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Interview: Dawn Penn (Part 2)

Interview: Dawn Penn (Part 2)

Interview: Dawn Penn (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Christian Bordey - Comment

"I have a conscious album that I haven't put out yet"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview.

In the second part of our exclusive interview with Dawn Penn we look at her life since she decided to relaunch herself as an artist: the second coming of No No No; her autobiography; her reaction to the criticisms of the Rocksteady film; and her upcoming appearance at the UK's One Love Festival 2012...

Dawn Penn

Why did you decide to come back to the music and Jamaica in 1987?

I left Jamaica to go and look for my roots which involved my dad. Hi thing, larger than life, is another kettle of fish, and I'm not even going to go into it so deep. It took me 17 years to get a certain situation solved but... it's a sad ending and I'm not taking the sad with me. It's sad but it's not that sad, but at the same time I'm not taking that as the final thing. But I had some upheavals and I decided to go back to Jamaica. When I got back to Jamaica it was dancehall and I said to myself "If you are doing all these wonderful songs in five seconds with the dancehall idea, then if they took about five or ten or 15 or 20 minutes then half an hour they would become proper hits." But it's a blessing in disguise because at least you get paid and you sing a dub, right away. It used to be that you had a little quirky thing and they'd say "Oh, I didn't know you were going to be in the studio but see, come in and I'll give you a ting" whatever that is. But even if they had the money they'd want to get it for free or for a cheap price. Now you have the soundclash thing and my dub [of No No No] has won quite a few clashes!

In 1994 you re-recorded No No No with Steely & Clevie did you get recompensed well?

They gave me what? $1,000? I don't like to discuss money because it sounds like I work in a bank and I don't know about money, I have no use for it. But I never received any more money from these guys. And so many things have happened. Steely passed away. Tiger, he met an accident, thank God everything is good with him. We still are surviving and still are holding this thing and it's a learning curve and it's a long road. This is why I have to stick to that person who I can rely on at all times, that's all it is. Music really was made to praise God with, not become a business just like everything else.

Music really was made to praise God with, not become a business just like everything else

You were going back and forth between Jamaica and New York for a while before you decided to settle in England in the new century.

I went to New York from Jamaica about 1998-99 kind of time. I was in New York for the longest while, my kids went to school there. They went to Thomas Jefferson High School, one of them was supposed to go to the army and all I could see was him going to Afghanistan and I said "You know what? I'm going to go to England". Because by that time they had signed Sean Paul and I went to VP, I knew them from when they were Randy's. The man who was there was from some high profile record label and he said "If you want to really get by with your career you need to go to England because your music is like lovers rock". That was one of the things. The next thing while I was there was to check about my royalties and different things. I only got my catalogue properly labelled and sorted this year January, in terms of putting all those old songs on a label. That's what I came to England to do, to sort out my music.

When did you first come to England?

Well, actually I was coming here from about 1993-4, when the song became a hit I used to come here and I'd do rehearsal here. It's all a dream when I look at it now; to come here and do rehearsal and then tomorrow I'd be going off to Europe for thirty shows, Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, you know? After I came off, last night was the last show, I came in today, and tomorrow I be leaving to go back to Jamaica and all were saying "Why you no staying one more day, man?" So after I went to New York I thought I'd come over here and sort myself out and see what's going on. Because I had a British passport I didn't have an issue to stay here permanently. Coming from Tortola I was a British subject, as they call it, part of a British dependency, a British citizen.

When did you settle here?

Around 2000-2, something like that.

I came to England to sort out my music

Why did you decide to write your book The Story Of My Life?

I was looking on Wikipedia and I was seeing some dumb things on there. I wouldn't blame Wikipedia because they are allowing strangers to come on their site to write up things. So first of all they are saying dumb things about my name, saying I was born as Dawn Pickering. There's no Pickerings in Jamaica, you understand? I tried to correct it at one point but it was like I was banned from even writing anything so I didn't pursue it.

You self published and wrote it yourself.

I was looking for a ghost writer at one point, but I had in my head that it's something like a record deal where you have to get a publisher and because I didn't have a publisher I couldn't find one of the ghost writers to help me. They would say "Pay me a £1000 and I will get somebody to do it and you'll get £500". I was like "I'm going to pay them £1000 and get back £500, what is it all about?" It didn't sound right to me so I eventually said that I should just bite the bullet and try to write it. Then I found out that EBookBaby could have put it out, so we're in the Kindle, in the computer world and it's an easy way to publish. But I was thinking ahead at the time, to put it in a Kindle format because I'd really like it to be in a book. I'd like to put some pictures in there, have an interview like you and me talking. But I need to have a hardcopy. I was talking to one of my school mates who is in the book who invited me to come down September time to a reunion. The church next to our school has been going for 175 years, you could see the churchyard, people going up the steps in the afternoon. Everybody turned out to be somebody exciting. So we wanted to have a reunion with some of the schoolmates from a long time. Now we've linked up so I must get a hard copy of this book.

As someone who never got paid much for your work what do you think of today's world where people can publish eBooks and the way the music business is changing? Do you think with some of the experiences you've had that you're slightly ahead of the game in terms of understanding?

I have to because guess what? I don't have a manager. When I was signed up I had a manager but I had to get rid of them because the manager was sending me down the Caribbean and telling me it was fifteen hundred when it was two grand, so he was getting 500 of it; when he was supposed to be getting 10% he was getting 25%. But he had times when he didn't go on tour with me; he never used to really go with me outside of America. So this time I was doing a tour of the Islands and I ended up going to Grenada and the man said to me the following day "Oh, I should have given you your money for the show, the whole $2000" and I had to pretend I didn't know. These are the type of things that happen with me; sooner or later I know what the real truth is.

Tell me about how you got involved with the film Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae.

Dawn PennThe director, Stascha Bader, came to England to my house. He said to me that he wanted to do this movie, he wants to go back to rocksteady, that era and he started asking me some questions. I didn't want to go to Dynamic Sounds because I heard that place was kind of defunct at the moment, I wouldn't have wanted to go to Treasure Isle because it's out of operation. We would have probably gone to Randy's because that's where I used to work with Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins and Danny Sims when they pick up Bob Marley before Chris Blackwell picked him up. I know Bunny Wailer very well from then. I didn't want to go to Coxsone either because Coxsone he didn't pay me (laughs), so eventually it turned out to be Federal Records which is now Tuff Gong. That was still a snag because it had some people I didn't want to see either! But it turned out that he eventually got Sly to play the drums, as you see in the movie, and Ernie Ranglin he plays on guitar.

It was supposed to be Lynn Tait wasn't it?

Yes, and then Lynn Tait got sick, but it was good still! With Lynn Tait it would be like getting the real persons who were involved because I don't think Sly was playing drums at the time, it was maybe Lloyd Nibbs or Keith Stirling. Quite a few of them had passed on. They got it to a level and they took us to Jamaica, it was about two weeks. We went up to where Rasta keep them church somewhere in Papine and we had a live show, I don't understand why we don't see it in the film.

Yeah, that was the strangest thing about that movie. Why didn't the concert end up in the film?

Somebody was telling me that a certain person took it away and then they were going over to Jamaica not even giving them any sponsorship. He [Stascha] actually came to me and he went around and he filmed what we said and he must have filmed quite a few other people, then he had to take it to Switzerland to get sponsorship from the government. I said they should really congratulate these people because the Jamaican government is not doing that. Some people were saying how they didn't have the producers: the producers are reducers, they are robbers.

The producers are reducers, they are robbers

Yes the lack of producers was another point of controversy. I was at the press conference at the screening in Brixton when you stood up for the director when he was being grilled by Bunny Lee and Niney.

Bunny Lee of all people shouldn't be standing up there, talking about nothing, believe me. I'm not going to diss what he has done but they have done it in such a quirky way. They just believed that they would take peoples music. We had a meeting over by Fatman Restaurant one night, talking about royalties and Bunny Lee said "Well, I couldn't pay royalties because I gave Trojan eight albums and all I got was £600 and I had to go back to market". His "going back to market" was carrying two cars to Jamaica and buying a house as well. Niney is a different guy. There was a time when I was in Jamaica and I used to call Niney and I used to sit in on his sessions over Sonic Sounds on a Tuesday and I used to sit in on Sly's sessions on a Wednesday. Put it this way, if worst case scenario there was a day when you didn't have anything to eat you could usually be involved in a session. They wouldn't take just anybody, you had to be invited, but it was a learning curve to go there. It was somewhere we used to go, not just because of food; you used to be able to hear different music and get yourself in tune. But like I say, we never knew reggae music was going to get this big. Because I've been to over 53 countries round the world, as we speak, it has given me the ability to do that.

Your last album of new music was Never Hustle The Music. What is your next album project going to be?

I also have a conscious album that I haven't put out yet. I'm working on two albums. I have a conscious album, a real conscious album with a mixture of consciousness and gospel embodied, there are maybe 15 or 18 tracks. I've mixed it, I just need to master it. It's my production and I have six tracks for another new album.

The music business. It's not as easy as it looks!

You're playing at One Love Festival again this year. Last year you were the artist that closed the One Love Festival on the main stage.

It's quirky because what happened, I was supposed to be in another place, singing in a different tent. I don't know what happened but then I was switched to another tent and then my hour switched to half an hour. People paid me a lot of money to sing for an hour! The next thing I know Susan Cadogan was on and the Mad Professor was supposed to do her engineering and he didn't turn up. Next thing you know the guy, Phenomeno, who was doing my engineering ended up doing hers as well, I even paid him, you know? Because I saw no reason why he'd do it for me and not get paid - so I paid him.

Final question, what advice would you give to people starting in the music business now?

Find out if you really need to be in the music business. It's not as easy as it looks! (laughs)

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