Norman Smith's Philipino combo.

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 02:43

Looking at Bill Griffith's recent  mention of a Philipino dance band reminded me that I have another photograph that I didn't upload into the 367 Association Gallery.  This was because I don't know who took these two photographs but also because I was puzzled about the photograph's title, 'Norman Smith's Philipino Combo.'  Norman Smith served on the 367 Signals Unit at Little Sai Wan between 1958 and 1959 and he has a sub gallery within the 367 Association gallery.  As you will see on the photograph below of him entertaining some of his pals, he was a talented pianist and this photograph was definitley taken somewhere down town as the piano was a grand piano and there was no such thiing on the camp.  I am fairly sure that he spent some of his off duty time playing in one or more bands down town.  It is interesting to see that the band for which the young lady was singing was called 'Eddie and his Combo'.  Was this band known to any of you?  The pianist on the left hand photograph is not Norman.  Any suggestions. Best wishes Andrew.

Norman at the piano
Norman at the piano, by Norman Smith
Date picture taken


Good morning Moddsey.

That sounds like a promising link. I never visited the Ritz nightclub(?) at North Point(?), but I do know that some of my colleagues went there and also used the swimming pool. I guess that it is possible that Norman was one of them and could have ‘guested’ a spot with the band/orchestra, with the photograph’s title being a humorous reference to his performance. In later life he wrote an unpublished novel in which a young airman played piano in a nightclub - as I am fairly certain Norman did. Many first novels have been based on the writer’s own experiences.

Maybe somebody can positively identify the young lady singing on his photograph.

best wishes, Andrew

The facsimile admittedly isn't great but the following photo of the vocalist Grace Archer on 11th August 1959 from The China Mail's edition of 15th August 1959 is good enough to rule out the above girl as Grace Archer. 

Hong Kong jazz club performing at Club Lusitano Grace Archer vocalist The China Mail page 11 15th August 1959
Hong Kong jazz club performing at Club Lusitano Grace Archer vocalist the china mail page 11 15th august 1959, by eurasian_david

Agreed - Grace Archer does not look at all like the young woman featured on Norman's photograph.  Earlier in this thread there is link to a contribution that reports that Eddie Guzman and his Philipino group played at the Ritz complex in North Point and that his singer was Cora Ballecer.  Knowing that Norman Smith and others from R.A.F. Little Sai Wan went to the Ritz in the late 1950s, and that Norman as a very talented pianist probably 'guested' with the band on one or two occasions, a thought strongly supported by the contents of his semi autobiographical novel that I have read but which he never had published.  I strongly suspect that the singer at the head of this thread is Cora Ballecer.  Andrew

I have just listened to the clip and, while the artiste was not known to me, the style of the song and her singing is very reminiscent of popular music in the late 1950s.  I have tried to find a photograph of Cora Ballecer on the internet but without success.  However, the surname Ballecer is linked to several other filipino people and am I correct in thinking that the young lady on Norman's photograph at the top of this thread does seem to be filipino?

Yes, my impression is that the name Ballecer has a strong Filipino connection. And yes, the vocalist does look Filipino.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Eddie and his combo - well…I’m guessing “Eddie” is the renowned saxophonist Eddie Chamblee (not that I know anything about him!) and that is him in the photo. Then the question is: when did Eddie visit HK? If we can track the time stamp and where he performed of his visit to HK, maybe we can find out the identity of the vocalist.


Thank you for your thoughts.  I'm not sure what  'tracking the time stamp' means, but Norman Smith was stationed at R.A.F. Little Sai Wan in 1958/9.  I am fairly certain that he was a National Serviceman and after training in the U.K. he would only have spent about ten months in Hong Kong.  My guess that the photographs which he took, or were taken of him, were more likely taken in the latter half of his tour, when he had acquired a camera, so I'd hazard a guess that the ones at the top of this thread relate to 1959, and almost certainly at the Ritz in North Point.  I could be miles out!

In the China Mail...usually on page 8 "China Mail Entertainment Guide" it lists the entertainment section for the Colony, often giving the name of the musical ensemble (I note a number of them are called "blah blah and combo"), performing venue but crucially the vocalist is also named....sometimes by first name, sometimes full name. 

This will be a slow slog but at least we have the year 1959. 

I think that some corrections are necessary.

Checking through my folder of 367 Association photographs, I see that the two at the top of this thread were sent to me not by Norman Smith but by Mike Prada, who labelled them as 'Norman Smith's Philipino Combo'! He described them as having been taken in a club 'down town', and I can only assume that the reference to Norman Smith might be, as I earlier speculated, because Norman night have briefly played the piano while Eddie and his combo had a break.  Mike Prada was in Hong Kong between 1958 and 1960

I also see that the photograph of Norman playing a piano for his pals was described as having been taken in the Metropole restaurant in North Point at Christmas 1958.  Even more relevant to dates, I see from a copy of Norman's R.A.F. Release document that the period of his National Service was October 1957 to September 1959, so his time in Hong Kong was more specifically to have been between October 1958 and late August 1959.  So, the link between Eddie's Philipino combo and Norman is only substantiated, if that is the correct word to use, by Mike Prada's comment. 

Unfortunately, both Norman and Mike died some years ago so there is now no means of checking with them.

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the extra information. At least we have a certain range of dates. The only thing about the China Mail entertainment listings is that not every dive in town will be mentioned. 

From the book "Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946-1975" by Jonathan Bollen and taking a quote from the book page 35 and the blog, we have a list of Filipino singers. We have two Filipino band leaders/musicians called "Eddie" (Guzman and Bola) - both of whom already been listed by moddsey from earlier in the thread. We also have a list of Filipino vocalists as well:

"and singers from the Philippines, Pete Cruzado, Pilita Corrales, Cristy Ortega, Thelma Toledo, Vic Cristobal, Jacinto Tiongco, Carmen Perina, and Lita Sotelo. The bandleaders and musicians were mostly Filipino, including Tony Arevalo, Eddie Bola, Celso Carillo, Fred Carpio, Ben Conti, Ising Gatchalian, Eddie Guzmen, Barry Yaneza, Lobing and his Manila Combo, and the Rocky Feller Combo."

I recognise some of these vocalists' names from having performed in the HK nightclubs from the tail end of the 1950s from the newspapers:

Pilita Corrales - not her from known photos

Cristy Ortega - not her from known photos

Thelma Toledo - ?

Carmen Perina - not her from known photos

Lita Soleto - ?

Anyway, lots of info to work on. 

The other thing: The two pianos from the photos are different, so the one with the vocalist may not be at the Metropole restaurant. 

Hi David,

You are doing a splendid job in trying to put a name to the singer on Mike Prada's photographs.  I agree that those two photographs were almost certainly not taken in the Metropole restaurant - the one where Norman described himself as playing the piano for his pals.  Keep up the good work and success might be just around the corner, although there being two Eddies does make things more complex.