Composer Joseph Koo going for 'quiet life' after farewell concerts

Father of Cantopop feels it is time to retire and lead a quiet life with other creative pursuits

Veteran Hong Kong composer Joseph Koo has always been known to be a man of few words, and he certainly lives up to that reputation in an e-mail interview with Life!.

Every response to the 15 questions sent to him is made up of only a few brief one-liners, with no further elaboration.

Ask him about the defining song of his illustrious career, and he says that it is Below The Lion Rock (1979) but does not go on to explain why.

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What would he say to his former longtime songwriting partner, the late lyricist James Wong Jim (inset), who died in 2004? "Old buddy, thank you" was his short and simple reply.

Evidently, the 82-year- old chooses to be verbose only in the language of music, having composed more than 1,200 songs in a five-decade career, many of which went on to become classic hits.

Known as the Father of Cantopop, he is best known for writing theme songs for popular TVB productions from the 1970s to the 1990s when he served as the TV station's director of music.

He has also written hit tunes for movies, such as In The Sentimental Past, and the theme song of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986) that was performed by the late Leslie Cheung.

For his contributions to music, he received a Member of Order of the British Empire in 1982 and a Bronze Bauhinia Star from the Hong Kong government in 1998. Those are on top of his numerous music awards from ceremonies such as the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards.

As much as he loves music, however, Koo says that it is time to retire so that he can lead a quiet life and spend time on other creative pursuits, such as "in painting, where I can hopefully hold an art exhibition for charity some day".

To mark his official retirement, he is holding a farewell concert tour over these few months, with a stop in Singapore at the Resorts World Sentosa on Saturday. Last month, he held 12 sold-out concerts at The Coliseum in Hong Kong.

Not surprisingly, the musician does not wax lyrical over his emotions about leaving the industry for good, and would only say: "I would just like to thank all the artistes who have helped to sing a lot of my songs. Just the fact that they like my songs makes me feel like I have lived a fulfilling life."

Married with two children, Koo is the younger brother of singer-actress Carrie Koo Mei, who was famous during the 1950s and 1960s. His younger brother, Koo Kar Tseung, is a painter.

As is the norm for many of his concerts in the past, his Singapore gig works more like a tribute show to him, where other invited singers perform his songs.

On Saturday, the audience can expect to see Hong Kong stars Adam Cheng, Susanna Kwan Kuk Ying, Gallen Lo, Teresa Cheung and Johnny Ip belt out his most celebrated hits. Koo, who tells Life! that he "has no talent for singing", will only act as conductor for some of the songs.

He says: "I want to hold these farewell concerts and get them out on DVD too, so that future generations can also listen to my music. Hopefully, this will be my life's most perfect concert."

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee


The Romantic Swordsman (Xiao Li Fei Dao)

Lyrics: James Wong Jim

Performed by: Roman Tam

Theme song of: TVB drama The Romantic Swordsman (1978) starring Paul Chu Kong and Maggie Li

Below The Lion Rock (Shi Zi Shan Xia)

Lyrics: James Wong Jim

Performed by: Roman Tam

Theme song of: Radio Television Hong Kong series Below The Lion Rock (1979), which featured the lives of Hong Kong citizens

Chor Lau Heung

Lyrics: Thomas Tang Wai Hung and James Wong Jim

Performed by: Adam Cheng

Theme song of: TVB drama Chor Lau Heung (1979) starring Adam Cheng and Angie Chiu

The Bund (Shanghai Tan)

Lyrics: James Wong Jim

Performed by: Frances Yip

Theme song of: TVB drama The Bund (1980) starring Chow Yun Fat

Breath And Depths Of Mountains And Waters (Wan Shui Qian Shan Zong Shi Qing)

Lyrics: Thomas Tang Wai Hung

Performed by: Liza Wang

Theme song of: TVB drama Love And Passion (1982) starring Liza Wang and Patrick Tse

In The Sentimental Past (Dang Nian Qing)

Lyrics: James Wong Jim

Performed by: Leslie Cheung

Theme song of: John Woo's crime movie A Better Tomorrow (1986) starring Leslie Cheung, Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Joseph Koo's farewell gig'. Subscribe