Trio hoping to pull in the crowds at Bungalow56
About 40 years ago Brian Swan had the good fortune of meeting Edwin “Doc” Simons.
The noted saxophonist was then working as a mechanic at JB Astwood; Mr Swan was there learning the trade.
“I asked him what was the easiest thing to play – that's what my first question to him was – and he said, ‘Well the guitar’s nice but the bass guitar only has four strings so you might want to play the bass.’”
It set him on a musical path. Mr Swan today plays with “some of the island’s best”. This Sunday he will be at Bungalow56 with Just Friends, a band he formed with Tony Bari and Earl Leader this year.
“We do a little bit of jazz, some standards, some R & B … a wide range of music,” the 68-year-old said.
Mr Swan’s aunt gifted him with piano lessons as a child but they didn’t hold his interest.
“I might have been six or something like that,” he said, explaining that the decision to play hadn’t been his. “My uncle and my cousin were musicians so they said, ‘Well maybe Brian might want to be a musician too.’ But it was never in my mind. I took a couple of piano lessons but music was never on my radar at all.”
In his 20s he watched a band at the then-popular Guinea Discotheque and decided it “looked like fun”, something that he could do.
It was with that thought in mind that he raised the question with Mr Simons, bought a bass guitar and bass amplifier and started practising – although he really didn’t know what he was doing.
“Three to six months later I was in my apartment and this guy knocks on my door and says, ‘I heard you have a bass amplifier and a bass guitar.’ I said, ‘Yeah. But I just got it.’”
The man invited him to play with him. Although Mr Swan insisted he didn’t know how to play the instrument, the man maintained that as long as he knew where the C, F and G strings were, he would be fine.
“He said, ‘That’s all you have to know and nothing else.’ I hadn’t even been playing for six months and I had to go down to St David’s to do this job.”
He felt the “pressure for days” leading up to the performance.
“It was wintertime and I sweated through the whole [show],” Mr Swan said. “He was just desperate to have somebody. Whomever he normally would have had he couldn’t have, obviously. People said I did OK, but I [didn’t think that]. I didn’t have any training at all so it was terrible for me.”
The man was a stranger when he knocked on his door; Mr Swan hasn’t seen him since.
“As I got older, Doc introduced me to music; my first real job I played with him. I did take some lessons but if I’m really honest with myself I wasn’t serious about it. It was more like a hobby.”
He always had a full-time job, tennis came second and music was “possibly third”.
“If I was home playing around with my guitar and my friends came along and said ‘Let’s go somewhere’, I would go. Most musicians don't do that. I was never disciplined but I was very fortunate to have, I guess, a pretty good ear and I would get jobs.
“I was blessed, I think truly blessed. Some of the guys I work with now, these are some of the best musicians in Bermuda and I’m just a guy who's along for the ride almost.”
Mr Swan got his start at Castle Harbour Hotel in a band with Vernon Tucker. Tempo, Spice and Legacy followed. He is now also part of the four-member New Unit Band.
“Through just playing songs I really developed a lot. The theory side … I took lessons off and on for maybe a matter of months because I didn’t have the discipline to practise. Playing with better musicians helped me a lot. It encouraged me to learn more.
“I’ve had the privilege of opening up for Gerald Albright and Freddie Jackson, I’ve opened up for Third World, for Inner Circle, Ashford and Simpson – so I’ve had the opportunity to play for large audiences.
“I travelled for tourism to do some promotional things for Bermuda in London, in Canada; I played with the Bermuda Strollers.”
He did it all while working full-time.
“I’ve had a day job all my life. That’s my main income. Some musicians are just musicians, but I never stopped my day job. So I worked days and I worked nights.
“There were times when I was working four to five times a week, especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s and the early ‘90s. And then things started to change – hotels started to minimise the amount of members they would hire in a band and things like that.”
Just Friends was a last-minute addition to the Bungalow56 line-up after another band fell through.
“I play golf with Toni Bari and Earl Leader and so on the Monday I asked them would they be interested in doing a job on Saturday. We just went and did it for that one night.
“We didn’t think anything of it until [they] asked us if we would come back. So that’s how it started. We had no intention of working as a band. We just got together for that one event.”
Although the audience numbers haven’t been great the people who have come have enjoyed the show, he added.
The idea had been to provide an outlet for local musicians, Bungalow56 owner Glen Wilks said.
“Bungalow56 has engaged a number of local musicians to do a live set every Sunday, while also encouraging other musicians to come and sit in, with the hope that working together we can build a movement that is sustainable and consistent.
“We believe this may bring some needed energy to the local and tourist population that care about that sort of thing plus potentially inspire a younger generation to become musicians and artists.”
Live music is on offer at Bungalow56 every Sunday from 7pm until 10pm. Admission is $20.