Dick Lee Pops Up With More Pop

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Dick Lee Pops Up With More Pop
After five decades of incessant composing and playing pop music, creating national songs, conceptualising National Day Parade shows and writing musicals, Dick Lee found a fresh burst of creativity during the pandemic pause.

"I feel most people in the entertainment industry end up in it for two reasons," says the style-driven, fashionably silver-haired singer during a Zoom chat.

"Either you like it and you don't know when to stop. Or you’re doing it for sustenance. You have to do it," Dick elaborates.

"I asked myself, do I still want to do music? And I realised, yeah. It's not a job, it's a passion. I've lasted almost 50 years in this career. I've managed, you know…somehow…it wasn't a conscious effort, but I did."

The Cultural Medallion winner and creative director of four National Day Parades is a prolific composer of songs like Home and We Will Get There for himself and other artists. His musicals, Beauty World (1988), Fried Rice Paradise (1991), Nagraland (1992) and LKY: The Musical (2015), have cemented his place in local pop culture.
But things didn’t come so easily.
Dick Lee Pops Up With More Pop
Credit: Dick Lee’s eighth album, The Mad Chinaman, would prove to be his breakout album.
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It would be his eighth album, The Mad Chinaman (1989), that would put him in the spotlight in Singapore and unlock opportunities in Japan. His popularity there had blossomed enough for him to agree to a 20-concert nationwide tour.
The overseas exposure saw him spending the next 10 years living and working abroad, composing music for the likes of Jackie Cheung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui and Stephanie Sun, amongst others.
A Lucky Break
Dick’s enthusiasm for the pop craft was evident from his early days. A Talentime pro, he would be part of a little community that would troop from one singing contest to another. During one of those sessions, Vernon Cornelius, who used to sing with the Quest before becoming a DJ at Rediffusion, was on the judging panel for a talent competition.
After Dick’s audition, performing his composition Life Story, Vernon told him: “Even if you win, you will just disappear”.
Dick Lee Pops Up With More Pop
Credit: Dick, aged 17, would take part in numerous singing competitions
Photo Courtesy of Dick Lee
That was the fate of most singers, who found great difficulty in establishing a presence in the fluid Singapore music scene.
Instead of letting him enter the competition, Vernon offered Dick the guest performer’s role, which meant he had regular exposure during the competition.

"That was a beautiful thing he did, and it was also risky, because I was unknown. But it led to my first album and my career. So, I really have Vernon to thank for that."

Dick is continuing Vernon’s generosity by providing opportunities for young talent to emerge and make a mark on the music scene. But it’s not without its challenges.

"My generation grew up playing live. And I think there is nothing more thrilling than playing and singing live in front of an audience."

"But the new generation has not grown up that way. They grew up in their bedrooms with a computer and GarageBand, making music and putting it online. They may get a million views, but they don't play live. It is something I'm really very concerned about."

"No one will invite them to perform in a concert. And when they do perform, they're not really that good. They're not experienced enough. Their music skills are limited because they just work on a computer."

That posed a challenge for Dick as he composed new songs during the pandemic.

"If I want to find a mainstream band, where do I find it? I couldn't think of any bands out there. Maybe I had to put together a band."

Using Today’s Tools
That’s when modern technology came to Dick’s aid.

"Instagram was a very good source for talented musicians because you could see their work and watch them play music. And I was amazed at the number of young musicians that were of a level that I had not seen, even in professional musicians."

Dick assembled a four-piece band and called the group Omnitones.

"The first thing I asked them was whether they wanted to play with someone who could be their grandfather. Their parents are younger than me! They said yes, because of the music."

This is the first time in many years for Dick that the music was arranged with a band, as the songs were fresh and there were no recordings to follow.
Dick would record the demos on his phone and send that to the band, who then got together to create the end results.
The outcome is a one-night concert at The Esplanade, where the Omnitones will back Dick and a young three-piece singing group, Third Degree.
For Dick, his major realisation during the pandemic was what the next phase in his ongoing career was going to be.
And by sharing the stage with others, Dick keeps the music going.
Click here for ticket details for Dick Lee & Omnitones ft Third Degree at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 18 June 2022 at 7:30pm.
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