For fans of a particular era of Chinese-language pop-rock, in particular the excellent Singaporean pop-rock of the 1960s and ’70s, there’s one name one finds written on records by many of the era’s greatest artists — The Stylers. They backed many of the Singapore’s leading lights including Lena Lim, Lisa Wong, and Yao Su Rong. They weren’t limited just to Singapore, however, they created an appealingly funky and post-psychedelic musical underscore characterized by fuzzy guitars, twinkly keyboards, and shimmering waves of echo and reverb for artists from Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand as well. In their spaghetti western inflected surf music, listeners will detect the influence of bands like The Ventures and The Shadows. Whether aware of them or not, one can hear echoes of their sound in contemporary bands like Dengue Fever and the collaborations of Bei Bei and Shawn Lee. There is, however, seemingly very little information about them online so I, as a fan, have attempted to write a brief introductory history based mostly on a set of liner notes and a not-even-remedial grasp of Chinese.
Whatever else one might think of the Chinese Communist Party, they have been terrible for China’s music scene. Before their rise to power (and subsequent banishment of decadent Westernized music), Shanghai was home to the flourishing Shidaiqu (時代曲) scene — typified by music that mixed Chinese folk and traditional music with jazz and enka influences. During the reign of Mao Zedong, all of the best Chinese music was made elsewhere in the Sinosphere — mostly in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore.
The popularity of British band The Shadows is easy to underestimate today. Their name is unlikely to register even a flicker of recognition for anyone under the age of 60, at least in North America, despite the fact that in the UK, they have only been outsold by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Cliff Richard, and Madonna — all of whose names are familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with 20th century pop culture. The Shadows’ popularity reached Singapore in the early 1960s, where they inspired local teenagers to form similarly primarily-instrumental bands like The Crescendos, The Quests, The Stompers, The Trekkers, The Vampires, and The Stylers.
Teenagers Frankie Abdullah (bass guitar), Idros (drums), Rahman (lead guitar), and Randy Lee Keng (李慶, rhythm guitar) formed a band called The Angels. They were initially managed by Randy’s uncle. Rahman left the group in 1962 and was replaced by John Teo (张平福), who in addition to playing lead guitar and sometimes assuming vocals, also arranged the band’s music and would, with Randy Lee, form the core of the band for decades to come. Other members came an went more quickly. Vocalist Stewart Chew was in the line-up from 1962 until ’63. Idros left the band and was replaced by Osman.
The new line-up of young musicians changed their name to The Rhythm Strikers. Their practice space was on Joo Chiat Terrace, in the Geylang township. At a performance organized by the Cathay Organization, based in nearby River Valley, that organization’s manager suggested another name change, to The Stylers.
In 1962, Runme and Run Run Shaw‘s Shaw Organization organized a Cliff Richard & The Shadows Contest and The Stylers came in as runners up to The Stompers and ahead of The Trekkers. Following this success, they landed a two-year residency at the Celestial Room at the Amber Mansions nightclub. During that period, they were joined by Robert Song (羅拔宋, formerly of The Checkmates), who designed the band’s icon, an “s” with rabbit ears. Abdullah, Osman, and sometime vocalist Chew left and were replaced by Ronnie See (vocals), Douglas Tan (陳金海, bass) and Alvin Wong (黃英春, drums) — the latter two having previously played in The Burns.
In late 1963 or early ’64, they made their first record, backing Maggie (美琪), on Miracle Records. It was a commercial success and they followed up with performances at the National Theatre, Musical Express, and at the Capitol and Odean cinemas. The Stylers went on to make hundreds of recordings not just in Singapore but Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan on over thirty music labels.
Artists they recorded with include singers Alice Chang (張莉英), Alice Choy (愛麗), Bai Ying (白櫻), Barley Wah (白丽華), Boon Shong (文雄), Candy Shu (金燕), Chang Wei Wei (張薇薇), Chang Xiao Ying (張小英), Chee Pei Yi (成佩珏), Chen Jie (陳潔), Chen Jin Lang (陈金浪), Chen Qing Hua (陳清華), Cheng Kam Cheong (鄭錦昌), Chen Mei Feng (陳美鳳), Chen Xi Zhong (陳志忠), Chew Yian (秋雁), Chik Soon Come (戚舜琴), Chiu-Ling, Chopstick Sisters (筷子姐妹), Dai Qian Wen (戴倩雯), Daojai Paijit (ดาวใจ ไพจิตร), David Soon (東宏), Don Hong (東宏), Donny Yap, Elaine Leong (梁依玲), Ervinna Theodora Monica (愛慧娜), Fang Yu (方羽), Fong Fei Fei (鳳飛飛), Gao Shan (高山), Grace Lee (婷婷), Hong Lee Sisters (紅麗姐妹), Huang Li Qin, Huang Qing Yuan (黃清元), Huang Xiao Jun, Huang Ying Ming (黄映明), Hui Lan, Ivy Chan (飛翠), Jenny Tseng, Jin Yan Hua (金燕華), Judy Teng (鄧雪華), Juliet Lau (劉美華), June Chu (楚留香), Koa Seong (高雄), Kok Peng Kin (郭炳堅), Kok Sook Fang (郭淑芳), Lau Chi Weng, Lee Mei Ling (李美玲), Lena Lim (林竹君), Li Ai Lian (李愛蓮), Li Li (莉莉), Li Wen (麗雯), Lim Ling (林琳), Lin Ying (林櫻), Linda Yong (紫凌), Ling Bing (凌冰), Ling Chan (凌震), Lisa Lem (林惠文), Lisa Wong (麗莎), Liu Bong (劉邦), Liu Zhong (劉忠), Long Piau Piau, Lu Da (呂達), Maggie Teng (鄧妙華), Mah Ai Nee (馬艾妮), Michelle Xie, Mimi Leong (梁善美), Nam Hong (南虹), Ni Bin (倪賓), Pang Fei (龐飛), Pearl Sisters, Qin Han Xing (秦漢星), Qing Yun (秦韻王), Rahiman Rahim, Robin, Shin Lee (刑麗), Simon Junior (西門魯尼), Song Yiping (宋一萍), Su Lin (蘇琳), Su Shan (蘇珊), Sua Lin Sisters (雙玲姐妹), Tam Shun Cheng (譚順成), Tan Guoquan (譚國銨), Victor Wu Kang, Wee Han Boon (魏漢文), Wong Li (黃鸝), Wong Sa (王沙), Wong Xiao Chuen (黃曉君), Wu Gang (吳剛), Wu Jing Shan (伍景山), Xia Kai Jun (夏愷君), Xia Xin (夏心), Xie Ciao Xiang (謝小祥) Yao Su Rong (姚蘇蓉), Ye Yu Ping (葉玉萍), You Li (于麗), Yu Gim, Zhang Ming Li (張明麗), and Zhang Wei Wei; and comedians Wang Sa & Ya Fung.
The Stylers released their own LPs, as well, beginning (perhaps) with The Stylers 之声 / 幾度花落時 (1969). The Stylers established their own record label, Style Records Company, with their manager, Ronald Tham. Through it, they issued a few EPs in 1971 and then a series of LPs beginning in 1975. 1979, they released Disco X’Mas Music. The line-up of The Stylers changed, again, in 1980 when Alvin Wong left and was replaced by Lawrence Lum of the SBC Orchestra. Style Records Company closed in 1983, as did its sub-label, The Style Organisation Pte. Ltd. The band finally called it a day in 1990. Afterward, Robert Song moved to Manila and has since passed away. It seems that Douglas Tan and Lawrence Lum continue to perform as the core of The New Stylers.
(C) The Stylers Story: Recordings A Plenty by Andy Lim