Siva Choy, a Singapore icon

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By Tan Bah Bah

A Singapore icon has just passed away.

Siva Choy (full name Sivanandan Choy), 71, was a true original. I am proud to have been his soul brother. We first met in Secondary 2 at Bartley Secondary School and studied together through Pre-University at Bartley all the way to the then University of Singapore at Bukit Timah.

Just a bit on our personal links before I talk briefly about his contributions to Singapore’s cultural history.

He first came to Sec 2 at Bartley in 1961. I was already there. He was transferred from Pasir Panjang Secondary School as his family had just moved to Kim Chuan Road, near Bartley Road. He and I would then compete for each year’s English Language book prize. The fierce rivalry went all the way to Pre-U where we both ended up with distinctions for General Paper for the A levels.

We started the school’s newspaper called Berita Bartley and had tons of fun producing that. Siva was not only great at writing. He could sketch and draw and had a fine eye for design. What a combination of talents.

Yet, the extent of my relationship with Siva was far more than that. I knew he was a good guitarist and a singer. He and his brother James Choy formed a duo named The Cyclones. I thought it was just for school concerts.

I realised later that he had been cutting records and performing at night clubs and shows!

He told me one day he had just released a record, The Dew, done with James. And he and I would send request cards to the radio stations to try and boost the record’s ratings. He need not have to do that. The song grew wings and shot right up the charts. In particular, we noted a certain Ricardo Elvis Chan from Blair Road was one of the most fervent fans mentioned by people like radio DJs like Tan Swee Leong and Larry Lai.  Guess where that name came from.

Siva and James as The Cyclones would be backed by The Checkmates as part of the then fashionable 1 plus 2 plus 4/5 piece group. A lead singer, duo and back up band.

Keith Locke/Brian East plus The Cyclones and The Checkmates were part of a very swinging scene which included Susan Lim and the Crescendos, Naomi and the Boys, Vernon Cornelius and The Trailers/The Quests, The Straydogs, Shirley Nair and the Silver Strings, Heather and The Thunderbirds, Sonny Bala and The Moonglow, Flybait, Bobby and D’Aquarians, The Ambassadors, X-periment and so on.

Many of these musicians would hang out at the then only 24-hour coffeehouse next to the Pebble Bar at the Hotel Intercontinental in Orchard Road.  It was a motley crowd of bohemians who never seemed to ever sleep.

Siva and I came from poor families. And eating proper meals was a luxury. I remember some of the band boys actually took pity on us. We used to hang around Robert Suriya and The Boys when they were playing nightly at the South-East Asia Hotel along Waterloo Street. And Robert would give us their sandwiches during their break time. We would gobble up the sandwiches at one go. This became the routine every time Siva and I were there. But Siva would pay back by playing with The Boys. I who did not play anything did nothing in return except smile in gratitude!

Siva was also responsible for some of the record covers of that period. He and I would go to the Phonogram Far East office at Cecil Street a number of afternoons. Mr Lee King, the manager, who was impressed with Siva’s drawing talents, would ask him to design the covers for his records. He would pay him about $10 – $20 (princely sums then) for each cover. I think that was Lee’s way of encouraging Siva.

These tidbits about Siva would be among those not publicly known up to this point.

What Siva did after his university days, from which he graduated with Honours in English Literature, has become public history.

He became a well-known satirist cum comedian. He was also a writer and columnist for that cult entertainment/lifestyle magazine called Fanfare.

To quote Channel NewsAsia, “He was perhaps best known for writing that 1991 hit tune, Why U So Like Dat?, by defunct comedy group Kopi Kat Klan, which is often brought up in discussions about Singlish. The eponymous album from which it came was equally popular. Comprising songs and sketches, it is considered Singapore’s first Singlish comedy album.”
Siva migrated to Perth with his fellow journalist wife, Ilsa Sharp. But both were very much in touch with what’s going on in Singapore. Everytime he returned to Singapore, he would be roped in to play a session or two at one blues pub or another.

Music was in his blood. So were comic performance, writing and publishing design.

Sivanandan Choy was one of a kind, in more ways than one.