There really has to be far more songs performed in English in Hong Kong- and not just those from cover bands in bars and clubs and the MOR warbling heard in hotel lounges.

For a cosmopolitan city, those whose job is to market, strengthen and promote this image do a terrible job. Actually, there’s just nothing done. Like the joke that is CreateHK, everything is left to slide while senior executives strap on their golden parachutes and fly away with millions. Is the Invisible Man still running CreateHK? More to the point, does CreateHK still exist, thanks to public money?

Duncan Pescod, the government’s token gweilo and Man For All Reasons should know. He was hyping CreateHK decades ago as changing the face of Hong Kong and dim sum. Dunc? You there?

As for who and what we have here performing in English, that’s all fine and work for these venues and their clientele. Some of these performers also have their own fans. So, that is that.

Drummer Toby, bassist Erwin, saxophonist Blaine Whittaker, Ted Lo, Nate Wong, my guitarist friend Jay, singers Kel, Jennifer Palor and a handful of others are excellent at what they do- pitch perfect and technically good musicians and singers whereas others are excellent performers.

The problem area is- and has always been-originality. It’s in short supply.

Some musicians have mentioned how they have tried to write original material…but nothing ever comes out of it except for a few chords with a vague melody line hovering above, but nothing more. And so it’s back to doing covers and even here, there’s a lack of A&R skills. Why?

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There’s very little thinking or time or motivation or ambition to look through the big book of the music catalogue of songs and go up those 12
steps and search out songs that they can turn on their heads and present something old in new swaddling clothes.

Adam Lambert, and Chris Cornell are two names who have that knowledge, talent and self belief to constantly surprise by covering songs by others, but making these their own.

Adam Lambert won me over during his season on American Idol with his versions of “Ring Of Fire”, “Believe” and “Mad World”.

Fast forward to more recently and there was his latest revival of “Believe” in a tribute performance for Cher. One can’t help but think what the singer and performer might do with Tin Pan Alley standards like “Stardust”, “Skylark” and “Misty”. Or go really out there and bring back the David Essex hit, “Rock On”.

Often, listening to audiences in Hong Kong clap like trained seals listening to a covers singer performing “New York New York” or songs that were hits for Norah Jones and Alicia Keys or a band doing a note for note copy of something by the Gunners, Led Zeppelin etc makes one wonder what the applause is for. Because they know the song? The performance of the song? How well it’s been copied? Or because too much alcohol has taken them into that world where everything and everyone are perfect in their imperfections. It’s like a one night stand or waking up and going, “Quelle horreurs. Merde!”

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Of course, Hong Kong being a bilingual and trilingual city with Cantonese and, especially Mandarin, being the languages of choice and what most audiences wish to hear, the emphasis- and financial support is here.

If young and Chinese, and with everything that helps create the perfect package for marketing, the roads could be paved with gold.

Singer Julia Wu in Taiwan has it all- for the Mandarin market. There are probably others but what takes up the most space are those tedious concerts by Hong Kong’s aged pop “idols” still touring with their kitschy kitschy ga gas and audiences lapping it up. Why? Because this is how it’s always been. Because no one wants to look further. It’s just accepting musical pap without questioning, because, just maybe, there’s nothing else.

And then there’s Thomas Ngai. Who? Sure, he needs to work on his pitch and being a technicality better singer-guitarist- BUT sometimes, there’s a helluva lot of potential in imperfection.

It’s about being able to see that potential and then smoothening out the rough edges without taking away the honesty. One can be TOO perfect and, ultimately, bloody boring and predictable.

A number of decades ago, Paul Ewing who was heading EMI in the region at that time passed me a recording by a guy named Lam, a new Chinese singer who had recorded an album in English. An album of covers.

My Chinese friends, especially those in other music companies, couldn’t stand the record. Not only because it was in English, but because recording in English had become taboo in Hong Kong as radio and television, especially, had got behind- and into- the big money business of the Canto Pop industry. If this Lam record succeeded, it might have killed the golden goose.

The golden goose is still around and they’re a protective species as there has been too much time and money invested in popular Chinese music by many masquerading as “music executives”.

Wake up, Head Offices. As usual you’re being taken for a ride. There’s money in the music business in Mainland China. But this money is going to companies owned on the side by your music executives. You’re paying for many of these side businesses. Time for a proper clean out…

Getting back to Lam, he also didn’t have the typical Canto pop “idol” squeaky clean looks. With his moustache, he was quirky as was his singing style. I really liked his version of McCartney’s “Let ‘Em in”. The whole record was really not bad.

Lam- a good guy and a former tennis coach when in the States, was back in
Hong Kong and trying to get into showbiz. He went on to make movies- comedies- and became a hit as an actor and by switching to singing in Cantonese. But he played by his own rules and succeeded.

Not since those days of George Lam have I heard someone in Hong Kong, especially a Hong Kong-born and UK educated Chinese kid is singing in English with the potential of Thomas Ngai.

Right now, his songs are introverted- very Chris Martin influenced. Intimate and possibly cathartic. But he can sing. He can write. He’s young. He’s doing the occasional gig to get his confidence up. Not everywhere and anywhere and getting nowhere. He’s made two appearances at Adrenaline, the HKJC club at Happy Valley and the feedback has been very positive.

Plus he’s learning by listening to- and sometimes joining in- with the very good musicians who back singer Jennifer Palor. Of course, he’s understanding technique by listening to the vocals of Jennifer and the constantly improving Kel. They’ve become protective and want Thomas to succeed. He couldn’t find a better group of teachers in music as a musician in Hong Kong.

What’s the next challenge is in the writing- songs that are not derivative knock offs- working on stage presence and focussing on hitting that first home run outta the park. He’ll do it.

#ThomasNgai #SingerSongwriter #Hongkong #Adrenaline #HKJC #musician #career #AdamLambert #ChrisCornell #AmericanIdol #musiccompanies #HansEbert #CreateHK