Pandemic saved Dick Lee from becoming jaded with music industry

Dick Lee's upcoming headlining concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on June 18 will include songs seldom played live. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

SINGAPORE - There is a lot more to Dick Lee, whose music career dates back to 1971, than just the famous songs he sang and composed, such as Fried Rice Paradise (1974) and Home (1998).

The 65-year-old's upcoming headlining concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on June 18 will see him perform songs seldom played live, as well as new tracks he has been working on with his newly assembled band, Omnitones.

The show is one of the highlights of PopLore, an ongoing year-long series at the Esplanade that celebrates Singapore music.

Q: You do many performances a year, both big and small. What makes the PopLore concert special?

It is an honour to be included in the line-up, especially at this point of my career, when I have so much to share that has not been, or is seldom, heard.

Q: What music will be played at the concert?

The biggest thing about the last two years for me is that I was reacquainted with my songwriting, thanks to staying home.

I was most prolific from the 1970s to 1990s, but the 2000s saw me jaded and disillusioned with the industry. However, the last two years allowed me to reflect on my work and passion, and gave new life to my music.

Having performed quite regularly over the last 10 years and played a repertoire of favourites, I thought this time, I would showcase some of my favourite but seldom-performed songs, along with new tunes.

Q: Who are the musicians who will share the stage with you at the concert?

I considered deeply how I would like to present the new songs and thought of developing them with a band. I could not think of a band, so I looked through Instagram and encountered some very talented young musicians I have never heard of.

I contacted them, presented the idea and Omnitones were born. Working with them has been exhilarating - a combination of going back to my roots and a new experience. I am proud to share the stage with these young talents who deserve to be heard.

Q: Not many musicians in Singapore share your longevity and success. What did you have to do to achieve both?

It is important to keep evolving to stay relevant. Luckily, I am quite a restless soul and am always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Working with the next generation of artistes is also a great way to grow. Another thing that has kept me going is having wide interests, which has brought many diverse opportunities to get involved in projects apart from music.

Q: How has the music scene and industry in Singapore changed since you started?

There are definitely more musicians, but perhaps the Internet has made it easier for them to get exposure. In my day, we had to work a lot harder to be seen and heard, and rejection made us stronger.

The issue today is whether it is possible to have a sustainable career in music. In that respect, I think the situation is pretty much the same. For example, I had to go to Japan in 1990 to build my career. Establishing myself in the region has contributed to my career continuity.

Q: What was your most memorable performance?

My first show on my first Japan tour was like a dream. I never imagined I would be a full-time musician, touring with a band and playing my own songs. I always thought being a musician was limited to playing requests in a bar.

Q: What is your proudest musical work?

Fried Rice Paradise, written in 1974, was my first attempt at writing a Singapore song, and the first time the notion of identity entered my mind and work.

I still perform it today and, of course, it led to my writing Home some 25 years later.

Q: What is your biggest regret as a musician?

I think I would have regretted not taking the chance to go to Japan when it was offered to me. I almost turned it down. Anyway, I went and so have no regrets.

Q: What is the best advice you have for other musicians?

If you are a songwriter, be sure to infuse your identity in your writing, and to find it, experiment and write like a maniac.

Q: Your wish for music made in Singapore is...

To have wider acceptance by Singaporeans by being given more exposure.

Book It / Dick Lee & Omnitones Featuring Third Degree

Where: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: June 18, 7.30pm
Admission: $48 to $98 from Sistic (go to this website or call 6348-5555)

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.