My Memories of “Naomi & The Boys”



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My Memories of “Naomi & The Boys” By: Alphonso Soosay 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 privileged to have met Robert Suriya sometime in late September 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 tours 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 up 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 were up to his expectations as a Pop singer. Meanwhile Robert heard from his mother that Naomi had won 1st price in her school talent-time contest. So Robert asked Naomi to jam with him at their home that next morning and to his surprise it made an utter impression on him. So very soon he decided to get his musician friends and got Naomi to jam with his musician friends again. Jamming with Naomi took place on a couple of songs and some were Roberts’s originals. I believe it got better and better until Naomi became more candidness. It was then that Robert had a chat with his band members and decided that Naomi was the best appreciated Singer for the Band and decided to name it “Naomi & The Boys”. Subsequently as a result of knowing enthusiastic show promoters, Robert had gigs for local shows and Naomi had significant practises with the band until she was ready to perform on stage and face the competition with popular female fronted groups such as “Susan Lim & The Crescendos” and a few other popular recording artistes. It was at that time that the Band had an audition with Mr Lee King (general manager) of “Philips Records” and “Naomi & The Boys” were endorsed very promptly with a contract to achieve their first EP. Robert had to work on notions 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 Kinetex Recording Studio (the best at that time in Singapore) and they recorded their first EP. That EP was released on 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 this virtuous things happening, there were disagreements 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 there was 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. Robert 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 happy 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 straightaway. It was a common song known to most night club 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 top 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 and Malaysia. It was a song from the same EP as “Happy Happy Birthday Baby”. I remember Naomi & The Boys fans response was very positive at live shows as “Happy Happy Birthday Baby” became their favourite 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 on June 1966. “Peep Pop Show” at the National Theatre on December 1966. “Ready Steady Go Show” at the National theatre. “Poly X ’mas 1967” a Christmas show on December 1967. “Musical Express Show” was an early Sunday morning performance at the Capitol Theatre on 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 in 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. Mr Lee King very swiftly made us to do another EP recording in 1966 with songs like “I Am The Loser”, “As Tears Go By”; I’D Like To Know” and “I Need You”. This recording showed the Bands unique sound which Robert and Peter always had in mind by using Spanish Guitars and 12-string Guitars, Fuzz Box sound on solos. Roberts’s solos were stupendous and he had a very unique sound then. His status as a finest Guitarist in Singapore was noticed by the music industry which he absolutely deserved. Indeed it was a fruitfulness of Naomi & The Boys sound. Then in August 1966 Naomi & The Boys were asked to record another EP and it was released soon with songs like “As Life Goes On”, “Then He Kissed Me”, “Making Believe” and “Call Me Your Clown”. Candid transformation of Naomi & The Boys became visible from this record onwards. My favourite and the Bands favourite song on this EP was “Making Believe” as it showed that Naomi & The Boys had come a long way from their very first 1965 recording of “It’s All Over”. In December 1996 Naomi & The Boys released their first Christmas EP with songs entitled “Silver Bells”, “Mary’s Boy Child” “My First Christmas Without Daddy” and “An Old Christmas Card”. I remember Naomi breaking down in the Recording Studio as she was Recording “My First Christmas Without Daddy” a song written by her brother Robert in memory of their late Father. If one were to listen to that song now, one can actually feel the emotions of sadness and true feelings of their first Christmas without Daddy. Naomi & The Boys were also credited in the media “Fanfare” as the first Singapore’s Recording Artist Christmas EP in Singapore. In 1967 Naomi & The Boys released another EP with songs entitled “Lonely Street”, “How Was I To Know”, “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Thank You”. Again there were some new original sounds coming out as of “The Boys”. Roberts’s and Peter’s song-writing ideas continued to produce many more hits over the years for Naomi & The Boys. The Group established themselves as a Singapore band with the confidence in themselves to sing and play their own original compositions. Then in March 1967, “The Boys” were asked by Philips Records to record their first single which was an excitement for “The Boys” then. It was a fascinating attempt for “The Boys” recording in their distinctive style. The two songs recorded were “You’ve Gone” a song written by Robert Suriya and “Out Of Sight” written by Peter Thomas. At that time a great deal of thoughts was put into the Compositions and Lyrics as it was “The Boys” very first Single on Philips Records. There were general enthusiasm and statements by the Singapore and Malaysia’s Media when “You’ve Gone” was released then. The interest was comprehensible as for the first time in Singapore; a significant population was listening to “The Boys” on Radio making their debut Single as artistes in their own right. It was a captivating success then that established “The Boys” as a “Pop” Phenomenon of Singapore’s Music 60’s Artists. The succeeding Recordings of Naomi & The Boys were songs like “Old Photographs”, “Why I’m Walking”, “I’m Crying Inside” and “Happy Birthday Sweetheart”. New sounds again were introduced in this recording and this time “The Boys” used an electronic musical instrument called “Tubon” on “Old Photographs” which gave an innovative advantage then, the “Tubon” was played by Moses Tay. Another exciting sound then on this EP was on “Why I’m Walking”, it displayed Roberts’s expressive guitar skills as he reproduces a steel pedal effect purely by manipulating the tone controls and volume on the foot pedal and his guitar to specify a country and western sensation. In early September 1967 Philips Records reminded “The Boys” that their first single had done well and requested “The Boys” to act ASAP on their follow-up Single. There was excitement again for “The Boys”; obviously a great deal of consideration went through between the two song writers then of “The Boys”. Robert and Peter came up with two new original songs. The songs recorded were “To Be A Woman” by Peter Thomas and “Walk Back To Me” by Robert Suriya. They sang their respective song compositions which involved harmony, falsetto and with entertaining lyrics. Also for the first time “The Boys” used noticeable musical instruments such as the “Sitar” performed by Robert, a popular Indian musical instrument and “Harmonica” a popular European musical instrument. This EP was released at the end of October 1967. Unfortunately and according to Philips Records, this SP recording of “The Boys” did not do well as I believe at that time both the songs were obviously ahead of its time for the audience in Asia and the rest of their many recordings till 1969 are history. In November 1967 Naomi & The Boys signed up with Decca Records and immediately worked on their very first Decca production and it was released January 1968. The only cover song on the EP was “To Know Him Is To Love Him”. The two originals songs written by Robert were “I’ll Never Be The Same” and “Don’t Be Surprised”. Peter wrote only one song which was “Bad Loser”. This EP was recorded at Rediffusion with the help of Mike Ellery the production manager and it fashioned some new-fangled sound with an innovative beat for that time. The song “I’ll Never Be The Same” had a new effective drum sound with a solid rhythm section. This was indeed a unique Decca sound from Naomi & The Boys. While recording Naomi’s first EP for Decca Records in 1967, “The Boys” were asked to prepare for their first Decca EP. It was excitement again for “The Boys” to work on their music materials. The songs recorded by “The Boys” were “Rag Doll”, “The Wind Blows Your Face Away”, “Talk” and “I Need Somebody”. “Rag Doll” was a sensation of “The Four Seasons” but “The Boys” worked on an adaptation that stayed comparable to the original with detailed convincing harmonies. Another motivating song on this EP was “The Wind Blows Your Face Away”. It somehow worked out to cherish a unique and expressive psychedelic type of feel to it by using the “Sitar” performed by Robert, eviscerated tone of voices by Peter chanting the months of the year and concluded with an energetic organ fanfare fade away, performed by keyboard player Moses Tay. During that month Naomi & The Boys had two Decca releases, one after another which never happened before. In 1969 the “Audio Recording” inventiveness was starting to change and Decca Records decided to record a Long Playing album in stereophonic with 14 songs and named it “The Best of Naomi”. It was a “LP” that comprised hit tracks from their early Philips era plus new tracks were added. In spite of this re-use of 1965 & 1966 “Naomi & The Boys” hit songs, the Philips tracks were re-recorded and not using the initial-era Philips tracks. This Decca LP “The Best of Naomi” featured a mix of originals and covers, which showed the Band’s diverse range and versatility. This made it exciting for the reason that “Naomi & The Boys” Devotee’s had a chance to compare the previous to the latest version in terms of enhanced Music and Audio quality. The ultimate 14 tracks recorded on Decca Records by “Naomi & The Boys” were; So Sad To Watch Good Love Go By”, Happy Happy Birthday Baby”, “Till The End Of Our Time”, “I Love You”, “I Know”, There Goes My Everything”, “I Remember You”, “The Sound Of Silence”, “I Won’t Miss You”, “The Time Has Come”, “Get You Outa My Mind”, “Looking Back”, “If You Change Your Mind”, and “It’s All Over. As for me the outstanding track was “Sounds of Silence” a version of “Naomi & The Boys”. Decca Records contributed an ideal treatment to this “LP” as “Violins and Voices” were added to our recordings with dignity. This actually revealed that Singapore Musicians and Singers were proficient of performing in terms of comparing to International artists then. As soon as after this LP “The Best of Naomi” was released, an opportunity to perform in Bangkok materialised through a booking agent and “Naomi & The Boys” had to restructure after taking a short break of performance in 1969. At that period it was sad to see Moses Tay leaving us as he had accepted an offer with an American booking agent to perform with another group of musicians for three months of gigs in Vietnam entertaining the American GI’s. The wages offered to Moses Tay was just too good to refuse as he was offered US$1,000/- per week as a pianist/keyboardist. That’s why Moses decided not to go to Bangkok with “The Boys”. It was understandable by “The Boys” at that time and Robert got a replacement Michael Gan of The Mysterians to join “The Boys” plus added another musician Frankie Ventura on Trumpet for a comprehensive sound. “The Boys” continued to rehearse their new repertoire of Top of The Charts songs before they made their way to Bangkok’s Theatre Night-Club and started their three months Gig there beginning of July 1969 and it ended September 1969. “Naomi & The Boys” were offered an extension of three more months. In spite of this “The Boys” could not come to a decision on their new wage agreement among them and so decided to split “Naomi & The Boys”. This ended the passion of “Naomi & The Boys” in October 1969. It was one of Singapore’s, Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s most memorable Recording and Performing Pop group of the 60’s. Alphonso Soosay / 2012

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