Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Fab 5 not formed from blind need

Published:Sunday | May 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Fab 5 Band decked out in white suits at the Courtleigh Auditorium, New Kingston, in March at Simply Myrna.

Fab Five Band. The Fabulous Five. Once known as The Broncos, they are now famed for their expert presentations and their impressive collection of veteran musicians, some of whom are blind or visually impaired. Asley 'Grub' Cooper told The Sunday Gleaner, "Fab Five probably could have been called Unique Vision (the name of another popular band, which consists of visually impaired musicians) in that sense. But we weren't formed out of that kind of necessity. I am visually impaired, and my brother, who was there, was visually impaired, but the band was not formed out of that."

Cooper is currently the subject of TVJ's Profile, with host Fae Ellington taking a deep dive into the annals of the award-winning musician and songwriter, who happens to be visually impaired.

"I was at the School of Agriculture, Twickenham Park, then. Frankie (Fab Five's bassist) was in KC choir. My brother Conroy went to Excelsior, but by then he had graduated. He was always into music - that was more or less his career at the time. I was more on the fringes. I wasn't the real bona fide musician. I knew a couple of things," Cooper divulged.

Then came a vacancy in Union Square, Cross Roads, at the Bronco Club. "It was a small lounge, but very prestigious," Cooper recalled. This was during a time Cooper calls the 'big band' era, when ska music grew in popularity and having residencies were the order of the day. After Conroy learned of the vacancy, he, Asley and Campbell, having never played together before, discussed three songs and let the owner hear it then.

"The boss told us we could start, but we faked and said we had another gig." This gave time to increase the band, taking on Junior Bailey (guitarist), and Peter Scarlett (vocalist) and rehearse the following day in preparation for the night. "We became five persons there. We were The Broncos at the time," Cooper said. He calls the initial members of Fab Five a mixed bag of everyday people. Scarlett, Campbell, Bailey and Stevie Golding were all coming from Kingston College. "Unique Vision was also a mixed bag, but all of them were visually impaired except on a couple of occasions they had a lead vocalist who was regular, 20/20 vision," Cooper said.

Campbell's uncle was the owner of Hotel Kingston, located where the Kingston School of Nursing currently stands. They were hired as the resident band there, abandoning the Broncos titling. It was when the band was requested to play by the hotel's poolside that the boss had to consider a new name for the band - then introduced them as The Fabulous Five.

"As for Unique Vision, they were formed after the Fab Five. "We kinda took them under our wings and push them. But one of the problems is that people in general do not accept people with a disability," Cooper told The Sunday Gleaner.

Cooper maintains that there are social issues and stigma against visually impaired musicians, despite the fact that Fab Five and Unique Vision continues as a staple in the local music industry. "If there were two bands up for grabs - if there was Johnny T and the Dreadlocks and Unique Vision - they would probably go for Johnny T, even though Unique Vision is a better band," he analogised.

Fab Five band consists of manager Frankie Campbell (bass), Harold (Jr) Bailey (guitar, flute, saxophone and now part-time sound engineer), musical director Grub Cooper (drums and lead vocals), Sidney Thorpe (keyboards), Donovan Lee Palmer (keyboards), Romeo Gray (trombone), Andre Palmer (trumpet), Andrew Cassanova (vocals), and Cleveland Manderson (guitar and vocals), who has been working with the Unique Vision band for more than 27 years. Other people perform from time to time as part of the wider Stage Records family. Among dozens of other national awards, Grub Cooper and Frankie Campbell have each been awarded the Order of Distinction (OD) by the Government for their contribution to the development of Jamaican music.