Singapore Cowboy Matthew Tan riding high

Singapore Cowboy by Matthew And The Mandarins, which comprise (from left) Michael Png, Rawi B Omar, Matthew Tan and Patrick Favacho, hit triple platinum status recently.
Singapore Cowboy by Matthew And The Mandarins, which comprise (from left) Michael Png, Rawi B Omar, Matthew Tan and Patrick Favacho, hit triple platinum status recently.PHOTO: RUBY KAO

Singer Matthew Tan will receive a lifetime achievement award for the 1978 country hit song

It has been more than 30 years since the iconic song Singapore Cowboy was released, but its appeal still endures.

Its singer and songwriter Matthew Tan, otherwise known as Singapore Cowboy, is receiving the Asia-Pacific Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canberra Country Blues & Roots Festival today for the 1978 country hit, which recently hit triple platinum status with 30,000 copies sold.

"It's so hard to believe that people who are not from this country can keep track of what I do. I am just an ordinary country boy and I can never believe that the award will happen to me. It's a big honour," Tan, 70, says in a telephone interview with Life!.

"I never expected that this song will be successful. But I guess people feel that they can relate to it because this country song is sung by an Oriental guy and the years of growing up in the song refer more to a Chinese childhood."

While the Lifetime Achievement Award was launched in 2010 and given to only Western country musicians such as Chad Morgan, Frank Ifield and Slim Newton, the Asia-Pacific Lifetime Achievement Award is being presented for the first time as part of the three-day festival in Canberra, Australia, now in its fifth year.

Festival director Kelvin Fahey, 65, who first heard the song in Singapore in the 1980s, says: "We feel encouraged to widen the scope of the awards and after hearing from the record label that Singapore Cowboy has hit triple platinum status and that Matthew is the hottest Asian country singer, it's natural that he will win.

"Not only is Singapore Cowboy a catchy song that you can dance to, but Matthew is also very passionate about country music and looks after his fans."

Tan is the only Asian among the line-up of country musicians invited to this year's festival. He will perform three songs today - Darling, Take Care Of Yourself, Darling and, of course, Singapore Cowboy.

The father of two gained a huge following in the 1970s as the frontman of his quintet, Matthew And The Mandarins.

After securing a prestigious deal with EMI Singapore in 1978, the local country group toured and performed in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand as well as the United States, mainly Colorado, Houston, Nashville and Oklahoma. They released seven albums over 20 years, and some of their other hits include Let's Put The Sing In Singapore and covers of country hits such as Daytime Friends and Lucille.

While the band may have undergone several changes after some members left due to family commitments, Matthew And The Mandarins, now a four-member band, are still going strong, especially among the older generation who know them as the pioneers of the traditional country genre here.

With cousin and lead guitarist Michael Png, 66, drummer Patrick Favacho, 59, and bassist Rawi B Omar, 60, the band still receive requests to perform at private company events, birthdays and weddings, on top of their regular Friday gigs at Serangoon Garden Country Club.

Tan was also the subject of the 2012 documentary, Singapore Country, by home-grown director Wee Li Lin.

Tan says: "I want to keep the music and genre alive and known... I will pitch in to push talented musicians to pursue traditional country music."

plow@sph.com.sg