♫ ❤ ♫ •°*”˜.•°*”˜ .•°*”˜.•°*”˜ ❤ .•°*”˜ ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.
Saturday, June 08, 2013.
He has been pushed out of his homeland, lost his house and his wife, had a drug habit and faced death through kidney failure.
No wonder Jimmy Appudurai-chua took to playing the blues.
Blues Guitarist Jimmy Appudurai-chua (right) from Torpoint Jimmy pictured with Bryan Adams and singer Cathy Davis in 1988 (top) with The Meltones (left - Jimmy is pictured far left) and, above, one of Jimmy's photographs of Eric Clapton
But this unfailingly optimistic man plays the famously downbeat genre with a smile.
There have been enough highs among his lifetime lows to keep him cheerful.
He once knocked The Beatles off number one spot, mixed with some of the biggest names in the rock world – Eric Clapton and Bryan Adams among them – in a second career as an in-demand photographer and ran his own photo businesses that was at the forefront of a service revolution.
He shakes his head in wonder at the number of times people have gone out of their way to lift him from a low and set him on course to another high.
"I have been so lucky," he says. "It is quite amazing really."
Not at all amazing – he is one of those rare people you like as soon as you meet them. People want to help him because he is such great company: somebody with so many stories to tell but still modest and not at all world-weary. He comes across straight away as a gentle soul, utterly content with life's simple pleasures.
It's hard to picture this man with such a sunny disposition being so low that he had virtually given up on life.
He confesses, though, that his health was so bad that he came to Cornwall a dozen years ago to die.
Then, perhaps eager not to darken the mood, he corrects himself quickly.
"Well not to die, but I was very, very ill."
He enjoys good health now because, against the odds, he got the kidney transplant that was needed to transform his life. He was a particularly difficult tissue match.
Today, after the many highs and lows, he lives modestly in a small flat in Torpoint.
Jimmy still occasionally picks up his guitar to play gigs in the Plymouth area.
But every year or so he returns to his Far east birthplace to enjoy a little celebrity status at the Singapore Blues Festival.
He was born 66 years ago in the city state.
There was a whiff of scandal to the family.
"My mother, Jean, was Chinese and she broke all the rules, getting involved with a married man," he says.
"She was his mistress, which angered her whole clan. But I knew nothing about this.
"She was from mainland China and during World War Two was working in Malaysia, where my father, who was from Sri Lanka, was a doctor."
Jimmy and his two sisters, Betty (who now lives in the United States) and Minnie (now in France), saw their father once or twice a year, and believed simply that he worked away – he had a high-powered job as deputy chief medical officer with the Malaysian government.
"I only found out when I left school that he was married with another family.
"I went to Malaysia with some friends. I told my father where we would be staying, but thought I would surprise him by calling at his house – a big government-owned residence.
"I knocked on the door and asked to see him and a woman answered and said she was his wife.
"My jaw dropped open. I was so angry. I said, 'Tell him his son called to see him!' and ran off. That was so mean, the most malicious thing I have ever done."
But there was no damage done to his relationship with his father, who turned up later at the hostel where Jimmy was staying, oblivious to the previous drama. "She obviously didn't tell him, because he said nothing."
Father and son continued to have a good relationship.
Rewind a decade farther and Jimmy's status as an outsider hit home to him when he started school.
English is the official language in Singapore but young Jimmy spoke only two Chinese dialects when he went to school.
The city has a reputation as a cultural melting pot, but Jimmy, already handicapped by his language difficulties stood out even more when religion reared its head.
"It was a Catholic school – my mother was Methodist, my father was a Hindu, my grandmother was a Taoist, my uncle was a Buddhist and I lived in a Muslim village," he says, laughing.
He found a way of belonging through music. Inspired by Cliff Richard and the Shadows and US guitarist Duane Eddy, he picked up an instrument at 14 and taught himself to play.
Soon he and his schoolmates had formed a band, with a name and sound straight from the Sixties: the Meltones, complete with smart skinny suits and tunes in the Shadows/ Freddie and the Dreamers mould.
"We played a lot of gigs, but always asked for early finishes so we would not be late in bed!
"We just enjoyed the thrill of seeing our names in the Straits Times (the leading Singapore newspaper)."
After leaving school he joined Motif, a band made up of British RAF personnel – Britain still had a big presence in its former colony. This was his introduction to rhythm'n'blues. "They got me listening to the Stones, Yardbirds, Alexis Korner, the Kinks. I took the guitar away and learned it all by ear."
After a spell with his father in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and completing an engineering course, he faced a spell in uniform with the Singapore Air Force. "I had to do two years' national service," says Jimmy. "A friend told me that if I joined as a regular I could resign after six months and avoid national service.
"So that's what I did – but they wouldn't let me resign. I was stuck in for three and a half years!"
While working as a technician he was able to indulge his passion for R'n'B in a new band, the Straydogs.
They were signed to EMI's iconic Harvest label and in 1969 knocked the Beatles off the No 1 spot in Malaysia and Singapore with a self-penned tune, Freedom.
"That was a very good feeling," says Jimmy. "We made another single after that but it didn't do as well."
Nor did the Straydogs career fare well in the conformist city which was then known for its illiberal Government. "They did not approve of bands with long hair. They closed down all the venues.
"Our record was unofficially banned and only one radio station would play it, but it still got to No 1. If I wanted to play the music I liked I had to leave, really.
"I came to England in 1972 but that was a disaster. I was performing in working men's clubs in Newcastle and not getting anywhere.
"So I moved to London, and that was even worse. I got regular gigs in Chelsea but it all went on dope. It was a black period of my life."
His use of cocaine and marijuana was dragging him down and stopping him getting a proper day job.
"The only work I got was as a cleaner. One woman at a house in Hammersmith took a liking to my cleaning – one thing about being stoned is you are very thorough!
"They were very impressed that I didn't take any of the money that was lying around – I tidied it into neat piles of coins.
"She invited me back and got me to meet her husband. He invited me to a job interview and when I didn't turn up – there was a Tube strike – they phoned up to check why and sent a car round for me.Can you believe that?
Jimmy's contribution during a performance in Singapore among an audience of friends in 2015.
"His name was Michael de Semlyen and he ran the Tudor photographic processing business, based in Cricklewood.
"I started as a cleaner. After a couple of weeks they asked me to work in dispatch, then soon after they asked me run it, and then the shop-floor.
"When Tudor opened their second processing plant in Wandsworth in 1976 they asked me to manage it."
One innovation Jimmy made was to introduce a same-day service.
By 1981 he needed a break and went back to Singapore to sort out an immigration matter. Tudor created a job for him, putting him in charge of their Far East operation.
On a visit to Hong Kong he was enjoying a blues night at a club when a fellow veteran of the Singaporean rock scene, Chris Vadham, spotted Jimmy in the audience and invited him on stage to play.
Jimmy picked up a guitar for the first time in nine years and was hooked again.
Gigs followed back in Singapore and the music connection would lead him on a new direction when he returned to the UK.
Tudor had been bought out so Jimmy and three others started their own mini-lab processing in upmarket Notting Hill, home to many people from the entertainment industry.
"We were losing money and the others pulled out, but I had an idea: I put the prices up from £3.99 to £8 a film offering an exclusive service," says Jimmy. "It was a big success."
Wealthier clients liked the personal touch. Singer songwriter Annie Lennox was one, and actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, (Scarface, the Abyss and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) was another.
Musician Michael Kamen was another regular. He wrote the score for Robin Hood including one of the most successful singles of all time, (Everything I do) I Do It For You, jointly put together with performer Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange.
"I became friendly with Michael and he introduced me to Eric Clapton.
"Michael would invite me to his big Thanksgiving parties that were full of stars, and ask me to photograph them."
Soon Jimmy's work behind the lens led to him taking more time off stage. He worked for magazines and record companies, covering every visiting blues artist at the 100 Club and high-profile gigs at the Royal Albert Hall.
He photographed Eric Clapton concerts and those by fellow former Yardbirds men drummer Jim McCarty and Jimmy Page (also of Led Zeppelin fame), and covered the band's reunion.
There were sidelines away from r'n'b, such as for Britpop leading lights Blur and studio work for fashion house Dior.
But Jimmy's thriving photographic business would be derailed and his life thrown into shock by ill health.
"I was ill for a long time, but keeping going, and feeling worse and worse, and not finding the time to go to the doctor. One day a doctor, who had a practice opposite and who was a customer came in and said, 'I don't like the way you are looking. I want you to come straight across to the clinic'.
"I did, and she took a sample, and sent me straight to hospital as an emergency case.
"My blood pressure was 280 over 140. The doctor in the hospital told me 'you are a dead man walking. You should not be alive with blood pressure like that'."
Unable to work, Jimmy sold his house and business.
He was diagnosed with kidney failure. "I'd had TB in my kidneys when I was young, and they told me I had only one kidney functioning, and it was failing.
"I was on dialysis. I needed a transplant, but I was told there was very little chance of a match because there were so few Asian donors."
He moved to Cornwall with his wife Anne and opened an Egyptian museum in Dobwalls in 2001.
"Don't ask me why we opened that. We just did."
The museum failed, which he blames partly on his illness. "I did not have the energy to keep an eye on it."
He split from Anne – the parting was amicable and they are still good friends – but with his health going downhill Jimmy was living in a caravan in Looe and doing part-time shelf-stacking in supermarkets when he got a call that a matching kidney had been found.
"It was a little miracle: a healthy kidney from a 20-year-old. I had the transplant at Derriford Hospital in 2010 and the surgeon told me it was a complete success. It worked perfectly from the start. I was so lucky."
He still bears the ugly scars on his arms of years of dialysis, but the transplant has transformed his life.
Although retired from the day jobs, and living quietly in a flat in Torpoint, he is well enough to put some energy into music.
He does occasional gigs with the Blues Bandits and rock outfit Fat Tuesday and he will be off later this summer to perform at the Singapore Blues Festival.
After the east Asia trip he will be eager to get back to Cornwall, though, his adored adopted homeland
"Maybe I did come to die – and I went to heaven," he grins.
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Content and images from Jimmy's Facebook pages.