Life of a music legend


By Ramith Dheerasekara

The first memories I recall of him are those of listening to his songs as a child. I also remember going to watch an “I Don’t Know Why” concert back in 2002 with my grandmother. To write about veteran artiste Sunil Perera is indeed a great honour, and here’s what he shared with us.

If I’m right, you began schooling at St. Sebastian’s College in Moratuwa.

Yes, I was at St. Sebastian’s till grade four and then I joined St. Peter’s. I didn’t complete grade four. I left halfway through.

 What was the reason to leave St. Sebastian’s College?

I didn’t have any reason to leave St. Sebastian’s. It was my dad. He probably thought that going to a Colombo school would be much better.

Speaking of your family, there’s this particular song ‘Thaththa Mata Anapu Tokka’. Could you tell us how you came about with it?

This song was written by Mr. M.S. Fernando. Chandradasa Fernando and I changed the lyrics a little bit. The song wasn’t based on my father – it was based on M.S. Fernando’s father, and that’s why we had to change the verses. But we kept the chorus as it was.

What about your first hit single ‘Linda Langa Sangamaya’? Who was the lyricist?

This was the one of the very first songs we recorded. We recorded this along with the song “Amma Amma”. Both songs came out in the early 1970s. Chandra Devadhitya and C.L. Fonseka were the ones responsible for these two songs.

How about the song ‘Kadapathakin’?

This song was also written by M.S. Fernando. We managed to speak to him and get the song done for us.

Let’s talk a bit about the influence of Clarence Wijeywardena. Was he an inspiration to you?

Clarence was an inspiration to all musicians at that time. Our songs were not really targeted at the same audience as Clarence Wijeywardena’s; our songs had a lot of humour, but I love Clarence’s songs! Even today, I sing his songs. We, on the other hand, started with English music. Clarence was one of the major influences for us to sing in Sinhala. Back in the day, our school bands did a lot of cover songs of the Rolling Stone, Beatles, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richards, etc. They were all big names at the time. So, we were all focused on doing English music then.

When did you pick up the first guitar?

My father bought me a guitar. My first instrument was the English mandolin. He gave me all the encouragement I needed. He’s the biggest inspiration in my life!

Let’s talk a bit more about your father.

He was there to see us reach the top. In fact, he’s the one who gave us the name “Gypsies”. He used to come for every event and was involved in Gypsies’ journey in a big way. He passed away in 1991.

Are you still in touch with your friends from St. Sebastian’s?

I still have contacts with my friends from St. Sebastian’s. Duleep Mendis and Fabian Aponso were my classmates. Fabian is based in England, but whenever he comes to Sri Lanka, we meet and catch up. After I came to St. Peter’s, Roy Dias was my classmate. All of them are still in touch with me. Ä In what ways were the two schools different to you? The backgrounds were different. There were a lot of Burghers at St. Peter’s. Most of the boys spoke in English because of this influence.

Moving on to performing, were you nervous while you performed at school?

Initially, I had a lot of stage fright. I played the guitar at that time and I remember having a lot of stage fright. It took long for me to get over that, but sometimes, I still get nervous. I’ve been in the industry for over 50 years, but I still get nervous at certain events.

If you could tell us about one interesting story from St. Peter’s, what would that be?