When the Skatalites reunited for Sunsplash

When the Skatalites reunited for Sunsplash

Richard Johnson

Friday, June 15, 2012

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THE year is 1983. Syngery, the production company responsible for staging the popular music festival Reggae Sunsplash wants to do something special for its fifth anniversary.

The principals of the company think about it long and hard until one member comes up with the idea,
why not reunite legendary ska band, The Skatellites?

Sounds great, everyone agrees, but this is an uphill task.

The group disbanded in 1965, some members have died, there is no direct contact for the living members and some of the surviving bandmates don't even speak to each other.

However, for Syngery director Ronnie Burke, it was the ultimate challenge, and he thought: "Why not?"

"For our fifth anniversary we wanted to do something really special for our patrons. So we arrived at the idea of presenting the old and new faces of Jamaican music," Burke tells Splash.

For the new, Synergy brought in Musical Youth — the young band of second-generation Jamaicans based in Britain, who had hit the airwaves with Pass The Dutchie, their rework of the The Mighty Diamonds hit Pass the Kutchie, as well as their collaboration with disco diva Donna Summer on Unconditional Love. The 'old face' of the music would be represented by the disbanded Skatalites.

So Burke and his team, with the help of music insider Herbie Miller, set about trying to locate the members of the band, one by one, to convince them to get together for the event.

"I first made contact with the drummer Lloyd Knibbs. He was very enthusiastic about the prospects of taking to the stage as the Skatalites once again," Burke remembers. "It was then on to meet with Jah Jerry and then Lloyd Brevett," he continues.

Burke clearly remembers his meeting with bass player Brevett, who died
on May 3.

"We got word that he was working as a mason on the contruction of the Conference Centre in downtown Kingston. We found him covered in cement on the site, and he put paper on my car seat before he sat down for us to talk. We told him about the plans and immediately he was on board."

Synergy would soon hit a bump in the road to having the Skatalites on the Sunsplash Stage.

It was realised that one of the major problems with reuniting the Skatalites was the fact that Tommy McCook and Johnny Moore had not spoken to each other in nearly 20 years.

Burke recalls: "I was familiar with Dizzy Johnny (Moore) and took him to meet McCook at his house in Harbour View. Both men just sat staring at each other for what seemed like hours before the ice was finally broken and all agreed that they were getting old and should just go ahead and stage the reunion
for Sunsplash."

The Skatalites were booked and took to the stage at the Bob Marley Performing Centre at Freeport in Montego Bay.

If Burke and his team have any regrets it is that the band was scheduled to perform too late and the audience was already somewhat weary and looking forward to the headline acts.

"They gave a fantastic performance. It was well worth the effort it took to put them back together. What is great is that based on the Sunsplash performance it brought the group back together and they are still touring. It was a landmark for us at Synergy and if anyone should ask what am I most proud of it would have to be bringing the Skatalites back together."

Burke's ethusiasm in recalling this moment in Jamaican music quickly changes as he speaks of the recent death of Lloyd Brevett.

"I was at the JaRIA awards in February and sat beside Brevett's son who was there to accept on behalf of his father... it was like whoa, young Brevett! Only to hear that he was murdered a few hours later... that must have taken a toll on the father... so sad, so sad."

The Skatalites still tours extensively the with sole surviving member Lester Sterling and vocalist Doreen Schaeffer.

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