Concert review: Liang Wern Fook draws strength from audience and friends at his first solo concert

It was a concert 35 years in the making.

Singer-songwriter Liang Wern Fook penned his first song, Write A Song For You, at the age of 16 and went on to give voice to a whole generation in five seminal albums released between 1986 and 1992. In the process, he helped to create and define a genre of Singaporean songs, or xinyao.

For Music, For Life... Liang Wenfu Concert 2015 - which sold out two nights at the 5,000-capacity Star Theatre on Friday and Saturday - was the first time that an entire concert was devoted solely to his works (although he has performed before at other gigs, notably at xinyao-themed shows).

It was clearly a momentous occasion for Liang. On Friday, despite his usual calm and collected demeanour, he kept glancing nervously at the lyrics on a monitor at his feet at first.

As the show went on, he drew strength from the appreciative audience and his many old friends.

It felt like a gathering of classmates, the visuals of the xinyao singers in their tender youth bringing back memories of yesteryear. Liang even quipped that it was like being back in a school hall.

When the call went out for them to take part in his concert, they answered.

Koh Nam Seng flew back from the United States, Liu Ruizheng from Guangzhou, Billy Koh from Beijing and Dawn Gan from Hong Kong. Others travelled shorter distances but it was no less moving to see Jimmy Ye, Wang Bangji, Hong Shaoxuan, Jiu Jian, Deng Shuxian and Pan Ying, as each hugged the man of the night in turn.

"Everyone who appears will sing better than me," said Liang, who is primarily a songwriter, not a singer, and many of his works were performed by others, even on his xinyao albums.

To keep the show fresh for the following night's crowd, he urged everyone not to share the evening's proceedings on social media in order (reviews of the first night were embargoed till after the show).

How all his guests sang, taking us back in time as they performed familiar favourites from New Clothes Aren't As Good As Old Ones, Love's Refuge to Let The Night Fall Gently. Hong brought out the drama of From The Day You Looked Back with his rich vibrato, Ye did a jaunty version of the pop hit Every Time I Wake and Deng shared a chastely sweet love duet, Blue And Red, with Liang.

There was also an epic version of the quintessential xinyao classic Friendship Forever when everyone joined in for the final number of the night, which ran over four hours and still was not long enough for the more than 200 songs he wrote. (Perhaps the two segments highlighting the musicals Liang have been involved in, December Rains and If There're Seasons, could have been dropped. While they helped to provide a more complete picture of Liang's output, they also broke the rhythm of the show somewhat.)

Liang himself sang numbers such as Eve Of The History Exam, Sparrow With A Bamboo Twig and Step By Step, sharing little anecdotes about his works.

It was touching to find out how often his wife, Xiumei, figured in his music, either as first recipient or inspiration.

For her, he sang Aska Yang's That Man because it was the Taiwanese theme song to her favourite Korean drama, Secret Garden. It was the only song performed in the show that Liang did not have a hand in creating.

He also had a few surprises up his sleeves. He turned Write A Song For You into a tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and also updated Singapore Pie with lyrics taking on recent developments such as MRT train breakdowns and rising COE prices.

So what if he is not the most polished singer? There is an honesty and intimacy in his delivery that gives his renditions a charm of their own.

Liang's influence as a songwriter extends far beyond xinyao - he later wrote hits for pop stars such as Kit Chan (Worry), Andy Lau (Every Time I Wake) and Jacky Cheung (She Came To Listen To My Concert). All three paid tribute to him via video messages.

Singer Joi Chua, the final guest to appear, sang the moving hit ballad, Catch The Sunrise With Me. Liang's lyrics include the line: "No matter how strong the wind, it can't blow away your blessing."

That is what his songs have been and continue to be - each and every single one a blessing.

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