SB & 3D (Why I’m excited to be in Eugene Soh’s virtual gallery project)

THIS post was written before SPOKEN started. SPOKEN is a project I am doing with Eugene Soh, an experiment in which art, text, virtual reality and social media intersect. Learn about SPOKEN here.

to enter gallery.sg and see IATB in an exhibition with other artists, click here.
Here is the extremely short version: from 2002 until 2008 I was involved with a visionary virtual reality project that combined educational practices with gamemaking and multimedia. However, the spiritual captain of the project was part Disney, part Microsoft and part Sex Pistols. An unexpected death, treachery, incompetence, inexperience, bureaucratic boondoggles and more made my life “interesting”… I have pages of notes about the events and the spirit of the times. We were doing things like Youtube and Second Life before they started. The project was so close… and yet so far away. (Actually, now that mobile technology has settled down, I hope that the lessons and products of that experience can be revitalized. But that’s yet another story.)
In 2006, as a way of showcasing our technology,  I entered a gamemaking hackathon. A theme was given on a Thursday morning and the next day at five the results were judged.The theme was something about healthy eating, I think. Working with my programmer in Hong Kong, we made a game in which the viewer learned about the calorie count of certain foods. The player competed with an AI character.  It was fun to do.
However, what I remember most was a team that made an incredible flash game. I don’t remember if they won or not, but I do remember two guys on that team very well. George Parel and Eugene Soh were full of energy, knowledge and bursting with creative ideas.
They still are.
I’ve been lucky to work with George and Eugene on a few projects since then. In 2008 I finally had to put the educational gamemaking project on hold while I waited for a programmer and the mobile device situation to stabilize.I put more time into writing and art projects. George and Eugene (that dude from Singapore) however, have kept on doing remarkably creative things with IT, art, design and more.
Virtual reality may seem to be an artificial place, but the gallery Eugene has created fills me with memories and hope. I am honored and very thankful for I Ate Tiong Bahru to be on display in gallery.sg
IATB in virtual gallery
Cheers, Eugene! Cheers, George!

Ebooks: Born to Click (1 of 3)

Preface

This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It’s part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books.
Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books.

το πνεύμα του Ιανού

After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I’ll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it.

This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era.

This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author’s Guild.

Although I’ve done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations:

1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy.
Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
Stephen King

Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About…
And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers… The title of Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.)
Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading.

2. A great writer or a great marketer…
….or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells.
Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below)
Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages…

3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers.
Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church!

Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you’re not truly independent.

OK, A bit of an attention grabber there…but the author’s need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These “automatic partners” will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author.

Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood.
Consider:
-the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010)
-the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets
– the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles
– writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking’s first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010.

E.L. James’ book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans?

These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW!
However, the writing is…”not terrible” or worse

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.
http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/amazon-makes-life-easier-for-authors-of-historical-literary-fiction/

There are “indie success stories” about authors who “rode into town” on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these “indies” were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers.
As the ‘first mover’possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition… Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: “…was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

There certainly are “ebook only” indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don’t know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others! them! Somewhat related to this, are there any “ebook only” awards?

Here, authors talk about their sales experiences.

4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this.
Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways.

It is an exciting time.

Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3

visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks

 

SPOKEN: Questions and Comments

From an email from Andric Tham, producer ofJUMPTHECUT (9:34 AM, July 23,2014.At the time of writing, AT unaware the contents of his email would be shared.)

I guess the only feedback I have is that it feels rather like a novelty. 

That Second Life has fallen out favor for things like Twitter is because people don’t really want virtual reality. They already have reality reality, and reality sucks, and technology was supposed to make it better somehow.
 
Of course doing something like that requires you to suspend your disbelief to some extent. And I’m not trying to say that this sucks. It’s great, what you’re doing, bringing art and tech together. It’s something I believe in.
 
But the medium is ill suited for art. There’s a lot of “chrome” in the interaction which makes it distracting (hence a novelty).
 
If museums elevate art, VR has a potential to “de-elevate” it, if you’re not careful. For the viewer, if not for the artist. It puts too much in between the art and the viewer, and for what reason?
 
The idea of tech and art coming together is to make art more accessible to people, which I feel is still yet to be achieved.
 
That’s just what I feel though. I think the artists are a great bunch though, from the looks of it!

 

Mottoist Driving School

Thanks for making your way here…

It is September 16th as I write this and you are likely here because of SPOKEN.

Right now SPOKEN is open to all kinds of creatives, except visual artists. We have no more gallery space, so it is tough to properly present visual works in SPOKEN. However, send us your stuff for next time…

But, right now, we do not know what we are going to do next. February 14th seems  very, very far away. As I write this, Eugene and I are not sure if we will work together again or what. And I mean that in the best possible way.

What is certain however, is that it is always great to connect with enthusiastic people.The spirit of SPOKEN will continue.

So, regardless of whether you are a visual artist, a writer, a performance artist, a graphic designer,a game designer, a musician, a filmmaker…whatever, please consider the following if you would like to do something together.

1. Use Gmail/Google+/Google Drive

2. Create a Google Drive account and in it, please put

a. jpeg(s) of your work Jpegs should be labeled with title, year and name of artist. Sound files or whatever else you have would be helpful

b. bio, including social media

c. links to all of your projects online

d. portrait

e.Answer this question: I’d like to be involved because...(20 words or less.)

Then, allow me access to that file.

Doing the above would say a lot about your commitment. Thank you…

BUT I DON’T DO SOCIAL MEDIA AND I HATE GOOGLE+. It’s always so empty…

Not a problem.

But here’s what you should know. As much as possible, I like to be fun, serious and efficient. Sending six email requests for a jpeg of an existing artwork is not good. Many unanswered email requests for a bio is not good. Things like this take time, are unpleasant and unnecessary, especially when one is, more or less, an unpaid volunteer. By doing all of the above, you are saving us both time. So, think of something that you ca do without Google+.(No zip files, please.)

You are welcome to get in touch whether you are on Google+ or not. If you’re not on G+, please consider budgeting a small amount for advertising. For as little as five bucks you can place an ad online that would help you and whatever collaborators may be involved.Why?

Besides being extremely efficient, Google+ helps feed information to the Google search engine, which helps spread the information. When non-Google+ users pay for a small ad to appear online, they are doing the same thing that Google+ users do automatically, for free. (This is a bit of a simplification and I am happy to answer in detail via email. There is also this post on why I like Google+

I am not obsessed with search engine ranking and all that. However, the internet does allow for surprising, positive connections to be made if one just gives it some information.

Bottom line is that I welcome the opportunity to work with people who are enthusiastic and, hopefully, organized*.

 

Onward!

Stephen Black

*No, I am not really that organized, but I have improved a bit because of SPOKEN.

PS “Motto” is the Japanese word for “more”. A mottoist does more.

The SPOKEN design element above was an experiment in graphics by Roy Chan.

SPOKEN Handbook

SPOKEN is not a typical exhibition. Since it began, it has evolved and new layers have been added. And so it is with the SPOKEN Handbook. This document will continually change until the 14th of February, 2015, the last day SPOKEN is online.

Inside the SPOKEN Handbook are the text contributions from the writers as well as information about the artworks and all involved with this project. As I write this, on September 14, there  are a few surprises being planned and perhaps there will be new pieces of writing submitted. More music! More films! Due to technical reasons, however, the number of artworks will remain fixed. But many things can happen between now and February 14th…

Stephen Black

This link takes you to an overview of SPOKEN.

SPOKEN Exhibition Guide by cw

Books and music by SPOKEN artists and writers

This gallery contains 23 photos.

The overview of  SPOKEN  is here . This post is updated frequently… stop by again! Info on Chaos and Yeşim Ağaoğlu’s other books here. ロシア初のノーベル文学賞詩人にして小説家のイワン・ブーニンの恋愛小説集『暗い並木道』、『日射病』、『ミーチャの恋』、『最も美しい太陽』、自伝的長編『アルセーニエフの生涯』を中心に“イメージ=具体的表象”の視点から、“恋愛”“記憶”“死”を浮き彫りにしたブーニン文学の不可視な本質に迫る。 http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/stelarc   “… I Ate Tiong Bahru, your exquisite ‘lyrical documentary’ on Tiong Bahru,  gave me many … Continue reading

SPOKEN Darkness

Alright, so the title is a little dramatic…

There really isn’t a dark side to SPOKEN. Yes, there will probably be some unexpected mischief and there could be some technical surprises, but if things continue as they have been, the next six months will be full of rewarding hard work.

Issue: we aint got no dedicated website for SPOKEN. Before SPOKEN even had a name, our goal was simply to have an exciting and eclectic collection of art on display in Eugene’s funky virtual gallery. But, after research, thought and discussion, it felt like we could do more. We decided to ask writers to interact with the art, just to see what happen. This writer-artist interaction will require us to expand our e-catalogue into something more. And, it would be great for comments to be shown. A website dedicated to SPOKEN would be great.  Yes, an ebook can be a form of presentation, but that “live” dimension is lost. I remember when Facebook began, when I always saw posts from people I barely knew. I enjoyed that a lot. I’d like SPOKEN to have that sort of constant freshness.  Facebook I now find unattractive. So, I have to use this blog quite a bit….which brings me to another concern…

Me, me, me…Issue #2. This is a Stephen Black project. It ain’t, really. The first idea was that Eugene and I both select ten artists. Then Eugene became intensely involved in his art and professional projects, and I ended up selecting nearly all of the artists. And, now most of the SPOKEN information is on my blog. And my dad is in the project and so is my brother. Many of my friends, as well… So, yes, I can understand why it seems that SPOKEN can be considered, in some ways, SB-centric. But ultimately SPOKEN  is about working in 3D with Eugene, showcasing some interesting artists and writers and chaotically marching with joy through the minefields of art and social media, destination unknown.

GIF320_FINAL

Issue: Just grumbling here… Always a treat and an honor  when internationally recognized artists and writers respond after having received just one email. Others, however, ignore the same  email several times, yet find time to post lunch photos on FB. I love that.

On a much more serious note, it is hard  for me to explain how powerful this project could be if all of the participants took social media and Google+ a bit more seriously. SPOKEN is not about getting a zillion visitors or selling art. It is about experimentation and creating NEW pathways of communication, new connections. By using Google+, for example, I have met dozens of people while working on SPOKEN. I am planning a blog post on this sort of thing soon. It’s not very exciting to see some people working so hard and only using Facebook as away to communicate.

Here is why I use Google+.

Issue: Technology. There are always technical issues. The soundscape for example, will probably not be heard when you enter the gallery. It will probably be a download. The reason for this is that we are hoping  that people come to the website and walk right in. (As opposed to the first exhibition in gallery.sg, where visitors had to download a 450 meg file.)

This lean-and-mean approach also prevents us from having pop up information next to the artworks. Not a problem, but we’ll have to present the information in another way. Yes, it will be in the e-catalogue, but it would be nice to somehow have it more spontaneous. The e-catalogue, given away free, will hopefully not just showcase the author’s work and the artists’s images, but will allow for a more meaningful virtual gallery experience.

Issue: economics. SPOKEN has basically been my fulltime job for the past three months. I am lucky I am in Bali and in a situation where I can live very inexpensively. And, SPOKEN is most definitely worth the effort. But, once we start offering things for sale, there could be some eyebrows raised or worse. We made it clear to the artists that any sales questions go directly to them, and ask them to remember us if and when a sale is made. We are talking to online shops and hopefully these shops can benefit all of our artists. Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I have been around the block a few times. I would smile quietly if someone said that SPOKEN is a “sellout”, but I would be concerned if there was a mistaken perception that SPOKEN was somehow being financially exploitative. To be clear: no writer is being paid, no artists are being charged. If an artwork is sold, the artists decides if SPOKEN will be given an agent’s fee as well as the amount of that agent’s fee. At this point we have worked hard and long with no sponsorship nor contributions. (That is not a complaint!)

Skills sets and strategies have been acquired and established, however. Perhaps the next version of SPOKEN will have have more commercial aspects. Don’t know. But for now, it aint about money…

Jump the cut

I am excited by the work of JUMPTHECUT.

They are working on something that they cannot yet define. With every season, though, more is revealed and ultimately,  they will perfectly define  the relationship between their ever-increasing audience and their exquisitely curated videos and films.

It is fantastic that they are involved with SPOKEN.

full-red-inverse

summer-edition-facebook

 

 

SPOKEN Music

It was in a very clean room made of glass. Lee Wen was concluding a talk/lecture/walk/music performance in front of small group of people. This was almost the last day of the 2014 Singapore Biennale. There was a man in the audience who had a guitar and, spontaneously, that man and Lee Wen were soon jamming. Then Lee Wen gave the floor to the man with the guitar.

Tommy J didn’t miss a beat and played a great song I’d never heard before, the refrain including the line,  “I’ve done all the dumb things”. I’ll never forget it. Tommy J played with soul, and that sounds like a cheap cliched description–but it aint. That glass room became filled with the kind of spirit you find in a great pub filled with friends.

Tommy J. He’s got it.

He’s been travelling for years and has charmed people on the streets of Asia, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Amsterdam and Southern Germany.  He can sing the blues, he can remind you of Bowie, he can pound harder than Nine Inch Nails. Tommy knows the power of silence. He can make you laugh.

Absolutely thrilled that Tommy is creating a soundscape and possibly more for SPOKEN.

(It turns out Tommy was singing Dumb Things by Australian artist Paul Kelly.)

Some video and music by Tommy. His social media links follow.

Welcome to Step Inn Guesthouse Kuala Lumpur (A must for anyone who’s ever heard Hotel California by the Eagles.)

Tommy on Facebook for travel tips, pics and stories…

Tommy on Twitter, at his random best…

FOOD!

Hello!

This is a very brief introduction to my food photography. Please contact me if you have any questions.
I am very interested in forming a long-term relationship with a restaurant or chef. I believe the internet offers many new possibilities that are more interesting than websites, Facebook, etc. To have an ongoing web project would not only showcase food and drink creations, but would be an artistic business project that would offer the viewers/customers both a perspective and a connection.

An experimental project about the Tippling Club, one of Singapore’s most dynamic food and drink establishments. Note that the Tippling Club is now in a different location. Also, this was set up on Scribd which, unfortunately, no longer allows for a double page presentation.
Quark Powder.

A collection of short stories, all somehow related to food:

http://www.amazon.com/Furikake-ebook/dp/B002PAQAXE

My food images have appeared in many magazines as well as in the following books:
CoCo
Alleno 101(Editions Glénat)

Secrets of Sushi

An elegant experiment, involving some three star chefs and very good writing….I feel, though that some of the digital images now lack punch. The sushi shots, are on film…they are still jewels…

Omakase by cw

I would be thrilled to connect with a restaurant, hotel, chef or food artist who wants to make beautiful images and exciting digital projects!

Onward,

Stephen Black
A bit more, here on Behance.

The Sequel to I Ate Tiong Bahru/Ronnie and The Burns

click here to learn how to get a free ebook copy of  I Ate Tiong Bahru.

I Ate Tiong Bahru was originally planned as a small coffee table book, packed with photos that I’d taken, as well as historical images. The money for printing that could not be raised, however, and I decided to instead do a text-only “bare bones” project: I Ate Tiong Bahru. I intentionally kept my name off the cover as sometimes just having a “Western” name on an “Asian” book is a sales point. I also avoided using a photo or attractive design for the cover.  I wanted to see if I could connect with people who enjoy the art of reading: the blandness of the cover is  a filter; a challenge. IATB is not a guide nor a novel.

Storytelling is, to me, secondary to creating a unique reading experience. There are techniques for storytelling and I appreciate those writers who can use formulas and  hide those bones. What I want to put down on paper though, is a mirror of life, and life seems to follow no plot, or structure. It begins and it ends and all we can do is react to the chaos that occurs in between. Anyhoo…

The sequel will include some things from On Seng Poh Road. as well as from Tiong Bahru Blue (now a collectors item.) What  follows is a draft about Ronnie and the Burns, who were probably Singapore’s first rock and roll band. What follows needs work: it’s clumsy and has no flow… it first appeared on writingraw.com and is, most definitely, still raw.

Ronnie and the Burns

Cliff Richard album cover

Keeping Time By Stephen Black with Ronnie See

A pamphlet hidden in a pouch of tobacco proved that See Heng Chwee was a Communist. Immediately he was thrown into a hot airless darkness so small he couldn’t spread his arms. Sometimes the Japanese dragged the 50-year old-prisoner to another room and tortured him for information he didn’t have. He was given only starch to eat and he could drink only his own urine. There was an open bayonet wound across his ribs. His knees and skeletal buttocks ached from the constant pressure of the damp hard floor. The silence was broken only by moans or footsteps or beatings. Heng Chwee’s only hope was that the truth would set him free.

Thirteen months passed. A Japanese/Chinese translator named Koh believed the prisoner’s story: one of Heng Chwee’s daughters had taken his advice and had refused to marry a man. In retaliation, the man had hidden Communist pamphlets in the tobacco that Heng Chwee sold. In what what little free time he had, Koh collected evidence to prove Heng Chwee’s innocence. He was successful. Heng Chwee finally left Outram Prison, walking slowly on legs swollen from malnutrition. His wife was beside him. For the same amount of time, she’d been kept isolated in the Women’s Quarters of the prison. The “informant” was shot in the head.

Silat Road was where Heng Chwee began a new life with his family. Not far from his home was a Sikh Temple about thirty years old. It was still referred to as the “Police Gurdwara”, due to the fact that many of its original members were on the police force. A number of distinguished citizens grew up in the Silat Road area, including the fourth President of Singapore, Wee Kim Wee. The works of painter Ong Kim Seng’s hang in collections around the world, including that belonging to Queen Elizabeth. Peter Lim, who made a bid to buy the Manchester United football team, also grew up in the area.

Heng Chwee and his family were squatters, like just about everyone around them. And, like their neighbors, they were tough, for Silat Road was the most crime-infested place in Singapore, a place where trucks of gangs carrying weapons were as common as trucks of pigs and chickens. Two major gangs ruled the area: the 18 Gi Ho Gang and the 18 Koon Tong Gang. These secret societies and their splinter groups battled each other constantly, making a warzone of the once peaceful farming community. The police rarely came into the slums of Silat Road, but if they did, they came in pairs with their guns drawn.

Unlike most of his neighbors, Heng Chwee could read and write. He’d learned when he was a boy growing up in southern China. There, the village temple and his father’s farm had been havens of civilization and morality amidst the nationwide battles and civil wars amongst warlords, armies of bandits and the corrupt government. Opium claimed many lives the wars hadn’t. Foreign gunships patrolled the coast, supporting their armies on newly claimed territories. The Chinese Revolution and then the Japanese Invasion surged through Heng Chwee’s life like great waves of destruction. At age 40, he lost everything except his wife and daughter, his small farm and his long pigtail. His pigtail and farm were sold for a ticket on a junk to Nanyang, the land to the south. Before he left, Heng Chwee prayed at the graves of his four sons.

As a boy, Heng Chwee had also learned the art of fortune-telling. He could interpret qian, the divine slips of paper believed to predict the future. Now, on Silat Road, he shared his skills with everyone, from homeless young gangsters to politically-connected rich aunties who were terrified to be driven through the neighborhood to his house. Regardless of race or religion,  anyone who asked for Heng Chwee’s help received it. His Malay neighbors were like family. Without pay, Heng Chwee kept the flood drains clear of muck, trash and the floating dead. His neighbors, whether Malay, Chinese or gangsters, began calling him Heng Chwee Peh, Peh being a sign of respect.

Near Heng Chwee Peh’s home was an area of no-man’s land with broken grave markers, small bushes, sparse trees and coffins jutting out of the eroded hillsides. With their friends standing guard, boys ran in to chop firewood for cooking fires, hoping the gangs would stay away. The boys would nervously fish and catch eels in the heart of Snake Gang territory. No one knew what the gangs did with trespassing boys. Along Silat Road, if you were marked for dead, that was it. Done deal. You’d be slashed and stabbed. You’d die.

Heng Chwee Peh sent his sons and daughters to learn at British schools. In the eyes of some of his Chinese neighbors, this made him a traitor. However, when the British police started giving the gangsters pieces of paper, they and their relatives pleaded for help. Heng Chwee Peh’s second oldest son, a young boy not yet in his teens, read aloud the papers and explained them. He soon began showing up at the police station, where he’d scold the gangsters in Hokkien as the Indian police officers watched. He warned his neighbors about the seriousness of Section 55*. He spoke frankly to the police officers, sometimes pleading for leniency so that an offender’s dependents wouldn’t suffer. The officers were impressed and often the boy found himself in conversation about school and books, including one of his favorites: the Oxford Dictionary.

The boy’s name was Kim Huat and he seemed to be on his way towards becoming a policeman. Kim Huat never begged or stole. He dealt with the crime around him in a moralistic, business-like manner. He once charged gang members to store their weapons in an unused part of the family home.  After his father patiently explained the danger of the situation, he stopped. As a boy, Kim Huat once worked in an opium den, rolling balls of opium and preparing pipes. If someone threw a coin at Kim Huat, he threw it back. Coins were to be placed in his hand. He was providing a service and he was to be given payment properly. The gangs rarely pressured Kim Huat to become a gang member. If they did, he refused. Kim Huat wanted to be a leader or nothing at all.

* Section 55 allows the authorities to hold a suspect without trial for up to ten years.

2:08 AM, August 6, 1966.

Southeast Asia is under attack by the Communists and the Americans are fighting in Vietnam. Western culture, especially rock’n’ roll, is considered to be an amoral threat to Asian values. The nation of  Singapore is barely a year old. Among several ordinances to enforce ‘good behavior’, is a ban on jukeboxes. In a few years the government will outlaw long hair for men. Kim Huat is now called ‘Ronnie’.

Ronnie’s hair touches his collar and he’s holding a guitar. He’s being questioned by three officers,  There are 40 armed riot police outside and a truck that could take away 50 people. Gurkhas- Indian hired guards, are everywhere, waiting for orders. Five thousand people are packed inside the brand new Singapore Conference Hall. They’ve gone crazy for Ronnie’s band as well as The Checkmates, Rony and The Echo Jets, Naomi and The Boys, Shirley Nair and The Silver Strings and The Cyclones. They want more Ronnie, but Ronnie is surrounded by police officers. Five thousand people are screaming downstairs, screaming for Ronnie.

“ Mr. Ronnie See … This license I’m holding says you and your band of gangsters will stop at 2 AM … it’s now 2:08 AM. You are breaking the law….”

Sweat.

Ronnie organized the event. Tension. Ronnie’s wearing a gold Sixties style mod outfit.

Handcuffs.

Ronnie’s sober and sincere.

He apologizes, explains about the delays due to equipment problems. “You were on Istana Pesta last year, weren’t you?” Ronnie says that yes, he and his band had appeared on the popular TV show. The officer in charge  stares at Ronnie a little longer before putting his clipboard away. “Better wrap it up. Now. Do what you gotta do. Move it.”

Ronnie rushes downstairs towards the stage. Another severe looking police officer is waiting at the bottom of the steps. He blocks Ronnie’s way. “Ronnie See,” he says without emotion. “You’re gonna have to sign this before you go anywhere.” He pulls out a clipboard.

On the clipboard are two flyers for the event. “Sign these, would ya?” the officer says, “my sister saw you at her friend’s birthday party. They’re both in the crowd.” Ronnie quickly autographs the flyers. “Ronnie, one more thing ….” Ronnie picks up his guitar. The officer puts his pen back in his pocket. “ Ronnie, you’re  the Cliff Richard of Singapore … but when you gonna make a record?”

The early days of Ronnie and The Burns were exciting, even the practices. Twice a week, around six in the evening, Ronnie carefully packed his records and record player in old rice sacks. He’d walk along the muddy tracks of the Malayan Railway, hoping the gangs weren’t around. He’d quickly scramble away from the tracks and through the jungly paths and side streets that led to Tiong Bahru. Going to practice was like going to another world. Once Ronnie made it past the ritzy Bobotan Mansions on the edge of Tiong Bahru, he knew he was safe.

At the end of Seng Poh Road, beneath the clock tower, was a coffee shop with a jukebox. There he’d listen to Cliff and Elvis. Seng Poh Road itself was full of cars and taxis. On one side were the sheltered passages of the SIT flats. Everywhere else there were makeshift walkways covered with canvas. The streets were crowded and full of of shops. The hawker center was always busy and sometimes the night markets set up their tents and made it even busier. Amidst all of this, Ronnie thought of the logistics of the band: concert posters to be printed… equipment to be upgraded. How much to charge? How will we look on stage?

Ronnie would check his wallet, making sure he had enough to take the four members of his band out for snacks after rehearsal. Chicken pies were 60 cents each and a glass of fresh sugar cane juice was a dime. As he walked, Ronnie practiced singing, especially his favorite song: It won’t work poor boy, Don’t you try again. Fate took hold of your love and you can’t win … You can sing the blues all to yourself But while you’re singing She’s with someone else, poor boy …”

Ronnie crosses Tiong Bahru Road. He climbs the stairs to the third floor and knocks on the door. His classmate Ivan is there, grinning from ear to ear. The 45s get unpacked, notes get reviewed and the lyrics are checked. The band shows up. Drums are dragged out of a bedroom and guitars get plugged into the homemade amps. Ronnie plays the 45s and explains the chord changes. The song list is decided. The door is soon surrounded by dozens of shoes. Boys and girls are everywhere. A few sit on wooden stools; most are on the floor. Everyone’s sweating and drinking tea or coffee, except Ronnie.

Ivan flips the room lights on and off. The musicians carefully walk to their positions and pick up their instruments. Ronnie faces everyone; the kitchen is his stage. Feedback whistles through Theme for a Dream, the first song. Ronnie is quietly patient as the others quickly fiddle with their gear and move speakers. Thinking of Our Love is pretty smooth, except for a crackling in the rhythm guitar amp. While Ivan’s brother checks the cables Ronnie thanks everyone for their support and mentions an upcoming birthday party gig. Ivan finally flashes a thumbs up. Ronnie counts off the intro to Please Don’t Tease. The band storms through it and jumps into Gee Whiz It’s You. It’s 1964 and a hot innocent sexiness pumps through the flat. The band is tight. The sound is as good as it gets. Elvis is rockin’ the kampung.

The intro to House of the Rising Sun begins. The band plays the electric blues and Ronnie’s voice is pure regret. No one has ever felt anything like it. The small living room of the flat on Tiong Bahru Road feels like a New Orleans jail cell on a Sunday morning. Ronnie wipes his arm across his face, takes a swig of water. “Now we’ve got another one by Cliff Richard. It’s called Poor Boy.”

The jangly guitars begin, proud but bittersweet. The sparkling cymbals and the drums sneak in, smooth and steady against the rhythm guitar. Ronnie’s voice is happy. The packed room is full of smiles and tapping feet. Ronnie looks at everyone, then closes his eyes. He keeps singing. Bad luck can be good luck in disguise Some day new love may come to call Poor boy, we’ll be rich men after all, poor boy… Poor boy, we’ll be rich men after all …

 

The lyrics to Poor Boy are copyrighted by eldorado music and were written by McEntire and Vernon.

I would like to thank Joseph C. Pereira for his email introduction to Ronnie See.

 

One of Joseph’s books about Singapore Sixties music is Apache Over Singapore.

This link takes you to the blog of Carl Hamm, an American working on a documentary about pop music in Malaysia and Singapore. I need to do a separate post about Carl. I finally met him a week ago when he was in Singapore doing research on Pop Yeh Yeh. Carl is  is committed to preserving and celebrating the music of Pop Yeh Yeh. What is Pop Yeh Yeh? Here ya go….

Finally, a day after I posted this, Ronnie sent me this: …there’s one part I might not have mentioned to you. The band was engaged by the then Cathay Organisation to travel on a 6 months tour to Malaysia in 1966. There were many nice events during the tour, several bands traveled with Ronnie and The Burns and Sunny Low Dancers were the backup dancers in the tour to Malaysia too.

More from Ronnie….the photo! And some memories…

I have managed to rummage through my old files and found the photo of Ronnie and The Burns, it’s an old picture taken in 1965 at the then most prominent photo studio called “Columbia Photo Studio” along New Bridge Road. The line-up members of the band from left to right: drummer – Frankie Nonis, lead guitarist – Roland Shepherdson, bass guitarist – Douglas Tan, rhythm guitarist – Kenneth Gomez, leader & singer – Ronnie See.

 The youngest member in the band was me, I found the band in 1963 and called it Ronnie and The Burns. Everything started from scratch, but soon the band owned Vox amps and Burns guitars. The band soon became very busy with lots of gigs. The early years were exciting because all of the demands on the audio side were basic. There weren’t many gadgets but the sound was pure and clean. We were youngsters very much influenced by the British’s best music: The Shadows and Cliff Richard and The Shadows. I can say that most-almost all  of the guitarists in Singapore were influenced, one way or the other by The Shadows music. Only a few musicians were influenced by The Ventures. Somehow, the British influence was very much a part of life then.

I was holding a British Subject card then and raised the Union Jack and sang God Save The Queen in school.

The little information is just an old memory of the past that is still vivid in my mind.

THANKS  RONNIE!

 © 2011 Stephen Black with Ronnie See

 

SPOKEN design

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Roy Chan is an encyclopedia. Roy Chan is rock n’roll. Roy/E5 on Behance. This post features experimentation and design/layout tests for SPOKEN. Ultimately there will be a e-catalogue cover, “CD” covers , a GIF or two and some surprises….   … Continue reading