Singapore musicians remember an unsung hero

The Quests circa 1964: Jap Chong (bottom right) is holding a Fender Stratocaster supplied by TMA. That guitar would be used to record some of The Quests' biggest hits, including Shanty and Teabreak, among others.
The Silver Strings were another band that benefited from Tan Peck Soo's generosity.
Tan Peck Soo sponsored the wah wah pedal for The Silver Strings to use when they recorded I'll Remember Today with Shirley Nair.
Music shop owner Tan Peck Soo was a key supporter of local musicians in the 1960s
Published: 7:15 PM, January 18, 2016
Updated: 7:17 PM, January 18, 2016
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SINGAPORE — Last week, Singapore lost an unsung hero of local music. His name may not ring a bell with the general populace, but for the fledgling bands in the early days of the country’s golden age of music, Tan Peck Soo was The Man.

Over the weekend Andy Young, the first singer to front local band The Silver Strings, posted the news announcing the death of Tan – who was the owner of TMA Pte Ltd at High Street, a music shop in the 1960s – on his blog (http://singapore60smusic.blogspot.sg), after hearing from fellow veteran Henri Gann, one of the members of another band, The Trekkers.

Musicians had dubbed Tan “the Godfather of local 1960s pop”, and almost every one described him as a generous man and a keen supporter of the young bands in the then-burgeoning music scene.

That included The Swallows’ Yusoff, who posted online: “He was a good man ... we used to (buy) musical instruments from his shop”; while Ronnie See (of Ronnie And The Burns) wrote: “Mr Tan was a kind man, in fact he was an encouragement to young aspiring musicians then. He brought in better stuff than his peers.”

Merlin Lim, guitarist for The Silver Strings, called him “a trustworthy man with a heart of gold” adding that he was “pure in speech, mild-mannered with a beautiful character”; while his bandmate, drummer Oliver Balasingam, recalled how he had bought his first drum set from Tan’s shop.

“He was very well-known and loved by everybody,” said Young.

Back in the 1960s, TMA at High Street was one of two of the most popular places where musicians could get their musical instruments. (The other was Swee Lee Music.)

“Initially they sold an assorted range of household products,” said Vernon Cornelius, who used to sing with bands such as The Checkmates and The Quests. “(TMA) began selling music instruments from mid-1950s — guitars, amplifiers, ukuleles — and they were the agent for Hohner accordions and harmonicas, drums brands such as Ludwig (like the one Ringo Starr of The Beatles used); Ajax, which was used by Lim Wee Guan of The Quests; and Trixon, as used by Amir Samsuddin of The Checkmates.”

TMA was also the Singapore distributor for the Fender brand. Fender’s Stratocaster was the guitar to have. Its popularity in Singapore was due in part to the fact that The Shadows’ Hank Marvin played a Fender Stratocaster on a lot of the Shadows’ hits of the early 1960s, such as Apache, Kon Tiki and Wonderful Land. The Shadows performed here with Cliff Richard in 1961 and were a huge influence on the music scene.

That being the case, many young musicians would flock to TMA and as Henry Chua of The Quests said, would “drool at the guitars in the showcase”.

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