Unforgettable Korolevu

Maxie Columbus (left) with Tom Mawi and Robert Verma. Picture: SUPPLIED

At the height of their popularity as tourist destinations, the Korolevu Resort and Paradise Point Resort also drew huge crowds from the Capital City and colonial outposts in the West.

In the ’50s, ’60s and very early ’70s, any band that performed at the venues had earned their stripes, so to speak. By day, the resorts offered all the usual attractions – water activities, games and hikes.

But, as the sun began its slow journey westward, the renowned Korolevu Trio and Korolevu Beach Serenaders would set the stage with island and Latin jazz tunes.

Tourists and locals would mingle at the bar with a couple of cold ones in hand. And while the resident bands were more than up to the challenge of keeping guests entertained and on their feet into the early hours, there were times when guest artists were invited to perform at the two resorts.

One of the bands that had the privilege of playing at Korolevu was Maxie’s Mules.

The hard rock outfit from Suva was touring Viti Levu after winning the Battle of the Bands and accepted an invitation to perform at Korolevu. “The scene at Korolevu was amazing,” said band founder and lead guitarist Maxie Columbus.

“It was like nothing else I had ever seen, and I’ve performed at a lot of places.

“It was packed with tourists and I can remember the smell of hot lovo in the air, the beautiful voices of Henry and Teresa Purcell.

“The magical sounds of the waves sweeping onto the shore combined with the sweet sounds of the ukulele and steel guitar.

“The waves were so close to the hotel.

“The only word I can use to describe it is unforgettable.”

Maxie’s Mules featured Michael Wong and Simione Kuruvoli on drums, Maserati Sarasau, Lagi Tamani Bose on bass guitar, Manoa “Twisty” Sugutanaivalu on lead vocals. He said the layout of the resort, combined with amazing staff members and live music, made Korolevu an unparalleled entertainment oasis.

“After we performed there, I was invited by Henry Purcell (the Korolevu Beach Serenaders band leader) to stay back and jam with them. “That’s where I learned how to play songs like Lovely Hula Hands.

“We belted grog for two weeks, night and day, and our chaser was lemon and hot chillies, and it burned.

“I learned a lot about island music and had some great memories there.”

Columbus said while he was more at home playing hard rock, he found the island and Latin jazz tunes added depth to his music.

“I remember some of our repertoire at the resort – Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head (1969 hit for BJ Thomas), In the Midnight Hour (1965 hit by Wilson Pickett), Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (Stevie Wonder’s 1969 hit), Yellow River (1970 hit for Christie) and Mustang Sally (Mack Rice’s 1965 hit).”

Columbus said they were accompanied by Them Insex, a group which featured Mick Beddoes, on their Viti Levu tour.

“I’m not too sure if they were with us at Korolevu but they did tour with us.

“The American Peace Corp organised the tour and I would like to acknowledge them for supporting live music at that time.”

Unfortunately, the Korolevu Beach Resort and Paradise Point Resort were forced to shut down in 1983 after Cyclone Oscar tore down powerlines in the area.

Maxie’s Mules enjoyed being at the top of the local music scene from 1970 to 1984 when the band folded.

Maxie Columbus migrated to Vancouver, Canada, where he still lives with his family.

Simione Kuruvoli went on to represent Fiji in regional and international competitions as a judoka and eventually became a masseur for the Fiji rugby team.

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