With the release of their latest album, British Dependency feels they’ve found their musical identity. On the eve of their first major tour, the band recounts the genesis of their current incarnation, their passion for music and hopes for the Anguillian music scene.
It’s 2 P.M. two days before Christmas, and I’m sitting at Davon Carty’s dinner table at his home in North Hill. It had been raining non-stop for a couple hours, and I was an hour late for my interview with the three-piece Anguillian band British Dependency. In the background sits an amp, a drum set, and assorted guitars in what’s supposed to be the band manager’s living room. Today was to be a rehearsal day, but the band agreed to meet with me just before jetting off for their first U.S. tour.
I let on that I’d been listening to their recently released album Finding Wisdom.
“Did you like it?” asked lead singer Ruel Richardson. I didn’t have to lie; I did. I first encountered the band back in 2010 at a local Jazz and Wine event. It was just a few months before the band’s almost complete renovation. Darius James and Jonathon Warrington, bassist and drummer respectively, moved on to pursue other opportunities, leaving Ruel as the only remaining member.
That didn’t last. Within weeks, the band was back to its full complement as Ruel’s cousin, Jaiden Fleming, joined on drums, with Joyah Gumbs taking over the bass. While Jaiden’s recruitment was straightforward, Joyah’s was a combination of fate and timing. “Davon and I were at the Dune [Preserve],” Ruel recalled. “We were talking with Josveek [Huligar, of Anguilla Access], and he said, ‘I know a female bassist.’”
“No other females around here played bass, so I had an idea that it was her,” Ruel grinned. Joyah had been playing for only a year when she joined the band.
Her commitment is clear in her piercing eyes. The enigmatic bassist finds herself simultaneously at different ends of the band’s age spectrum: she the eldest of the group but musically, she’s the youngest. Not that you can tell.
Three years earlier, she was a career pastry chef, but felt she had a different destiny. She credits spiritual intervention as the reason she began to play.
“I started searching for my purpose,” she said. “One day, I got an answer, and it was the bass guitar.”
“I just went on Amazon.com and ordered a four-string bass. I call her Miss Alpha, because she was the first.” She laughed, and added, “I also ordered The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar and started practising in my room.”
If Joyah needed another sign that she made the right choice, it would come a few weeks later when she would meet Jimmy Lee Moore, who played bass for legendary funk and soul artiste, James Brown, for over twenty years. The two hit it off with Moore sharing tips with the young bassist. He would eventually gift her his red bass guitar, which she uses now. She christened it Ras Red-I.
Sitting in the middle of the trio across the table from me, Ruel is calmness personified. The band’s dreadlocked founding member’s pitch, while speaking, never reaches the levels it does when he performs. That calmness belies his intense passion for music. It comes to the fore when he mentions his musical influences.
“I love all kinds of music that has a guitar in it,” he said. “Rock, acoustic, jazz, gospel – I grew up playing gospel. I love reggae.”
Jaiden, dressed in ball cap, hoodie and high-top sneakers, seems like he’s about to start rapping to a bass-laden hip-hop track, but he doesn’t say anything. Actually, up to this point, he hadn’t uttered a word. I asked if he was okay.
“Drummers are quiet,” he smiled. We’re simpatico – if ever I were a musician, I’d like to think that I’d be a drummer, too.
“Why drums? Isn’t the guitarist the one that gets all the ladies?” I joked.
Ruel has a wry smile, and Joyah can barely contain herself. It seems this is actually something that musicians discuss. A fun debate ensues between the men – who gets the girls, really? Joyah recuses herself as the other bandmates understandably toe the party line with their votes. Davon, himself a drummer, breaks the deadlock, but I suspected his conclusion was also partisan. Somehow, I don’t think we learned anything.
“I had family members who used to play drums,” Jaiden finally continued. “My dad plays bass guitar, so music was always in my house.” Davon describes him as an ‘open’ drummer—one without a genre limitation—which helps their cause.
“I try to do intricate things,” he says of his style. “What I do makes you want to take a look. I try to mix it up so you never get too used to what I’m doing.”
The talk about drumming brings Jaiden to life. His eyes light up, and he reels off a list of his favourite drummers. “I like drummers who make me want to go home and practise. If you are doing that, then you got my vote.”
British Dependency’s story is compelling because each member is a character—they’re a sort of musical Three Musketeers in an ‘all for one, one for all’ act, with Davon as the D’Artagnan to their Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
I was curious about the choice of three. The power trio is a rarity in Caribbean music which, at a minimum, involves a guitar, bass, drums, and a fourth rhythm instrument (usually a keyboard). The answer is simple: “For the uniqueness,” Ruel replied matter-of-factly.
This uniqueness of sound makes the group hard to categorize. Taken at face value, three young, black musicians from the Caribbean would be expected to be a reggae act. It doesn’t help that in a few weeks, the group will be on tour with Bob Marley’s former band, The Wailers, one of the most iconic Reggae bands of all time. But a quick scan through their latest album reveals an eclectic mélange of reggae, hip-hop, R&B and rock sounds. The band is reluctant to define their genre. “It’s just music,” Davon explains.
Finding Wisdom was born after a pilgrimage to the mecca of Reggae music—Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica; and what some might call its holiest temple—Tuff Gong Studios. The members consider it their first, proper album, and it’s not hard to get their reasoning.
“We consider it our debut,” Ruel admits. “Our other songs were really about trying to find our identity.” This album is the finishing touch on a reinvention: now, in its third incarnation, the band has finally come of age. “Everything’s changed,” said Joyah. “The whole vibe, the sound, the way we deliver, and the way we approach [the music].”
That new approach has seen all three members move from moonlighting and playing local gigs, to committing to music full time. “You cannot have a ‘day job’ and do this,” Ruel explains. “The focus and energy required is just too much. Whatever you do as a daily routine is what you’re going to become.”
Next up is a first for them: a multi-city U.S. tour that will take them to eight States over the course of 16 days, opening for The Wailers in 13 shows. Joyah can barely contain her excitement. “It’s like losing your virginity,” she gushes.
But I also get the impression that the gig doesn’t come as a surprise and is just reward for years of hard work and planning. “We do regular local gigs and use the revenues earned to help ourselves,” Ruel explains. “We record our album, and we [work on] image, marketing, stuff like that.”
The group also see themselves in a larger context of Anguillan music. They hope their success will soon encourage others. “There’s been a lot of change [in the local music scene] since British Dependency made its appearance,” Davon said. “There are acts now [for which] 90% of their repertoire is original music. That never really happened before.”
They know they’re trailblazers, but they have loftier goals still, like getting the Anguilla Tourist Board involved in their travels. They plan to wrap their tour bus with Anguilla’s message of “Tranquility Wrapped in Blue”; taking the island’s imagery everywhere they go.
It’s easy to get seduced by British Dependency’s potential to carry other musicians with them, ostensibly doing what Bob Marley did years ago for Jamaican music. “We’d love for a lot of young people in Anguilla who are losing the dream to understand that the dream does exist, and it can be accomplished,” Davon said.Ruel agreed. “If we are successful, more people will start looking at Anguilla musically.”
After the whirlwind Wailers tour and a brief respite back home in Anguilla, they’ll be skipping across the pond to play a few music festivals in Europe. Which ones? They don’t know, and they’re quite fine with that.
“We have a fantastic team who really gets the job done,” Davon explains. “We’re privileged that people who respect what we do and see the potential want to work with us to make everything you see and hear happen.”
The lyrics of their song “Fly Away” sum up the band’s current ambitions:
You can be what you want to be;
You can go where you want to go.
Fly away, fly away. Fly away, fly away.
You can dream what you dream to do;
You can make all the change through you.
Fly away, fly away. Fly away, fly away.