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An Easter Sermon

Terrence Davin (far left, at the drums) aged 15 or 16, with Rego and his Rhumba Boys in Rawalpindi. The picture was taken in the courtyard of an Anglo-Indian home where they played for a wedding reception.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been 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 his wonderfully detailed story:

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.

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India Was a Revelation

“I’m a ‘dance’ band drummer, always was, and always will be.” That’s what 87-year-old Roy Holliday declares on his Facebook page, and the way he’s playing the drums in that clip, it’s clear that he intends to keep beating the skins for a long time to come. Holliday lives in the UK and stumbled upon the Foxtrot website because he was trying to locate Indian jazz musicians he met in the hill station of Mussoorie in the summer of 1947, months before Partition. He’d come to India earlier that year as a member of the Royal Air Force.

He’s been kind enough to let me reproduce a section from his as-yet-unpublished memoir:

“India was a revelation, from the moment we landed the air was filled with exotic sights, sounds and smells. Our first two days in Bombay were spent aboard the ship as the transit camp at Worli was not ready to receive us. We were however allowed ashore to do some sight-seeing and I even managed to escape the heat in an air-conditioned cinema. But we were not prepared for the poverty and the sight of thousands of people sleeping in the streets.

There were many other cultural changes for us and at our transit camp we became acquainted with the old colonial system which was still in operation at that time. We were allocated to billets each containing 16 beds, with two Indian servants or ‘bearers’ to clean our shoes and press our uniforms. The days here were spent in idleness, after a morning parade and breakfast we scanned the notice board to see if the daily orders contained details of our postings, and if your name did not appear, the day was yours to spend as you pleased. Many of us passed the day at Breach Candy, a swimming pool with a bar and waiters to bring ice-cold drinks to your reclining chair at the poolside.
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Rudy Rides Again

This photo, featuring Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn shaking hands with the great tenor saxophone player Rudy Cotton in Delhi in 1963, was sent to me recently by Percy Khatow, the Indian musician’s son. As regular readers of this site know, Rudy Cotton was born Cawas Khatau and descended from a long line of producers of Parsi drama. I had the pleasure of speaking to Percy Khatow briefly when I visited the UK last fortnight. Though he has a condition that makes it difficult for him to conduct long conversations, Percy called to ask if I’d received the photos and brochures he’d taken the trouble to email me.
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