Interview in the MK Citizen First (Unedited)
 


1. Who are you and what is your background?

My name is Steve Fernandes. I was born in Nairobi, Kenya where I lived until aged seven. My ancestry goes back to Goa, a Portuguese colony on the West coast of India, though both my parents were born in Africa. They emigrated to London with my two brothers and me in 1972. They were younger then than I am now and I can only imagine the courage they must have had, or how great was their desire for a better life for their children, to make them leave the good life they had behind. I have great respect for them and others in the same boat (forgive the pun, we came by aircraft). In Uganda for example, many Asians were forced to leave the country for fear of their lives, but from Kenya, my parents weren’t pushed, they left by choice.

England was a new and exciting place that I really only knew through ‘Beano’ comics; I expected it to snow all the time. It was before the Internet or holiday programmes and communications technologies weren’t great so little was really known about other counties in those days. Don’t laugh, but to show you how little we knew, an Aunt in Kenya had knitted blue balaclavas (okay laugh) for my two brothers and me, which we never wore thankfully. England was a completely different place then as there were so few minorities. We really stood out and I hated being different.

That’s around the time my Dad bought me my first guitar – a Spanish nylon strung. I used to stop in front of our local music shop and stare at the guitars until my Dad broke under pressure. I never had guitar lessons so it took a long time and I drove my family nuts, but I slowly worked my way through records my older brothers played and songs that caught my ear on the radio until I could play them. As I got more used to listening, the playing just got easier. I never learned how to read music because I never had to – but that’s one of my big regrets, as this would allow greater opportunity for studio work. Never mind though, being able to “read the dots” is no substitute for being able to listen, which many pros just can’t do.

I studied in South London where I took a liking to percussion and the drums, which I played for the next 11 years in school bands and orchestras. No matter how I tried I could not convince my parents to buy me a drum kit, which was understandable - they are quite loud! One year, my eldest brother Chris came back from university for the summer holidays with a good, large steel strung guitar. I immediately commandeered it and that’s when I really got back into playing the instrument. When Chris got married, I sang and played a couple of songs on the guitar with the band Winelight which at the time was the most popular band on the local function circuit. The lead singer revealed to me years later that he had pointed me out to one of the other members saying, “That’s our future lead guitarist!”, but more on that later.

Soon after, I had calls from other bands on the same circuit, asking if I wanted to join them, but to be honest I didn’t think I was good enough as I had always put these musicians high up on a pedestal. When one of them said, “We’d like you to play with us for a gig at Hammersmith Palais”, I folded as this was a big venue and I just thought that if I didn’t at least have a go, I would always wonder whether or not I was good enough. It turned out well and soon Winelight’s manager was on the phone saying that they were due to play a few gigs in Canada and asked if was I interested in joining. Indeed I was and had a great time and learnt a lot with the band. When Winelight split up, I got together with the bass player and formed Calibre. We play for weddings, parties, corporate functions and dinner dances and have been lucky enough to play at some very prestigious venues including Lord’s Cricket ground, Alexandra Palace as well as some of the best hotels in London, the cruise ship Canberra and most importantly our very own Stadium:MK. We have been privileged to play for some very worthy charities including regular gigs for Help a Poor Child (HAPC), GOAL(UK), Lion’s Clubs and Free Masons. We’ve been together for over twenty years with a few minor line-up changes, but the core has always remained solid. Our website address is www.calibreband.co.uk. I’ve recently put some live recordings on there. Most bands put studio recordings on their websites, but I consider this dishonest. Bands don’t sound the same live as they do in the studio.

I also play with other bands when they have a need for a stand-in lead guitarist/singer and recently played for the GRACE Ball, a charity function in aid of research into gynaecological cancers, which was attended by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.

On the career side, when I left college I found employment, working my way up to manager of an IT firm in Leicester Square. I loved it there, I could work shifts, come out of the office at 1 or 2am in the morning and the place would still be buzzing. I never thought I’d enjoy working in any other area as much. I lived in South London for 23 years.  

2. What attracted to you come to MK in the first place?

When I met my wife I was still in South London and she was from MK. I used to drive up every weekend to see her, but I hated MK. Compared to busy Leicester Square this was really dull. But the more I travelled up here, the more I started to appreciate the greenery, the trees, the well maintained grass on the road-sides, the tulips and daffodils in spring, the fresh air; and the more I started to realise that Leicester Square, with all its burger bars and filthy streets really smelt pretty bad. When we decided to buy a place, it wasn’t too hard a decision as to where it would be, by then I loved MK – and South London house prices were way beyond our reach. My folks are still well rooted there, but it’s not safe as it used to be and I live in hope they will move to MK.

3. What's the most striking difference you've found between MK and the place where you've lived the longest?

In London, wherever you go you see everyone’s houses along the way – you see all the shops, you see everything, but in MK you only see the place you’re going to. I like this modern design – it’s quicker to get to where you’re going (although over the last few years it’s been getting progressively slower) and there’s a little bit of mystery, in that homes are hidden along the way; you don’t find houses on busy roads, you see trees, grass and rabbits. Roundabouts are a great idea and keep the road planning neat (there’s even a calendar based on roundabouts of Milton Keynes), but even after 14 years I still get lost – it drives my wife mad.

4. Please tell us about all the ways in which you are involved in MK life?

Five years ago I was made redundant from my job in Leicester Square and was in despair. We had a young child and my wife had given up her job in London to look after him at home. I initially looked for work in London but when I had an offer from a local company I realised the amount of time I would gain in a day by not driving to London. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s a great company and a great job that’s for the most part very rewarding and interesting. I am a Scientist (computing and audiovisual consumer products) in a performance laboratory. I get to see and play with lots of new technology products. Basically I’m Mr. Gadget. I also do a lot of work in energy consumption with the end goal of helping industry produce electronic products that use less energy and do less harm to the environment. It keeps me pretty busy, but the best part is that now I spend all my time in MK!

We now have two children and with work and band commitments, I have very little time for socialising. As anyone with young kids will tell you, our social life is based around our children’s friend’s parties.

Last year Calibre were very proud to be asked to play for the first ever Milton Keynes Diversity Ball, which was held at the Stadium:MK. It was a sell-out function and all who attended had a great time. It was like an enormous party and it was wonderful to see all the different traditional outfits. People really made an effort to dress up. The band got a great response on the night and I have some video footage I’m working on which will also go on the band’s website in due course.

This year my wife Sally is organising The Autumn Ball at Midsummer Hall, a Black-Tie dinner and dance in support of our local charity, Willen Hospice who everyone knows does a fantastic job but are struggling too in this economic downturn. It will be held at Jurys Inn in the hub:MK on Saturday 19th September and I’m pleased to say Calibre will be playing. I wanted to make a special appeal here to our community and local companies for support as in this current economic climate many are cutting down on expensive office parties. It may not be a Christmas do, but by attending, you can affordably treat your staff to a 3-course sit-down meal and a night out while supporting the charity! It’s much more reasonable than organising your own party. Please see the link on www.themkmix.co.uk or http://www.willen-hospice.org.uk for more details and take advantage of the Earlybird Offer of only £32 per ticket if you book before 11th July 2009!

5. In what way do you think MK's diversity is working in practice?

Milton Keynes is just as cosmopolitan as any major city and this is becoming more and more apparent. Just go to the market and take a look at the variety of foods available and you’ll have a good idea of the diversity of cultures here. The difference between the people of MK and other major cities is that “Big City” culture has not quite taken hold yet and hopefully it never will; people still make time to say hello.

So far I have not seen many opportunities for making contact with various communities, but perhaps through events like the Diversity Ball this may change. I think we need to see more of these types of events in MK.

6. Are you planning to stay in MK for a fixed time for work or family reasons, or do you think you're here for good?

I think we’re here for good. My son is well settled in an excellent school and we hope his sister will join him soon. We couldn’t ask for more here; we have everything we need – the shopping centre is on a par with anything you’ll find in London and you can get hold of whatever you need without having to travel too far. We love it here.

7. If someone who had never been to MK before was considering moving here to make a new life, what's the best piece of advice you could give them?

I’d say to make use of everything MK has to offer and if at all possible try to find a local job. Salaries may not be as high as in major cities, but the quality of life more than makes up for it.

However you chose to make your new life in MK, never ever forget where you came from and what your parents had to do to get you to where you are. Be proud of what you are in knowing that you and your culture are the final culmination of every struggle, every hurdle and every achievement that all of your ancestors had to go through in their difficult lives.

8. Tell us something about the city/country of your origins which only a local would know, which you wouldn't find in the standard guidebooks?

It may sound silly, but to be totally truthful, I’m not entirely sure what my country of origin is. Is it my ancestral Goa, with its beautiful beaches and wonderful mix of Portuguese Indian cuisine; did you know that the Vindaloo is a Goan dish? Is it my place of birth, Nairobi, Kenya with its fantastic wildlife and scenery, where my Dad was the local hero for his sporting talents; he excelled in table tennis as a young boy, then tennis and finally billiards and snooker and has cupboards full of trophies to show for it. Or is it London where I grew up? They have been a major influence on my life and are all part of who I am now. As to how they are now, I don’t think Kenya is a safe place to live, but then again much of London isn’t either and I wouldn’t like to bring our children up anywhere other than MK. I have no favourites, but when it comes to my ideal holiday – it would have to be Goa!

9. You're probably aware that MK has a mixed reputation in the rest of the UK because it's so new and so different - people say it's too bland, or too American, or too manufactured. What would you say to people who can't find anything good to say about the city? 

I would tell them that I used to have the same view, before I knew better. Milton Keynes is not an open book. It wants to be explored. Some parts of MK are so very different to others. The outskirts are very countrified and the city centre, so very modern. Yes parts of it are planned and manufactured so its evolution is controlled in some way, but that’s got to be better than crooked roads, traffic jams and a struggling drainage system.

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