x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Beatles prompt talk about an East Asian revolution

When The Beatles came to Hong Kong nearly five decades ago, the local market was dominated by traditional Cantonese opera.

The Beatles' appearance in Hong Kong, in 1964, inspired a host of local bands and helped launch the indigenous Canto-pop. Getty Images
The Beatles' appearance in Hong Kong, in 1964, inspired a host of local bands and helped launch the indigenous Canto-pop. Getty Images

When The Beatles came to Hong Kong nearly five decades ago, the local market was dominated by traditional Cantonese opera.

But the Fab Four inspired many in the territory and a multi-billion dollar business was born.

Actually it was the Fab Three that appeared at the Princess Theatre in Kowloon in June, 1964, as Ringo Starr was recovering from tonsillitis back in London and the drummer Jimmy Nicol filled in for him.

The Beatles' appearance inspired a host of local bands singing in English, who were closely watched by Cantonese-speaking musicians and helped to bring about the beginning of Cantonese-language pop, or Canto-pop as it is known.

Hong Kong is today the Canto-pop powerhouse hub for recording stars in the region and many of these artists also record in Mandarin Chinese, as "Mando-pop" sells well across the border in mainland China.

Hong Kong's creative industries account for nearly 5 per cent of GDP and music is a significant part of that.

The locally renowned veteran DJ Ray "Uncle Ray" Cordeiro said The Beatles were popular with the British servicemen in what was then a UK crown colony but many tickets did not sell when they first appeared.

The British soldiers stationed in Hong Kong were given free tickets and the hall was full of troops in uniform.

"It was quite a flop because the teenagers couldn't afford to buy the tickets … and the parents didn't know who The Beatles were. So the theatre was empty," Cordeiro told the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Cordeiro is a legend in Hong Kong, and he can rightly take credit for being instrumental in launching the pop music scene there in the 1960s with his radio show, which introduced Hong Kong listeners to British rock and roll in the years before The Beatles came to Hong Kong.

One of the groups they inspired was the Kontinentals, who came out of King George the Fifth school in Kowloon, while The Playboys were known as "The Beatles of Hong Kong" and included dozens of Beatles songs in their repertoire.

In 1966, The Beatles were back in Hong Kong for an Asian tour that was full of controversy.

At a news conference in the airport, they were asked if they would visit some of the poverty-stricken areas in Hong Kong. Lennon quipped: "Not if we can help it" and Paul McCartney said: "We'd go and see the good bits, you know. They're capitalists."

Even though they never ventured to China, The Beatles are still huge on the mainland and there are thousands of fans signed up to various fan sites, including 9,924 on the social website Douban.

The tribute band The Beijing Beatles is a big draw at parties in the capital.

On Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter, Yaogun siling wrote: "Is there anybody who don't know The Beatles? I guess the answer is no. The Beatles need no introduction, you knew them when you were born. It's as natural as 1+1=2. They have created an era and they are the symbol of rock."

 

business@thenational.ae