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CollectionsApplauding Hong Kong Pop Legend: Roman TamWestern Pop Music and Roman Tam
Western Pop Music and Roman Tam

“Under the setting sun, I have daring courage. As the sun sets, I need not be anxious. I know hope will be there when the day dawns tomorrow.”
(Translation of extracted lyrics from Bright Future, published in 1977. Composed by Ogura Kei; lyrics by Lo Kwok-jim.)

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, Hong Kong people were only dimly conscious of their local culture. Instead, it was common to worship everything foreign, and that also applied to the pop scene in the colony. As the mass media flourished, foreign pop music was imported in bulk into Hong Kong. Whether on Rediffusion, a cable TV station founded in 1957, or Commercial Radio, which started broadcasting in 1959, pop music programmes mainly played English songs. Western pop was regarded as modish by the young, the fervour for it only increased by the Beatles’ visit to Hong Kong in 1964. It was all the rage for young people to form bands and singing groups to play Western pop, and several names came to the fore at the time, including the Lotus, Teddy Robin and the Playboys, Joe Junior and the Side Effects, among many others. Up until the early 1970s, Western pop was still going strong as the major mainstream musical genre in Hong Kong.

Moving to Hong Kong from Guangzhou as a new immigrant in 1962, Roman had much in common with the local youngsters who were intoxicated by Western pop culture. He was particularly fond of the Beatles and imitated their look by adopting the same classic “moptop” hairstyle. Despite a hectic life, Roman continued to pursue his dream, joining a band called T.N.T and performing after hours when he had finished work. In 1968, he teamed up with a few friends who shared the same ideals to form “Roman and the Four Steps”, seemingly just another band in the fad for Western music. But it was as the lead vocalist for this band that Roman’s singing career finally took off. Although he did not know a word of English, he invested a great deal of time and effort writing out lyrics using Cantonese or Putonghua transliteration so that he could recite the pronunciation. Although Roman and the Four Steps was not as widely known as other bands such as the Lotus or Teddy Robin and the Playboys, they nevertheless recorded a couple of singles that were released by renowned international record label EMI, and they also attracted their own dedicated fans, who would show their support for the band by turning up at whatever lounge the band was playing. The emerging talent of the band, and of Roman in particular, attracted increasing attention and appreciation among audiences at their gigs.

  • The young Roman Tam

  • The young Roman Tam imitated the Beatles looks

  • Roman Tam and his friends playing as a band

  • Roman Tam and the band T.N.T. (1)

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