Too much music piracy
Interview with The October Cherries (Oct 2005)
By Robert Pally

The October Cherries, a group that has existed since the mid sixties, were a highly sucessful band in their country Singapore. Unfortunately music piracy destroyed almost everything. Their singer Jay Shotam talks in the interview about their beginning, their Beatles admiration, music piracy, Andrew Lloyd Weber, problems with record companys, Danyel Gerard, the music scene in Singapore and more.

E.C.: How long had the Surfers exist before they changed their name to The October Cherries in 1968?

Jay Shotam: 3 years.

E.C.: How did the Surfers come together?

Jay Shotam: The original October Cherries member Benny was in that band. His cousin Paul ran the band and was the bass player. I stumbled into a rehearsal session and was invited by the five-piece band (including a singer) to come along for gig. The band then replaced their original singer with me. The Band was then bought over by my brother Bal. In those days the manager was the person who financed the equipment and got gigs for the band. He took over Hire Purchase repayments on instalments, (equipment bought through a finance company) after paying of a basic Purchase price for equipment already paid for instalments for excellent equipment the band had. Paul left the band and I took over playing the bass and singing. The lead guitarist then left the band for a more stable job in the post office, and the band auditioned several guitarists and took Peter a budding guitarist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaya into the Band. The drummer was replaced by Sunny Ismail. This four-piece band was still called The Surfer.

E.C.: The Surfers were obviously a Surfband. Did they only do covers?

Jay Shotam: No. I wrote material for the band as well.

E.C.: Was it more common for Singaporian bands to do covers in the sixties?

Jay Shotam: Yes, but also their own stuff.

E.C.: Was there also a scene that mixed US and UK music with the Singaporean music?

Jay Shotam: The western music scene in Singapore comprised only of UK and US music. You must note that being a British colony the official unsaid language was English and you had English broadcasting stations and we were all English educated.

E.C.: How much was the name October Cherries influenced by the US and UK psych movement?

Jay Shotam: It was in the air. You couldn't help but be part of that energy.

E.C.: Andrew Lloyd Weber apparently used and modified your song "Far away now" to "Don't cry for me Argentina". How came that together?

Jay Shotam: "Far Away Now" was on the first October cherries LP entitled "Meet the Cherries", a copy of which was given to Dick James (President of Dick James Music, in the UK, a big name in the Music industry -Publisher, manager of Artists etc.). He liked the Band's song writing ability. In the early seventies when our Manager Bal Shotam visited him to try and get a publishing tie up. Dick James commented on another track on the LP called "Na na song" and said that it might be suitable for a new artist he had called Elton John. Nothing transpired. But Bal recalls another person who was with Dick and him, who heard the songs on the demo tapes. "Far Away now" was on that album, and if you (according to Bal) study the notation and structure of "Don't cry for me Argentina" you will see an uncanny resemblance to "Far Away Now".

E.C.: Soon after you changed the name to October Cherries you started your own label Baal Records. What had happened?

Jay Shotam: We asked EMI to release our records in Europe. They said it is not possible in white territory. It sounded absurd and we were flummoxed at this reply. We wanted records released in Europe. Our manager Bal found the legal hole in the contract. We were signed as a band "The Surfers". Changing the name got us out of the contract. It was a risk as the Surfers had a name and hand outsold the Beatles "Hey Jude" recording with their "Hooray for Hazel" song. (EMI EP release).

E.C.: How come you named your label after a Kaanian god?

Jay Shotam: Bal suggested BAAL. (He is actually the fifth October Cherries member in many ways). Yes, he had mentioned that it was a Gods name from the ancients. Today we can see a resemblance of BAAL to BAL.

E.C.: I read that there was a lot of records piracy going on. Can you give me an example for that?

Jay Shotam: It was horrendous. We sold 12 million records. Did not see a cent. All in piracy sales. We were clamouring for legislation. The Asian mind set at that time was that all this music was yellow culture, and anti civilization. We were told by the establishment "why do you want to do music for a living. Find some thing else to do". Also..."Piracy is a cheap form of entertainment for the masses. Why up things." The former line was actually said by a minister of culture in that region who actual went on to become a President of a country.

E.C.: How did you fight against that?

Jay Shotam: Baal Records was a member of the IFPI (The International Federation of the Phonogram Industry; The music and recording industry international watchdog body). We tired to use external pressure. Jimmy Carter only knew about peanuts. Slow changes came about after the advent of Reaganism, and we all know where his roots are.

E.C.: Did the situation improve then?

Jay Shotam: A whole generation of musicians like the October Cherries were wiped out. Survival was hard but we took it in stride, and moved to Europe. The situation has not improved. Only white washed. To a larger extent countries like Thailand, Malaysia encouraged radio stations and music was played freely and evolved freely. Many of the big musician names are financially well off in these countries.

E.C.: How much different was your music in the 70ties from your Beatles influenced music in the 60ties?

Jay Shotam: For me, the Beatles influenced me greatly.

E.C.: So the changes in your music were just a natural progression of your Beatles influences?

Jay Shotam: The individual members of the band had their own Musical influences. I guess it is not wrong to say that the songwriters in our group (Peter and I) were using the benchmark success of the Beatles, who we (the songwriters) had a personal liking for.

E.C.: Did you have a similar status like the Beatles in Singapore?

Jay Shotam: In sales yes. In popularity no. There was no media hype readily available as it was post independent days (independence from the British) and the policies of the people in governance did not Embrace "pop culture" to the effect that there were no readily available media for showcasing information about groups and bands.

E.C.: I have this single "Endlessly" from the late 70ties that has a New Wave touch. When arrived Punk and New Wave in Singapore?

Jay Shotam: I was living in England and did a reunion with Peter, and two English blokes (drums and guitar). Punk and New wave had an underground following in spore.

E.C.: Also in the 70ties you covered the Danyel Gerard song "Butterfly". Was there a commercial side of the October Cherries that was needed to pay the bills?

Jay Shotam: Yes, also we didn't feel revulsed to playing good music. The are no genres when it comes to ingredients in music.

E.C.: What was your most successful cover and how many did you sell of it?

Jay Shotam: "Beautiful Sunday" and Butterfly. Peter sang the song. As I mentioned the pirates always made the money. The band members think the manager swindled them.

E.C.: What was your most successful own song and how many did you sell of it?

Jay Shotam: "Far Away Now". Number 1 in Malaysia. (Pirated) and "All Things work together Now" (Number 10 in the Dutch charts) .

E.C.: What happened to the band in the 80ties? In the discography I don't see any albums.

Jay Shotam: The Band split up after doing a tour of India in early seventies. Peter got an offer to join the Pebbles, a Belgium band and he left the group mid tour.

E.C.: How did the band reform to release the album "The bells toll" in 1998.

Jay Shotam: I spearheaded the move. Peter had written some songs and I had some of my own and we dished it out. I sold a house to finance the recording. It has never been released. The record company is using tracks to test market internet marketing grounds.

E.C.: Were all original members involved in this reunion?

Jay Shotam: Yes, Peter, me Richard and Benny and our manager/producer Bal.

E.C.: How many albums have you released in total? Do you have a complete discography?

Jay Shotam: Here it is: Surfers-The Surfers EMI
2 as October Cherries "Meet the Cherries (on own label BAAL)
3. as October Cherries (OC) "World Hits 1970"
4. October Cherries "World Hits 71"
5. October Cherries: "World Hits 72"
6. October Cherries "Dreamseller"
7. as Funkgus "Man with a Gun"
8. as Funkgus "Assasination"
9. as Jade and Pepper "Jade and Pepper"
10 as October Cheries "Baking Hot"
1l. as October Cherries not released yet & about three Best of albums.
and about 4 EP records and 15 other singles.