This is one of the interviews I’m most proud of. Anyone who knows me knows that if you are looking for me at Notting Hill Carnival, I’ll be on top of Portobello Road listening to the tunes played on Gladdy’s fantastic rig. It’s hard to find anyone playing music that ranges from 50s r&b all the way to current anthems by the likes of Chronixx. So after enjoying Gladdy dj for a couple of years, I really had to sit down with him and find out more about his history.
Let’s begin at the beginning. You were born in Jamaica, right?
I was born in Jamaica. 1951.
When did you leave?
When I was fourteen and a half. I left Jamaica in 1965. Got to England in December. 18th of December. My father was here before me and then he came and brought myself and my brothers and sister to this country. But the music thing started from Jamaica. I think it was mostly influenced by my mother. My grandmother was an organist and choir leader. We had a lot of singing in the family. Through church and even at school. One of my uncles played guitar at Studio 1. He used to teach music in Canada, in the university, but he’s dead now. He died about four years ago. The sound of music has always been in my home. People in my home played instruments, my grandmother, my mother, my uncle… My mother always listened to the radio and I listened with her. So I was exposed to dance type music. My grandmother’s music was mainly religious type music.
What kind of music was being played on the radio back then?
Music from America mostly. What they would have called rock’n’roll at the time. That and the old rhythm and blues. Typically Fats Domino, Shirley and Lee… In fact, before I was listening to radio, I was listening to sound systems. Shirley and Lee, Rosco Gordon, Fats Domino, Lavern Baker, people like that, Ruth Brown. I was listening to that when I was four, five years old. We used to actually put the dances on. My mother used to make the dance. We had the dancehall: a typically Jamaican business set up – dancehall, grocery shop and bar. We had that. Friday night, Saturday night, there was always dance with sound systems. Those artists are what I would listen to firstly. And then, when my father came to England, I moved away from the town and moved back to the country where I had been born. That’s when I started listening to the radio as there weren’t many dances in the country. But there was a good deal of it, it was always on for me to listen to. This is 1956, ‘57. I grew up listening to music all the time. When I moved back to the town again, it was jukeboxes, radio and sound systems. I lived in Spanish Town for a while and that’s where a lot of sound systems were. That’s where I was exposed to Jamaican music firstly. Jamaica started recording music around 1955. We used to listen to American music mostly. People talk of mento as being Jamaican. I remember listening to mento, but listening to it live, not on records. I used to watch mento bands play when I was a kid. I’ve seen the Skatalites play live as well. Then Jamaica really started getting heavy into recording in 1959, ‘60. You were hearing sounds and you knew this was made in Jamaica. Joe Higgs had a very early hit with a record called Oh Manny Oh. It was Higgs and Wilson. I grew up to find out that Higgs was Joe Higgs. Then there was Alton Ellis, his first recording Muriel was booming out in 1960. Keith and Enid… After a while the beat would change. Jamaica was really a vibrant place! People would play so much and then they would play more of it until it was so much that it evolved. It would change. This was happening around ‘60, ‘61, ‘62. Jamaica became independent. I remember the ska sound was emerging then. In ‘62 there was a big hit from Derrick Morgan, which is ska, Forward March, a tribute in celebration of independence for Jamaica. At that time it was jukebox or sound systems. I was standing outside listening to the sounds play because I was too small to go into the dances.
But the sound carried far enough…
Yeah, but I wasn’t far from it, I was just outside. In fact, I would go inside when they set the sound system up in the day time, in the afternoon. We could listen all day. But when it became night, in Jamaica it would be dark after half past six, seven, then you would have to leave as a child because it was time for adults to come. Outside we would stand and listen while they would play inside. And then of course the jukeboxes… Every penny went into the jukeboxes! Then my cousin started bringing home records from Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster, Shenley Duffers, Eric Morris. One of my older cousins was friendly with Shenley Duffers and if you knew one, you knew all of them, they were all singers. So we used to have records. I was djing before I came to England. I tell people this and they don’t know, they think I started playing in England. I was the dj for my send off party in Jamaica. I was fourteen then. We had turntables and we would go through a German made radiogram – a radio with an extension for a speaker so you could play like a sound system: put a big speaker outdoors or on the veranda. You could play records like a sound system, but smaller. It was a Telefunken radio. A lot of people in Jamaica had a Telefunken. It was the name to have as a radio. The jukeboxes were usually Wurlitzer. That was what the early sixties was like.
I left Jamaica in November 1965 and got here in December. On a boat. We came here as a family, myself, four brothers, a sister and my parents, my dad had been here ten years previous. He just came back for us. When we came here, we were looking for music, because we were used to music. We were music lovers! So we wanted to know how we could get music. We turned the radio on and we heard the Beatles. We were used to the Beatles from Jamaica. But then we were hearing bands like The Troggs, the Tremolos, British bands, the Rolling Stones… We didn’t know the Rolling Stones in Jamaica, though they were big here. We were taken aback by the way the bands were laid out and by the music they were playing. We thought it was no good at all, it was rubbish compared to the ska that we were listening to. We liked the Beatles because we heard them very often on the radio. The songs were ok, “I wanna hold your hand…” You could relate to that. When we came here, we saw bands with five guys with guitars and one guy on the drums and that was it. We were used to seeing people play keyboards, organs, guitar, banjo, trumpet, trombones, flutes… We were used to seeing bands with a bigger scope of instruments. We came here and all the pop bands were just guitars… We thought that this was not good. Some of them were melodious, pleasant; I got some pop music from the sixties in my collection. But by and large it wasn’t fulfilling the desire we had for the ska or for the American music we had left back home. So we started writing to Jamaica saying we want some music.
Birmingham was where you first moved?
Yes, Birmingham, not London. We searched for record shops quickly, me and my older brother who is also a music lover and collector. We found a record shop not far from home that we could walk to. They had Blue Beat in that record shop. We liked some of the Blue Beats, but they weren’t what we listened to in Jamaica. We found them humdrum. We bought the ones we liked. We’d go weekly and buy two records, three records. In those days they were seven shillings and six pence. I wonder how much that would be now – about thirty-five pence. Anyway, we wrote back home. I think this started with reading The Gleaner to keep in touch with news in Jamaica. In The Gleaner, they would have the Top 10 and there was an advertisement in there for importing records from Caribbean Distributors. So my brother wrote to them. I remember it was one Mr. Robinson, and he sent us the price. We could get seven records for five pounds and postage. So we would get seven records every two weeks. As soon as one parcel came, we would repeat. We would send five pounds again for seven more. It was handy, it was enough. We could get used to seven records in two weeks. We didn’t know what the records were but we gambled that if they were in the Top 10, they would be good. So we would send for one to seven. Occasionally we would recognize the artist. “Oh, this is Eric Morris, it must be good!” Whether it was number ten or number one, we’d get that. The Maytals… It would be good. Doesn’t matter if it was number ten! We’d collect like that. My older brother also was a electronic technician, electrical, really, but he learned some electronics. He made an amplifier in about the first year we lived in England. The circuitry was from Mullard, it was a ten watts valve amplifier and we played it as a sound system in the home. We started acquiring friends, we’d play records and we started having parties at home. Buying drinks on the weekend. I didn’t drink but it was wine for the adults. We played because we had records. And then people would say “We’re having a wedding, would you like to play?” And we’d play at weddings for free, as a hobby.
So you were the only people around who had records?
At our age – there were sound men before us, a couple. But we wouldn’t go to the dance. My oldest brother would, because he was already sixteen. He was old enough to stay out. But I didn’t go at first. I used to do the same thing we did in Jamaica. I would walk with him to the dance, listen for a bit and then go back home before it got too late. We had sound systems in Birmingham that we heard about. A sound called Duke Neville and a sound called Duke Sonny. Duke Sonny, I don’t know what his real name is, but he’s reputed to be the first sound system in Birmingham. When I became sixteen, I went to listen to those sound systems. By then we had a small sound and we used to go and listen to see if they had better records than us. Well, they did. Especially Duke Sonny! Duke Neville had great records too! He was a fantastic selector. You could listen all night, he never played a bad record! But we were coming up with our own sound. We were playing now. We went to youth clubs, because we started going to school and when school finished, we started going to youth clubs on Friday evenings. They had a disco there and we said, “we have a disco, we can play.” So we brought the sound system to the disco and played Jamaican records. All the youngsters were looking to us for music because they had never seen that before, they didn’t know they could play music on a sound system. They only heard about the sounds that were there and they were too young to attend those dances. They will tell you that in Birmingham, that myself, my family started all the younger sounds, loads of them. Dozens of kids built sound systems because of myself and my brothers.
That must be a good feeling to have inspired people.
Now it is! I didn’t realize it was happening at the time but every time I visit, they come and tell me “it’s you who made us do this!” Some of them were born here, they didn’t even know how to speak Jamaican. They picked it up from us.
So your audience was mainly Jamaican or children of Jamaican immigrants?
Yes. Or some other place in the West Indies. Maybe Grenadians, maybe people from Saint Kitts, maybe Barbados, but mostly Jamaicans. Where I lived in Birmingham is heavily Jamaican populated.
What was it like to come to England?
I found it gloomy! We were used to the sunshine and we came here in December. It was gloomy! At the end of December it started snowing. I remember I started school in January and we all wanted to go back home, crying, because it started snowing. But we couldn’t go home, we had to go to school. We got on with it. It was exciting, because we were young, but it wasn’t exactly welcoming. The temperature, the climate wasn’t welcoming. We were wearing two trousers to go to school – gloves and things over our heads and heavy coats… But we dug in and got used to it.
What were British people like? Can you describe their attitude towards immigrants?
I can only speak for myself. I remember going to school and finding that they weren’t the people I thought they were. Coming from Jamaica, a former slave plantation island, you think that these people are English. When I got here, no one spoke English, they spoke Brummie. We were taught to speak English in a grammatically correct way and we didn’t hear that. When I went to school, I was bored. I was a bright person in school. In my school in Jamaica, I was top of the class all the time. My teachers asked my father not to take me to England so that they could educate me. These people, when I went back now, they said “are you a professor?” I said “No.” They said “you didn’t get an education?” I said “No.” I just went to a normal school and I lost interest, because of the way school was here. I lost interest in studying and I was really a bright person. The keenness with which I did my studies in Jamaica, I lost it here – daydreaming of Jamaica, not making friends, getting used to a different way of life… It throws you.
The British people that I met here – some were welcoming, some were not. I went to a boys school and they were always fighting. They were curious, but not in a positive way. They wanted to know about you but they thought they knew about you already. People talk about racism and I see it. Racism doesn’t worry me personally. It worries me for what it does to a whole set of people, that prejudice against a whole set of people. That I detest! But me personally? You can’t make me feel bad because I’m black or of a different colour. You can’t! It’s not possible! It’s not in my nature to feel bad about myself! There were people here who would call you a black bastard or a wog which was really meant for people from Asia. It’s abbreviated wog – western oriental gentleman. “You wog!” or “you black bastard!” they would call us. They were very concerned about your colour…
When I left school, I started working in a chemical laboratory because my o level grades were good and I liked science. I really wanted to be a scientist. That was my ambition when I was small. I remember asking the careers officer at school “Where would I have to go to learn about nuclear fission and atomic energy?” They said “Well, you’d have to leave home and probably have to join the forces” and things like that. I even joined the forces for a time but it wasn’t the army, it was the air force. I was a cadet and I learned to fly and glide between the age of fifteen and twenty. When I was twenty-one, I had to make a decision: you have to join the forces properly or leave. You can’t be a cadet after twenty-one. I liked flying, it was exciting and fun. But I left anyway. It was an ambition but I wasn’t encouraged into it. I liked it for myself. I’ve got my license for gliding but I didn’t get my license for flying. But I can fly. It’s like driving a car – you can do it but you need so license so that people can see that you can do it. I used to fly Chipmunks, single-engine planes.
When I left college and got my job in the laboratory, I was still studying as I wanted to improve my knowledge of science. But then I started going to the dances because I was sixteen and I was working. I could buy my own beer if I wanted it. When my sound wasn’t playing, I would probably visit Duke Neville with my bigger brother.
One night I went to Quaker City’s dance. I went and I heard it and it blew me away! It was just like Jamaica! It was heavy, you know, loud, clear and powerful like the sounds in Jamaica! I stood there and after a time I went over and took the mic. There was a boldness about me when I was young. I’d just go and do something if I thought it was right to do it. I picked the mic up and no one stopped me. So I started toasting, mimicking what I heard back home in Jamaica and what I had in my head. It was reggae then, this was 1968, just behind the rocksteady. I was toasting and everyone was amazed because they hadn’t heard that before. I was the first person to be doing that there the way I did it. I think I was getting records from Jamaica then with U-Roy. I remember U-Roy’s big hit Sound of the Wise produced by Lloyd Daley, the Matador. I remember mimicking words like that “Whether you’re sick or you’re sad or you lost the love you had…” Rhyming. And they all liked it and I got to know them.
By the next week they were playing again and I went there again and I just started using the mic. The week after that they were playing but I had to go back to my sound and play at the youth club. So they would come and ask my mother “Is he home?” They were saying “We want him!” And they got me when they said they were going to Manchester. I had never been out of Birmingham! So I went to Manchester with them. Quaker was really growing then. There were promoters who had caught on to his entertainment value and so they were booking him. Every week: Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds, Derby, Wales.
I was the chief, you know, the man on the mic, presenting and toasting and introducing records. Any week that we didn’t play, I would play my sound. My brother still had the sound going in the youth club and we still had records. I would take some of my records to Quaker and play. If we had a set of tunes we’d think he didn’t have, new tunes. We were music fanatics! You could build a sound anytime but you had to have records if you wanted to have music. My sound was growing and I went between both sounds. Then the clashes started and I had to be there when there was a clash. Otherwise the other sound could outdo Quaker if he didn’t have an mc. It was clashing all the time now. A lot of great sounds in Manchester at the time, ‘69, ‘70, ‘71, ‘72 – Skylark, Rocket 88, a whole heap of sounds…
That was still before clash became all about playing dubplates?
Yeah, that was clashing with the music, better music. It was about the crowd dancing. By the time I was really good on the microphone. So even people who knew me didn’t know how good I was, because they weren’t traveling with us. Even my brothers didn’t realize how good I was. We would go to Manchester Friday and not come back until Monday. That incidentally is where I lost my job – for going with the sound system and coming back late on Monday and going to work late. They’d say “Where have you been?” This would happen regularly. Eventually they told me “You can’t work here if you can’t come on time!” So I lost my job because of sound system. That was the very reason. After that I didn’t work much.
Did the sound system pay well enough to make a living out of it?
No. I didn’t do it as a living, just as a hobby. I had odd jobs and I was still living at my mother’s house. So she was looking after me. Even when I was in my twenties, I was still living with my mother. I went on with Quaker for a while until there was a kind of falling out with myself and Quaker. There was another sound called Duke Neville. They had admired my microphone skills and they wanted a special. Duke Neville was more innovative than the owner of Quaker City. So he said “Let’s go to the studio!” Quaker had never taken me to the studio but this other sound offered me to come to the studio and record. So I went with them and we made like five specials for him. Lo and behold, in another three weeks, they were to play together. Quaker was doing fine on the night because he had a bigger sound. But Duke Neville played the special I made and Quaker was upset as this other sound was beating him because of the special I made. He told the rest of the crew to boycott me. It was foolish, because I was there to help him. I had my own sound, I had my own talent. My input made his sound rise really high. When I left, it was a different crowd, attendance wasn’t the same. The crew would come for me and get me. “It’s no good without you, come on!” Then I would drive the truck for them. I was young but I could drive the truck. None of the other crew, not even the older men could, but I could. Then I used to drive the truck to Oxford for them, Northampton, wherever they were playing. I wouldn’t touch the microphone anymore but I would help out, because one of the main selectors, George, was a good buddy, and he would say “Come on, we need to go, drive the truck for us.” Quaker was like “Don’t let him touch the mic again!” But I didn’t want to! I could touch my mic on my own sound! That’s how we had a falling out. It’s not the same now, me and him speak now. Then I went back to my sound, well, it was always there. My sound is a family sound, we were always playing somewhere. Weddings, parties, friends parties, Christmas parties,… I didn’t build it like other men, to go out and make money.
You didn’t do clashes either?
We did, with other youth sounds. But it’s not like the clashes you’d see today. We would play in competition and the crowd would say „Yeah, this sound plays the better music!“ We were ahead of the game, we were using better equipment. My approach to sound system is from a musicians approach. Most soundmen, I don’t even know if they are music lovers, they just love to hear something powerful going “boom boom!” The reason I play a sound system is that I can’t take a band with me everywhere. So you play the records but you try to play them on quality equipment so you can hear them like the musician intended. Some of the sounds I hear, I wouldn’t play a sound like them just for the sake of it. My approach is for music! Not just specials and swearing and bravado. My love is music! That’s what it is!
The last clash I’ve been to was mostly about playing intros and then pulling up the record. You didn’t get much of a chance to find out if the dubplates that were being played were any good.
That’s not my game! My game is music! Sound system is a hobby. I didn’t see it as a career. Then there was a singing competition in Birmingham and I joined the competition. I thought singing was a more serious way to move forward, career-wise. I won the competition and Dennis Bovell who was one of the judges invited me to London. He said “If you’re in London, you could make it.” He didn’t even know that I was a sound person, he thought that I was just a singer. He invited me to his home and I stayed with him over weekends. I would come to him from Birmingham on the weekend and show him my lyrics and he would take the guitar and we’d make up songs. But I didn’t live in London and I had to run back. Then he said “If you lived here, you’d make it.” So I hitchhiked to London. I didn’t actually know where I was gonna stay. I had a friend here who put me up on a couch and then they suggested that I’d get a job. If I wanted to stay in London, I had to get a job. And I did get a job. That’s how I came here, I came here with nothing – only a guitar.
What year was that?
In 1980 – when I won the singing competition, Dennis Bovell was the engineer. The prize was a recording contract from the company that held the competition. So Dennis came to Birmingham and he recorded me singing but that record was never released because the people who held the competition couldn’t afford to buy the master-tape from the studio. In those days the studio provided the master-tape. We had an acetate copy but we didn’t get the master-tape ever. You know Steel Pulse? The competition I won, Steel Pulse won as a group, I won as a singer. Steel Pulse were recording as well, they recorded a track called “Handsworth Revolution” on the same day. The competition also launched me into a band. There was a band there with four brothers who had no lead singer. So I joined them. The Pathfinders. I toured with them around the country. At the same time my brother kept the sound going. We didn’t have to make any money. My brother is an electrician, that’s how he makes his money.
The singing brought me to London and then you find out that it doesn’t always happen like that. So I had to find work to stay in London. When I made my first record, I still lived in Birmingham and when I moved to London, the people who had the Arawak label that had released my first record offered me somewhere to stay. I had to pay for it but at least I had somewhere to stay. I was alright. So I went back to Birmingham for my bed and a few of my things and set up in London.
I was hanging around record shops to hear what music was coming from Jamaica. While hanging around a shop, people were coming into the shop and asking for records. The salesman in the shop didn’t know the records and I was telling them what it was, pointing them to it. The guy who owned the shop was like “How come you know this and the man I’m paying to do it doesn’t know? Do you want the job?” I said “I don’t want anybody’s job!” He replied “If you want the job, you’ve got the job” and they sacked the guy. So I started working in the shop. It was a nice way to stay in London as I was still involved in music. I had already worked in a record shop before as a student in Birmingham. When we had holidays for twelve weeks, I would work in a shop called Black Wax Records run by a guy called Keith Thornton. That’s where I got the Gladdy Wax. We started buying records from him. He turned out to be not so bad. He had some records from London and Trojan. I told him that you could get records from Jamaica, pre-release, and he asked “how?” So I gave him the address to Caribbean Distributors and he wrote to them. Because he was a shop and he had money, he would get ten tea chests full of records. So I would go there on the weekend and work. He offered me a job, because he realized that I knew titles and artists. May pay would be records, not money. And I was still importing records anyway. It’s very diverse, you could get a hundred records in the shop and you could get ten records from Jamaica that were different. That’s what it was then.
Then I started distributing records because the owner of the shop who was a producer as well, started travelling to Jamaica and America; he was from America in the first place. He started traveling and thought that he could leave the shop with myself to run. He was producing Freddy McGregor, Gregory Isaacs, all the big artists.
This was 1980, Bob Marley had died just when I moved to London. This was an era of change in the music business and I felt it. Yellowman became number one and I wasn’t collecting that. I was relating to the records, checking on the state of Jamaica. You could check on the state of Jamaica by the records that were coming out, that’s what we always did. You could tell the political state of Jamaica by the popular records. Jamaica is like that. They sing about everything. You could plot a sociograph with the records that you hear.
You never liked Yellowman?
Not the man himself, I didn’t like the music. I look for hope in music, for inspiration. I look for something that can lift me up or inspire me to a better heights or a better meditation and to confirm inner meditations as well. Reggae does that a lot for me. I get a thought and I meditate and I hear someone like Burning Spear or Bob Marley saying the same thing I’m thinking. That’s music, that’s reggae for me, you know, the rasta tradition! I relate to that pretty well, that’s me. The kind of lyrics that were being put forward now… It was almost immediately after Bob Marley died – I remember other changes were gradual: ska to rocksteady, that was gradual, rocksteady to reggae, that was gradual – but when Bob Marley died all of a sudden – “boom!” It was dancehall and lewd lyrics and unpolished artists. It worked though! It was what was for the time.
Distributing records was good, fun, doing what I wanted to do. That was a job, I was working for the label. One day this fellow came to my office, I had an office then, and he said he was interested in making a radio station. I said “You can’t make a radio station!”
“Haven’t you heard about pirate radio?”
“Yeah, I listen to them. But how do you do it?”
“Well, let’s put some money together and do it!”
“300 pounds each. Give me 300 pounds.”
I had 300 pounds and he said “We can get a transmitter, that’s all it is, a transmitter and turntables and you put it on the roof…” By this time I was listening to pirate radio and so I knew it was possible, because the people on it were people like myself. Just ordinary guys. It was fun to listen to as you were hearing the music you wanted to hear. You were hearing reggae music. So I said “Ok!” and I gave him 300 pounds. We talked, we exchanged numbers and he went away. About four days later he phoned me and said that he had got the transmitter. He invited me to his home and there he said “Let’s put it up!” I didn’t even know what was happening! I just went with him and he drove. It was easy in those days, it wasn’t like now. There’s Ofcom and they put security on rooftops, you can’t get up there now. But in those days you could. He put it up, turntables and tuner. And we started playing records on it. I was playing some of the records that I distributed and then I decided that I could do a proper radio show. I would go on on Sundays, that was 1986, late 1986. I had a collection of records and I just played old r&b records and old reggae. People would phone in and say “Where did you get those records?” They weren’t usually hearing music like that. It was something from the past, 60s soul. They weren’t used to much of that here. There were radio stations that did it but it was limited – once weekly or late at night. I was playing all the music I knew from the 60s ‘cause I had a collection of records. Some old reggae that people had forgotten about as well. The pirate radio gave a landslide to some of the legal stations. People were sending in postcards and phoning the studio. People were telling me that I must have been raving in their time and they were much older than me. I was 32 and they were 50 and in their 60s and I was playing records that related to them. I played the music that my mother listened to. I don’t see it as older than me. I played Ray Charles, Rosco Gordon, Shirley and Lee. Some of the djs who were just a couple of years younger, they didn’t know. They were playing reggae and I would be playing the original r&b version.
I had always thought that Lollipop by Millie…
… was by Millie? And it wasn’t! And it is that that made me go back into sound systems. “Do you do weddings? Do you do parties? We want you to play the records that you play on the radio at our party!” I said “No”, because I had left that behind in Birmingham. The collection was there but the sound system wasn’t. So I decided to build some small boxes just to be able to do parties because the demand was heavy. I built a couple of speaker boxes and they weren’t any good. They were useless! I remember going to the builder and he was building four, the first two I played them but I wasn’t satisfied. Then the second two… I said “If you haven’t finished the boxes, give them to me”, because I wanted to put wheels on them so they’d be easy to shift. I took them from him. I found this guy in west London called Michael Cotter Acoustic Sound Systems who repaired speakers. I asked him where I could get proper casters to roll speakers on. He sent me to this guy in Southend who makes heavy duty equipment for bands and night clubs. I took the speakers there just to buy wheels for them and the guy asked “What are you doing with these?” I said “I play them.” He replied “Nah, they’re no good!” I knew he was right. He said that he had one box that would knock the head of these four and he took me around and he had a warehouse full of speakers. He had a factory. So I said “Ok then, make me two.” He made two and I heard them! They blew me away! That was what I was looking for. That was what I left in Birmingham! I told him to make me six more. At the same time I shouldn’t have been doing this, I shouldn’t have been making a sound system. I only wanted something small to do private parties but they sounded so good! I ended up having twelve eighteen inch scoob bins. Of course I had to buy the tops as well. I was resident in a nightclub because of the radio on Saturday and I put on a few promotions so I made enough money to buy the speakers and the amplifiers. It was easy, well, kind of. The club would full up because I was on the radio and it was adult Jamaicans, adult West-Indians. I was playing oldies, revival music, 60s soul, r&b, 70s reggae, 60s reggae, ska.
That’s how I rebuilt the sound again and then I joined Notting Hill Carnival, looking for places to play. I went there and joined BASS, British Association of Sound Systems, because you have to join that to play in Carnival.
When did you start playing Carnival?
I started in 1989, 1990. Something like that. With a big sound. Bigger than I should. I was back into sound system. I already had the knowledge from having my sound in Birmingham, from being with Quaker. It was easy to assemble a good sound.
You still enjoy Notting Hill Carnival?
A lot of people I have spoken to keep saying how good it used to be back in the days and that they haven’t gone in years.
People say it was better, because the security was more lax. It was free. There wasn’t so many police telling you where to go. It wasn’t that militant. That’s why. It was a more relaxed atmosphere. But, you know, things change and evolve. Some people do make trouble in the Carnival. That’s why it has changed. They have to bring more force in to calm the youngsters. It used to go until twelve ‘o clock at night, one ‘o clock. You just played until you felt like going home. You’d ask no one! You’d just find some electricity and put your sound up and play. Now, it finishes at seven and you have to have serious licensing to go there.
You do have to pay to play there as well, don’t you?
Yes. Until about ten years ago they used to give us an appearance fee – 250 pounds. Then they started saying the budget was low and they were making excuses. People think that we get money! They don’t believe that we go there and play for people for free. It is really a disgrace. We should be sponsored or something. We pay to be there and every year they increase it.
Look at how many people we entertain! Officially eighty percent of the crowd there come for the sound systems. Initially, firstly, it was for the floats, the costumes and the dancing and the soca music. But it grew that out. Sound systems took over. Most of the people want to hear that. That caused a rift between the sounds and the floats. They are saying “This is carnival, this is for floats and not for sound systems.” But this is London, people like sound systems!
If I were a singer, I’d make sure that I’d go to carnival.
Yes. I don’t see many people doing this. A lot of singers I talk to don’t go. Gappy Ranks seems to be around every year.
He was with us. He’s got hit records, that’s why. He’s got the spirit! If you don’t have hit records, sometimes it’s not encouraging to go and sing. If you have a hit record then you’re promoting to make sales continue.
Please tell me a little more about your career as a singer.
I made a record that sold some, got popular. They used it in Eastenders about three times. But singing – my approach to singing is – if I lived in Jamaica, I probably would have made a lot of records. In Jamaica, they only have to know you can sing and you will get the chance. In England, people know you can sing but they are not interested. It’s a different approach. Everyone wants to do things like business, like “Who’s your manager?”, who owns the tape and all that. In Jamaica, if you can sing, a producer will record you. It’s like that. But if you sing well, it will be a hit and if it’s a hit, nobody can deny that it’s your record. So you get a chance to expose yourself without any stringent agreements and securities and contracts. If King Jammy hear you sing… “You’re a singer? Come!” You record. If it’s good, it’s a hit. If it’s a hit, it’s yours! Then you make your contracts and you can tour and make your money. But in England people try to stop it before it started. Because I can do other things, I don’t really struggle with it.
Musicians as well… In Jamaica it’s easier to get musicians that will work with you. I’ve got sessions where I’ve gone to Jamaica to record but I haven’t released them. I’ve still got them on tape with Sly and Robbie, Willie Lindo… I recorded with them.
It’s almost unbelievable on how many records Sly and Robbie played.
Oh yeah. I say this to people all the time, all of the Jamaican music you hear is played by a handful of people. I don’t even know if it’s two hundred people. All of it is played by the same handful of people! The same band that’s called The Crystalites might have themselves called The Dynamites depending on which producer they are playing for. It’s the same handful of men that play a lot of Jamaican music. Sly and Robbie? An enormous amount of records they play on! They are session men. Jamaican music is so popular and so plentiful you’d think all of Jamaica is musicians. No! It’s a handful of people! Perhaps a hundred who have been playing all the music you’ve been hearing from the sixties up to now. They know their craft!
I still sing. When Susan Cadogan visits, I do the harmony with her, ‘cause she’s a friend. She had a hit record here with Ruddy Thomas, a duet, but he passed away. I sing when the opportunity arises but I don’t pursue it as a serious career anymore.
This turned out an incredible history lesson that exceeded the thirty minute interview we had initially intended to do and I’m beyond thankful for Gladdy taking the time to take me back to school. After I finished recording, he told me about djing when Bob Marley first came to Birmingham and a couple of other things that most people would have made sure to be included in an interview. This is saying a lot about Gladdy, I guess.