Dancing the night away with songs from younger days

50th anniversary dinner in Toronto.

Two summers ago, Raimondians danced the evening away in Toronto to familiar tunes played on stage by a few former schoolmates.

The pandemic had not yet begun on July 7, 2019, when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our Form 5 graduation from Raimondi College.

The world has changed so much since then that our happy reunion is already evoking nostalgia among some participants.

Fun and celebration in full swing.

As the summer of 2021 was slipping away, two Old Boys from the Class of 1969 reminisced about our good old days at Raimondi.

Lawrence Lee 李彦鴻 and Eddie Chiu 趙善普 had some questions about one of our popular pastimes back then: singing folk songs.

The Interviewers

Lawrence Lee

Eddie Chiu

Lawrence and Eddie sent those questions to Paul Loong 龍佈樂, who was involved in the folk music scene back in the late 1960s.

Paul tried his best to answer the questions in the online “interview.” When he didn’t know the answer, Paul asked his singing buddies Francis Wong 王炳焵 (王偉平) and Joseph Lynn 連浩煊 to help fill in the blanks.

Here is what turned up in the virtual “interview”:

Lawrence Lee: When did you find out your musical talent?

Paul: There were no trained musicians in my family but my father used to sing and whistle at home when he was happy. He showed me how to operate the turntable on the old “pickup” he had, and how to carefully put the stylus on the spinning vinyl discs. We would listen to the Mantovani Orchestra play Music Box Tango, or Andy Williams sing Moon River. My mother found a piano teacher for me when I was a small child, but my lessons soon ended as I did not practise. I’ll bet the piano teacher did not see talent in me! Both my parents went to work. A kind and gentle woman took care of me and my sister when we were young. She took us along when she went to Cantonese operas, so I was familiar with tunes like 帝女花 (任劍輝, 白雪仙), 鳳閣恩仇未了情 ( 麥炳榮, 鳳凰女). Later as a teenager, I saved enough to buy a guitar and I took a few guitar lessons, but my single-note renditions of Apache from The Shadows were a disappointment. Again, not much talent was evident.

Lawrence Lee: But you eventually did start singing on stage. What happened?

Paul: It was related to the popularity of folk music when we were in high school. Folk music is for everyone, and you don’t need formal music training. It is casual, simple, and easy to perform. One could sing a folk song knowing just a few chords on the guitar. That was the level of my musical competence when I drummed up the courage to enter a singing contest at Raimondi, performing on the stage for the first time in the old school hall. Fortunately, there were plenty of schoolmates who were also keen about the same thing. Raimondi College had a Folk Dance and Song Club, and one of its vice-chairmen was none other than Joseph Lynn, who can tell us about its many activities!

Joseph Lynn: The music programs on radio broadcasting stations in the ‘50s and ‘60s introduced music of different genres to the people of Hong Kong, and the young people were fascinated by the sound of folk music and pop music played by overseas artists. Folk music relied on simple instruments like acoustic guitars which were quite affordable, and pretty soon many students were strumming guitars and singing along. I started playing guitar in F.3 and found it so mesmerizing that I joined the Raimondi Folk Dance and Song Club in order to meet more fellow musicians, play together, and generally have a good time every day after school. Those objectives were easily achieved as many other students were equally interested in making music. We played together, we entered singing contests, and we participated in music parties with other schools to exchange our musical ideas. We actually had fun while also developing our musical and social skills.

The Pines performing on stage.
Social gathering of the Folk Dance and Song Club

Eddie Chiu: How did you end up singing with Francis Wong as duet on Talent Quest?

Paul: I’ve asked Francis to talk about how we began singing together … Go ahead, Francis.

Francis Wong: Well, let me start by sharing one of my childhood memories related to music. I remember I would climb up on my bunk bed listening to the earlier Talent Quest shows on the radio. I would cut out a cardboard guitar from my mom’s hanging monthly calendar and imagine playing the guitar and singing on stage. The day that I met you in class, Paul, meant a great deal to me as it was the first time I ever met anyone who owned a guitar!

Paul: I think we were in the same class from Form 3.

From Left: Francis and Paul singing in school hall.

Francis: To my recollection (and you can correct me 😄), we sat next to each other in class and ended up singing at your home at your sister’s birthday. We found that our harmony was our strength. So, whenever we played a new song, we actually put a lot of emphasis on our harmony and the way we expressed the essence of the song through our voices. Our voices were more important than the guitars we played. Our voices were the instruments. Looking back, it might have something to do with my musical upbringing. As a child I recall some of my favourite memories were singing acapella with my brothers and sisters. We didn’t have access to musical instruments back then. So, when we sang together (which was often) we would learn to harmonize with one another. We would be doing three- and four-part harmonies and found great joy in having it come out sounding good. That’s how I trained my ears and developed the passion for vocal expression and for singing in harmony. That’s how we sang Seven Golden Daffodils and practically all our songs.

Eddie: I seem to recall that you and Francis sang Devoted to You with perfect harmony in 1967/8 Talent Quest and won. Am I correct?

Paul: Devoted to You was one of our earliest songs together, a reliable standby that we sang on many occasions. We entered Talent Quest in the summer of 1968. The annual music contest was popular among young people in Hong Kong. I am not sure whether we sang Devoted to You in the early qualifying rounds of Talent Quest while you were still in Hong Kong; we might have and that would have been what you remembered.

Francis: We did sing another song during the qualifying rounds of the Talent Quest. It could have been Today, or it could have been Devoted to You.

Paul: Seven Golden Daffodils became our song when we got into the Talent Quest finals in mid-September 1968. By then, Eddie, you had gone abroad. By the way, I had never heard Seven Golden Daffodils until Francis introduced it to me, after he learned it from a friend. People mentioned The Brothers Four, but I didn’t know how they sang the song until some years later. For me, Francis was the “original” singer of Seven Golden Daffodils.

Francis: When we made it to the finals, we decided that we needed a song that would make us stand out, and not a song that everybody could easily sing. Yet our repertoire was limited at the time. I recall meeting one of the other contestants backstage, a guy who played double bass in a trio who didn’t make it to the finals. I told him we needed a new song for the finals, and he offered generously to teach me one. And that’s how we came to sing Seven Golden Daffodils. It was such a beautiful song, but until then I had not even heard of it.

Paul: The Talent Quest contest was in City Hall but it was also broadcast live on radio. Schoolmates tuned in from home to follow the excitement. I remember we had to sing the song several times because the judges could not decide, as the marks were very close. In the end, Dick and David, the brothers who sang A-Soalin’, came first in the duet section and we came second with Seven Golden Daffodils.

From Left: Francis and Paul on stage at another school.

Paul: We became better known after Talent Quest. We were invited to performed at various school concerts, on local television, and on radio shows in the following year when we were in Form 5. There was constant juggling between studying for the school certificate exams and singing folk songs!

Francis: We added our own lyrics, so our copy was not the exact 100 per cent of the original – unlike what many other folk singers did in those days.

Paul: In the summer of 1969, Life Records invited us to record Seven Golden Daffodils as one of the tracks on the First Folk Album, which also featured other local folk singers. I heard the album sold reasonably well.

Front cover of the First Folk Album.
Back of the First Folk Album

Life Records put the audio on YouTube a few years ago. You can listen to us singing Seven Golden Daffodils by clicking the following video or using this link: https://youtu.be/WE9R8ey1JuY

Paul: Francis composed several original tunes, and I wrote the lyrics for one of them, Unwaking Dreams. While in the recording studios to do Seven Golden Daffodils, we also recorded Unwaking Dreams in case there was going to be a second folk album. It did come out later, after the First Folk Album proved there was a buying audience. Francis and I sang Unwaking Dreams again after 50 years at our Hong Kong reunion in November 2019, with Joe Lynn on lead guitar.

Lawrence: Why have you kept on singing for so many years?

Paul: In fact, I stopped singing in public for quite a long time. When I was working, my job took up most of my time, but I also thought I had reached the limits of my meagre music contribution when I was still back in school. This attitude changed only when the 50th anniversary dinners came along in 2019. It was the first time in more than 40 years that I had performed on stage. And you guys made me feel welcome. Some of you remembered Seven Golden Daffodils! I was overjoyed when many of you got up and danced with your lovely partners while we were singing Today, another of my favourite tunes. I realized then it was still possible to make people happy with music and forget their differences for a while. I rediscovered the joys of singing.

Click on the following video to watch the happy occasion again: https://youtu.be/siZKJ4dH2eM

Lawrence: Since COVID you seem to have teamed up with Joe and recorded songs online though two of you live in different cities. Did you do that before the COVID? What gave you the idea to start this?

Paul: The online projects with Joe are an unexpected but pleasant surprise from the COVID19 pandemic. We had to stay home weeks at a time. We had a lot of time on our hands. I soon found that I could happily spend hours learning a new song. Then the next step was to make music with someone, and online collaboration was the way to go as it did not matter where the participants live. Joe and I were soon swapping files and adding layers of music to a common track, eventually producing a song. This wasn’t something that we had done before. It definitely came out of the COVID era. For me, this period would ironically be remembered as my most productive time in music. Joe, what about you?

Joe: While I have kept playing music in rock bands for many years, my focus was on live performance rather than the online media. As COVID prevented live shows from happening, I was very happy that Paul agreed to collaborate with me on making musical videos. Changing from delivering live music on a stage for a local audience, to delivering audio and visuals on a screen for a worldwide audience required learning a lot of new skills, and I would say for sure that from working with Paul, this year is certainly a bumper harvest year for my musical development too.

Lawrence: Do you want to form a band with classmates living in various cities in the world using the virtual mode?

Paul: Yes, I would love to see that happen. In fact, the name of my YouTube channel is “Paul Loong and Friends”, with the emphasis on friends. I hope to persuade more classmates around the world to join in to make music.