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Mid Ocean Feature on Tony Brannon

Sale of Bermuda.com is the high note in Tony's
long and winding musical road


Tony Brannon's musical odyssey has been a long and winding road, from his first piano lessons in the 1950s to a state-of-the-art recording studio 50 years later, with diversions through school bands, rock and roll tours, and the legendary Disco 40.

"Music has been a constant that has weaved in and out of my life," Mr. Brannon reminisced, "because my father was a musician; he came to Bermuda as a piano player. But he also knew that it was hard to make a good living as a musician; the 'struggling artist' thing gets fairly tiresome when you don't have a decent place to sleep."

Like many children here, Tony started piano lessons early, in his case when he was six, and continued them through his years at boarding school in the early '60s. His school was in Bath, in southwest England, so it was natural for him to take part in events like the Somerset Music Festival, but then something happened which changed his life, not to mention the lives of several million others around the world: The Beatles.

"Suddenly, everything looked and sounded different," Tony remembered. "At that moment, the piano seemed passé, and I had to get a guitar! My dad was not impressed by this change of plan, but his old friend Cyril Berlin, the manager of (skiffle band singer) Lonnie Donegan, felt sorry for me and bought me my first guitar.

"I just played it endlessly, watched other guys play, and figured it out for myself. Within a year, still in the 'lower fifth', I was asked to join the school senior class rock group. This was a big thing, an invitation to join 'The Shifting Sands'!"

It was 1966, and the rock craze that swept Europe and the US had already swept ashore on the "rock". Tony's friends in Bermuda were no more immune to the excitement of the revolution in music than he was.

"All of the guys I knew here, Paul Muggleton (Producer for Judie Tzuke), Jimmy O'Connor, and Bobby Zuill, who formed The Savages, and guys like Andy Newmark and Howie Rego were all playing in rock bands; it's what you did, and if you were fans of the (Rolling) Stones, you played covers of their music, and if you loved The Beatles, you did their stuff. The Savages were big fans of Vanilla Fudge, which was what the patrons at Elbow Beach got to hear when they played!"

After failing one of his "A" levels, Tony came home in 1969, and with the help of then-teacher Bob Stewart at the Sixth Form Centre, he passed a crucial "A" level in Economics which allowed him to return to England to start his tertiary education at Reading University.
Alas, his enthusiasm for university was blunted by the experience of joining Tom Jones' first US tour as a teenage "roadie", when he travelled with the new Welsh pop star, and also with Count Basie and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Tony's memories of that experience parallel those of young "roadie", and later writer and film director, Cameron Crowe, who turned his nostalgic "rock and road" story into the film Almost Famous.

"It was just like that!" marvelled Mr. Brannon. "We were in Los Angeles for a week in 1970, at the Continental Hyatt House, where Crowe stayed, and it was exactly like the movie. When we checked in, who are standing in the lobby but Led Zeppelin; Robert Plant with his golden curls down his back, and looking cool in blue crushed-velvet flared pants! I just stood there boggled by the scene, as stretch limousines pulled up at the door."
Tony did not deny that the presence of "groupies" was a welcome distraction, but unsurprisingly, this turned out not to be the best preparation for a life of academic rigour at university, and study was not high on his agenda.

"I did make it to Reading on time, but that was about the extent of my efforts. I proceeded to spend the whole first year in the pub, with new friends who were also big fans of Pink Floyd, and we spent all day listening to the music and getting into 'altered states'."

AFTER "flunking out" and returning again to Bermuda, Tony eventually saw the wisdom of continuing his education in the US, and went off to the Hotel School at Cornell in 1973.

"It was all about the effectiveness of parental pressure," saidTony.
"They told me there would be no money from them, and that I'd starve in England, and I 'blinked'. In some ways, I wonder how life would have turned out if I had stayed on in England, as I really wanted to do.

"I came to one of those forks in the road, and I settled for the easier, softer option. Now, of course, I am very glad I went to Cornell, and proud that I graduated."

Tony was in no hurry to come home from Cornell, and stayed on in Ithaca, New York, working six nights a week in a bar. But fate intervened; father Terry Brannon fell out with his partner, and asked Tony to come back to help him out.

"When I came back, I said to him that night clubs like the Forty Thieves were over, and there was this new thing coming on called 'disco'. Saturday Night Fever was just coming out, and the Bee Gees were everywhere. So we just did it, and the Disco 40 was a huge and immediate success from the day it opened in 1978."

The Front Street discothèque was the most successful night spot in Bermuda for the next ten years, but Mr. Brannon admitted that he partied to excess, and paid a price for too much success too early. In the end, he was relieved when the fading disco scene and diminishing cash flow led to the closing of the disco.

"When it 'went south', partly because I wasn't paying enough attention, and because I was partying heavily, I came to another crossroad in my life: my father decided to sell the building and retire, and I had to find a job."

Tony got out his guitar, played the local circuit with Nils Lofgren and others, toured with Maxie Priest, and eventually joined the Hawkins Island party team.

"It was the best 'fun' job in the world, working with great people; Derek Morris is holding the flag high for producing good, live entertainment in a fun environment. We have an excellent band and a great featured artist from Barbados, Biggie Irie, who has become part of our band. (Unfortunately Hawkins Island went bust in early 2007)

Tony has been very successful with an investment in the Bermuda "domain", www.bermuda.com, which he bought for about $200,000 in 2000, and sold for about ten times as much in 2004.

"That was the best stroke of luck I had in my life," said Mr. Brannon. "I was in the right place at the right time, although the first person who bought the domain paid $35 for it! Country domains are worth their weight in gold, and some have sold for as much as $5 million.

Tony recently sold his recording studio partnership in Barbados CRS DIGITAL and just sold Blue Clouds Studios in Bermuda.

Tony now has a small project and jingle studio Bermuda Recording Studios and does work for local Bermuda advertising agencies and discreet clients.

Tony also hopes to produce his own music and release a CD in 2007.

You can contact Tony at 441-334-8669 or email: tony@bermudarecordingstudios.com



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