The Thunderbirds



The Thunderbirds was a Singapore band that was popular in the 1960s. Formed in 1962 and anchored by guitarist Derrick Fitzgerald, it was probably the longest-running band in Singapore, having played for almost two decades at the Carriage Bar at York Hotel.1 The band is best known for its original hit songs “My Lonely Heart” and “My Hula Girl”.2

Members
The Thunderbirds was formed in 1962 with Tony Chong, Harvey Fitzgerald, Freddie Tan and Derrick Fitzgerald. It won the Beatles Versus Rolling Stones of Singapore band competition in 1965.3

The band’s member line-up evolved over time to include Heather Batchen on lead vocals, William Wee on bass and Freddie Tan on drums.4 Another Fitzgerald brother, Ivan, also joined the band as percussionist.5 The late 1960s saw the addition of bassists Alan Lyford and Richard Danker, organist Freddie Kang as well as Philip Monteiro and Shediq Marican on drums.6 Bassist Harris Hamzah came on board in 1976.7

The most significant change to the line-up occurred when Harvey Fitzgerald and Heather Batchen married in 1970, and then emigrated in 1975.8 The couple visited Singapore in the 1980s as part of the lounge act Trilogy and played at Le Vendome at Dynasty Hotel.9

As the line-up changed over the years, lead guitarist Derrick Fitzgerald remained the mainstay of the band.10 He was well respected as a guitarist in the local music industry and known particularly for his slide guitar skills.11

Recordings
In 1965, The Thunderbirds released its first recording under the Philips record label. Its release the following year, “My Lonely Heart”, topped the charts in Singapore and Malaysia. Written by Harvey Fitzgerald and Gerry Pasqual, the song featured Derrick Fitzgerald on slide guitar. “My Lonely Heart” became the band’s signature tune and has remained popular over the years.12

Performance venues
Unlike other bands in the 1960s whose members juggled school and career with their music and eventually quit the music industry, The Thunderbirds was a professional group from the outset, playing continuously until 2007 despite its changing line-up.13

Over the years, The Thunderbirds had performed at numerous venues. It started out by playing at the British military bases in Seletar, Tengah and Changi before making its debut at the Tropicana nightclub on Orchard Road. This was followed by a stint at the Singapore Lady Riverboat Restaurant in the late 1960s.14 In 1968, together with Pietro and The Warlocks, The Thunderbirds began playing regularly at The Pub, Singapore’s first discotheque, until 1975 when the venue closed.15 Meanwhile, the band also played for a short spell in 1973 at the Barbarella discotheque in Ming Court Hotel. From the late 1970s to mid-’80s, the band played at various venues, notably the American Club, Century Park Sheraton Hotel, Cairnhill Hotel and Treetops Bar at Holiday Inn Hotel.16

In the late 1980s, The Thunderbirds became the resident band at the Carriage Bar at York Hotel, staying on to play for almost two decades. When the lease for the bar expired in December 2004, Derrick Fitzgerald, Harris Hamzah, drummer Dannie Boy Khan and 11 other partners invested in the bar to prevent it from closing. However, Fitzgerald suffered a stroke in 2007 and the bar, which had not been doing well financially, was forced to close. As Fitzgerald’s health and finances continued to decline, a charity concert was organised in 2009 by two young musicians, Pauline Chong and Errik Wong, to raise funds to assist him.17



Author

Joanna Tan



References
1. Eddino Abdul Hadi, E. (2009, September 14). Charity gig for Thunderbird. The Straits Times, p. 46; Carriage Bar. (2006, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. 5 bands revisited. (2009, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 79. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Pereira, J. C. (2011). Apache over Singapore: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume one. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 77. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER); Idols of yesterday: Where are they today? (2002, November 8). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Idols of yesterday: Where are they today? (2002, November 8). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Idols of yesterday: Where are they today? (2002, November 8). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Pereira, J. C. (2011). Apache over Singapore: The story of Singapore sixties music, volume one. Singapore: Select Publishing, pp. 80–82. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
7. Sung, B. (1978, November 29). Ex-Thunderbirds’ visit would see a team-up. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Crossing barriers. (1971, April 12). New Nation, p. 10; Lo, T. Y. (1991, December 18). Couple can’t stop making music. The New Paper, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Miller, B. (1984, January 6). Michael and Heather and Harvey. The Straits Times, p. 8; Lo, T. Y. (1991, December 18). Couple can’t stop making music. The New Paper, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Choy, S. (1988, June 24). Strut to the Strat of the ’60s. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Choy, S. (1988, June 24). Strut to the Strat of the ’60s. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Pereira, J. C. (2011). Apache over Singapore: the story of Singapore sixties music, volume one. Singapore: Select Publishing, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING q781.64095957 PER)
13. Full-time music makers. (1970, March 15). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Jansen, P. (1980, October 19). The past lives just down the road. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. D’Rose, P. (1987, March 6). Thunderbirds still full of thunder. The Straits Times, p. 5; Miller, B. (1983, October 7). Nostalgic ride with band. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. D’Rose, P. (1987, March 6). Thunderbirds still full of thunder. The Straits Times, p. 5; Jansen, P. (1980, October 19). The past lives just down the road. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Eddino Abdul Hadi, E. (2009, September 14). Charity gig for Thunderbird. The Straits Times, p. 46; Carriage Bar. (2006, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
100 greatest Singapore 60s [Sound recording]. (2009). Singapore: Universal Music Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: RSING 782.42164 ONE pt. 5CDs)


Singapore 60s Vol 1: Treasures from the past [Sound recording]. (2002). Singapore: Universal Music Pte Ltd.
(Call no.: RSING 782.42163 SIN)




The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Arts>>Music>>Popular music
Music
Popular music--Singapore
Bands (Music)--Singapore
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music