Troddin’ with Keith Poppin
Day To Day Trodding
In late August/early September 2018, this writer embarked on a Blessed two week journey to London with Foundation statesman KEITH POPPIN. This fulljoyment marked his triumphant return to this musically fertile region; the last time he graced London stages was 1975. The journey was brimming with prosperity, awareness and level vibes. This report chronicles the day to day trodding that involved a northern trip to Manchester to the mysticism of The One Love Festival and cool runnings in Brixton and beyond. How good and pleasant it is to witness this humble artiste in full control after 50 years in the business…
Keith Poppin exemplifies the true nature of a journeyman artist and the Rightful way of approaching the Reggae music industry. His authentic and humble way of navigating stage and studio affairs is totally inspiring; genuine Heart and Soul that considers every man and woman involved with manners and respect. Certainly gave this writer a clear view look at the blessings to embrace and the pitfalls to avoid within the industry. Keith’s stepping in London was a wise move; the numerous people we linked up with showed the respect this enduring singer deserves. The massive’s acknowledgment of Jamaica music makers and history runs true and deep. Decades long supporters and fellow artists who rose up in the ‘60s and ‘70s came out in heavy duty numbers. This historic adventure was elevated with unwavering support from his lovely wife Yvonne and longtime Reggae ambassador Kevin ”KP” Purnell and talented son Jahvin (keyboardist with Virginia based Roots band “Cultivated Mind”). This journey couldn’t have happened without the dedication from absolute veteran Andrew ”Megus” Okocha (G.I. Roadshow Sound System) and his remarkably sweet Empress Shirley. The Royal ensemble gathered in total unity day in, day out…
I met Keith & Yvonne at JFK Airport (New York City) early on August 28 and conducted an enlightening interview before flying to Heathrow Airport (London). The runnings were smooth from the get go; fulljoyment increasing after settling into the extremely hospitable Queen’s Hotel (Crystal Palace) in London. After a day of cooling down the pace, the Royal troddin’ commenced. Keith’s unwavering focus on preparing for his performance at the world renowned One Love Festival was the order of the day…
On August 30, we travelled to the musically potent Manchester for rehearsals. This northern city has been a Roots outpost for decades. Keith rehearsed with the absolutely tight riddim section/band RUFF TRADE. The Manchester based Roots unit is one of the most promising ensembles to rise up in recent years. Active for the last five years, they’ve performed from Manchester Academy to Hootananny (Brixton) to the mystic fields of One Love Festival. Their recently released EP “Urban Jungle” is essential listening and all are working on a much anticipated debut album. These young Lions have limitless talent. Tour manager/organist Christafari O’Neill is a true veteran who has worked with the likes of Prince Hammer, Dennis Bovell and Suns Of Arqa. A family affair -Ryan O’Neill (vox/guitar) and 6 year old Rico O’Neill (compere/ambassador) exude the band’s Heartical strength. Shannon Killaney’s drums are tight with Mark”Dubman”Smith’s bass. Simon Seale-Hall’s bubbling adds depth. Crucial horn section with Leo Neville (trumpet) and Will Gibbon (sax). Truly blessed to have veteran producer/musician Al Breadwinner on percussion. Levels up!!
It’s necessary to explain how crucial it was for Keith and Ruff Trade to have a solid connection. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the razor sharp focus and commitment from Andrew Okocha. Everything from bookings, rehearsals, studio time and absolutely positive levels was made possible by him. This multi talent founded the highly respected “G.I. Roadshow Sound System” in 1987 and continues to thrive alongside masterclass engineer/producer RSDigital. Heavyweight sounds from Carnival and across the land for many years. Andrew is deeply committed to music and has produced top ranking work from Luciano, Bascom X, Michael Gordon, and more. A smooth rehearsal is a good sign of things to come. Ruff Trade were spot on as an energetic Keith Poppin reeled off CLASSIC material. Upfull vibes as he delivered anthems like “Righteous Man” and “Hold Not Thy Peace”. News had been spreading that the veteran was in the area, UK Roots statesman Don Hartley and the top grade Dub poet Birry Nkosinathi. The spark that ignited the Fyah…
One Love Festival
Keith was slated to perform on September 1 (Saturday) at the world renowned One Love Festival. We made the majestic drive to the mystic venue; a short distance from Stonehenge. A few hours south of London, three days of world class singers, bands and sound systems. The levels raised up with the great company of Kevin Purnell and his son, Jahvin. The Virginia based ambassador has been a solid supporter of Keith’s movements and has booked the singer twice at his masterclass Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival (Hampton, Virginia). After settling in and catching great performances by Yoha & The Dragon Tribe and Festival mainstays Scratchylus and Empress Reggae, it was evident this was a Royal celebration. The main stage’s lineup is solid every year. Carroll Thompson, Keith Poppin, Johnny Clarke and Johnny Osbourne closing out.
At 5:30, Keith took the stage with a crowd that grew by the minute. With Ruff Trade in full cooperation, he flowed down memory lane. “Righteous Man”, “Make Hay”, “Hopscotch” and the more recent anthem “Speak Out” warmed up the massive nice. He continued with “Hold Not Thy Peace”, “Some A Dem A Go Shame” and “Same Thing For Breakfast”(a hit that rings so true with UK fans as it did in the early ‘70s). The seamless flow continued with “Who Are You” and one of his Rootiest anthems “Got To Go Back Home”. The respect between musicians and blessed singer closed out with a rousing “Envious”, “Lord, I’ve Got To keep On Moving” and “Get Together”. Throughout his career, Keith has the true power to soulfully evoke his message to each and every one in the audience. His performance exuded the virtue that Love makes the world go around. An unforgettable afternoon and evening for all; Keith reconnecting with Mr. Johnny Clarke after many years. Reasonings with Johnny, Henry ”Matic” Tenyue and Scratchylus & Empress Reggae alongside Al Breadwinner and many more was the icing on the cake. I asked Keith about his opinion; with a full smile — “MARVELOUS”!! Devoted radio host Andy Vater declared Keith’s performance as “Fyah with passion”. Respect to the organizers of One Love Festival; they have kept the final large scale celebration of festival season going for years.
September 3 was devoted to getting concrete footage for the music video to accompany Keith’s most recent single “Ban Yu Belly”, a powerful track produced by Luddy Pioneers (Sidney ”Pioneers” Crooks). Central London served as a bountiful backdrop for the day’s successful mission. The following day involved a Blessed trod into Brixton that culminated with an eye opening excursion at the legendary Supertone Records and linking with veteran singer Peter Hunningale. Keith came to London with absolute sense of purpose, each day was forward progression. Andrew had advertised a Dubplate/Jingles session at the world famous Stingray Studio on September 5. The ensuing 7 hour session was evidence that good news had travelled far and wide that the legendary singer was back in town. A plethora of Dubplates for serious Sounds were accomplished along with jingles for the well respected radio ambassadors. The works were far from done…
Stingray Studio has built its reputation over the last few decades with the skillful talents of the McLeod Brothers. The award winning producer/engineer Dillie McLeod is ever busy in the bustling studio he helped build and the best in the business feel right at home here. The multi award winning musician/producer Jazzwad arrived to create musical backbones for material for Keith’s upcoming album slated for 2019 release. Blessed to sight singer and musician create such remarkable work without need for pen and paper; just true experience in effect. Longtime veteran and Sanchez’ guitarist Faevrit was in town after the historic Beres Hammond/Sanchez concerts and his spirited input within the studio session was remarkable. A day of positivity and prosperity.
The following day concluded with fulljoying a truly exceptional dance with the internationally recognized Saxon Sound System at “Flower Of Kent” pub in Lewisham. Selectors Musclehead and Super Ron kept the vibes on Foundation levels. When word spread that Keith was in attendance, he was brought up and delivered “Envious” to rousing applause! What a joy to sight decades long supporters run come and reason with the veteran. Late nite runnings capped off with meeting RSDigital and music publisher Kennedy ”Prezident” Mensah.
On September 7, we rallied forward to Stingray Studio again to add some touches to previous sessions. The hospitality and genuine heart of Dillie McLeod was elevating! Rising Empress Chardel Rhoden was brought in for her angelic backing vox. Faevrit’s presence blessed up the atmosphere with his commitment and dedication. Sessions completed, Andrew drove us to Peckings Record Shop. Chris Peckings carries the Royal lineage of Studio One that started with his father, Sir Peckings , who carried the vibes to London many years ago. A true gentleman, Chris showed us around his vinyl only shop with manners and respect. Let it be noted, this humble man is duly responsible for uplifting the careers of Bitty McLean, Macka B and many more. A pleasure to reason with longtime Radio ambassador Miista Katt. These well established record shops are more than that; a sense of true community is felt also… musical outposts to reason and fulljoy great sounds.
The following day was brimming with progressive activity. Keith was totally engaged with a hearty phone interview with rising Radio host Andy V. (Vater) in the comfort of Queen’s Hotel. What happened next was unforgettable. Meeting with Andrew and Yvonne, a Studio was set up in one of the bigger rooms of the hotel. Time and space melted away as we witnessed Keith complete 26 Dubplates and a large number of jingles. It was a family affair but the attention to detail by Keith and Andrew was awe inspiring. The Blessed day was capped off with a mission to reunite Keith with his longtime friend and musical partner Jimmy London. We ended up at Buzwakk Studio (Brixton). Owned and operated by the multi-talented Bucky Jo (lookout for his upcoming album “Reverence”), this studio brims with activity. Having just missed the legendary Al Campbell, a Royal roll call was reasoning inside. Talking about the veteran Tenna Star and Phillip ”Gadd59” Gadd with Bucky Jo in the control room. Jimmy London arrived a few minutes later. The link between Keith Poppin and Jimmy London goes back many decades and it was a sure Fyah moment to sight these two legends spend good time together.
As Keith’s return drew to a close, the remaining few days were smooth as can be. Visiting the bustling Sunday markets, taking in the warm atmosphere of Crystal Palace and a final Dubplate session taking place at Queen’s Hotel. We departed Heathrow on September 12 for the return trip to JFK with memories for a lifetime. After getting picked up by my brother, Jeff Heilman, there was a realization that this musical adventure was to be continued.
This writer would like to thank Mr. Keith Poppin and his wife, Yvonne for the invitation. The Love, Fellowship and genuine Heartical flow was felt throughout the journey. It was refreshing to witness an artist who shows no signs of slowing down. He’s paid his dues in so many ways and is focused on his career-full time, all the time. Yes, he completed a successful tour of Brazil with Luddy Pioneers a year ago and the experience has propelled him rightfully. Plans are in the making for a 2019 tour. Any parties interested, pls visit www.keithpoppin.com.
There are numerous people to thank for this Blessed journey. Andrew and Shirley Okocha. Kevin and Jahvin Purnell. The entire staff of Queen’s Hotel (Christina, Henrique, Anthony, Rahman…), Kennedy, Chris Peckings, Wally Bryan (Supertone), Mr. Phillip Gadd, Christafari O’Neill and RUFF TRADE crew, Bucky Jo, Tenna Star, One Love Festival crew, Heather Morris, Andy Vater and all who made Keith’s return a superb experience…