At 65, Tony Warren still has the ability to send his female audience into a frenzy.
Just like his 70-year-old idol, Sir Tom Jones, Tony Warren, 65, a.k.a. the Tom Jones of Malaysia, is not ready to bid show business adieu just yet.
“God willing, I’ll be singing for a long time to come. Performing gives me an adrenaline rush,” he says when we meet at his cosy home in Bukit Maluri, Kuala Lumpur.
His wife Cecilia Weller and my mum, Barbara, are listening in on our conversation. All of them go back a long way. It was mum who arranged this little reunion after having lost touch with the Warrens for many years. The two are Taiping Convent alumni, while Warren was trained as an English teacher, like mum, at the Malayan Teacher’s College in Pantai Valley, Kuala Lumpur.
My mum tracked them down via the telephone directory after she spotted Warren pottering around in his backyard from the train. His house borders the train tracks. The Warrens and our family were also neighbours in Rawang where Warren and mum taught at the same school. She recalls that Warren’s son, Andrew, and my brother, Shaz, were playmates. I was just a babe in arms then.
“He performed at the college dances. Live bands and dances were the in-thing in that day and age. I’m a fan of Elvis Presley and Tom Jones, and his rendition of their songs impressed me,” mum says.
While teaching, Warren moonlighted as a singer. He has retired from teaching, but not from singing. He says singing has been his passion since he was 17 (he had a band in Ipoh called The Socialites), but you can’t raise a family on entertaining alone. Recognition came in 1969 after he performed at a Hetty Koes Endang (a popular Indonesian singer then) concert in Stadium Negara.
“It is a day I’ll never forget. The stadium was packed. My band and I were just one of the supporting acts, but after I finished singing Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home, I Can’t Stop Loving You and I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, I got a standing ovation and the emcee declared: “We now have a Tom Jones of KL’.”
“Then I polished up my act and earned the title Tom Jones of Malaysia. I made my name performing at the Copper Grill in The Weld (on Jalan Raja Chulan) in the 80s. I have performed in Singapore, Jakarta and Cambodia. YouTube calls me The Best Tom Jones Tribute Artist in Malaysia,” he says proudly.
Indeed Warren was recently invited to perform in Perth, Australia.
“A talent scout, Wendell Parnell, got wind of me and came to watch one of my Thursday night performances at the Royal Selangor Club in KL,” says Warren. “He was blown away, called me to his table and asked if I would be interested in performing in Australia.”
In November last year, the Warrens were given an all-expense paid trip to Western Australia where Warren performed in a telethon by Channel 7 (the national TV station) and at the Burswood Resort and Casino.
“It was just a one-hour show for the high-rollers, but when I started singing, they stopped playing and started singing and dancing along. Even the staff. After the show, they took pictures with me.
“The general manager was so awed he upgraded us to a suite. We stayed for three nights and were treated like royalty. The Australians gave us such a warm reception,” he recalls.
In March this year, Warren gave a small concert in Perth where both the young and old attended. He is optimistic there will be more shows Down Under. Meantime, he is kept busy here too, being hired to perform at three or four corporate functions a month.
“I’ve done a lot of shows for the British and Australian embassies. They really get into it there. They’ll throw their panties at me and I’ll mop up my sweat with them,” Warren grins.
(Knickers of varying colours were thrown at Tom Jones in 1968 after he performed at the Copacabana in New York. While performing in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, he even had room keys thrown at him.)
“One guy even threw his boxers,” says Warren’s wife Weller, who claims she is not bothered by these antics. “He is randy on and off stage.”
“Some have even come on stage to dance with me . . . there has been groping, but I ward them off,” says the cheeky Warren, explaining that this is usually the reaction to Jones’ songs.
Turning serious, he says he is disappointed that there are a few impersonators out there using his name — Tony Warren — to get jobs and fool the public. He feels his name is being smirched.
“It isn’t easy to emulate The Voice. I studied him since Green, Green Grass of Home first came out. I can sing like Elvis and Engelbert, but I really took to Jones,” says Warren, who in an old article once said that he watched all Jones’ videos, read all the stories written on him and studied his moves.
The difference between him and Jones, he claimed, was that he could gyrate fully, while Jones only did it halfway.
To keep fit, Warren jogs and practises Taekwondo. For three to four hours a day, neighbours will hear him giving his vocal cords a workout. Sometimes he is joined by his grandchildren, Shaun, five, and Samantha, two.
“Shaun loves to play the guitar, while Sam-Sam gets a kick out of singing: Sex bomb, sex bomb, you’re a sex bomb . . . That’s one of Jones’ latest songs, which I have included in my repertoire,” says Warren.
At one time, there was talk of Warren — who has three CD compilations of songs by Elvis, Engelbert, Jones and others to his name — finding his own voice and putting out a record of songs written and composed by him and son Andrew, who has an events planning company in Bandar Sri Damansara called E. H. Q. Sdn Bhd, but he was dissuaded by an old friend, former EMI general manager, Frankie Cheah.
“Frankie said there is no market for English songs by local singers. That is sad because we have really good pub singers with good diction. I like Jaclyn Victor because she has a powerful voice and is one of our best singers,” says Warren.
This let-down aside, it’s been a wonderful world for Warren: he has met his idol twice, his popularity is on the rise and he still has the required sex appeal. Not bad for a 65-year-old, no?
o Tony Warren performs at the Royal Selangor Club in Dataran Merdeka every Thursday night. To get in touch, call: 012-303 9594 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.