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Backtracks: The Old Capital rocks to Bucknell's beat

Felix Chaudhary
Thursday, May 15, 2014

THUNDER, Rainbow, Ajit's Feelers and Asterix were some of the exotic names used by musicians in Levuka to christen their groups in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

At first glance, many of the young men who made up these groups would not be associated with the glitz and glamour associated with today's stars.

By day, many worked as tradesmen, fishermen, labourers or ran their little businesses. Come nightfall, steel-capped boots, overalls and work clothes were shed for jeans, shirts and shined shoes.

Some even sported neck ties and suits.

Hours of practice were put to use as these groups rocked the Old Capital as the masses poured in from all over Ovalau to Levuka Town, all in search of relaxation after a hard week on the job.

The Old Town Hall, Ovalau Club, Liberty Theatre, Levuka Club and even the municipal market were venues where music was played and people danced their worries away.

Arthur Bucknell remembers the time well.

As the grandson of one of Fiji's most prolific songwriters - Percy Bucknell - he grew up surrounded by music and musicians from a very early age.

So it was no surprise when he was asked to join a band that went by the name Thunder when he was a mere 14 years of age.

"My mother's brother, Nikolai Tabua, was part of the original band which included Gu Vananalagi on the lead guitar and Petueli Moli," he said.

"When the band broke up in the late '60s, he came and asked if I could join a new set of musicians to keep the band going," the now 60-year-old musician said.

"The group had to get my parents' permission because I was only 14 at the time."

The new look Thunder included Henry Fong on drums and his brother Joe on the guitar and Jimmy Peter was the main vocalist.

"We only played rock and roll songs and mainly tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival."

Because he found it difficult to hold the bass guitar, Bucknell was forced to sit on a chair and play it.

"I got paid $2 a night and that was big money at that time. My mother was concerned that someone would take the money from me so she used to keep it."

In 1970, Thunder opened the Levuka Club and later moved to the Ovalau Club and then to the oldest tourist spot in the Pacific, the Royal Hotel.

"Because the place was jam-packed when the band played, the owner - Edmond Ashley - sometimes asked us to play there for the whole week."

Thunder, being the only rock and roll band in Levuka at the time, was invited to perform at all the biggest events on Ovalau.

"We played at the Adi Lomaiviti Festival and all the biggest birthdays, weddings and parties that were held on the island."

Thunder finally called it quits in 1970 after being burnt out from performing for two years straight.

"We couldn't take a break because the band was in high demand all the time and everyone got tired after performing week after week, sometimes without a break."

The group members returned to fishing and farming for a while but the break did not last for long.

Astute businessman VM Narsey bought the band's music equipment and put out the word that he was looking for musicians to form a new band in Levuka.

"When I heard about the new band, I went over to Narsey's store and met up with the Fong brothers - Henry and Joe and my uncle Niko and Jimmy Subhaydas.

"We began practising inside Narsey's store and went and performed as the Old Capital band."

Old man Narsey brought discipline to the musical group by insisting on practice sessions every afternoon.

"He wanted us to be more professional and play with class.

"So he made sure we had proper uniforms and even arranged for us to get free haircuts from Vithal's, the only barbershop in Levuka at that time. "

Old man Narsey's insistence on practice paid off when the band performed at Levuka Public School the same night that local music sensation Marika Gata played at the Old Town Hall.

"Marika was famous at that time and he pulled a big crowd but when we started playing the crowd split and many of them came over to us.

"That's when we realised that all the long hours, days and nights of practice was worth it.

"And I think this is something that bands nowadays should do.

"If you want to be a professional group and make your customers happy, then you have to practice and when you go out and perform everything will go smooth."

In 1973, Bucknell decided to settle down and devote his time to his family and hung up his guitar.

He took up various jobs and eventually found his calling when he gave his life to Jesus Christ and turned over a new leaf.

"I now play music only to praise Our Lord and to give back to our creator after all the blessings he has given me in my life.

"Without Him, music would not have been such a big part of my life."





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