Last night, Dick Lee invited us to his ‘home’ at the DBS Arts Centre. A charming host he was, as he detailed how his home furniture was by Cellini, lights by Lightcraft and aircon by Mitsubishi Electric. The centrepiece was a white grand piano from Steinway.
I have always wondered what the Mad Chinaman was about, and why the Mad Chinaman? I got all my answers last night as Dick recounted his musical journey starting from the year he was born, 19..’cough, cough’…, as black and white photos of a boy growing up in a privilege household in an Amber Road bungalow flashed in the background. The eldest of 5 children, he was influenced by the music his father listened to, including Indonesian music. He proceeded to sing a local version of the Indonesian folksong Bangawan Solo. The lyrics changed to describe the much-sought after size of the Bengalis, the Malays, to the sotong size of the Chinese…er…I think he was talking about…cars.
His mother was a party animal and taught the young Dick the various dance steps popular in the 60s which he taught the audience last night. The steps have names like these, you do the pound potatoes, pound potatoes, pound pound pound, then swim, swim, swim, drown, hitch hike, hitch hike, peace. It must be really fun dancing in the 60’s.
Dick Lee studied at SJI and formed a band while in school. Later, he realised his music career playing the piano at Peninsula Hotel. He joined the Talentime at Raddifusion but was instead invited to be a guest artist at the competition instead, where he was to perform his own composition. And then he sang the song he wrote for the audition, ‘Life Story’ – the song I was waiting for.
For the Talentime finals, Dick wrote Fried Rice Paradise which was banned by RTS for it’s bad English. His subsequent song Rasa Sayang was also banned for the same reason.
In the army, Dick was in the Music and Dance Company, where he learned the most of stage production. A stint in UK for fashion design also motivated him when he saw LPs of Japanese band sold in London.
Dick’s music really took off after 1983 when the Government decided to incorporate local songs into NDP. Then, people started to notice what being Singaporean is all about. Beauty World, staged around the mid 80s was a sell-out.
In 1991, something happened in the world which affected Dick. The Tiananmen made him realise the Chinese in him, and the Mad Chinaman was born. Mad because all these years, the conflict of being caught in between East and West, Asian vs Paranakan drove him crazy.
His medley of ‘Songs I Love to Hate’ included the version of ‘Count on him Singapore’, updated to include the recent general election results where we say ‘goodbye to George’ and ‘Minister Mentor no more’ and the error, error of VB. Just a row in front of me was Minister S. Iswaran laughing away.
Last night was both intimate and nostalgic. I was glad for the opportunity to watch this encore production. And yes, he performed ‘Home’ during his one-song encore.
Go see it if you can still get tickets.