Adam Birch strolled by the merch tent wearing a T-shirt, baggy cargo shorts and an ear-to-ear grin. It was 30 minutes into an hour-long downpour that had cut short Roddy Radiation’s blistering set with The Scotch Bonnets and it threatened to put the first day of the 2018 Supernova International Ska Fest way off schedule. None of this seemed to bother Adam. Soaked to the bone, with mud splattered up to his knees, he bounded through the crowd, shaking hands, slapping backs and laughing a booming laugh that could have been mistaken for rolling thunder. He was having a damn good time and making sure everyone else was, too. Safely under the tent, Roddy sipped his red wine out of a plastic cup. “Adam Flymo Birch,” he said, nodding in the whirlwind’s direction. “A 15 year old in a grown man’s body.” It wasn’t an insult, just an observation, and a fairly obvious one at that. The energy, the optimism, the school-yard jokes and let’s-get-this-party-started battle cries. 15, 16 tops. Out in the rain, the trumpet player who started off backing Laurel Aitken with The Pressure Tenants, who did stints with The Specials, The Toasters and scores of other bands, the guy who’s got an all-star list of guest artists recording with his band, was busy splashing water out of a puddle that had formed too close to the Jump Up Records tent, laughing at the weather as he came to the rescue.
“It was my birthday weekend. It was the best present I had all year!” Three weeks after Supernova and you can still hear the excitement in Adam’s voice. Looking back, you can’t blame him.
“Friday, I played the VIP party with The Toasters and that is like my right of passage for being on the team. Then came Roddy’s set on Saturday … that was the first time since we’ve played together since 2010 in The Specials. It was good and great to see him. Sunday, I had my set with The Vershons. And I had a guest, Dr. Ring Ding. We go back to the days of Laurel Aitken and the Pressure Tenants. I got to back him for his set. Then I got to guest for EST [Eastern Standard Time] on one of their last songs … Ohh, I forgot! I did run on the other stage and played flugelhorn with my sista-from-another-mother, Kristin from Scotch Bonnets. I love them and she has so much passion for her music. I admire that. So yeah, I bum-rushed that one but they were very cool and let the silly old sod play on one of their tunes. Then it was The Pietasters. I was on stage for four or five songs. I thought I was going to just play one, but all the boys are very infectious and when I get a chance to sit in with a great horn section and just such really nice guys, I’m like a pig in shit. Their songs are classic and just so much fun to play on. Yeah,” he says, pausing for a breath, “I think that’s it for this year.”
Hardly. The Vershons are playing gigs around Adam’s adopted hometown of Philadelphia, PA, a two-hour drive to New York City or Baltimore, depending on which way you’re pointing. The band’s in and out of the studio, putting their stamp on classic tracks, bringing in some of Adam’s old friends to help on the tunes. Some friends he’ll name—Derrick Morgan, Dr. Ring Ding—some he’ll hint at—Dani, the lead vocal of The Soul Radics, and doing some shows members of the Pressure Tenants and Ska-Boom—some he’ll say he’d love to have but there’s just no chance of that ever happening, winking the whole time he says it.
The band’s current lineup includes Rich Hill on guitar, Ben Parry on bass, Chris Pries on Drums, Frank Machos on tenor sax and Shawn McCusker on the t-bone, Alex Ayala on keyboards and Hammond organ. “They love the music. I’m really lucky to work with them.” One of the first songs The Vershons covered in the studio was a ska-ed up version of The Champs’ “Tequila.”
“It just started out as a jam, just for the fun of it. I wanted it long enough to feature the guys in the band,” he says, explaining the song’s 5:34 running time, more than twice the original. “We didn’t think of time as a constraint. That’s all over. The music business has changed. It’s all different now. The rule is that there is no rules. We’re not interested in commercial radio play or doing a full album. Not yet, anyway. We’ll just put out music as downloads, and LPs and play for the fun of it.” The band’s also put out their take on the cheeky SkaBoom classic, “More Tea, Vicker?”
“That song’s a tribute to my time playing with SkaBoom. Nick Murphy, Billy the Kid Davidson, Dave Collins Richard Samson Henry Munro Great MarkPerson band. Basically a bunch of friends, playing towns across, Europe, England, Scotland and Wales and Ireland. A lot of fun.”
And while it’d be fun to look back on such a storied career, it’s clear Adam is more interested in looking forward.
“Just finished doing our version of Derrick Morgan’s “Fatman” and Derrick is singing the vocal on the track. Can’t believe Derrick offered to do this! Feeling very blessed to have the Legend himself sing on our version.”
And as for The Vershons?
“We’re getting more songs down, get us some more gigs, get on the circuit. We’re looking into putting on a late fall tour. We’re already booked for Christmas,” that fifteen-year-old-adult excitement clear in his voice. “This music never goes away. It’s always there. A small family, but so much music. And so much love. I’m so lucky.”