809 Band reunites for Tosh gig

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Friday, October 19, 2018

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When Mikey Fletcher joined the 809 Band in 1987, one of his first assignments was to learn songs by the most famous Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Tomorrow, the meticulous bass guitarist leads the veteran show band at the annual Tosh tribute concert, scheduled for Pulse headquarters in New Kingston.

The 809 Band will back several artistes in their salute to the self-proclaimed Stepping Razor who was killed the same year Fletcher joined their ranks. Bushman, Etana, Christopher Martin, Jesse Royal, Dre Tosh and Luciano are some of the artistes they will support.

Word, Sound and Power, Tosh's official band, did backing duties for the previous two years. 809 was recruited when that band could not make the gig this year, with Fletcher filling in as musical director for saxophonist Dean Fraser.

Fletcher, 54, told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Splash that 809 members adhere to the tried-and-tested motto that Unity Is Strength. He also brings a scholarly approach to his role as musical director.

“We have to show leadership and ensure that everything is in focus. Members have to do their homework, so when we meet we have it all locked and that's very important,” he said.

In his early years with 809, the London-born Fletcher recalls playing Tosh standards like You Can't Blame the Youth and Buckingham Palace. It was his official introduction to the controversial singer/songwriter who was considered the most musical of The Wailers.

“He was a radical guy and that came out in his music. Some people say he was a troublemaker but he just spoke his mind,” said Fletcher.

Guitarist Leebert “Gibby” Morrison and keyboardist Robbie Lyn, who play in the 809 tomorrow, recorded or toured with Tosh. Tomorrow's line-up is completed by keyboardist Christopher Birch, drummer Paul Kastic, guitarist Winston “Bo Pee” Bowen, trombonist Everald Gayle and trumpeter Everol Wray.

Fraser and trombonist Nambo Robinson formed the 809 Band in 1985. Morrison, Kastic and Bowen were also part of the original line-up that backed top artistes such as the I Three, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Shinehead, Sugar Minott and Dennis Brown on major festivals like Reggae Sunsplash (USA) and Japansplash.

After an extended break, former manager Copeland Forbes reassembled them in 2014 to support Marcia Griffiths on a series of shows marking her 50th anniversary in the music business. That year, they backed her at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Falmouth and Grooving In The Park in New York, as well as shows in the United Kingdom in 2015.

A formally trained musician, the 809 gig was Fletcher's first big assignment. For 17 years, he was musical director of Shaggy's band, and currently holds that role with Italian singer Alborosie.

Fletcher said he always looks forward to playing challenging music.

“It opens your mind and keeps you on your toes. You can't take things for granted,” he explained.

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