Monday, August 14, 2017

ELVIS IS STILL IN THE BUILDING!

What an evening it was at the Elvis 40th Anniversary 'All Shook Up' tribute last Friday 11 August 2017. The ballroom at Serangoon Gardens Country Club shook, rattled and rolled to Jailhouse House Rock and Love Me Tender, and all the hits from an era beloved by the baby boomers all decked out for a rollicking good time. And that they certainly did, thanks to Jimmy Preslee Productions. They brought in four top Elvis Tribute Artistes (ETA) from Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines to entertain the audience, together with two ETAs from Singapore.

I first heard about the event from a good friend Dr Pok Tham Yien from Johor Baru. I have always been an Elvis fan. Of course I wouldn't want to miss the event but tickets were already sold out weeks in advance. Yes, Elvis still lives on in the hearts of his legions of devoted fans. I can't think of anyone in the music pantheon that has left behind such a global following, one that has remained undiminished long after their demise.

Preslee Productions' very first Elvis Tribute was a roaring
success, and paved the way for subsequent tribute concerts.
As luck would have it, Jimmy Lee, the organiser, turned out to be from my hometown Batu Pahat, and my cousin's ex-classmate at BP High School. He called me up with the good news that Judy, his lovely wife, had a ticket for me. One of her friends couldn't make it for the event. We met up at Sim Lim food court on 31 July.  It was over lunch that I discovered how Jimmy Preslee Productions (JPP) came into being.

It all started in 2009 with Jimmy's love of karaoke, especially singing Elvis songs. One thing soon led to another, and he was invited to perform alongside other Elvis performers in Hongkong, Manila and Penang. To cut a long fascinating story short, Jimmy saw the demand for such shows. So he became a show agent and in 2014 organised the inaugural tribute 'Elvis is Back in the Building' under Jimmy Preslee Productions (JPP). It drew such overwhelming response that it has become a JPP staple to feature two Elvis tribute events a year.

Here's a snapshot of the recent 'All Shook Up' Elvis 40th Anniversary Tribute:

A sold-out event. Can't go wrong with an Elvis tribute. Baby boomers love songs that bring back fond memories of the 1960s era.
(Left & right) NONIE ELVIS YAMBAO from Philippines and ELVICH PHATIHATAKORN from Thailand (centre). Below: TITUS CHEONG from Singapore


JIMMY PRESLEE from Singapore, JUDY CHONG LEE (yes, Jimmy's lovely wife emcees and sings too), and HANCHE PRESLEY from Indonesia 
Close-up of the three Elvis ETAs (Photo credit: Judy Chong Lee)
Judy and Jimmy Preslee
~ the driving force behind JPP
I asked Judy what is the difference between an Elvis impersonator and an Elvis artiste? Her quick reply: 'Elvis impersonators usually exaggerate and do some clowning around. ETAs don Elvis outfits and try to sing Elvis songs just like the King himself.' Ok. Got it. ETAs are serious professionals whose mission is to keep alive the legacy of Elvis Presley through songs and concerts. I have listened to many ETAs over the years, and I must say some of them are really incredible. They sound and look almost like the King himself.

Judging from the enthusiasm of the audience, especially the ladies, it was an evening to remember - a marathon singalong and dancethon. These baby boomers sure know how to have a fabulous time!

These ladies definitely have Happy Feet. They kept the energy and fun level high the entire evening. A tough act for the guys to follow!



(Jimmy's video above by Oei Seok Cheng. Thanks, Seok Cheng.) 

The ETAs were not the only ones on stage. The good-looking duo of ELVICH and KNIGHT PHATIHATAKORN from Thailand were a big hit with the ladies. They sang 'Let It Be Me' and 'Sound of Silence' and had the ladies literally swooning!


Special mention must be made of the band BABY BOOMERS, also called the Philippines Elvis Band. They provided excellent backup for all the singers and performed a couple of songs on their own too. On keyboard is band leader Lui Simbulan, with Gerry Yap on lead guitar, Bork De Leon on bass guitar and Tim Ponce on drums. Both Gerry and Bork sing in the band.


As I made my way around the ballroom, what caught my roving camera eyes were the many gorgeous ladies of Singapore. Here are pictures of some of them, all taken with their knowledge and permission. It is invariably the ladies who determine the success (or failure) of a dinner and dance event. If the ladies don't dance because the music is terrible, the event is heading for one big yawn.

Some of the lovely ladies I spotted in the ballroom. Too many photos to post all here.
One of the guys that caught my attention...for the tee he was wearing :-)

The first of two tributes this year. This one was
in March 2017.
This is the second Elvis tribute this year, so that means Elvis fans in Singapore will have to wait till 2018 for the next one. I am sure JPP is up to the challenge of giving loyal Elvis fans another unforgettable tribute as successful as, or perhaps even more successful than 'All Shook Up', if that is possible. If you are a die-hard fan and can't wait, make your way up to Kuala Lumpur. I hear there are Elvis tribute shows this weekend. Check out our SeniorsAloud FB page for more details.

Ladies (and guys), if you are reading this and would like to learn line-dancing or join a line dance group in Singapore, I can put you in touch with Judy. Contact me at 012-3068291 (only whatsapp messages, please). For Kuala Lumpur/PJ, I can recommend my club that teaches line dancing and ballroom dancing as well. As my cousin Lawrence puts it, "At our age, we should be rocking around the clock!" Agree absolutely, Life is for living, not for existing.

And to Jimmy and Judy: don't keep us waiting too long for the next Elvis tribute, or he will have left the building!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

WHEN COMPASSION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

Some people are blessed with all the good things in life, while others struggle every day of their lives. Good luck is always in short supply. Take a walk in the inner city and you will encounter the poor, the sick and the homeless. The compassionate among us want to reach out and help, but do not know where to begin, or how to go about it. The sheer number of those in need is daunting.

But not all who need help are found on the streets and back lanes of the city. There are many middle class families living in suburban homes who are in dire straits. Who can tell what tales of misfortune lie behind the front door and within those walls? Having a car parked in the front porch does not always reflect the true financial situation of the families occupying those houses. The smiling faces we see in social settings may hide untold tragedies in their lives.

It was against this backdrop that Siew Lim and I from SeniorsAloud team visited Elaine Khaw last Friday afternoon (14 July). Two years ago I had read in an online article 'Malaysia's Forgotten Music Man' that well-known musician Datuk Ooi Eow Jin had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. His wife Elaine had been struggling to look after their elder son who had brain tumour. Now she had the added responsibility of caring for her husband as well. Moved by the story, I made attempts to contact Elaine to see how SeniorsAloud could help. But my efforts were in vain. All my calls went unanswered.

Lovely photo of Ooi and Elaine in happier times. (Photo credit: The Star: 'A Malaysian Musical Legend')
Then out of the blue, about a fortnight ago, Siew Lim said she had met Elaine recently at a teahouse, and had her contact number. We made plans to visit Elaine at her home in Petaling Jaya. Reaching out to Elaine was always on my mind. My mom has Alzheimer's so I knew what she must be going through as a caregiver looking after the two men in her family.

Prized photos. (Left)  Ooi with the legendary P. Ramlee, and (right) receiving his datukship from Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas in Penang in 2015.
For those not familiar with the story, or with Ooi Eow Jin, his name was synonymous with the RTM orchestra for 17 years in the 1960s and 70s. He gained fame as a songwriter and composer of some of the most popular Malay songs of that era. His checkered career also included 13 years with TV3 and a short stint as a lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara and International College of Music. His last job was with Majestic Hotel where he was the resident pianist for five years.

Ooi entertaining guests at a 2015 charity concert to raise funds for his family.
Those heydays of playing music and recording songs with some of Malaysia's top entertainers like Sudirman, P. Ramlee and Rafael Buang are long gone. The years have passed but Ooi never stopped playing music. It was his only means of supporting his family. Fate dealt him and Elaine a double blow when they lost their younger son, Leong Seng, to leukimia at age 23, and their elder son, Chin Seng, now 53, had brain tumour and required two surgeries. To add to their misfortune, Ooi was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's Disease. This put an end to his piano-playing days at Majestic Hotel in June 2015. He has been jobless since then. He turned 80 last month.

Although able to move about, father and son spend most of the day in bed watched over by Elaine and the maid.

Giving Ooi a shave
The heavy burden of caring for her husband and her sons has left a toll on Elaine. The mental and physical stress is evident. Hanging on the wall of the living room is a portrait of Elaine, still beautiful at age 58. Now, at 78, she has lost much of that joie de vivre. As I spoke with her, I could see the bags under her eyes and the deep lines on her face. I am taking medicine for depression, she tells me.

Elaine has a maid to help her look after the two men during the day, so she could take a break or go out to run errands. But she is entirely on her own at night to watch over Ooi and Chin Seng. Ooi's Alzheimer's has worsened. Chin Seng has problems with his vision after a recent surgery, and has lost his sense of balance. The living room has been turned into a bedroom, and Elaine sleeps on the sofa nearby.

Me, Siew Lim and Elaine - seniors helping seniors whenever we can
Elaine's friends and neighbours as well as Ooi's former colleagues at RTM and TV3 organized two charity concerts in 2015 to raise funds for the family. Without a steady income and with rising monthly expenses for medicine, food and diapers, the funds raised are fast being depleted. Elaine has to fork out RM120 a day for the maid, an expense she can ill afford but necessary as having someone around to help allows her to take a break.

Elaine needs financial help and welcomes donations in kind, especially diapers. If you would like to reach out to Elaine in any way, you can contact Siew Lim at 012-657 3740 for more information