I remember... when we topped the charts

The Quests were a household name then

(Above) The remaining members of The Quests - Lim Wee Guan (left) and Henry Chua - have had to turn down requests to perform. (Left) The band in their heyday.
(Above) The remaining members of The Quests - Lim Wee Guan (left) and Henry Chua - have had to turn down requests to perform.PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG, COURTESY OF SAM TOH
The band in their heyday.
(Above) The band in their heyday.PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG, COURTESY OF SAM TOH

Their fan base may have aged and diminished, but the two remaining members of The Quests still get recognised on the street.

"Just last week, a stall owner at Maxwell Food Centre called out 'The Quests!' and gave me the thumbs up when he saw me," said Mr Lim Wee Guan, 69, the group's drummer. Bassist Henry Chua, 68, quipped: "Our fans used to throw panties and bras at us. If we performed now, they might throw wigs and dentures."

Widely considered among the most successful Singapore bands of the 1960s and 1970s, The Quests made the news this week in 1965 when their song Be My Girl reached the top spot on Singapore's hit music charts. The four original members were aged 13 and 14 and neighbours in Tiong Bahru when the group was formed in 1961.

They were joined by Jap Chong on vocals and rhythm guitar and Raymond Leong on lead guitar, but Mr Leong left the group before it started recording. He was later replaced by Reggie Verghese, who died last month. Mr Chong died last year.

None of the boys knew how to play an instrument when they started, recalled Mr Lim, who now teaches at the Yamaha Music School.

"We had no lessons and did everything by trial and error, so thankfully we all had a good ear for music," he said.

The band was spotted by Radio Television Singapore during a contest, and began appearing on TV.

Soon, they were receiving invitations to play at social functions. Then a talent scout asked them to audition for recording company EMI. "We got the contract, and EMI told us we had seven days to come back with two original songs," recalled Mr Chua, a retired engineer.

"We panicked, but we worked best under pressure. I came back with Shanty, and Reggie came back with Gallopin."

Shanty, an instrumental song, went on to be No. 1 on the Singapore music charts for 12 weeks, unseating The Beatles.

Mr Lim vividly remembers the band trying to learn the song the night before they had to perform it for EMI. "We couldn't read music at that time, so we were desperately trying to remember the tune."

At the height of their popularity, every member of the group was a household name.

"While there was a loss of privacy that bothered us sometimes, mostly we really enjoyed it," said Mr Chua. "We were teenagers! It was fun for us to go out and have people recognise us on the streets, hear people screaming for us."

He left the band in 1967 to study. The band continued playing in night clubs before calling it quits in 1970. "No one really saw a future in it," said Mr Lim.

"We weren't making a lot of money, so none of us thought it was worth it. But we kept in touch, and played together often."

The surviving band boys still get asked to perform as The Quests but they say no every time.

"I ask, can you resurrect our other two members? If not, we can't ever appear again as The Quests," Mr Chua said.

Jennani Durai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'The Quests were a household name then'. Print Edition | Subscribe