Singing my way to 82
It was in the early 1940s. I was asked to join the Colombo Chetty
Carol and sing with my cousins and relatives. We were all eight to 12
year olds singing soprano we were impish and quite a handful but we were
tolerated and loved by our elders. We were trained in our venue Mater
Dolarosa Church. New Chetty Street, Kotahena by our uncle Joe Perumal we
sang fair voices and our carol was so appreciated that after midnight
mass at the Cathedral, the church yard would be full of eager people
awaiting to hear us singing our carols. I sang in the carols till I was
In 1951 a friend of mine organised a picnic and invited me as a
guest. Don't forget your guitar Well! Come Sunday Morning I got tagged
up in my chequered short and black bamboo longs and wormed my way to the
It was half full. A man in a centre seat was playing a guitar end
singing. Our eyes met in mutual consent. I liked his playing and
singing. He was singing one of Hank Snow's originals "Breeze you blew my
I sat close by and waited till he finished. I said, "It's an ill wind
that blows nobody good they say. It blew your get away" "Just wait till
Hank sings "changing of the tide" "Then what?" "She'll sail right back
"I like your style". He laughed and so did I. I like your playing and
singing. " DO you like country music?" He asked me." I was practically
wormed and weaned on it. I said,
"Will you sing something. I like to listen to you." "Okay" I played
my own version of an introduction and song "Silver Haired Daddy". I was
surprised when he played variations and sang seconds. He played an
interlude which was fabulous.
We bit it off like a polatthu house on fire. We because thick pals
like Darby and Joan. We both had a similar sense of humour. I asked him,
"Do you know wonderful child."
"Go on! Did I know her and how! Her fingertips, her ruby lips her big
blue eyes and all her other assets. She was my old girl friend." And he
laughed and so did I and I said, "That makes two of us" she was mine
I tuned my guitar to his and by now we had a bus full of young ones.
We had a nice day. When we came back he invited me to his place. His
name was Melroy. His dad was the Mutwal post master. The next Sunday
morning I went to his place. We sang a few songs and his dad said. "You
boys are too good to be amateurs. Why don't you sing on that radio
program Weeraratne's amateur Hour"? Melroy and I looked at each other
and unanimously said, "why not". We were called and we sang, we sure did
justice to our old girlfriend "Wonderful Child".
Melroy played the introduction and interludes and I played
accompaniment. It wasn't second to the original record and our voices
blended perfectly. The audience gave us a standing ovation.
The compere requested us to entertain the audience after the hour was
We sang to a full hall in Radio Ceylon. A gentleman who was a keen
listener gave us our first professional appearance. At the Boy Scout
Headquarters variety show we were encored and sang about four songs. The
compere was the gentleman who gave us our first break.
Now the time had come to do justice to our old friend. She was a lone
star cowgirl in a cowboy group. We called ourselves the forestars. We
sang just two voices two guitars with band support.
Till 1954 we sang professionally in several shows, parties and
dances. In 1954 I got employed in a private hospital. I was keen on
becoming a pharmacist.
Time didn't permit me to carry on my musical career. Melroy too was
busy with his studies at the Technical College. I qualified from the
Medical College as a pharmacist and Melroy became a court stenographer.
In 1958 I joined one of the three large department stores in the
heart of Colombo Fort as a storekeeper in the drugs department. Melroy
had to travel outstations and that curtailed our meetings. A clerk who
was a music lover had seen me and spread the word around. In a short
while I had a host of friendly guys and gals, nearly all burghers. There
was one special young girl who was a lover of country music. She wanted
to sing on Radio Journal and wanted me to accompany her on the guitar.
When it was broadcast all our pals working with us said we were very
good. I was busy playing for Hectors Canyon Cowboys and Hawaiians.
I remember Hector and the late great Sinhala screen actress and
singer Rukmani Devi singing a duet for a Radio Hawaiian program. "The
Moon of Manakuda" I played the rhythm guitar. She was fabulous and so
was Hector on the electric Hawaiian guitar.
In the good old days we had only mono amplifiers. I sang for one
show. The White Blossoms of Thanhani and "The Duke Kahanamaku." A cousin
who lives with us asked me if I knew the Duke." Sure," I replied. He
conquered all the waters and became the king of swimmers, and I'll ad "Ohiniya
The Hawaiian islanders composed this in his honour. I am almost
certain it was Garney Nyss who was a Hawaiian.
He played the Electric Hawaiian guitar and his Hawaiian group was
popular. Getting back to Kahanamoku. He was Olympic 100 mts swimming
goldmedallist in 1921. In 1922 Johnny Weissmuller broke the Dukes record
in 58.6 seconds.
In 1924 he beat the Duke at the Summer Olympics, won the gold medal
and became the king of swimmers. After Hector Edirisinghe disbanded and
called it a day, I played for Berty Dias and his Hawaiian Serenader and
the Harlem Combo. We played for shows and club rights. Berty played the
electric guitar Hawaiian and I played the electric bass guitar. We
played a few tunes at the Capri Club.
One young woman who worked with me in the drug department wanted to
enter a singing contest. We decided to sing as a duo. We entered as
"Joni and Nina" and sang a calypso "Longtime boy and Love is an Ocean of
Emotion." The two voices blending with one guitar.
A few days later Derek Cramer (local Jerry Lewis) offered us a spot
on his show. 'Saturday Club Night at the Kandy Lake Club. We sang for
all Derek's shows in Kandy while it lasted.I was very happy that the Los
Caballeros were on the same show. Neville Fernando was one of the nicest
I have met. In my book he was the best Spanish guitarist and singer. We
called it a day, permanently. Nina sailed away down under and so have
nearly all the others.