Beyond the perfectly manicured personas of Hong Kong’s singing idols, shrouded in smoke machine effects and glittery concert garb, Cantonese-language pop music, or Canto-pop, was essentially the soundtrack of the city in the 1970s. The genre was more than just a collection of earworms touted by heartthrobs — music, laced with social commentary at the time, was a cultural marker that illustrated how Hong Kong grew from a war-ravaged outpost of the British Empire to a formidable economic powerhouse.
At the front of this musical revolution was godfather of Canto-pop, Sam Hui Koon Kit, who opened doors for younger stars namely ‘Madonna of Asia’ Anita Mui and Alan Tam Wing Lun to cut their teeth in an industry that would soon turn into a multimillion-dollar business in the late 1980s. Thrusting Hong Kong further into the global spotlight a decade later was, of course, the Four Heavenly Kings: Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai. But before this quartet made their mark individually and courted screaming fangirls around Asia, a band that carved out its career by bridging English-Cantonese culture was already making waves. Cue the The Wynners (温拿乐队).
It has been 50 years since the chic image of five members — Alan Tam (lead vocalist), Kenny Bee (lead vocalist and keyboardist), Bennett Pang (lead guitarist), Anthony Chan (drummer) and Danny Yip (bassist) — appeared on their first album cover rocking fashionably long hair and bell-bottom pants that appealed to the 20-somethings then. The group sang exclusively in English and covers of popular hits from other parts of the world in its early days, indicating that local musical tastes were very much swayed by influences from the West. The magnetism was chiefly fanned by UK’s most famous export, The Beatles.
It did not take long for numbers such as Sha-La-La-La-La and Save Your Kisses For Me to dominate the radiowaves and every teen’s playlist. The band was actively making music until members of the group went separate ways to develop their solo careers in 1978. Despite its periodic hiatus, The Wynners never broke up and reunited on stage every five years to sold-out crowds. That is, until the group announced that it will be disbanding officially during its concert at Hong Kong Coliseum two months ago.
To commemorate 50 years in the Canto-pop scene, the band will be holding a farewell concert around the region, including a stopover in Malaysia at Axiata Arena on November 4 (Saturday) at 8pm.
“I still remember our first concert in Malaysia at Stadium Negara. There were no fancy glow sticks or giant signs to show support for bands at the time so fans could only use their voice to shout and convey their excitement,” says Bee in an online interview with Options.
“I believe Kuala Lumpur was also our first show overseas. We were greeted by throngs of fans who were waiting for us at the airport’s arrival hall, asking for our photos and autographs. When we finally stepped on stage, I could hear fans chanting ‘Gu Wong Chan’ (‘Drummer King Chan’). You see, we did a documentary that depicted fans chanting ‘Gu Wong Chan’ in the film. But to actually hear it live? That was really unforgettable,” Chan chimes in.
Although Hui, who sang songs that carried moral messages that reflected on Hong Kong’s social fabric and the difficult life of a regular da gong zai (worker), was big among Malaysians the same time Wynners came to our shores, the latter was easier to relate to as its repertoire catered to the young and restless. The band’s success even landed them shows with Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), the creation of Wynners Specials in 1975, and two more films Gonna Get You in 1976 and Making It in 1977.“I suppose what made us different [when the music industry was influenced by the West] was because we did covers of English songs that were already famous at the time. We just did a few rearrangements and sung them our way. After that, there were a few TV stations like Lai-dik Broadcast Limited and TVB that required Cantonese songs so we composed Wan Ha La (Let’s Have Fun) and Wait until Now, which again, were performed with a slightly more English approach and a casual edge.”
Alas, as the Cantonese adage goes, 天下無不散之筵席 (‘there’s no banquet in the world that never ends’), and the members parted ways in 1978. Tam remembered how he as well as his bandmates were so moved they shed tears when The Wynners reunited for its 10th anniversary.
“It was 1983, and we were performing once again, as a promise to our fans that we would gather every five years. So, this went on, for our 15th-, 20th anniversary. It was a commitment we have always wanted to keep and honour. It’s always nostalgic whenever the band gets together because we are like a family. When we were younger, we didn’t even want to go home after work, and hung around talking about music and our interests. There was no stress or worry at the time. I really miss those youthful days.”
Asked about the relationship between the members, or the Five Tigers, as they are nicknamed, through the decades, Pang answered proudly. “We’re not only bandmates but also ‘neighbours’ and ‘relatives’. People often ask if we argue. Well, of course not! We’re so happy all the time so when do we find the time to bicker?” Yip concurs, “When the five of us are together, it feels like we’re closer than actual brothers.”
Music will continue to play a pivotal role among the quintet, perhaps as a driving force in the background or a fond memory and career milestone to look back on. But this parting performance for the fans will also be a reminder to let other priorities in their life take over, especially health. “We used to work nearly 10 to 15 hours a day, hoping that we could live comfortably some day. Now that we have arrived at this age, I just want to spend one to two hours in a day focusing on my well-being. Plus, your emotions will affect your daily lives. So my advice is, stay young at heart,” urges Chan.
Fans of The Wynners are perhaps the only people in history to have both grown up with vinyls and the Walkman, and to retain childhood memories that predate them. The band did not intentionally set out to make music that will last forever yet fans who grew up with it — previously school-goers that hung posters of the five on the bedroom wall or played their music incessantly on the radio — have introduced their children or even grandchildren to Wynner’s feet-thumping and finger-snapping songs at least once in their lifetime.
“On behalf of the band, I just want to express our gratitude to our Malaysian fans for their continuous support. We always feel a sense of fondness and warmth whenever we perform here, mostly because we speak the same language [Cantonese]. And I’m always grateful the fans remember our names correctly even though there are five of us,” laughs Bee.
“Thank you for all the wonderful memories.”
Published on 29.10.2023 News Source: The Edge Options