At the cessation of civil hostilities in January 1970, I came home to Port Harcourt and responded to an advertisement for Rivers State Festival of the Arts. At No. 37, Aba Road (Rivers State Ministry of Information), I met a veteran broadcaster called Lite Kosu, who interviewed me and immediately offered me a contract to entertain as a solo artiste at the Wimpey Club, then located at No. 4, Herbert Macaulay Street, Amadi Flats.
Incidentally and quite ironically, it was my rendition of the Beatles’ “All My Loving”, which landed me in juvenile court in 1965, that stole the heart of Mr Kosu, hence the contract. At the Wimpey Club, an excited expatriate inverted his hat and went round the crowd; in the end, he dumped the proceeds, which added up to a tidy sum, at my feet, and that was my very first income at the end of the Civil War.
Following the liquidity from that first gig, Dyke Uboh (a childhood friend and confidant) and I went to Ludo Nite Club along Hospital Road to cool off. Ludo was the place to be in the Port Harcourt of those heady immediate post-war days.
As we walked into Ludo, we were confronted by a cacophony of sounds emanating from the giant loudspeakers; three lads were on stage battling with “Midnight Hour” by Wilson Picket. I immediately identified the problem, stepped onto the stage and excused the Bassist who, rather interestingly, willingly eased the musical ax into my waiting hands; there and then, “Midnight Hour” started flowing in the fullness of its soulful essence. Immediately, some gentlemen came from behind the stage and stood by and watched us; it turned out that they were Mr Jonh Oki (of blessed memories, obm), the owner of Ludo, Prince David Bull, leader of the Professional Seagulls, Boma Bonnie, George Iboroma (obm), Chike Charles (obm) and other members of the Seagulls.
We did a few more songs before Prince David Bull and the Professional Seagulls took the stage. While the Seagulls were performing, Oki came over to our table and offered us to play during breaks in the club; naturally and rather excitedly, we acquiesced. However, the problem was that Tammy Evans, Peter Brown, Foster Henry and I had just met there then, and we did not have musical instruments, and so, we were not a band; Bull offered to let us use his instruments, and that was the beginning of what turned out to be known as The Blackstone Band – the first pop band in post-war Rivers State.
From playing at breaks, we graduated into Sunday Jump at Ludo and in Hilda Somiari’s Hilsom Inn along Bernard Carr Street; then we were contracted to play in Ludo on Mondays when the Seagulls were, traditionally, off duty. Our Clientele was made up of undergraduates, high school students and other young people who were inclined to the relatively new music genres of pop, rock and soul. Our imitative repertoire, therefore, consisted of songs by James Brown, Rufus Thomas, Ray Charles, Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Tyrone Davies, Rate Earth, Eta James, Aretha Franklin, Staple Singers and the emerging underground music genre of Santana, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, etc. In all this, Prince David Bull consistently allowed us to use his musical instruments and encouraged us.
Given the fact that the Blackstone Band had the uncanny knack for attracting intellectual-minded young men, the membership was relatively fluid as people came and went off to school until the last gig at British Council Hall along Bonny Street, Port Harcourt. The founding members consisted of Peter Brown (lead guitar), Tammy Evans (obm, drums), Pat Nkagbu (drums), Gee Richards (rhythm guitar), Sammy Pep (vocals) and my humble self (bass). Of these, Brown, Richards and I remained till the final gig; (eventually, Brown read Metallurgy at Manchester University, Richards read Law at Buckingham University and I read Broadcasting and Political Science at Murray State University).
While we were still at it, Pat left much earlier for Russia where he studied Engineering and Tammy and Sammy left for the Strangers of Owerri where they recorded Love Rock. Gogo Allwell-Brown and Pat Ketebu replaced them; they are now in the United States and Scotland, respectively. Johnnie Fibbs (John Fiberesima, obm) doubled as group manager and backup vocals; Al Oak (Allen Okrigwe, now HRH Eze Nwadei Ogbuefi of Ogbaland) and Dyke Ubs (Dike Uboh) gave the Blackstone sound the underground essence that made it fit snugly into the then emerging underground genre. Beyond the regular members, there were those who were integral to the Blackstone experience; regularly, these equally talented young men and women took time off from work and school and consistently enriched the sound and performance of the band.
In this category were Bode Harry (obm), Serenade (now HRH Barr Serena Dokubo-Spiff) who played the bass; Harcourt Ads (Arc Harcourt Aduke) whose foot work and screaming sufficiently threatened James Brown, Olga Hart who arguably commanded more R.E.S.P.E.C.T than Aretha Franklin and Pam Brown whose energy and stage presence competed very favourably with those of Tina Turner. The ebullient Tony Jenkins Junior (Tony Orugbo now of NDDC) was Resident President of Blackstone Fan Club.
For us and all the teenagers and young men and women of that youthful experience that made Port Harcourt of the early seventies a memorable place, Prince David Bull was Our Bull. He was there for us all encouraging and supporting us where he could. That the human society now has traditional rulers, attorneys, commissioners, university dons, directors, chartered accountants, etc, from the membership of the Blackstone Band and the incrowd stands out as a material that should be subjected to academic inquiry, it demonstrates that young men and women can be footloose and fancy free as their age and time dictate without losing sight of what society expects of them and what the future holds for them.
The body of Prince David Bull was lowered to the ground on April 30, 2011, in Grand Bonny, Rivers State but his music will live forever. The members of the defunct Blackstone Band and all those who were part of the Blackstone experience, including the millions that were thrilled by the guitar virtuoso from the pre-war days of “Pinoyibo” (with Sonny Brown) through post-war “Atabala Woman” and “Sokosoko” and on to the numerous melodious songs to which Prince David Bull lent his sonorous voice and guitar maestro, join the Bull family, the Ibani (Bonny) Kingdom and the people of Rivers State in mourning this irreparable loss.
David, play on; strum the fat bar chords that were peculiar to you; twang that guitar and plunk the strings the way only you could; play on, play on; and please say hello to Tammy and Johnnie. We shall miss you. Adieu Our Bull. Rest in Peace.
Osai wrote in from Institute of Foundation Studies, RSUST, Port Harcourt.