Former Tai Chi keyboardist Gary Tong believes all music has its place in the world
After almost three decades in the music industry, veteran music arranger and composer Gary Tong says it's friendships and his passion for all genres of music that keep him going.
The former Tai Chi keyboardist has collaborated with the some of the city's biggest Canto-pop stars, from Faye Wong and the late Leslie Cheung to Eason Chan and Joey Yung. He says his days with Tai Chi - a seven-piece band which was huge in the 1980s and 90s and featured renowned guitarist Joey Tang - gave him many great memories.
'We were just very happy playing together as a band. The band was sustained by friendship. Back then, we didn't have any long-term goals, and we just expressed what we wanted to say [in our music].
'Even now we'll occasionally play music together. It's great to have a group of friends who you know could be your band mates for life.'
Tong became interested in music thanks to his parents, who are big fans of western pop music and opera.
He started playing in various bands during his last few years at secondary school after his cousin introduced him to various genres of music, from the progressive/art rock of Genesis and the glam rock of Queen to the pop rock of The Eagles.
'It was then I became interested in music arrangement,' says Tong, who worked in Tom Lee Music as a sales agent after Form Five. There he met Tommy Ho, a jazz guitarist who appreciated Tong's talents and invited him to help out at a recording session for the pop song Childhood, performed by Danny Summer.
This led to an unexpected opportunity: the chance to arrange a song, Never Give Up, for Summer. The song turned out to be one of Summer's biggest hits and is now a Canto-pop classic.
'Arranging a piece of music is like cooking. You put different elements together and the results are limitless,' says Tong.
He continued to produce and arrange songs while he was with Tai Chi and after the band stopped performing.
Although he is a serious musician, he says he has no qualms arranging 'K-songs' - the sugar-coated numbers that appeal to the masses but are ridiculed by critics for their saccharine melodies and lyrics.
'My attitude towards music is that there's no such thing as bad music,' Tong says.
'I like all kinds of music. I listened to folk rock in school and when I was about to graduate I fell in love with progressive or art rock.
'Later I was crazy about electronic music, like the stuff by Gary Numan and [Japanese electropop band] YMO. Then I fell for fusion music when I worked in Tom Lee. All music sounds wonderful and is unique in its arrangements.'
Tong has arranged hundreds of songs throughout his career, yet he says his fiery passion for music remains undiminished.
'I think I have realised only half of my goals in music,' he says.
He adds that he has always dreamed of becoming Hong Kong's Richard Branson [the British entrepreneur who founded recording label Virgin Records], unearthing talented artists who strike a balance between mainstream pop and alternative music.
Tong is also keen on developing more personal projects. 'I have been arranging pop songs for over two decades, and I'd like to work on projects that are closer to my heart, such as alternative or instrumental music. I want to stop for a while and rethink [my future],' he says.
'But on other hand, I couldn't tear myself away from arranging [pop] music because it's so much fun.'