A tale of how Ulysses got its name

Ulysses at the Trio Cabaret in Suva in 1975 with Kushal (left), Raoul Deoki, Vimal Raj Prasad, Johnny Shankaran, Henry Foon, Joseph Singh, Aneil Kumar and Anil Valera. Picture: SUPPLIED

Forty-five years after he last performed with Suva-based band Ulysses, Colin Deoki is gearing up to take the stage at the musical outfit’s 50th anniversary show on October 15 in Sydney, Australia.

Ulysses emerged out of the Capital City suburbs in the late ’60s and early ’70s to cement itself as a musical tour de force in the country.

And the tale of how the band got together and got its name is a story best told by Colin, one of the founding members of the group. He said the idea to form a band began when he and his elder brother Raoul met with school mate Anil Valera who was a guitarist and harmonica player in 1968.

“We didn’t have any chord charts or books at the time, everything we learned was by ear from listening to records or good musos and bands like the Dragon Swingers,” Colin reminisced.

The Deoki family lived on Loftus St, a stone’s throw from the Golden Dragon night club on Victoria Pde — and they would often listen to the songs performed by the band there to learn a thing or two.

“And more often than not we had to try and workout the chord progression simply by listening to a song over and over again.

“Yes, we ruined lots of good records because we hadn’t yet discovered the cassette tape player, or if it was around we couldn’t afford one anyway.”

While at Marist Brothers High School, Colin met up with two brothers — Ken and Terry Fong — who played guitar and happened to be first cousins with his neighbour, Ron Seeto, and he learnt even more about the guitar from them. Colin was also a member of the 1st Suva Sea Scout group, and one of the members had a band called The Bad Example that used to perform at the Sea Scout Hall behind the old Suva Grammar School hostel near the Fiji Development Bank building.

“One night after Anil had jammed with the band, the musicians decided to leave their gear overnight. “Of course, being the passionate up and comers that we were, we had a small jam session.

“To be honest, it was a whole lot of noise we were making. “But we were so engrossed in the wee hours of the morning that we didn’t see one of Fiji’s finest guitarists poke his head through the door.”

Maxie Columbus had just finished his gig at the Golden Dragon and was on his way to Popo’s Grog Shop in Toorak near where he lived. “I think we stopped playing when we saw him because we felt so embarrassed.

“He, like Waisea Vatuwaqa, was one of the stars that lots of budding musicians and guitarists like me looked up to in our day.”

Colin had set his sights on studying law like his father but a serious car accident changed that.

“I ended up in hospital with serious face and head injuries, and apart from my interest in law, our dream of putting a band together was put on hold for a while.”

Colin had Acquired Brain Injury which caused a type of memory loss and he struggled to retrieve and store certain kinds of information. “It put paid to any dream I had of studying law.

“Around the same time, my school mate Terry Fong used to jam with some of his mates from Marist.

“It’s how we came to meet Henry Foon and Patrick Chung.

“When Terry introduced us, we all clicked and that’s when we decided to form a five piece band.

“Aside from Anil, Henry was the most experienced musician in the band. He could play bass guitar and keyboards and knew lots of chords, so there was a great deal of respect for Henry’s experience, knowledge and skills.”

Not long after that fateful meeting, the Deoki family moved to Toorak. There, a dilapidated tin shack beside their home became the band’s practice shed.

“We hardly had room to move inside but it was what we had and we made do with it.”

It was in that old rundown shack where the band that would become Ulysses began to take shape.

“Anil, Raoul, Henry, Patrick and I became the original founding members of the band.

“We practised for hours on end a couple of times a week.

“Then when it came time to name the band, we threw around quite a few ideas.

“I’d been reading an amazing book about Ulysses, the hero of the Odyssey written by the Greek poet Homer in the 8th century BC.

“The name somehow resonated with everyone. And it’s how we came to name the band.”

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