A chance to get blown away by local rockers

I will not be attending the upcoming Rolling Stones concert here because I caught them when they last performed here in 2003.

But when they play at Marina Bay Sands on March 15, I will be at the outdoor Event Plaza because the gig organisers have also lined up a local rock fiesta before the main event that will also be simulcast live.

The free pre-show is what will give me satisfaction.

The line-up provides ample proof that Singapore has veteran musicians that can rock like Mick Jagger and company, with Heritage, Tania, John Molina, Douglas Oliveiro and Jive Talkin' on the programme.

Some of the acts have a history almost as long as the Stones who got rolling in 1962.

Heritage and Tania, formed in 1972 and 1976 respectively, have a hall-of-fame spot in the hearts of many babyboomers who partied the night away with them at nightspots like Ion Bar in the old Apollo Hotel and Anywhere at Tanglin Shopping Centre. Tania pulled in the crowds at the Pebbles Bar at the Forum hotel in the late 1970s before moving to Anywhere.

The other acts were also thriving in a very dynamic music scene here in the 1980s and early 1990s when local bands had a good run in nightspots.

All of them continue to ply the local circuit.

But while babyboomers can still buy Stones records and catch their occasional concert, not many are likely to drop in at nightspots now to catch the local rock veterans, given that these fans are now in their 50s and 60s.

So the MBS show will provide a chance to reminisce about the good old times.

The younger crowd will not feel out of place if they come.

If they have bought tickets for the Stones gig, prompted by what they have heard and read about the British band's live experience, they can also expect to be blown away by the local rockers.

Frontmen Oliveiro and Molina, for example, are dynamite on stage, not unlike Jagger, who has not slowed down despite his 70 years.

Tania's Zul Sutan plays guitar with a feel and verve honed from years of holding court at watering holes - and can match what Stones axeman Keith Richards can pull off.

Certainly, the MBS platform is a rare public showcase for older Singapore rockers who are largely under the radar and omitted from National Day Parades, year-end countdowns and Singapore Day outings.

For the upcoming Singapore Day in London, contemporary outfits Great Spy Experiment plus Jack & Rai - no doubt fine musicians themselves - have been chosen to remind the overseas crowd what they are missing out on at home.

But if the organisers can take veteran cooks to dish up Singapore favourites, why can't the likes of Heritage be tapped to showcase a slice of the country's musical heritage, since they have recorded their own material too?

Still, there is time to make amends.

As Singapore gears up to celebrate its 50th birthday next year, I hope that any celebration of music will make space for these pioneering musicians.

They put in long hours working the night shift to bring joy to generations of revellers, even as they fended off challenges ranging from competition posed by cheaper Filipino bands in the 1980s to changing trends such as DJ-spun entertainment today.

Still, they plug away, with "Singapore Cowboy" Matthew Tan and his Mandarins, whose history dates back to the 1960s, playing at Serangoon Gardens Country Club while Jerry Fernandez and the Neu Faces continue to win new converts at an NTUC Club in Bedok.

"I am willing to work with someone to put up a show featuring the pioneer musicians," says Fernandez, 65, whose career has also taken him abroad, including Switzerland and even Pakistan where gun-toting patrons called the shots on what they wanted to hear.

They all deserve encores. One idea that neighbourhoods or town councils can pursue next year is to rope in these acts as part of a slate to celebrate community talents, the way the 1960s group Quests regrouped to play in Queenstown last year to commemorate the estate's 60th anniversary.

But back to the upcoming MBS show.

The Rolling Stones will call it a day at some point, and the same will happen to our local rockers.

And sometimes the hand of fate deals a cruel, premature blow.

Fans of Atwell Jansen, the frontman of Heritage, expected him to clock many more years of playing, but a bicycle fall last year ended his life at age 62.

I always wanted to hear Atwell at the Duxton pub where he performed but I never got round to it.

Come March 15, I'll remember him as I watch his Heritage bandmates, and take in the other rock stalwarts as well.

kengfatt@sph.com.sg


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