“I’m reliving my life” quips this bassist/singer/songwriter who chalked up a feather in his cap at 71: An EP to his name. Last Dog Standing. You see, Lim Kiang was a founding member and a ‘lasting’ member of the band “The Straydogs” (the only one who stayed right through to the band’s retirement). Hence Last Dog Standing.
The Straydogs was one of Singapore’s most popular bands in the sixties playing rhythm and blues, psychedelic blues and dance music. They had stayed on the scene for 50 years, playing their last gig in a tea dance format at Bugis Plus on 4 December, 2016. Lim also played with original Straydogs drummer James Tan at that tea dance under “Blues 77″.
But Lim is so modest, not counting his EP feat a success. Friends had egged him on to produce the album and he did!
So what’s next for this soft-spoken gentleman looking the perfect artiste with his silver mane let down for the interview, and later tied up in a ponytail as he kept vigil over the fries he was cooking at Darts Legend’s The Last Dog Café at Alice@Mediapolis in One North. His friend, Bernard Hoong, the owner of the Darts Legend chain, had named the café after him.
“I’m reliving my life” Lim reminded me. That he was, happily poring over the stove, whipping up delectable dishes for the Café’s clientele, who have since become the friends he hangs out with in the evenings. “It’s better than staying at home,” he smiles. And went on to explain that he was so happy to come full circle reliving his life as a chef.
Back when Lim was a young man, he would pop over at his parents’ Station Hotel Restaurant at the now defunct Railway station in Keppel Road. The Restaurant served tasty Hainanese/Western fare and Lim replicates these dishes now with gusto. His friends testify to how superb the meal is while Lim modestly shrugs the compliments off. Life is to be lived no matter what age you are at. And Lim is testament to the adage.
So what led to the birth of this album after all these years? Lim explained that when the Straydogs retired, he continued writing songs and partnered his pal Clement Yang, selling guitars. The shop was Guitar 77 in the basement of Excelsior Hotel. Friends would pop by every now and then. One day Lim’s ex-bandmate, drummer James Tan, dropped in and encouraged him to collate all the songs he had been writing into an album. It was then that the seeds of the EP idea were planted. Lim was sold on the idea but lamented that he did not have the funds for the project. Like a true friend, James stepped in. With fellow former club owner/ musician Clement Yang handling the recording, and the sponsorship money from James Tan, the wheels were in motion. The debut album was launched in July 2021.
Lim the artiste and the principles he stands for, come through in his album. His album is a compilation of songs he had written over the years when experiences touched his heart so dearly and he had to vocalise his stand in songs. Take “Sad Situation”, one of his favourite tracks. It may not resonate as strongly as his other compositions, but once you hear the story behind the song, you hold the song to your heart for its value. Someone had commented in the media that old people scouring for cardboard boxes to sell were just going about it for an exercise. Lim knew a senior neighbour doing just that to earn some pennies for survival. He felt so strongly about the issue, he wrote:
“Cartons on the wayside five kilos maybe more/Tie them up in bundles; stack them on the floor/ Barely fetched him 50cents but oh what could he do…”
“His suffering went unnoticed/This nation left him behind/What a sad situation/No one hears his cries”
So Lim Kiang wrote the lyrics, sang his own compositions, and arranged the music of his eight-track album with a little help from his friends, quietly insisting it was with a lot of help; from his close friends. Besides James, Lim especially acknowledges Clement Yang who took care of the recording and Rick Smith, accomplished guitarist, composer and educator, who did a marvellous job with the music arrangement, particularly so for the most difficult track: “Mum’s too Pampering”. There were so many instruments to coordinate musically in that track.
Overall, each track of the album is unique with the emphasis on different instruments. The haunting sounds of the erhu could be heard on the track “Cold Morning”.
Lim’s interpretation of success is “staying power”. He emphasized that the Straydogs had the ability to evolve. It wasn’t a conscious effort but it was inherent. And he carried that ability through in his music journey. Looking back on the vista of the years, he said so close were the original band members of the Straydogs, they only left the band when work commitment, business ventures or personal matters beckoned. New members joined and the band just kept evolving, keeping the spirit going.
The original band — touted as Singapore’s answer to the Rolling Stones — were a hit at tea dances until these were prohibited. The most memorable were the tea dances at The Golden Venus Bar Restaurant & Nite Club at Orchard Hotel. The band’s best time was also playing for the British troops when they were stationed in Singapore. When the British pulled out of Singapore, the band lost many gigs. By this time the StrayDogs was hitting the Club scene although he says there weren’t too many clubs around at the time. The band played at Barbarella. The StrayDogs found “Pest Infested and Benny and the Trailers” iconic Singapore bands.
Was there a muse in Lim’s life who led him on the music track? Lim says there wasn’t. One day he decided to learn to play the guitar and the next thing, he found himself as the bassist of the band, because they needed one. Lim’s brother Lim Seow was the singer in the band. Their father did not comment on their music or stop Lim from playing his music loudly. But quietly he took Straydogs’ “Repent” single (which Lim wrote and dedicated to his dad) to give to his business friends. Lim was so proud of the affirmation.
Lim is thrilled that these days he practises with band members all younger than he is in a ‘new’ band. It makes him feel young he says. The youngest (keyboardist) is in his twenties! “Welcome to the Machine” is a tribute band to Pink Floyd and has been around for about seven years. The humble Lim was surprised when approached by well-known guitarist Noel Ong. It has been a great alliance with the band playing to sell-out ticketed shows. Yours truly has a t-shirt from one of these concerts.
Lim Kiang: You’re far from riding into the sunset. You go about your life not overthinking. You just focus on making yourself happy one day at a time, doing the things you like. Your legacy is having others emulate you. Play on Lim Kiang.
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