The Moonstones was probably the most influential band in the Sinhala Pop music genre in Sri Lanka. Led by the late Clarence Wijewardena, song writer, composer and singer and Annesley Malawana as the lead singer, the group took the music scene by storm and became one of the most popular Sri Lankan bands during the late 60’s and throughout the early 70’s.
The band was formed in 1966 when Sri Sangabo Corea found a fitting lead vocalist in Annesley Malawana to accompany Clarence Wijewardena. Clarence (rhythm guitar) and Annesley (vocals) were excellently complemented by Monty Wattaladeniya (conga & cuban drums) and Dammika Wijesiri (maracas).
Sri Sangabo Corea not only brought these talented artists but gave the group the name “The Moonstones” since they originated from Ratnapura, literally the city of Gems’. Sangabo got them an introduction to the man who promoted many a star on radio: Vijaya Corea. The Moonstones were first recorded by Vijaya Corea in 1967 for his show “Saturday-Star” on Radio Ceylon at 9.00 pm on Saturday. It catapulted the group to instant fame.
Mangala Rodrigo (lead guitar), Sunil Malawana (lead guitar), Upali Ubesekara (sitar) and Feroz Asmon (bass guitar) joined the band in 1967.
Inspired by a wedding performance with “Beacons” in 1967, Clarence introduced the electric guitar to the band. Eventually, Chanaka Perera (bass guitar) and Wijith Peiris (drums) from Beacons joined the band. They were followed by Ajitha Sivananthan (piano).
The Moonstones signed their first a record deal with Gowri Corporation on the Phillips label, the EP bearing the catalogue number JVPC 007 including the songs “Mango Nanda”, “Sudu Manike”, “Seetha Ude” and “Ruwan Puraya”.
Their music was featured for the very first time on the English Services of Radio Ceylon and subsequently the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation.
The Moonstones were the first ever band to become Number 1 on the hit parades of the Sinhala service with their song “Mango Nanda”. In fact the song was the top of the charts of both the Sinhala and English hit parades. The Moonstones pushed even “King” Elvis Presley himself to the number two position.
Their major break came when in 1968 Gerald Wickremesooriya of The Children’s Bookshop signed the band for his newly established Sooriya label, after they were introduced to Gerald by his son Netaji, whose friend Mangala Rodrigo was a member of the band. The Moonstones’ first EP titled “More Hits by The Moonstones” became Sooriya’s first album release.
The group’s first contract with Sooriya label was for the songs “Dilhani”, “Gonwassa”, “Sumudumal” and “Kusumalatha” which were not recorded as they were in search of a suitable female voice for the song “Dilhani”.
That had to wait until Annesley introduced Indrani Perera to the group. Thus their second release was in May 11, 1969: exactly after a year after signing the contract. The album scored the highest revenue recorded at the time. By this time Anton Goonetileke added to the line-up for the album on lead guitar.
The group’s next release titled “Moonstones with Indrani Perera” was again produced by Sooriya, this time on the Decca label. The EP included the songs “Sigiriya” better known as “Wana Dewliya Thurule” by Indrani, “Pem Kathawa” a duet by Annesley and Indrani, “Ralahamy” and “Sumudu Mal” by Annesley.
Clarence left The Moonstones in 1970 and Annesley had to lead the group with Mike Gunesekere (rhythm guitar & harmony) joining in for compositions. The line-up therefore was made of Sunil Malawana (bass guitar), Managala Rodrigo (lead guitar), Lorenz Mauricks (keyboards), Stanmore de Jonk (drums) and Lalith Fernando (vocals).
The band had many hits such as “Dunhinda Manamali” and “Thotiya” and soon built a reputation as a dance band singing both Sinhala and Western pop music.
The Moonstones also featured as a backing band for the Sooriya album CHB 027 “Mama Bohoma Bayauna” by The Mendis Foursome and CHB 031 “Egoda Godee” by Paul Fernando. It continued to be featured in the popular Sooriya Shows.
Maxwell Mendis backed by The Moonstones at Sooriya show at Navaragahala, December 17, 1972
The Moonstones was one of the first few to air Sinhala pop songs on Radio Ceylon and the band marked a transformation in Sinhala pop with experiments in electric guitar and sitar music.
The band eventually broke up, but Annesley and Clarence however reunited later to form ‘The Super Golden Chimes’.
EDITED BY MALINDA SENEVIRATNE