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UK

Published on September 21st, 2014 | by Victoria Jacquiss

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Sonny Marks – drummer, singer, car mechanic extraordinaire, husband, father, grandfather.

This month sees the passing of Sonny Marks, drummer, singer, car mechanic extraordinaire, husband, father, grandfather. Sonny came across from St Kitts to Leeds in 1957 and he was a founder member of one of Leeds’ first, possibly and longest- lasting West Indian steelband combo (using pans, vocals, keyboards, percussion).

In the daytime Sonny trained and worked as a car mechanic, and in the evenings he joined up with fellow Kittetians: Wilf, Willie, Irvin, Shaun and Robert for a bit of Caribbean music making. Wilf and the others played played pans, Irvin played keyboards and Sonny at that time played bongoes and sang. First they played just for pleasure, and to bring back sounds of home,  then some of their neighbours, who had been enjoying the sounds through the walls, suggested they took their act to a wider public. Later Sonny played full drum-kit.

After a number of years they all quit their day jobs, and went professional, touring round the UK and round the world, mainly in Europe and the Middle East,  for a while spending every Sunday in Scotland doing a children’s tv programme. At one point they went on tv talent show, Opportunity Knocks, and won The Caribbeans have continued to tour, with slightly different line-ups to this day.

Sonny had two successful marriages and leaves seven children, of whom daughter, Natalie and granddaughter Chloe are both also musicians and pannistes.

I met Sonny in the nineties when daughter Natalie appeared in my music class at Foxwood-East Leeds High School. Shortly after that Sonny began mending my car, and then cutting down the tenor basses that were too tall for primary school kids, and making metal steelpan stands for us. He was also at this time fixing the bikes and scooters of the local kids who would call at his door, and whatever the weather, he would go out and oblige.

He always painted the stands he made silver, and he took to spraying bodywork repairs the same colour, sometimes with bizarre results. Once he mended a baby buggy for me as I turned it into a steelpan trolley. Yes, it came back silver!

It was at this time that  on a family holiday in Skegness, Sonny came top in a talent contest, singing. The prize was another family holiday! Where he won the contest again. This was probably unfair on the other contestants but it kept them in family holidays for years to come. In fact after five years, they asked Sonny if he would still sing for them, but stop entering the competition. Back in Leeds Sonny then made a CD of songs with steel pan backing.

Sonny died on Thursday September 4th 2014, two weeks short of his 73rd birthday, and 6 years after the first stroke which took this extraordinary, talented, generous and modest person away from the world of performance.

What singled Sonny out in Leeds and in the UK was his total commitment to music and to his family, and his dismissal of petty racist politics. There have been times in Leeds and indeed in UK when it was either suggested that only black people or only West Indians could play steelpan. When we met I was running a steelband from Foxwood School, which was necessarily entirely white apart from Sonny’s daughter ( who, at the time was the only non-white student at our school)

Sonny and wife, Margaret, invited us time and time again to play for us – at his 60th birthday party, and for many a family barbecue at home. They lived, a mixed race couple in the Seacroft Estate and, as Margaret reflected this week, they never encountered any racism. Perhaps it was that Sonny was, as was often noted, Sonny by name and sunny by nature. He is already sorely missed.

 

Sonny in cap Sonny Nat MargaretCaribbeans


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