Don't mess with a soprano  

A picture-perfect life

Tony Roberts is like those nesting dolls. You open one. Pop! Another one appears. 

He has played on the same venue with the Beatles, the Dave Clarke Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers and a host of other famous, and not-so-famous English bands from the 1960s that rocked the staid music world.

But he is much more than a music trivia question and has re-invented himself many times and he is not done yet.

He is not just a photographer, but:

  • An aerobatic pilot and judge
  • An ice sculpturist
  • Chef
  • Manager
  • Village maker
  • Guitarist
  • Owner of several businesses

This dynamo was born in Marple, Cheshire, England during the late 1940s. 

His two loves were given to him when he was seven and eight – a Brownie camera and an acoustic guitar.  These two gifts would be an integral part of his life. When he was young, he tagged along with his dad, a teacher, who helped out at the local youth centre.

This particular youth centre — a place designed to keep kids off the streets — was for 14-18 year olds, and had practice rooms for bands. Tony, the eight-year-old, fit right in.

In the 1960s, youth centres provided space for energized youth to hone their musical craft. This was the breeding ground for the British Invasion to come.

Tony started playing the electric guitar at nine and at 10, he and three others started the band, The Rangers.

When he was 12, Tony won Battle of the Guitars for the Greater Manchester region — one of four guitarists to win in all of England.

But he loved the camera as much as his guitar. He also loved the strength and beauty of horses in the rolling countryside, so they became his favourite photographic subjects during this time.

At 16, he lied — about his age. He needed to be 18 to play on the ferries Royal Daffodil and Royal Iris.

The Rangers was one of eight bands that boarded at 11 p.m. in Liverpool. Their band was a “filler” band to groups such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, and The Searchers.

“We would go into New Brighton if they didn’t have any fights on the piers going on. If they did, we would just go out to sea until 7 a.m.,” said Tony.

He also participated in road shows.  Six bands would play just one set and then move onto another pub until six pubs had been played in a single night. 

You might have heard of some of the bands in these loosely formed groups: Dave Clark Five, Wayne Fontana, and the Mindbenders, and, oh, yeah, the Beatles.

Tony became quite close to Wayne Fontana and often his band would help fill out any missing players in the Mindbenders. 

His biggest regret was that his band didn’t get to do the same thing with the Beatles.  Their line up always negated any opportunity for getting to know each other.  

As much as he loved his music, he needed to think about the future. Tony, still 16, graduated from school and enrolled in Hollings College in the hotel management and chefs program. 

His artistic interest found a home with his ice sculptures there.

During his 20s, he received a business degree from the University of Manchester, got married, got divorced, managed catering to feed workers at thee newspapers, and worked as a hotel restaurant consultant.  

His managerial qualities earned him a great reputation and, as a result, he was offered a 12-week assignment in Saudi Arabia — start a village and life-support system (setting up medical care, lights, water, food, etc.) on a patch of desert.

He was paid in barrels of oil. The day a job was finished, he would be paid in dollars the worth of a barrel of oil for that day.

“That was great until the value of oil dropped,” said Tony.

Twelve weeks turned into 10 years. In his 30s, he started his own business recruiting and training workers from Saudi Arabia, Dhaka, Bangladesh, all countries in the east, and met and married Erica, a Canadian ER nurse.

They were considering a move to Australia when Erica’s mother, Agatha, became ill. 

Agatha had escaped on foot from Russia when she was three years old.  When her father, a Mennonite preacher, was executed in Russia, her family of four walked and hitched to Holland. The Mennonite church sponsored the family’s move to Penticton.

Erica and Tony's decision was made. Off to Canada, a land rich in new beginnings and sad endings for him.   

He started and operated Laser Print in Kelowna and planned to start a franchise, but in 1988 with the death of his wife, lost interest in growing the business.

Life got better when he met Robbin in Kelowna and they married in 1997.

Tony likes challenges. He learned to fly, bought a plane, got bored, met Jean Charles, a retired Snowbird, and started aerobatic flying and became a judge of this challenging flying. 

His love of Canadian nature kept him busy photographing since arriving here.  His eye for photography has been noticed and awarded.

In 2019, the Canadian Association for Photographic Arts (CAPA) held a competition, My Canada. They were searching for the best photos in Canada. Thirty-eight photos were selected, two by Tony:

  • A rodeo cowboy steer wrestling  at the Keremeos Rodeo
  • A picture of Castle Rock in Banff National Park

The manager in Tony always hunts for better ways to do things. 

He started and/or moderates three Kelowna camera groups to help protect photos from being stolen and create a safe place to share ideas and expertise.

His music days have suddenly changed since he snapped a tendon in his upper arm last year just opening a car door. Pain limits his playing to an hour and he has to think hard deciding which of his eight guitars he will use that day. 

Undaunted by this setback, he is building a studio to record experimental music incorporating nature sounds to provide back up for slide shows of his photography.

Ah, after many years, over many continents and experiences, his two loves are still together. Photos and music will always spur him on.

What next, Tony?


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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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