PopLore: 1960s S'pore act The Crescendos was signed to international label

Raymond and John of The Crescendos. PHOTO: ESPLANADE

SINGAPORE - Retirees Raymond Ho, 78, and John Chee, 80, made Singapore music history as teenagers in the early 1960s.

They were among the founders of pop and rock 'n' roll band The Crescendos, which became the first Singaporean English-language act to sign to an international record label, Philips Records, in 1962.

Their songs made it to the global music charts. Their renditions of pop hits Mr Twister and Frankie were on the Philips World Top 10 list, while their 1964 original song The Boy Next Door peaked at No. 2 on the same chart.

Singer Chee says in a telephone interview: "The feeling was out of this world because we were chosen to lead the Singapore pop music scene on to an international label. It's something that any teenager would wish for."

Guitarist Ho adds: "We were over the moon."

The pair, together with guitarist Leslie Chia, were schoolmates from St Patrick's School. They formed the band in 1961 to take part in a talent contest.

The following year, they added singer Susan Lim to the line-up. Says Chee: "Her voice was very powerful and her diction was perfect."

Their debut 1963 single, which comprised the songs Mr Twister and Frankie, was an instant hit and topped the charts in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

On stage, they played opening sets when international acts such as Cliff Richard & The Shadows and Herman's Hermits performed in Singapore.

The Crescendos took a hiatus at the height of their popularity in 1966 so that the members could focus on their careers and education.

Chee says: "Susan had to go to university and we, the guys, would have to go and look for jobs to help our family. We decided to stop for a while until she finished university."

Unfortunately, Lim was swept away by strong waves at a beach in Terengganu, Malaysia, at the age of 22 in 1970. Her body was never found. Chee says: "Out of respect to Susan's memory, we decided that The Crescendos would never appear again."

The pair would go on to carve out their own careers - Ho in aviation and Chee in the offshore industry - but they would occasionally reunite to sing under their own names.

On March 3, Ho and Chee will get together again to perform at Blast From The Past, a concert that is part of the Esplanade's PopLore, a series celebrating Singapore music. For their gig at the Esplanade Concert Hall, the duo will be backed by The Meltones, a veteran local band that include Ho's younger brother, Ronald.

The show also features other musicians who made an impact in the early years of Singapore pop music: brothers Mel and Joe Ferdinands, a folk-rock duo who first made their name on Radio Television Singapore's music contest Talentime in 1971 and later with rock/country outfit Gypsy; as well as Peter Diaz, frontman and songwriter for rock 'n' roll quartet The October Cherries. Fellow veteran, Rediffusion DJ and television host Larry Lai will host the show.

Ho and Chee say their set will comprise 10 songs dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, including a rendition of Memories Are Made Of This, a 1955 hit made famous by American singer-actor Dean Martin which The Crescendos sang at the 1961 Talentime contest.

Says Ho: "All these songs will resonate with the Pioneer Generation. We hope they will liven up the audience's lives and bring them happy memories."

Book It/Blast From The Past

What: A concert featuring Raymond and John of The Crescendos with The Meltones, Mel And Joe Ferdinands and Peter Diaz of The October Cherries
Where: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive
When: March 3, 7.30pm
Admission: $35 and $45 for standard tickets; concessions available from Sistic (go here or call 6348-5555)

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