Sun | May 29, 2022

Deaths hit hard but Mighty Diamonds are still forever

Group leaves enduring legacy

Published:Sunday | April 3, 2022 | 12:10 AMYasmine Peru - Sunday Gleaner Writer
The Mighty Diamonds in performance.
The Mighty Diamonds in performance.
Judge Diamond (left) the sole remaining member of the MIghty Diamonds on stage with Tabby Diamond at Rebel Salute in 2019.
Judge Diamond (left) the sole remaining member of the MIghty Diamonds on stage with Tabby Diamond at Rebel Salute in 2019.
The Mighty Diamonds in 1975.
The Mighty Diamonds in 1975.

Members of the Mighty Diamonds in a July 2008 photo.
Members of the Mighty Diamonds in a July 2008 photo.
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News of the death of Fitzroy ‘Bunny Diamond’ Simpson of reggae trio, the Mighty Diamonds, on April 1, considered April Fool’s Day, sounded like a joke. But it was all too real. It was only three days before, on the night of Tuesday, March 29, that the reggae-loving world was rocked when news came that Donald ‘Tabby Diamond’ Shaw had been killed in a drive-by shooting.

“Unbelievable! I was totally devastated when I heard,” Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates’ (JAVAA) Chairman Frankie Campbell said, summing up the reaction of so many people. “Fab 5 was close to the Mighty Diamonds, we backed them on several shows and they were always willing to perform on JAVAA events, with or without money. If I feel like this, I can’t even begin to imagine how Judge must be feeling now.”

The saying ‘Diamonds are forever’ is one that has often been associated in music circles with reggae’s most enduring group, the Mighty Diamonds. Comprising Lloyd ‘Judge’ Ferguson, Fitzroy ‘Bunny’ Simpson and Donald ‘Tabby’ Shaw, the Diamonds have given such reggae anthems as Pass the Kutchie, Have Mercy, Right Time, Master Plan, Tamarind Farm and I Need a Roof. The group reached a milestone 50 years in the music business in 2019 and had great plans to celebrate into 2020, and then came COVID-19.

Nobody could have predicted that two years after the pandemic, with plans to hit the road soon, tragedy of such magnitude would strike.

“Tabby was the most peaceful person you could ever meet. He didn’t talk much, and for him to die so violently is horrendous. Bunny and I had a very good relationship and although we all knew he was sick, we didn’t expect this. Over the past 12 years, we have lost close to 300 artistes and persons closely associated with the music industry. Some of them we half-expected it as they were ailing, but others were just so sudden. Starting in 2010, it was if we lost 10 to 15 top people each year. We have lost 90 per cent of the ska people and 80 per cent of the rocksteady people,” Campbell said, adding that the rich musical legacy of the Diamonds will live forever.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, said in a release, “It is devastating to lose Fitzroy ‘Bunny’ Simpson, another member of the Mighty Diamonds, in the same week as the leader of group, Donald ‘Tabby’ Shaw, who was killed on Tuesday night, March 29. My deepest sympathy goes out to Ronece, to his other daughters, Gillian and Rosemarie; and to his sons Dillion, Omar and Allan and, of course, to the remaining Diamond, Lloyd ‘Judge’ Ferguson, who with Tabby and Bunny, formed the Mighty Diamonds. I extend sympathy also to his friends and associates in the music fraternity.

Copeland Forbes, the first manager of the group, told The Sunday Gleaner that he was not sure if Bunny Diamond had been informed of the death of Tabby. However, both he and Campbell agreed that if he knew, it would have been devastating for him. Bunny had not been touring with the group, having suffered a stroke some years ago, but all three remained close.

“When I see that COVID come and Bunny survive the pandemic, we were saying that he was very strong. Already people are saying that it’s the whole Tabby thing, but we really don’t know. Is like I have lost two family members. In the early days, I was like the fourth Diamond; I knew the entire catalogue and we had some great times on the road,” Forbes said.

He mentioned that he was planning to have the Diamonds, who were signed to Richard Branson’s Virgin Records label in the early days, as a big part of the tour for his soon-to-be-released book on the entertainment industry.

“Diamonds have a chapter in my book and for the tour we planned to bring back the Channel 1 era and the Taxi era,” the veteran tour manager shared, as he related one of his too-numerous-to-count memorable experiences.

“We did a tour in England in 1976, organised by Branson. It was a Punk Rock Festival, headlined by Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols and the people dem nearly kill us with tomato and egg. Diamonds go on stage singing Natty Dread Never Run Away and the man dem spend bout 10 minutes dodging tomato and eggs. At one point dem ask if dem must leave the stage and Sly [Dunbar] seh ‘No! We not running off .’ After a while the crowd settle down and started to listen. That was an experience,” Forbes recalled.

He reminisced on another experience at the Lyceum in 1976 when the reviews said ‘Reggae robbers invade the Lyceum’ because there were so many pickpockets at the event.

Lloyd ‘Judge’ Ferguson is now the only surviving member of the Mighty Diamonds and Forbes likened this to when Bob Marley and then Peter Tosh of the Wailers died leaving Bunny Wailer.

“Bunny did go up to the hills and chill out after Peter died and nobody couldn’t find him. From day Judge not answering his phone, but yuh know, Diamonds are still forever,” Forbes said.

The Mighty Diamonds proudly wears the title of longest group together in the history of reggae music. On National Heroes Day in October 2021, the group members were vested with the Order of Distinction (OD) Officer Class for their contribution to the development of Jamaican music.

yasmine.peru@gleanerjm.com