Copeland Forbes says he was never a yes-man - Artiste manager encouraged acts to avoid drugs
After more than 50 years in the music industry, artiste manager and booking agent Copeland Forbes has seen and heard it all. Managing entertainers like Gregory Isaacs and Ninja Man, Forbes believes one’s circle can contribute to continued drug abuse.
But he insists he was never a yes-man and encouraged acts to avoid harmful substances. “Gregory come to me once and seh, ‘ don’t you like when I give a good show?’ and I told him yes. Him seh when him use cocaine him give a good show, and me tell him I’d prefer him nuh use it and do an alright show. Him laugh and him never come back and ask me nothing like that again, because everybody around him was pure yes-man. If him seh him want cocaine, dem go miles fi get it to please him. I was one of them weh stand up and seh no, ’cause I’m not gonna contribute to an agent that is capable of injuring your health or destroying your life. That was always my word to them,” Forbes told The Gleaner.
Though he was resolute in not aiding the addiction, Forbes said it was often challenging getting artistes to uphold their professional commitments because of their habits.
In a 2017 interview with THE STAR, Ninja Man revealed that he smoked cocaine for 10 years and struggled to kick his addiction. Forbes recalled being present in his lowest times. “I know that Ninja Man was part of that scene ’cause I saw it, I saw his body language,” he said. “I’ve taken him overseas on shows and a me haffi end up a iron him clothes and get him down to the show, ’cause him was in a different world. Promoters were on my back, and me haffi wonder a weh mi tek up a book this man ’cause me never know it gone that bad. Him come dung a di show and do couple songs then hand over the mic to someone and disappear.”
Unpredictable behaviour on stage was just one of several things Forbes had to deal with. He said there were even instances where he had to pay out thousands of dollars in compensation for their actions. He recalled having to pay £3000 for damage to a hotel room after an artiste went ‘berserk’ while using drugs, and has had to stall security officers who were looking for ‘the room with the smokers’ after receiving complaints from hotel guests.
He also had to loan money to an entertainer’s wife after he spent his income getting high. “It was a six-week tour, and we were three weeks in and he told his wife he hadn’t gotten paid yet. Well, she called me, very upset, and I asked her to come and see the receipts of how he spent his money, and she started crying when she saw he was in debt. Me haffi give her £$600, and then deduct it out of the artiste’s money. I’ve seen the habit destroy families, ’cause it mek dem nuh tek care of dem responsibility, and the kids grow up and see it, which takes a toll on them, too.”
In tracing the drug’s heyday, Forbes says many local acts of the ’70s and ’80s were influenced by rock and roll bands and its accompanying drug culture. A popular figure at the time was punk-funk, ‘super freak’ Rick James, whose autopsy report found nine different drugs in his system after his death in 2004.
Forbes met James through Peter Tosh, who resisted the ‘white lady’. “Peter never did dem tings deh. When him (James) start do dem ting deh, him seh dat will mash up your nose,” he said. “Peter never tek no spliff from nobody either – him a go open it and look pon it, ’cause some people will lace (mix marijuana with other substances) your spliff and he wouldn’t take that risk.”
Consulting psychiatrist Dr Geoffrey Walcott said fostering a healthy circle is critical to a successful treatment. He said treatment starts with restructuring one’s entire life, including ridding the facilitators or yes-men.
“You have to have people around who have your vested interest at heart, even if your vested interest goes against your wants,” he said. “Entertainers can afford to surround themselves with people who will be enabling them, so it is a very difficult situation to deal with, but the social support system is the most critical in the rehabilitation process.”
Termed ‘social coercion’, Dr Walcott says it’s important for family and friends to join forces in getting through to those with an addiction. “Because you have a unified front where the person doesn’t have anyone who would be enabling them, that social force would usually be enough to instigate some sort of health-seeking behaviour, where they start to engage in a treatment or therapeutic session. But you have to get enough people on board who would be willing to engage that person and follow through that change process.”