An Easter sermon

In 2013, I started exchanging mail with Terrence Davin, a retired pastor from British Columbia, in Canada, who spent his youth making music in north India. He tracked me down after I appeared on a radio programme in Australia. Here, this Easter weekend, is the wonderfully detailed story he sent me then:

"I was a musician in India for a while. I was born in 1928 in a small town named Kundian in the North Western Province of then British India.  My father, an Irishman, worked on the North Western Railway and was stationed there for a while, my mother was an Anglo-Indian.  We eventually moved to Rawalpindi where I attended the Station School for my early education and then the (co-ed) Presentation Convent for standards 5 & 6.  I finally ended up with a private tutor and passed the matriculation exam.

I started playing drums at an early age. One of my English school friends had a mini-set and I got a chance to practice on it and we would play along with the records, old 78s in those days.  Then we formed a three piece band to amuse ourselves and entertain his parents.  I played harmonica, he the drums and my brother converted and old metal bath tub into a bass.  We were about 11 or 12 years old at that time and still in school.

I made some progress with the drums I guess because when the drummer for Rhondo’s band (they played for the Telegraph Club) was ill, Mr. Rhondo asked me to stand in.  I used to go to their dances and sit close to the drummer, a Filipino, and watch him play and occasionally he would let me play for a piece or two.  He was somewhat old-fashioned but very regimented!  I guess that’s how Rhondo knew I could play even though I was just a teenager, still in school.  I began to be called to stand in quite often and what I earned for those one night gigs helped to pay my private tutor.

I remember that I also played for a Coelho’s band.  He played the violin. Also for a D’Costa’s band (he played banjo).  D’Costa had two Muslim musicians who used to play for the Punjab Police band at one time, a father and son, playing alto and tenor saxophone.  They couldn’t read nor write English as I remember, so we did have some difficulty telling them which pieces we were going to play. We had to hum the tune for them to catch on, which became somewhat humorous at times.  We played at the Astoria ballroom.

I recall one embarrassing incident involving these two musicians when we were served the customary nightly refreshments in the way of sandwiches at the Astoria.  The men were hungry and the sandwiches were ham, being Muslim they refused to eat them which was understandable, and their stand should have been respected, but the Astoria refused to serve an alternative.  After some wasted words, the two musicians, surprisingly, grabbed the plate and hungrily consumed the sandwiches behind the stage drapes.  They must have been ravenous!

Then Mr. Rego, who had a band called Rego and His Rhumba Boys, visited me one day and asked if I would play the drums for his band.  I told him I didn’t own a drum-set and he said he would buy one if I agreed to play for him.  I agreed to do so and that was the start of my getting involved on a regular basis as a drummer.  We played at the Astoria Ballroom two or three times a week and also at the “Chota” Club occasionally.  There was a “Burra” Club there as well, the names indicate social status, I guess. The former was an outdoor dance floor, but I can’t recall who ran these clubs.  We also played for dances at the Westridge Railway Institute.  Batson’s Band played at the “Burra” Club permanently.

These were the war years and we had, not just the British army and RAF around, but also Americans and some Australians as well.  I met up with quite a few musicians who were in the forces and some of them were really good. I remember there was a Batson’s Swing Band and a Nick Slabodian Band around in Rawalpindi during those days.

It was in 1945 that Rego asked me to stay with his band and go to Srinagar for the season and I did.  We played at Sam’s Hotel in Gagribal Point, overlooking the Dal Lake.  Not having taken any music lessons as such, I did have a rough time complying with the requirements of some of the cabaret artists that were performing there and almost resigned on the spot. Rego talked me into staying because of his contract and I did.  I met the Jenkin’s Troupe there.They were performing at another hotel but would come to our hotel to dance after they had performed at their hotel.  Our band consisted of a trumpet, two saxes (alto and tenor) piano bass and drums.  The bass player doubled on violin and Rego on the piano and accordion.  All of the musicians were from Goa.

After we finished the season at Kashmir we returned to Rawalpindi and played at Gay’s Restaurant almost every night. Not long after that, I decided to quit the band and join the 501 Command army workshop, where a cousin of mine worked, and do an apprenticeship in radio maintenance.  I understood that Rego was deducting an amount from my pay every month as an instalment towards my purchasing the drum set from him but was shocked to discover he had sold it to someone else.  That was one of the reasons at the time that I thought to quit the music business. But when the Jenkins Troupe showed up and allured me into joining them playing guitar, which I had taken up a few years before that time, I was back.

Terrence Davin with Denzil Wheller.

We played for dances almost every night at Sam’s Hotel in Rawalpindi.  We had a pretty good pianist by the name of Jimmy Manuel who was quite helpful explaining the guitar chords for various songs and I was into playing rhythm guitar.  We had two guitars, an amplified mandolin (unique), drums and piano.  When the contract was over the Troupe asked if I would continue with them on tour.  They did cabaret items as well as music and I was involved doubling on drums for some items.

I resigned from the army workshop, to the disappointment of my English captain who was my supervisor who said, “Do you really want to do this and give up your possible career in electronics?”  Without hesitation I said yes.  Shortly after that the Troupe was on its way to Karachi. That was 1946.

We toured all over, Hyderabad (Sind) and several other places, playing at carnivals as well.  Finally went to Lahore and were doing cabaret at the Stiffles.  A small band played there, their leader was a Joe (somebody) [NF: most likely “Jazzy” Joe Pereira] who played clarinet like Benny Goodman, Bingo (Munnu) Ross was on drums and Jimmy Manuel, who left the Troupe in Rawalpindi, was on piano.  They were a good combination.  Nick Slabodian had a new band and was playing at the Standard hotel, I last saw him in Rawalpindi.

I was reminded by Fred Jenkins that the last time they were in Lahore, Tau Moe’s band was playing there and Ike Isaacs was his guitarist.  They raved so much about Ike that made me I want to hear him. When I was in Rawalpindi and had just started with Rego’s band I recall he spoke about Ike and Reuben Solomon, apparently Rego had been in Burma too.  I did have an old record of Reuben’s band with Ike on guitar and one of the songs was, My Gal Sal. I liked the sound of his guitar, that’s when I got a guitar and started to learn to play on my own.  The Troupe’s next move was to Mussoorie where we did cabaret at Hackman’s Hotel.

Rudy Cotton was at the other ballroom, I don’t remember the name. Benny Figueiredo and his band were at Hackman’s Hotel. He played drums.  I used to spend time with Carl Lord, Rudy’s drummer [NF: Real name Cawas Lord]. He was a Parsi like Rudy. Carl was a good drummer and into tablas as well.  Rudy asked me to stand in for Carl one night when he was either sick, or had to be away for some reason.  It was a privilege to play with Rudy’s band and I discovered that Rudy could play trumpet as well.  His trumpet player was an Anglo-Indian named Noel Pappy who played quite well.  I got friendly with him because we were dating two sisters at the same time. They lived in Mussoorie.

After we left Mussoorie we went to Simla and were there for a short while, can’t remember what we did there.  Eventually we went to Meerut where Joe Jenkins, one of the family, contracted typhoid and died.  I left the Troupe even though Fred Jenkins pleaded with me to stay as he needed me since his son had died.  I decided this “on-the-road-thing” and  lifestyle was not for me.

The Sunny Siders in Kanpur: Ben Issacs on piano, Saul Issacs on guitar, Denzil Wheller on guitar, maracas and vocals, and Terrence Davin on drums.

I went to where my parents were now living, Kanpur, and had the good fortune of meeting Saul and Ben Isaacs, Ike’s brothers and their parents who were living there at the time. [Click here to read about the Issacs and the Solomons, Baghdadi Jewish musicians who had fled Burma during the war.] The boys, Saul and Ben, had got a small four-piece band going, Saul playing guitar (pretty good too) and Ben on piano.  There were another two with them, Denzil Wheller who played rhythm guitar and sang, and a drummer whose name I forget. It wasn’t long before I joined this combo taking over drums.  I was thrilled to be involved with the brothers of Ike Isaacs, the guitarist whom I greatly admired. I play guitar as well but nowhere in his or Saul’s class.

In our gigs at clubs and the Railway Institute in Kanpur we had Ken Cummins stand in with us a few times, a tremendous jazz violinist.  The name Ben chose for our combo was The Sunny Siders and our theme song was, very obviously, On the Sunny Side of the Street.  We were by no means famous or great but we enjoyed playing together and sharing our talents with folk who seemed to prefer our band over another bigger one.

Later, the Isaacs family left for the U.K., where Ike was at the time and was already making headway with some of the big bands and eventually doing programs on B.B.C.  and TV  as well.  My life was to change  after the Isaacs departed.  I took my theological training, starting in Vincent Hill College, Mussoorie, for the first year and finished my B.R.E. at Spicer Memorial College at Kirkee, Poona. I graduated in ’55 after Seminary Ext. School and was assigned to intern in Bombay. I was there until ’57 and then went to work in Jabalpur. I left for the U.K. in ’59.  I married my college sweetheart there in ’63, worked there until ’67 and then left for Canada where my first church assignment was in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for about five years. I finally moved to British Columbia, where I retired in ’96.

I am still involved in music but mainly religious music, playing guitar and chromatic harmonica.  I also play trumpet but not efficiently as I don’t practice very much.  I am also involved with singing solos and with groups, quartets and choirs occasionally.  I also currently chair the music committee for our churches’ annual week-long camp meeting at Hope, British Columbia, where the attendance during the week is between 5,000-6,000 and on week-ends up to 8,000.  I am still very active in my local church.  At 84, I still play competitive badminton twice a week and just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

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