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The Lives They Live: Opening for The Rolling Stones was wild, wild, wild

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series The Lives They Live.

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Rahimah Rashith on 19 Sep 2018

The Straits Times

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The year was 1965. Thousands of teenagers filled the iconic Singapore Badminton Hall, waiting for English rock band The Rolling Stones to perform. Tasked with keeping the wild audience in check was the opening act The Silver Strings - Singapore's own rising stars.

 

The Silver Strings comprised Audie Ng, then 23, on bass guitar, Merlin Lim, 21, on rhythm guitar, David Chan, 25, on lead guitar, and Danny Boy, 21, on drums. Mike Van Dort, 20, and his brother Herb, 22, were the lead vocals, who on that night were belting out hits by the Stones such as (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and Paint It Black to try and buy time for the British band, which was running late for the gig.

 

It was an adrenaline-fuelled night, recalled Mr Ng, now 76, one which catapulted The Silver Strings into the league of local 1960s chart-toppers like The Crescendos and The Quests. "It was so wild," he said, laughing. "Everyone was screaming and enjoying themselves that night."

 

"It was also Chinese New Year, so there were firecrackers going off outside," he said. "Then there were some British kids who stormed the gates of the Badminton Hall and they crashed. It was a crazy night I will never forget," said Mr Ng.

 

That performance opened many doors for The Silver Strings just as the local music scene had begun flourishing, said Mr Ng, who noted that the 1960s were the golden era for local bands.

 

Born in 1942, the youngest of 13 children, Mr Ng said he did not get much opportunity to explore music in his youth. "My father was not very keen for us to learn music," he said.

 

After his father died, Mr Ng completed secondary school and then worked as an accounts clerk at an insurance company.

 

It was not until 1961 that he became interested in music, after watching another renowned British band, The Shadows, perform at the Happy World Stadium. "I saw them and I got so inspired."

 

He joined a guitar class conducted by a popular music teacher, Harry Martinez, in 1963, and met three other teenagers who would end up forming The Silver Strings with him a year later.

 

After opening for The Rolling Stones in 1965, the group performed at the Miss Universe pageant in Malaysia's Stadium Negara the same year. "I'd never played in front of 20,000 people before, it was a memorable show," Mr Ng said. "I was only 23, and playing in front of such a crowd, can you imagine?"

 

In 1966, the band recruited singer Shirley Nair, who was then 19, after Veronica Young, their first singer, left to pursue a solo singing career.

 

The Silver Strings recorded 12 original songs, including their biggest hit You're The Boy. The song was composed by Ms Nair and was frequently heard on the radio. In 1967, the band toured Malaysia.

 

As their fame grew, they performed at more concerts, including at the former National Theatre and at open-air car parks. "There were thousands of people who would come to the concerts, some with banners, some screaming," Mr Ng said.

 

Along with the fame came the fans. "Some girls were quite crazy about band boys," recalled Mr Ng. "They screamed and followed us everywhere."

 

Once, the band members were resting in their hotel room when some fans sneaked in, claiming to be hotel staff on housekeeping duty, he said. "They refused to go until we had signed autographs for them. Those were the days," he recalled, wistfully.

 

In 1971, the band split up.

 

"I was going to be a father, so I wanted to settle down and be a family man," said Mr Ng, who got married in 1970.

 

He decided to switch his focus to the business side of music, opening an instrument and studio rental company. Today, he manages singers and musicians under another company, Supreme Musical Connections.

 

As for the other band members, Mr Lim and Mr Boy are working in the security field, while Mr Chan has retired. Ms Nair died of cancer while Ms Young lives in France. Brothers Mike and Herb Van Dort are in Australia.

 

Over the years, Mr Ng has organised several reunions of the band, including for a show last weekend at Pasir Ris Elias Community Club.

 

"The Silver Strings was a big part of my youth and it will always be special to me," Mr Ng said. "It is the only band I have been with. We still keep in touch with each other even after five decades."

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.