Melvin’s journey to drummer extraordinare
Melvin Alick is a man of his word. So much so that he passed on playing a gig with Machel Montano because he had already said yes to one previously. Who is Machel Montano? International soca superstar from Trinidad and Tobago, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Melvin is an acclaimed drummer in the Caribbean. But he isn’t one who likes to beat his own drums. The established member of the Monk Monte band has played with Arturo Tappin, Nicholas Brancker, Spice and Company, among others.
He invited EASY into his home studio where he was making some beats, after a just concluded drumming class, to tell his journey so far.
Melvin, like most, grew up playing drums in the church at age nine.
“My dad [Melvin Sr] was one of the founding members of the gospel band Promise. I toured with them too in 2001.”
Melvin, who went to St Michael’s and the Barbados Community College, has a degree in maths and management from the University of the West Indies, left a fulltime, steady paying job to pursue his passion – music.
He knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I worked at a bank from 2001 and in December 2003, getting a salary, but I was definitely processing in my mind towards music. In 2004, I got married to my rock Lisa, left my job and said music was it. But I talked it over with my wife first,” he said, laughing.
He started off with a gig at Waterfront Café with jazz singer Marissa Lindsay, earning something like $150 a night.
“I was known in the gospel scene and Marissa was well established so we had people who knew us. The private gigs started to come in so things picked up.”
He then was invited to be a part of the newly-formed band Strategy at the end of 2004 to early 2005.
Then the first bean started growing into a stalk.
“[Soca artiste] Rupee was on tour [with Tempted To Touch among others] and Mikey [Hulsmeir] from the Red Boyz was his drummer. His grandfather died and Miles Robertson, [British singer Adele’s former musical director], who was in the band, vouched for me as a replacement to go to Los Angeles. It was a last minute thing, so I had an intense rehearsal at home learning this set for hours.”
It paid off as when Hulsmeir decided he wanted to be off the road for a while, Melvin toured with Rupee for a year.
He had a long stint with David “Zig-E” Walcott, a master pannist, local lad Hal Linton, and then his path started to cross more often with saxophonist Tappin in 2008.
He became part of his band, “doing everything possible under the stars, travelling the Caribbean music circuit. I still gig with him when I am not working with Machel,” Melvin said.
“I have learnt so much from him – the business of music and the psychology side. Fantastic person to work with.”
He speaks fondly of the Spice and Company gig he was called to do that surprised him.
“I had no idea I would ever get that call in 2010. It was a humbling experience as I grew up watching them. I still work with them up to last week at the CARIFESTA XIII event they played on Bay Street.”
Next big name was Brancker, who Melvin has only been playing with for two years.
“I had known him from 2001 but never got the chance until 2015. He was putting on a musical showcase called City Nights and he called me, again, a surprise, as he had James [Lovell] as his set drummer.
“When he asked if I could jam I said, ‘Bruh, of course I am available to play with you’.”
Melvin said the chemistry was instant. Brancker was easy to work with, and Melvin has been learning a lot from him, still a part of his band: “When you are creating a live show, there is the psychology that goes into picking songs, putting a set together . . . . So over the years, I have learnt a lot from those two.”
Melvin said that was a good prep for Machel.
At the end of 2014, his drummer Kernal “Kitch” Roberts retired his sticks.
Again, there was the call.
Darien Bailey, Bajan keyboardist in Monk Monte, the band Machel formed, told him to audition.
“I told him to give me a couple minutes to think about it.”
What had Melvin a bit hesitant was that the drummer is integral to a band, likened to the foundation of a house, and Kitch was leaving a huge seat to fill.
“Kitch had pretty much defined Machel’s sound the last 15 years. He would have produced almost 90 per cent of Machel’s Road March tunes. He was an integral part of the band.”
Melvin said he prayed on it. Spoke to his wife and pastor and said OK.
He flew to Trinidad and went up against two others. And got the job.
“What was funny was that I personally thought I did just OK. They were way better than me and what he was looking for. I am not a soca drummer. Yes, I can admit to the fact for some purposes I am [a soca drummer]because I play for Machel. But they came from a stronger soca background than me.”
A couple weeks later, Machel himself called to say Melvin was now a Monk Monte member.
“He said he had decided who they were choosing and it was me. I said, ‘Thanks man, appreciate it. I guess I would see you for Carnival’. I was cool, cool, cool.”
But Melvin said he could now admit that inside he was jumping up and down and screaming like a boy who received a toy he wanted all his life.
But there was a bump in the newly-acquired partnership in 2015.
Machel needed him for a gig around the same time as Christmas Jazz in Barbados. But Melvin said he had already promised Tappin he would do Christmas Jazz.
“I had given Tappin my word. And if I give you my word, that is my word. That is how I do business. When the band called and asked if I could get out of it I said no, I gave Arturo my word.”
Melvin said he felt that statement was important to make as it would also apply to Machel and the band: “If I give you my word, it could be Machel, Usher, whoever, my word means that much to me as a man.”
Melvin would join four other Bajans in the band.
Melvin said it was a learning curve as he had to now blend in with the band that was there for a while.
“I was new and so it was intense. We had long hours and in that first time playing with them Machel was also doing the movie at the same time. So some nerves were stretched and some were frayed.
“But I got accustomed to him and what he wanted. I started to settle in.”
Melvin’s journey has been fulfilling, but he says he hasn’t reached where he wants to be.
“I am still hungry, still driven, still passionate, still trying to get better, still trying to top myself.”
Melvin said he has taken up teaching others the craft, and he also likes to record beats.
“I feel it is important to pass on the knowledge. If I am not here and they want a drummer, there must be others that can take up the mantle.”
Melvin calls himself a session player – versed in a variety of music from backing artistes such as Jamaican dancehall artiste Beenie Man and rapper Drake, among others.
He is a family man and says his focus is now on his younger brother Malik, making good on a promise he made to his dad who passed two years ago.
Malik is currently on a four-year music scholarship in Montreal, Canada.
“We are working on some stuff together. He is on his third year. He started a gospel product and I made a promise to my dad to help him finish it.”
Melvin has recently signed an endorsement contract with stick makers Vader and looking to add more of those to his portfolio.
He had some wise words to fellow musicians in the business.
“Always be ready. So when the opportunities come, you dont have to get yourself ready.”