Ng Lian-chin (黃連振, 1922-2015) and Life Records (麗風唱片)

York Lo: Ng Lian-chin (黃連振, 1922-2015) and Life Records (麗風唱片)

Ng Lian Chin & Life Records Image 1 York Lo

Left: logo of Life Records; Right: Ng Lian-chin with young Teresa Teng

Southeast Asia, particularly the Chinese diaspora in the region,has always been an important market for many HK products including music records. In the 1960s and 1970s, a Malaysian Chinese entrepreneur by the name of Ng Lian-chin was a major force in the music industry in HK, Singapore and Malaysia through his Life Records group of companies with recording studios in HK recording Chinese artists which sent its recordings to his factories and retail stores in Malaysia and Singapore for production and distribution worldwide. Ng was perhaps best known for introducing the Taiwanese superstar Teresa Teng (鄧麗君, 1953-1995) to the Southeast Asian market and the many stars of his record label included Stella Chee, Frances Yip and You Ya. As Life focused more on Mandopop records, Fung Hang, its Cantopop affiliate in HK, will be covered in a separate article later.

From Distributor to Producer and Manufacturer: 1949 to 1970

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Left: Ng Lian-chin greeting CBS singer Brenda Lee at HupHup Ltd in Singapore in 1969. (NYSP, 1969-12-4); right: singer Stella Chee (left) shaking hands with C.L. Hsu at the Life Records in the 1971-72 HK Products Expo while CMA chairman Chuang Chong-wen (first from right) and actor Leung Sing-bor looked on (KSEN, 1972-1-16)

The Life Records music empire began with HupHup Ltd., an importer of radios, refrigerators and electrical goods plus operator of coin operated machines and jukeboxes which Ng Lian-chin established in Malaya in 1949. It was through the jukeboxes that Ng entered the music business and by the 1960s, HupHuphad become the distributor of major record labels such as CBS, Decca, MCA and Kapp Irama Indonesian in Malaya and also established the Music City record stores in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Not satisfied with merely acting as a distributor, Ng began exploring ways to go into record production and manufacturing and went to Los Angeles to study record production in 1957. In 1960, Ng established The Life Records in Hong Kong, the epicenter of Chinese musical talent and later built its studio on the 15th floor of theEverest Building on Nathan Road, which was covered in the article about its developer Au Shue-hung. Recording artists in HK for Life in the early-mid 1960s include Rebecca Pan (aka Pan Wan-ching) and TsuiMiu-chi (崔妙芝), who recorded with Life from 1962 to 1965.

In 1962, Life Records signed a contract with the movie studio Cathay-Keris to produce soundtracks from Malay movies made by the latter. (Straits Times, 1962-1-30) The same year, Ng established King’s Musical Industries with $200,000 in capital and built the first record pressing factory in Malaya in Petaling Jaya with automatic pressing machines imported from Finebilt Manufacturing in the US, 10 workers and initial daily production of 12,000 discs per day at launch in mid-1962. (Straits Times, 1962-5-28)

Ng Lian Chin & Life Records Image 3 York Lo

Left: Picture of Life Record Industries’ production facility in Singapore and its directors (left to right): Lee Lui-foong, Lee Hiok-siang, Lim Beng-heng (NYSP, 1969); Right: 1976 ad in Singapore for Life’s album featuring Wong Foong-foong with HupHup and Music City listed in the bottom. (SCJP, 1976-10-5)

In 1969, Ng established Life Record Industries (麗風唱片工業)in Singaporewith himself as managing director, Tiger Balm heir Aw Cheng-chye (胡清才, 1924-1971) as chairman and accountant Lim Beng-heng (林秉興), banker Lee Hiok-siang (李毓湘,vice chairman of Four Seas Communications Bank, son of Lee Wee-nam) and Ng’s wife Lee Lui-foong (李蕊芳) as directors. The firm built the first record pressing facility in Singapore which could conduct all five steps of the record production process – recording, cutting of master, stamper/record mould, pressing record and record covers. (NYSP, 1969-12-25)

Mandopop Powerhouse in the 1970s

As Mandarin music became the dominant force in the overseas Chinese music scene in the late 1960s, Ng began to source talent from Taiwan and hit it big with artists such as Yao Su-yong (姚蘇蓉)and Teresa Teng, whom he signed back in 1968 when she was only 15 and launched her into a major regional star through their decade long partnership before she moved to Polygram.

Ng Lian Chin & Life Records Image 4 York Lo

Left: Ng Lian-chin signing the distribution agreement with vice president of MCA at the Peninsula Hotel in 1970; Right: Ng Lian-chin and his business partner Chung Kam-pui of Fung Hang Record (center) speaking with the press and Commercial Radio’s Kwong Tin-pui about the HK record industry in HK in 1973 (WKYP, 1973-7-13)

In 1970, Life signed a distribution agreement with MCA Records from the US to distribute its Mandopop records in the European and US market, citing that its product quality had reached the standards of its Western counterparts. (KSEN, 1970-5-2)

In 1971, Life began releasing many of its records on cassette tapes with each containing 16-20 songs including five tapes featuring a total of 100 songs by Yao Su-yong. (KSDN, 1971-5-21) By then, Life had added two young Mandarin singers to its roster -You Ya (尤雅) from Taiwan and Stella Chee (奚秀蘭, native of Anhui) from HK, who had recorded several dozen albums for the firm in the early 1970s. (KSEN, 1971-8-18)

In June 1972, Teresa Teng performed for two months at Ng’s concert hall in Kuala Lumpur before heading to HK and Taiwan with Ng. In Taiwan, Ng invited one of his stars Chang Ti (張帝) to record a new album for Life in HK. (KSDN, 1972-8-5)

To promote its records, Life stars such as Teresa Teng and Stella Chee had made appearances at several HK Products Expo in the early 1970s with Teresa Teng being crowned Pak Fah Yeow Queen in 1970. In December 1972, Ng was interviewed by Commercial Radio at the booth of its HK representative Fung Hang Record at the HK Products Expo. (WKYP, 1972-12-17)

In 1974, Life Records also ventured into Cantopop with the release of two Cantopop albums by former Mandopop star Pansy Lau Fung-ping (劉鳳屏).

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Left: Rebecca Pan’s 1965 Greatest Hits Album; Right: Teresa Teng’s Hokkien songs album

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Left: Back cover of Frances Yip’s “Love Story” album produced by Life in 1971; Right: Back cover of Agnes Chan’s album produced by Life

Aside from Taiwanese singers, The Life Records also produced albums in the 1970s featuring local HK artists such as Adam Cheng (鄭少秋), Lydia Shum (沈殿霞, worked with Life from 1971 to 1977), Frances Yip (葉麗儀, released her first album with Life after winning the Sharp singing contest in 1969 and worked with them on various English and Mandarin albums until 1974 when she signed with EMI), Agnes Chan (陳美) and Lisa Wong (also known simply as Lisa, released albums through Life from 1975 to 1982).

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Life also produced 11 Cantonese opera albums with Man Chin-sui (文千歲) between 1976 to 1978 and published the records of famous Malaysian Chinese singer Cheng Kam-cheong (鄭錦昌,1941-2019) from 1975 to 1978 and the albums of comedic singerWan Kwong (尹光)aka “Prince of Temple Street” in 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1984 in Hong Kong. The group also produced records featuring local Malaysian and Singaporean artists such as Wong Foong-foong (黃鳳鳳) and Tan Shun-cheng (譚順成).

Facing tough competition from multinational labels and the decline of the Chinese music market in Southeast Asia, Ng Lian-chin shifted his focus to other businesses in the 1980s. In 1988, he began the construction of Life Centre in the Golden Triangle district of Kuala Lumpur. The 7-story building was completed in 1990 and was renovated in 2011. Today the venue includes a variety of restaurants and a live entertainment hall called KL Live. Ng suffered from a stroke and other health problems later in his life and died in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 at the age of 92.

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2013/04/20/new-life-for-nightspot

https://www.chinapress.com.my/20150222/%E5%A4%A7%E9%A6%AC%E6%AD%8C%E5%A3%87%E5%82%B3%E5%A5%87%E4%BA%BA%E7%89%A9%E9%BB%83%E9%80%A3%E6%8C%AF%E7%97%85%E9%80%9D%E9%80%B1%E5%9B%9B%E8%88%89%E6%AE%AF/?variant=zh-hant

This article was first posted on 5th March 2021.

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