Robert Suriya, lead guitarist of Singapore ’60s band Naomi & The Boys, has died

The band were a prominent name in Singaporean music in the '60s, alongside The Quests, The Cyclones and more

Robert Suriya, lead guitarist of Singaporean ’60s pop band Naomi & The Boys, has died at the age of 80.

According to a Free Malaysia Today report, Suriya passed away in Guam on June 17 from liver failure. His death was confirmed on June 21 in a post on the Naomi & The Boys official Facebook page.

Suriya was the guitarist and bandleader of Naomi & The Boys, which was fronted by his sister Naomi Suriya. The band’s original members at this time were Suriya, Henry Richards, Peter Richards, Joe Ahmad and Moses Tay.

Following the release of their debut EP ‘It’s All Over’ in 1965, only Tay and Robert remained in the band’s line-up and welcomed two new members, Peter Thomas and Alphonso Soosay.

In a post shared with Singapore Memories in 2012, Soosay recalled how Suriya told him how The Boys formed in 1963. “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 and 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.”

Soosay went on to note that it was around this time that Robert had heard from his mother that Naomi won the top prize in a school talent-time contest. Robert and Naomi would later jam together at home before jamming once more with the band. After a few more sessions, it was agreed that Naomi would front the band.

They went on to become a prominent name in this ‘golden age’ of Singapore rock and pop music of the ’60s, and were one of the few bands in that period to release their own well-received original music alongside other seminal names such as The Quests, The Cyclones and The Trailers.

Robert Suriya was a key songwriter in Naomi & The Boys, writing the songs ‘It’s All Over’ from their debut EP and ‘I Know’ from their sophomore EP, ‘Happy Happy Birthday, Baby!’ and more.

The Suriyas were of Sri Lankan descent. Their father Robert Wickremasuriya was born in the country, then known as Ceylon. He moved to Singapore in 1985 and started a family there, shortening their surname to ‘Suriya’ in order to “facilitate their professional work.”

Andy Young, guitarist of the bands The Velvetones/Firebyrds, Swallows and Silver Strings, wrote a tribute to Robert Suriya on his blog dedicated to music in Singapore during the ’60s.

“I knew Robert when he was band leader of Naomi and The Boys with the late Moses Tay who played bass,” Young wrote. “We became great friends through music interactions during the 1960s when I was with Sonny Bala and The Moonglows, having done stage shows together at the Singapore Badminton Hall, the F&N Hall at River Valley Road and other popular venues.

“We were in Vietnam too in the 1970s since our bands were under the same management. When the troupe returned to Singapore, Robert left for Guam shortly afterwards but we kept in touch only on Facebook with the other musicians. My deepest condolence to Robert’s family.”