Memories are made of this- A tribute to the Music Scene of the 60’s Colombo compiled by; Prins James Alagaratnam- Toronto
The passing of Stanley Arnold, member of “The Four Chords” singing group of the sixties, prompted reminiscent memories, imbibing over a bit of red with friends from the same period of time. We travelled back, remembering the Colombo Music Scene of the 60’s and the artists, and promoters responsible for bringing great entertainment to Colombo and the suburbs. At a time, devoid of Television in Sri Lanka, the only entertainment available were live stage shows events, or the radio. Stanley, never stopped singing. Colombo audiences will recollect the renditions of “Little Eyes I love you” and “Cha Boom” delivered at their many appearances. The Four Chords later disbanded and Victor Gamalathge continued performing duets with his wife as “Christine and Victor”, subsequently emigrating to Australia. Stanley immigrated to Toronto, Canada and continued singing in his church choir and for a little while sang with my brother Steve, myself and friends, Shane, Louis, Fred, and late Raj, starting off the Monks “R “Us singing group.
Ishan Bahar and the Jetliners
Colombo, Kandy and other venues enjoyed a wide musical treat in the early sixties, with an array of bandsmen, singing groups, singers and musicians. Ishan Bahar is now in his third book of compilations of “A Heritage of Song” with contributions from many artists of that era and more. Well known bandsman Dallas Achilles from down under collaborated in the project. Ishan propelled to popularity with the Jetliners and was an instant hit from his first appearance with the Jets at St. Peter’s College hall in 1962’s “Showboat”. Four of the Jetliners backing Ishan, were Lucien Perera (lead), Harris Juranpathy (drums) both deceased, Felix Fernando(bass), and Anton Lunuwijeya (rhythm). The Jetliners went on to become Sri Lanka’s first super group under the wing of Tony Fernando as their manager. Tony added more talent to the Jets with versatile songstress Mignonne Rutnam, and then, Loretta Koch. Mignonnes late sister – Antoinette, and a host of male vocalists and musicians would follow in their international appearances. Mignonne, a multitalented musician, composed several original hits. More super beat groups would follow in the Colombo music scene. To name the forerunners there was Marci Perera’s “Spitfires” from Colombo north, and Earl Arnolda’s “The Fireflies”, Between these two groups the talented bros Tilet and Chinthi together with Nalaka, were the originals Spits. The Fireflies had musicians of the calibre of Anton de Mel, Darrel de Silva, and late Milroy de Silva who recently passed away in Canada. These groups were heavily booked for the sundown dances in the Colombo nightspots. Savage popularizing “The Beatles” music, hit the Colombo scene in the late 60’s with Raj, Evan, Nizar.
Mascarilla, Coconut Grove, Little Hut, Rainbow room, Spotted Deer, Blue Leopard, Akase Kade, Flame Room, Club 388, Capri were popular venues where the “hip set” would meet. One remembers and pays tribute to the Radio Hosts, DJ, announcers, comperes who helped foster the music scene of that era. There was Chris Greet, Vernon and Vijay Corea, Steve Alagaratnam, Clive Rodrigo, Mallory Walles, Derrick Maloney, Bob Harvey, Dudley Petera, Barry Wittington (a.k.a. Witty Barrington) appearing live on stage. Household names such as Jimmy Barucha, Tim Horshington, Ronnie Campbell, Errol Alphonso, Eardley Perera, Shirley Perera, Livy Wijemanne, Leon Belleth, Nihal Barethi, Tommy and Mahes Perera, June Boralessa, Myrle Walpola on Radio as well promoting the songs of the artists of the time. Television had not arrived in Sri Lanka in the 60’s. The voices on the airwaves were welcomed in our homes. They were friendly, mellow and welcome. A five cent postcard got your name announced on the three hour “Sunday’s Choice” or weekly “Housewives choice”. Prosper Fernando, and Mylvaganam lead the voices in the Sinhala and Tamil stations.
Cliff Foenander left our shores early and together with Bill Forbes are two Ceylonese musicians who would find fame outside of our shores. Bill an old Peterite appeared on the British talent show “Oh Boy”, and made such hits as “God’s Little Acre”, “Too Young” which topped the British charts and the local hit parade. Bill recorded many more popular songs, including “Ladies of Calcutta” and “Achcha England” under his pseudonym of Kal Khan. Cliff first recorded “Butterfly in the rain” accompanied by the Harold Seneviratne combo and went onto gain international fame singing with “The Fabulous Echoes” in the Las Vegas circuit. His rendition of “A little bit of soap” topped the local hit parade. Many more hits would enjoy airtime. Cliff together with the “Echoes” toured the far east and went on to Vegas, even appearing on the Ed Sullivan show. Cliff succumbed to health problems and passed away in 2000. Others of Lankan heritage who brought international recognition are Keith Potger with the Seekers, jazz vocalist and actress, Yolande Bavan of Lambert, Hendriks, Bavan fame and Kamahl who migrated to Australia from Malaysia, is still heard over the airwaves, and continues to be active in the music scene down under. Tony Gomes, keyboard artist of the “Foundations” with their gold disc “Build me up Buttercup” is another Lankan, making music in the U.K.
One of the early promoters of these shows was, Donovan Andree, who had many performers booked at “The Orchid Room”. Donovan’s showmanship brought “Holiday on Ice”, The Big Circus and The Fantastic Fillipinos, including many others entertainers to Colombo audiences. It is interesting to note, that of the last troupe, Frankie Ferrer (Juggler) partnered with Rosemary Ferdinands (sister of bandsman Adrian), continuing onwards to Las Vegas. Eileen Martin, The Mambo Queen settled down in Colombo and together with Tony Fernando helped run “Tony’s record bar” at the top of Bullers Road, Bambalapitiya. Donovan’s sons and family Elmo, Malcolm, Eryn de Selfa- Ramona Carr continued his legacy after his demise. Many artists credit their journey into the pop scene to his son, the late Malcolm Andree, the entertainment manager at the Stadium. The Stadium, at station Road, Bambalapitiya featured such names as Jimmy Weerasinghe (Red sails in the sunset) and Platters repertoire, Loretta Olhmus, “ An evening in Roma”, Doreen Stewart “Secret Love”, Larraine Hoffman. The Jay Bros– The late Perin and his brother Dr.Geri Jayesekera (now retired in Colombo) with their hit record “Cherry Blossom Tree” and other popular duets of the day. Even Your’s truly performed as “Steve & James”- singing the hit of that time “Massachusetts”. Whenever spotting one of us on Galle road, Bamabalpitiya, Malcolm would hum Massachusetts.
Of special mention, the multi-talented Menezes Family combo with “papa Menezes on Sax at the helm, supported by his kids, Miki on piano, Tom on drums and daughter Helen were booked for weddings and special occasions. Helen teamed up with hubby Ronny to continue performing as the Helen Lucas combo. Ralph entered medical college and formed a beat group, “The Heartbeats” comprising undergrad contemporaries, Desmond Collins (Rhythm Guitar), Desmond de Silva (Bass Guitar), Lalith Perera (Lead Guitar), Srinimal Samaranayake (Organ) & Roger Menezes (Drums). Roger Menezes a grandson and talented musician, played with the Jets and Spitfires.
As a swing band, Harold Seneviratne with brother Tissa on drums were heavily booked for stage, dances, and special events. Other families of musicians included the Coomarevel, and Manickavasagar brothers, The Manricks, The Mortimer families, the Hofmann siblings, and the Pompeus family. Myfanwy Lewis and son Joey doing their inimitable renditions of popular jazz and pop were often featured on Radio and in the nightclub scene. The brothers Desmond, Frank, and Eden Pompeus, the latter well known as a trumpeter together with the late Malcolm de Zylwa, Dallas Achilles, Edgar Heber appeared with many bands at popular night spots. Nihal Samarasinghe (A.K.A. Sam the Man and his Gaylords) was a popular band of the time. He would later popularize the “sing-a-long” sessions which many looked forward to. Sadly Sam the man left us a few years ago.
A popular singing group of that time, The Italiares comprised reputed singers in their own right. There were Reggie Perumal, Bede de Zylwa, Basil Joseph and Rajah Christopher all singing with the Choral society and the Italiares, rendering Neapolitan airs and popular four part harmonies. One of their signature tunes was “Granada” sung with typical classical gusto, that would have given quite a run to current recording artists such as “El Divo”, even “Il Voglo”. Each one was a sought after musician in his own right. Bede’s solos at St.Mary’s Church, Bambalapitiya were in demand for all weddings solemnized there. Reggie was the resident tenor at St. Lucia’s Cathedral. Rajah’s bass could be heard from the choir lofts at St. Philip Neri in Fort. Basil, a violinist in the symphony orchestra of Colombo, appeared in semi lead roles in many a musical at the Lionel Wendt theatre. Basil, returned to Sri Lanka after a long musical sojourn in California. The Italiares were backed by the Joy Ferdinando quintet. Joy’s daughters, “The Ferdinando sisters” were regular performers at concerts especially at Good Shepherd Convent, their alma mater. Kotahena and Colombo north gave us the Gerry Crake combo and his daughter vocalist Heather, and Peter Prins Combo. Another singing duo of the era was “Denzil and Bosco”, both Benedictines. Denzil and Bosco being old Bens, were featured performers at many concerts in Colombo north. Bosco’s niece Shyami Fonseka and later, as the Fonseka sisters were then coming into the local scene.
As a promoter one also remembers Mubarak Thaha, who brought down a lot of international performers. The “Continental Follies” performed at the Tropicana and concurrently Thaha ran a talent contest in which Steve, Brian Fernando and I sang as “The Nightingales”- rendering standard pop harmonies. The contest was won by Kumar Molligoda with “The Flamingoes”. Kumar’s rendition of “One night with you” clinched the win. The Nightingales were runners up. Kumar on saxophone with his band would continue as the resident musicians at the Mascarilla, Galle Face Hotel, taking over from bandsman Tony Felice. Mr. Thaha had an entertainment club “The Atlanta”, in Colpetty. It was here that the Cuban dance sensation Arsenio Alexander and his partner performed nightly. Arsenio stayed on and co-produced Sinhala dance dramas with our very own Chitrasena dancers.”. There were other notable entertainers, Derryck Cramer, Jimmy Peck, Athur Speldewinde and the Cadets, from whence Claude Selvaratnam and the Esquire set emerged.
We owe gratitude to Maurice Roche Ltd, then agents for Philips records who brought down their artists such as “The Blue Diamonds” and Tony Brent to concerts at St. Peter’s College hall. The U.S.I.S fostered the music scene with “’Duke Ellington” and “The Brigham Young university” to entertain Colombo audiences at the open air grandstand of the Colombo racecourse.
In the early sixties, veteran singer Desmond Kelly with The Semitones were already well known in Ceylon, as was then known. Desmond was one of the pioneering artists migrating to Australia. Among his many hits, “Dream World” and “Cha Cha Baby” had the number one spot on the local hit parade, and enjoyed regular airing on Radio Ceylon’s commercial waves. Dreamworld went on to enjoy international success. Desmond is still busy in many projects and recently has written English lyrics to popular Sinhala songs such as the perennial baila “Hai Hoi Babi Achi” and “Dilhani”. The latter titled “My lovely Island Home”, a popular song played and enjoyed by expatriates at various get-together’s. Now an octagenerian, Desmond continues to be in touch with all his fans writing for E-Lanka on-line news and on Facebook. Sharing his music and new projects, we wish Mr.Music now domiciled in Melbourne, many more years of creativity.
Left to right below; Desmond Kelly (down under), a young Dalreen, Desmond De Solva in concert.
The 60’s saw the beginnings of teenager Dalreen singing with her mother Decima’s travelling tour “Decima presents”. Dalreen would later be the female vocalist with the ‘Fireflies” and is still very active (as Dalreen Suby) in the current music scene. Her daughter Debbie Arnolda inherited the musical talents of the family and was an up and coming artist in her own right.
One of the finest and popular entertainers of the era, is Desmond de Silva– crowned “Baila King”, who celebrated his “Golden Jubilee” in Show business. Desmond sang with the Fireflies, Spitfires, Jetliners, and his own group “The Clan”. Desmond lives in Sydney with wife Phyllis, and even today is globally sought after, all year around. Desmond is considered the finest entertainer from Sri Lanka. The late, Nimal Mendis and Winston Jayewardene worked with a lot of the artists in composing original tunes and recordings. Nimal’s composition of “Kisses in the Dark” sung by British songstress Mary Marshall was one of a list of popular compositions both western and local. Noeline Mendis ((later Hoenter) sang a popular tribute to “The City of Colombo” and Sandra Edema did her “Oh my lover”. Nimal with Adrian Ferdinands and other musicians produced a musical journey of “The Kandyan Express”. Indra Raj, Raj Jalaldeen, Lucien Perera, Claude and Nilu Fernando, Milroy Passe de Silva, Anton deMel, Winston and Stafford Tambimuttu, Desmond Shockman, were exceptional musicians who enhanced the music scene of the times.
During this period we enjoyed the concerts, dances, and shows featuring The Fireflies, Spitfires, Jetliners, Desmond and the Clan, Gabo and the Breakaways with Maurice Balasingham, Harold Seneviratne with Malcolm de Kauwe , Arden Nelson, Raddy Ferreira, Jeffrey Labrooy, Adrian Ferdinands, Sam the Man and the Gaylords, Savage, Amazing Grace, Saybhan and Tempo, with Sherwin Jayah, “Rhythm Knights”, “Talk of the Town”, Cass Ziard, Gazali Amit Combo,with Ahmed Miskin. Ahmed, a fine Jim Reeves exponent, met with a tragic road accident on Galle Road, Colpetty. Cass and Faleel Ziard were another band that featured the dynamic drumming of Faleel, whom we lost at an early age. Other bands that come to mind are the Patrick Nelson Combo, Tony Felice and the Sharps, both resident bands at leading Colombo clubs. Popular vocalists of the era include, Reggie Koch, Sanath Gunetilleke, Jimmy Mortomer, Andy Bavan. Sam Nathan, and Prins Rutnam. Prins was a popular feature at house parties in Colombo, and then gained prominence at “Loveliest nite of the year”, as the vocalist of the “Beatroutes” formed by versatile musician Nihal Basnayke. Loveliest nite of the year showcased the talent of Bambalapitiya youth, some of whom would go onto to continue performing. Beatroutes disbanded as their members migrated or moved onto other interests. The lead singers of many beat groups included Sohan Weerasinghe, Maxi Rozairo, Sohan Peiris, Conrad and Angelo de Silva, Budrin Musafer, and Alston Koch. Alston who continues singing and recently in collaboration with producer, Chandran Rutnam. has ventured onto the silver screen. Noelin Hoenter (Mendis), Priyanthi Manamperi, Shyami Fonseka, Maya Sittamapalam were the pick of female singers during this period.
There were the classical singers who as well entertained on our stages. Douglas and Estelle De Niese, Lorraine Abeyeskera, Lylie Godrirdge, Nihal Fonseka, Nimal Senaratne and the singing dentist Dr.Sathasivam come to mind. Nihal’s younger brother Trevins, Navaranjani Olagesekeram, Mary-Anne Roberts, Karen Gray would continue the musical tradition. Many singers owe thanks to Gerald and Joan Cooray, Inspector Gerry Paul, Fr.Ignatius Perera, Fr.Claver Perera, Rev. Lucien Perera, Russel Bartholomeusz, Aurthur VanLangenberg who trained and conducted many choirs and singers who performed regularly. The late Professors, Earl deFonseka and Valentine Basnayke were near and dear friends who fostered young musicians in the more serious genre. Many talented young musicians, the likes of Larry Landersz, Peter D’Almeida, Dwight VanGramberg, and Thaku Chugani who made up the Junior Rythmers, and more of a later era emerged in the form of Joey Lewis, Nihal Basnayke, Roger Menezies, Disti Meerac, Joe Tambimuttu, Basil and Alfo Paiva, Darrel and Milroy de Silva, late Sooriyakumar Weerasingham. All versatile musicians who lent their multi talents to many a leading group. One is amiss, not to include the name of Neville Fernando of “Los Caballeros” fame, and others like Annesley Malewana, Indrani Perera and her sisters, The Dharmaratne Brothers with their niece “Baby Shayami”, Clarence Wijewardene, C. T. Fernando, La Bambas, Eranga and Priyanga, Patrick Denipitiya combo, and many others who enriched the entertainment scene of this era. The Gypsies were a young group in the 60’s making inroads in the Colombo music scene. Thanks to the sponsorship of Mr.Anton Perera of Glucorasa, the Gypsies started off as a beat group playing Sinhala and English tunes. Today with their leader Sunil Perera, the Gypsies have sustained themselves internationally and are still popular in the Colombo Music scene. Mariezelle Goonetilleke and Ronnie Leach (till his sudden demise) were as well entertaining expats in the Middle east, Australia and beyond. We owe all these musicians gratitude for the talent they shared, and continue to entertain us. As the title explains, musicians and promoters of music during the 60’sI made this period unforgettable. This narrative may not have covered the many musicians before or after.