Girls just wanna have fun

Sao Sao Sao are full of youthful energy ahead of their reunion concert

In the middle stands the tallest, Saowaluk "Amm" Leelabutr, now 53. On either side of her, striking different poses, are her sidekicks Patcharida "Mam" Wattana, 51, and Orawan "Poom" Yenpoonsuk, 54. Together, they make up the legendary Thai girl group Sao Sao Sao (Girl, Girl, Girl). The 80s megastars reunite this weekend for three sold-out concerts -- one of the live music events of the year.

The trio took the music industry by storm in the early 1980s with their girl-next-door jollity and naïveté. Over the course of 10 albums and 10 hit collections, they found their way into the hearts of teens and adults alike. At the close of the decade, while still at the peak of their powers, the girls decided to call it quits. They had grown from girls into women and it was time to move on to do other things. They were last seen together in concert 27 years ago.

Fast forward to August 2018, and the news of their reunion has driven diehard fans crazy -- so much so that an extra night had to be added to the concert schedule.

"We can no longer sing like when we were teenagers," said Patcharida, former executive member of RS Promotion and now the principal of an independent music school. "The music then was simpler and we sang with clear voices. Now our voices have become thicker and more mature with age. So there will be some added musical arrangements and slight changes for the concert."

"In the past, when we sang Knock, Knock, Knock, it sounded crystal clear. But now, it could sound like cracking bones," said Saowaluk, referring to the famous pun in their first hit, Pratu Jai (A Door To The Heart). "For those attending the third show on Sunday, be prepared. We might perform in wheelchairs!"

The band's success in the 80s was largely due to it being a more open market, admits Saowaluk. Being a pop singer was not regarded as a serious career back then. With fewer singers around, there was less competition. Family connections also helped. The daughters of Thai divas Suda Cheunbaan and Chantaya Kittiyapan respectively, Patcharida and Saowaluk inherited their mothers' talents. These were complemented by their cousin Orawan. The final piece of the jigsaw was DJ-cum-producer Prasit Pongthananikorn, aka Raya of Rodfai Dontree (Music Train) company, who formed the group and gave them life.

"Our mothers helped pave the way. But we still had to prove ourselves. They were our mentors but they never dictated to us or told us what to do. We were allowed to shine as ourselves," said Patcharida.

However, success still took some time, recalled Saowaluk. Their first album Rak Pak Jai (Love Struck) featured covers of Thai oldies that did not suit their teen image. Fortunately, their 1983 follow-up was a big improvement. The album was a big hit with Thai teenagers, selling 300,000 copies thanks to its bubblegum pop-rock and the band's cheerful girls-next-door image.

"We started when we were so young -- I was 14 and they were 16 and 17," Patcharida said. "Back then, most singers were grown-ups who performed in clubs. We filled a gap in the market for teenagers. They came to our concerts as if it were a gathering of friends and sisters."

Since their last concert almost three decades ago, the trio have been through many changes.

"I used to live a well-planned life. Now in my 50s, I like to take risks to see what life can offer me. I'm no longer afraid to try new things," she said.

Saowaluk, meanwhile, is trying to understand herself better: "Now, I take things slowly and go with the flow. I am on a journey within myself -- my mind and soul." She now reads and practises Buddhism.

Sao Sao Sao are remembered for their loud colourful outfits, which were inspired by the style popular in Japan at the time. But for this concert, things might be a little different.

"We will appear in costumes that we feel comfortable wearing. It might be slightly different but we will keep a similar tone and look," said Orawan.

Saowaluk recalls them making their own outfits: "It was fun creating our own stuff. I think we were quite creative and trendy. Sometimes, we used pins and coins to decorate our shirts. At other times, we wore ties and gloves, or jackets and scarves with little bows. We made do with what we had."

Despite disbanding a long time ago, the trio have always remained close.

"I know that whatever happens, they will be there for me," Orawan said.

"Our relationship is natural. We have a natural bond that no one can take away from us," Saowaluk added.

Today's music scene is very different from Sao Sao Sao's heyday. There are more opportunities for people to become successful pop stars. But this, according to Orawan, is a two-sided coin.

"Today, singers are lucky as there is so much training," Orawan said. "But I see a problem with the lack of originality."

"I still see many genuine artists who do not care about fame, but about making their music heard. I admire that they do whatever they like," Saowaluk added. "But it is difficult to teach songwriting. My techniques become obsolete as music styles and tastes change. Some contemporary songs are hard for me to understand. There is no meaning or rhyme, just loud sounds. But some people love it. I can't explain that to my students."

"There is no right or wrong with taste and style. Only like or dislike, I guess," said Patcharida.

For their upcoming concert, Saowaluk said that some well-known songs will be spiced up to make it more fun for the audience. Asked if there will be any new songs especially for the show, she said: "I'm afraid not. If we have a new song, the audience might take a toilet break because they won't know it."

Any messages for concertgoers?

"No need to bring us flowers or gifts," joked Patcharida. "Cash will do!"

"Shouldn't we say no gifts? But donations for poor cats and dogs are welcome?" asked Saowaluk, laughing.

What about after this? Could there be a jukebox musical based on Sao Sao Sao?

"We don't expect anything beyond this concert. But if there is something fun to do, we would love to do it," said Patcharida.

"How about a menopause concert?" Saowaluk suggested with a wink.

The Sao Sao Sao concert will be staged at the Royal Paragon Hall, Siam Paragon, on Nov 23-25.