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A musical journey begins

Backtracks By Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, April 10, 2014

WATCHING his elder brother John deftly navigate the fret-board in the '50s, Gordon Rounds learnt how to play the guitar.

However, it would not be long before he would leave the six-stringed instrument in favour of four and took up the bass guitar.

"The double bass was a tougher proposition but by constant fingering of the strings combined with sound or playing by ear, I was able to attain the desired result," the septuagenarian shared.

"It took a great deal of practice and concentration because there was no tutoring in those days.

"In fact, much of the music played then was by ear which, for all those concerned, was a remarkable achievement."

In 1957, during his final years at Marist Brothers High School, Gordon Rounds got together with his schoolmates and began a musical group.

The band marked the beginning of a musical journey for Gordon and his brothers — John and Victor — and marked the birth of a legacy which continues to date with his niece Michelle and music prodigy nephew Abraham.

"In '57, my last year at Marist, my good friends and schoolmates, Steve Yaqona, Tevita Kabakoro, Luke Vakayadra and I formed a vocal group which we dubbed The Melody Spinners.

"We recorded at the then Fiji Broadcasting Commission and sang over the radio, which was quite exciting.

"But most of our performances were for charity events which brought us immense satisfaction."

The Melody Spinners sang acapella-style without instruments.

"We used our voices to sing the classics, our style was old-time barbershop harmony although we improvised later with the music of the day and with instrumental accompaniment."

Among his friends at the time was a very young Ken Janson. The duo spent hours talking about music and the evolution of the entertainment industry that was happening across the world at the time.

"His father had him destined for a career in medicine but Ken's heart was always in music.

"I enjoyed the many exchanges of ideas we had over lunch which came free for me as Ken's dad owned the restaurant.

"We often performed together as guests for other bands."

Later that year, the group recorded an extended play album backed by his brother's band.

"Unfortunately, Luke had left for studies in Australia at this stage.

"So the Melody Spinners backed by my eldest brother John's band — the Johnny Rounds Trio — recorded the album.

"We recorded four songs and two of the songs were written by Ted Beddoes, a fantastic songwriter and poet."

The Melody Spinners' recording coincided with the Hibiscus Festival and the group recorded a song that became the anthem for the annual carnival.

"The highlight for us was the song Miss Hibiscus.

"Lorraine Thurley was Miss Hibiscus at the time.

"And it was with her father Bob, an accomplished jazz guitarist, that John and I, together with Henry Lestro and his wife Emma (Davenport) Lestro, formed The Coulter Thurley Quintet.

"To this day, I can confidently say that Emma Lestro had one of the sweetest and silkiest voices I have ever heard."

In 1958, Suva was awash with live bands and music flooded the Capital City like a sonic tidal wave. And the Rounds brothers were in the thick of it.

"My brother John and his friends — Dan Davenport, Sonny and Lawrie Whiteside and Len Fretwell formed the Silhouettes, a slick dance combo with a great sound.

"David Grey and I joined the group later.

"The Silhouettes, however, weren't on their own as there was a plethora of equally great sounding groups like Jeffery Houng Lee and Noel Woo's Suva Swingers, Manu Korovulavula's Southern Brothers and the Flat Tops with Mickey and Lenny Joy, Skippy Samuels, Ben Stowers and Bill Saffings.

"There was also Alf Bentley and his Islanders, Faiz Ali and the Havana Boys, Henry and Theresa Purcell, Albert Bailey and Paul and their Korolevu Beach Serenaders and the up and coming legendary Tom Mawi just to name a few."

The '60s brought an end to the Rounds brothers' musical escapades in Fiji. In 1962, John and his fiance Barbara Bennett migrated to Australia. A year later, they were joined by the rest of the Rounds clan.

John and Gordon began performing around Sydney as the Rounds Brothers and eventually landed a few spots on television and scooped two Australian national talent awards.

"With John on guitar and me on the ukulele, we performed as a vocal and instrumental duo.

"We appeared several times on TV but performed more in clubs, dance venues, weddings and charity functions.

"On TV we were honoured to receive the people's choice award twice in a national talent show called Showcase.

"Unfortunately, we weren't able to pursue a musical career as John was heavily committed to a postgraduate university course and I had a job which involved being away most weeks of the year."

Any hope of a Rounds Brothers musical revival was lost when John passed away on New Year's Day in 1990 in Sydney.

"His legacy in music carries on in the form of eldest daughter and song stylist Michelle, who has made a name for herself on the international stage. After some years in Japan Michelle is now based in Cairo, Egypt."

During the height of the Rounds Brothers success, younger brother Victor was quietly honing his bass guitar skills while attending Marist College in North Sydney.

Victor has gone on to cement himself as one of Australia's leading bassists. He has toured with some of Australian music's biggest starts including Tina Arena and Jenny Morris supporting Tears for Fears and Prince in the '80s and '90s.

More recently, he toured with Larry Braggs from legendary US jazz-funk group Tower of Power and English pop star Rick Astley.

Victor is close to completing a Masters Degree in Music at the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney.

His son Abraham is on a three-year scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and at the completion of his studies this year will graduate with a Diploma in Performance.

While Gordon acknowledges his mother Bonita as one of his biggest musical influences, he recalls a chance meeting with a musician that he believes revolutionised music in Fiji.

"I must make mention here of a phenomenal, brilliant and gifted musician I had the greatest pleasure of meeting in Australia some forty years ago. His name was Sakiusa Bulicokocoko, a young man at the time with so much talent and so ahead of his game that I believe he played a major part in revolutionising music in Fiji to what it is today, a vibrant and refreshingly modern sound.

"His mastery of the guitar, ukulele, drums and vocals was something to behold.

"We continue to play his music today to remind us that here indeed was a musical genius, and he was born in Fiji.

"My utmost respect and admiration goes to all our musicians past and present with the knowledge that their contributions and subsequent achievements in this medium of entertainment will never be forgotten."

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