In early 2000 the name ‘Wildfire’ was a household name, in the music scene.
Having been formed in 2000, when we just started our A/Ls, the name ‘Wild fire’ was a hot topic those days in every entertainment magazine and publication. More than a ‘Band’ it was a ‘brand’ among the music-loving society in Colombo. There was no pub, bar or hotel where they wouldn’t perform, and there was a time when people flocked into the pubs and hotels in Colombo every evening to see ‘Wildfire’ in action.
It was through ‘Wildfire’ that we as young students got to know about the legendary Derek Wickramanayake, the founder and ex-frontman of ‘Wildfire’, and a professional Bassist Their gigs were all about talent and music. It was a different atmosphere altogether with their unmissable beat and tune. Where there was ‘Wildfire’ there was Derek, who was an iconic figure in the music scene, not only among the Colombo crowd but also those who wanted to study music and loved music.
Derek had his own identity with ‘Wildfire’, and still, he can be taken as an inspiration to upcoming musicians who hope to make it big in the music scene someday.
He is of those who have a vast knowledge of the subject and are never afraid to try out something new, and while studying at St. Thomas’s College Mount Lavinia, the music seemed to be his first choice, more than anything else. Doing a white-collar job to please other people, like most of us, was just not his cup of tea. Apart from being a musical genius, Derek is an interesting character who has a different view of life same as music and has a positive aspect about everything.
Q: How is everything going on from your end?
It has been a while.
I am doing well thank you.
Q: Tell us about your beginnings as a musician. What inspired you to start ‘Wild fire’?
I started playing music professionally at the age of 16. And I never look at playing music as a job, but that’s what made me happy. I never thought of getting a job at that age till now. I was lucky to play with some good bands in Sri Lanka. I got my first break to travel to Afghanistan when I was 18. From there onwards it was just having fun and getting paid for it.
My taste for music started to change when I was introduced to more jazz-oriented music by one of my ex-girlfriends back in Switzerland. And I also got more interested in becoming a better guitarist and a musician. So I was always looking for a band that allowed me to play the kind of music I wanted to play. I didn’t enjoy the kind of music I was playing in Europe at that time. When Geoff and I formed Purple Rain we did something different. We had the correct line-up. Things were ok at the beginning, but I wanted to stay back in Sri Lanka.
Things didn’t happen the way I thought would so I went back to Europe and played in various bands.
Finally, in 2000 I decided to form my band Wildfire simply because I wanted to play a different kind of music. I loved the retro and rock and I found the correct musicians and we had great fun.
Q: What was the support like from your band members; during the stint at ‘Wildfire’?
Yes, they were very supportive and also came up with other ideas to improve the repertoire.
Q: How do you see the situation now and then, when ‘Wildfire’ was at the peak of its popularity?
It is very different now; we have too much music going around. Everywhere you go there is music-playing; people get tired of hearing music. Now many people don’t pay attention to music because it’s freely available. Like how we breathe.
Q: Can you recall your first experience as a musician?
My first gig was a wedding at Kegalle Town Hall. I was only 16 years old. And I didn’t have a jacket so the bandleader gave me a jacket that was worn by the previous guitarist. Man, it was so big I looked like a coat hanger. But I was so excited to play I folded my arms and performed.
Q: Wildfire was sort of a ‘brand name’ those days, and went through several replacements and initiations over the years. After a lapse of time, you restarted ‘Wildfire’ but didn’t continue for long. What was the reason?
I think it’s the kind of audience we had at the beginning not been around. And the music scene had changed so much. We had to play all the songs that other bands played just to keep the band alive, and the Sinhala songs were in demand at that time. It’s not that we don’t like Sinhala songs, we had a different identity, and finally, we called it off.
Q: How did you find your experience in playing for other bands, like ‘Friends’ and the ‘Hezonites’?
I really enjoyed playing with the ‘Hezonites’, maybe because it was my first experience. But the guys were very to be around and I learnt a lot from my band leader Sharon Pritchard,
I played with many bands overseas,
Had different experiences some were great and some not so great.
Q: We saw that the music scene was badly affected by the current pandemic, and still is. How did the pandemic situation affect you?
I really don’t think about it. I somehow try to manage with whatever I have.
Luckily I had some credit cards to see me through.
Q: How would you compare the local and the international music scene, and their privileges?
There is no comparison; we are far behind the international music scene. But I must mention that Yohani is someone I really admire. Young Musicians should follow in her footsteps. I was told that she always wanted to do something different and she made it big. I think it’s her sheer determination and hard work and belief in herself that get her to where she is now.
In other countries, people recognize talent very quickly. Here they don’t care about talent. They want the job done any old how. If the Indians didn’t recognize Yohani’s talent, I wonder what would have happened to that song.
Q: With the country‘s reopening, we see things gradually start-up, but not so much. What do you think should be done in the first place to bring back the local music scene to its normal status, and do you think it should be developed more than it is now?
Quite a lot more.
Q: What is your perception of how the music scene was looked upon in this pandemic?
Do you think most ‘needy musicians’ were given proper attention to help them to survive?
I think the hospitality and the entertainment industries were badly hit, then again who gives any attention to any musician? Pandemic or not.
Q: As a musician, you seem to look at things from a different point of view, radical ideas and concepts, be it music or otherwise. Do you think that most people would agree with your viewpoints?
I had a hard time finding the right musicians to form Wildfire. Most of the musicians I asked refused to join me because I wanted to do something different. But the younger musicians play a lot like us, dedicated to playing well and changing things around. But the seniors have their minds set on doing things the way they know-how.
Q: Looking back at your musical journey, how do you feel?
My musical journey has been quite an adventure. At present, I am happy with the way things turned out for me as a musician and a person. I have learnt a lot about music and life and how to cope in difficult situations. I have adopted a positive attitude towards life. And I have set some rules for myself, and I follow them in my daily life.
Q: Are you a member of the WMA? And what do you think they should do to improve the western music scene?
Yes, I am. First of all, the musicians have to up their ante. They should be given proper training on their instruments and performance. What they should do and shouldn’t be in a band and at the gigs. Have workshops on ear training, music theory and harmony if we are to come to any international standard. The competition is very open for trial and error. Especially the younger generation needs to know more about music than play an instrument.