11 Aug 2012
The story begins, albeit briefly, in the small rural town of Buff Bay, Jamaica. Basil Glendon Gabbidon was born on 29 October 1955, the eldest of four talented Gabbidon brothers, Colin, O’Neil and Ian and a sister, Beryl. Soon after the family moved to Kingston, where his father Joseph, a carpenter by trade, built the family home, when he wasn’t on the stage as an amateur entertainer, actor and comedian.
Many Jamaicans had fought for Britain in the Second World War and Basil’s father came over in the late fifties to seek a new life for his young family, followed a couple of years later by Dorothy. Soon after Jamaican independence, in 1963, Basil along with Colin, followed their parents to Britain, just before his ninth birthday. “My dad picked us up at the airport with a bowler hat on. I thought, oh, we must be in England, as he’s wearing a bowler hat,” he recalls. Initially his parents had lived in Cardiff but when the boys joined them, they moved to become part of a thriving Afro-Caribbean community in the Birmingham inner city area of Handsworth.
Basil went on to be a founding member of Steel Pulse, which was formed in 1975 in Handsworth Birmingham other founding members were schoolmates David Hinds (the primary songwriter as well as the lead singer and guitarist) and Ronnie “Stepper” McQueen (bass). McQueen suggested the group name, after a racehorse, and they soon fleshed out the lineup with drummer Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett, keyboardist/vocalist Selwyn “Bumbo” Brown, percussionist/vocalist Alphonso “Fonso” Martin, and vocalist Michael Riley.
Steel Pulse is one of Britain’s greatest reggae bands, in terms of creative and commercial success. Steel Pulse started out playing authentic roots reggae with touches of jazz and Latin music, and earned a substantial audience worldwide. Their 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution, is still regarded by many critics as a landmark and a high point of British reggae. By the late ’80s, Steel Pulse had won a Grammy and were working full-fledged crossover territory. They subsequently returned to a tough-minded, rootsy sound and have added touches of dancehall and hip-hop along the way.
Since leaving Steel Pulse and the dissolution of Bass Dance, Basil has been far more choosy about his live performances. He’s appeared with friends in the guise of the more occasional Gabbidon Worldwide, or Gabbidon International or just plain Gabbidon with irregular gigs taking place in clubs and venues across the Midlands and at festivals like ‘Black History Month’ or the ‘Making Friends with Music’ day of world music and dance at the Birmingham Symphony Hall where he gave his own potted version of the history of reggae backed by a collection of family and friends in September 2002.
In recent years, Basil has spent a lot of his time making real efforts to encourage the school children and youth of Birmingham and the Midlands to enjoy and participate in music through a series of community music programmes. His real aim is to set up a music academy for under-privileged youngsters in Birmingham, with the aid of government money and help from sponsors. “There are other ways to keep music alive apart from constant gigging and replaying your old stuff. I’m now trying to put back what I got out of it. To try and motivate local people and promote music to the youngsters in schools in particular. I will never stop making music. I’m enjoying it more now over the last few years. Seeing how hard Buju Banton worked made me realise how lazy I was before. Hence why lots of things are moving now. The energy is back, I can play any music I want to, not just reggae. My confidence is bubbling again.” When he’s not encouraging the next crop of musical talent to blossom, Basil is still making music himself, and he has plans to release a single in the near future. He already has an album’s worth of concept material in the can and waiting to be released. And with other projects in the melting pot, including his own music company and talent agency, watch this space for the next absorbing chapter in the Basil Gabbidon story.