My Memories of “Naomi & The Boys”
By: Alphonso Soosay
Pop music of Singapore in the 1960’s became naturally feasible and heavily influenced by Rock and Roll in its purest form and was gradually overtaken by Pop-Rock, Country-Rock, Blues-Rock, Folk-Rock and later by Psychedelic-Rock, which had progressed in popularity. The Country-Rock and Folk-Rock influenced style associated with the mid half of 1960’s Rock Music, reproduced a distinctive generation of performing Bands and Song-Composers in Singapore who wrote and performed their own compositions and achieved a No1 spot on the local charts with international acts like Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Dave Clark Five, Elvis Presley, Rolling Stones, The Seekers, The Beatles, and just to name a few.
Now, Looking Back at Singapore’s 60’s Music History, I would like to mention that “Naomi & The Boys” were very popular on Radio with their first original hit song "It's All Over" on Philips Records. It was “Naomi & The Boys” Passion and Love for Music that took them to the “Top of the Charts” in Singapore and Malaysia’s TV and Radio. Their envisioned aim was to just entertain music lovers and they found their Fans all over Asia and all the way to Holland.
I was fortunate to have met Robert Suriya sometime in mid-1965. With regards to clarifications of my memories, I recollect Robert enlightening me about how “The Boys” first got together in 1963 with talented musicians like Peter Richards, Moses Tay, Henry Richards and Joe Ahmad. They were just performing at gigs and at British Forces entertainment venues at weekends and occasionally performing in Night-clubs and took on tour performance to Sabah & Sarawak but “The Boys” according to Robert at that time were not making any progress.
At the same time, Robert noticed that the Pop Recording Music scene in Singapore was starting to boom and he had to come up with new ideas and new sounds to keep achieving with what was already happening in Singapore. So Robert decided to look for a “Female Singer”. He found a few through musician’s suggestion, tried them out but none of them was up to his expectations as a Pop singer. At that point in time, Naomi Suriya was acknowledged as a remarkable singing talent on Singapore’s TV. It was a talent competition that was held somewhere in Anson Road. Naomi’s younger sister Fiona remembered it well because as she used to be her chaperone. Naomi got through her auditions and that night at the final competition Naomi sang “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”, the famous Skeeter Davis song.
It so happened that Robert and his band were the backing bands for an entire lot of artistes that night. Naomi won the competition and it was flashed on RTS news that night. Mr Lee King. “Philips Records” manager happened to be there on that night and approached Naomi, asking if she was interested in a recording contract. Naomi was only sixteen years of age then. It was then that Robert had a chat with his band members and decided that Naomi was the best-esteemed Singer for the Band and decided to name it “Naomi & The Boys”.
Subsequently as a result of knowing enthusiastic show promoters like Robert Chua, Robert had gigs for local shows and Naomi had significant practices with the band until she was ready to perform on stage and face the competition with then-popular female-fronted groups such as “Susan Lim & The Crescendos”, “Shirley Nair & The Silver Strings” and a few other popular recording artistes. At that stage “Naomi & The Boys” were endorsed very promptly with a contract to achieve their first EP. Robert had to swiftly work on ideas that would showcase Naomi’s vocals and also create uniqueness for his Band.
By that weekend Robert had an idea of the four songs he wanted to record. Then all of a sudden that Monday week “Naomi & The Boys” were asked to go to the Kinetic Recording Studio (the finest at that time in Singapore) and they recorded their first EP. That EP was released in June 1965 which included three original songs named “It’s All Over”, Poncho, Blue Mist. The only cover song was Tennessee Waltz. Roberts composition “It’s All Over” became a No1 hit in Singapore & Malaysia.
In spite of these righteous things happening, there were disagreements already with their philosophies as “The Boys” argued among themselves as who should be the Band Leader as well as which direction their music should originate. Very soon Peter Richards, Henry Richards Moses Tay and Joe Ahmad decided to leave the Band leaving Robert singlehandedly. That was the moment when Robert Suriya decided to make a major change of musicians for a more modern and up-market sound as he had ideas to experiment with the band to the universal music world.
While this was taking place, Robert still had the recording contract with Philips Records and wanted to have a new impression of recording sounds. He started looking for younger Musicians for “The Boys”. He found Peter Thomas at a jam session and after a nice chat, he found Peter as a like-minded musician who also composed songs. At that time Peter was with another Band called The Stompers who had just won “The Shadows” of Singapore competition. I believed Robert sensed that Peter would be an asset to “The Boys”. Robert asked Peter if he would join “The Boys” and Peter graciously decided to become a member of “The Boys”. Meanwhile, Robert knew that Moses Tay was a versatile Musician and decided to ask him to come back and team up with the new line-up of “The Boys”. Moses sincerely decided to come back as a member of “The Boys”.
At this stage, Robert decided to act fast as he already was given the green light by “Philips Records” to record another EP as soon as possible, but had to discover a Drummer to his liking and to round up “The Boys”. However while looking for a Drummer that week. Glen Knight a Guitarist friend told Robert that he knows a Drummer performing at the Champagne Night Club at Anson Road working with a Pop Group named “The Flares”, (I had performed with Glen Knight previously with a group “The Midnighters”) and that night
Robert did not waste any time and turned up at The Champagne Night Club at about 11pm and introduced himself to the band leader Edmund Tan and Robert asked if he could jam with “The Flares”. Edmund Tan was delighted to allow Robert to jam with his band at the final session of the night. Robert came prepared with his expensive guitar and started jamming with the repertoire of “The Flares”. Then Robert asked if we knew the song “Take Five” and we said yes and he started straight away. It was a common song known to most nightclub musicians then. I was very impressed with his style of guitar playing; Robert then looked at me and said, it’s your turn. So I knew I had to do a Drum Solo and I did perform to my satisfaction.
Other songs we jammed were “The Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt”, “Apache”, “Wipe Out” and “Shindig”, plus a few other Cliff Richard’s tops of the charts songs. Later that night Robert asked me if I would join him for supper and Coffee at Albert Street Sarabat stall and I said yes. I remember it was about 2am and just after supper; Robert asked me if I would be interested in becoming a member of his band “The Boys”. As I was very impressed with his guitar playing and the guitar sounds he produced that night at The Champagne Night Club, so I decided to accept his proposal and said, certainly I will.
The next event I remember was meeting Naomi, Peter, Moses and Robert at the Kinetex Recording Studios at Wan Toh Avenue off upper Serangoon road. On that day we rehearsed the whole morning and after lunch, with Mr Lee King we recorded “Happy Happy Birthday Baby” and “I Know”. The following day we came back to the studios and recorded “Please Baby Please” and “Have I Told You Lately That I Loved You”.
From memory, this EP was released very quickly by Philips Records in October 1965. Then very soon some miraculous happened with their new line-up of “The Boys”, collectively with “Naomi” the group shot into fame with a more successful double hit EP. Very soon after this successful cover song “Happy Happy Birthday Baby”, there was another surprise for Naomi & The Boys as Roberts’s composition “I Know” also succeeded the No: 1 spot in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was a song from the same EP as “Happy Happy Birthday Baby”.
Remembering Naomi & The Boys Fans Response Was Very Positive At Live Shows As “Happy Happy Birthday Baby” Became Their Favourite Hit Song And It Was On Radio Every Day And Surprisingly It Went To No: 1 On Singapore’s, Malaysia’s And Indonesia’s Hit Parade Chart And Stayed In That Position For Few Weeks. Later That Month We Were Told By Our Recording Manager That It Was Also Aired On Hollands Radio Stations Hit Parade. I remember in December 1965 it was voted by the media as the best song of 1965. Following this success, Naomi & The Boys were offered several live performance treaties (Touring Concerts) to most of the states in Malaysia. They were organised and produced by a creative show promoter Robert Chua who now lives in Hong Kong as a very successful TV shows Producer/Director.
The many “Live Shows” Naomi & The Boys performed were events that appeared quite spectacular, like “Miss Lion City 1966” it was a beauty contest show at the National Theatre in December 1965. “The Top Talent Show” in 1966 took place at the National Theatre. “Show Time 66” at the National Theatre in June 1966. “Peep Pop Show” at the National Theatre in December 1966. “Ready Steady Go Show” at the National Theatre. “Poly X ’mas 1967” a Christmas show in December 1967. “Musical Express Show” was an early Sunday morning performance at the Capitol Theatre in April 1967.
Then frequently under then-popular show promoter Robert Chua, there were many other “Live Concerts” he organised, and then it was an endeavour across the causeway at Jubilee Hall in Johore Bahru Malaysia, Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Ipoh, Kedah, Butterworth, Penang and many more venues in Malaysia. All these Live Performances supported in promoting “Naomi & The Boys” record sales. As for TV show “Naomi & The Boys” performed at the “Hiboran”, this was a local show just like the American Shindig concept and a few other TV shows followed up soon after.
Mr Lee King the manager of “Philips Records” realised that he had a credible Band on his hands and decided to become the manager of “Naomi & The Boys”. The band leader was very pleased and so were we. At that time requiring money to upgrade our musical instruments was not a problem at all. Naomi & The Boys managed to get the best of Musical instruments and most of the money was paid off within six months from “Naomi & The Boys” recording royalties.
I must thank Alphonso Soosay for allowing me to post his above article verbatim from his FB page.
This article is copyrighted and belongs to Alphonso Soosay.