809 Band plays it note for note
The local music industry is currently not at the stage where each performing act at a music festival arrives with his own tour bus, packed with his own instruments and musicians.
Despite this, however, festival organisers must find a way to provide a full, chest-thumping, live music experience, and they usually achieve this through the exemplary endurance of backing bands.
A few weekends ago, Grizzly’s Plantation Cove in St Ann was the venue for Rebel Salute 2019, and although some artistes performed with their own bands, the majority were supported by Riddim 2000, the Unit and the 809 Bands.
On the first night of Salute, 809 Band, comprising Shawn Dawson on drums, Carl McLaughlin and Rob Lyn on keyboards, and Winston ‘Bowie’ Bowen on guitar provided backing for vocalists including Marcia Aitken, Dawn Penn, the Mighty Diamonds and Cat Coore, among others. However, Michael Fletcher, bass player, band leader and musical director of 809, disclosed that some of the band’s main musicians were missing. “Dean Frazer is also a part of 809, but he went away with Tarrus Riley to the Cayman Islands,” Fletcher explained, adding that missing members or not, the show must go on.
The musicians spent approximately two and a half weeks in rehearsal for Rebel Salute. “It’s intense rehearsal, because we backed about nine artistes in all – all of them doing seven to eight songs each. Some artistes may perform songs on the same riddim, but one’s mix or transitions may be much different than another’s,” Fletcher said, adding that although it’s different levels of demand, the players have to cater to each act.
“You don’t want one artiste to feel less than another. It just takes continuous dedication and focus to make it happen,” he said.
Impressive as they may be, backing bands don’t often attract the same spotlight shone on singers and deejays. Nevertheless, there are some bands like 809 who are standard-bearers in the industry and are celebrated for their invaluable contribution to the live music scene.
“Ruff Kutt is a brand-name band that has done the dancehall scene for over two decades. There is Lloyd Parks and We The People going 40 years; there is Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and others. This goes to show that dedication and practice go a far way,” Fletcher said.
It is through ‘dedication and practice’ and a lot of love that Fletcher finds his band’s strength. But he admits that to achieve 809’s perfectly syncopated accompaniment, they pay attention to the finest details.
“This band takes it note for note – we take sounds into consideration. There are some bands that just play the riddim like it’s icing on top of a cake and don’t really get into it. So the artiste now will turn around and have an attitude – and say ‘this is not real’.”
Unfortunately, even when they do manage to get it ‘note for note’, the effort is sometimes unappreciated.
“Sometimes when the musician puts in the work, it is not appreciated by the artiste because they’re excepting something else, or it’s too ‘musical’,” he added.
That’s where the love comes in. “It’s a lot of work, but guess what? If you love it, you won’t feel that way. Everybody loves what they’re doing, so it makes my job much easier,” Fletcher stated.