Leopards Club pays tribute to musicians
Luminaries from the heydays of Bermuda’s home-grown music scene get a salute this weekend from Dale Butler, a former minister and champion of local artists.
The tribute tomorrow at the Leopards Club on Cedar Avenue, Hamilton, coincides with the club’s 70th anniversary, and Mr Butler’s 40th year in publishing.
The luncheon with live music at 1.30pm celebrates musicians Keith Caisey, Wendy Flood, Dennis Fox, Wendell “Shine” Hayward, Eugene Joell, Ronnie Lopes and Nick Swan.
Mr Caisey, one of the island’s longest serving percussionists who has performed internationally, said it “feels great to be thanked” as he reflected on the dearth of venues available to today’s young musicians.
“You have to be dedicated, no half-stepping,” Mr Caisey said. “I grew up in an era when that’s all we did.”
Like many veteran artists, Mr Caisey believes the peak era could be revived if there were “more places to play — if they could make it more lucrative”.
“If we keep recognising each other for what we bring to the table, it will draw others to this industry,” he added.
Wendy Flood, leader of the Paradise Band and a singer whose latest CD Finally comprises jazz and gospel, recalled her first big break at 18 with the Ghandi Burgess at the Southampton Princess.
Ms Flood, now 64, has been performing professionally for 39 years, and is now a trustee of the Bermuda Entertainers Union.
“We are in talks at the union trying to get locations for local artists to perform on a regular basis,” she said.
“Like Keith said, I would love to see the good old days return for our up and coming artists who are talented but have nowhere to play. That’s their biggest challenge.”
One of her highlights was performing at the Lincoln Centre in 1981 with the group Bermuda.
Ms Flood said she owed a debt to artists Stefan and Rupert Hinds for coaxing her back to Bermuda to sing.
Calling herself “humbled and grateful”, Ms Flood said Paradise Band would provide some of the entertainment tomorrow at Leopards Club.
Dennis Fox, a guitarist who switched to keyboards and became band leader, took to music as “the family trade”, and grew up steeped in jazz.
Mr Fox, 67, said: “Recognition is well received right now that I have an eye open rather than eyes closed.”
Also to be recognised is Eugene “Stacker” Joell, who learnt the guitar as a child from Norman Astwood, the master teacher who coaches many of his contemporaries.
Mr Joell forged ahead as a paid artist at the age of 19 with Bryan Butterfield’s limbo band. He later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He said: “Those were the good days. Everybody had shows. And those days are not coming back — they’re gone.”
Young musicians today were easily discouraged at the lack of venues and possibilities for a livelihood, Mr Joell said.
Nick Swan, a seasoned drummer and the son of Calypso king Kingsley Swan, is 70 now and has been performing for “about 56 years”.
Mr Swan was ten when his father died and he and his brother began taking care of the rest of the family.
He took up drumming with Kingsley Jr “when I was supposed to be doing my homework”.
“It’s amazing, the amount of work we had — the stages and places to play, the exposure that we had.
“It was an enjoyment and, in some cases for me, a frustration because we were working so much, going from gig to gig, sometimes three gigs a night.”
The heydays may be history, but Mr Swan called it “humbling and rewarding” to get recognised.
“I’m not one for honours, but I am thankful,” he said. “I just did what I did to take care of my family.”
Tickets for tomorrow’s tribute are $45 from the Music Box, Down to Earth and Island Kaddy on Reid Street. The awards will be held under the patronage of Leroy Simmons, Leopards Club president, and his wife, Yvonne.