A conversation with Adrien 'Archie' Mitchell
By Ian Jackson
His father, when he was alive, used to mimic a white man and did it with a lot of flairs. From his loins came three girls and finally a boy. He was called Adrian Mitchell and subsequently rechristened with his father's nickname, Archie.
Archie, the Scorpion, was born on 26th October 1967; he says that he really did not know where he inherited his musical talents since he cannot recollect his parents or elder sibling playing a musical instrument. Though his dad sang a lot as well as his sisters who became choir members in the Pointe Michel Church, it was his childhood friendship with Eric Bardouille that catapulted him from his days when he used tin and plastic to make a drum set. He also attributes his cousin Edmund Augustine who played the bass guitar with a group called Positive Seven in the village for exposing him to the notes on a bass guitar.
Bardouille's father taught his son to play the guitar and he passed down whatever knowledge he had to Archie. However, Archie decided that they could not both play the same instrument and so he was happy to convert a gift of a six-stringed rhythm guitar to bass. It was there and then he realized that he had found his niche.
He recollects the times he went to the band houses of Positive Roots and Swinging Busters just to see the guys play; he admired Frank "Professor Oils" Jules on drums and Franklyn "Refuse" Harris on Bass, all of Swinging Stars fame.
Archie admits "Refuse "and in particular Fred "Freddy" Nicholas had a lasting impact on his exploits as a bass guitarist. He was full of glowing compliments on their skill when I spoke to him at his mini studio at La Pointe.
In those days Archie admits he frequently listen to Ted Daley on DBS as he was introduced to a number of hit songs of the day but said because recording devices were not readily available he had to "cram" bass lines quickly before the next tune, or the DJ "rapped" over it to prevent pirates from feeding off new releases. The first bass line he learned to master was that of Bob Marley's "Coming in from the cold." He laments today the lack of prominent/ signature bass riffs in modern music, where one could emulate.
It did not take long for him to team up with the cousins Carlton Winston and Ossie Toussaint who formally played with a group called African Herbs. It so happened they were unable to accompany calypsonians for the local village Calypso show that year, paving the way for Archie and Bardouille plus Eric's brother, Jerome, guitarist Wayne Wilkins. Trumpeter Carlton Winston also did stints with the 1st Sonata led by Cleve "Hurricane" Jean Jacques. Ken Richards mentored and advised the group.
Father Reggie Lafleur provided the group's first set of instruments, drums, bass, and keyboards and in exchange, they had to commit themselves to play, rehearsing, and accompanying the junior choir at church. His first real group was called ZADRAS- a coined name from the first letter of the names of the members.
However, it was Carlton (band leader) and Stanley (engineer/ singer), and Winston's mother, fondly referred to as Aunty Prisca, who was the real financier and supporter of the band which was rechristened 1st Serenade. Some of the proceeds from her bakery and shop she invested in her children and their musical dream with mixers, amplifiers, guitars, chords, and even provided rehearsal space.
From 1983, when the band was formed, to 1988 no recordings were done by the group until their smash single 'Zuke- Zuke', a song Leroy "Wadico" Charles really promoted on the popular Hi-fi Wadicole. By this time Derose Peltier, on lead vocals, had joined the group and tracks like "Maman Mois" and Majestic's "Free Nelson Mandela" hit the airwaves and 1st Serenade established themselves as a musical force on the island.
Next "Debouye" was released followed by their biggest album to date "Ruff up de session" In which Eric B graduated as the keyboard player and main songwriter for the group. Archie on bass meanwhile, specialized in love Zuke tracks in most of the recordings. Archie says that his most influential group probably was Kassav and the skill of bassist George Decimus who he joked that if he fell ill suddenly on any engagement he could easily fit in so versed he was with the music and accompanying bass lines. "Beff la," "Wiper," the albums came fast and furious and as Rohi on lead vocals came in with the 'Chicken Riddim' so too were the tours as demand for the band grew. Then it happened!
In 1999 Archie collapsed in the US while on tour after complaining of not feeling well. He was told that it was miraculous he survived. It was only when it happened in 1999 that he understood why Ashma, his now 21-year-old and only child, cried and cried like a toddler when he was leaving on tour for the States.
Years after treatment and without the proper functioning of his kidneys, Archie's love for music and determination to live as normally as the illness would allow, saw him back in the studios and on his job at MARPIN. Out came the Red Heat album with "Marry de Girl Charlie' which he again produced, all in his determination to keep active: "I never put in my mind that I sick!"
Now it's, three times a week to dialyze at the PMH, and as if that was not enough he fell and broke his leg and was refused compensation by the contractor that was repairing the road right in front of his residence; the contractor claimed that it was not his fault. The matter is in Court even while Archie has been boarded off from the job. Nonetheless, he praised his former employer, MARPIN for continuing his monthly wages.
Meanwhile, Archie says he just lives for the music and to assist his mother Christiana "Cee Cee" Mitchell when and how he can. He still plays with Serenade occasionally, served as drummer, and produced for calypsonians Deros, Checko, and band member Alisha.
Adrien 'Archie' Mitchell, who is now in his late 40's, represents one of the most illustrious sons of Pointe Michel, as he best represents the bedrock on which modern culture and music are built in that village; from the contemporary music of 1st Serenade and recordings for calypsonians to the folk music of the Joan Frampton-led Pointe Michel Cultural Group.