Interviews

People to Watch: Andy Vernon, Jamaican Polo Player and Reggae Musician

Written by Tropicana

I first met Andy Vernon on the south field near the Toronto Polo Club in Gormley, Ontario. Dreadlocks flying, as he galloped across the field, Andy and his team had just given the Canadian team a good thrashing during 4 fast paced chukkers. For years, I have been longing to have a Jamaican presence on the polo field up here in Toronto. I have mentioned it to Cliff Sifton and some of the other players many times over the years. I was not disappointed. There were also several other Jamaicans watching from the corporate tables on the south side of the field. Mi a tell onoo, Andy made his countrymen and women proud. (Andy had been invited to play for Barbados at the annual Polo for Heart charity tournament.)

I was soon to learn that there were many sides to this yardie. After the game, Andy got out of his polo jeans, jersey and helmet so fast it would have left your head spinning. He came back with a distinctly yard style appearance, jeans, Bob Marley tee shirt and tam.

That wasn’t the only surprise. Andy took out his guitar and performed a couple tracks with Arturo Tappin, Rhea and the band. Not only is Andy Vernon a 4 goal polo player, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, he is also an accomplished musician.

Today it gives me great pleasure to interview Andy Vernon, a very talented Jamaican and definitely a person to watch.

 

Tropicana: Hi Andy. Great to catch up with you again.

Andy: Greetings Tropicana. It’s all good…

Tropicana: Were you surprised to fly all the way to Toronto and buck up pon so many transplanted yardies at Polo for Heart?

Andy No, not really because Jamaican de everywhe’, an’ inna everyting. I did expect to see more Bajans though, as it was a Barbados match.

Tropicana: I am a rider and an avid polo fan so of course, I am going to start by asking you about polo. I understand you play at Drax Hall.

Andy: Yes, I represent the St. Ann Polo Club whose home field at Drax Hall is one of the oldest in the world. Over a hundred years old…

Tropicana: You lucky duck that is where I first got bitten by the polo bug. I haven’t been the same since.

Andy: Is one a dem ting deh. Hard fi put down once yu get di feva…

Tropicana: So tell me something Andy, how and when did you get started in polo?

Andy: My Father Billy started teaching my brother Ramon and I in our teens…

Tropicana:I see. Does anybody else in your family play polo?

Andy: My two sons Rory and Kyler are playing now…

Tropicana:Are both of your parents Jamaican? What part of Jamaica is your family from?

Andy: Yes. Wi all come from Mobay…

Tropicana:Where did you grow up and go to school Andy?

Andy: Born an’ grow a Bay. C.C.!!! (Cornwall College for the ones who are not familiar…)

Tropicana: Now I understand that you’re a 4-goal player and that takes a ton of work. What did you have to do to get to that level of play?

Andy: Well you have to understand first and foremost that I am not your typical polo player type. Most 4 goalers are professionals. I am a professional musician and an amateur polo player.

Tropicana: Amateur!! De way mi did see you tear up de field?? Bwoy, you noh easy! Suppose you did tun professional?

Andy: (laughs) I am what you could call a rebel blessed with a little talent. Not only a talent for playing the game but also an ability to train my own horses. If it wasn’t for that I probably would never have been able to get a start in the game, as good polo horses are very expensive. Give thanks to the Most High. I also seem to have the respect of the other players and the Jamaica Polo Association as I’ve been voted captain of the Jamaica team many times…

Tropicana: Of course, the ladies will want me to ask you if there is a Mrs. Andy Vernon.

Andy: (chuckle) Yes, and she’s a beautiful soul. Her parents are Jamaican but she was born in Eku, Nigeria, so yu know who she is. Is mi “African Queen” …

Tropicana: Wonderful. She must be really proud of you. Well I take my hat off to you. I learned to ride as an adult and, since I am athletically challenged, the cantering was a real struggle.

Andy: Well…Dat’s a part a life. Yu cyaan good at everyting. A good way to get the real rhythm of a horse is to ride bareback in the sea. Next time yu come yaad I can arrange it for you…

Tropicana: Cool. Mi wi’ tek you up pon dat fi sure. What do you enjoy most about polo?

Andy: The speed and the camaraderie between horse and rider as well as the other players…If the horse is no good forget it. Yu could be di best player in the world if yu cyaan get to di ball yu cyaan lick it…

Tropicana: In what countries have you played polo?

Andy: I’ve played in Argentina (the polo capital of the world), England, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, the USA and now Canada. I’ve also been invited to Ireland, Spain, Peru, Australia and Africa and hope to visit in the near future….

Tropicana: So polo is giving you a chance to see the world. I understand that you have won a number of important trophies. Can you please tell us about them?

Andy: Well… Apart from the trophies we’ve won in the many international games played, I’m really proud of my Jamaican wins. My team (the Gruesome Foursome) has been lucky enough to win the “Jamaica Open” a record seven times. The closest other team won it three times. I’ve also won the “Senior Cup”, the “Hurlingham”, and the High Goal Family tournament many times. These are the most prestigious trophies in Jamaica… Again… Give thanks to the Most High!!!

Tropicana: I have done a number of threads about polo and horse riding on the Jamaicans.com discussion board. There is always a very spirited debate. Some of our regular boardites perceive polo as an elite sport and they feel that the Jamaican polo scene is snobbish. What are your thoughts on this Andy?

Andy: (chuckle) It depends on which side of the bamboo tree you’re on. Truthfully, when I first started playing polo at Drax Hall there were definitely some “Busha” types playing the game. Very obnoxious and very opinionated. Hence the bamboo tree. When you drive in to watch a polo game at Drax Hall look to your left you’ll see the bamboo tree. We (the Vernons) were not really comfortable with the “Busha” mentality and attitude so we always kept our horses and hung out (there was always a posse of friends) to the left of the bamboo tree. For the record though, I must tell you that there were some really ‘down to earth’, nice, humble people in the club who always found their way to the bamboo tree. We in turn would also go into the club whenever we felt like because my mother and father taught us to respect everyone and fear no man whether yu de ‘back a bush’ or Buckingham Palace. But tings change now doh. That elitist, snobbish vibe, ‘gone a bush’…

Tropicana: In what other ways has the Jamaican polo scene changed over the years?

Andy: Apart from the fact that the above-mentioned mentality is gone, the new generation is now in charge. We’re not ‘dissing’ the history of the game. We have the Honourable Sir Dennis Lalor as president of the Jamaica Polo Association, helping to steer us in the right direction. Around him we have a young crew of players/thinkers taking the game to the next level. Everyone has a say. Now it’s strictly good vibes and reggae music at all matches. Believe mi…

Tropicana: Well it’s great to hear that. I do hope that next year we can get a Jamaican team up to Toronto for Polo for Heart. I understand there is another 4-goal player in the club.

Andy: Two more. Mark Wates in Kingston and Kurt Chin in St.Ann…

Tropicana: Wow! Three 4-goal players from such a small country. We lickle but we tallawah!! Of course, Jamaican player Lesley-Ann Masterton Fong-Yee is one of the highest rated female players in the world. It would be great to see her up here in Toronto.

Andy: We spoke about it already. She would definitely be one of the team…

Tropicana: Well I look forward to seeing her play again. The first time I ever saw polo it was at the finals the Annual High Pro Feeds Family Tournament. Lesley-Ann played in one game and refereed another. If it were up to me alone, I would talk your ear off about polo all day but I know there is something you are just as passionate about as polo.

Andy: Music…

Tropicana: What instruments do you play?

Andy: I play guitar, keyboards, bass and percussion. I plan to master the trumpet which I used to play mercilessly as a child…oblivious to the disturbance this must have caused my parents…

Tropicana: Man oh man so many? WOW!! Did you take lessons to learn to play all of those instruments?

Andy: That’s not many. Yu waan check a man like “Prince”. He plays at least 28 different instruments.

Tropicana: 28 instruments? Holy jumpin’!!

Andy: Mi nu kno if im a count di tambourine an di triangle but 28 is 28 in any language…Anyway, I was taught to play the piano by my mother who is a music teacher and I taught myself everything else…

Tropicana: How and when did you get started in the music business Andy?

Andy: I got started as a yout’ in my father’s band, some may remember “Billy Vernon and his Celestials”, an eleven or twelve piece band including trumpets, trombone, saxophone, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, female and male singers. Hence my love for live rather than computerized music. Di vibe always wikkid wid everybody on stage…

Tropicana:What do you enjoy and find fulfilling about music?

Andy: The melodies, the harmonies, the message in the music. Whether it’s a message of love, a message of truths and rights, a message of hope, a riddim fi mek yu dance… It’s all there inside the music…

Tropicana: Tell us about some of the most enjoyable gigs and shows you’ve done.

Andy: I have to mention Reggae Sumfest ’05 and ’06, and Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues ’06…

Tropicana: I understand that you have an important project on the go. Please tell us about the new reggae music CD you’re working on.

Andy: “Chronicles of a CultureMan” is my debut CD which is soon to be released. The tracks will also be available on my myspace website…

Tropicana: Which other Jamaican reggae musicians are working on your CD?

Andy: Tony Rebel on two tracks, “Searching” and “Can’t Stop us Now”, Prezident Brown on “Never Never”, Goofy and Taddy P who play keyboards and bass with Maxi Priest and Tanya Stephens, Saxy who plays with Cham, Gussi who plays guitars with Beres, Tony Ruption who plays drums with Third World, Jason (JVibe) who plays keyboards with Kymani Marley, Barry O’Hare plays keys and engineered most tracks (many times nominated and won the Grammy for a Burning Spear production some years ago), my daughter Rée, who sang backup on most tracks, along with Tammy T, Passion and Obrien singing sweet harmonies (all names to watch and listen for), Ferly on sax, Debussey, Goofy, JVibe, and Barry doing the engineering in studio as well. Big Up to ALL!!!

Tropicana: Man what a line up. I’ve listened to some of the tracks on your MySpace. “Can’t Stop Us Now” is my favourite. Is that you toasting?

Andy: Tony Rebel adding his distinctive brand and blessing. “To the World”!!!

Tropicana: I also love the feel of “Irie and Mellow”. Who mixes your music?

Andy : Jason (JVibe) Farmer mixed that one…I singjayed that one…

Tropicana: Well l like the sound. Clearly from the lyrics “Pray for Justice” and the images that you selected show that you are a conscious brother. Some may find this surprising given your background and the fact that you play polo. To what do you attribute your consciousness?

Andy: Looking at life in general and seeing so many atrocities in the faces of everyday people, some new stuff, others, like racism has been there from day one. Mi cyaan keep quiet, mi haffi sing, shout, chant, anything to get the message of love and light across to all Jah Children. At the end of the day if my musical message wakes up even one leader and helps to bring about some form of peace then I have accomplished my mission…that is my inspiration.

Tropicana:Nuff respec’ fi dat. When will “Chronicles of a CultureMan” be released and on what label?

Andy: Right now we’re looking at different label options, but definitely soon soon. The myspace page will keep you up to date…

Tropicana: Well I am looking forward to it. You certainly seem to be a man on the go. When you are not playing music or polo, how do you spend your time?

Andy: Family, friends, football (soccer), reading, the beach, are among my favourites…

Tropicana: How do you juggle it all?

Andy: Always take time to sort out the little things in life. No task too small, no task too large…

Tropicana: Andy, Jamaicans from all over the world will be clicking on this site and reading about you. Do you have anything in particular that you want to tell them?

Andy: Open Heart, Open Mind, Love and Light to All!!!

Tropicana: Thank you for your time Andy and good luck on the polo field and in the studio.

For some of you this may be the first time you’re hearing about Andy Vernon. It’s guaranteed this won’t be the last. You can see Andy Vernon’s reggae music video and listen to tracks from his soon to be released CD “Chronicles of a CultureMan” at MySpace. More about Andy Vernon, Jamaican Reggae Musician

You can also join us on the forums to talk about polo in the sports section and Andy’s music in the music yard.

About the Interviewee
Tropicana is one of our liveliest, most colourful and need we say controversial personalities on the Jamaicans.com discussion board. Born in Jamaica and raised in Canada, she regularly posts about racial issues, Black history and culture, international travel and news, reggae music, polo and other equestrian sports.

Photo Credits
Michael Chen, Michelle Dunn, David Gourzong, Art Perper, Perper Design Associates, Inc.

Michelle Dunn is a Toronto based professional photographer, specializing in polo and equestrian events. She has been the official photographer for Polo for Heart for the past 8 years. http://www.mdunnphoto.com

About the author

Tropicana