Musicians paid tribute to the late guitar great, Paul Ponnudorai, at KL’s Hard Rock Cafe, last weekend, writes Dennis Chua
His death in July robbed us of a musical genius, but Paul Ponnudorai will live on in the hearts of his friends and fans.
They came by the hundreds to celebrate his music and life at a tribute concert in Hard Rock Cafe, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur at 8.30pm on Aug 26.
The five-hour star-studded concert also saw the launch of the Paul Ponnudorai Foundation which will keep his legacy alive and assist gifted musicians.
The initiative was spearheaded by keyboardist Allan Perera and Ponnudorai’s fellow band mates from Made In Malaysia who also said an annual Paul Ponnudorai Performing Arts Award for the most outstanding and promising performer was also in the pipeline.
Besides Made In Malaysia members Perera, drummer Jerry Felix and bassists Sunny Rashidy and Daniel Soliano Guerzo the showcase also featured Richard Lim, Badar, Albert Sirimal, Vijay David, The Prime Time Band, Sherman Tan, Ernesto Valerio (Ponnudorai’s mentor), Greg Valerio, Gerard Singh, Jerry Singho, Kenny Tay, Bala, Amizan, Shahrin, Lord, Junji Delfino, David Gomes, Michelle Nunis, Elvira Arul, Maria Angela, Willy Rebano, Josie Thomas, Daymien Nathan, Julian Mokhtar, Colin Jansen, Jordan Rivers and Errol de Cruz.
Lim kicked off the show by singing Ponnudorai’s original composition, Ecstacy of Love. This passionate number was followed by De Cruz’s moving rendition of John Denver’s This Old Guitar, backed by guitarist Singho of Os Pombos and Perera on the keyboards.
De Cruz described Ponnudorai as a magical musician who reinterpreted popular songs Love Potion Number Nine, Hotel California, Rhythm Of The Rain and Laughter In The Rain.
Newcomer Nathan who had never met Ponnudorai, but admired his music from afar, sang his own compositions Drop and Save My Soul, sporting long, curly hair that was a Ponnudorai trademark.
Tay delivered a warm rendition of You’ve Got A Friend, while Ponnudorai’s guitarist mentor Ernesto and his brother Greg performed the heart-breaking Jean and Frank Sinatra hit, I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
“While he learnt the guitar from me, Paul quickly bettered himself and his standards overtook mine. The mentor became the student,” said Ernesto who met Ponnudorai in Singapore.
Guitarist Shahrin then played Wish You Were Here and Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven. His sombre songs were quickly followed by an adrenaline rush, courtesy of guitarist Bala.
Bala, who had known Ponnudorai since his days in Bakat TV, brought the house down with a hard-rocking version of Land Of A Thousand Dances, and invited the audience to sing along.
Displaying the same in-your-face humour as the late Ponnudorai, Bala occasionally lowered the volume, urging the crowd to sing louder by saying “Oh, oh, Paul’s angry” .
Keyboardist Amizan told fans that Ponnudorai taught him to make every song different from the original. He then delivered Oasis’ hit song, Don’t Look Back In Anger, and John Lennon’s Imagine, in his own melancholic way.
Muscular Gerard proved the crowd favourite when he sang Proud Mary and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. He jokingly remarked that Ponnudorai inspired him to “give up farming” and embrace music.
Keyboardist Lord, who famously collaborated with rock queen Ella, paid tribute to both Ponnudorai and another legend who died this year, Robin Gibb, with To Love Somebody.
Tan sang his self-penned Goodbye To A Legend, which poignantly recounted his friendship with Ponnudorai, and Cry For Me Baby.
The husband-and-wife team keyboardist Rebano and vocalist Angela, performed Song For You and Natural Woman. Angela said they had known Ponnudorai since the mid-1980s when she became the first female vocalist to join Made In Malaysia.
Rebano, who worked with Ponnudorai in Asiabeat, described him as a down-to-earth musician who inspired them to soar.
Another husband-and-wife team, vocalist Delfino and keyboardist Gomes, did a commendable reinterpretation of The Rose, made popular by Bette Midler. Gomes also sang The Beatles’ farewell song, Let It Be, and said that he first knew of Ponnudorai when he was a teenager.
David, backed by Badar and Albert, received a standing ovation for his charismatic rendition of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay and Ray Charles’ Georgia On My Mind.
His harmonica playing and whistling impressed fans, and he said Ponnudorai inspired him to live life to the fullest. “Paul was one in a billion,” he said. “I visited him during his final days in hospital, and he told me to keep singing and soaring.”
The Prime Time Band, comprising drummer Rik Omar, keyboardist Linet Goh, bassist Don Guerzo and vocalist Clifford Jay, performed David Gates’ Guitar Man, an apt ode to Ponnudorai, before inviting vocal powerhouse Arul on stage.
Arul sang One Thousand Million Smiles, made popular by Datuk Sudirman Arshad, beautifully. She reminded fans that Ponnudorai penned the song which earned Sudirman the title of Asia’s Number One Entertainer in a 1989 concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall.
The diminutive Nunis then rocked the house with Sweet Child Of Mine and invited Bala on stage to duet a more upbeat version of You’ve Got A Friend.
Arul then joined Nunis in Gersang’s moving Kau Ilhamku, ending the song with a thank you to Ponnudorai, their inspiration.
Made In Malaysia literally saved the best for last, playing Just Wait And See and Gotta Wear Shades with Perera on vocals. Jansen joined them singing ZZ Top’s Tush, followed by Julian with The Weight, Perera again with Nasib Diriku and the soulful Rivers, George Benson’s On Broadway and a beautiful, jazzy version of Amazing Grace, which would have made the legend proud.
Felix’s aggressive and spirited drumming earned him a thundering applause. The drum maestro of Made In Malaysia was as good as he could be.
After a collective toast to Ponnudorai, the musicians called it a day with Vijay and Perera singing Rock And Roll, A Whole Lotta Love and Mustang Sally, ending the show with a bang.
Ponnudorai’s band, in a befitting tribute to their departed friend, presented one of his guitars to Hard Rock Cafe chairman, Tan Sri Syed Yusof Tun Syed Nasir.
Syed Yusof said Ponnudorai had always been a dear friend of the cafe and one of its star performers.