The Full Watts Band is bringing back “the golden days” of Jamaican reggae this weekend.
Live in Dockyard, audiences can expect hits from the Melodians, Alton Ellis, The Eternals, The Paragons, The Techniques, The Heptones and other bands of that era.
“The show will be killer not filler,” said Daniel Frith, a Bermudian musician who has performed with the New York-based group for seven years. “It will be a lot of stuff that the layman will be familiar with. We have some Wailers’ tunes in there. But there will also be stuff that people will not necessarily be familiar with, but I guarantee they will be put on to it.”
Mr Frith, who is known for his wisecracking reggae persona Uzimon, started out as a fan of The Full Watts, a band known for playing authentic roots reggae covers.
“They used to play at a family pizzeria in Brooklyn called Two Boots,” he said.
“Going to see them play was one of my favourite things to do. I sat in with them a couple of times as Uzimon, not as a core member. I did a couple of tunes with them every so often.”
When several singers in the band moved to Los Angeles, the group’s founding member and drummer, Eddie Ocampo, asked if he would join as a vocalist.
“I thought that was so awesome,” said Mr Frith, who still performs occasionally as Uzimon and has a full-time job as a personal trainer.
The Full Watts first performed in Bermuda in 2015 for a TEDx wrap party. They returned in 2018 as back-up to Johnny Osbourne’s performance with Beres Hammond and Harmony House. The ten-piece band will perform on Friday and Saturday in the Victualling Yard, along with The Three Kings Band.
Mr Frith said the pandemic years have been difficult – with cancelled shows and restrictions attached to performances – but there have also been some surprising opportunities.
“We were playing acoustically outside for venues and competing with the sounds of buses and the sounds of New York City,” he said. “I remember thinking at first that this is going to be really hard. But then I remembered that when I was in Cuba watching all the musicians – they don’t have the resources to afford expensive guitar pedals, microphones and amps. They are just incredible, classically trained musicians. They can fill a room with nothing. I thought if they can do it, we can do it. It is all about the spirit and the vibe.”
Sometimes they cheated, and the bass player would sneak in a small amp.
“You can’t have reggae music without bass,” Mr Frith said. “Once the bass player’s little battery-powered amp gave out, so he had to sit next to the piano player and play the bass line on the acoustic piano. It added this whole other fun, improvisational element to the set. There was an energy there that was great.”
An added bonus: because of the pandemic there were musicians who usually travelled ten months out of the year suddenly hanging around with not much to do.
“The horn players for Bruno Mars would come by and sit with us, because these guys are all friends,” Mr Frith said. “So as much as the pandemic sucked at first, it forced musicians in New York to reinvent and be creative in a whole different way.”
Mr Ocampo put together The Full Watts ten years ago as a one-off band for a friend’s birthday party.
The group had so much fun playing together they decided to keep going. From Two Boots pizzeria they expanded to gigs around the city.
Mr Ocampo saw The Full Watts as an opportunity to highlight less-played songs in the Jamaican catalogue.
“I wanted to highlight how sweet they were,” he said.
He tries to make the music sound as close to the real thing as possible – even if there is a slightly flat note on the original recording.
“The idea is to replicate what you hear on the record in a live setting so that you feel like you are inside the record,” he said.
The Full Watts does not generally make recordings of their own, but during the pandemic a lot of their musician friends were bored and itching to do something.
“We put together a remote recorded cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Nice Time,” Mr Ocampo said. “It came off great. It helped a lot of us get connected again to each other and to making music.”
The Full Watts and The Three Kings will perform on Friday and Saturday at 8pm in the Victualling Yard in Dockyard. Tickets, $65, are available from bermudafestival.org