Swee Chin - vocals
Ramli - vocals
This was in 1958 and soon after the band was formed, we were selected together with Tay Chong Kai and John Vadiveloo to represent the school at the Selangor Inter-School Talentime held at the M.B.S.K.L. At this event, I believe The Starlights performed Pat Boone’s Remember You’re Mine and got through the heats. At the finals we were unplaced. However, John Vadiveloo with a Paul Anka song called You Are My Destiny on the piano, did well by becoming second overall.
A HOME-MADE DOUBLE BASS
In those days, one British act that enjoyed much chart success was a skiffle group led by Lonnie Donegan. Probably their best known hit was a song called My Old Man’s A Dustman. We had seen magazine pictures of the group and the peculiar looking (double) bass used by them attracted our attention. In due course we learnt that the double bass was, in fact, made from a tea chest! Stanley and I thought The Starlights could use something like that and providing we can find a tea chest, we could make a "double" bass out of it! So we went on the look out for one and, in this quest, we had help from an unexpected source – Stanley’s mum!
At that time her family owned the Commercial Press in High Street that was two doors away from M. S. Ally’s, the pharmacists. On a few occasions she had noticed what appeared to be discarded tea chests outside M S Ally and she suggested that we might be able to get hold of one of them. On receiving this tip-off, Stanley pedalled off to town on his bicycle and succeeded in scrounging a tea chest off them. That was the easy part. Now how does one get it home on a bicycle? Yet somehow, he managed to balance the tea chest on his bicycle and haul it back to his home in Jalan Delima near Imbi Road. How on earth he did it, he just cannot remember. Talk about V.I. ingenuity!
We soon had the tea chest cleaned, painted yellow and converted into a "double bass". The tea chest was basically a square cube with an open top. We turned it upside down – so that the base was now on the top and drilled a small hole in the middle of it for the insertion of a cord. In fact we used the same type of cord that was used for spinning tops. One end of the cord was inserted into the hole and knotted to prevent it from coming out. Then we got hold of a broomstick and tied the other end of the cord to the top end of the broomstick. The length of the cord was slightly shorter then the length of the broomstick. When the bottom end of the broomstick was placed on any corner of the chest, the cord could be made taut and its tension could be varied by manoeuvring the top end of the broomstick away or towards the centre of the tea chest. In this way different bass tones could be produced when the cord was plucked.
After constructing our tea chest bass, The Starlights started using it at concerts wherever and whenever it was possible to transport it. Low Siew Khoon became the tea chest bass player in our band. He certainly had great fun playing it. One thing for sure, wherever we used it, our box-shaped bass certainly attracted lots of attention!
THE 1959 V.I. TALENTIME
In 1959, Stanley was elected as the Hon. Treasurer and I became the Vice-Chairman of the Musical Society. Mr Vincent Voo (the new art teacher) was appointed Assistant Vice-President to Mrs Floyd. Mr Vincent Voo showed a lot of interest in what Stanley and I were doing musically and gave us lots of encouragement and help. The 1959 All-V.I. Talentime was held on 21st June. There were four heats held one week apart on Fridays after the House meetings. Throughout the Talentime competition, Stanley and I provided guitar accompaniment for all those competitors who needed it.
The finals were held in the school hall in front of a very big audience and the results were most satisfactory for the two of us:-
2nd The Starlights: Lee Kor Voon & Stanley Loh Hing Tai
4th Hajeedar & Kamal
5th Benny Yeoh
An extract from the Musical Society’s report in the School magazine reads:-
...On the whole the Talentime was a success due to the higher standard than last year’s. Most of the finalists and those in the heats were accompanied by The Starlights. The Talentime also gave the members some practices, which helped them to win prizes outside the school. Lee Kor Voon and Loh Hing Tai (better known as the V I Everly Brothers) and Loh Tak Seng for instance, won prizes in the "Gee Whiz" and "7.30 Special" variety shows respectively. Besides taking part in Talentimes, the "Everly Brothers" and Miss Chung Chin Fah appeared as guest artistes in the MBS Talentime.
At the Sixth Form Social, The Starlights provided the music for dancing. Also, during the School Concert, The Starlights again entertained the audience with a number of songs ranging from lively numbers to sentimental tunes like Fascination.
VENTURING OUTSIDE SCHOOL
Whilst Stanley and I enjoyed a fair degree of success in our musical appearances in school as the leading members of The Starlights, we actually achieved more success and even a bit of fame outside school as "The Kaverley Duo."
About a year after learning to play the guitar and singing together, Stanley and I were eager to participate in talentime competitions. We got wind of a team singing contest to be held at the Eastern Hotel in K L. We duly entered the contest and I think we sang Bye, Bye Love or perhaps it was Devoted To You. Apart from being nervous and lacking in confidence as this was our very first public appearance, our performance, nevertheless, was good enough to win a consolation prize. Hence it was a most encouraging start.
We learnt a lot from that experience. Mr A. P. Chin, a local composer and Batu Road School teacher, who judged the contest gave us some good advice about stage presentation and, in particular, he pointed out to us the importance of pronouncing our words properly.
A DREAM SONG
In 1958, the Everly Brothers came up with a massive hit song with All I Have To Do Is Dream, an easy-to-listen-to, medium-paced, dreamy ballad. It was much easier to sing than songs like Bye, Bye Love and Wake Up, Li'l Susie. Dream really suited Stanley and me, for our voices blended well when we sang it. Moreover, the chord progression for the song was enjoyable and easy to play. Little did we know it then but the song All I Have To Do Is Dream was to bring Stanley and me the success we never imagined we could achieve and helped make a name for ourselves around K.L. schools and the music circuit.
As mentioned right at the beginning of this article, our victory in the "Gee Whiz" Talent Show at the Chin Woo Stadium in May 1959 propelled us into the K.L. music scene. Soon we were playing with noted musicians like Alfonso Soliano’s Radio Malaya Orchestra, Blue Jeans, the Indot Brothers and so on. Prior to this, we had already performed in a number of minor gigs. In December 1958 we performed at the Young Friends Variety Show (held at the V.I. school hall). In the same month of that year, we sang at the All Saints Church Christmas Show at the K.L. town hall. In January of 1959, we entertained at the V.I. Six Form Social.
After our victory in the "Gee Whiz" Show, Stanley and I never looked back. We began receiving invitations to perform at various venues, shows and functions. Throughout 1959 and until June 1960, we appeared in over fourteen shows or events. We enjoyed worthwhile successes when we were selected to represent the Civilians in the "Civilians vs. Services" Singing Competition held at the Cathay Cinema in K L in October, 1959. The show was staged at midnight after the film premiere showing of A Private’s Affair. Stanley and I were one of three acts representing the Civilians and we competed against the three acts representing the British Armed Forces. We sang the Everlys' Dream and walked away with the first prize. It was, indeed, a sweet victory for us as we had competed against the best the Services and Civilians could muster.
Our other notable performances and public appearances were as follows:-
July 59 - Guest Artistes: Teenage Jamboree - Chin Woo Auditorium
Dec 59 - Christmas Cabaret – Federal Hotel
Jan 60 - Guest Artistes: Swingtime 1960 Show - Chin Woo Auditorium
Mar 60 - Sang live at the Teenage Jamboree Radio Show
June 60 - Guest Artistes: Inter-State School Talentime – MBSKL
To some extent, Stanley and I were grateful to Len Thorne, a radio presenter and impresario who mentored us. We first met him at the Gee Whiz Show. I guess we impressed him in no small way because from then on, he invited us to perform in all his shows like Teenage Jamboree and Swingtime 1960 at the Chin Woo Auditorium and the Christmas Cabaret at The Federal Hotel.
It was thanks, too, to Fuziah that we got to perform in the "Teenage Jamboree" Radio Show in March ’60. Upon completion of her Higher School Certificate at the end of 1959, Fuziah had embarked on a career in radio journalism with Radio Malaya, where, at the start, she produced children’s programmes. Hearing that a "Teenage Jamboree" Radio Show was to due to be broadcast, Fuziah tipped off the show’s producer/presenter, Elizabeth Kirby, about her connection with The Kaverley Duo and the next thing we knew, we were invited to participate in the show.
But I guess it was the Everly Brothers to whom we owed the most. They gave us the initial inspiration to do what we did musically and boy, did we enjoy every minute of it! Of course, we did not confine ourselves to singing the songs of the Everly Brothers. Our repertoire also included songs made popular by other artistes like Elvis, Pat Boone, Fats Domino, Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka.
We also experimented and dabbled in composing and writing our own songs. The first song that we wrote was Starlight Romance – a simple ballad with a slow rock beat. This was soon followed by another called Come Back To Me. It was Stanley who really excelled in the song writing department. He became quite adept at it and was responsible for writing most of the songs we have compiled in our songbook whilst I made the occasional contribution. In later years Stanley was to make bit of a name for himself as a prolific songwriter. He wrote That’s The One For Me recorded by The Sundowners of Singapore under the EMI/Capitol label. It was the top tune for two weeks in a row in both Radio Singapore and Radio Malaya.
ALL GOOD THINGS……
At the end of 1959, I left the V.I. and made plans to join Blackrock College in Dublin, Ireland to continue my schooling and to take up university education thereafter. Stanley remained in the V.I. to do his Sixth Form. Needless to say, our parting was most difficult. I can still clearly remember the day I boarded the Autolycus, a Blue Funnel cargo ship, at Port Swettenham to embark on that long but exciting journey to Dublin via England. In addition to my family and relatives, Fuziah, Percy Chan, Roger Lum and, of course, Stanley were all there at the pier to bid me farewell. It was a sad and happy occasion at the same time. I was sad to leave my family and friends behind but excited and looking forward to the journey I was about to undertake. I took with me my guitar and our precious song book and, most important of all, I took with me the invaluable experience I had gained as part of The Kaverley Duo and The Starlights during the previous two years or so.
As we parted, Stanley presented to me another song book as a personal memento of our great friendship and all the great times we had together. A few days into my sea voyage, after all the initial hustle and bustle and excitement of my departure had settled down, I looked through the song book that Stanley presented to me as a parting gift. In it he had written most of our favourite songs and, significantly, he had written several new songs which he had composed himself and dedicated them to me. I was deeply touched to say the least and tears began to well up in my eyes. Then, in a particular page I found and read the special farewell message that Stanley had written. There was no holding back my tears! All of a sudden, I felt terribly homesick.
Stanley and I had shared a unique friendship until then – a friendship which I am still privileged, proud and indeed fortunate to be part of. So for the time being, my musical adventures ended. However, little was I to know that a second chapter of further musical escapades was waiting for me in Dublin's fair city.
ANOTHER SINGING PARTNER
I arrived in Dublin in September 1960 and spent the next nine months in a boarding school - Blackrock College. At Blackrock my guitar brought me many friends and popularity with fellow students who called me “The Music Man”. Some even called me “Mr Everly Brother”!
The following year upon leaving Blackrock College and joining Trinity College (Dublin University), fate played its hand when I met Robert Dourado, a medical student from Nairobi, Kenya. I discovered that, like myself, he loved pop music too and, furthermore, his musical tastes were similar to mine. In particular, and to my great joy he was also a big fan of the Everly Brothers! One evening during that first week of his arrival, Robert asked me to play the guitar. I got my song book out and began singing the very first song in the book which was All I Have To Do Is Dream. I could not believe it when, without any prompting, Robert joined in by singing the harmony. As we sang, I could hear our voices blending perfectly. I could not contain my excitement; I knew there and then that Robert and I had something special. He sang the whole song with me in perfect unison - as if we had sung together before. It immediately rekindled all the good memories of my singing days with Stanley. As the song ended, two student flat mates who had been listening to us applauded enthusiastically! We had different coloured skins, we came from different countries and backgrounds and yet when we sang, we did so in perfect harmony! Our two flat mates remarked, rather presciently, that a unique combination had just been born!
In March 1963 Robert and I hit the big time and achieved instant fame when we appeared on Irish Television. We appeared as guest artistes in the Sunday night “Curtain Up” Television Show. We performed live with just my guitar for accompaniment and sang a slow ballad called Greenfields. For our appearance, we were paid the very handsome fee of £50! This was the first time Robert and I ever got paid for singing.
At my University later in the same year, Robert and I got another big break when we were asked to perform in the Monday lunchtime charity jazz concerts in aid of African universities. Although the concerts primarily concentrated on jazz music, non-jazz acts were welcome. We were such a hit with the student audience at our first appearance that we became regular performers at the concerts. The concerts were organised by the University World Service Committee headed by a fellow student called Simon Morgan. For publicity’s sake we called ourselves “The Malkens”, derived from the first three letters of the countries we came from - Malaya and Kenya.
When the concerts came to an end towards the end of the year, Simon thanked us for our charity in performing for nothing other than for pure enjoyment. He felt that with our talent we could easily make some good money in the Dublin music circuit - especially at music pubs and hotel bars. So Robert and I began visiting various musical venues in Dublin during our free evenings - Robert with his chromatic harmonica and his claves and I, with my trusty Hofman guitar. Initially, we sang and played for nothing. It was all great fun.
Within a short period of time we built up a reputation for our harmony singing. We pleased the audience wherever we sang. Inevitably we started to receive bookings to sing at some venues. On Saturday evenings, we would perform at The Grosvenor Hotel and on Sunday evenings you would find us on stage at The South County Hotel. At each venue we would be on stage for about half an hour for which we were paid £8. You could say it was nice little pocket money for us and thus Robert and I became semi-professional entertainers!!
MAKING IRISH EYES SMILE
We decided to drop “The Malkens” and be known simply as “Roberto & Kavie”. As our popularity spread, it was only a matter of time before our engagement book started to fill up. Apart from our regular appearances at The Grosvenor and South County hotels, we had bookings to play regularly at other venues in Dublin. The fee we normally charged was between £10 to £20 per appearance. Indeed, this was easy money for 20 to 30 minutes’ work! In truth, it was not work to us as such because we enjoyed singing and getting paid for doing something you enjoyed was a real bonus.
In the summer of 1964, Robert and I approached Irish Radio (Radio Eireann) to enquire if they could by any chance use our act in any of their radio shows. To our delight, we were granted our own radio show for one month! The only stipulation was that we had to do the shows live - to save costs on rehearsals and recording. We were to do a 15-minute show once a week, on Wednesday evenings. We had to introduce ourselves and announce our songs as we sang them. They gave us an entirely free hand as to the programme content. Singing live in a radio broadcast was a real test and a harrowing experience I can tell you but we came out of it very well.
Two summers later we got the opportunity to perform in the prestigious and popular Summer Variety Show held at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. The show starred some of Ireland’s top entertainers and ran for six nights a week throughout the summer months. In the show, Robert and I sang a calypso The Banana Boat Song. On stage, we wore bright-coloured shirts, jeans and straw hats and as we sang, female dancers in grass skirts shimmied and swayed to our music. We had a great time performing in the show - it was basically three minutes “work” on stage each night and we were well paid for it.
Though Robert and I were kept busy musicwise, we never forgot our main purpose in Ireland - our studies. In due course we graduated with our degrees. Robert qualified as a doctor in 1967 and I obtained my BA degree. Robert initially went to Belfast before moving on to England and finally settling down in Wakefield. At the same time I left Dublin for Liverpool to take up a post-graduate course in Management Studies. Today, Robert and I keep in touch, of course. When we get together we would go to a pub and have a pint or two of Guinness and, inevitably, you will find us reminiscing about our good old days in…
Where the girls are so pretty…
Cryin’ cockles and mussels
Alive-alive-o… … …”
REUNION WITH STANLEY
In 1965, I returned home to K.L. for a holiday. Needless to say, Stanley and I were overjoyed to see each other again. I had been away for five years and we had loads to catch up on. During my brief visit to K L, Stanley and I continued where we left off musically. We were up to our usual "tricks" again when we performed in a concert organised by Filem Negara at their Petaling Jaya premises, and to cap it all, we appeared on TV Malaysia in a short feature programme depicting our singing exploits during our V.I. school days and about my temporary return to K.L. Our song book was even featured in the show!
Throughout the 40 years or so since my departure from Malaysia, Stanley and I have never lost touch. Initially, we corresponded regularly. In the seventies and the eighties, though, the exchange of letters became less frequent as we became busy with our own lives. Moreover, in 1974, Stanley had plenty to preoccupy him when he and his family emigrated to Canada. They travelled to Canada via England so we were able to meet up and this was the very first time our families actually met.
In 1979, I paid Stan and his family an overdue visit to their new home in Vancouver and it was not until 1999 and 2001 when we met up again - both occasions at my home near Cambridge. These brief re-unions were joyous occasions during which we made every effort to catch up on our friendship. Out would come the guitars and off we would go nostalgically belting out the Everlys’ songs.
During the 1999 reunion, the very first thing that Stan did upon arrival at my house was to ask to see our songbook! I could understand his yearning. That songbook holds all the treasured memories of our V.I. days and more. As we sat down and flipped through its well-worn and dog-eared pages, we were able to re-live our happy memories - of events, of places and most of all, of friends. Talking of friends, our re-union joy was somewhat clouded by the very sad news that Stanley had brought with him - that Fuziah had passed away a few years ago. I was stunned….. We shall never forget her; a part of her remains forever in our songbook.
Stan and I miss each other a lot. Fortunately these days, we are able to keep in constant contact, thanks to email. Of course we talk music most of the time. Stan is busily engaged in writing and recording songs, many of which he has posted on the Internet. I also keep myself busy on the guitar, though not to the extent that Stan does. I enjoy a jam session now and then but it is not much fun doing it on your own. Recently, like Stan, I have taken to making recordings for fun. Remarkably and regrettably, we do not have a recording of our singing during our Kaverley Duo days. Perhaps one day, soon, we can get together and make a recording for old times’ sake! If we do then it will surely become a coveted memento to our unique relationship and, indeed, to our long and lasting friendship. As long as we have guitars, we will play!
Godmanchester, March 2003
Last update on December 8, 2016.
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