Manifold Talents: An Epitaph for Peter Colin-Thome

David Sansoni, in The Sunday Observer, 22 January 2023, where the title reads “Peter Colin-Thome:  A Multi-faceted Personality”

Peter Colin-Thomé was a buddy of my cousin Dominic Sansoni and of a few of my friends and acquaintances. It was at Dominic’s home, on Anderson Road, Bambalapitiya, we first met, circa 1973.

Peter immediately made an impression. Tall, well-groomed and well-spoken – that sonorous Bass voice. His father, Percy, was a ‘name’ in Colombo circles, as was Peter’s mum, Moira.

At the time of our meeting, Percy was Solicitor-General. He would later become a Supreme Court Judge. I had seen Percy on stage – in the ITG’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. Percy played Torvald to Michele Leembruggen’s Nora.

To meet Percy and Moira’s ‘son and heir’ was indeed a special privilege. Peter and I became fast friends. We had so much in common, friends; the arts – theatre, in particular; cricket; the Christian faith; music of all genres, with special affection for jazz and the guitar.

When the Colin-Thomé family home was still on Greenland’s Road, I would visit him regularly.

I loved to hear Peter play “Moonshadow” on his guitar, melody, chords and bass, with consummate ease. He also played Beatles tunes well. His favourite was “Here, There and Everywhere”.

Peter introduced me to two iconic jazz albums: Günter Noris, playing Bach; and Miles Davis/Gil Evans playing the songs from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”.

Next, we were in a play together, a ‘Hamlet’ spoof, titled “Yanks at Elsinore” authored by Lucien de Zoysa.

We were both Mercantile employees; Peter in Tea and I in Shipping, based in Colombo Fort.

In the fullness of time, Peter invited me to his home, where I met his parents, brothers – Stephen and David. Peter was a generous friend. He introduced me to Godfrey Lorenz-Andree and his enormous collection of jazz LPs. We enjoyed many ‘listening sessions’ at Godfrey’s.

Peter was an inspiring guitarist – in the ‘classical’ style. I remember a gig he had, at the Renuka Hotel, Kollupitiya. His brothers were in his combo. Stephen took up the Double Bass and David, Drums. This ‘rhythm section’, with Malcolm de Zilva on Saxophone and Clarinet, was – for a time – the resident band at this Kollupitiya venue. And they sounded great. Peter’s refusal to play ‘Baila’ may well have cost them the gig, which fizzled out after a couple of months.

I was once due at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) studios, to record half an hour of recorded music. I had forgotten about it, until the morning of the recording. I raced to Peter’s home, told him of my problem, and inquired if he might suggest a solution to it. He did. He gave me an LP of B.B. King performing live, and recommended I present it, with suitable introduction and closing ‘back-announce’. It was a roaring success.

Another time, I was to present a guitar half an hour at the SLBC studio. I had worked at it, but was not making much headway. I asked Peter if he would ‘duet’ with me. This he did, and shone!

These highlights of our shared musical experience demand mention. The first was the three or four months we spent, playing two nights a week, at the Palm Beach Hotel on de Saram Road, Mt. Lavinia. Peter was a good drummer/percussionist. He and I played in a trio fronted by London West-End Pianist Neri Fernandes – Erin de Selfa’s husband and Music Director.

The other – equally memorable – was the time we spent in a Studio (Lal Dissanayake, Engineer) creating music/accompaniment tracks to the songs of the Lloyd-Weber composition, “Song and Dance”, which Michele Leembruggen performed, solo, at the Lionel Wendt. In this venture, we were joined by Nimal Gunewardene and Johan Raymond.

Peter was a formidable ‘Music Director’. It was my good fortune to work under his direction – at the Ranaweera Studio, Bambalapitiya – crafting accompaniment tracks for Jerome de Silva’s production “CATS”. At a later date, Peter composed some songs (co-written with Carmen Perera) for the soundtrack of Nedra Vittachchi’s “Pasteboard Crown”.

Two TV projects of note come to mind. One was a TV show, featuring Michele Leembruggen. Peter – again, on drums, Dilup Gabadamudalige and I produced the soundtrack.

The other was a Christmas special for ‘Donald’s’, with a number of Sri Lanka’s best voices featured. The standout tracks were for Priyanthi Jalaldeen – “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” and Raj Seneviratne – “Frosty the Snowman”.

Malcolm de Zilva on Saxophone; Stephen Colin-Thomé on Bass, Peter on Drums and self ‘comping’ on piano, had the honour of playing at the ‘Jazz Unlimited’ session mounted on the occasion of the visit of Bob Barnard’s band from Australia.

Peter was a genial host and a serious cook. The memory of numerous dinners at his home in Australia will linger and their fragrance will last long.

Peter gave and did not count the cost. I have lost count of the jazz CDs he has gifted me over the past 34 years in particular, since we rekindled our friendship here in Sydney.

Peter was always genuinely interested in my family and has seen our daughter grow, from infant to Occupational Therapist. A great thrill for him was to perform in the same Combo as Natasha, when we did Fridays at the Blue Elephant, Crows’ Nest NSW.

Peter told a good ‘story’. He was a naturally skilful raconteur. He also had a good memory for jokes and would share, liberally, cracks and quips he picked up, from office interactions or at the weekly tea auctions. His mimicry was superb. Peter and his brothers benefited from the literary treasure that reposed on the shelves of Percy’s library.

Every so often, Peter would appear from said library, with an ancient parchment in his hand, and proceed to regale us with its contents. There was, for instance, the story of a newly-appointed priest, just arrived at his rustic vicarage, in dire need of the toilet and wash room, but unable to locate either. He phones the local Archdeacon and inquires where the W.C. may be found. The Archdeacon surmises what the Vicar is after is the position of the Wesleyan Chapel. A hilarious ‘topsy-turvy’ ensues, as you can well imagine.

I am indebted to Peter for introducing me to two world-renowned comedians. Bob Newhart and Gerard Hoffnung …and I am still laughing, 40 years later.

Dominic Sansoni and Peter Colin-Thomé were a hilarious pair. They enjoyed harmless laughs at their superiors (at school) and their fathers (at home).

Peter had many friends; and it was lovely to hear Stephanie Colin-Thomé read the names of a few very special ones whose friendship Peter cherished: Arun, Jomo, Jagath and Rienzie.

Thanks to Peter, my family and I met and got to know Stephen’s lovely wife, Maria and their children Renée and Stephanie. So much joy has flowed from these associations.


Peter’s dedication to his challenging job in the Prisons Department is truly the stuff of legend. The many, touching tributes – at Peter’s obsequies – were testament to his mentoring, friendship and loyalty.

Peter telephoned me, about eight weeks before he passed away, to inform me he had suffered a stroke. We talked briefly; Peter, with difficulty.

It was to be our last conversation.

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Filed under art & allure bewitching, cultural transmission, education, heritage, life stories, literary achievements, performance, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people

2 responses to “Manifold Talents: An Epitaph for Peter Colin-Thome

  1. Daya Wickramatunga.

    I remember meeting Peter Collin Thome at my friend Dulip Kumar Phillip’s house in the early years. He was soft spoken and would occasionally discuss with me some aspects of the tea industry. At the time, I was in charge of the Unilever Instant Tea Factory.

  2. Hiran de Silva

    I suddently thought of Peter Colin-Thome ang Googled. He lived on the corner of McLeod Road and Layards Road, Colombo 5. Across the road from me. I’m saddened to hear he had passed away.We must have been about 16 when he told me this joke. I remember we were staning in the middle of the road, as we did in those days.

    JOKE: Schoolboy phones the school pretending to be his father, to say ‘my son won’t be attending school today as he is unwell’. The headmaster asks ‘who’s this calling?. The reply ‘my father’.
    I recognise Peter’s face from the photos. I however hope it is the correct Peter – born circa 1954?
    Hiran de Silva …… I was Hiran Thenabadu from Layards Road and Royal College (now more commonly knows as Hiran de Silva Thenabadu). Living in London.

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