Prince Hammer: Life’s Trials & Tribulations Part 2 (The Interview)
Where: Manchester UK
When: Approximately 2006/2007
Reporter: Peter I
Photos: Courtesy of Peter I (Prince Hammer), Pete Blessup (Prince Hammer & Roy Cousins), and Teacher (Kiddus I)
Copyright: 2022 – Peter I
In part 2 of the interview, Prince Hammer talks about the Rockers movie and people who were featured in that cult movie, his Belva label, Joe Gibbs, Blacka Morwell, Adrian Sherwood, the Project X and Step Forward projects, and much more.
But how did you get involved in the production of the ‘Rockers’ movie, what we spoke a little bit about earlier, you had a character, mainly playing yourself, in that film… how were you and the rest of the guys selected, what brought you into that project at the time?
Well, I used to live in Waltham Park area them times because I didn’t move from the South Side and go to the West Side, and I meet up on some lickle kids, like some lickle community guys down there, guys like Ranking Toyan, Lickle John, Super Black, and even with ‘Junjo’ Lawes, Junjo – Henry Lawes, who’s passed away now, he’s deceased now, but before he even get involved with the music he was just a political guy, yunno. And he had a sound system in Jamaica an’ everything, y’know wha’ I mean. And so I moved to the west and my life start from there. It’s like one day, because where I lived in the west, right, I used to live like near the Selassie I School, McKoy Lane, which is a really run-down part of the community, it’s all zinc-fence, people used to like lease land, etcetera, there. But one day I used to be like use my money and try to help the community people round there, like try to build a lickle school for the kids them, and Lickle John was a part of my team, my school team. Like my babymother use to bring in these kids a evening time to the house, and we would a try to teach them the way how to spell or to read or to write and all them type a t’ings. There was a crippled boy too, y’know, used to be very crippled and used to drive himself, used to lift him up an’ t’ing to the house, so he can learn. And one day I was on the McKoy Lane there which we was kinda just chillin’ out, and a spirit just said ‘You know somet’ing? Jus’ walk down, go down to Randy’s Record’. And me, Lickle John and Ranking Toyan, we all went down to Randy’s Record, and I was like in full black, with a white tye, a neck-tye on, and my cap with my lickle dread them up, a stick out, and just the way how I walk… And when I walk into the record shop, there’s the producer for the movie itself would be there. It was in Randy’s record shop, would be Dirty Harry and Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ (Wallace), they was all in there. And just the way I was walkin’, my walk, that’s what gave me the movie, you see. When I walk in, the guy said,”Wow, who’s that?” And Dirty Harry say, “Oh, that’s Prince Hammer”. And the producer said, “Listen, by the way how I see the guy walkin’ there, man, I’ve got a part there in the movie for him”. “Can you introduce him?” And they called me over and I was introduced to the producer, and they said, OK, can I come over to Sheraton Hotel the following day. You know, to have a talk about the movie and sign a contrac’ paper, and that’s what I did and that’s how I got involved with ‘Rockers’ movie.
How do you personally feel about that movie now, because I did speak to Kiddus I about it, and he was a bit disappointed how it turned out, the end result from that movie? It wasn’t up to the expectations at the time, what they wanted to use that film for, which was to project what they were motivated by in the community, the surroundings, a better or more realistic view of the area and its people at the time. You disagree or you feel the same?
Yeah. You know somet’ing? Kiddus I is the man who should’ve picked up that movie in every aspect, yeah? Because I’m tellin’ you somet’ing, right, ‘Rockers’ movie is one of the biggest movie ever to come out of Jamaica, one of the biggest movie ever coming from my country. And everywhere I go, especially like in England where I live right now, where I reside at the moment, there is almost in every house here, especially in this community I live into, have got ‘Rockers’ movie in it. Everywhere I go, people ask ‘when is ‘Rockers part 2′ coming out?’, because everyone here knew that I starred in the movie. That movie is like a icon-movie, everybody loved the movie, right. So Kiddus I is the man who should’ve said yes to that movie in every aspect, because he get the chance to sing that song. And that song is one of the biggest song in that movie, everyone listen to that song (‘Graduation In Zion’) or lookin’ up to that song in that movie every time they watch that film. That movie is a movie that will never die. You know, it’s gettin’ more publicity more than ‘The Harder They Come’, in which Jimmy Cliff starred. So like I said, that film is like a icon to everybody. If you don’t got that movie in your house, you’ve got no movie at all.
And that’s the truth, that’s the God’s truth. That’s how I see it. And everybody see me in that walkin’ about the community, sometime they see me, they say ‘You know somet’ing, wha’, I can see you’re in ‘Rockers’, man’, by the way how I walk. You know, is that, is just crazy (chuckles). It’s not as ‘Rockers’ it seems.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure who to pick of two guys in that movie, which one is you. Any particular sequence during the film which you could point to, because you’ve got a few there who have a pretty peculiar type of walk (chuckles)?
There is sections, because I’ve done a few parts in the movie, y’know, right, because there’s a few parts that’s cut out, because in the movie, I was like a bad boy in the movie. I was in the gang itself that gone and raid Bafaloukos house and so on, just as much.
There is one sequence I can vividly remember where Leroy Smart knocks on the door-window or whatever it was, and there is somebody who suddenly come in from the other side, sneeking in on the young guy who open the door…
Yes, that’s Dr Alimantado (sneeking in from the back-door). Dr Alimantado run up to the door and put a neck-hole on the guy, pull him down, open the door…
And I figured if that could be you, the same sequence or fightin’ scene where somebody is seen gnashing his teeth and kicking the guy…
The guy who have sunglasses on at night, so that’s you. I figured that was you somehow, of those two (laughs)! Then we’ve ‘solved’ that.
The guy who step in his face when the guy was on the ground, I step in his face and the camera cut and just come straight to my face, just showing you the impression of what I was doing…
Right, the same guy with shades on there and a black cap I think it was.
And then I kind of like stepped in his face type of a t’ing, and kinda ease my feet off. And there’s another part where Gregory Isaacs and all those guys come to us, we was going on the move, like, yeah? And we were gamblin’, I had on a kind of a orange colour pants and a posh shirt, a posh shirt simply meanin’ it got lots of different colours. And meanwhile we were talkin’ about going on the move, I was thieving the money. Those part were never write in the movie, I created those parts in the movie myself, and those were some of the biggest scenes ever speak about in the movie. You know, I was pitchin’ the money and the guy said, “You, wha’ you do with the money them kinda way deh!” Kinda box offa me an’ t’ing like that, yunno, beca’ I have a lickle touch here an’ there. And then Dirty Harry said, “Ah, c’mon then me man, man haffe come fe bigger t’ings than that yu know me brethren, wha’ yu a deal with?”, y’know (chuckles), them type a t’ings, yeah? But… If you really check the movie now, we weren’t, as some people think, we weren’t doing any badness at all. It’s from the movie start until it complete, we weren’t doing any badness. At the end of the day, we were just people who is in the recording business trying to reach somewhere in the business itself. And you find like, we were kind of, like, abused and robbed by the bigger producers who are in the business, that’s wha’ happened. You know? And that’s why Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ he had such a bad time, and he always have to went out and try and sell his record himself by ridin’ on the bike, from shop to shop, to try to make his money. Because the bigger people who we expec’ to be there for us, to help us to develop our careers or develop what we’re doing, these were the people who was taking from us instead of giving to us. And that’s why the movie end up with us going back to these people’s houses, taking things from them, and giving it back to the poor people.
Right, that’s the ending, the ‘Robin Hood summary’, so to speak (chuckles).
Yes. But there’s another part in the movie, y’know, that part like, saying (sings): ‘I’m like a steppin’ razor don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous…’, right, when we all gonna meet up, yeah?
Right, to me that’s one of the highlights during the film, everybody walkin’ from wherever they live.
Yes, well, I was the second guy. Dirty Harry came ‘cross from Carib Theatre…
(Laughs) Yes, that one is hilarious – unforgettable walk!
You know, walk across the main street like that. Well, the second guy that came from the club, comin’ down, walkin’ down in full black, that was me.
Right, that’s me. And I kinda walk and fling me hand up in the air type a t’ing, like, and so on.
Stretching out, like.
Yeah. That’s me that.
(Chuckles) Oh gosh, I’ve gotta run it again soon, a bandulu VHS, been a while now.
And on the cover, I’m one of the first person, I think I’m either one of the firs’ person on the cover or the second on the box at the moment now, ’cause I’ve been seeing a lot of it in England at the moment now, even a couple yesterday, I’ve seen covers around the place of ‘Rockers’, and I’m the first person on the box itself now – firs’ from left.
By the way, what became of the Rastaman there, ‘Higher’, the guy who do the introduction to the film?
The elder dread?
Well, I’m not sure either, because I’ve not seen him for long time, and I’ve been in England for a lickle while now. I’m not sure if he’s still there or if he passed away or… if his life is still continuing, I’m not sure.
There are a few there who weren’t that well-known, like Natty Garfield, who just came there, acted, and disappeared.
Yes, a couple of the guys them in the movie too weren’t naturally artists themselves, they was just people who like hangin’ around, being around artists, yeah?
John Dread was there, later to become producer.
John Dread wasn’t an artist at the time.
He wasn’t even a producer at the time neither, he was just somebody who love being around artists himself too. But him developed his skills by being a producer afterwards.
The Hands & Hearts label, yeah.
Yeah. You see, he done that half too.
There’s another guy that Horsemouth look for, way up in a shed in the mountains, called ‘Jeep Man’ I think, who was he?
Jeep Man? Well, Jeep Man was the guy who used to sell a thing called ‘honeyball’, y’know. ‘Honeyball’ is like the gum from the ganja tree, they would’ve scraped the tree and the gum that come from it, they would’ve scraped it off and make it up into some ball business, like, them type a t’ing. And them would’ve bring that come to Kingston from country, and give it to Gregory Isaacs or sell it to those guys or whatever, or would’ve break it up or anyt’ing like that and smoked it and so on. So, Jeep Man wasn’t really an artist himself, he was just a Rastaman who plant weed an’ sell weed.
Speaking about herbmen, in that sequence with Ruffy & Tuffy kickin’ high in the air, and Big Youth, there’s a guy standin’ beside him name Up-Sweet (still alive), you can’t really see his face there clearly, but he used to deliver some of the best herb in those days to a lot of the music community.
Is he still around?
Well, as I said I haven’t seen him for a lickle while now, but like Ruffy & Tuffy now, I’ve seen Tuffy in London a few years ago, because he did live in London. I don’t know if he’s still living there now, and one of them was in America and one of them was in England anyhow. But I’m not sure about that guy now, if he’s still there. ‘Cause a lot of these people drop out now too anyhow, like ‘Snappin”, y’know, Easy Snappin’ – the guy who sung ‘Easy Snappin” (sings): ‘Eaaaasy snappin’…’, called Theophilius Beckford, that’s what he’s called. He die too as much, and you know Jacob Miller drop out too as much, Dirty Harry die in America too.
Right, some drugs mix-up thing, NYC.
Yeah. So a couple of the guys them from the film they drop out anyhow.
That movie has seen a reissue in a big way since it was put out again a couple of years ago.
And like you said it’s a classic movie that will never leave, you just gotta have your copy of it.
Yeah, that’s what I said to you before, this show is like a icon itself, yunno, people just w a n t the film! Even people who had it on a VCR, just like normal video tape, they have themselves now a…
With DVD, so they’ve got two copies (chuckles).
Right, gotta have it updated.
Yeah, ’cause it’s a cult movie, man, it’s really a cult movie, everybody love the movie. People just keep watchin’ the thing over and over and over and over, no matter how much video they’ve got in their house, or DVD, this is the one that they take up and watch the most. Not even ‘The Harder They Come’ get that response, because as I said I live in a part of the community now in Manchester in England, and I’ve gone everywhere and nobody no talk ’bout ‘Harder They Come, they talk about ‘Rockers’. You know, there’s a lot of different other movies that come out of Jamaica itself, but ‘Rockers’ is the movie that stand out more than anything else.
I can nod in agreement with that in a sense, and it captures that era very well somehow.
Yeah, beca’ you’ve got a new movie comin’ out now called ‘One Love’ with Ky-mani Marley, and it’s a very good movie too, ’cause I’ve watched it already, but it’s not as strong as ‘Rockers’, yunno (chuckles)! And there’s lots of other, ‘Third World Cop’, all these other movies that came out of Jamaica, and so on, ‘Countryman’, all these movies, but ‘Rockers’ is just… is just different (chuckles). A class of its own.
I mean, there’s been a lot of talk over the years about a follow-up to the movie, like a ‘Rockers 2’. Do you think that will ever be accomplished?
Well, I do hope so, and I do hope I’ll be a part of that as much as one of the original artists from the movie, the stars from the first movie itself. Because as I said, everybody is lookin’ out for it. But I think there was a problem with Horsemouth and the producers in America, and that’s the reason why part two’s never been made. Because I think he was tryin’ to establish some more money from these people, or try to maybe put t’ings on paper which, naturally, maybe ideas are different. And what they wanted is what – what Horsemouth maybe wanted is maybe not what the people wanted, y’know what I mean, so it just never get to the drawing board. But I’m sorry it never really get to that stage anyhow, but then sometime it’s best waiting for somet’ing anyhow. I think now would’ve been a good time, because myself think about maybe tryin’ to find some producer or somebody myself to try and maybe see if I can set it up myself. Because, as I said, a lot of people’s been askin’ when is part two comin’ out, is so much people ask me I can’t count, is too much of them askin’ me. And I’m thinkin’ to myself, say, wonder if I should write to some TV company myself, trying to get the idea to them and try to see if we can make this other part two viable. ‘Cause people been askin’ for it.
I believe a lot of the ‘stars’ from the original movie have been thinkin’ the same over the past twenty-five years, Kiddus I said the same thing, but there doesn’t seem to be any interested parties yet, or any good script that’s been produced up to now. I know Ras Karbi has an interest in that too.
Yeah, yeah. True. Because it’s just so many people askin’ for it, I know if ‘Rockers Pt. 2′ make it will be a big hit. It will be a massive hit again, I’m tellin’ you. It will definitely be a big hit again, because the first movie will just really put a lot to it. Like the day when I came up to England in the eighties there, the same day when Bob Marley bury, I came back here, an’ I was really a bit disappointed. Because, like, Bob Marley bury that day…? Sorry, the day before Bob Marley bury, but the day when I came back to England in the eighties, the movie was released in Jamaica, at the Carib Theatre. And I was the only star not being there in that theatre that day (chuckles), and I was disappointed not to be there with everybody else, y’know, on the opening day of the movie, because it was sold out. But when I land in England, the same day when I land in England, the night it opened in Manchester. So I was the only star in the theatre from Jamaica who was in the movie! So I was really been pampered with champagne and all them type a t’ings (chuckles), in the theatre, knowing that they had a star from the movie itself in the theatre. So I was pretty happy, even though I’ve lost out not being there amongst my fellow brethren them an’ everyt’ing like that, y’know, in Jamaica with who else starred in the movie. But I come here and I been with other people and get the chance to know other people, y’know, was being respected enough for being a part of the movie itself, and that was pretty cool to me.
You did switch like so many other deejays at the time like Big Youth and Dr Alimantado, Jah Woosh, and so on, to singin’, straight singin’, when you cut ‘Ten Thousand Lions’. How come?
Yeah. You know, I’m a versatile type of guy, y’know wha’ I mean, and a like to try somet’ing, because nutten tried nutten done. And when I did ‘Ten Thousand Lions’, is by chance I get the riddim, ’cause I didn’t even pay for the riddim, is Sly & Robbie make that riddim, and they make it for me for free, for nothin’ in Channel One studio. ‘Cause what I did, I took a friend of mine and introduce him to Sly & Robbie them, etcetera, through what he wanted was to make some songs. And I took him there through he get the chance was to make these songs with Sly & Robbie, and when he finished his session, I said to him “Wha’ appen?” – I said to Sly them, say, “Well, wha’ appen, can I make a song, can I make a riddim?”, y’know wha’ I mean? But I’ve got no money. Them say “C’mon Prince, man, get on with it! Whe you waan do? All right, c’mon!” And I just start singin’ the song, ’cause I already had the song written, you see. And I start singin’ the song and they jus’ made the riddim then and there for me – for free, y’know, without a penny. I’ve never paid a penny for that song, and that song come to England and that was one of me biggest ever hit in England, and in Jamaica it was just one of the massive… when I come to England, people was pirating the song. You know?
(Chuckles) Everywhere I go, people had it on all different mixin’, like King Tubby’s them in England, they had so many different mix of it and dub-plates and all these type a t’ings an’ so on, and I was really like, say, ‘Hey, what’s happenin’ here?!’ Because those times people use to pirate a lot of songs in the seventies, early sixties through the seventies, people used to pirate your songs. So you would a find your song come out on different mix an’ all them type a t’ings an’ so on, without your permission. So that was really a massive song for me. But for me changin’ from that, remember it was jus’ not only ‘Ten Thousand Lions’, it was ‘King of Kings’ before, which is a singin’ song. So I’ve start singin’ from there. But I’ve said to meself, one of the reason why I did singin’ is because deejays in those days were doing really well, but the singers were the people who were doing a lot better. Singin’ songs was just the songs that was really making it for people in Jamaica at the time, and all I wanted was to really be a part of that team too. So, instead of just doing deejay songs I say, OK, then I’ll sing. I’ve learned my skills by watchin’ people like Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, Johnny Clarke, and all these people, I’ve watched them and I’ve stand up and watched them when they’ve gone to recording studio, I stand up when they really voicin’, and I stand up just outside, on the glass or the window or whatever, and I love watch them and watch them when they take note, listen to them style, and I just take up from it and add my skills from learnin’ from these people. And I’ve gone over and taught myself how to sing, you see. Because I’ve start off as a deejay, y’know, so for developing a singin’ style, I would’ve to learn that. And I’ve never gone through any classes or anything, I’m just self-taught myself. Like I’ve sung some songs one time in Joe Gibbs’ studio and Dennis Brown came in and say, “Wait! A who that? A which artis’ that?!” And when them say, them glad to say ‘it’s Hammer’. “Eh?? Eh??” He never believed it! Because there were such beautiful songs, and he can’t believe the way how I was singin’ these songs, y’know. Because me and him come to be like really really so close, we were like siamese-twins too, just the way we get so close, me and Dennis Brown. We was very very good friends, y’know, when he was livin’ in Jamaica, and even when he lived in England I used to go to his house, almost every other day I’ve gone there. And help him, help move all his furniture from one part of the city to another part of the city. That’s how we were very very close.
You did set up the Belva imprint for that song.
Belva label. Yeah, that was one of the biggest label for me.
And that was in partnership with someone else?
No, that was just my label itself, and ‘Belva’ was a girl I used to be with. She was twin, she was a twin girl, yunno, and I get the name Belva from her. That label really establish me big, ’cause if you notice I’ve got a few labels, like Baby Mother label, Miss Pat Walker, all those label were, y’know, were my labels. And then I come back and have another label called Melinda, because I’m so lucky with women names as labels…
You know? So I’ve always, like, on all these peoples names that I’ve called is people who have got kids for me, y’know (laughs)! So I’ve used their names making my labels. Yeah, Belva label was one of the biggest labels and that was designed and everyt’ing like that up a Orange Street, just opposite from Prince Buster’s record shop there was a printery there, so all those guys used to go and get our labels and everyt’ing like printed there, Gregory Isaacs, everybody left it to the printery there. And they would take these labels to the record places like Joe Gibbs and all those places and so on, Sonic Sounds, them used to get all these records to press.
You did cut some tunes for Joe Gibbs like you said, you hung out there quite often from what I understood, like you did ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ as well as ‘Dreadlocks T’ing’ for Gibbo.
I mean, Blacka Morwell (Maurice Wellington) was like the talent scout, A&R man or in-house producer for Gibbs at the time…
No, Errol Thompson was the producer.
OK, right. But Blacka was pretty much instrumental in getting you the deal with Virgin for the debut album, ‘Bible’, wasn’t he? Even though I know there were some people from the UK, John Lydon, Don Letts, Jumbo van Renen and them, who hand-picked their favourites for the company at the time, mainly from one trip down to JA where they met up with whoever they wanted for that imprint, I assume Blacka was the connection for that project?
Yes, well, Blacka Morwell… The reason why I get that deal – let me tell you about the record first from Joe Gibbs, yeah?
Like that ‘Dreadlocks T’ing’, as I said to you earlier on, they didn’t give me the chance to really record a song for them, but I buy a version of that riddim from another friend of mine, it’s the ‘Please Be True’ (Alexander Henry, Studio One classic) riddim. And I went to Joe Gibbs’ studio, book the studio, and I’ve gone there and I’ve done that ‘Dreadlocks T’ing’. When I’ve done the record, they were so amazed by the record, it was like ‘wow, wow!’ ‘We gonna take that record off you!’, y’know (chuckles). ‘We gonna put it out on our labels’, right, and I was happy for them to do that. Because they’re bigger guys than me, I’m just a learner, I’m just a trainee in the business, a young guy comin’ up in the business. And I was happy for them to take the record off my hand. But what they did is, right, when I leave them with my record, Althea & Donna – you remember Althea & Donna?
Sure, ‘Uptown Top Ranking’.
Yes, that record come from my record, yunno. Because what they did, what Tony did, is let these girls listen, because these girls was in America or wherever they were – I think it was in America anyhow, they leave and they came to Jamaica. When they came to Jamaica, Tony was trying to get out with one of them, and because the style of my records, what he did, he made them listen to my record, and they write the lyrics around my record. You know, ‘uptown top ranking, dreadlocks t’ing a carry the swing, uptown t’ing a carry the swing’, blah blah, you understan’, and they write from around my song. What they did, what Joe Gibbs did, is put my song out on a 7″-inch, right, put my song out on a 7″-inch record, and then my song went straight in to the RJR record list, straight in to number two. And Joe Gibbs them put Althea & Donna on the back of my record, on the B-side, right, and the record was doing so well. What they did, they took them off, and what they did is like publish their song more than they would’ve published my song, you understan’, they give their song more push. Because as I said to you before, Errol T, he was really trying to be with one of these girls anyhow, and because all he wanted was to be with these girls, instead of giving me the opportunity to go straight to number one an’ to do what I wanna do, is trick my song and put their song on the forefront of things or pushin’ it more, gettin’ it more radio play, etcetera, and put their song straight in number one, and it just establish from there. Right. With Blacka Morwells now, we were doing that album for Blacka Morwell, and one of the reason why I get that deal with Blacka Morwell…
Before you continue about Blacka, you did a few more cuts for Gibbs, like ‘Orthodox Rock’ and ‘Them A Mad Over Me’.
‘Orthodox Rock’ and ‘Them A Mad Over Me’. Yeah, well, I’ve done those two songs for him, because as I said before the ‘Dreadlocks T’ing’ song take off so big, they aksed me to record other songs for them. So I did those two songs for Tony there, right, Errol T. And I went back and I did another fifteen or sixteen more songs for them, right. If I hear these songs today maybe I wouldn’t even remember them, because those were some of my best, best work – ever. They were outstanding songs, but during that period of time, doing those songs, after finish doing those songs, I find myself ending up in England. And there was like a problem in Jamaica with Joe Gibbs them business, and his studio more or less kind of shut down (now in operation again), them type a t’ing for a while. Because I’ve been back to Jamaica trying to find these tapes, I’ve gone and asked them about these songs, and they said to me, seh “Go and try and find these tapes”. But, not spendin’ enough time in Jamaica, not giving me enough access to really go through all of these master tapes, because there’s hundreds of hundreds of master tapes, twenty-four track master tapes for me to go through. But, if Joe Gibbs did put out that album, that album would’ve been one of the biggest hit album ever, because these songs were really class. So I did those two songs, the ‘Orthodox Rock’ and ‘Them A Mad Over Me’, all those songs for Joe Gibbs them, which went very well in Jamaica. And I did the album which I just said before, but I’ve never really get to establish meself with these songs, ’cause these songs were… I don’t know what they’ve done to these songs so far.
Back to Blacka Morwell.
Right, with Blacka Morwell now, there was a big show in Jamaica, the National Stadium, right, big stage show, and I was an act on the stage show, and Virgin Records came down to Jamaica. And what they did, they was scouting, they was like talent-spotting, you understan’, lookin’ for people. You have the – you have a guy with them called Don Letts…
The Roxy DJ, yes, also a filmmaker.
He used to be talent-spotter, yeah? And when I went on stage – but these people were already, they already knew about me, because I already did been a storm in England, you understan’, so they knew about me. So when I went on stage, my style – because I’m a guy who, it’s like when I went on stage in those times, I used to work and sometimes maybe in a jackular suit, or maybe a army suit – I’ve got all different outfits on stage, I’m a proper stageman as I said before, right, and my styles all change sometimes, change to two or three different outfits through the night, and each one would be so outstanding and different, it would just be like ‘wow, wow!’ People would just go mad over them. And when I went on stage and did my thing then, when I came off stage I was called by Don Letts and the body of all the other people from Virgin Records, and I was introduced, and I was asked to come and see these people. And that’s the reason why I get the chance was to – because I didn’t have the money to really do an album myself anyhow, because I was just about developing my skills and get in there in the business nicely, you understan’, and opening doors anyhow. And Morwell was a good friend of mine, very very good friend, him and Bingy Bunny. And Morwell said, “Listen, what I’ll do, right, I’ll produce the album itself”, and I said, “OK, no problem, yunno”. And I went to the Sheraton Hotel the following day and gone and see the people them from Virgin, and then do all the paperwork, sign all the contrac’ papers them, and get it moving from there. And then Morwell booked the King Tubby studio, which I went to and did the album itself.
What became of the album? It sold well, took off as it should?
Big. Big, big, big (laughs)! And I couldn’t believe it, y’know what I mean.
I think Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote the liner notes on the back of the album?
Yes. Linton just says, I’ve listened an interview with him on the radio in Manchester once years go too, and he said when they were asking him which is the artist he really recognise or appreciate, y’know, which artist, and ‘Prince Hammer’ was the name, the name that he came up with, an’ he said ‘that artist is one of the best artists ever known’, lyrical, etcetera, and he was really really biggin’ me up. And I’ve seen it in newspapers where he’s talkin’ about me. Because, remember, he was one of the biggest poets in a the country. So, yeah, I had a good time doing the songs at King Tubby’s, I’ve never heard these riddims before, this is my first time ever gonna listen to these riddims. I just listen to the riddims them, all kinda riddim. I just put all my lyrics together, because I already had all these lyrics ‘written down’ in me head anyhow, and I just gone straight in the studio, put on the riddims, and I just gone straight through them, one after the other, just like that. And that’s how I create that album, and Virgin took the album and put it out, and big publicity, ad everywhere I go – because my name was all over the place, everybody was talkin’ about Prince Hammer. So when I came to England the first time, every Rastaman was just runnin’ up an down the place lookin’ for me (chuckles). Because all they wanted was to know ‘wow, where does this Ras come from?’, y’know, ‘who is this man?’, y’know wha’ I mean. You know, ‘this man inspire us a lot’. Because most of the lyrics deh, as I said before, it’s all about being positive. They were positive lyrics, cultural lyrics, and people wanted that. Because Bob Marley was doing so good at the time too, singin’ a lot of serious, cultural songs. And for me doing that album that really really give me one of the biggest push – ever. That was one of me biggest seller.
And at the time you had struck up a deal with Adrian Sherwood in the UK, ‘Ten Thousand Lions’ came out on a 12″ on his Hit Run imprint I think.
That led up to you being on tour with Bim Sherman and Prince Far I in 1979?
‘Ten Thousand Lions’ came in England as a pre, as pre-release, yeah?
Right, which led to the UK release.
Yeah, you used to have a newspaper called the Black Echo paper (now Echoes), and my song was number one in the Black Echo paper as a song that came from Jamaica. They used to like chart the songs, which is the best or next best song from Jamaica or which songs gonna be hits, and my song was the number one song. And people phoned me from England and said, “Listen now, man, your song is really mashin’ up the place here, man!” Other artists came over here and find out what was happenin’ too and come back to Jamaica and explained it to me. Anyhow, Prince Far I knew Adrian Sherwood before I did, he was a friend of his, yunno. And with me and Prince Far I being in the business like we kinda walkin’ up an’ down flatfooted in Jamaica doing the same thing, and with me establishin’ that recording, the story that we talked about before, I was introduced to Adrian Sherwood through Prince Far I. And I said to Adrian, said “Listen, I would like to come to England”, y’know, just to kinda get the chance to be here, get to know the people, and establish my business”. He said to me, say “OK, I’ll try my best to help you come over”. But at the time I did not have the cash, the straight up money, to really buy the ticket. But I had a lot of stuff, a lot of records in Jamaica, y’know what I mean, as records I had been sellin’ from my store. So what I did, you had some cigarette called Craven A, you had some big boxes, some massive boxes when these used to come into Jamaica, and I filled one of these box of lots of 7″-inch records, and send it to Adrian Sherwood them and told him to sell the records, both 7″-inch and 12″-inch records, and asked him to sell it and buy me a plane ticket. And that’s the chance I get was to come to England the first time ever. Adrian buy me the plane ticket, I came over, and then we start doing business together, we start workin’ together as a unit. And when I came over, we came over with Bim Sherman, Prince Far I came over too as much. And we came over and do a tour with…
The Creation Rebel band.
Yeah, with Creation Rebel. The tour was called ‘Roots Encounter Part 1’, that was the name of the tour. Which we toured from England right back to Scotland, all over the place, you name it, we’ve been there.
That was in ’79.
Places like the legendary Dingwalls in London.
We done all the Dingwalls circuit, every Dingwalls circuit, we’ve done all of them. And then…
I learned about a story where you apparently fell off the stage in excitement on one of the gigs on that tour (chuckles)? Is that true, or just another one of those rumours or exaggerations?
Somewhere on that tour this had happened. Hope you didn’t get injured though.
No, no. What I used to do, I used to jump off the stage and jump in the audience, yeah?
I jump off the stage, and because I like workin’ with my people, so I would jump off the stage in front of the people, stand up in front of them an’ t’ing like that, singin’ in front of the stage, walkin’ around, singin’ from one person to the other, then jump back ‘pon the stage. That’s what I told you before, they used to call me ‘The Legs Man’.
Yes, ‘The Dancer’.
‘The Dancer’ (chuckles), y’know. Because the stage is where I live. Prince Far I is totally different from me, the three of us there, is three different acts. Bim Sherman, he would just stand up like Gregory Isaacs style, and sing like that. Prince Far I would be like chalkin’ up the place, really movin’, not as fast as I would’ve done, but really commandin’ and demanding these people (emphasising it, the way the late Voice of Thunder would) ‘to accept that I appreciate that they listen to me, I am Prince Far I’, y’know, type of a t’ing. He would’ve been that type of a guy. With me now, I would be more flowing, I would be flying and fly from that side to this side of the stage, as I said before snap-falling, splittin’, jumpin’ off the stage, jumpin’ in the crowd, y’know, doing all these type a mad t’ings and so on, which really excite people. Because in those days – it’s not like the now dance when you have all the bogle and these type a t’ings, those days it was like skank and shuffle and split, and all these type a dance, you remember these type a t’ings. Those were the type a dance them times, so when I’ve gone on stage I would be shufflin’ off me foot (chuckles), y’know, and throwing the mic in the air and split-fallin’ and catching back the mic before I reach the floor and all them t’ings, those were the t’ings I used to do. So, yeah, we had a big tour and that’s when I get the chance was to tour with UB40 and the Boomtown Rats…
And the Slits?
Yeah, the Slits and also The Clash. And I’ve had a good time workin’ with them, especially UB40 them and the Slits, Ari them and all these girls. You know Ari lives in Jamaica now?
Ari, the lead singer for the Slits.
Oh, right, Ari-Up is down there now, I saw something about that.
Yeah. She live in Jamaica for many years now, from the band break up she’s been livin’ in Jamaica.
That exposed your name further.
Yes, because we did, as I said, I had a chance was to work with all of these big artists, and I’ve gone to like Birmingham and spent a lot of time with UB40 in their recording studio. Is a couple days I’ve been lookin’, going through all me details inna me house, and I’ve found like autographs from them from all those years, and I’ve still got them in the book, y’know (chuckles).
You had another tune high on the Black Echoes charts, ‘Love Title’. Was that one of the bigger hits at the time, even in Jamaica?
‘Love Title’, yeah, that was one of my biggest songs too.
It was pretty high up on the Echoes charts back in 1978.
Black Echoes charts, yes. And Adrian done a lot for me inna them time too, you see, because the guys them…
Ten Thousand Lions
Africa Dance Hall
You did ‘North London Thing’ for Adrian.
Right, ‘North London Thing’ on his Hit Run label.
Yes, on the Hit Run label. Yes. And the guys that I’ve met, I’ve met them inna the Stonebridge where Adrian Sherwood took us under the Stonebridge and I met Tony and all these guys, there was like a lickle studio, a recording studio there. And Adrian introduced me to these other guys that he work around more time, but they didn’t get any – they wasn’t established. But with settin’ up the tour now, going to Holland, y’know, me and Prince Far I and Bim Sherman them going to Holland, that give them the first chance was to go to Holland and get themselves established. Now they’re one of the biggest bands now, the Undivided Roots (known these days as Ruff Cutt), which was one of the biggest bands. Because the name’s been changed to Undivided Roots now.
When did your LP ‘Roots Me Roots’ come out?
That was inna the eighties.
Checking ‘Roots Knotty Roots’, the discography shows plenty of Belva singles, things that could make up an album, most are uncollected I think.
Yes, because I did work with people like Enos McLeod and all them people deh. If you notice there’s a lot of people them deh, Echo Minott, and a lot of different people I’ve worked with them times.
You produced a various artist set called ‘Africa Iron Gate Showcase’ in about 1982.
‘Africa Iron Gate’, yes. You know, all of these albums, right, I don’t even have a copy of them for myself, but I’m trying to find copies of them. I’m trying to find copies of them so I can re-release them. A lot of people been askin’ me for them. But I’ve been diggin’, diggin’. Because a few months back, one of my sons buy me a copy of that, ‘Dreadlocks T’ing’, and he pay £ 75 pound for it, y’know. Because them vintage record, you can’t get these records again. I ask him and he saw the label and I wanted back the label itself, the Belva label, so I can copy back again. And he buy me the record for £ 75 pounds in England for me, just a 7″-inch.
It’s getting expensive now, the vintage market, been expensive for some time now in fact.
Yes. So I’m gonna search anyhow, because I know there’s a few places, most places I go to, a lot say ‘oh, I’ve got your record in the selection, I’ve got this in me selection’. So I’ll naturally try and search and find – I’ve got master tapes, but I’ve lost a lot of master tapes with a lot of these songs in King Tubby’s studio, when King Tubbys died. Because Bunny Lee, ‘Striker’ Lee, he had a lot of tapes in the studio itself, in King Tubby’s studio, and when King Tubbys die, I was in England at the time, and by the time was the chance to go down there, a lot of stuff had been moved out. You know, master tapes of mine had been moved out all over the place, and I could not really establish if it gone left, right or center where my tapes had been gone to. Even though I’ve tried my best to speak to his sister and his niece, and so on, to see if I maybe could get a lead to find back these produc’. But I’ve lost them. So the only way I would really get back this stuff now is that if I would find somebody with all these materials on vinyl, and then transfer them back and try and get them on CD and vinyl again.
Good luck with that, hope you succeed. You did an LP called ‘Vengeance’ as well.
When was that?
That’s late eighties or early nineties I’ve done that, or either early nineties I’ve done that one. And that’s been put out in England as much, and I’ve done very well with that album. If you notice I’ve done even poetry on that album, because I’ve been trying and changin’ my style again there. So I’ve done sing-jay style and I’ve done poetry on it, just to get my audience to listen to something different. I’ve always been changin’, from ever since I’ve never been a steady deejay, somebody who just stick to one style. I’ve never been like that. Because I’m one of the first deejay ever to come to England to deejay and sing, and that’s where Clint Eastwood get his style from too. A lot of these guys adapt from me, when I came to this country and start doing deejay and start singin’ at the same time. Because I’ve used to do both things on stage, sing and then I deejay, and then Clint Eastwood them pick up the idea to start, because I was doing so well with it. And Clint Eastwood was with General Saint at the time, and he pick up the style from there and start use it himself too.
Both of those guys live in the UK nowadays, Saint doing video production and Eastwood is out of the business, doing social work I think.
You even completed a dub album too, ‘World War Dub’.
‘World War Dub’. Yeah, with the one I’m flying the plane. I’ve just been designing another cover now, because I think I’m gonna re-release that dub album again.
Yes. So I’ve just been doing, as I said, I have an artist now doing some art work and everyt’ing like that now for me to really put it out back again. Because a lot of people’s been talkin’ about that dub (chuckles).
Speaking about producing, I believe you cut an album with Jennifer Lara who sadly passed away the other day, what did you cut with Jennifer?
Yes. I’m the first one who ever put out any songs with Jennifer Lara, I’ve done three songs with Jennifer Lara, but I only put out two songs for her in that period. And the first song I put out with her gone straight up in the chart to number two… sorry, number three, in the charts. Beca’ we used to live together, you see, she coming from the same community, man. She coming from – you remember I was tellin’ you about these gangs and so on, like Skull and Tel Aviv, yeah? And she was with one of the Skull guys, y’know, one of them leader. And I took her away from him! You know (chuckles)? I took her from him, and then I start live with her, because she really had qualities, and she didn’t have a chance by being with this guy. So getting involved in the music business that’s what gonna save, so I took my chances with her and t’ing like that, we lived together, and I’ve given her the first chance. Then she went to Studio One and she start work amongst people like Johnny Osbourne and all that, yunno.
What about Rod Taylor, how did you meet him?
Well, with Rod Taylor now, we’ve always been on the same – ca’ Rod Taylor come out of Dunkirk, right, and he always been on Idler’s Rest itself, yunno, Chancery Lane, which we always call Idler’s Rest, and it’s like I say to him one day, I said ‘listen’, right, because he’s got a voice there which is really like a fine voice, really fine, and to me I did admire him voice, but a lot of people didn’t wanna work with him. But I said I’m gonna take my chances with him, because I liked what I heard. So I said to him seh, ‘OK’, then I booked the studio, rent Channel One studio, I went there and build the riddims. All those riddims I’ve built is all original riddims, and we sit down and write the lyrics together and we do everyt’ing together. And when I came over to England, the first place I took the album to was Greensleeve, and they wouldn’t accept it because they were talkin’ about his voice, his voice is too fine. You know, his voice is not really ‘uuuhhhrrr’ (imitates the deeper type of voice) type a t’ing, what they wanted. And I was a bit disappointed with Chris (Cracknell, part-owner of Greensleeves Records), y’know what I mean, for him not to take the album. Because Greensleeve was the guy, those were the people at the time. And I talked to Adrian Sherwood about the album, but the album – I find myself end up in hospital, y’know, because one night I went to a movie and I ate some popcorn, and I had a problem with my stomach, the same night it’s like in pain, etcetera. And when I went to the hospital, what they did, they keep me in instead of sendin’ me home, and then they find out that there was a problem. Because in Jamaica, I had been shot in Jamaica, and like one of my tube (intestinal tract) had been blocked up, because of the injury I had inside. And it’s like the see what they’re seeing inside me stomach, and they ask me for permission to operate on me, and it happen, things jus’ go hay-wire from there.
It’s just like, yeah, because that’s Daddy Kool label. Because it’s like Adrian Sherwood would come and see me one day and we were sitting down and talkin’, and I said to Adrian, y’know, “Listen, Adrian, I’ve got this album, but what I really want is a bigger established label”. Because Adrian was doing OK, but what I really wanted was to have a bigger, more mainstream company, instead of with Adrian. But when I was in the hospital now, I needed money because what I did want was to go back to Jamaica. And I said to Adrian, “OK then, if you find a way to really get this album out so I can achieve from it by the time I get out of the hospital, then I’ll be OK then, and it’s OK to even go and talk to Daddy Kool”. And he went and talked to Daddy Kool about it, and both of them come together and they came back and we put an agreement together, and we say OK, that’s it. And then that’s how the album come out. And it goes straight in the chart – number one.
Right, that was a big album in 1980.
Yes, seven weeks it was in the charts – number one – for, and the single was in the charts for three to four weeks, y’know, the title track…
‘If Jah Should Come Now’, yes.
‘If Jah Should Come Now’. Yeh, that was in the chart for that long. So that was one of the biggest album. And, what happened there, I tell you, life is a funny thing, yunno, because like when I was in Waltham, the McKay Lane, and I told you about ‘Junjo’ Lawes, yeah? One day Junjo was walkin’ down in the community, and he was singin’, but he was singin’ off-key (chuckles), and in Jamaica we always have a say ‘encouragement sweet labour’, right. Encourage somebody, they’ll get better or do better, right. So I said to him, say: “Wow, wicked, my yout’! Respec’! Yeah man, big tune, I like what I hear, yunno!” And just talk to him like that, that’s the reason why he get involved in the business, that encouraged him to get involved in the music business, you see. And then he start working with people like Yellowman, yunno, Ranking Toyan, and a lot of these other guys start now, Linval Thomas (Thompson) and all these guys start gettin’ involved now with Junjo. And Junjo came over to England and I was with Adrian Sherwood in Harlesden High Street in London one day, and he came over here after making all of his stock from recording all these guys, and he came over. And he was walking down Harlesden High Street with his bag on his shoulder and he didn’t know where to turn at all, didn’t know which way to turn (chuckles). And that time Trojan Record was just about a few yards from where Adrian used to be, and Creole Record, all these record companies they just been close by there. And Mr Palmer of Jet Star was just around on the High Street itself too. So I said to him, seh, “Alright, this is what I’ll do, I’ll give you a few details of people you can go to”. Because I said to Adrian, say, “Adrian, listen, this is my friend from Jamaica, we come from the same community, he’s got this stuff, what do you think?” Adrian said we couldn’t afford it at the time, so I give him details. I said to him, seh, “Alright, you can go here, this is Trojan, this is Creole, this is… and this is Greensleeve, go to Chris and tell him me sent you”. And that’s where he went and made his name, he went to Greensleeve and Greensleeve signed him up there and then, give him a LOT of money, and says “Go to Jamaica, make the songs”. But what Greensleeve did, right, was ask him to make an album with Rod Taylor!
Yeah (laughs)! I know.
Because Rod Taylor was in the chart – number one. So they asked him to make an album with Rod Taylor, right. Before Junjo went to Jamaica and make an original album, right, with the guy, he went and put him on some mek-over riddims, some riddims that a’ready been made, that people already knew. But what people was lookin’ for, and listening for, they was listening for me to record Rod Taylor again, make another album with him, not anybody else. You understan’? So Junjo make the album with him, took him to Greensleeve, the album flopped! It went nowhere at all! You know? And we had an argument over it, me and Junjo, because I said why don’t make an original album with him, y’know what I mean. I was a bit disappointed, beca’ Greensleeves, like they take me for a ride there anyhow by not really taking my album, by sending somebody else to make another album – is like doing things behind my back! That money that they gave to Junjo, they could’ve give it to me and said “Alright, Prince, y’know, you go make another album now with the guy, because we like what we hear”. All right. But not even ‘we like what we hear’, but they guy see it’s in the chart – number one. You know (laughs)? So we give you some money and you go and make some more songs with him so we can start achieve from it as much too, which I would’ve gone to Jamaica and made another album with the guy. But he just gave Junjo some money, Junjo go down, give Rod Taylor some money, and they go to the studio, and the riddims already make a’ready. He just go straight over them, and that’s it, yunno – he just flop. And that’s the biggest ever album Rod Taylor’s ever had, the biggest album. That’s why Junjo always look up to me, right, because we’re so close. Because I’m the guy who give him the lead-way and the door to go through. And that’s why we were really really so close, he always said to me, even before he die – just a couple of weeks before he died, he came to look for me the firs’ time, because he had not been to England in how many years, over seven or eight or nine years he had not been here. Because he had problems with people here, y’know, gun-fightin’, etcetera, blah blah, them type a madness, yunno. And when he came over here, the same day when Manchester United won the Treble, he came over from Jamaica the day before, and the following day Manchester United was playing when they win the Treble, Junjo was in my house, sitting down with me an’ his family an’ my family, and I was cookin’ chicken and rice and peas and everyt’ing for them in my house (chuckles). And he sit down and watch everyt’ing about the football on my Sky television, and so on, and he went and die about two weeks after that. You know, get shot up in London and died. And I was really disappointed, because he said to me, he looked up on me, seh “You know, Prince, all I’ve got, all I’ve owned, brethren, is because of you, you is the guy who put me in a position to be the person I am now”. And I was very proud of him, y’know wha’ I mean, to know that for him to could’ve turn ’round and look at me and say that I put him in the position he’s in, y’know. With all the finance, everyt’ing, his house, everyt’ing what he’s got, because I was the person who direc’ him, and introduce him, etcetera, to people when he just came to England the firs’ time, I was the one who direc’ him. And I was happy about that. At least him acknowledge me.
Moving up to the late eighties now, you did an album for Roy Cousins (founder of The Royals) in 1989, ‘Respect I Man’.
Because Roy lives in the northwest of England, that’s how you met up, or you knew each other from Jamaica days?
I know Roy Cousins from Jamaica. You know, we’ve been good friends from Jamaica anyhow, and Roy don’t live too far from here, he live in…
Yeah, he live in Liverpool, so it’s not too far from Manchester. He come and see me all the while, he phoned me up to last week, we’ve been talkin’ over the phone, he calls me every so often, every few weeks he calls me. We make sure everything is alright. Anyhow, he asked me was to write some songs, write some lyrics, and build an album. And he had these guys in Liverpool that he’s been friends with who’s got a band and he wanted was to, like, really record them. Because they must get an act to back up to get established just as much, and he asked me if I would write some songs and then if we could build them songs, use these guys to build the riddims. Because he had a record shop in Liverpool, which is one of the biggest established record shops over in Liverpool, he own property, yunno, and he was doing fine. And I’ve gone Lark Lane, there’s a studio in Lark Lane, which I’ve gone and done the album. And I was doing well with the album too, and I was proud doing it for him. And the same week I was finishing the album, the same day Sly & Robbie came to the studio, and Maxi Priest, and that’s when Maxi Priest them start doing his own album an’ everyt’ing like that. So we had a good day, y’know, all of us guys, trying to bring back some of the old days an’ update weself with each other, so we had a good time.
Tell me about the various projects you’re working with, or have been working on, the Step Forward Project and Project X, what’s the purpose and direction with those two? I believe you do some community work with youths on one of them?
Yeah, I’ve done a project called ‘Movements of Youths’, and the same time when I’ve done Movements of Youths, Sugar Minott was doing a thing called ‘Youthman Promotion’.
Right, Youth Promotion.
And Movements of Youths is a projec’ whe, what I did, I booked King Tubby’s studio, and anybody and anyone at all who has got an idea or skill, for making songs or for singin’ songs, whether they’re chatting it or singin’ it, they would’ve just come to the studio and I would just put the riddims on and you would jus’ listen to a riddim, and if you can’t afford to handle a riddim or, y’know, I like what I hear, then I would’ve record you there and then. So that was giving a lot of chance to other people who had never had a chance was to record before. And that’s where the song come from too, the Lickle John, Lickle John had his only number one called ‘Janet Sinclair’. That song had been written by me and produced by me, but the riddim itself was given to me by Junjo Lawes, right, and I’ve put him on the riddim there and he sing that song, and I get the song – the song’s been released in England, because I’ve given them the song. Because I had the song for so long, and when Toyan them was coming to England I gave him the song, and I think he gave it to Greensleeves them who put it out, and it went straight in the chart – number one. And that’s the only number one song Little John’s ever had. So when he came over to England, and he was touring and I was at the show, he says this now: “I’ve got to big up one person inna this place, yunno, the man Prince Hammer, ’cause if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here today, he’s the one that write this song and produce this song, ‘Janet Sinclair’, nuff respec'”. You know (chuckles)? And I was very proud standin’ up in the crowd knowing the fact that he would’ve said somet’ing like that. And I’ve also recorded Ranking Toyan’s song, ‘Jah Is He Gone'(sings the chorus). ‘Jah Is He Gone’ I’ve done with him, I’ve done about seven or eight songs with Toyan, which I’ve still got songs with him now that I’ve not even put out. I’ve recorded Super Black, I’ve record a lot of people within that period of time, jus’ giving everybody, as I said, a chance was to establish themselves. That was one project.
So what about Step Forward or the Project X?
Project X? Project X is the me being in Strengeris Prison, right, I’ve been sent to prison for smokin’, for weed.
That was pretty widely reported in the press, wasn’t it?
Yes, every newspaper was there, every single newspaper you could ever think about, from all over, it was TV stations, radio stations, the prison was full of media people on the release date. And Project X was an idea in the prison, it was like a music class, and guys was like learnin’ to play instruments in there. And the guys them says, well, what them would do is to try and put a project together to get a song released from the prison. And I was in the class anyhow, ’cause I was in art class, I was doing art work at the time. But as an established artis’ from Jamaica they wanted me was to be a part of the project itself, so they asked me if I would come and join the class. And I put my ideas and skills towards it too, and one guy there called Tony Bailey, he was the one who really write the song itself, the song to release now. It was a lickle young boy who got shot and killed in Moss Side called Benji, Benji Stanley. And we write the song, because we were trying to talk to people being good, stop the killing type a t’ing, what’s happening outside. Because it was really getting bad in the community that we lived in and a young boy had been killed and the song had been written for that kind of a reason, trying to stop what was happening. And all the money that was made from that money went to Victim Support. But on the project too I’ve written a song called ‘Towards’, it’s a big ballad song, a song with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. And I sing that song with a girl – I can’t remember her name now, and I remember – ’cause I was looking through the papers the other day, anyhow, I sing this song with this girl, we brought her in from outside, and we have written both section for her and for myself. Them bring a lot of people, public people, from outside, and they empty the physical gym, where we gone and lift weight, and everything was set up in there. And it was one of the biggest nights, when I start singin’ that song ‘Towards – Meet As One’, the whole place was crying. You know (chuckles)? The old people, all the old peoples them, the wardress, the woman warden them, the whole a them was like drying their eyes an’ all these type a t’ing. Because I sing the song so powerful, because the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, they came and I had written this song, I had shown them all and they went away, and they write – they had written it in their format, on paper, so on the night they could’ve done it they way it would be done. And it was one of the biggest songs I’ve ever sung. And I’ve just found, is a couple of days ago I’ve been searchin’ me house, about two days ago, and I’ve digged up and I find that paper with all the lyrics on it again, and I said to myself, you know somet’ing, I’m gonna make this song and put it on a record. A lot of people been askin’ why I never really release that song on a record. Because that’s been playing in England on the jazz radio and it get a lot of publicity playin’ on the jazz stations over here. And I’ve seen all of us guys who used to be in that group, we all leave the prison in time, each person leave by their time up, and we all went our separate ways. So the group never been put together and established itself in a the right way. But for what we did and what we give to the prison and making it history as the first song ever been recorded in a English prison, and release from a English prison, that was somet’ing big for us. The people who came and support what we were doing, was appreciative of everything that we did.
So what about Step Forward?
Well, Step Forward Project is me again trying my best to help other people, and it did go over well but not as well as I expec’ it was to go. Because t’ings and times change and my life’s been an up and it’s been a down, I’ve got kids, I try to help the family, I try to be a family man, because I’ve always been like that, growing up with my grandparents. We grow to learn and respec’ and show respec’ to your family, so the Step Forward Project’s never been lift off in the way I wanted was to lift off. Because I didn’t get the chance and the opportunity was to put everything in focus the right way. But you never know, t’ings might develop a lot better now, because I’m gettin’ – I’m having a lot more time for meself now, my kids grown up now and everything, so more time for meself. So things can only get better now, and it will get better.
I know you won the lottery a few years ago and set up the Caribbean Flava label, went down to Jamaica and produced a bunch of singles, like your own ‘Africa’ for instance.
(Chuckles) Yeah, well, I won money from the National Lottery, yes I did. And it wasn’t the full lottery I won, but I was so bad-lucky because I had all seven numbers in a line, six in a line in the C line, and the D line I had number four started the D line. If I had number four in the C line instead of the 36 – number 36, I would’ve won the full jackpot. So it must be billions to one for one man to have the whole seven numbers straight in a line, you understan’, which is six number plus the bonus part. So I did miss out on like just a centimeter like that I missed out on the full jackpot itself.
But you did produce a few people down in Jamaica on that label, Caribbean Flava, I think it was, for some of the money.
Well, I’m trying to set up a recording studio, trying to build a studio in England. ‘Cause I’ve bought myself a lot of equipment, I’ve got three studio boards so far, I’ve got two 24-track, one is a analog-board and one is a 16 – 24, and I’ve got a sixteen track too as much. What I’m looking for now is premises, I’ve got me lawyer at the moment corresponding with other lawyers trying to get the premises I’ve been looking at last week to develop my studio. I went and look at two different premises last week to try and develop the studio. I bought myself a whole band set-out, drums, four guitars, saxophone – you name it. I’m gonna recruit people and I’m gonna develop my own band. Because a lot of these guys now, they’ve got skills but they lack instruments. So I will choose people, I’ve met a lot of good people I wanna work. I will teach them what I’ve known, yunno, and then as well as rehearsal. Because the album I’ve just put out, the’Back For More’, it’s totally different from what I’ve done before.
Right, this was done at the Cultural Fusion studio with a guy called Barrington Stuart?
Yes. I’ve done it at the Cultural Fusion studio, yeah?
I haven’t heard it yet but the approach seems to be non-reggae.
It’s more soul, type of a R&B t’ing. I’ve never been a steady artist who’ve always stayed one way, like stayed in one direction. I’ve always changed the style. Because one of the reason why I’ve done this album is just to show people that I can do a lot of different things, I’ve got a range of styles and attitude about me that I can really give to my audience. It’s so totally different from what they know. I’ve just been on the Carnival radio station last week singin’ live. There’s been a lot of things happenin’.
A couple of years back you made on the Caribbean Flava imprint, through Jet Star, a reissue of the Rod Taylor album plus your own ‘Bible’ LP, both on CD for the first time, the Taylor album with the dubs I believe. But somehow these disappeared without any promotion and tend to be a bit difficult to find now.
Yeah. One of the reason, you see, with Jet Star, right, Jet Star is a OK company, but Jet Star don’t publish peoples songs unless you’ve gone out and done it yourself. It’s called marketing.
When I signed over those songs to Jet Star, I’ve only signed over them for a period of time for him to really work with them. But what he did, he never really publish it the way I expec’ him to publish it, about the marketing part of it. So the songs never been pushed the way they should. That’s why I’m gonna re-release them now.
Good. Original artwork, sleeves and all, and a polished, restored sound, cleaned up as it should.
Yes, I’m gonna re-release them back and everything and really put them in a the area where they supposed to be going. I’ve been asked about them still, so I’m trying my best to really… What I need to do, I need to be in my office first, this property. Once I get it there, refurbish this place, then all of these songs from the early days until now will be back on vinyl and CD’s.
To have ‘Ten Thousand Lions’ back on glorius vinyl again wouldn’t be out of place.
Yes. A lot of that will be happening as soon as I get this business place put together properly. I will print back everything, both 7″ and 12″-inch, I will have the albums on vinyl and CDs as much too.
Right, so how did the French CD anthology come about, the ‘Rastafari Bible’ on Patate?
Yeah, well, he know me through my friend Roy Cousins, I know Patate through them. Is a very very good guy, very very good guy. Very decent person, very respective and I really admire him. Is a guy I can really turn to and say ‘what’s up?’, yunno. He’s always happy for me to be there, we have a good relationship until this day. But I’ve not given him any more stuff. Because what I did, I just went to Paris and did a tour with Heartical sound and I’ve done a tour promoting the album, in Paris, and end up on a show with Michael Prophet, Earl Sixteen and them guys, y’know, me being a support act with them on their programme when my programme was finished. So I had a very good time in Paris with them, and I’m thinkin’ now to go back to Paris very soon again now too anyhow.
So what’s ahead for you now, you mentioned a various artists set for Christmas?
Yes. Now at the moment, what I’m doing is to try and put out this abum now called ‘Reggae News’, I want to get it out for Christmas time. It’s an album with some Rass ‘pon it called the Traditional Family, Gregory Isaacs, Zebra, Cassanova, General. There’s a few people on it like Al Campbell, all these people is there on the album. But I have turned around now, I’ve changed me mind, about artwork and everything. What I’m gonna do, I’m gonna dedicate the album to all the people that been passed away from the early days until now. All the artists that been dropped out, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, you name it, right back until now, all the artists that died, Prince Far I, everything, all of them. I’ve designed the album front like a newspaper, a tribute to those that contribute to the music, the Jamaican artists who contribute to reggae music. I have made a pre-release. It’s not released, but I’ve released it free for promotional use only, I’ve been giving it to radio stations. This album will give them the chance to remember people who used to be their favorite artists.
How about guesting on Blood & Fire sound system, they’re based in Manchester as well? I mean there’s several veteran deejays who has done that and that has certainly helped them to get back in the public’s eye, like Ranking Joe, U Brown, Trinity, Dillinger. Should be perfect to get your name out there again, back on track.
Yeah, I’ve seen him (Dom) every night, yunno, he plays here in a club called The Arch. But I’ve never ever given Blood & Fire anything to release. Blood & Fire business is just about ten minutes from my house anyhow.
I was more thinkin’ of you guesting on their sound, they travel all over Europe so that should boost your name out there even further, and revive your deejay career back because you’ve been more of a singer over the past twenty years from what I understand.
Yeah, he asked me about that a few months back because he was working with Ranking Joe and all of those people, and so on, which I knew about. But I’ve never really gone deep to him about it, because he’s been to me house and everything and we sit down and we have good talks and everything like that. But we’ve never really come to the agreement to say alright, let’s do a tour or some work together in that kinda aspec’, yunno. But maybe it’s an idea anyhow still, because he’s done it with most of these other older artists from them times anyhow.
Should be considered anyway.
Yeah. I’ve start a new album, a new deejay album myself, which I haven’t given a title yet. But I’ve done two tracks from the album already which is really getting radio play and everything. The reason why I’m doing this album is because from the late eighties I’ve done a deejay album, and that’s how I start out, being a deejay. So I said to meself, OK, then I’ll get back to my roots and I get back to my original style, giving these people a taste again and say, listen, this is what I am.
Prince Hammer and Roy Cousins
Prince Hammer is one of those names from the classic era that never got the proper exposure and recognition he should’ve received, despite getting on the Virgin label in 1978 and a few local hits. That ‘Bible’ album has remained a solid effort over the years and has ‘grown’ for many since, even though it wasn’t one of the Front Line label’s strongest deejay sellers at the time of release. But things change and sometimes for the better. The sound on the reissued Jet Star CD leaves a lot to be desired though, I truly hope Hammer will get right down to it and do the restoring job properly. The French CD, ‘Rastafari Bible’ is a lot more successful in that regard, a proper job soundwise, and much of the music is faultless. It has aged very well. For me Hammer is one of the most consistent producer names out of the turbulent Jamaican seventies era, perhaps even more consistent and exciting than he ever was as a singer or deejay. Take the ‘If Jah Should Come Now’ album by Rod Taylor for instance, a classic roots album. The Hammer truly had his finger on the pulse of things as that LP quickly established him as a name to be reckoned with in the producer’s seat, and several albums followed more or less in the same colorful vein. Something should be done about the CD sound again, it is again much of a rush job to get the record out. The problem is that those productions haven’t been available for many years. Someone out there should cull those various tracks on Hammer’s Belva and Baby Mother labels and put them together for a various artists set. Will it ever happen? If it does, ‘Jah Will Lead Us Home’ by the late Jennifer Lara would crown that set majestically, it is one of the Hammer’s most glorious productions. Another wish is to see the ‘Lord of Lords’ and ‘Addis Ababa’ tracks on the street again. To my knowledge they’ve never been re-released so far. ‘Back For More’ was the first album Hammer made since the Roy Cousins collaboration ‘Respect I Man’, but is something completely different from what he had done before, as mentioned it is done in the modern R’n’B vein. Not bad at all, surprisingly consistent, but not something I want to comment too much on in this space. For starters, I really hope Hammer begins his reissue program with ‘Ten Thousand Lions’. With that one he can hardly go wrong anywhere.