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Reliving nostalgic days of Cantopop

ALEX Lu has been grooving to old Cantopop at KTV for three consecutive weekends, prepping for the upcoming concert of the legendary Hong Kong pop band, The Wynners, better known as Wynners Five Tigers.

They last played in Shanghai 13 years ago. They're back in town next Saturday, performing at the Shanghai Grand Stage in "Wynners 33 Good Time," commemorating over 33 years of music.

"I want to recall all their songs and get myself fully prepared for the show," says Lu, 38, marketing manager at a consulting company.

He's also busy preparing the posters.

"They were my idol during my adolescent days," he says. "My very first experience of listening to English songs was from them," though they mostly sing in Cantonese now.

Cantopop, short for Cantonese popular music, is sometimes called HK-pop.

It draws not only on Chinese traditional music, but also international styles including jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, Western pop, and electronic music.

The five-piece Hong Kong band is comprised of Alan Tam (vocal), Kenny Bee (vocal), Bennett Pang (guitar), Danny Yip (bass guitar) and Anthony Chan (drums).

The group debuted in Shanghai in 1996 at the Shanghai Gymnastic Stadium and promised to return.

At their concert next Saturday, they will perform golden oldies, mostly classic Cantonese and English songs, and a few Mandarin Chinese numbers.

"I've been waiting so long for this day," says Lu, "and I'm so happy."

Fans of The Wynners, like Lu, are mostly in their late 30s and represent the first generation of fans for Cantopop. For those younger generations of the 1980s and 1990s, however, the name even doesn't ring a bell.

"The Wynners? Who are they? I never heard of them," says Zhu Shijun, 18, a university freshman.

"They are too old, too out of date and their songs are too old-fashioned," says Helen Meng, 22, a fresh university graduate.

But their eyes light up when they talks about Hong Kong singer Eason Chan who also is performing on April 25 at the Hongkou Football Stadium.

He's more their type, and he also sings in Mandarin.

"I am glad Eason will hold his show on that day too," says Tam from The Wynners. "That means Cantopop still has market share in Shanghai, and I hope we can realize the golden era of Cantopop again."

More than 15 years ago, almost all the 1970s generation saw the "five tigers" as their idols, adoring their songs and movies and copying their fashion.

They were known for their curly long hair, tight bell-bottom pants, colorful shirts and black Western styles. They dressed like the Beatles.

Young people imitated them and even formed similar bands on campus.

"It was really cool if you wore a pair of tight bell-bottom trousers," recalls Liu Hong, 37, a manager at a logistics company. "If you knew how to play guitar, you would easily win a girl's heart."

Founded in 1973, The Wynners are regarded a pioneer of Cantopop music. They brought Western pop to China and the rest of Asia.

In the early days, they sang exclusively in English, performing pop from around the world. Their first English album, "Listen to the Wynners" (1974), was a big success.

In 1975, The Wynners collaborated with songwriter James Wong for the movie "Let's Rock," which Wong also directed. It defined a signature style of early Cantopop with colloquial lyrics.

Three years later, at the height of its success, members went separate to develop their own solo careers, but the band occasionally played together. The vocals, Tam and Bee, became two of the most popular Hong Kong singers in the 1980s.

"The disbanding of The Wynners marked the end of an era of Cantopop," says our fan Lu. "But fortunately, other singers like the late superstar Leslie Cheung (1956-2003) filled the void."

The golden age of Cantopop started in the early 1980s, with household names like Tam, Cheung, Danny Chen (1958-1993), Anita Mui (1963-2003) and Priscilla Chan.

More choices and varieties won fans across China in different age groups: There was romantic Cheung, melancholic Chen, passionate Mui and heartwarming Chan.

"In late 1970s and early 1980s - the gold age of Cantopop - philosophical and meaningful songs were very popular. They stirred emotions in audiences from 15 to 50 years old," says Huang Zhihua, a Cantopop music critic.

Cantopop soared to great heights with musicians, producers and record companies cashing in. Cantopop songs were part of TV dramas and movies and some of the biggest soundtracks came from major films such as "A Better Tomorrow" (1986) by John Woo.

"In the early 1980s, people on Chinese mainland didn't have much access to Western pop music. Cantopop was the first pop music we started to listen to," says Gan Peng, a local pop music critic. "Singers like The Wynners were really qualified with music talents and individual features."

In the mid-1980s when Cantopop dominated the market with its cliched gentle, soft and sentimental songs, a new Hong Kong Cantopop rock band Beyond shot to fame with a different sound and style.

The alternative rock band's early works were also in English, such as "Longway Without a Friend" and "Myth."

The band became popular nationwide their very different touch - social issues, pursuit of dreams, politics and world peace. "Boundless Oceans Vast Skies" and "Glorious Years" are among their best-known works.

"I was greatly inspired by Beyond when I was still at university," says Xu Zheling, 31, a university teacher. "Their songs are thought-provoking and soul-touching.

"They were the idol for most of my generation, especially university students."

The band is known for lead vocalist Wong Ka Kui's distinctive vocal, remarkable melodies, meaningful lyrics and his musicianship.

In June 1993, Wong died after an accident at a broken stage when performing in Japan. He was only 31.

After 10 years of Cantopop rock, another era was gone, although other band members still performed.

"After all, a band without soul is dead," says Xu.

In the early 1990s, the Cantopop scene returned to a more conventional style by handsome young men. For many people, appearance means everything. They included the extremely famous Four Heavenly Kings - Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai. All are now in their late 40s.

The entire 1970s and 1980s generations were influenced by Cheung's singing talent, Lau's diligence and hard work, Kwok's fancy dancing skills and Lai's impressive TV appearances.

They may not have been the best singers, but they were good-looking. That was enough for many fans.

"I don't care whether Kwok sings well or not - actually he's probably the worst among the four - but he's so handsome and sexy," says Apple Wu, 26, an office lady at a consulting company.

"For me, the Four Heavenly Kings were like a dream, a youth dream," says Zhao Qi, 32, a fan of Cheung. "They led me to pop music."

The Four Heavenly Kings were also successful in other fields, such as acting and directing.

Even today, they are still hot names, although their joint appearances ended in 1999, when Cheung and Lai announced their withdrawal.

"Look, I still keep all these celebrity stickers, especially those of Andy Lau, because he was my favorite when I was young," says Ann Liu, 34, an accountant.

"They were my trove of treasures. I would save every penny my mom gave me as pocket money to buy all these stuff," she recalls.

That stuff also includes cassettes of the Cantopop stars since CDs were still not available during the late 1980s and early 1990s on Chinese mainland.

After 2000, when the heat of the Four Heavenly Kings was gradually cooling down, a new Cantopop generation rose to stardom and became known as Little Heavenly Kings and Queens. They include Leo Ku, Andy Hui, Hacken Lee, Kelly Chen, Nicholas Tse, Edmond Leung, Edison Chen, Miriam Yeung and Joey Yung.

Their music is usually simple and popular, easy to understand and top clicks at KTV. Their style is easygoing, stylish or rebellious, appealing to the late-1980s and 1990s generations, their loyal supporters.

"I love Nicholas! He's my favorite, he's so cool!" says fresh grad Meng.

In today's popular music scene, entertainers may just be entertainers, and to call them "idols" may be overstating it a bit. While there are more and more commercially successful Cantopop stars, their "reign" becomes shorter and shorter, and their influence is weaker.

This is the age of fast-food culture, including music.

Many of those born in the 1970s and 1980s may still remember the stars of their day, like The Wynners, the Four Heavenly Kings and the Beyond. They are part of Cantopop and Chinese entertainment history.

Some fans of The Wynners are worried this may be their last public show, since the five musicians have gone their separate successful ways in music and film.

But the group has since reunited on stage every five years to sold-out crowds.

They last performed together in Hong Kong in 2007, staging 13 concerts to celebrate their 33rd year of performing together.

"We have never announced that we were disbanding," says one of the "five tigers," Tam. "I think that's also why we are still so popular today."

The Wynners

Date: April 25, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Stage, 1111 Caoxi Rd N.

Tickets: 255-1,255 yuan

Eason Chan

Date: April 25, 7:30pm

Venue: Hongkou Football Stadium, 444 Dongjiangwan Rd

Tickets: 180-1,280 yuan


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