Introducing Thomas, Oliveiro asked how he came to be in the local music scene. Thomas replied that as a teenager he was interested in music and owned a guitar and a Gibson Skylark amplifier. Like other boys he learnt to play the instrument by 'copying' from famed guitar gurus Hank Marvin and others. After forming a group called The Stompers they participated in the Shadows of Singapore competition and won the top prize.
After leaving the group, he formed another with Robert Suriya who played lead while sister Naomi sang. To complete the band Alphonso Soosay joined as drummer and Moses Tay played keyboard. They called themselves, Naomi and The Boys (image below).
Those days guitar group followings were massive. Thomas described that whole families would follow a group and they would include mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts "and pets also." Like the Quests and others, each group would have their followers to support them during shows at the National Theatre. According to Thomas the National Theatre was the "proving ground" for pop bands then. He likened the Theatre to the Apollo in Harlem.
Thomas related a story when The Boys opened for Cliff and The Shadows. When he went into the dressing room to look for the pop guitar group he was surprised to meet Hank Marvin (image right) dressed only in shorts with a fan blasting on him. Apparently the Shadows lead was practising his scales before the show. Imagine the situation. "It floored me!" he exclaimed and had all admiration for Marvin's dedication and professionalism.
He also recalled the night clubs at Orchard Road and labelled them "can die" places to hang out. One of these nightclubs was the Hotel Garni and the other Golden Venus which was "no bigger than half the Badminton Hall".
Thomas emphasised that an average of 200 people at one time could be seen dancing with tremendous energy to the pulsating music. The crowd was so thick there that dancers placed bets with each other to see if they could "fall down and not stand" in the middle of the floor. Most times they did it successfully even with a beer in hand. What made the place more attractive was that band boys who were not doing gigs on Sundays were there. You could probably find "three lead guitarists, four bassists and seven drummers... " They were either jamming or enjoying the scene (image above for illustration only).
Thomas explained that while the Checkmates could be at GV with Siva and James Choy, the Trailers (image left) were holding court at Roxy (or Palace?) Cinema. They removed seats from the front rows and converted the floor for dancing. They called these sessions Tea Dances and they were held for one reason. "Forget your genteel earl-grey tea and cucumber sandwiches," he said. "You went in there to rock your socks off!"
At the end of the interview, Thomas discussed how Naomi's song, I Know became a big hit in Europe after it was released there. Although the basic tracks of the song were done in a Singapore studio at Sennet Estate the orchestration and chorus were done in Holland.
Information from: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, You Tube, Joe Wu.
Images: You Tube and Andy Lim Collection.