Misty in Roots interview
“When we trod this land, we walk for one reason. The reason is to try to help another man to think for himself. The music of our hearts is roots music: musics which we call history, because without the knowledge of your history you cannot determine your destiny; the music about the present, because if you’re not conscious of the present you’re like a cabbage in this society; music which tells about the future and the judgement which is to come.” – Smokes (compere/mainman) in Penny Reel’s interview with Misty in Roots, published 9th May 1981 in NME.
“MAN FROM DIFFERENT ISLANDS”
Roots reggae band Misty in Roots was formed in 1971 in Southall, one of London’s largest migrant areas. Their first album was 1979’s “Live At The Counter Eurovision”, a record full of Rastafarian songs recorded live in Belgium. It was championed by BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, helping to bring roots reggae to a white audience. Misty in Roots’ membership fluctuated, but the core of the band is Walford ‘Puck’ Tyson (lead vocals), his brother Delvin ‘Duxie’ Tyson (vocals, rhythm guitar), Chesley Samson (lead guitar), Delbert ‘Bertie’ McKay (vocals, guitar), Tony ‘Thungy’ Henry (bass), and Dennis Augustine (rhythm guitar). Along with Steel Pulse, Aswad, Matumbi, Cimarons and Black Slate, Misty in Roots are one of the most popular British reggae bands of the late 1970s.
From your early days to now with nine members, the group has always been large, how many were in the group at the beginning?
Clarence Baker: Twelve.
Who has left the group then?
Clarence Baker: We have had a few changes since that time. Not so much people leaving, more replacements. We have a new drummer and a new keyboard player.
It seemed like you had a lot of percussion in the group then?
Clarence Baker: We had some female singers in the group at that time.
Misty In Roots 1981 (Photo: Jean Bernard Sohiz)
When it comes to your first studio album “Wise And Foolish”, what I missed on that album, was the percussion. It sounded like part of the group had gone missing.
Clarence Baker: No man, no one was missing on “Wise And Foolish”. It was a different sound, that you have to get used to. What happen, you don’t like “Wise And Foolish”?
No I wouldn’t say that. But why was there such a radical change, when it came to recording “Wise And Foolish”. It was a big change from what you had been doing.
Clarence Baker: No man, you couldn’t have listen to the music that much, the message was there.
It’s not the message, more the sound.
Clarence Baker: The sound on “Wise And Foolish” was more mellow. Personally I love “Wise And Foolish” as it was a more mellow LP. Musically it was much more fuller than the live LP. We even had horns on “Wise And Foolish”, which we didn’t have on the live album. Also the live album, the tempo you have on stage must be different to what you do when you are recording. When you’re playing a live show, there is an audience and much more excitement is being generated.
The two discos you released before the album, “How Long Jah” and “Rich Man”, which you put out, that were about £1.00 cheaper than the normal discos at that time. Both of these tunes had the kind of sound that was expected on the album.
Clarence Baker: You see, when it comes to musical content, I can only give you my opinion, but I don’t play on stage. It’s best if you address…
Thus finishes for a moment anyway my conversation with Clarence Baker, the manager of Misty in Roots. Having been listening to Misty in Roots for years, well since “Oh Wicked Man” in 1978, I’ve wanted to know what was the reasoning behind the release of “Wise And Foolish”, an album that completely baffled me. Walford Tyson aka Puck (lead vocalist) continues…
Puck: You see the thing with music, you don’t hear the same thing all the time. Everything is change. You don’t do the same thing every day, like in life. You make a song sound different to the next song, therefore the sound obviously would have to be different, you understand.
I understand, although I wonder why there was such a change. Was it deliberate or evolutionary?
Puck: No, you see, you check how music go now. All music, no matter what it is, start off with a beat or something. Eventually you add more to it, or take something away from it. That’s how it goes. You just make whatever is there at the time. You don’t worry about if you have to sound like this or sound like that. It’s what it sounds like at the time, you understand?
I understand, although I still see it as a big change.
Puck: No, you see live music and the music we was playing in 1977, it’s different to the music we was playing in 1980. It’s a different time. Now in 1977 music was different. Like in 1980, it was different. In 1982, it’s different, in 1984 it’s different again. You don’t do the same thing today that you was doing in 1977.
Clarence Baker: “Have you heard the third album?”
Yeah, I prefer “See Them A Come”, that sound.
Clarence Baker: That came from the same generation of the music that was on the live album. “Wise And Foolish” was a different generation altogether.
Were there any changes to the group from that time, “See Them A Come”, to the first studio album?
Clarence Baker: No, you see, you must see that as… as you play you get more experienced in doing it and basically the changes in the group were such things as horns and things. Which we didn’t have before. And the horns dominated a lot on “Wise And Foolish”, where in the live album the keyboards carried the beat.
And the percussion?
Clarence Baker: Not on the live album, there is no percussion on the live album?
“How Long Jah” was on the live album.
Clarence Baker: But there was no percussion on that at all.
Clarence Baker: That’s just the rockers tempo.
“Wise And Foolish” is more complex musically?
Clarence Baker: It had developed into different ways to get new sounds.
Just like the third album “Earth”, it’s a different sound again?
Clarence Baker: Yeah, and if we kept on the same, you would say how can we keep playing the same music. People always say that reggae music never changes. It’s always the same old thing.
People who say that don’t really understand the music. The music is always changing, sometimes overnight. Is that how you see your music, like you want to try out something new all the time?
Clarence Baker: That’s it, there is not just one Misty sound.
Do you think there could be some danger in that approach. Not having a certain sound for any length of time?
Clarence Baker: The bass and drum is the structure of the music. What you do between that is you know… It’s like Jazz music. When you put on a LP it’s not always the same thing. It’s Jazz, but it’s different.
How long has the band been going?
Clarence Baker: 12 Years, a long time.
How did you decide on the name Misty in Roots. It’s unusual?
Clarence Baker: “Well the choice of the name is really is roots. Which is dealing with culture, our culture. Misty is just Misty, mysterious you know.
Puck: There was no special reason, just a name.
You are about to release a new album called “Progress”, containing music from bands like Abacush and African Woman. I’ve heard that Natural Roots have a connection with Misty in Roots?
Clarence Baker: The drummer was our drummer. And the bass player was our guitarist, that’s Natural Roots.
An extension of Misty?
Clarence Baker: A development still, that’s how the music go. Do you remember the Enchanters? Some of them are in Misty now.
Has People Unite gone beyond being a record company?
Clarence Baker: People Unite is a publishing company. So it caters for any musicians in the area. Or any other people who is involved in the organisation who wants to put out music. That is the main job of People Unite, it’s nothing more than that.
What do you think of reggae music today, the dancehall style?
Clarence Baker: Actually you have to understand within reggae music there is Pop-Reggae music. Man like UB40 who now play reggae music. What they are playing is pop music.
With a reggae beat.
Clarence Baker: They play pop music. Most man who play the reggae beat nowadays, who go on Top Of The Pops, it’s pop music they play. Now you have the mainstream of reggae music. Which is basically Jamaican music. And this is music that everybody will dance to. The Dance Hall style. Then you have groups like we, Aswad, Steel Pulse, Black Slate, all the group who there. Who are in a different category still. Although we shouldn’t be in that category, cause we are here based in the UK. The bands that are here are playing black music developed here in England. That is different from the mainstream reggae music being made in Jamaica. So although we appeal to a lot of Black people in our community, our music still have a broader base amongst the country as a whole. And it’s important to remember that in Misty we are from all over the West Indians. Not just Jamaica. All the islands with different influences. When you come together, the vibes must be different to a man who has been born and grow up in Jamaica.
Are you all Rastafarians?
Clarence Baker: Yeah, but Rastafari have nothing to do with it. It’s just the concept of man from different islands, have a different insight. In England we all come together. Rastafari wipes out the illusion of the island breakdown, it unifies the island breakdown.
(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #19. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)