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Hong Kong pop star Greg a Gympie boy

INTERNATIONAL STAR: Gympie’s Greg Rivers on stage in Hong Kong.
INTERNATIONAL STAR: Gympie’s Greg Rivers on stage in Hong Kong. Contributed

FAILURE was never an option for the Hong Kong pop star from Gympie, Greg Rivers - a man with a career so unusual it could only have happened by accident.

The former James Nash High School student moved with his parents to Katoomba, near Sydney, in 1980.

He might have been a doctor had he not become fascinated at university by the Cantonese language and the way such a complex tonal language interacts with music.

Greg Rivers spoke to The Gympie Times from his Hong Kong home this week.

"I went to the University of New South Wales in 1973  and met people from Hong Kong while I was living at a dormitory called International House.

"We just clicked," he said.

"I came into contact with the Canto pop songs, lost interest in medicine and decided to be a pop star.

"I started learning Cantonese from singing along with records.

"I worked at three different dish washing jobs and as a brickie's assistant, saved $1000, got a one-way ticket and I was on my way.

"I stuck to the one-way ticket because I didn't want to give up if things got difficult."

Canto music is like a Chinese version of 1960s British pop music.

"It's just perfect for me," he said.

"Hong Kong used to be a British colony and in the 1970s, the bands were doing Cliff Richard and the Beatles songs, and a few people started using the same kind of melodies, with Cantonese words.

"With English you can put the words anywhere you like, but Cantonese is a melodic language and the meaning changes with the intonation, but they succeeded and it became popular.

"They have big concerts with 10,000 people each time. And they do 40 concerts and reach 400,000 people.

"When I got to Hong Kong in 1987, a local agency was looking for a Caucasian actor who could speak Cantonese.

"My audition was a disaster, but I was the only one who turned up.

"That was the start of 20 years on Hong Kong television.

"For a Caucasian to be able to speak Cantonese well enough to be able to act on TV is extremely rare.

"We were doing episodic soap operas and the sight of a Caucasian speaking Cantonese struck a chord with the Chinese people, even if I was struggling at the start.

"I had a lot of tight times, but I never wished for a ticket home.

"This is my home. I don't care how hard it gets.

"The people here have accepted me as one of their own and I'm not going anywhere," he said.

"I started singing Canto songs professionally five years ago.

"I had a lot of bad singing habits and had to do singing exercises."

And the rest is history, an unusual history for a boy born at Gympie Hospital.

Topics:  hong kong james nash high school

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