Easy Skanking with Roy Gunter and The JRZs

Roy Gunter and the JRZs in full flow (L to R: Zongoman, Mario, Zebbie, Roy, Jill, Ryan and Tony)

It’s been another busy week for Roots of Reggae. Since my last post I’ve continuing to work with Michael Arkk to develop the Heritage of Ska Festival in collaboration with Roots of Reggae. I’m pleased to say that’s been going well. I’ve also managed to find the time to get along to David Katz’ monthly night at the Ritzy, Dub Me Always. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the invite I received at short-notice on Thursday evening from Roy Gunter, one of the performers at December’s Roots of Reggae launch event, to hang out at a rehearsal session for his new band, who go by the name The JRZs. I’m hoping The JRZs are a band you’re going to hear more about in the coming month’s but for now I’d like to give you a taste of what they’re all about.

Roy Gunter, a man for all seasons

Roy Gunter performing at last year's Roots of Reggae launch event

For the uninitiated, it is fair to say Roy Gunter is a man for all season. By day, Roy works for my old employer Lambeth Council, where he is a Key Worker for young people with serious problems linked to crime and offending.Roy manages to balance his day job responsibilities with a passion for creativity that is strongly influenced by Reggae music. Outside of work, Roy has written poetry and had it published. He has also written and recorded songs which span the spectrum of Reggae style, from lovers’ rock and roots through to gritty dancehall. I’ve previously written about Roy on my personal blog, Intensely Relaxed. You can read that post by clicking here. You can also see pictures of Roy’s performance at December’s Roots of Reggae launch event by clicking here.

No sleep ’til Brixton

Due to space restrictions, Roy performed at the Roots of Reggae launch event using pre-recorded backing tracks, which I not-so-skilfully cued up for him. Since the event, however, Roy has been talking to be about his ambition to perform accompanied by a full band. So when Roy got in touch and invited me to attend the rehearsal session he was holding in Brixton with his new band, I jumped at the chance.

After receiving Roy’s call I quickly grabbed some food and hopped on a trusty P4 bus that took me from Forest Hill to Brixton, undeterred by the sudden onset of snow. Once in Brixton I made my way to Ferndale Road, where Roy greeted me on the street and brought me into an innocuous industrial unit which housed the studio space where Roy and his band were rehearsing.

As I entered the studio Roy started to introduce me to the various members of his band and speak excitedly about his plans for the band’s future. For the few minutes I somewhat nervously introduced myself to the musicians and explained how I came to know Roy, self-conscious that my day job in public policy and social innovation had not exactly prepared me for the rock and roll lifestyle musicians’ are popularly believed to live. Roy and the members of his band were very friendly and welcoming, however, and before long I was drawn into the music they were making and learning just how much hard work goes into the polished public performances we see at gigs.

Introducing The JRZs

Through the looking glass: the rehearsal session viewed from the studio control room

Going round the room, I was first introduced to Roy’s drummer, who went by the cryptic nickname of Drummy. It was only after the rehearsal that I learned that Drummy’s name was in fact Zebby, which I suspect might also be a nickname. Drummy was a friendly and chilled out character whose solid drumming had a classic Reggae feel to it. It was the kind of drumming that would be right at home in a King Tubby’s dub mix from the 1970s, with a heavy emphasis on cymbal.

The next person I met was Tony, who as I came into the studio was playing around with some reassuringly solid and bouncy basslines.  Tony was down-to-earth and friendly, asking me whether I played an instrument (to which I had to admit I had tried and failed to learn guitar) and even offering to show me how to play. In tandem with Zebby, Tony’s basslines anchored the band and gave the songs a vitality.

After Tony I was introduced in quick succession to Jill, Roy’s wife and Ryan. From speaking to Roy I was aware that Jill had sung backing vocals on many of Roy’s songs. It was lovely to finally meet her and tell her how much I appreciated the support Roy gave me with Roots of Reggae. Ryan was a quiet and unassuming figure, sitting in a chair to play his guitar. As the rehearsal progressed it soon became apparent, however, that not only was Ryan an accomplished guitarist, he was also able to ‘read the room’ and fine tune other band members’ performances.

Last but by no means least I was introduced to  Mario and Zongoman. Mario  mostly handled guitar duties but was also a capable keyboard player. Mario seemed to be the youngest member of Roy’s band and clearly had bit of a reputation as a joker within the band. Watching him play, it was clear how much Mario enjoyed playing in the band. Zongoman was the band’s primary keyboard player but really came into his own when Mario took over keyboard duties and Zongoman had a turn at vocals on the uplifting ‘Watch and Pray’. Mario also demonstrated similar versatility when he was given the chance to sing on the song ‘Jah Jah Liveth’.

Live and Direct with Roy Gunter and The JRZs

What’s in a name?

Along with Roy as lead vocalist and band leadership, these musicians play under the name The JRZs. Roy told me JRZ stands for Jill, Ryan and Zongoman. While The JRZs is undoubtedly a catchy name for a band (and pleasingly reminiscent of the James Brown‘s classic band, The J.B.s), I feel the contributions of the other members of the band should also be recognised. For me, it’s rather like when Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills and Nash. They pretty much HAD to add Young’s name to the band. For the interest of intra- band harmony, I reckon Roy should give the band a collective name. Great names such as The Aggravators have already been taken but I’m sure there must be a word out there that captures what the band is all about.

Easy Skanking

Roy Gunter on the microphone with Tony keeping things steady with the bass

I was really impressed by the talented group of musicians Roy had assembled. Over the evening I had the pleasure of hearing the band play around six songs. Although I had already heard the majority of these songs when Roy performed at Roots of Reggae, I was struck by how fresh and rich they sounded when the band played them live. I was also very impressed by the versatile contributions of Zongoman and Mario, both of whom were given the chance to sing a song.


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