My New Friend Manfred

Once again, I found that I haven’t uploaded a blog for more than a month; and I had ended the last upload with the hope that I would write one shortly. Suddenly, we are in the last quarter of 2022 with only about ten weeks left.

Yesterday, a brother took us to visit his father’s office and studio in Mongkok, which visit led to this blog. Wyndam Wong had spoken about his father Manfred the first time he visited us in Mei Foo – probably in early 2021 – when Su showed him our turntable and vinyl collection. Wyndham introduced him as someone with excellent knowledge and experience in the music recording industry, both in Hong Kong and worldwide, who has unique connections and personal contacts with many singers and producers and who, through such relationship, has amassed a valuable collection of their works, in CDs, cassettes and even on vinyls, many with the artistes’ autographs. Many of the artefacts would be collector items and could fetch handsome dollars on open market. He offered to take us to meet his father at work. Marco had been there before and warned us that the studio is rather small and packed with all sorts of memorabilia, and that the place can at most take in four visitors the size of Su and standing. Wyndham arranged to meet us and Kenny at the Mongkok MTR Exit E at 3pm. Su and I arrived on time, met by Wyndham and Kenny, and the four of us walked a few blocks to an office building which houses Manfred’s office on the 12th floor.

Manfred appears to be a modest, polite and gentle character, seemingly quiet-spoken, but could be extremely conversational on his favourite subjects such as music and writing. The place is, as Marco had described, small indeed – not larger than 200 square feet – and packed to the ceiling with all sorts of everything, CDs, records, antique turntables, music players, books, past issues of his “Headlines”, posters and oddly enough, bottles of Chinese medicinal oil. I would return to the “Headlines” later; but would quickly deal with the medicinal oil bit. It transpires that the Wong family had a license from the authorities to manufacture and market these oils, based on a traditional recipe handed down in the family. It is still a going concern; and Wyndham would inherit the recipe and likely be the last – so far – and remaining owner, which implies that he would have to stay in Hong Kong and look after that part of the family business, but that would be another story. Manfred had revealed in an interview which Su picked up in YouTube that the factory which produced the oils had employed many workers and the management would play radio music in the work place to keep up their morale, which was his first exposure to music.

Back to the studio, his office desk is on one end of the room with two large monitors. A pair of Bose speakers hang on the wall; and on his right are his turntables and a CD player which can hold 300 discs. He also has a microphone attached to his desktop, with which he can input vocally what he wants to write, in Cantonese. He recalled that he used to work long hours on the desktop computer, writing articles, and getting chronic illnesses as a result.

Su had come prepared and began with a few technical questions on the tonal and audio reception differences between tracks from the same original recording reproduced on newly made CDs and vinyls. Manfred showed us the differences on his machines; and it seemed that all the visitors could feel that the tracks on vinyls in general produced better and wider ranges of tonal quality with more variations and in stronger hi-fidelity. On the other hand, music on CDs in general are comparatively flat and monotonous. He then went on to play a few tracks by the Ventures, including Apache, Walk Don’t Run and Wheels, all classics of the vintage before the other three guests were born.

We then had a crash course on the history of music recording, from the time when Thomas Edison first invented the phonograph when sound was recorded on other materials and reproduced mechanically and crudely, to the first recording discs made on carbon rather than vinyls, and hence difficult to store and prone to disintegration. He went on to show us the photos he had taken of and with the singers and artistes he had interviewed over the years, mostly commissioned, for source materials for the many articles and reviews he had been writing for over 40 years. He took his job seriously and professionally. There are singers and groups he liked, but he was quick to mention the ones he disliked and who had irritated him most. But he had always tried to produce fair and balanced articles on all of them.

Manfred picked up a copy of the October 2022 Issue of Headlines and gave it to Su. This is his baby. It is the 614th Issue of the music magazine which he mostly single-handedly produced, now in its 36th year, and issued monthly and distributed free through CDs and records shops. He proudly told us that he began writing music critique freelance at the age of 19, so that he has been writing on music for 45 years. His object was to share his views on music and music recordings so that more people could better enjoy music. His first contribution to a newspaper was accepted and got printed without question and amendments, as was his second. He was encouraged; and began to write articles to more newspapers and music journals, as he became more famous. He became editor of a weekly or biweekly magazine which was sold for HK$2 a copy in mid-70s. Initially, he had 10,000 copies printed for each issue and relied on distributors to market them, paying them upfront. Alas, some distributors sometimes simply took the fees and didn’t do their work, and he developed the thought of having his works distributed free. When “Headlines” was first published, his business partner did not agree to circulate the magazine free, which was then known as “Best Buy”. Manfred later took it up all by himself, but kept the second title too. The October 2022 Issue comprises 46 pages, not including the Cover and Back pages. Manfred proudly claimed that he wrote and designed over 95% of the contents. “I write very fast and typically can produce 1,000 words in 15 minutes,” he told us. He asked for sponsorships and advertisements by himself, and some of the ads he placed for free, as re-runs, to fill the blank pages. He likes to write and enjoys writing. He wrote in the October 2022 Issue, as a sort of declaration, that he is planning to write “My Music Autobiography” to chronicle his 45 years of writing. On learning that I had published my first memoir in January 2021, he became interested and said he might take advice from me on how to go about putting together his planned autobiography. I wish him success; and I am sure my new friend would succeed, with his resolve, determination and most important of all, with his unique and  tremendous background of experience and original source materials.

I would stop here; and I hope to be writing again shortly.

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