Veteran singer Barry Biggs mourns loss of 10 Dragonaires - Sheds silent tears each time one dies
Veteran artiste Barry Biggs, who was the lead singer of pioneering Jamaican band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, is mourning the death of his former bandmate, Courtney Robb, who passed away last Friday in Florida. This most recent death is poignant for Biggs, as 10 members of the band are now deceased. He says that he has a picture of himself with nine of them, and he “has silent tears” each time a Dragonaire passes.
Biggs, who has enjoyed a stellar career in music, expressed nothing but love for Robb. “Courtney is the 10th band member from the Dragonaires that has passed away. He was an outstanding musician and a very nice person. Always happy and friendly. We went on many tours all over the world. He was truly loved, and will be missed,” he told The Gleaner.
“I have a picture here with the band where nine members around me have gone, over the years, including Byron [band leader]. Courtney is not in this picture. They are Vic Taylor, Winston Wright, Ossie Scott, Lester Williams, Wallace Wilson, Junior Gray, Hux Brown, Carl Brady and Byron Lee,” he said, calling each name in tribute.
“Every time one of the members pass, I really feel it, because we all were very close. Don’t forget, we were on the road on tour and spent a lot of time with each other. We were like family,” Biggs said.
Barry Biggs was best known in the United Kingdom for his cover of the Blue Magic song, Sideshow, which reached number three in the UK Singles Chart in 1977, selling a million and a half copies in Europe. He had a total of six hit singles on the UK Singles Chart between 1976 and 1981. Wide Awake in a Dream and A Promise is a Comfort to a Fool proved so successful that they gained British national chart positions. His album So in Love was voted UK’s Best Reggae Album of the Year, and his many appearances on television in Europe led to sold-out concerts.
Biggs’ journey started as a recording engineer and cameraman with the Jamaican Broadcasting Company, following his return to Jamaica, after migrating to England at age 15. He was a member of The Astronauts, before becoming the lead singer for Byron Lee’s Dragonaires.
“The Astronauts was a band, not the group that entered Festival. The line-up included musicians who all went on to do very well – Earl ‘Wire’ Lindo on keyboards; Michael ‘Mikey Boo’ Richards on drums; Richard ‘Richie’ Daley on lead guitar (who would go on to play the bass guitar with Third World); Trevor Brown (known as Trevor Star) on rhythm guitar; and Ernest Wilson, also on vocals,” Biggs told The Gleaner.
It was while was with The Astronauts that he was told that “the Dragon (Byron Lee) wants to talk to you”, so he went to see him. After that meeting, Biggs left his relatively unknown band to join the Caribbean’s number aggregation, the Dragonaires.
“Byron and I developed a good working relationship and I recorded most of my songs there,” he said. Among them was his first local hit, One Bad Apple, a cover of a song by the group, The Osmonds. International success came knocking in 1976 with the release of Work All Day.
Biggs also recorded two songs with the late Bunny Lee, who he fondly remembers. “Striker Lee convinced me to record for him even though I was very loyal to Dynamics and didn’t want to record for anyone else. The songs, Sincerely and You’re Welcome, did well in the reggae charts,” Biggs said.
He went on to top the reggae chart in the UK with Wide Awake in a Dream and A Promise is a Comfort to a Fool. Biggs continued to perform in the 2000s, notably at a 2008 service of thanksgiving for his former bandleader, Byron Lee.
“I am still active on the circuit and had shows lined up in the UK earlier this year. I did two of them, but the pandemic came and the other six were cancelled,” Biggs told The Gleaner.
He also signed a deal with Secret Records out of England, which is about to release his latest album.