Only gratitude at 63 | A List
Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Dick Lee is holding a one-night concert to thank his loyal supporters and mark the 30th anniversary of his career-defining album, The Mad Chinaman (1989). (Photo: Jet Ho)

Only gratitude at 63 | A List

Dick Lee has nothing more to prove. At 63, the prominent singer-songwriter with albums, popular musicals and a movie to his name has been there, done that. Which is why he refuses to retire from making music and sharing it with others.

No longer burdened by any need for recognition and success, he held a one-night concert at the 1,800-seat Esplanade Concert Hall, simply to thank his long-time supporters.

He says: “It’s a joy for me, to be able to give thanks to my fans and loyal supporters. It’s a concert on a grand scale, but I will be surrounded by friends, talking and sharing music with them.”

When he launched the album three decades ago, he was ready to throw in the towel as a musician. A string of his earlier releases had gone nowhere and the events company he ran on the side was going from strength to strength.

The album was to have been his swansong and he made it an homage to the songs and cultures that inspired him growing up.  In it, he raps to the folk song Rasa Sayang, reinterprets the lullaby Little White Boat as a dreamy ballad and offers a glimpse of what it means to live a multicultural identity as a Singaporean.

He didn’t expect the album to go viral, in an analogue age and in Japan no less. But a Singapore music label sent the album to the music editor of a top Japanese newspaper and it quickly made waves on Japanese radio. Concert invitations began knocking on his door and international fame followed.

For The Mad Chinaman 30th Anniversary Concert, he performed all the songs on the titular album – something he hasn’t done in Singapore. But not one to stick with the tried-and-tested, he performed the songs accompanied by the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra and 100 singers from The Joy Chorale.

Was that his last performance? The Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient demurs but admits it might be the last one on such a large scale. He yearns to go back to his roots – singing songs close to his heart in a personal setting, “in a small bar, with a small band.” That soul – and wit – shines through in his answers to our after-Proust Questionnaire too.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A pool villa in Bali.

What is your greatest fear?
A slow, painful death.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Which living person do you most admire?
Burt Bacharach.

What is your greatest extravagance?
A pool villa in Bali.

What is your current state of mind?

What drives you up the wall?
Inconsiderately noisy tourists from certain countries.

On what occasion do you lie?
When the Internet asks for my age.

Which characteristic of yours are you most thankful for?
Sense of humour.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Walt Disney.

What is your secret to youthfulness?
Always have something to look forward to.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My brothers.

Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to ride a bicycle.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loss of a loved one.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Home (the song).

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A French bulldog.

Where would you most like to live?
Home, where the heart is.

What is your most treasured possession?
Home – as a deep sense of belonging.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be younger.

What do you most value in your friends?

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My Chinaman belly.

Who are your favourite singers, songwriters?
Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Charlie Puth.

When and where were you happiest?
The entire decade of the seventies.

Who is your movie hero?
Maria von Trapp.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My oldest friends.

What is your greatest regret?
Not being able to speak Mandarin.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep.

What is your motto?
Kindness, Humility, Patience.

Details about The Mad Chinaman 30th Anniversary Concert here.

This article has been updated and an earlier version of the article ran on 10 September, 2019.

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