“A FIREFLY LAID TO REST”

Published : 9:00 am  February 8, 2018 | No comments so far |  |  (113) reads | 

He led “The Fireflies” band in Ceylon from 1963, a personal friend of mine, Milroy de Silva has passed away in Vancouver, Canada, after a long illness, leaving family, friends and fans, deeply saddened by his death, at the age of 84. Milroy was indeed a superb guitarist, self-taught, as most of us were in the good old days.  

I remember the time when he lived down Davidson Road, Bambalapitiya, practically right behind our little tenement home in Lorensz Road, and this is where I first heard a “special-style” of acoustic guitar playing which left me spell-bound with the skill and expertise he displayed. A “Latin-rhythm strum” that was as individualistic as the man himself, to be quite honest about it, I have never seen a “strum” like it. In addition, Milroy was a superb “lead-guitarist” as well. At the time, during the early 50’s, Arthur “Guitar-Bogey” Smith played “Guitar-Bogey” just as well as Milroy de Silva. Note for note/chord for chord, there was no difference whatsoever. I would go to Milroy’s , sit there with him, watching those hands, playing his music, in absolute fascination. It was all acoustic “stuff” then. Electric guitars would be imported by “Harmonics” and Papa Menezes later, but Milroy and “yours truly” decided to manufacture our own amplifier in order to increase the sound of his “acoustic”.   

We managed to find a couple of old “pakis-petti” [wooden boxes], Milroy used his electronic ability, he had two old “speakers” from an ancient radio-gram and together, we produced the very first, not-too-handsome-looking “amplifier” that Lorensz Road had seen. Milroy then took his acoustic guitar to Papa Menezes and Papa, always wanting to help people, put in the “finishing touch” to Milroy’s old acoustic, turning it into what was possibly the first electric/acoustic in Bambalapitiya. Milroy loved that guitar and not too much later his number one “fan” was going to use this same treasured instrument, to join a Circus Group that would be touring the Country for Donavan Andree. There used to be a famous “girls’ school” named after some bloke by the exalted name of “Lindsay”. This was a Christian School where the “Head-Mistress” suddenly decided to run a Thursday afternoon “special” programme called the “Band of Hope” which would consist of around two hours of “Religious-Teachings” to the girl-students, some of whom had no hope at all, but were welcome there anyway. After the Band of Hope, the girls would be permitted to encourage any talented entertainers they knew to entertain them with music before they left for the evening to go home. 

There were several pianists, piano accordion, and even a “mouth-organist” or two, known to various lasses at this School, to provide the said entertainment. Now and then, there would be a “vacant” Thursday afternoon, but Milroy de Silva and Desmond Kelly needed no encouragement to fill the vacancy. Milroy, with his guitar and Desmond with his Ukulele would happily go down there, sing to, and entertain the girls, who, like any normal females of the time enjoyed being entertained. We had nearly all of the Lindsay Girls’ School lasses around us for the afternoon requesting their favourite songs and Milroy and Desmond enjoyed the attention they were getting, but had to sneak “out”, over the rear wall of the School, guitar, uke, and all to escape some of the boy-friends of some girls, waiting impatiently outside the front gate, to give these two imposters an unmerciful thrashing for taking up “their girls’ time”.   

Milroy de Silva and Desmond Kelly were always very good friends. Then in 1952, Desmond Kelly was afforded the chance of joining this English Circus group to tour Ceylon with them. He had to audition for them before he got the job. However, the Circus Owner needed a guitar-playing singer on-stage, so what to do, men?, Desmond Kelly then borrowed that same old guitar from Melroy, for the weekend, taught himself to play the two extra “strings” involved, passed the audition and got the job. Milroy carried on in Colombo. He was already a very popular entertainer and found himself working, in the showbiz- industry regularly. There was hardly a large hotel or nightclub in Ceylon at the time, that we didn’t work for.  
Unfortunately, I lost touch with him after our Circus show named The Continental Non-stop Revue ended, I joined the Royal Ceylon Navy, getting out in 1962 to migrate to Melbourne.  

In the meantime, Milroy, still doing what he loved, formed his own band and called them his “Fire-flies”. He was indeed a superb musician, still, someone to whom many upcoming musicians went to, for advice, freely given. He was also an ardent fan of the old Country & Western icon Montana Slim, singing and playing in the old style to the delight of hundreds of fans, wherever he performed.   

He eventually left “Our Lovely Island Home”, like so many of us, to settle in Vancouver Canada. Here he was affectionately known as “Guitar John”, entertained, as we music-lovers do, until it becomes physically impossible to do so, and has finally “passed on” to continue singing and playing his guitar for the angels in heaven. A “personal” apology from me to you, Milroy, is that, although I did my very best to keep in touch with you, latterly, it became impossible to telephone you because you were frequently unavailable, in hospital, or just not home. No excuses on my part, but after coming to Australia, trying to do two and even three jobs at a time, working “shifts, 24/7, although I would have loved to have come to Canada, just to join your band and play the music we both loved, it was only wishful thinking on my part. Rest easy now, my friend. We had some great times together but now let me ask God to bless you and keep you, my sincere condolences to your entire family and this, my dedication to you, Milroy de Silva will show you that “Music and Memories” always go hand in hand.  

Your pal, always, Desmond Kelly