Go with the flow: 12 the band

12 the band, fronted by singer-songwriter Sheldon Holder, introduces “eclectic soul” to Trinidad

12’s frontman Sheldon Holder. Photograph by Alex Smailes

If you’d followed the Trinidadian band 12 over the past 12 months, you’d have seen a musical collective in search of several things. A sound; a stable line-up of members; money to make a CD; and, like any other band, gigs. I first saw 12 play live in February 2005. I’d reviewed their first (and to date only) release, an EP called Overtones, about a year before that, but was unprepared for the rush of thunderous reggae and rock I heard at Sabor Latino, a small dive in Maraval, north of Port of Spain. The band I’d heard on Overtones disappeared. Gone was the jazzy edge, the lounge cool. The difference, I was told, had been wrought by personnel changes. I followed 12 over the next several months, tracking their sound through more personnel changes. I saw them play a good set marred by bad sound engineering at Pier 1, on Trinidad’s north-western peninsula. I heard a three-man version of the band play a sparkling acoustic set at a French restaurant on Independence night. I saw them numerous times at a tiny Woodbrook corner bar called Coloz, including once when there must have been 20 of us in the place (they were divine). I saw them the first time flugelhornist Brendan Moore played with the band, and wondered if it was a wise idea (I’ve since changed my mind). I saw a fan base take shape.

Most importantly, I saw 12’s repertoire grow and the sound evolve, as the band’s founder (and one of its two constant members) Sheldon Holder’s writing grew in confidence and he settled on the idea that 12 was not so much a band as a collective, that members would come and go and that this flow would define the band as much as anything else.

Some would describe 12 as a rock band, a blues band, a reggae band. But the best description of their music that I’ve heard is the one they use themselves: “eclectic soul”.