Skacore: Guest Blog by Jef Delvaux

The following is a guest blog by friend and fellow skamrade Jef Delvaux. If you have a topic about which you would like to opine beyond a Facebook post, please let me know–I’m happy to provide a space for inquiry and discussion!

Heather Augustyn

Recently Aaron Porter – whose name is somewhat prominent in the online digital ska-world but otherwise unknown to me – asked how the hardcore community relates to so-called skacore. Is it maligned or is rather seen as another subgenre such as metalcore? I needed a bit space to comment on that, so I took it upon myself to write a bit about it here.

An earlier version of myself hung out quite a bit on the message board of the (now defunct, I believe) hardcore label Sober Mind Records. There the owner of the label and singer of Liar, Hans Verbeke, once posted ‘Ska is de Vijand’ which immediately translates to ‘Ska is the Enemy’. The statement did not come with any qualifiers, so we can safely assume that it applied to any kind of ska. And much more recently when someone, who is in the process of mapping those who do and don’t like ska, put that question, via Twitter, to Converge. They answered, without qualification: Fuck no.

Obviously the samples on offer here are limited and will not speak to each and every hardcore kid. But, I do think that they are tracking a sense of low key hostility that is felt by many who identify with the hardcore scene. Below is how I account for it, but it requires that I first say a bit more on where to situate skacore in the broader family of genres.

The name is, obviously enough, a compound of ska and hardcore. I won’t be so foolish to give a comprehensive definition of ska here, but at the very least part of a meaningful conception of ska, is that is Jamaican dance music that was born from fusing, distilling and re-ordering musical elements that are found in indigenous Caribbean music, African rhythms, classical R&B, soul, jazz, … If you could only give one paradigm example for it, it would have to be The Skatalites. The music travelled from there and when it took hold in the UK, it gave rise to a faster interpretation of the genre known to the world as 2tone. Here the paradigm example would be The Specials. And although the origins of a later development of the genre are much harder to track, it is clear that at some point in the late early nineties a new norm had established itself, bands would play ska verses that were followed by punk choruses or vice versa. That particular interpretation of the broader ska genre became, intuitively enough, known as skapunk. A fitting paradigm example would be the band Less Than Jake.

Within this development skapunk occupies a distinct position. The earliest incarnation of ska, in Jamaica in the late fifties and early sixties of the previous century, was a unique blend of a wide variety of musical traditions and 2tone was very much a development that, for the most part, operated within the framework that traditional ska had given to the world. (If this sounds all too mysterious, I encourage you to compare Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond with Madness’s rendition.)

Skapunk bands made that legacy their own by adding punk elements to ska music. They did this, for the most part, not by fusing punk into the already rich mosaic of musical layers, but rather by juxtaposing ska and punk in one and the same song.  A consequence of this is, is that one can treat ska punk both as a subgenre of punk and as a subgenre of ska.

You may be inclined to think that if it became common to write songs in which ska alternated with punk, then it was only a matter of time before bands would start juxtaposing ska with hardcore. And thus it stands to reason that as much as skapunk is both at home in the world of ska and punk, there will be skacore that is as much part of hardcore’s history as it is part of the ska legacy.

There certainly are examples that fit that scheme. The Struggly Continues by Link 80, for example. Especially a song like Right Hook.  And as I already said, despite such musical affinities, they don’t seem to be embraced by the hardcore community.

One factor, I think, is how the term skacore is used in practice. It’s not easy to differentiate between punk and hardcore, but a – I hope – fair first approximation would be to see hardcore as a radicalised version of punk. The songs are written with an eye towards more aggressive dancing. Melody is less central to the music and the vocals tend to be more of the shouting and screaming kind. The already mentioned Link 80 checks those boxes, but the vast variety of the bands that are associated with the term skacore are in fact – given the criteria that I introduced –more akin to punk than to hardcore.

An honorary mention goes out to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, whose 1993 Ska-Core, the Devil and More may very well have coined the term.* But it’s worthy to note that even though The Bosstones are routinely taken to be a paradigm example of the genre, their covers of hardcore classics on that EP are hardcore songs enriched with horns, but that is not an instance juxtaposing ska and hardcore, and neither is their interpretation of The Wailers’ Simmer Down. I will leave it to the judgement of the reader if Someday I Suppose, the opening track from that album falls on the side of skapunk or skacore.

(For further illustrative purposes I encourage everyone to take a look at a list that compiles skacore bands such as this one over at I am confident that even the most casual perusal through these bands’ discography will yield that the overwhelming majority fall short of being skacore bands.)

Another factor, I think, is that the hardcore world embodies a broader misconception of what ska is and is not. When I talk to people outside of my own musical community, I tend to avoid the word ska, because for many it only means skapunk. And this in turn has become associated with juvenile humour, a severe lack earnest, wrapped in an excess of hysteric offbeats, and so on.

It’s my sense that the hardcore community makes a dedicated effort to distance itself from that kind of frivolity. Needless to say, that that assumption is, at best, if at all, only true of a very specific subset of bands. It doesn’t begin to do justice to the wealth and depth of ska’s history.

My final suspicion has been articulated a long time ago in the lyrics of New Noise, one of the most famous songs of the Swedish hardcore band Refused. There they articulate that on the one hand the punk and hardcore world commits itself to a variety revolutionary hopes and ideals, but that on the other hand that very same world is remarkably conservative when it comes to its aesthetic values. Refused’s critique of a certain kind of reactionary attitude within their own aesthetic community came to mind as I was wondering why so few hardcore bands are welcoming to the rare specimens of skacore bands.


* Heather kindly pointed this out to me.

Tribute to Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair

Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair, younger brother of Wilton “Blue Bogey” Gaynair

I was so sad to learn that legendary tenor saxophonist and Alpha Boys’ School alumnus Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair died on June 23, 2021. Bobby and his wife Anne, who died a few weeks before him on May 8th, both became friends of mine and were two of the kindest people on the planet. I knew something was amiss when I wrote them a letter this past March and never heard back, which was not typical. Though Bobby, whose full name was Ferdinand Hagerfield Gaynair, would have been 93 this August, it still came as a shock to hear the news since he was such a vibrant character. He was warm, funny, and a hell of a musician.

In 2017 I was honored to be part of a team including Roberto Moore and Herbie Miller who advocated for Bobby Gaynair to receive the Order of Distinction for his “outstanding contribution as a pioneer in the development of popular Jamaican Music. That advocacy was successful and Bobby flew to Jamaica for the award. I cried watching footage of Bobby receiving his medal and declaration during the National Honours and Awards Ceremony on October 16, 2017 at the King’s House in St. Andrew.

I have devoted an entire chapter to Bobby Gaynair in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I co-authored with Adam Reeves, and I have donated my recorded interviews with Bobby Gaynair to the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University where they are being transcribed and digitized for public use and historic preservation.

The following is the material I wrote which was submitted to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange by Roberto Moore and Herbie Miller.

Bobby Gaynair, tenor saxophonist. Photo courtesy Bobby and Anne Gaynair.

Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair

Born Ferdinand Hangerfield Gaynair, in Kingston, Jamaica on August 15, 1928 to Mary Foster and Fitz Henry Herbert Gaynair, “Bobby,” as he was called, was the baby of the family. His brother Wilton was the middle child, while sister Joyce Veronica (pet name Blossom) was the oldest. When he was just seven years old, his father died of diabetes, which meant that his mother was left unable to properly care for the three children. He entered Alpha Boys School in 1937 at the age of 10. His brother, Wilton, was 12 years old and entered at the same time. “We went together. My sister was taken away by my relatives. She was about 15,” he recalls.

Because of his love for music, Bobby was immediately drawn to the band. “I was allowed to listen in the evenings to the band practice. They had a little bungalow and the band practice there. The music was so nice. They were playing classical music, overtures. The leader of the band was a very good musician, and a former member of the military band, Mr. George Neilson. They practiced in the evenings, every day. I listened to them and I was so amazed hearing the sousaphone and the trombone and clarinet and trumpet. I was a rookie and Mr. Neilson asked me how old I am and if I like music and he said I was one year too young, I have to wait. I was so disappointed. But he said, what else can you do? I said I can do dancing. He said if you can do dancing that means you’ve got music in your head. So I make a couple movements, dancing, and everybody, the bandleader, like my movements and they give me a pet name that never leave me. They call me Go Go Walk,” he says with a laugh.

Brother Wilton was old enough to enter the band, and soon Bobby was old enough to join as well. “My first instrument was a clarinet too, just like my brother. But I got sick with a bad foot. We were playing a ball game and I had damage and I couldn’t go to band practice for a while. They had engagements out and I had to stay home. So during that time, we got another bandmaster, Tulloch come in. When I was able to move around and was good enough to practice, him say now you go and pick up that baritone saxophone. It was a baritone saxophone I learned on. Everybody thought it was too big for me. I had to learn from the rest of the guys in the band and I was self-taught. After Alpha I played an alto sax. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, the piano, the guitar, and I can play the flute. I’m versatile,” he says. While still at Alpha, Bobby began performing outside of the school, as did many members of the band. He says that while still a student he performed with Carlisle Henriques’s band, a large 18-20-piece orchestra comprised largely of Alpha Boys. The band played every Friday night at the Carib Theatre, which Bobby describes as like “Carnegie Hall” in that one had to be very good to play there. Henriques, whose nickname was Tuby because he was “short and stubby,” was not a musician, says Bobby, only a manager, a booker, and an organizer of the band. He says that Henriques frequently came to Alpha to hear the band, loved them, and took them out to play. Not only did this conglomeration of boys play at the Carib, but they also, according to Bobby, played at Vernam Air Force Base, an American military airfield during World War II. Here they played at the base’s club, entertaining U.S. soldiers.

When Bobby graduated from Alpha, his first job was with the Redver Cooke Orchestra. He says that he stayed with this band for “several years” and performed all over the island. He also performed at the Palace Theatre with The Commandos, an orchestra led by Delroy Stephens. Bobby also performed for other bands, filling in for his brother when Wilton left Jamaica for Europe. “He followed in his brother’s footsteps,” says Anne. “When Wilton went off to Germany, Bobby moved into his position as a horn player with all the best bands. Tower Isle, all the hotels up and down the coast. Wherever Wilton went, Bobby was next in line. They would audition other musicians like Tommy [McCook] and when they got to Bobby, he got the job.” Bobby performed with guitarist Fitz Colash, Don Drummond & His All-Stars, Baba Motta, Cecil Lloyd and His Orchestra, and others.

Bobby Gaynair made a number of recordings including “Blockade” with Johnny “Dizzy” Moore and Rico Rodriguez; and “Schooling the Duke” with Don Drummond and Johnny “Dizzy” Moore; and “First Gone (Going Home)” with Count Ossie and Rico for producer Harry Mudie. Wife Anne says, “That song ‘Oh Carolina,’ Don Drummond was really instrumental in writing that, from what I can gather from Bobby. Bobby was the one that was with them doing the repeater drum.” He performed on a number of Skatalites tunes and was a member of Clue J & His Blues Blasters, playing on songs like “Milk Lane Hop” with fellow Alpharians Dizzy Moore and Rico Rodriguez, and for Prince Buster on “My Queen.” He says, “I played music to survive with the different bands, on and off because it wasn’t regular. You get a job when there’s an engagement. With all of that, I survived.” Gaynair was also a member of Lynn Taitt’s band, The Sheiks, but not before he left the stage for the hills for a number of years to live in the Wareika Hills.

While living in his shack in the Wareika Hills, Bobby says that one day he was approached by a manger of The Sheiks in front of all the bredren. He recalls, “One of my friends, the manager of The Sheiks, came in the camp and asked me if I could come to the Teachers Convention to entertain the teachers. But they had to go through government and make sure we weren’t subversive. Me, who was in the bottomless pit, was the most dangerous, because I was a drug user—that is what they call marijuana, a drug. So they had problem taking me through immigration and I had my beard on so I couldn’t hide, I had my full-grown beard. But he liked me and he asked me to come and I look at the brothers and it was like the Father, without any warning, was just taking me out of the bottomless pit to a paradise. The Father is so great. I didn’t even get a break to make the proper arrangement because I had to leave everybody, just went. You couldn’t get a passport in those days with beard on your face, but I was passed through so quickly. All I had to do was be civil and quiet and humble when they question me. The time was so short to leave Jamaica, I didn’t even get the time to take a good shower. Coming from out of the dirt, I was like a little worm. There was a lady I left in Jamaica and she was pregnant with my last daughter. I have three daughters, two in America and one in Jamaica.”

Bobby Gaynair left Jamaica in July, 1964 to tour as one of 228 people, the majority of them members of the Jamaica Women Teachers Federation, for a tour of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. He applied for a working permit to stay and work in Canada. In the subsequent years, Bobby Gaynair rarely performed, though he did have a stint with the band Earth, Roots & Water in the late 1970s. He met his wife Anne in Toronto and they married. Anne had two children from a previous marriage which Bobby helped to raise, and Bobby has a total of four children—Annette, Rose, Paul, and Jacqueline. Anne and Bobby have been married for 45 years and they live in Sydney, Nova Scotia near where Anne was born in Cape Breton. Bobby remained close to his brother Wilton throughout his life and even helped to raise Wilton’s son. But the allure of touring never appealed to Bobby, only the music. Anne says, “Bobby didn’t want to travel. He said, no, I’ve had enough of that. Bobby’s radical with the system. He always got away from it, he couldn’t stand the politics. He just wanted to play his horn.” Bobby still performs regularly, every day. He says, “It’s too late to turn back now!”

Bobby Gaynair at Alpha Boys School in October, 2017

Read my blog on Bobby Gaynair’s recollections of Anita “Margarita” Mahfood at Count Ossie’s Camp here:

Click on the following links to read more about Bobby Gaynair:

Skastalt Theory

I recently read a post by a newly popular ska musician who claimed that ska was defined by the rhythm. True. However, my gut cringed. I thought, “What about the horns?! It’s all about the horns! Everything is better with horns!” But then I quickly realized that many fantastic ska bands do what they do sans horns, which doesn’t make them any less ska. And certainly horns can’t be the defining element of ska because that rhythm is crucial. But it’s not just the rhythm of course, because that same rhythm can be found in many other genres of music. In fact, this morning I was lazily waking up while some lame Tom Hanks movie played on TV and I suddenly heard that same rhythm—the “off beat,” the stress on the one and the three instead of the “downbeat” on the two and the four. It was gospel. The rhythm was clapped by the choir who sang along. So, as many social media posters opine, what is ska? And I soon realized that a little gestalt theory (or skastalt, if you will) might be the answer—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Ska is not only rhythm. It is not only horns or a chop on a guitar. It is not only tempo or style or attitude or politics or humor—it is all of it, and more. It is embedded in a culture of innovation and blending other forms. From its origins in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1950s, ska came from other forms—jazz, rhythm & blues, and mento. From this tradition, ska (and most all musical genres, for that matter) has been created through innovatively blending other forms. Listen to almost any ska song and one can hear and feel the genres that merge together through the influences of the creators and the zeitgeist. It is like any art form—it’s hard to define, hard to pin down, exactly what it is. Which is why we give simple answers that don’t fit—like “fast reggae with horns,” or “a precursor to reggae” or “a form of Jamaican jazz” or any other quick retort we blurt out before diving into a deeper explanation.

It is that deeper explanation that is required here, and no social media post or even blog post can get to the heart of it. It is too rich. It must be heard and felt and understood. Ska is a serious art form, and I don’t mean the word “serious” here in an emotional sense—I mean it in a substantive sense. It is what my fellow authors Marc Wasserman, Aaron Carnes, Stephen Shafer, and Lee Morris have been arguing in their treatises of ska. It warrants a book—many of them. Which is why some of us, or maybe I am just talking about myself here, admittedly, can become snobby at times and dismissive of expressions of ska that we think cheapen the whole of ska—because we feel in our bones that there is so much more that needs to be said and understood and heard. Whatever one’s output of ska be—whether it is cloaked in a pork pie hat or a Hawaiian shirt—it is part of this whole. This massive genre. This movement and community. And that is all worth celebrating.

What are your thoughts? Chime in below.

New Millie Small Single Released Posthumously

First single in two decades, “Beautiful Day,” Release set for April 30th

Though Legendary Jamaican recording artist died on May 5, 2020, her legacy will live forever. To celebrate her passion for life and love of music, the world will once again experience the effervescent Millie Small with a new recording, “Beautiful Day,” released on April 30, 2021, now available for pre-order.

Recorded before her death on October 12, 2017 at Vanguard Studios in Camberwell, London, the song was written by Millie Small in the 1990s. Her daughter Jaelee Small, a recording artist and vocalist in her own right, encouraged her mum to record “Beautiful Day” in celebration Millie’s 70th birthday. Jaelee explains, “The song lyrics talk about going home on the first of May so the timing is perfect and it marks one year since she passed away so this seemed a fitting tribute to mark the occasion. I don’t want people to forget her legacy. Her heart and song will continue to live on.”

Jaelee coaxed her mum back into the studio and says though it wasn’t easy at first, the result was incredible. “She was quite reclusive and content at home so I thought getting her to studio would     be the hard part. I planted a gin and tonic in her hand, bottle of rum in my bag to share and we drove her through London with my flatmate driving and me and mother in the back laughing and seeing London. It was a long time since we went outside of west London together, so I really enjoyed the journey. We got there and did all the introductions. Everyone had fun and they loved the session and working with her. Good vibes all round! And rum … a lot of rum!”

Jaelee says that five songs were recorded at the session but “the one that really got the room going was the one that will be released to her beloved fans.” It took Jaelee a full year to release the song because the grieving process has been understandably difficult, but the song, she hopes, will bring healing to all through the spirit of the lyrics and the voice of her mum. Jaelee says, “I would like to give her fans a final gift and to share her happy moments. She sang this song to me as long as I knew her and to see it properly recorded on that day made me happy indeed. ‘My Boy Lollipop’ is still as popular as ever but this is the chance to hear her original music, as intended and for her fans to hear it.”

A video of the recording, including a singing-and-dancing Millie Small, will accompany the release. More information and pre-purchase is available at

Those who performed on the song include the following:


BASS – DERRICK McINTYRE (Jamiroquai, Beverley Knight)  

DRUMS – JOSE JOYETTE (Ibibio Sound Machine, Mother Earth)  

GUITAR – ALFRED KARI BANNERMAN (Osibisa, Ibibio Sound Machine)  

KEYS –  STEVE HOLMES (Alicia Myers, Glenn Jones)  

PERCUSSION – PRESTON HEYMAN (Kate Bush, Terrence Trent D’arby)  

SAXOPHONE – DEREK NASH (Nile Rodgers, Chaka Khan)  

TROMBONE – WINSTON ROLLINS (Aswad, Jools Holland)  

TRUMPET – GEORGE HOGG (Mica Paris, Van Morrison)  





Sean Connery, 007

As if 2020 hasn’t been bad enough, the world received news that legendary Scottish actor Sir Thomas Sean Connery died in Nassau on Halloween. Though he played many iconic characters during the course of his lengthy career, such as the father of Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose (one of my favorite movies, though the Umberto Eco book is better), Ramirez in Highlander, and dozens of others, it was the first role he played for which he is most well known. Sean Connery is James Bond. His first professional acting role was as 007, and the first 007 film was Dr. No. Sean Connery made this franchise a success, but we ska fans like to think that Jamaican had a little hand in boosting that success.

To celebrate the life of Sean Connery in my own little way, I offer below a sample chapter from my book Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound. This chapter is titled “007 Is Here Sir.” Enjoy!

And to order a signed copy of this book for only $15 plus $2 shipping within the U.S., please instant message me on Facebook or email me at

Daily Gleaner, September 17, 1963

Chapter Two: 007 Is Here Sir

by Heather Augustyn

“Underneath the mango tree,” sings Honey Ryder as she emerges like a siren from the waters of the Caribbean Sea in Crab Key, Ocho Rios. She not only lured James Bond with her iconic white bikini, but she also lured tourists to Jamaica, as did writer Ian Fleming through his books and his first James Bond film, Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica. “This film put the spotlight on Jamaican culture,” says Jamaica Observer reporter Howard Campbell when looking back on the 55th anniversary of the film. Crates of Red Stripe beer, plane landings amid tropical palm trees at Palisadoes Airport, and crowds of clubgoers with their hands above their heads singing along to the band, “Jump up jump up!” helped to popularize Jamaica to the world in 1962, further preparing musical emissaries in the years to follow.

Ian Fleming adopted Jamaica as his home in the mid-1940s. The British aristocrat explored and experienced life on the island with a profound love for its waterfalls, caves, beaches, fish, and flowers. He bought property in 1946, the site of a plantation, that he rehabilitated into his estate which he named Goldeneye. The property was bought in 1976 by Bob Marley and then sold a few years later to Chris Blackwell who still owns it as his home and resort today. It is but one way that these entities—James Bond, Chris Blackwell, and Jamaican music—combine to produce a product for worldwide consumption. It all began with Dr. No.

Blanche Blackwell and Ian Fleming

In late 1960, producers for Dr. No hired Chris Blackwell as a location scout. Chris Blackwell, before he became founder of Island Records, was a boy living in the country in Jamaica. He loved Jamaican music and as a teenager he attended soundsystem dances and clubs where the music became a part of his character. Eventually he started recording local artists in the same way that many other producers had, first going to the United States to buy rhythm and blues records, returning to play and sell them. He, like the others, also tapped into the wealth of Jamaican singers and musicians and started to record these young artists. Prior to Island, Blackwell founded a label called R&B and recorded artists such as Laurel Aitken, Wilfred “Jackie” Edwards, and Owen Gray.

But Chris Blackwell was also the son of an incredibly wealthy family, and as such, he had means and access that many others lacked. The family of Chris’s mother Blanche, the  Lindos, had been in Jamaica since 1625. They owned banana and sugarcane plantations and they later established J. Wray & Nephew, the famous rum distillery. In 1916 they took over Appleton rum. Chris’s father, Joseph Blackwell, was a military officer whose family founded Crosse & Blackwell, a Jamaican food company. Needless to say, Chris Blackwell was a member of the colonial elite.

Blackwell was connected to the producers of Dr. No through his family. He explains, “I was recommended by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books. He was a friend of my mother.” (Incidentally, his mother, Blanche, was a mistress of Ian Fleming.) Blackwell recommended that popular bandleader Byron Lee and his band members be cast to play on film in the calypso scene at Pussfeller’s Club. The character of Pussfeller was played by Lester Prendergast who owned the Glass Bucket Club. Byron Lee’s Manager Ronnie Nasralla says that it was he who put Blackwell in contact with Byron Lee. Nasralla says, “They came down to Jamaica and asked me if I could help with getting a cast for the nightclub scene, so I auditioned different artists for the nightclub scene including Bob Marley and the Wailers. I turned down Bob Marley and picked Byron to perform in the nightclub scene and organized the different dance steps and the music and the dancers in front of the bandstand.” When asked why he didn’t choose Marley, Nasralla states, “He was very untidy. Untidy, and I didn’t think the people wanted that. No shoes and he smelled bad and he was just untidy.”

Byron Lee and his band, the Dragonaires, formed at St. George’s College, a private high school that has been home to such notable alumni as author, sociologist, and professor Barry Chevannes who was head of the Institute of Jamaica and head of the National Ganja Commission; Ziggy Marley; Stephen Marley; Abe Issa; Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding; and numerous dignitaries, politicians, and business owners. Lee and Nasralla were school friends and teammates on the St. George’s football team. Nasralla recalls how the band first formed in 1959. “What happened is that after every game that we played at Emmett Park, if we were victorious, we would start clowning around in the dressing room, singing and making songs. Byron had a guitar that a Mexican friend had given him, and he was in the forefront of the celebration, playing and singing. With him were Carl Brady, Ronald Peralto, Alty East, and yours truly. Carl Brady knocked two Red Stripe bottles together, Alty and Ronald used garbage pans as drums, and I played on a grater with a fork, which we got from the kitchen. The music was Jamaican mento and calypso. Occasionally, Frankie Lewis would join in with a Trinidadian calypso or kaiso as he called it. This went on for months and got better and better and eventually they got more instruments and started playing. And the Old Boys asked Byron to play at the annual dinner and he played there and he got five pounds for the night and he added more musicians to the group,” says Nasralla.

As the band started playing out in the community, mostly at garden parties at first before appearing in popular clubs like the Glass Bucket and Sombrero Club, they tightened up their sound and look from the rag-tag band in the dressing room. Nasralla explains, “Most bands didn’t have uniforms. Byron’s rules were you must look good on his bandstand because people are looking at you. We were all in uniforms. Other bands wore whatever they wanted to wear and were untidy. Lights must be on the bandstand and no lights on the dancefloor and the dancefloor must be right in front of the band. Byron was very disciplined. He didn’t believe in drugs. All advertisements must be done by me at my advertising agency to ensure that Byron got good publicity. I was in advertising and I was their manager.” With such a polished look, and with the connections to Nasralla and therefore, Chris Blackwell, they were a natural choice to appear on film in Dr. No.

Byron Lee says that being cast in the movie was an essential part of the band’s growth in these fertile years and it provided accessibility for their future endeavors in the United States two years later. In an interview with Roy Black in the Jamaica Gleaner, April 22, 2012, Byron Lee states, “Then in 1960, came along the producers for the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, part of which was filmed in Jamaica. They paid us to play our music in the movie. So that’s where we got our head start from. After that, we became very much in demand, and fully professional.” But at the time, no one could have foreseen that the film would become so iconic and the band would have received such a boost.

In the Jamaica Gleaner, March 26, 2006, Lee states, “The James Bond film and the producers came down here on a hope and a prayer. It was like a pilot. They had no idea it would become the biggest film series the world has ever seen. I was fortunate enough to have had a role when the band appeared at Morgan’s Harbour.” Fortunate indeed.

Byron Lee in Dr. No

According to Matthew Parker in his book Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born, “Byron Lee himself is seen in the film playing bass guitar in ‘Jump Up.’ Ernest Ranglin provided extra guitar for the final sound, and another Jamaican legend, Count Prince Miller, does his trademark dance. As it turned out, the film would provide a great international showcase for Jamaican and, more generally, West Indian music.” Also visible in the scene are a “Gleaner freelance photographer” played by Marguerite LeWars who was Miss Jamaica 1961, Ken Lazarus and Keith Lyn. “We were playing Morgan’s Harbour regularly those days and we got a call saying we were going to be in this movie. It was pretty exciting,” Lyn told the Jamaica Observer on June 17, 2012. In addition to appearing in the film, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires also performed on the Dr. No soundtrack. The song “Jump Up” appeared in the film, and the soundtrack also featured “Kingston Calypso” (“Three Blind Mice”) and “Under the Mango Tree.”

The Dragonaires in Dr. No

Bandleader Carlos Malcolm was also involved in music for Dr. No, though his experience was not as positive as Lee and his bandmates. Malcolm was a skilled musician and composer who served as a musical director at Jamaica Broadcasting Company along with Sonny Bradshaw in 1958. Malcolm also served as musical director of the Jamaica National Dance Theater Company. He composed jingles for numerous clients including Maxwell House, Shell Oil, and Milo in addition to arranging music for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation Studio Orchestra to accompany singers on the weekly live show, “The Jamaican Hit Parade,” developed by Malcolm and Sonny Bradshaw. “We did radio production, the writing of scripts, timing of programs. There were no Jamaican programs until we started to write them, things like the Lou & Ranny Show which was in the Jamaican dialect. I produced their programs; a program called Our Gang which was the Howdy Doody template that we brought to Jamaica. We had an orchestra and I would do all of the music, the arrangements with Sonny Bradshaw. As an arranger I went back to Jamaica from Panama and I used to write plays for Pantomime and I had good arranging experience. I was invited to write and play for the 1957 Jazz concerts and did some arranging and that featured Don Drummond, Sonny, and Rupert Anderson. They used to call us the Wicked Four,” he says. The BBC sent a camera crew to the Bournemouth Club to film a session of Carlos Malcolm performing “Jamaica’s latest dance craze, ska,” according to the Star Newspaper on April 24, 1963 which proclaimed Malcolm’s band the “winners of the STAR 1963 ‘Best Band’ award.” The show, which was broadcast live, was watched by some nine million viewers. Malcolm received that award from Minister of Development and Welfare Hon. Edward Seaga. But Malcolm was not to perform on film for Dr. No and instead was involved in the film’s music.

Daily Gleaner, February 27, 1962

Both Carlos Malcolm and Ernest Ranglin provided music for the film but were never compensated properly for their compositions, resulting in a lawsuit against the film company, Eon Productions. The Daily Gleaner on February 27, 1962 featured the front-page headline, “£1,064 writ on ‘Dr. No’ producers.” The story said that the writ was filed on behalf of Carlos Malcolm, “music teacher and instrumentalist and Ernest Ranglin guitarist. Mr. Malcolm claims that he was engaged to compose and write musical scores and supervise recordings, while Mr. Ranglin claims he was engaged to look after the arrangements.” Decades later at the Institute of  Jamaica, Malcolm appeared for an event, at which he told the audience, “After Dr. No came out, it took me two years to watch the movie. The first time it came out I cried like a baby. The man left with my scores. These were my original scores.” Malcolm said he wrote 53 scores for the film. “This is where I made my big mistake, I signed my life away. Once you’ve signed a general release, that’s it. I got paid as hired. If you didn’t sign it, you would get pay every time it (the movie) plays. After that, I went out and copyright everything I wrote. That’s the greatest lesson of my life,” he said.

Carlos Malcolm recalls the details of that legal debacle and the Dr. No soundtrack in his seminal book, Carlos Malcolm: A Personal History of Post-War Jamaican Music, New Orleans Jazz, Blue to Reggae. He writes, “Early in 1961, Eon Productions of London, England came to Jamaica to film the first James Bond movie, Dr. No …  My friend and counsel, Anthony (Tony) Spaulding, [who later defended Don Drummond during his murder trial, along with P.J. Patterson] from the chambers of Dudley Thompson, informed me that he had received a call from the Eon Productions field office, enquiring of my whereabouts. Apparently, I was being tracked for a meeting with the musical director of Eon Productions, Monty Norman. His job was to identify and arrange for original tropical background music, created in Jamaica.”

Malcolm says that he met with Monty Norman who showed him musical notation of the famous James Bond Theme that he had freshly penned. Malcolm told Norman, “I like the melody, especially the leading note to tonic, followed by fifth to flattened fifth, that is very mysterious and dramatic.” Norman not only liked the comment, but saw that Malcolm was an adept musician. So Malcolm advised Norman on the bass line and “worked long hours, discussing scenarios and scene durations, where tropical-sounding music fills would be suitable. The scene durations were from seven seconds to one minute. I scored 53 pages of musical fills,” Malcolm states. Norman continued to have a friendship with Malcolm, until one day at Malcolm’s house during a barbecue when Norman absconded with Malcolm’s musical scores. Malcolm recalls the after-dinner conversation.

“We talked about the Dr. No movie all night. As it got late and my guests began to depart, Monty indicated that he also wanted to leave. I was his means of transportation. After everyone had left, Monty said, ‘Carlos, I’d like to borrow your musical scores overnight to double-check the time sequences I originally gave you against recent changes we’ve made in the script. I’ll notate the changes on the music scores.’ ‘They’re on my desk with a rubber band around them,’ I replied. With the rolled musical scores under his arm, we walked out to my car. I drove Monty back to his hotel at about 2:00 a.m. He was now staying at the Morgan’s Harbour hotel in Port Royal. At 7:00 a.m., I was back at the hotel to get Monty. We were facing another hectic day of recording, or so I thought. As I approached his room, I heard the hum of a vacuum cleaner. When I got to the open door, there were two chamber maids cleaning the room. Thinking that Monty had probably been transferred to another room, I went to the front desk and asked for Mr. Norman’s room number. The front office cleark looked at her book and said: ‘Mr. Norman? He left on the BOAC flight to London at four-thirty this morning, sir.’”

Malcolm was physically sick at the news. He contacted his attorneys, Spaulding and Patterson, who advised him to “get out of town until I was contacted to come back.” During this time, the government had ordered a hold on all equipment involved in the production. When Malcolm returned he was told to sign for a check by Eon Productions’ lawyers, just enough to pay the musicians used in the recordings. But the signature was more than just a check release. Unbeknownst to Malcolm, the signature was also one for a general release. “I had completely signed away my rights to any further litigation and the matter was now closed.” Malcolm would never receive any royalties.

The experience of Dr. No was devastating for Carlos Malcolm. “I refused to attend the premiere of Dr. No when the movie came to Jamaica. I just could not, although I wanted to. Several months later, when I finally summoned the courage to see the movie, I sobbed unconsolably for days. Some of the music, rearranged and played by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, were my original ideas … I had tried to find a logical explanation for Monty’s blatant act. He had planned to take my property, even as he looked me in the eye and accepted my kindnesses and hospitality with a smile.” Malcolm describes Norman as “a thief in the night.” He says, “I never heard from Monty Norman afterwards, proving that his action was not an error. In this life, the rich may not hesitate to rob the poor.”

Others look back on the filming of Dr. No in Jamaica as a positive experience that helped to put Jamaica on the map during a critical time in the nation’s search for an identity. It was no small news when cast and crew were in town filming Dr. No. Gossip columns in the Star Newspaper followed Sean Connery and his “burst at the seams muscles and masculinity.” He was a “six foot two ‘he-man,’” and Ursula Andress was a “shapely blonde” and a “beautiful nature girl who meets undercover agent James Bond on an exotic tropical island.” The team arrived on Sunday, January 14, 1962 and cameras started rolling two days later. One week after shooting in Kingston, the production moved to the north coast where they filmed in St. Ann’s Bay. Filming wrapped on February 21, 1962. That pilot movie would grow into a $5 billion franchise with 26 films to date. It was the end of filming for Dr. No in Jamaica, but the beginning of musical ambassadorship for Byron Lee, Carlos Malcolm, and dozens of others.

James Bond arrives at Palisadoes Airport in Dr. No.

Time Tough: A Tribute to Toots

My phone pinged at 3:30 a.m. Still asleep I grasped in the dark toward the sound, clutched the device and looked at the screen, bright light blinding me. It was Julianne, Byron Lee’s daughter. It wasn’t unusual to get a message from her–we keep in touch pretty regularly, but what could it be at this time of night? “Heather I am devastated. We lost Toots,” read the message. Toots was like family to her. Heck, he was like family to all of us. We all knew he was ailing since the news reports of his hospitalization and testing for COVID ran all through social media. His fans, thousands and thousands of them, rallied to send him healing vibes. We all thought he’d pull through, just like he had before after suffering a horrible head injury in 2013 when struck by a vodka bottle thrown by a drunk idiot at a festival in Richmond, Virginia. His return to the stage after years of rehabilitation came in August 2016 at Reggae Fest in Chicago. But Frederick “Toots” Hibbert died yesterday, Friday, September 11, 2020 at the age of 77. The world has lost a voice full of soul.

Toots Hibbert performing at Reggae Fest in Chicago, August 2016. Photo by Heather Augustyn.
Toots Hibbert performing at Reggae Feat in Chicago, August 2016. Photo by Heather Augustyn.

I had the pleasure of talking to Toots back in the mid 1990s when I was working on my book, Ska: An Oral History. I had requested to interview him by contacting his manager. But I hadn’t expected that Toots would call me directly, which is what he did! It was a Saturday afternoon and the phone rang. I heard his voice, thick Jamaican accent and I raced to grab my recorder. That interview is now located in the Archives of African American Music at Indiana University and will be made available to the public for research in the coming months. All of my interviews are being digitized for this purpose, for collective efforts. Here are a few words from that interview:

“When I was growing up, before I start singing, I was going to school and going to church. I’d go to government school, then I’d go to church. They sing in the church all the time. That was my kind of music—church. I grew up listening to people who can sing, like from the other churches as well as listening to the radio. I listened to Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, a lot of great people. And I listened to them over the radio. Yeah, mon, so that’s how I come to love singing.”

“When I leave my country, I’m from the countryside, the countryside of Jamaica, May Pen. I was born down there, then I came to Kingston looking for my bigger brother, a place called Trenchtown where all the great music people live, in Trenchtown in Kingston. So I go and
look for my brother sometimes and go back to country and the next holiday came back to Kingston again in Trenchtown and visited and I meet people. I meet Jimmy Cliff and I met Bob Marley and I met other great people. They told me one day I am going to be great because they like my voice. Before I start my career, I used to do barbering. I used to be a barber and I cut hair. I learned to cut people’s hair and while I do that I get me a little small guitar, like a mandolin guitar, and I learned myself to play that. When I’m not cutting hair, I play that and I get to learn from other musicians.”

Interestingly enough, when Toots decided to try his hand in the music business, it didn’t go so well at first. He went to audition for Leslie Kong (Beverley’s) and Derrick Morgan recalled that event during an interview with me. “I didn’t start Toots because Toots came to me and I turned him down because I do auditions for Beverley’s.”

Still, Toots continued his efforts, met Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias and Ralphus “Raleigh” Gordon in 1964 and formed a singing group backed by the Skatalites, recording at Studio One for Coxsone. The sound of the early Maytals, who were later called The Flames by Island Records in England, was heavily influenced by Hibbert’s gospel roots. They frequently performed with such backup bands as The Vikings or The Royals. The first
album released by Studio One was entitled “Hallelujah” and combined Hibbert’s gospel style with ska. This blend was an immediate success.

Toots continued, “When I start singing in 1964 I did a lot of number one records. I did a song called, ‘It’s You,’ and ‘Daddy.’ Both songs, one called ‘It’s You,’ and the flip side called ‘Daddy,’ and I got number one record, two sides hit, two sides number one. I was the only singer in Jamaica that ever did that.”

Hibbert says he left Coxsone for Prince Buster because he felt he could make more money with Prince Buster, but he found that Prince Buster didn’t pay him well either. So in 1965, Hibbert and the Maytals left Prince Buster to record for Byron Lee, and in 1966 they won Jamaica’s Festival Song Contest with the song “Bam Bam” that Lee produced. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires were the backing band for this song.

Toots had success with “54-46 Was My Number” about his arrest and subsequent imprisonment for ganja possession, which he claims was a set up, as well as “Monkey Man,” a playful jab at Leslie Kong (the monkey in Anansi folklore symbolizes the white man).

Toots continued, “I carry on and carry on and carry on until reggae start to play and then invent the word reggae. Reggae was played and no one know what to call it. I think it was in the ’60s and people always called it ‘boogie beat’ and ‘blue beat,’ and it was kind of a crazy beat that people loved but you know, white people came down from England, from America, Hawaii, all over the world and when they came to Jamaica they enjoy Jamaican music but they didn’t know what the music called, until one day, I sit down, me and my two friends that used to sing together, I say, let’s make some song and that word just come out my mouth. Do the reggay, you know? And we think it’s a joke until people take it very serious.I named the record, the style of music, called “Do the Reggay.” That’s why it’s good to be Jamaican. Because I’m Jamaican I can do all these things and a lot of people can come and enjoy, so I’m the inventor for the word reggae.”

Toots definitely helped to put reggae on the map, as well as Jamaica, with his performance in Perry Henzell’s 1972 film The Harder They Come staring Jimmy Cliff.

Still from The Harder They Come

Over the years, Toots collaborated with dozens of musicians and artists. More recently, he was in the studio of Tim Armstrong working with him on some tunes. Tim texted me these photos on June 12, 2019 after one of those sessions.

The following is a story I wrote for the now-defunct Wax Poetics publication about Toots’ return performance in Chicago:

Never Grow Old: Toots Returns to Performing and Chicago  

By Heather Augustyn 

When a drunk fan hurled an empty glass vodka bottle at Frederick “Toots” Hibbert at a Richmond, Virginia music festival in 2013, striking him in the head, many wondered if he would ever return to touring. To be frank, he is not young. At 73-years-old, the vocalist who came to the attention of the world first through his appearance in the movie The Harder They Come and then in collaborations with Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, and Bonnie Raitt before winning a Grammy himself, the injury was especially serious. He was unable to perform. He put his touring on hold while a $20 million lawsuit was settled by his attorneys against the concert promoter and his injuries healed. The day after the settlement in March of this year, the terms of which have not been disclosed, he announced a world tour that commenced in mid-June in California. 

On August 13th, Toots & the Maytals, sans the original Maytals, headlined at the inaugural Reggae Fest Chicago and event organizer Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records says it was a way to welcome the legend back to the stage. “Honestly, it was a no brainer. He had just announced that he was ready to tour again, and Toots has fans across such a wide spectrum. It was obvious he was the one to bring everyone together. All facets of reggae and world music fans know and love the legacy of Toots & the Maytals. There are only a few names that have that power!” Wren says.  

The performance drew a crowd of tens of thousands and Toots displayed the same level of energy as his performances throughout his six-decade-long career. “The performance was amazing,” says Wren. “He seemed to really play the old classics including a bunch of ska gems right out of the gate! He gave the fans an amazing show. Everyone loved what they saw.” 

One of those in the massive crowd who says it was his first time seeing Toots perform was Jim Cascino, co-host of the Windy City Sound System podcast. “His performance was much, much better than I ever could have expected. Because of the accident, it was hard to know whether or not he would give a good performance. Obviously head injuries are quite serious, and especially given that he was 70 years old at the time, that’s a pretty serious hill to climb. But Toots doesn’t strike me as a person that would start touring again at anything other than 100%, and that was absolutely the case at Reggae Fest,” Cascino says. “I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him live before, so I don’t know whether his set list and performance were typical or not. But seeing him for the first time, it’s hard to even imagine that he was ever sidelined by an injury in the first place. His voice was as good as it was on his most recent albums, and he was dancing around the stage like a man who was 40 years younger! WBEZ’s Tony Sarabia introduced him by alluding to Otis Redding, which was a very accurate comparison. I definitely saw more than a bit of gospel (à la Sam Cooke) in Toots as well as in the way that he interacted with the crowd through call and response and an almost sermon-like intonation, clearly a nod back to his roots singing in choirs. I also really appreciated that he added quite a bit of ska to his set, playing tunes like Never Grow Old and Dog War, and ending a lot of the songs in a ska tempo. In an interview in the Chicago Tribune, Chuck Wren said that getting Toots would elevate the festival, and he could not have been more right. I’m so glad he was able to show to the world that he’s back in fighting form with a stellar performance in our fair city!” 

Toots Hibbert continues his 2016 tour with performances in England throughout August and September, culminating with the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise in mid-November. 

From left to right, Tony Gregory, Toots Hibbert, and Courtney Jackie Jackson in August 2012. Toots received the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music.

Toots Hibbert will be deeply missed by his fans, of which there are millions. He touched so many because of his soulful voice and enthusiastic performances, but also because he understood the human condition. He told me, ““I was singing about hard times. When you go through hard times like my people have been through, you got to write about it, write a song about it. Don’t make it sound like politics. It’s not politics. Just sing about real things that can affect you and can happen to a lot of people too.” Walk good, Toots.

Toots performs with the Mighty Vikings.

The Original Specials?

What’s In a Name

We all know that words can have multiple meanings and that context is everything. As a student and teacher of rhetoric, I will refrain from digressing here, but suffice to say that when The Specials in the 2Tone era chose their name, the word “specials” was a reference to the one-off acetate recording (later called the dubplate) that sound system producers would use to test on their audience to determine reception. If the crowd liked it, they pressed vinyl for sale in their shops. It was special because it was one-of-a-kind until the other recordings followed. This was apropos for the 2Tone band because they were one-of-a-kind, others did follow, and they also paid respect to the Jamaican ska influence.

But prior to The Specials in the 2Tone era, and prior to specials in the recording and sound system era, there was another Specials–Doc Bramwell and the Specials. They were sometimes billed at Doc Bramwell and the Specials, sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Specials, and sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Special Orchestra. Doc Bramwell was born Oscar Bramwell in 1907. He was a trumpet player and band leader for this 11-piece orchestra. The first record of their performance was in a Daily Gleaner advertisement in the December 21, 1938 issue on the very same page as an article titled “Capone Held  ‘Dangerous'” on the gangster that would go on to inspire Prince Buster and subsequently The Specials in the 2Tone era. But Doc Bramwell’s orchestra was originally called “His Bournemouth Boys” since they performed at the Bournemouth Beach Club in southeastern Kingston (the site is still undergoing reconstruction today). They also performed that holiday season as Doc Bramwell and His Band as well as Dob Bramwell and His Swingsters at the Lucas Cricket Club for “invited guests only,” and in this era of segregation, one can only assume what that means.

They performed dance music and orchestra music for tourists and the wealthy who came to visit Jamaica which was still a British colony for another two-plus decades. They were especially popular at the Springfield Beach Club since tourist liners like the S.S. North Star would arrive and deliver instant clientele looking for a “jolly time.”

What did the term “Specials” mean for Doc Bramwell’s band? The following article explains the nomenclature:

special doc
Daily Gleaner, February 1, 1939

So CHEERS! Maybe I’ll name the next band The Green Gras-ska-ppers!

Original Sound Clash

Doc Bramwell and The Specials rose to fame through winning competitions–against other orchestras. That’s right, it was the original sound clash! The first one took place, according to the Daily Gleaner on March 23, 1939, at the Carib Theatre. The article  stated, “Springfield Club’s orchestra, ‘Springfield Specials’ proved their worth as one of Jamaica’s best orchestras on Sunday morning when they won a contract to appear at the Carib Theatre during the summer season. Altogether three orchestras went up to the Carib on Sunday for auditions, but it was not difficult for the judges to choose the best. Playing with their usual mastery of the difficult modern swing-tempo, the Specials came through, with flying colours, especially in their interpretation of Jamaican melodies. The specials will appear two or three times a week at this theatre with native shows; and it is believed that the Carib management will also bring down American entertainers sometimes for the amusement of their public. These also will be accompanied by the ‘Specials.'” The rest of the article provided information on the identity of the judges.

specials doc1
Daily Gleaner, March 23, 1939

The next sound clash (to be clear, it wasn’t called that, as this is a modern moniker) took place when Doc Bramwell and The Specials performed at the Palace Theatre in a contest judged by public applause which was billed as the “Knockout Orchestra Contest.” The Specials faced off against Swaby’s Pep Wizards.

Daily Gleaner, March 29, 1939

Here is how reporters promoted the competition:

Daily Gleaner, March 30, 1939

The Specials won that round and went on to the next elimination:

Daily Gleaner, April 4, 1939

The Specials were named victors, moving on to face Steve Dick and His Orchestra on April 20, 1939, all the while playing on tour ships and at the Springfield Beach Club. Unfortunately, they lost that round, but boy, what a ride! Still, they performed all that summer at the Carib Theatre and the Springfield Beach Club.

Daily Gleaner, June 17, 1939

If you’re thinking that this competition sounds a little like the Vere Johns’ Opportunity Hour, you’re not that far off base. Vere Johns and his wife Lillian “Lady Luck” Johns started their talent show competition in Savannah, Georgia in 1937, bringing it back to Kingston in 1939. Who performed backup music for many of those talented youngsters looking to get their start on the Palace Theatre stage during Opportunity Hour? Why none other than Doc Bramwell and The Specials themselves.

Daily Gleaner, July 25, 1939

They also performed at the Glass Bucket, at gala events for nurses, and alumni events for local high schools. At Sea View Park on November 11, 1941 they gave patrons a “night of Jump, Swing, and Jive!” They performed multiple times a week, every week from 1939 through 1943. In 1944, however, Doc Bramwell, whose band was now billed as the Jive Gentlemen, performed only sporadically. Whereas he would perform five times in two weeks, Bramwell only performed five times in that one year. 1945 seemed to pick back up for Doc Bramwell whose band was now known as the Gay Caballeros and they performed at the Palmerston Club on East Queen Street. He played up until the week before his death. Doc Bramwell never married and died at Kingston Public Hospital at the age of 39 on November 19, 1949 of a perforated gastric ulcer which became blood borne causing toxemia. The newspaper account from the Daily Gleaner on November 11, 1946 follows:

doc death

Tribute to Apple Gabriel

I was shocked to learn of the death of Apple Gabriel at the end of March. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, but that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes Apple would hit a rough patch and go silent. His health, his bouts with homelessness, his transient lifestyle all made keeping in regular touch difficult. But this, I did not expect. You see, Apple was always tough–one of the toughest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I guess I thought, in a way, he was invincible. I was wrong. Apple Gabriel was human and vulnerable and emotional and such a beautiful creature. I am really going to miss him.

As a tribute to Apple Gabriel, I post here the chapter I wrote for Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music. As Apple would tell me all the time, this is just a small slice of his life. “We could have a whole book! Two books, man!” he would regularly say at the end of some particularly fascinating story. And he was full of stories–so many of them that one wondered, could this be real? Could this be true? It’s unbelievable! But they always checked out. They were real. He was a conqueror fi true. Walk good, Apple.

Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig   

          Under the cover of darkness, the field slaves, house slaves, children, gathered with their sticks and torches, set the cane on fire and retreated into the mountains where the bush gave them refuge. Here they ambushed their attackers, warning their brothers and sisters across the mountain with the call of the abeng. They were warriors—fierce, ruthless, organized, and smart. They were undefeatable and today their most zealous leaders are national heroes. These are the Maroons, and their blood runs thick in the veins of Apple Gabriel, descendant of this rebellious and conquering people.

           Apple Gabriel is, like his Maroon ancestors, a fighter, defensive against attack, but as he will also tell you, he was made to be this way. He has had a hard life. He has been a sufferer in many ways, including during his days at Alpha, about which he does not mince words. Apple Gabriel’s days on this earth have been tough. But despite his warrior shell and words he throws like stones at his foe, Apple Gabriel is a kind and strong man, a funny and smart man, a creative and productive man, and he is a hell of a musician.

           Apple Gabriel was born as Albert Craig, the youngest of 10 children. “My great grandparents were white. My great grandfather was General Brumfield, a British military officer in Jamaica in 1906. I was raised by my mother and my grand aunt Kate, a white woman. My mother used to have a big grocery shop and a bar and was doing good. My mother’s white grandparents were wealthy and they had acres and acres of land in Clarendon and they produce a lot of stuff with dozens and dozens of workers with trucks coming in to chop the cane and pick the ackee and the fruits and everything,” he says. But soon, the promise of a bountiful life changed when Craig was just a toddler. “That’s when I got the polio, when I reach 3 ½ years, I got the polio.”

           The Jamaica Gleaner on December 21, 2014 reported on the polio outbreak in Jamaica, saying, “It’s a part of Jamaican history which is not often recalled…. The outbreak in the 1950s was severe…. For most children around the island it was very difficult to access treatment because they didn’t know what it was; vaccines were not available. It was new to the island and there were no symptoms. People were simply fine one day, and by the next morning they couldn’t walk or they couldn’t breathe.” There were two outbreaks—one in 1954 and one in 1957. Craig contracted polio during the second outbreak in 1958 after playing in a nearby river. Polio is a waterborne virus. “I was playing in the river and that’s how I got polio. My mom take me to the river and I’m playing in the water, looking at the tadpoles swimming and we went back home. In the morning, I get sick overnight. I always wake up early, but in the morning I couldn’t wake up when the cock crow. She keep shaking me to get up and when I woke up, I start crying but I couldn’t move. When she lift me up to make me stand up, I fell on the floor, and that’s when she realized something was wrong with me. She put me back on the bed and took off all of my clothes to check my body and that’s when she saw my right leg was shorter and smaller than the left one. She said when she touch it, it feel ice cold. All this happen at night when I was sleeping, it shrink down my muscle,” he says.

​            Though his mother tried a variety of bush remedies, his leg continued to get smaller. When nothing worked, two weeks later she took him to one of the island’s three hospitals where the doctor diagnosed him with polio. Apple was quarantined at the hospital and then sent with other patients to Mona Rehabilitation Center until Jamaica received Jonas Salk’s vaccine and the virus disappeared. “They were testing the vaccine on us. They sweat us out with heated blankets like fire on us on aluminum tables. I was a guinea pig. I was only 3 ½ but I can see it like it was yesterday. There were babies dying all around me, but God keep me alive,” he says. It was here, as one of the first shipments of patients to Mona Rehab, that Apple met two other victims of the polio epidemic, Cecil “Skelly” Spence, and Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin after they arrived months later. Apple would go on to form the group Israel Vibration with Skelly and Wiss. Other notable musicians who contracted the polio virus throughout the world during the outbreaks of the late ‘40s and ‘50s include Ian Dury, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Donovan, Neil Young, Steve Harley, and Gene Simmons.

            Craig took the name Apple early in his life, but Gabriel came later and was given to him by Haile Selassie’s grandson. Both have biblical significance, and the Bible was an important part of Apple’s life at Mona, though he says he was always a spiritual person. “My mother told me I was born as a prophet. After a while she became a spiritual healer and had a church and did spiritual healing. She was very powerful and she was called a “Mother,” which means spiritual healer. My mother told me I have the spirit of a leader. I asked her to read me and she told me I am going to be a great leader in the world and that millions of people are going to follow me as a prophet.” Such a maternal expectation on a child may cause anxiety or feelings of inadequacy in others, but not for Apple Gabriel who wears his mother’s premonition as a badge of honor, a revelation of love, a blessing. He knows it will be fulfilled, and in many ways, it already has.

            While at Mona, Apple’s grandfather died and the family became embroiled in estate disputes, leaving his mother fighting for her share of 16 acres of bauxite land worth millions of dollars that was left to her in her grandfather’s will. Apple says that his mother was cheated from her inheritance, it was stolen from her by a greedy family, and as a result she became depressed and she lost her businesses. Apple’s father disowned Apple when he was just six years old, unable to accept his son’s handicap and blamed Apple’s mother for the misfortune.

            After a few years at Mona Rehab, Apple was transferred to the Salvation Army children’s home called The Nest which sent him to an able-bodied school called Swallowfield School where he nurtured his love for music, teaching himself to play piano by watching his teacher perform at lunchtime. He wrote his first song for his childhood love when he was just 10 years old. But Apple says he was also teased relentlessly by the able-bodied children, and so he fought back. “They made my life a living hell.” The Salvation Army administration at The Nest punished him for fighting back by withholding food and putting him in isolation. They didn’t investigate why Apple fought back—to retaliate being bullied because of his handicap. “The students hit me on lunchbreak in the school yard. When the bell rang and everybody went back to their classes, I asked to use the bathroom and instead of going, I went into their classes and hit them over the head. The woman who was in charge of The Nest, the brigadier, never investigated why these fights took place in school. Instead she put baking soda in my wound to punish me and it turned black after months. She was an evil Dutch woman from Holland. She sent me to walk three miles to the clinic after it get so bad. She didn’t want to use the children’s home van so the medical people at the clinic could not identify where I was coming from and who was doing this to me. She was covering up the abuse. The doctor said, ‘Oh my God, what happen to your leg,’ and I told him the woman at the Salvation Army childrens’ home put baking soda on my sore,’ and he said, ‘You don’t put baking soda on a sore.’” Out of the brigadier’s fear of being investigated, she transferred Apple to Alpha Boys’ School. “This is how I end up at Alpha. It was a youth detention center for bad and runaway children. They send me there in 1967 in the middle of the year. I was 12 ½ going on 13. It’s a prison for kids. They have jail there, they lock us up, with bars on the windows and you have to sleep on the concrete. It was cold at night,” Apple says.

           He says that he rejected the nun’s attempts at indoctrination, which frustrated administrators, and so he was denied his requests. “They have trade shops in there including the printery shop, that is what I love, and the music class. I wanted to join the band and play keyboard. The bandmaster said I was brilliant and he want me in the band, but the nun wouldn’t allow me to be a part of the band, so I wanted to learn printery and they reject me again. They put me in the damn tile shop. I said hell no, the hell with this shit, so I quit going. Then they put me in the woodworking shop and I curse out the teacher and I leave. I am very sensitive to dust. It’s not my line of work, but all of this was done to hurt me. They get mad at me now.” Apple says that this is when he experienced a side of Alpha that many have either never seen, or those who have rarely talk about. “The head staff, big men who walk around with big strap and things and he slap me with the strap and I curse him out. I say if you do that to me again, I’m going to be the last person you do that to. You don’t beat with a strap. I was in the big dining room and I feel blam! Right across my back! The same man come and hit me with the strap. I took up my breakfast and the hot cup of tea and I throw it in his face and I walk outside of the dining room and he come out and I hide behind the door and the Maroon spirit rise up in myself. I broke two bottles and with the pieces I am ready to stab him. I say if you think you’re bad, come out here. I told you not to put your hands on me again. They go and call the nun and I tell them to go back to Italy with your brainwashing stupid shit. Every-thing just come out of my mouth. I ain’t no damn Catholic, I ain’t no damn slave, I’m not into your program, fuck that program. They put me in the jail for seven days. Another time I tell the staff to go suck his bomboclaat ass because he hit me with a strap and the nun come now with a little plate, a saucer, with three scotch bonnet pepper in it and told me I must eat the peppers to burn the bad words out of my mouth. She got seven big boys to hold me down over a bench to force me to eat the peppers. When they hold me down, I bite down on their flesh, I become a vampire now, I want to taste blood. Seven boys I bite them up. Every one of them have to go to the medical when I’m done with them, and I look at that nun and I say, ‘Fuck you, you nyam that pepper!’ She turn red, I tell her if she approach me again I’m going to take that and stuff that in your fucking mouth and rip up your bomboclaat face. I was like a mad man. After that they put me in the senior center. Out of revenge they send me down to the garden, and I am handicap, how am I supposed to walk with a damn bucket of water? To punish me worse they put me in with the garbage dump where they dump the garbage.  So they make me shovel the garbage through mesh to get fertilizer. It was a dump full of scorpions. We call it the scorpion pit in Alpha. That was the worst punishment. And that’s when I start to plan to run away. I’m not staying in that place.”

          Officials at Alpha today say there is no record of Apple Gabriel having ever attended the school. But Albert Malawi confirms that Apple did indeed attend and the two were friends. “Yes, we were at Alpha. He was in the junior home part. Apple was there. How dem don’t have his record?” Malawi asks, in disbelief. Apple says he remembers that his friend Malawi had a nickname at Alpha—Turbit—which Malawi confirms. “Perfectly right. Dat shows we were together because when we are getting beating, we nuh cry. We tough like turbit fish,” says Malawi. Apple says he thinks his missing record is because Alpha wants to “hide the mistreatment they have done.” As a result, he ran away. “The nuns never called the police to bring me back. I was the only one no police try to bring back. They never had an experience like me, they were facing a Maroon!” He had no immediate plans when he ran away from Alpha, but he dreamed of a better life. “I used to go up and sit in a tree out on the playfield and sing and play this pan as a drum. I used to look at the planes flying overhead, leaving Palisadoes Airport, and I say, ‘One day, one day, I am going to be on one of those planes going to America.’ I decide I’m leaving this place today. I climb through the fence and I just hit the damn street, at 13 years old, went straight to downtown and never look back. My 14th birthday I was on the street as a homeless sleeping on the sidewalk in downtown Kingston.”

           While on the street, Apple met many people, including rude boys and musicians. He was a beggar, wiping car windows at stoplights for change, asking shop owners at Bruce’s Patty at Crossroads for a patty or two. “That’s one of the places where I used to hustle.” Though he took up with his mother again for about a year in 1970 after living on the street for three years, she had been living with another man who wanted Apple to help clean his hog pens and he refused because he was becoming Rastafari and didn’t eat pork. “He threw me out.” Apple was 16 and he started sleeping in the Hope Riverbed for months. His mother brought him food so he could survive and broke up with the man, unable to stand the way he treated her son. She moved to Rockfort and Apple moved with her in an area with his cousins. “We were all family inside that yard, 7 St. Patrick Road at the foot of the Wareika Hill, and people come out and play domino and smoke some chalice pipe. It was a gathering yard, island style, and my mom didn’t like that kind of gathering I’m involved with, with the Rasta. She said I couldn’t stay around because my Rasta ways was clashing with her spiritual vibes. I was 17 and my mom threw all of my clothes over the fence!” he says, laughing.

          Apple went back to Mona Rehab in search of the rights that were given to him by the government as a victim of polio. “I rode my bicycle all the way up to Mona Rehab. There was an open bush with cows, donkeys, horses, goats and it was government property. I hide my clothes there and live there for years in that bush. I went up there for help because John Golding and Sammy Henriques who ran the rehab were obligated to help me and set me up with a job and live. They live like two gods. They were rich, millionaires. I told them I need help because my mom signed papers for you to help me. I was a spokesperson for the people in Mona Rehab because I snuck in the office and read all the papers and I knew our rights. I want to see if I can still get the help I can get my parents sign up for, but I went as a Rasta, and they did not like that shit. But I start to sleep and eat on the compound and I need help, I need a job, and they say if I stop preaching Rasta we will help you but I have to stop preaching the Rasta thing, but I said to John Golding in his office, ‘What does my religion have to do with the obligation you have to give to me by law?’ They call the police and I said I am going to live inside this damn institution and the police said this man is right, you people owe him that obligation to rehabilitate him. It is his right to be here.”

Apple met up again with Skelly, who was his best friend from three years old, and Wiss, who both grew up in the institution. Apple says he read the Bible to Wiss and Skelly so soon they too were associating with the Rasta culture. “Every day I used to sit in the bush at Mona Rehab in a big big open land, bush land, and Skelly and Wiss come with me and we sing and sing and sing and every evening we make a likkle audience and people passing by in the bush used to clap at the end of the song and encourage us, so we became known in the whole area as the three Rasta handicap who sing.” Because Apple used to play piano every day at the Theological College with Donald Manning, lead singer for the Abyssinians, and all the students knew him, he was asked to perform at a college party, their first performance. Apple named the group Israel Vibration. Apple played piano while all three sang.“By this time now we join the Twelve Tribe people and we do stage shows for them and everyone come to see the three handicap. We were the headliner. A lot of people join Twelve Tribe because of we. This was the first time in history this sort of thing rise up. This guy named Hugh Booth, me and him were close bredren, and he own a sound called JahLoveMuzik and he take us to a studio and he produce us. We made Skelly lead vocal first because he cannot sing back vocal. He sing a song we call ‘Why Worry’ and two other songs.” Apple says that though there were many other artists with Twelve Tribe, they all left because “it wasn’t real, it was fake people. Take the money and feed them big belly, jump in their fancy car and leave us standing there. Bob was a member, Dennis Brown was a member, Jacob Miller was a member and Gad Man [Vernon Carrington], the leader of Twelve Tribe, treat us ghetto dreads all worse than the light-skin dreads. Bob was angry and said it was racist and he left Twelve Tribe and make a song call, ‘Running Away.’ He was telling the Twelve Tribe people about the divide in the organization and the favoritism show to the light-skin dreads over the black dreads. He was angry over it and that’s why he left Twelve Tribe. Bob sit down and tell me he wrote that song and record it, he said, ‘I have to sing about this shit.’ After they left, we left. We lick them like Bob, by singing the ‘Same Song,’ and the first album we put out also called Same Song. Twelve Tribe was full of hypocrisy.”

           Israel Vibration then recorded with Tommy Cowan and his newly developing Talent Corporation, but Apple says they left there too after a short time because of conflicts with Inner Circle who was also with Cowan. “There was a conflict between Inner Circle and Tommy Cowan because of us. We were number one and the band become jealous and they take the original tape for ‘We Are the Rasta.’ To this day that tape was never found. It was a different mix from the album and it was revenge so they could be the front line again for Talent Corporation. It wasn’t Jacob Miller. Me and Jacob was best friends. It was the other guys and they were jealous and because we were handicap they look down on us.”

           They next went to Tuff Gong because Bob Marley hired Tommy Cowan who produced their second album, backed by the Wailers band. “Five of us start Tuff Gong Distribution in Jamaica—Israel Vibration, Nadine Sutherland, Rita Marley, The Melody Makers, and Bob Marley himself, five of us. We start Tuff Gong Distribution in Jamaica. Then Bob have a radio show called the Tuff Gong Package and every Saturday Bob have a one hour show on JBC Radio and they only play the five of us music, emceed by Errol Thompson, the number-one disc jockey then. All this was going on and I’m still sleeping in bush on the property alongside the Mona Rehab, and I also slept at the Island House after Bob bought it when it wasn’t fixed up or anything yet. That’s where Bob and the band used to rehearse every weekend. Family Man was living in the back. It wasn’t Tuff Gong yet. We did the album called Unconquered People and Bob love it. We was Bob’s favorite singing group in Jamaica. It was the Wailers who played all the backup on the album, all the rhythm section dem.”

​           Apple did have his childhood dream realized when he boarded a plane to come to America in 1979 for a sold-out show in New York, returning again in 1981 for another sold-out show. “We did a show in Manhattan at Negril Club and that was the last show that Bob Marley came to before he died. He sit right at stage side and give us juice. He do his show the next night with the Commodores and he collapse on stage. He never come back. But Billboard magazine interview him, the last interview Bob make to the world, he said if God take away this illness from me, the only group I would produce is Israel Vibration, I’ll take them on every tour with me. These are the words of Bob Marley.”

           In the subsequent years, Israel Vibration toured the world and sold out shows everywhere they went—all over Europe, North America, and South America. But Apple says that the band was torn apart due to division within the group which he believes was fostered by their manager, Doctor Dread, who he accuses of stealing money from the group—money from the shows, merchandise, and music sales. Despite what Doctor Dread has written in his book, Apple says he did not walk off the stage during a performance and quit the group. “That’s a damn lie,” he says. Instead, Doctor Dread sent Skelly and Wiss on tour with the Roots Radics without Apple. He heard about it through a friend who called him from Germany, wondering why the trio was now a duo.

         “After the group break up, a lot of things happen to me,” he says, noting the death of one of his three children. He has also moved a number of times, but he continues to write music from his home studio in Atlanta and he has had a successful solo career. “I could put out 50 albums back to back, right now, but I have no investor. I never stop writing. I never stop making music. I’m the fountain of music, I can’t dry up!”                           

–Heather Augustyn

Sister Ignatius’s Record Collection

Sister Ignatius, Daily Express

Sister Iggy was a deejay. A selector. A collector.

In order to help instruct her boys in the Alpha Boys’ School Band, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies curated her own record collection, enlisting the help of Alpharian Floyd Lloyd Seivright who sadly passed away in November 2018. Seivright, Winston “Sparrow” Martin, and numerous other Alpha Boys had told me about Sister Ignatius playing her record collection for all the boys, and I always wondered–exactly what was in her collection.

Sister Iggy’s Garrard turntable, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle.

Knowing that Sister Ignatius sold a large number of artifacts to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in 2003 in order to raise much needed funds for her boys, I consulted the staff to inquire. This museum was owned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen and rumor had it he had purchased her collection personally since he was an avid record collector himself. Sure enough, I received a list of Sister Ignatius’s records, all located at the MoPop! There are over 600 records that were part of her collection, now housed in storage at the MoPop in Seattle, along with other artifacts of Jamaican national heritage such as the iconic Alpha Boys’ School sign, one of Don Drummond’s trombone and case, photos, and Sister Ignatius’s Garrard turntable (photo above).

You can read all about Alpha Boys who recall Sister Ignatius spinning records for them, how she helped to build and retain the Mutt & Jeff Sound System for fundraisers at the school, and how Seivright made these purchases for Sister Iggy in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I authored with Adam Reeves. Click on the home page of this site to see all of my books for sale. You can also read more about Sister Iggy and the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem HERE, and her turntable HERE. But in the meantime, here is the list of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ records!

It’s A Small World: Millie Small’s Daughter, Jaelee Small, Releases Memoirs EP

You can hear it in her voice–she is definitely her mama’s child. But Jaelee Small does not, by any means, sing in the shadow of her mother, Millie Small. Jaelee is her own woman, with her own sound and her own deeply creative vision which is on full display in her new EP titled Memoirs (Part II). This five-song collection, released on October 11th, showcases the many facets of Jaelee–sweet and glimmering, catchy and feisty, soulful and layered. Woman has got some chops!

This is Jaelee Small’s first EP. She studied at LCCM, the London Centre of Contemporary Music, graduating with honors and earning a bachelor of arts degree in Vocal Performance and Music Production.

Check out Jaelee’s new video for the enchanting “Memoreveolody.” This song is a soundscape, aural poetry, a wisp of light and air. Her video for “Home” is a fun and catchy breakup song, and “Tic Tok” channels  Kate Bush with dramatic vicissitudes in pitch that skip effortlessly like a fluttering butterfly. “Small World” is ethereal layer upon layer of harmony.

This work was recorded at Antonio’s Fish Factory Studio, St. Johns Studio, and Steve’s Flat and was mastered by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering in Liverpool.

Though she is the daughter of Millie Small, Jaelee Small’s voice, both in its physicality and personality, is all her own.


More info on Jaelee Small here:

Listen to and order Memoirs (Part II) here: