Too big to fail
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
After a six-year lay-off, the vintage concert series Startime returns on Saturday, February 16, at the Liguanea Club, New Kingston.
The line-up reads like a who's who of the available outstanding Jamaican performers who made their name in the 1960s and 1970s - John Holt, Marcia Griffiths, Johnny Clarke, Ken Boothe, The Mighty Diamonds, George Nooks, Big Youth and Derrick Morgan. Startime staples Lloyd Parkes and We The People Band will be on the stand.
With few other crowd pullers and pleasers of the requisite pedigree remaining to make a line-up for another Startime concert, questions about Startime's schedule immediately arise.
The promotion team, MKB Productions, the standard pair of Keith Brown and Michael Barnett now joined by Junior Sinclair, says that the next concert is planned for December. Even if suggestions for a summer show are taken up, it is a far cry from the multiple-show seasons (up to eight annually between May and December) that were held previously.
There is another change as well. As a title, Startime now stands alone, unlike the former long-standing 'Heineken Startime' tag. There is a main sponsor, but this time around the distinctions are clear. It is 'Startime', presented by Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum. "We're moving away from that now," Brown said. Pepsi and Ting are also major sponsors.
Startime was last held on December 22, 2006, at Island Village in Ocho Rios, St Ann. Barnett puts the concert series' cessation down to more than one factors.
Main sponsor Heineken "felt they were changing their target market to a younger audience". Plus, he said, "the market had become saturated with oldies shows, so the impact of Startime kind of lost its weight because every month or two months there was an oldies show using the same artistes, at times in the same venue".
Brown added that 2006 was also a very bad year, because about three shows were rained out. "We took a bad hit because of that," Brown said.
"It was on that basis we decided to take a break."
It did not help that along with the saturation of shows, some of the major acts MKB worked with passed on. Joseph 'Culture' Hill died in 2006, for example, and if the team was thinking of a Startime comeback previously, then the deaths of Alton Ellis (2008), Sugar Minott (2010) and Gregory Isaacs (2010) would not have been encouraging.
However, the queries about Startime never abated, Brown, Barnett and Sinclair telling stories about people asking for the concert's return and complaining that they had nowhere to go out to.
The Sunday Gleaner asked why the decision to return now and Brown said "one word - demand".
"Since we stopped, we have been besieged by people, 'bring back Startime, bring back Startime. This is the only event we have that we can go to. Your production is good'. Startime, over 18 years and about 130 shows, had built up a hell of a following," Brown said.
"It had become a brand," Sinclair emphasised.
Barnett added that artistes who were associated with Startime were being bothered by people about the concert's return.
Sinclair, who had an on-stage role as MC before the concerts were put on pause, said "I personally was tired. Everywhere I went people were asking 'when are you guys bringing back Startime? I need to go places with my wife. We can't find anywhere to go. We need this kind of music'".
It is this need that the trio is counting on to make Startime an instant success the second time around. The decision to do Startime again was taken in December and The Sunday Gleaner asked about re-entering a live-music landscape which has probably changed significantly - not least of all because of a tightening economy - and they are not bothered.
"One of the things people have said to us is 'times hard, we have no relaxation to take our minds off the problems. This was the show'," Brown said.
Barnett pointed out that, for the package being offered, the entry price is very attractive. There is a price before February 1, another price after and then a price at the gate.
In a country of short memories, The Sunday Gleaner asked if there was any nervousness about the existing goodwill towards Startime, if it was dead with the concert off for so long.
"I think it's the opposite," Brown said. "It literally overwhelmed us, that is why we had to do something."
"The only threat to Startime is rain," Barnett said.
"That is how confident we are," Brown added.
The email contact which has already been made with MKB by persons overseas who have heard that Startime is returning has buoyed this confidence.
Plus, there is the rapid response by one sponsor in particular, a marked difference from the accustomed protracted process.
A suggested format for future Startime concerts has come from one of those welcoming its return - to do a musical meeting of generations. Brown and Barnett point out that Derrick Morgan brought up his daughter Queen Ifrica at one Startime staging. Then, Brown said, they are looking to include some R&B and soul acts which have been very popular in Jamaica but who have never performed here.
There are also intentions to do Startime abroad again - previously there was a 17-city tour of Europe with Frankie Paul, Gregory Isaacs and U-Roy, along with Lloyd Parkes and We The People Band.
Barnett and Brown tell many tales of the artistes Startime brought back from the periphery of public consciousness, such as Lord Creator and the duo Keith and Tex. They are counting on a similar return for the concert itself, though the feeling is that concerts perceived to have aped Startime will also start up again.
"Once we stopped they all stopped," Brown said. "And now we have started again, I can assure you, you will see them coming back."
"In essence we are leaders, not followers," Sinclair declared.