THE REVIVAL of radio’s fortunes has enabled a lot of experienced hands to continue at the microphone.
William Xavier, Mark van Cuylenberg (The Flying Dutchman), Susan Ng and Brian Richmond are among the voices that continue to be heard on radio. Despite the era (or perhaps fuelled by it) of social media going behind the scenes and putting faces to names, it’s the ability to banter that sets radio personalities apart.
For a long while, John Klass had left the radio studio to try his hand at other areas of the entertainment industry. Stints in England, and recording and producing music helped him develop as a person, and eventuality as a personality.
The birth of his second daughter, Venetia, led to the family’s return to Singapore, and inevitably, John’s’ return to radio. First at SPH Radio’s Kiss 92 before coming full circle back to Mediacorp’s Class 95 (he used to be on the morning drive show at Perfect 10, 98.7FM, from 1996-1998), where he is settling into his role as the drive time jock who tells you to “put that smile on”, no matter what.
A believer in self-actualisation, John has taken to looking at the positives in life rather than being weighed down by the worldly woes of a nation going through the turmoils of discovering itself in times of change.
With his wife, Valerie, as the CEO of the family business, Klass International, John was also urged to showcase more of his singing talent. His two teenage daughters, Victoria and Venetia, are already involved in the family business, and learning the ropes. Both were home schooled, a protective measure against bullying and overburdened school activities.
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“For a while, while they were in school, I would pick them up from school in the evening then they would have homework. After taking them out of school, we have a lot more time together, and we laugh a lot at home,” he says
The spirit of enterprise drove the Klass family to stage John’s first solo concert, last November. A decade in the making, the concert was also shown on Facebook in its entirety, and boosted internationally.
“I was surprised I have people from Papua New Guinea, as my Facebook fans. When I checked their accounts, I see pictures of them dressed in tribal attire — no clothes, just the sheath for their private stuff…,” he says, laughing, but appreciative of the unexpected reach that social media has afforded him.
A Bond With Music
His next singing endeavour takes place on Friday and Saturday, when he tackles the music of James Bond. Organised by Base Entertainment, the event will be held at Marina Bay Sands Theatres.
“I was seven years old when I saw James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). I’ve watched all the Bond movies since. I love the music from View To A Kill by Duran Duran,” he says.
Together with his St Patrick’s schoolmates, they would have impromptu performances in class, which were cut short when the teacher came in.
The Bond stint also allows him to don his own sharp suits that are part of another business venture, with a former classmate, Suresh Mulchand, of Mulchands Departmental Store fame. John Klass Suits feature special breathable fabric and cuts across all ages.
He is working on a range of lifestyle products he wants to release in a year.
While one may consider his business ventures as a hedge against any ageist mentality that tends to truncate careers, John says that radio has surprised him.
“When I was living in England I was told that once you hit 30 your chances of a career in the music industry are gone. But on radio, it reaches a different audience, more folks in their late 30s and 40s. This is a forgotten crowd that Michael Buble and Il Divo reach out to,” he observes.
Kicking Into Gear
It probably helps that Singapore is a small market, and if you have talent, you stand a much better chance of weathering the onslaught of any next-generation wannabes.
“In Korea the whole K-Pop phenomenon is so well packaged. It’s pure consumerism. Here, we don’t have the budgets, and it’s hard to compete with international content. There’s no set standard.
“When I was with my band, Kick!, we enjoyed a lot of popularity in the early 1990s, performing to audiences of 40,000 and 60,000 fans. And Pony Canyon Records even had us recording tracks in the UK.”
Those were still the relatively good days. But as ephemeral as popularity and stardom are, that fizzled out as Singapore pushed other priorities to the front of the queue.
“When I was representing Singapore at the 1997 ASEAN Song Festival in Jakarta, I was treated like a pop star. I was shocked, but then I found out that most of the participating countries ran the show live, but Singapore showed it two weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon,” he laughs.
“The music industry here is going nowhere. People work independently and there’s a lot of distrust among artists. They always think there’s a catch when you want to collaborate.”
It may be far from ideal, but if you can find your place at the microphone, you can still talk yourself into a coveted position and enjoy a measure of longevity that few in Singapore have managed.
007 In Concert takes place at the Mastercard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands on 19 and 20 January 2018. For more information: http://www.baseentertainmentasia.com
Photos: Dylan Yap of Pixel’D