Coming full circle

Coming full circle

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Monday, August 26, 2019

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As their 50th anniversary approached last year, Inner Circle bass player Ian Lewis bemoaned the lack of respect the band received despite notable achievements, including playing on Stir it Up, a song from Catch A Fire, The Wailers' landmark 1973 album.

“Back in the day credit never mean much to somebody, but when yuh get older yuh start looking for your accolades. We were never credited for that; at least now wi shoulda get a little nod,” he said.

On October 21 Lewis and his older brother (guitarist) Roger, with whom he co-founded the band in 1969, will receive the Order of Distinction (OD) the Rank of Officer, for their contribution to the development of Jamaican music. Jacob Miller, Inner Circle's lead singer from 1975 to his death in 1980, will also be honoured with the OD.

To diehard roots-reggae fans from the 1970s, Inner Circle are known for songs like Tenement Yard, Tired Fi Lick Weed In A Bush and Forward Ever Backward Never, which Miller led them on. Pop fans around the world are familiar with them for Bad Boys and Sweat, the monster anthems that earned them a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1994.

Those songs have kept the Miami-based Inner Circle on the road with the Lewis brothers still at the helm.

Government senator Tom Tavares-Finson, who attended Jamaica College (JC) with them, said that endurance is what influenced the Government to award them Jamaica's sixth-highest honour.

“The survival of this band, which would spawn Third World is a remarkable testament to the talent and fixity of purpose of Ian and Roger. The national recognition is well deserved,” Tavares-Finson told the Jamaica Observer.

Inner Circle's roots are at JC, with early members including schoolmate and keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper, guitarist Steven “Cat” Coore and singer Prilly Hamilton. Cooper and Coore left in 1973 to form Third World.

Like most of their contemporaries, Inner Circle doubled as a show band and recording musicians. The Lewis brothers and Cooper played on Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson, which won the 1971 Festival Song Contest; they backed artistes on the bandwagon that successfully campaigned with People's National Party candidate Michael Manley for general elections the following year.

The band's fortunes took a considerable turn for the better when the flamboyant Miller joined its ranks. They scored a series of hit songs, which resulted in them signing with Capitol Records and Island Records; the latter deal was sealed one year before Miller's death at age 27 in a motor accident.

The Lewis brothers and stalwart keyboardist Bernard “Touter” Harvey have lived in Miami for almost 40 years. Inner Circle operates an in-demand studio in the city that attracts the biggest names in pop music, including Beyonce and Jay Z, Diddy, Pitbull, Janet Jackson and Cardi B.

Roger Lewis welcomes the OD but notes that Inner Circle have never been big on fame.

“Wi never try an' mek a big fuss, to tell di truth. Wi jus' go through an' do our thing in a quiet way…spreading reggae music aroun' di world is di most important thing,” he said.

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