On a melodic reminiscence trip | Sunday Observer

On a melodic reminiscence trip

Dallas Achilles
Dallas Achilles

In town today and eager to meet up with his musician friends is Dallas Achilles, trumpeter, who cannot believe that he is here on Sri Lankan soil after 41 years. He is quite excited about this trip to his homeland and as he tells us, many things have changed but not the flavour of Sri Lanka. Dallas migrated to Oz in July 1974 with his wife Seeta who won the title of Miss Lanka in 1955 when she was Seeta Gunaratne. For 48 years they were extremely happy in their marriage, but sadly six years ago Seeta passed away and in Dallas’ words “it left a big hole in my life”. No doubt music helped to lesson the blow, because as of now Dallas is involved in music with well known Sri Lankan musicians domiciled in Australia. But more of that later. I was able to have a one-to-one with Dallas, before somebody dragged him off to play.

In the early years in Sri Lanka there were many talented bands and many exciting and expressive musicians who rocked the music scene. Who were they and how did your career in music start off?

“I belonged to a group of close friends in the late fifties and they included Ernie Walker who played clarinet and sax under the guidance of Mario Manricks and there was Ralph Mass who played clarinet and sax with the Morton Cole Combo. I was 15 years old at that time, studying at Wesley College, Colombo, and I felt a strange affinity towards the trumpet because no one in our group played it – and we were all big fans of the then successful Jonah Jones Quartet.

I managed to persuade my Dad to buy me a trumpet on instalment basis from Harmonics. Suffice to say I couldn’t get out a simple note! Thanks however to the great Tom Menezes who took me under his wing and showed me how to blow my first few notes. He even got me playing ‘Blue Moon’ at my first lesson under him. He was my hero!

Today in Sri Lanka musicians of trumpet players are few and far between, but as a point of interest who were your favourite trumpet players globally and also your current favourites including Australia – your second home?

“Internationally my favourite trumpet players were Jonah Jenes, Harry James, Eddie Calvert, Clark Teny, Miles Davis, Herb Alpert and of course Satchmo to name a few. While on the other hand my current favourites include Chris Botti, Chuck Mangione, Arturo Sandaval and of course our own Aussie legend James Morrison”.

To get back to your career here in Sri Lanka, I’m sure you could tell us more as to who were the bands you played with before you left to Oz?

“Three months after I learnt the trumpet, in 1960 I had the pleasure of playing a few gigs with the Morton Cole Combo under the leadership of Neville Gunasekera who is now domiciled in New Zealand. A few months later I was invited by Ivan Andree to become one of his 4 Sharps and that was an absolute heavenly period for me. When Ivan migrated to Oz, Ernie took over the leadership of the Sharps. A few years after, I joined the Raddy Ferreira Combo”.

You’ve had vast experience playing with so many bands here in Sri Lanka, when you went over to Oz 1974 what was the scene like for you?

“Well thanks to Ernie Walker I joined the Settlers band at the famous Swagman Restaurant.

Since then I had the pleasure of playing with Tyrone Senn’s Chameleon, Arthur Speldewinde’s Cascade, Anglo Indian groups New Heritage, Groovin Hi and After Dark also Sandra Jackson’s Replay 6. You will be happy to note that currently I’m involved with a Jazz Collective called Timeless that includes Sri Lankans Rod Jansz. Geoff LaBrooy, Horace Walker,Dr.Buddy Reid, Arden Nelson and a couple of Aussie musos. I’m also involved with a trio called ‘All About the Brass’ – 2 saxes and trumpet, comprising Derek and Juanita (Babs) Stewart and myself.”

The music scene in Oz is different to what is happening here in Sri Lanka and we hope that Dallas will carry away with him further exciting and memorably moments he had with the musicians during his short holiday with us.