LOOKING BACK: STU FORBES
Music, travel and a good laugh – the features of Stu ‘Sonny Boy’ Forbes’ life, as told to Moya Stevens
Stu’s strong Scottish brogue reveals his origins in Edinburgh where he and his four siblings were reared, primarily by their mother, their father dying when Stu was only five years old.
“Edinburgh in those days was rough, dirty and glum,” Stu said, “and all those lovely old buildings look nice today, but when I was growing up they were black with grime and soot.”
“The fog and smog would get so bad that the numbers of all the houses and shops were on the front doors and you would have to feel the numbers with your fingers to see if you had the right place.”
Stu had a troubled school life, spending time at a ‘snobby’ school with a bursary.
“We had no money in the house and my mother could only afford the school uniform and of course, most of the other students had the best of everything, especially when it came to project materials and things like that.”
“I eventually got expelled for playing up but didn’t tell my mother,” Stu explained, “and I even got to the mail to intercept the letter from the school.
“I told my mother that I wanted to change schools and she agreed and never knew for 30 years about me being expelled.”
Stu is renowned for his playing and building guitars and his interest in guitars was ignited by people including Bob Dylan and Donovan.
“I had been asking my mum for a guitar from when I was 12, and little did I know she saved up bit by bit and on my 16th birthday, she presented me with one she had bought through a catalogue.
“It was a right-hand guitar, and I was left handed but I learned to play it, and still play right handed!
Travel features as much as music in Stu’s life and at the age of 17, with guitar strapped to his back, he hitched his way around Europe, lived in Paris and Spain and ultimately started to work for a surfing resort in Morocco.
“I started out as the entertainer in the late ’70s and ended up managing the place,” he said.
It is here he met his wife, Jo, who also worked at the resort.
“We both worked for the company for about seven years in various places around North Africa and Europe and I ended up managing a new resort on Ibiza in the early ’80s.”
Stu recalls the disco at Ibiza, reputed to be the ’second best in the world’ and the outrageous nights there.
“Thursday nights was Tanga Night, tanga meaning thong (g-string) in Spanish,” he said, “so you can imagine 2,000 18-30 year olds dressed only in thongs – very wild times.”
Stu and Jo were soon expecting their first child, Lucy, and moved back to the UK where Stu worked as a flight despatcher at Gatwick airport.
Jo sister married an Aussie and Stu decided to visit them in Sydney.
“It rained for the first eight days of my visit, but the second to last day, the sun came out and I realised that we could have a great life in Australia,” Stu said.
They migrated in 1990, settled in Sydney and Stu eventually got a job driving coaches for AAT Kings.
Transferred to Brisbane then Cairns, the family finally moved to FNQ in 1996.
“I worked for Quicksilver driving buses and as a coxswain and played guitar and sang on the return trip from the reef.”
Very soon Stu, Jo, Lucy and their newborn son, Alex, settled into Port Douglas where Stu found himself running one of Mike Gabour’s establishment, Nuts.
“We again had some very crazy nights there and I remember we did a fundraiser for the skate park,” he explained, “putting on a show called The Full Fronty with 130 women in the audience.”
In 1999, Stu turned to his love of music and began teaching guitar and within a couple of years, he had learned the art of building the instrument.
“I made my first one on our kitchen bench and when that worked, I started to buy tools, visit other luthiers (manufacturers of stringed instruments) and learned as much as I could about the art.
“In 2000 I went full-time making guitars and started Cloud Nine Guitars,” he explained, “and after 10 years I had several of my guitars on show at the Melbourne Guitar Show.”
Cloud Nine Guitars was sold in 2011 and Stu gave his hands a rest and worked for ‘Grub’, taking visitors on Trike Tours for six years.
He also performed at the various night spots around Port Douglas.
Last year, after much badgering by customers, he began making guitars again under the new name of ‘Sonny’s Custom Guitars’ and he said ‘I am glad I have taken it up again – I missed it”.
Renowned internationally, Stu modestly says that he wouldn’t mention names of the celebrities who use his guitars but one of them recently won a Grammy.
“It means more to me that someone would pay thousands of dollars for one of my guitars and just sits on his lounge at home enjoying it,” he said.
Stu has customers from far and wide and a man flew to Australia from Germany just to buy one.
“They are tailor-made just like a suit or a wedding dress – a guitar should fit you like a glove.”
He has built a modern workshop adjacent his home in Mowbray and although he misses travel, he will always call Port Douglas home.
“It’s a small town but really cosmopolitan,” he said, “with lots of locals to talk to down the street.” “This is paradise.” And why is his nick-name Sonny? “I am pretty fair skinned and not long after I arrived here, I had a couple of spots cut out of my scalp.
“Someone said it was a pretty Scottish way to get a facelift and said that I will look like a 15 year old once they are all cut out. He said I will look like a little ‘sonny boy’.”
We had no money in the house and my mother could only afford the school uniform and of course, most of the other students had the best of everything, especially when it came to project materials and things like that
Stu ‘Sonny Boy’ Forbes
Stu ‘Sonny Boy’ Forbes above and (inset) and with wife Jo on their wedding day in Edinburgh, 1980