Monday, 15 December 2014

The Silver Strings are back

Story of one of Singapore's most popular bands of the 60s adapted for short film
By Bryna Singh, The Sunday Times, 14 Dec 2014

The real-life story of one of Singapore's most popular bands in the 1960s has been adapted for a heartwarming short film, in the run-up to Singapore's 50th birthday next year.

The band in question is The Silver Strings, largely unknown to post-65ers, but which once played to screaming fans and opened for rock icons The Rolling Stones at their concert at the Singapore Badminton Hall in 1965.

The three-minute-long short, You're The Boy, is named after one of the band's hit songs, which is also sung in the film.

It was released on YouTube on Dec 4 and launched officially last Friday by its producers, advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. The video is directed by Roslee Yusof, managing partner and director of local production company Freeflow Productions, for the SG50 celebrations.

Featuring local amateur actors and musicians and two of the original band members, the film tells the fictional story of how the granddaughter of the band's lead guitarist, Merlin, uncovers his musical past, goes in search of his former bandmates and reunites them to celebrate his birthday.

The character of Merlin Lim, aged 68 in real life, is played by actor Laurence Lim, 75, while teacher Chew Wei Shan, 24, plays his granddaughter. Bassist and band leader Audie Ng, 72, and drummer Mohd Yusof Khan (known as Dannyboy), 68, appear towards the end of the film as themselves. The fourth member of the band, guitarist David Chan, 73, is played by another musician.

Watching the video has been a trip down memory lane for Mr Ng. He recalls with pride that back in the 1960s, "our fans treated us like rockstars. I recall them screaming and shouting our names and waving banners at our performances".

The foursome got together as a band in 1963 after their music teacher, the late Harry Martinez, encouraged them to do so. Two years later, Mr Ng brought in a charismatic lead singer, the late Shirley Nair. The film pays tribute to her as the one who composed the tune for You're The Boy.

The band wrote and recorded 12 original songs, 10 of which were sung by Ms Nair. They had regular gigs at the now defunct National Theatre, and even went on a Malaysia tour in 1967, where they were mobbed by autograph-seeking fans.

However, the band split in 1971 because Mr Ng wanted to focus on the business side of music, including his own concert promotion company, Supreme Musical Connections. He still runs it today.

In the four decades since, the band has occasionally reunited to play, though not necessarily with the original band members.

Mr Ng says he was approached to be a part of this film about a month ago, and was drawn to the script.

"I like the idea of a granddaughter pulling everyone together, and I knew the film would bring back memories of the 1960s," said Mr Ng, who is not a grandfather but is married with two sons.

Mr Eugene Cheong, regional creative director of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, said he and his team were looking for pioneer generation members to profile in the film, and "plowed through dozens of stories" before chancing upon that of The Silver Strings.

"We spoke with Audie and the other band members, and worked closely to imbue more intimate details about the band - their personalities, their relationship with each other, and even included re-creations of their fondest memories together," he said.

Mr Cheong hopes the film opens people's eyes to the potential of stories that exist in the lives of the older generation here. Director Roslee agrees. "Walking past them on the streets, you wouldn't be able to tell that they have had really interesting lives, or that they were trailblazers and had their heyday," he said.

Ms Chew, who plays the granddaughter, is also an electronic singer-musician who goes by the moniker Weish.

Said Mr Roslee: "I hope people watch the film and feel inspired to go out there and do what they love, and I want them to go 'awww' when they see the warmth between the characters."

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