Sun | May 9, 2021

Vintage vacuum

Published:Friday | April 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
John Holt
Alton Ellis
Joseph 'Culture' Hill
Gregory Isaacs.
Frankie Campbell of Fab Five and chairman of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA).

Today, The Sunday Gleaner begins a series looking at the vintage concert scene - or, rather, the lack of one - as the stage show presentation of artistes from Jamaica's older performers is a far cry from the heady days of the mid-2000s when there were concerts galore. Today we speak with Fabulous Five Incorporated Band, which has done many of the vintage shows and knew many of the songs when they were relatively new.

Since Startime at Mas Camp, National Stadium grounds, in July 2013, the scene has been noticeably inactive. It was also the last John Holt appearance on the long-running vintage series. He died in October 2014, lessening the ranks of vintage stars with crowd-pulling power immensely.

Other standouts on the vintage circuit who have passed on are Alton Ellis (died October 2008), Gregory Isaacs (died 2010) and, to a lesser extent, Joseph 'Culture' Hill (died 2006). They all died abroad, Hill passing away in Berlin, Germany, and the others in the United Kingdom. Brent Dowe of The Melodians also died in 2006.

Frankie Campbell, Fab Five's bass player and chairman of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates, acknowledges that the deaths have left a void, even as he points to another gap between the baby-boomer post-World War II generation and the turn Jamaican popular music took in the early 1980s.

He also adds Dennis Brown (who died in 1999) to the list of outstanding voices which would pull out large audiences, Fab Five drummer Grub Cooper remembering how Brown's Inseparable concerts attracted 6,000 people to the National Arena.




Now, Campbell said, the major performers remaining in the vintage arena include Marcia Griffiths, Ken Boothe, The Mighty Diamonds and Leroy Sibbles.

"Derrick Morgan and Strangejah Cole are the only active ones left in ska," Campbell said, noting that many of the major names ply their trade mostly abroad.

Again, that is a gap of another sort - a physical space between Jamaica and the places where the vintage voices are heard more regularly than in their homeland. However, Campbell focuses on a gap in tastes and how it helped create a vintage music market - but probably has now also led to a vintage vacuum.

"The rocksteady era [of the 1960s] set a very high standard. So you found that when Fab Five started, the same rocksteady songs were then about four years old," Campbell said. Forty years later, the classics period for the vintage period remains the same, coming from the ska, rocksteady and early reggae period.

Entering into the dancehall period of the early 1980s, Campbell said, the babyboomers who had come of age on the earlier periods of Jamaican popular music "by and large did not embrace dancehall". They would have been on the cusp of 40 and, Campbell said, "they rejected Yellowman's era totally".

Still there was no real oldies music culture, but that changed in the latter part of the decade, when dancehall really took hold after the 'Sleng Teng' riddim heralded the digital era in 1985.

Cooper noted that the rise of oldies culture was so strong that Alton Ellis was encouraged to return to Jamaica.

Campbell identifies the oldies peak as in the first decade of the 2000s. Then, the long-running Startime was joined by Stars R Us and there were several shows annually, not only in Kingston but also in major urban centres across the country.

Then came the decline in concerts and Campbell said "the question we are asking now is what is going to happen in the next four, five years? Are we going to have what we have had over the past two or three years? None?"

Next week: Vintage show organisers speak.