By Lawrence Heyn
The voice and prowess of an outstanding musical talent were stilled when Christopher Pietersz passed away in Sydney, Australia, on September 2. The popular showman, singer and keyboard player was aged 64, and he is mourned by his close family and wide circle of friends. The ever-smiling Chris, also known as Christo, has been described by his close friend Guinn Ragel as “the man with the big heart” who showed extraordinary generosity and friendship to so many. Born on Christmas Day in 1950, Chris had his early education at St Benedict’s College, Kotahena, and then started secondary schooling at St Peter’s College in Bambalapitiya.
He certainly embraced the spirit of lending a heart and hand and this was epitomised in the manner in which he readily helped and involved himself with the old boys at their reunions and get-togethers. Chris was due to perform at the Peterite Spring Nite later in September, but instead his heavy-hearted friends held a minute’s silence to honour him.
Resident at Ebenezer Place, Dehiwela, with his father Melville, mother Thelma and sisters Romany and Trudy, Chris built some great friendships and this is reflected in the tributes that flowed in for him to the Peterite reunion website peteritereunion.net. Many of the messages spoke of the great times Chris and his teenage friends shared; Chris often entertaining them with his music. He also had a deep love for rugby and cricket.
Chris showed his musical talents at the early age of five, first learning from his mother and then receiving classical music lessons from a qualified teacher. His first foray into the thriving Colombo nightclub scene was when, as a teenager, he joined Gabo and the Breakaways, formed by the mercurial Gabo Peiris, and the band rode a wave of success.
At 20, Chris set his sights on new horizons and the yellow brick road took him to Sydney. Also in Sydney was ex-Gabo and the Breakaways vocalist Alston Koch, and the duo joined with Billy Colin Thome, Tyrone Ragel and Chris Connolly to form Dark Tan. Says Alston of the time he played alongside Chris Pietersz in Gabo’s band: “He played keyboards and I sang together with co-lead singer Priyanthi Manamperi. We clicked straight away because he was into everything. It was fun and we were enjoying every moment while we were on stage and it was with him that I wrote my first song St George’s Square which was played just once and abandoned as no one at the time was into ‘originals’.
“He was very innovative and quick on the keys and St George’s Square turned into an ‘Elvis’ song.”
Dark Tan went on to gain fame in the Australian scene, the band appearing often on national TV on acclaimed shows such as Countdown and Channel 9’s Mike Walsh Show. Moving on from Dark Tan, Chris played in other bands including Nightshift when he teamed up with another Peterite, Guinn Ragel. The band went through many line-up changes but Chris and Guinn stuck together as original members for more than 15 years.
Says Guinn: “I met Chris in Sydney in 1972 when I arrived and Chris was a warm, welcoming friend. He with my cousin, Tyrone Ragel, Alston, Billy Colin Thome and Chris Connolly formed Dark Tan and we single blokes used to hang around their playing gigs. Chris was always the one with the big smile on and off stage. He made friends with everybody and this went on to the last days.
He befriended the lonely and helped a lot of people who became his friends.
“He joined me in Nightshift in 1991 when we took up residency at the Bellevue Function Centre playing for weddings and events. I was the lead singer and Chris shared in the vocals and played keys. We backed many international artists who were brought in by wealthy business people to perform at their family functions. From here we started another residency at the famous City Tatts Club on a Thursday night where we played music for the dancers.
“We also started playing at the various Sri Lankan events and dances in Sydney, and Nightshift was the most sought-after band at the time. We toured Queensland and Melbourne on various occasions and shared a lot of fun times.
“Chris was family to us and was at all the major family parties and became family to my extended family as well. In my last few speaking assignments when I had to talk about Chris I would start by saying ‘this is the man with the big heart’. It was my way of describing his generosity and friendship.” Guinn said Chris never spoke ill of anyone and always found ways to cover for someone in need.
Chris married Sylvia Appathurai at the age of 24 and later married Carmel and they had two sons, Daniel and David, and two grandchildren, Olivia Rose and Ruby Belle. In the past 13 years, Chris spent his life with partner Elizabeth.
Says his sister Trudy, who lives in Brisbane: “Chris and Elizabeth travelled quite a bit, always being the jolly entertainer and keeping the party going with his piano playing and costume dressing.
Chris was farewelled in Sydney on September 11, the funeral attended by more than 400 people including 40 musicians and singers. “This was testimony to a beautiful soul,” says Guinn.
- Alston Koch has posted a tribute to Chris Pietersz on YouTube. To be entertained go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZyuCqhaWtk&feature=youtu.be