In the first part of this series on Music,
Dr. Okorie and I looked at the setting for what became an explosion in music in
Biafra following the January 15, 1970 armistice in the Nigeria-Biafra War. Thirty months of bombardment by the Nigerian vandals had failed to break the Biafran spirit, especially
where music was concerned. Now, I take a closer look at one of the groups and a particular individual who contributed
so greatly to the legend that was the music of the immediate post-War era.
One of the groups that stood out in those early days was the Wings, with the Late Jonathan Udensi a.k.a. Spud Nathan
as the lead singer. As a child in 1970, I remember it like it was yesterday, when Spud and Arinze Okpalla used
to walk from Okigwe Road to Ogbo Hill, Aba, to practice their music. Even now, it stands out in my memory how Arinze
used to carry his bass guitar with him as he walked with Spud. Little did I know then that those two people would
become household names a few months later.
There were three main reasons that so many musicians gravitated to Aba and used it as their base after the war.
The first reason was the presence of Mr. Pal Akalonu as music producer for EMI West Africa, one of the largest
music labels in the world at the time. The second reason was Aba itself, being the commercial center of Biafra.
The Aba traders are known to party hard after a hard day's work. Finally, Aba boasted some of the few functioning
hotels at that time that the vandals did not destroy: the Ambassador Hotel and Hotel Unicoco.
The Wings of the early 1970s was perhaps the greatest assembly of talented musicians of all time. With Spud Nathan
as the lead singer, Mannford Best on Lead Guitar, Arinze Okpalla on Bass Guitar, Emma China on Percussion and drums,
Charles Fleming on Keyboard, Charlie Effie Duke on keyboard Synthesizer. This ensemble started dishing out tunes
like no man's business. From their album "You'll really really want me back some day," came their smash
hits of the same title and "Tell me why you are so cruel." That album put the Wings on the road to stardom,
and made Pal Akalonu and EMI a have to be seen with music combo. EMI made so much money off this album that they
signed Wings for a multi-year contract. So many hits followed that the Wings became the commercial stable of EMI
Records in the 70s. EMI's success with the Wings led Pal Akalonu to produce other Biafran groups like Founders
15, the Army band with that made the smash hit "Be my own," and the Apostles with their smash hit "Acts
of the Apostles," all Akalonu's productions.
Wings' success wasn't an overnight thing. Years of hard work and crossing Over Rail, Aba started yielding results
for the Wings. Why not? With a voice as good as Spud Nathan's, you've got to be successful. Then came the 70s High
school graduations. If your school could afford to stage Wings as part of your graduation festivities, you know
that you have arrived, and you know that girls will de bokwu, and if you can take your girlfriend to a Wings concert,
she is yours for the rest of your high school years. The Wings started filling concert halls from Holy Ghost College
Owerri to University of Nigeria Nssukka. Spud's dancing and floorshows could give girls orgasms on the dance floor.
People couldn't get enough of this man; his body twisting movement and dancing mesmerized girls.
The Wings were packing them every night from Aba to Onitsha, Nssukka, Enugu Town Hall, Mbaise, and Owerri to Igwe
Nga. Then came Phillips stereo system. If you could afford one in those days and could squeeze in a Wings Album,
your house will be the hang out of every young adult in your village. To give your Phillips stereo a more bass
boom, you had to either invest in Igbo clay pot (ite nmiri / Udu) or use one of your moms's. You put the Phillips
cover, which is also the speaker face down on top of the mouth of the clay pot, this will give you more boom for
your music. Because of the money EMI Records was raking in from the Wings Albums, EMI records decided to make the
Wings the first musical group East of Niger to own a car, this would later become the Achilles heel of the Wings
and Spud Nathan.
In late 1973 the Wings released a prophetic album - an album that turned out to be the last the Wings would have
with Spud Nathan's voice. That album became a beer parlor debate item. Even today, from the title song of that
album, "I am a single boy," many arm chair prognosticators and pundits still argue that Spud knew he
was going to die, that he sang about his own death. Many have said the lyrics of that song means that Spud knew
what was coming. Whichever side you are on in that debate, I will leave it for history.
Then came that faithful Friday Night show at UNN. As I stated earlier, the Wings were to become the first group
to own individual cars in the early 1970s. That faithful Friday, Arinze Okpalla and Mannford Best's Toyota cars
were delivered by RT Briscoe Aba, and Spud's car was to arrive Monday from Lagos. So, that particular Friday night's
show at UNN was going to be like no other shows. No more riding in buses with the musical instruments. It was time
to go in style. Spud Nathan rode with Mannford Best in Best's new car to Nssukka that day. During break that night,
Mannford Best had sex with a girl in that car. This infuriated Spud Nathan, to the point Spud and Mannford Best
exchanged so many harsh words. Spud told Mannford that he has defiled a car that had not been blessed, and not
even a day old. Spud even went further and told Mannford that he will not ride with him back to Aba after the show.
After the show that night, Arinze approached Spud and ask him if he will like to catch a ride with him (Arinze)
back to Aba, Spud said no, because he wouldn't want Mannford to take their misunderstanding about the sex in the
car incidence serious. Arinze drove off to Aba, and Mannford and Spud followed behind.
On the way home to Aba, anybody that traveled through any Eastern Region roads in the early 1970s will know what
death trap those roads were. To add insult to injury, the so-called East Central State Administrator, Dr Ukpabi
Asika, had the gull to tell us then that good roads cause accidents. So, on reaching Njaba Bridge, at this point
Spud was sleeping while Mannford was driving, Mannford said that he thought he saw an elderly woman, and was trying
to avoid hitting her, and went into on-coming traffic, hit a vehicle, swerved, and hit another object. Now that
I am older and graying, my beliefs about the whole incident have changed. So, as Spud was sleeping when this accident
happened, he woke up with that trauma shock and collapsed, this accident happened about 3.30am. Arinze got to Aba;
no Spud and no Mannford Best. The Wings were to play an afternoon jump in Aba that Saturday afternoon. Instead
of the jump, Aba went into somber mood when the news reached the city that Spud Nathan had died early that morning.
How could this happen? How could this talented man be uprooted in his prime? This is not happening to us. How did
this man I used to greet every morning on his way to practice have to die, his beautiful voice silenced forever?
Aba was not the same for a long time. Reality hit everyone the day Spud's coffin left Aba to Ihiala for burial.
A mother had lost her only son. Sisters had lost their only brother. For the rest of us, we lost a friend and an
entertainer. However, for the Udensi family, their loss couldn't be any bigger. Their lives would never be the
same. Mother Udensi's life changed for ever after she lost her only son.
After the burial of Spud, what about the Wings? Where do they go from there? To play or not to play?, Should they
fold the band and go their separate ways. So many unanswered questions. Monday morning quarterbacking takes a new
role. May be Spud shouldn't have rode with Mannford after the argument that night. May be Arinze should have insisted
that Spud Ride with him. Nobody could answer any of these questions.
Back to the issue of Wings. Almost every member of the Wings was in a funk after Spud's death. The blame game and
factions developed between what was once the most popular music group. People started taking sides. Either you
are with Arinze or you are with Mannford. The Blame game and Mannford's affluent background started coming out
in the open. There was a time when nobody cared whether Mannford was from a well to do family or not. What about
Udensi's family who have lost their only son. Where do they go from here?
Nd'Igbo being who we are, superstition is part of our culture; this made life unbearable for Mannford Best. Many
started blaming him, that if he had not had sex in that car that night may be the accident wouldn't have happened.
Some even went as far as saying that the old woman Mannford saw on Njaba bridge that early morning was the same
woman he had sex with earlier. That the girl Mannford slept with was a ghost. Some said had Mannford waited until
the car was blessed that Spud would still be alive. Which school of thought do you belong to? You be the judge
of that, the only thing I know is a man is gone forever.
Now came the inevitable. Was the Wings going to be the same as one unit considering everything that was going on
and all the ego that started to sip in? Spud was the leader. Now that he is gone who is going to be the leader.
Will Arinze yield to Mannford considering everything? Will Mannford's ego allow him to yield to Arinze? Arinze
still dazed from the death of Spud was not in the mood for any talk of music careers and leaders. Arinze suggested
that the Wings mourn for Spud Nathan for two years, no concerts, no record releases for two years. This didn't
seat well with Mannford Best, who insisted that they continue playing while mourning and honoring Spud. Wow! That
exacerbated things; it was like pouring fuel into an already flaming fire. Mannford's idea to many was like a slap
to Spud, considering that it was Mannford's car that was involved in the accident that claimed Spud's life. People
started talking again. May be it wasn't an accident. May be Mannford wanted to become the bandleader; that is why
he eliminated Spud. This would come to hunt Mannford for long time; some have even said that if it weren't that
Mannford came from a well to do family, this would have cost him his own life, because many adoring fans loved
Spud, and would have lynched Mannford.
The outcome of this fight after Spud's death will not leave anybody happy, not EMI records, not the millions of
Wings fans, not the musicians themselves. Even other Music groups in Aba in those days took sides. Some supporting
Arinze, and others supporting Mannford Best. Where do we go from here, Arinze walked? Arinze and some other members
of the Wings insisted that they would have to mourn for Spud for two years. Mannford Best went on to form Super
Wings; this was the end of Wings, as we knew it during the Spud era.
The Super wings continued playing concerts, life wasn't rosy for the Arinze led faction in those two years; no
income coming in, no concerts, it was tough, their resolve and determination and devotion to Spud was tested. The
disagreements led to the birth of two factions of the Wings, Original Wings led by Arinze Okpalla, with Jerry Denmua
on lead vocal, Charlie Effie Duke, Charlie Fleming, and Emma Chinaka (aka Emma China), and the Super Wings led
by Mannford Best.
Mannford went on to recruit other Musicians to compliment him in his Super wings Band, musicians like Jerry Boyfriend
on Vocals. Arinze and the original Wings mourned for Spud for 2 good years, before coming out with their smash
mega hit "Tribute to Spud Nathan" this album sold like there was no tomorrow. This Album was followed
by another honor to Spud, titled my good friend Nathan. Mannford Best also released a tribute to Spud, although
his version was not as successful as Original Wings Version. Probably because Spud death still dogged Mannford
Best through out the 1970s.
Many of the boys Mannford recruited abandoned him, the vagabond Jerry Boyfriend was the first to leave, followed
by others. In music, success creates stability. Unfortunately, original Wings couldn't transfer their commercial
success into stable cohesiveness. So after their last Hit "Remake the world" Arinze Okpalla got married
and started devoting more time to his other business affairs and his new wife who was a school teacher at Township
school Aba at the time. This led to another murmuring from members of Original Wings. After 10 months of not performing
concerts because Arinze refused to release instruments, another breakup ensued. This time led By Jerry Denmua,
and Emma China, who recruited Ban Joe to be their Bass guitarist and formed the new group "Original Wings
Page One" in 1980. Though Page One did not last. The last time I saw Arinze Okpalla was in the mid 1980s,
in his 504 Peugeot dropping his wife to school in Aba.
It is hard today to say what might have been? Had Spud lived and how much success the Wings would have enjoyed.
Nobody will ever know the answer. One sad thing is that a mother lost her only son, and Nd'Igbo lost a talent -
a superstar. Was it fair that Mannford Best was looked at as somebody who contributed to the death of Spud Nathan?
History will be a better judge of that.
May the soul of Jonathan Udensi "Spud Nathan" rest in perfect peace. Amen.