LOOK­ING BACK: STU FORBES

Mu­sic, travel and a good laugh – the fea­tures of Stu ‘Sonny Boy’ Forbes’ life, as told to Moya Stevens

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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