Like any rock band in the pantheon of Rock n’ Roll, The Gentlemen — the five-piece rockers who took first prize at Roberto Clemente Middle School’s Fourth Annual Battle For The Bands Concert — had to endure a period of strife and self-doubt before tasting sweet success.
Middle school is indeed a microcosm of the real world. The Gentleman are made up of seventh-grader Luke Griffith on keyboards, and four eighth graders; Victor Wawero on drums, Nathan Ogero on vocals, Benjamin Reyes on guitar, Visesh Uppoor on bass, and Matthew Owusu on guitar, and they faced an uphill climb to win the competition, which was held Thursday afternoon, March 8 at the school.
“I can’t believe this,” lead singer Nathan Ogero told the audience on stage after it was announced that The Gentlemen had won. “To think last week, we were barely a band. We were going to break up.” As the band started playing their encore performance of the Michael Jackson hit, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), Ogero turned to his bandmates and said, “I love these guys.”
Roberto Clemente Middle School’s Rock Band program has been putting on the Battle of the Bands for four years, and it has become one of the highlights of the year at the Germantown school. The bands are part of the Rock Band program run by RCMS music teacher Randi Levy.
The annual Battle For The Bands competition, in which bands from the school’s Advanced Rock Band class take the stage performed as part of a fundraiser to help cover the cost of an annual field trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
This year’s competition featured six bands, Wavy Secret, Extra, Legacy, The Decision, Supreme, and the winners, The Gentlemen.
As students gathered around the stage to cheer on classmates, the bands’ performances were judged by a trio of teachers, American Idol style. Bands were judged on preparedness, originality, audience interaction, quality of presentation, and performance. Crowd enthusiasm was measured to gauge how well each band related to the audience.
The competition was judged by, RCMS teachers Andre Wise; Brandon Smith; Alexandra Hoover, and David White. The event was hosted by RCMS physical education teacher Dave Hudson, interacting with the judges and band members.
For the winning performance, the Gentlemen played P.Y.T. from Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller album, and a mashup of C+C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) from 1990 and Tag Team’s Whoomp There It Is from 1993.
However, just five days ago, while band members were immersed in learning and playing happy power pop songs, the mood around the band did not reflect the good time party tone the songs they were learning portrayed.
The Gentlemen were on the verge of breaking up as self-doubt swirled around their lead singer.
“I was the main problem,” said Nathan Ogero, to a chorus of laughs from his bandmates after the competition. “Basically going into Advanced Rock Band this year, it became more serious. Beginning Rock Band was more fun. There was more lollygagging, this was more serious. There were serious players. All the other players seemed so much better me. I often found myself to be the last one to learn and know the songs, and complete the homework because they were too hard for me.”
Ogero said he wanted to leave the program and the band. He wanted to venture out to explore other options, such as joining chorus. “Because I am a better singer than bass player,” said Ogero. “So I left and did it in the middle of us working toward the Battle For The Bands Show. I left the Rock Band Program, and I fractured the band. So Ms. Levy sat down with us and explained, that it would be unfair to the rest of members of the band to leave. She said, ‘You can’t do this to your band mates by leaving in the middle.’”
Nathan agreed to stay in The Gentlemen. “I agreed to stay and go hard for the next five days that we had to practice and learn our songs.”
The other problem, which loomed large the band was the other bands in the competition. While in a perfect world, the music should be all that matters marketing, corporate — or in this case — middle school politics play a role in a rock band’s future.
Heading into the show on Thursday, the band with the most buzz around Roberto Clemente Middle School was Supreme. They’d run a successful marketing campaign around the school. Supreme had the largest social media following of any of the six bands. “They had taken the school by storm,” said one concert-goer. And they had the plumb closing spot in the concert line up. Supreme would close the show.
Indeed, Supreme was received by the RCMS audience as bona fide rock stars. The chants of “Sup-reme” began even as the band was being introduced by Mr. Hudson. And Supreme played a tight set including a reworked rocked up version of the Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air from 1996.
“At the beginning of the week it seemed Supreme would be victorious,” said Matthew Owusu, The Gentlemen’s drummer, “because they were really good at marketing and advertising. And had a lot of good ways to get people hyped and get students behind them.”
As a result of that marketing machine, The Gentlemen became disenchanted with Rock n’ Roll. “Many of us in the band, began to doubt ourselves,” said Owusu. “Thinking, what’s the point of practicing when we all thought that Supreme would win anyway. It put us in a slump, and when one of us got in a slump, it affected every one of us.”
Once all the performances were over, and the judges had deliberated, all six bands were called back to the stage for the results. In the end, it came down to Supreme and The Gentlemen, and the hard work and perseverance paid off for the power pop quartet.
“We came together when it mattered,” said Luke Griffith, the band’s only seventh grader.
As the glow of the spotlight and the flash of the strobes were still fresh, the Gentlemen say the will continue to play. “We are going to hopefully keep playing together. There might be a part two,” said Ogero. “I am just happy to play you all,” he told his bandmates. “We worked as a team, even though we had our fall out and bad parts. We worked hard, and it came out great in the end.”
Top: The Gentlemen took the top spot in the Roberto Clemente Battle of the Bands 4 held on Thursday afternoon.
Next: Benjamin Reyes on guitar, Nathan Ogero on vocals, and Mathew Owusu on guitar rocking out with Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. as part of their encore for winning.
Next: The Gentlemen playing their encore.
Next: The Gentlemen; Benjamin Reyes, Visesh Uppoor, Nathan Ogero, Matthew Owusu, Luke Griffith, and Victor Waweru on drums.
Next: The second place band Supreme had captured all the pre-show buzz and got a great reception from the crowd.
Next: The Gentlemen’s pre-show hype.
Next: The winners of the Battle For The Bands 4 – The Gentlemen.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.