Cannons firing and dreams coming true – by Gordon Pan

After my first blog post in this series, I am glad a number of readers came out to comment on some minor sequence of events that took place. Since this instalment is on Cannons (not Canons as corrected to me by Henry Ng) and Kenneth Boon’s Dreamers, I went to the source. It is fortunate indeed to be still in contact with Henry Ng who now resides in Sydney, Australia; Alfie “Boy” Quioc in Canada who is currently visiting Kota Kinabalu and Kenneth who is only a phone call away for coffee in town.
GORDON PAN.

SabahSongs - Header

The Cannons started out with the elder sibling, Henry Ng and younger brother Richard Ng. These brothers had their ancestry in North Borneo and because of work commitments, their father lived in Singapore where the Ng brothers were born and spent their early childhood till their teens.

Singapore was very much the melting pot of Asian and Western cultures due to its position as a strategic port. Western music obviously came in first-hand. The Ng brothers were greatly exposed to that. Upon transplanting their home to Jesselton, they lived a while in Sembulan with their aunt before settling in their own home. There they met an older schoolboy named David Lim. David liked to sing and his favourite artist at the time was Cliff Richard. It was a perfect match. The Ng brothers were honing their guitar skills learning from Shadows records which was Cliff Richard’s backing band. The neighbourhood jam sessions became a reality when they registered to compete at the second year of Talent Time from its inception.

By then, more bands had came to the fore equipped with electric guitars to regurgitate instrumental and vocal hits of the day. The judges probably were aware of this and tried to look for something with a bit of difference as well as natural musical abilities. The Cannons were different as each member was musically capable in delivering his performance with stage presence and precision.

Henry recalled, “Way back in the early Sixties, I was looking for a name for my band that would be synonymous with projecting ourselves into the musical arena and after much thought coined ‘The Cannons’. I can’t remember the person who initially suggested the name ‘Cannons’ but I was grateful and it stuck”.

The song they chose for the competition was Elvis Presley’s “Wear A Ring Around Your Neck”. There were only the three of them with David Lim on vocals, Henry Ng on lead guitar and Richard Ng on rhythm guitar but the sound they created was as full as a band with a bass and drums. Henry’s intro and guitar fills from his Hofner Club 40 was perfectly executed over Richard’s steady and percussive rhythm guitar chords. When David’s vocals came in, the shouting match was over. The trophy was immediately obvious for the first placing.

Shortly after winning the Talent Time contest at Jesselton’s Community Centre, the Ng brothers moved to Tanjung Aru where their father had set up home for them to be close to the school they were enrolled in which was La Salle.

As the band Rebels, which was predominantly a La Salle band, had won Talent Time a year earlier and also the whole guitar band was happening in Tanjung Aru, the Ng brothers became top of the heap to a lot of aspiring guitar players.

SabahSongs - La Salle aspiring guitar fans

Plans were made to turn the twosome into a four piece instrumental group complete with bass guitar and drums for school socials, private parties and concerts around town. The Ng brothers immediately recruited Alfie Quioc from the Rebels to take drum duties since the band had not been active from winning Talent Time the year before.

A young student who was also studying at La Salle School by the name Kenneth Boon dabbled into music at a very young age. Always eager to learn from older friends and relatives, he became quite competent on the guitar. He was singing and accompanying himself during his development stage and even formed short-lived bands with whoever could play, using acoustic guitars and calling themselves the Kidnappers (more for the word Kid since they were all very young). Kenneth had entered the first instalment of Talent Time with his acoustic guitar but lost out to the Rebels. Thereafter he was adamant to join a band and play electric guitar music. He was, like hordes of teenagers at the time, mesmerized by the sheer excitement and sounds.

The Cannons’ quest for another guitar player member came appropriately timed. Kenneth was a perfect candidate to become a Cannon. Firstly, he was competent on the guitar. Secondly, he was flexible on whichever guitar role he was asked to do and lastly he was always available for band practice plus his eagerness to learn.

Kenneth’s real learning process began during a long school holiday in December 1962. He was invited by the Ng brothers to travel with them to Singapore by sea. As Richard had finished his exams earlier, he went off first. Henry and Kenneth followed about a week later. It turned out that Richard had caught some kind of bug and was quarantined at sea for a number of days. As Henry and Kenneth arrived on the shores of Singapore, Richard was released the next day hence aligning them to arrive nearly at the same time.

In Singapore, Kenneth was exposed to all things musical. He was taken to visit music shops like T.M.A. and Swee Lee to browse guitars and amplifiers. Watched local Singaporean bands perform like the Trailers and picking up lessons from more seasoned players, one of them being the Ng brothers’ Uncle Johnny. One of the classics Kenneth learnt from Uncle Johnny was Arthur Smith’s Guitar Boogie which he still performs till this day.

While in Singapore, Kenneth also met the youngest of the Ng brothers. His name is Stephen who also plays the guitar. He was still studying in Singapore before joining his two elder brothers in Jesselton. Those were formative times where band members not only shared a common interest but also became the best of friends.

Upon their return, the Cannons were in full force being THE band in Jesselton or even in North Borneo. They had Henry playing lead guitar, Richard on rhythm guitar, Kenneth on bass guitar and Alfie taking the drum seat.

Alfie Quioc or “Boy” Quioc, as he was fondly known around the Tanjung Aru neighbourhood, came from a musical background. His father Eddie who brought his family from the Philippines came to Jesselton to work as a surveyor for the Public Works Department. He was a gifted musician who taught himself to play piano and fronted his own band The Q’s taking on dinner function jobs mostly frequented by the British colonialists. His son “Boy” was equally musical with a good sense of rhythm. Hence he was extremely keen on the drums and learnt his basic drumming rudiments from an older musician by the name of Sunny Jaffar. Sunny taught him the basics and very soon Boy was on his way drumming for anyone who needed a “time keeper” for their bands. Winning the Talent Time with the Rebels gave him a boost as a young entrant into the music scene at the time. Peter Pragas often used him when his regular drummer was not available. On top of all that, Boy had the added talent for vocal skills. Boy was an asset to what was going to be the best guitar instrument band in Jesselton.

Under the guidance of Robert DeSouza, a teacher at La Salle, the Cannons gained their exposure touring on road shows to other towns on the East Coast like Sandakan and Tawau besides doing local concerts, bazaars and dance socials around Jesselton. The band became well known and in demand and it was time to make some pocket money from all the efforts of learning songs and practices. A lucrative job came after Boy Quioc’s father’s band, The Q’s, decided to take a break from playing at a supper club type restaurant called the Gardenia. The senior Eddie Quioc recommended his son’s band the Cannons as a replacement. They were to play every Saturday at the Gardenia patio earning each British North Borneo $20 for a night’s work. That was serious money then as it aggregated $80 individually per month for four school boys.
It was a perfect situation. Monday to Friday, they attended school then band practice after classes. On every Saturday, they earn money from just living their passion to play music. All guns were firing and it was a dream coming true but like most dreams, it will eventually end.

When the youngest of the Ng brothers Stephen came to settle with his elder siblings to be enrolled at La Salle School, the equation somehow changed. Stephen also became a member of the Cannons alternating guitar duties with Richard or Kenneth. As time went on, it did not sit well with Kenneth. He felt alienated in a band dominated by three brothers. He also felt he should be given more lead guitar duties as his playing skills improved.

Kenneth jokingly mentioned to me he was ultimately “fired” from the Cannons but from conversations with Alfie Quoic and Henry Ng, Kenneth kind of drifted away into another musical ensemble. Kenneth had mentioned that he joined the Catholic Youth Association where various members often got together to play music with instruments provided by the Association. These members included the late John Ho on bass, John Adriano on rhythm guitar and Henry Chung on drums. The late Tony Thien would sometimes provide vocals. The seeds were sown for this band from the Catholic Youth Association to eventually become the Dreamers led by Kenneth.

Kenneth’s departure was amicable and the Cannons carried on with the three Ng brothers and Alfie Quioc. They continued their residency every Saturday night at the Gardenia. Richard took over Kenneth’s role on bass while Stephen took over rhythm guitar. However shortly later, Stephen was more interested in boxing rather than playing in a band which led Henry to recruit Mohd. Syed to fill in for Stephen.

Sabahsongs - Cannons with M. Syed

In the meantime, Kenneth and his fellow Catholic Youth Association members were getting more proficient musically and finally decided to become a band with an identity. Deciding on a name came when a mutual friend named Felicity Elmore suggested the “Dreamers”. Whether or not she was thinking of this name as a result of Kenneth’s dream coming true, it was as original a name as anyone could think of. This was long before anyone in Sabah ever heard of the 60’s beat group “Freddie and the Dreamers”. The newly formed Dreamers also replaced the Cannons’ Saturday night residency at Gardenia as the management was looking for a change.

Sabahsongs - Newspaper cutting on formation of Dreamers

The Cannons’ chemistry without Kenneth was somewhat different now. Boy missed playing with Kenneth and ultimately left the Ng brothers’ band and joined the Dreamers once the drum post became open with Henry Chung moving on to bass duties after John Ho left.

SabahSongs - Dreamers with Boy Quioc

A short time later, Henry Ng, after completing his secondary education, joined the Sabah Prison Department and was transferred to Sandakan which led to the demise of the Cannons. While in Sandakan, Henry ventured into his next band project and formed the Scallywags who would eventually have a musical face off with the Dreamers at a State-wide band competition in 1965.

That is another story. Those who are familiar will know Kenneth carried on with the Dreamers till today for half a century with an ever changing line-up of members. Those who have performed from the 60’s till 70’s and had kept up with their playing would have drifted in and out as a Dreamer at one time or another. The music from the Dreamers have also moved with the times and kept fresh with a contemporary repertoire mingled with some Golden Oldies. Henry, on the other hand, after various transfers around Sabah eventually migrated to Australia. What he had left behind was a great legacy of talented musicians along the trail from the Cannons to the Scallywags which eventually became the famous Atomic Power of Sandakan.

Acknowledgement
I wish to thank the following people in authenticating my story with their time and patience: Henry Ng, Kenneth Boon, Alfie Quioc, Prof. David Lim, Stephen Ng and Nick Zheng.

Below is a direct recollection from original band member Prof. David Lim

“I first heard Henry when he played Apache one evening in his auntie’s house just across from where we lived in Sembulan.  It sounded like Hank Marvin’s solo played without the support provided by other members of the Shadows, as Richard didn’t have a guitar.  I went over immediately and introduced myself, bringing along my guitar.  From there we played together, I suppose much to the annoyance of neighbours into classical music or thought the modern stuff was all rubbish.

As far as the Talent Time was concerned, I can’t remember the month or year (1961 or 1962) but it consisted of more than one round.  How many, I can’t remember but during one round, I sang Cliff Richard’s ‘Outsider’.  Again, I can’t remember where it was held.  For the final held in the Community Centre in town, we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to sing a ballad in such a big place (it seemed big to us in those days), so we went for Elvis Presley’s ‘Wear a ring around your neck’ that was fast-paced, with a simple beat and tune that was easy for the audience to follow and tap along.  Peter Pragas had told me earlier that there was a singer from Sandakan who was very good and we had to watch out for him.  The cup we won is still in my mother’s house in Luyang.

Apart from the Talent Time, we were invited to perform at some functions held in the Community Centre, where we did a selection of the popular songs in those days.  We got paid for the gigs but it wasn’t much! 

As an aside, Peter Pragas got me to do a couple of sessions over Radio Sabah.  I can’t remember if it was just with him on the piano or with Henry and Richard and whether it was after we won the Talent Time or after one of the rounds.   

Very soon after we won the Talent Time, I went to England to finish off my A Levels and that was that.”

2 responses to “Cannons firing and dreams coming true – by Gordon Pan

  1. Reblogged this on Joanna Funk and commented:

    This is Gordon Pan’s second post about the early bands in Kota Kinabalu, or Jesselton, as it was known in those days. So happy that he is a contributor to my first blog, and he’s got more to come. Wonderful.

  2. Seasoned guitar teacher and player (check out his story in this blog) wrote on his Facebook “The Cannons were making music just a few doors from our home in Tg. Aru and that’s where I first heard all the Shadows sound from, watching them practice was what I liked to do but the best was when Henry brought the Scallywags ( i always thought it was the Silhouttes) to practice in our house for a competition which they won, i still can recall the amazing steps Henry put the band through playing Jumping Jewels Irish Washerwoman, the competition was held at The Capitol cinema (i think) at Kg. Air, KK,and my late mom helped altered their uniforms when it came back from the tailor with some issues on the sleeves, , if I remember correctly had large sleeves. Those were awesome times.Henry is an awesome guitar player and in a way was an influence to us kids then who just love guitar music.”

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