I Roy interview

by Jun 7, 2019Articles, Interview

I Roy 1978 (Photo Syphilia Morgenstierne)


When: 1979

Where: London UK

Reporter: Ray Hurford

Photos: Syphilia Morgenstierne

Copyright:  2019 – Ray Hurford

Dillinger & I Roy 1978 (Photo: Syphilia Morgenstierne)

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It all happened out of boredom, like I was always a music lover, I loved the Blue people like Louis Jordan. All the inspiration came then because I used to go to places like Bournemouth and listen to the early discos.


Sound system then play Smiley Lewis, Joe Turner, Fats Domino, plus early Ska that was coming through. So being a cat that had just graduated from College, I was looking for something freer to do, which would take less of my time and give me more air. It’s a summer country, and it’s too much shirt and tie thing. Go to work at 8 in the morning and finish at 4.30 in the afternoon. In those days you didn’t have air conditioning, you would find 40-50 in an office, and it was so hot and sticky.

In those days it was just Lord Comic and King Stitt, U Roy, Count Matchuki and a guy who called himself Sir George The Atomic. Sound System was the now thing in Jamaica. I loved it you know, so I became involved. Then wherever I played, there were a few who would say why don’t you record. U Roy had “Wake The Town” and “Wear You To The Ball”. I used to play on a lawn called Hocky Wocky, and Harry Mudie who had his Disco then and this small record shop, he came and listen to me, and then as he was a producer… because I had moved over from Kingston to Spanish Town, he said he wanted to produce me, and after two days of negotiation we went into the studio and did my first three records. They were “Musical Pleasure”, “Let Me Tell You Boy” and “Drifter” and they are still selling in the shops. They are the oldest talking records that keep on selling, and it went on.

I did “Hot Bomb” for the late Lloyd Campbell, me and Derrick Morgan. Derrick had the tape and I had the voice. Then I did my first album for Gussie Clarke – “Presenting I Roy” (Trojan) with tracks like “Black Gold and Green”, “Coxsone Affair”, “Black Man Time”, “Cow Town Skank”, all the early hits. One of the confrontations that I suffer is that a lot of people think I imitate U Roy. And it’s not like that. We are two completely different persons with completely different ideas, because I ‘m always attacking the democratic standard of living, licking out on some of the wrongs of society. Some of the dissatisfactions. And at the same time, I can give you a few jokes, a few rude lyrics like “Teapot” and “Welding” and it’s just been like that, a lot of time people get the wrong impression.

Take “Black Man Time”, the youth came up to me and say “Hail Star, the man named I Roy, I man sight the man play Tubby’s more time. You know star, the man sound hard you know.” That’s a way of boosting you up, you know, like a man make you feel good, to beg you something, then the he say, I man beg the man ten cents. So I say to him, ten cents? He replies, I man want to buy a stick of Ily. I say, right now I man naw support that. Now you know it’s not the weed I mean, or the Ily, but the begging. So I say, but I give food for thought. Because the weed is food for thought. That was the parable that a lot of people never dig into, he got the money, and him say, love still, but if him didn’t get it, he would be disappointed. That was a parable for the persons, who had their wits who could put it together, and say yeah, it gave food for thought. Ily is not food for the belly.

I Roy just brought up his “General” album, he is also here for a check up. His last album “World On Fire” was one of his best. He has released some 20 albums in his career, spanning some ten years… He’s got high expectations for the “General” album, expectations that will not be met. Within a matter of months his feelings about the way Virgin treated the album will appear print. It’s all settled now, the following album ‘Whap N Bhap N’ released on Virgin after the closure of Front Line, has received a big promotional push. The album is a mixture of funk and reggae, produced in the UK by Dennis Bovell, it works in places. I Roy or Roy Reid (his real name) can rap, he’s been using the technique for many years, to great effect. Along with Cockney rhyming slang. For proof of his mastery of that check the Niney produced ‘Point Blank’, yet it all just seems a bit pointless.

I Roy, you see, is still speaking out against the system. Will the disco people take to a tune like “Union Call” (one of the reggae tracks), will they even buy the album? For in this time, you can’t have something that’s not neither here or there.

You wake up and see what’s wrong in society, you feel the agony, you feel the pain, the needless suffering, you see the big paper profiteers, and the bureaucrats and aristocrats, people in high places. Then you see the poor strewn across space, and you wonder where we’re going, you listen to the radio and television, or read the paper and you look at the big leaders, trying to kill this one or that one. In Iran and Uganda, you wonder if we’re civilised, because that was happening from 2 BC ago. Who says who’s wrong and who’s right. Survival is the name of the game, right now. The days of wine and roses have past. Jamaica is an island that doesn’t need any feasibility study, the people who were called Capitalists are gone. The hassles have gone with them. So we are left to survive. And things goes up and up and up and salary stay the same.

When you go into the studio to make a tune, you are looking to express yourself or express your dissatisfaction about the unauthorised ways in which leaders are taking it on their heads, telling people what to do (raising his voice) and how to do it. Not even setting any example, because their pinching and ripping off everything.

“World On Fire” (Front Line) was based on reality. I Roy talking over militant rhythms and lyrics the latter supplied by Freddy McKay.

Will those tunes get released?
Not until the album is released in Jamaica.

What is the name of your label in Jamaica?
Royco, and a label named Imperial Records.

I Roy at Channel One 1978 (Photo Syphilia Morgenstierne)

I Roy at Channel One 1978

I Roy had finished the interview. Although after seeing some photos of his sound in Jamaica called People’s Choice, it puzzled me as to why only I Roy and U Roy still bothered to run a sound. As most of the big name DJ’s had switched off their amps and unstrung their boxes years ago.

Inspiration. Roy says, leaving with a quick example. I’m not at the dance for the beer, neither do I carry hardware, I enter the fire, but I don’t scared, I just watch the crowd while they mock and jeer, for I know I’m here to get my share, everyman have a right to live, if they have something to give. Stopping to add: If he can only give encouragement – a vital task in everyday living.

(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #8. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)

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