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Updated: Jan 28, 2023

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. Basil also spent a few years of his childhood in the nearby coastal parish of St Mary's at the home of his grandmother with his brothers and cousins. His father and his mother Dorothy, a nurse, were no different to many of their fellow Jamaicans in believing that The Mother Country (England) held a better life. 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.

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,

It took Basil a while to adjust to his new surroundings including the freezing weather after the carefree lifestyle he'd known in the Caribbean. For example, school was so different to what he'd been used to. The teaching methods and the whole concept was totally alien to him and it took a year or so to settle into the rhythm of life in England. His secondary school education began at Handsworth Wood Boys school and that's where Basil began to prosper and blossom. He was fortunate that in his words, "all the bright kids went to that school at the same time, it was just pure energy" and included amongst his school friends was David Hinds, who would feature a great deal in Basil's formative years. "Handsworth Wood was a good school. One of the first things they did was to find out what you could do, what you were good at. I wanted to play the trumpet but couldn't blow it, so took up the trombone instead. In a way its the nicest brass instrument to play and it gave me a vibe for electric guitar, a sort of natural progression." John Surtees, his school music teacher and a folk club held at the school were additional influences at that time and helped him to read music and gain a better appreciation of what he was hearing and playing.

In addition to playing the trombone in the school's brass band, Basil had become interested in the guitar at the same time. His desire to play music was all consuming. His father had an old guitar with broken strings and Basil took up the challenge. He repaired the strings, bought himself a book of guitar chords and learnt to play the guitar from scratch. "Its not like today, we made things happen ourselves," as he recalls teaching himself to play. Initially, Basil wasn't interested in reggae. It was still a relatively new form of music coming over from Jamaica and instead, the music mad youngster preferred heavier tunes from the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Mandrill and the Isley Brothers. "We turned on the radio and listened to pop music and the Stones, I liked the way they performed their songs. I didn't like the Beatles 'cause everyone else liked them." One of the first reggae tunes to catch his ear was a reggae version of Blue Moon, the old Rogers & Hart classic. Another tune that had a bigger impact on him was Blood & Fire. Released in 1970 by Niney The Observer (aka Winston Holness, but called Niney when he lost a thumb in a workshop accident), it was amongst the avalanche of sound system pre-releases that found their way to Britain and were eagerly snapped up by the flourishing Carribean communities. However, it wasn't until Bob Marley's classic 1973 album, Catch A Fire was released that Basil was finally hooked after he heard it played in a local park during a festival, and his desire to play reggae music became a serious aim.

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