Sunday, November 04, 2007

Halucinating Harold

Golden Clef
a good yearly award

Harold Seneviratne

They say that in his halcyon days Harold Seneviratne was a dominant force in our music scene. Given another opportunity to relive his life and you can bet he'd choose to be a musician, although he very nearly ended up being a full time planter on a tea estate.

But family circumstances, the loss of his father in his early years thwarted that move and looking back he is glad he had to become a musician because he found happiness and popularity with his dance band the Harold Seneviratne Combo.

Fifty three years in Sri Lanka's show biz and as we know, Harold was a dominant personality in the many facets of the "there's no business like show business." The dance band's career in Sri Lanka the combo's outings overseas, the musical backing for countless foreign acts, the regular radio broadcasts, the record releases (then it was 45 rpm) the programme series that were Harold Seneviratne specials, and his years as Entertainment Manager, is history now.

In recognition of his vast contribution to the music industry in Sri Lanka and his appreciative moves to put our island very definitely on the map then, in the world of music, the Sunday Observer honoured him with the Golden Clef Award 2002. What is his comment?

"It was a great idea to bring back the Golden Clef. We need more quality musicians. Most of our good musicians have gone out of the country or given up playing. It is a good to have the awards yearly, provided there is a bigger turn out of musicians. It is a pity most of our young musicians use keyboards with programming. If they could play the drums, guitar live that would mean we are progressing because we need to progress and keep the industry alive and bristling."

A student of St. Peter's College and extremely active in the Music, drama and Arts Society, Harold learnt the violin as a start to his musical career. "My two brothers Tissa - drums and Chandra - bass, we studied under Papa Menezes. I learnt piano as well, then switched to the sax and mastered it in three months." What followed swiftly in a scene that was highly competitive at that time what with foreign bands playing here, was the birth of the Harold Seneviratne Combo and its launch at the Pigalle Night Club in 1953.

"Those were the days when ballroom dancing was in vogue and my combo comprised Nimal Mendis - piano, Sepala Alles - violin and my brother Tissa on drums. We had to play from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and I was there for about an year before I moved out to play at Mubarak Thaha's Atlanta night club, with a change of personnel. Patrick Nelson and Raife Jansz alternated on piano and my two brothers Chandra played bass, while Tissa continued on drums.

We had to frequently back foreign acts - singers and dancers which kept us on our toes," Harold reminisces. Perhaps a major highlight in his career was when the Combo was invited to play at the Orchid Room and Greenhouse at Victoria Park, by the famous impresario Donovan Andree. The Combo here too had to back many foreign acts including the popular 'In My Little Room' Tony Brent.

The popularity of the Combo escalated and the band was a much sought after one for all the leading corporate dances relayed often by Radio Ceylon that were frequently held not only in Colombo but in the 'outstations' as well. There were other prestigious highlights in Harold's career.

The band opened at the Little Hut, Mt. Lavinia in '60, at the Taprobane Grill Room in '63, the Blue Leopard in '69 and the Cat's Eye night club at the InterContinental Hotel in '73. The personnel in his band changed over the years and at the well patronised Cat's Eye he had with him Patrick Nelson - piano, Shanthi Seneviratne - drums, Adrian Ariyaratne - bass, Myfanwy de Silva, Sam Nathan - vocals and Anil Samarawickrema - guitar.

But above all, the Combo gained international status when Harold played at the Taj, Oberoi, Intercontinental New Delhi from 1970-72. "Biky Oberoi and Gautum Khanna directors of Oberoi invited me to play after hearing us at the Blue Leopard and in New Delhi we had absolute response.

We broke all sales records of the dining room patronised daily by politicians, film stars and international personalities. Usha Iyer performed with me, and my band then comprised Patrick Nelson - piano, Tom Menezes - trumpet/Tissa Seneviratne - drums, Nizam Adahan - guitar, Malcolm de Kauwe - vocals/bass, and Royce Paes - trumpet and bass," recalls a happy smiling Harold. There were overseas performances like, to London at the Sherton Tower, Hong Kong at Regent with Jetliners and Dubai International.

Other mumerous moments in Harold's career were too many to record here. But we can't pass by without mentioning his recording sessions on 45 rpm for our singers.

Cherry Blossom Tree and Goodnight Kisses by the Jay Brothers, Kandyan Express by Nimal Mendis, Oh My Lover by Sandra Edema, Champagne Blues - featuring Edgar Hebber and Butterfly in the Rain by Cliff Foenander to name a few, all popular hits on radio.

Music lovers will recall quite naturally his eagerly awaited special programme series 'Golden Oldies' and 'Yesterday Once More.' Harold's committed love for music saw him accept posts of Manager Taprobane, Little Hut, Mt. Lavinia and Director Entertainment Hilton Colombo to share his expertise with the Managements, which further escalated his popularity.

But behind all this vast success in his music career Harold confesses proudly is his wife Barbara. "We are together forty seven years and we did it through thick and thin. She is the wind beneath my wings!"

[Sunday Observer, June 1 2003]

'Golden Dance Medley's' by Harold Seneviratne

Veteran Musician released his very first compact disc 'Golden Dance Medleys last week.

The name, Harold Seneviratne, is synonymous with vintage music of a very high quality, which has held Sri Lankan fame enthralled for several decades.

His new CD and audio comprises ten dance medleys from Waltz, Cha-cha, Latin, Ballroom, Samba, Rumba to bailas.

'Oh My Papa', 'Sail Along Silvery Moon', 'In My Little Room', 'Side By Side', 'On the Street, Where You Give', Tennessee "Waltz". "It's a Long Way to Tipperery", 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Que Sera', 'Quando', 'La Paloma', 'Brazil', 'Marina' are some of the old favourites featuring on this latest album of Harold.

The musical backing for this 'Golden Dance Medley's' by Harold himself with his Atto Sax along with Duncan Clyde on drums, Hilary Christie on Key Boards, Clifford Andrews on guitar, Darion Perera on guitar, Ranjan De Silva on bass and Malcolm De Zilva on Tenor Sax.

The CD and audio is a production of Torana music and it is available at all Torana outlets.

Harold took to music at the tender age of thirteen while still at his "Alma Mater" St. Peter's College. Two names he can never forget are those of "Papa" Menezes and Donovan Andree, who nurtured his talent and encouraged him tremendously in his musical career.

His performances at the Silver Fawn night club the Orchid Room, the GOH and New Delhi, just mention a few venues are now legendary. Horold has had the honour of playing before such international personalities as Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Jack Tea Garden and Red Nichols and the Five Pennies. He has also provided the musical backing for his school-mate Bill Forbes, The Golden Gate' quartet, Tony Brent, The Blue Diamonds and other top flight international artistes.

[TV Times Dec 15 2002]

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