Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nostalgic Weekend - Frankie Cheah

The sixties came to an end with a terrific send-off with the hosting of Woodstock in the States. For Malaysians, we had a fulfilling era as many groups and singers were there to entertain their fans whether in concerts or via their recordings. The groups/singers mentioned in this post so far are those who made it to the studio, but there were many more who preferred the stage than the studio. Names that came to mind are:

  • The Ghost Riders
  • The Strangers
  • The Mysterians
  • The Grim Preachers
  • The Yap Brothers
  • The Skylarks
  • The Blue Jeans [the only rock group that plays a double bass]
  • Jeffrey Moey
  • Argus Salim
One common feature of these artistes? All play and sing in English.

With the advent of the seventies, the music scene started to change. Artistes started recording in either Mandarin or Malay and very few in English, save for one new-comer, Frankie Cheah, our local boy from Segamat, Johore. Singaporean artistes continue to record and perform solely in English.

When I first heard Frankie Cheah, a Malaysian Chinese, singing *Woman In My Life for the first time, I didn't believe he was local. He has perfect diction that is practically non-existent amongst singers in this region, with a strong and clean voice to match, one that suits the ballads he sings. His interpretation of this lovely song has an appeal that is still fresh today. It will definitely be a big hit if released again and is one of very few songs by a local singer that I appreciate.

Frankie Cheah was a mathematics teacher from Segamat, Johore Bahru, Malaysia and recorded with giant EMI. His other big hit, Cheryl Moana Marie, also won accolades and Cheah is as much a household name on both sides of the Causeway. During pop concerts in Singapore, Cheah's performance usually draws a full house at the National Theatre (Tank Road), the Early Bird and Musical Express gigs at cinema halls in Singapore.

In the early 70s, besides recording in EP and LP format in English (produced by Reggie Verghese of The Quests), he has also recorded some Malay songs. His English selection includes popular ballads like, Chotto Matte Kudasai, It's Impossible, You've Got A Friend, Lovers, Help Me Make It Through The Night and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

The above image shows a bootleg EP which has My Name Is The Wind, Love Story, Song Of A Sad Man and Why. Because his records sold well, as they were all number one in the Malaysian Top 20 in the early 70s, the pirates took advantage as usual.

Even with his Malay album Cheah sings with feeling and conviction keeping to the difficult rhythm of the Malay 'asli' beat. The selection includes one very popular EP with Amalan Suci (ReggieVerghese/Ismail Haron). The other three songs are Putera Putri (Jimmy Boyle/Dol Baharin), Putus Sudah Kasih Sayang (P. Ramlee) and Syurga Pura Pura (Ismail Haron).

*Cheah has since retired but his achievement in the pop music field did not go unnoticed as he was recognised by the Malaysian music industry and awarded the Anugerah Sri Wiramar (2004). He was at EMI (UK) in 1977, headhunted by Warner Music, Malaysia and managed it a year later. When he left, he started Pacific Music which was bought by BMG Malaysia/Singapore where he rose to Chairperson.

Note: "Woman in my life" has been recorded by international artistes such as Bobby Vee and Engelbert Humberpinck.

Previous Features:

The Saints, Kuala Lumpur
The Quests, Singapore
The "Little" Falcons, Kuala Lumpur
The Crescendos, Singapore
Rose Iwanaga, Sarawak
Naomi & The Boys, Singapore
Rocky Teoh, Ipoh
The Surfers/October Cherries, Singapore
Janice Wee, Sarawak
Roy Chew & The Merrylads, Kuala Lumpur
The Checkmates, Singapore
Terry Thaddeus and The Teenage Hunters, Kuala Lumpur

The Thunderbirds, Singapore

The Straydogs, Singapore
The Strollers, Kuala Lumpur
The Western Union Band, Singapore

Starting from next week, I will be featuring the cross-overs, artistes who recorded in Mandarin or Malay, then switch over to record their works in English. Stay tuned!

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