By CHRISTINE CLIFTON-PSAILA
“Quick soundcheck and I’ll be right back,” smiles Drummie as he leaps on stage. And so begins the countdown to Aswad’s long awaited concert on the Rock, having last been here seven years ago. This time it was to headline events to mark Armed Forces Day. Thousands of ardent fans later packed into Casemates Square to enjoy reggae ‘royalty’ at its best.
This lifelong fan was looking forward to sitting down with one of the original band members, but even before I’d formulated my first question, fans arrived eager to have a picture taken as I became the impromptu photographer. I should add it’s not my forte as anyone whose picture I’ve taken will attest to. I only hope I didn’t crop too many heads!
Drummie, I noted, took all the attention in his stride even obliging in signing a crumpled (hopefully unused) napkin. It struck me how unassuming and humble he is. This is confirmed moments later as a curious passerby mistakes him for a member of UB40. Far from being offended, Drummie finds it amusing. Impressive, considering he belongs to one of Britain’s greatest ever reggae bands.
Drummie tells me he still lives in the same part of West London that he had before enjoying such success in the music business. “I was originally playing in a steel band in Ladbroke Grove when I was invited by Aswad’s founding member Brindsley Forde to join the line-up,” he explains.
Drummie obliged in signing a crumpled (hopefully unused) napkin.
The group was officially formed in 1975. So, what of the early days? “We were lucky,” he says. “I remember we recorded a number of demos. Armed with these we turned up at Island Records without even an appointment. We were signed up straight away by the label’s Richard Williams. That’s not to say there was not a fair amount of travelling from gig to gig in their van loading and unloading their own equipment.
Noted for adding strong R&B and soul influences to their reggae sound, the group had to wait till 1988 to enjoy chart success with ‘Don’t Turn Around’ penned by non-other than Albert Hammond and Diane Warren. It was originally recorded as a ‘B’ side to Tina Turner’s hit ‘Typical Male’. Later came ‘Shine’ -another smash hit. Having read somewhere the band weren’t originally too keen to record the track I wondered if there was any truth in that. After a split-second pause followed by a quick no, Drummie laughs. “I mean, we were more used to the roots kind of vibe like ‘Love Fire’ and ‘Warrior Charge’. We did it because the Record Company wanted us too. I’m glad we did though.”
To what extent does he feel reggae has influenced other genres? “Reggae has been a big influence. Think Soul to Soul to Black Eyed Peas. I mean everybody. We’re just proud of our heritage.” He may also be justly proud being the only original member left in the line-up. When Brindsley Forde left, remaining members chose not to recruit a replacement. With the exception of a brief reunion with Forde in 2009 for the Island Record label’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the band’s line-up has remained much as it is today.
Aswad has proven it’s staying power and are clear as to why it’s been possible. “It’s just self-belief, and belief in our music and our culture.” I’d add great showmanship too.
Favourite destinations include Gibraltar, the Carribean and Brazil (I like to think in that order). “I love it here. It’s such a special place and I don’t want to go back to London.” Later that evening on stage he jokingly tells fans he’s thinking of flying over for the weekends.
It’s amazing to think Aswad started its musical journey over 50 years ago. Countless singles and 21 albums later, the good news to report is that after completing a UK tour, which is next on the agenda, Drummie confirms they’ll be back in the studio to record a new album. Who knows, it could well spawn their next hit!
“It’s just self-belief, and belief in our music and our culture.”
Aswad have played to huge audiences around the world and there have been many memorable moments including playing for Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana. “It was like a dream. It was only after seeing pictures of the events that you think we did actually meet them. What an honour.”
What has been an honour is having Aswad back on the Rock, which is where they chose to play their first concert since lockdown.
As we wrapped up our chat, Drummie had this message for all Aswad fans:
“Big up Gibraltar people, and stay faithful to the faith and reggae music and Aswad… one love.” I’d just add, spoken like a true Rasta!