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Interview: Reggae Regular (Part 2 - Their Return)

Interview: Reggae Regular (Part 2 - Their Return)

Interview: Reggae Regular (Part 2 - Their Return)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"We thought we could improve on what we'd done before"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview

In part two of our interview with legendary London reggae group Reggae Regular Angus Taylor discusses their latest album 'If Only' distributed via their old label Greensleeves. We also hear about their new singer Patrick Johnson, what the members got up to while the group was defunct, and their plans for 2012...

Reggae Regular

Why did you decide to get back together as a group?

Bryan Campbell: It's about the songs. We all love the songs so much and we just thought it would be good for some of the unrecorded stuff to record it and re-record some of the earlier stuff. It's just a love of the songs really.

Patrick Donegan: I would say it was like unfinished business.

George "Flee" Clarke: (laughs) Unfinished business! In a way.    

So what happened that led to Kingpin and Tony not being in this new line-up?

Bryan Campbell: They were asked and they did briefly join.

Patrick Donegan: All the original members were invited.

Bryan Campbell: They were invited and...

George "Flee" Clarke: They declined.

It's about the songs. We all love the songs so much

Bryan Campbell: ...in some form it didn't work out. Some declined, some decided it wasn't for them and it just naturally took on this progression where we've ended up with us four and a fantastic album.

George "Flee" Clarke: In the old days, of the originals founders, Alan was angry because his stuff that he wrote, the band wasn't playing it because the band, wrongly or rightly, thought maybe it wasn't good enough. Not saying he wasn't good enough but Alan's a good love song writer. No one person decided what we were going to play, we'd write songs and we decided we're going to play this and we're not going to play that. Then Alan had gone from Rasta to becoming a Muslim. And why he's not in this line-up, he wants to do his stuff called Islamic Jihad.

And what's Tony up to now?

George "Flee" Clarke: He's still doing his single project. There's a big word in the reggae: "producer". You have a cassette tape and you're a producer, you know? So he's still doing his producing. Talent-spotting and all that business, I dare say.

Let's just talk a bit about what you did in between incarnations of the band. You played with Desmond Dekker, tell me a bit about that time.

Bryan Campbell: Yes, I played with Desmond Dekker. It was mainly touring with him, pretty much all over the world for nearly ten years I believe. I was only going to do it for a couple of years. It seemed like a good gig. It was good money and love ska, so we did it.  Had a really good time with it.

What was he like to work with?

Bryan Campbell: Fantastic guy. Very quiet, completely different to how he is on stage. I think a lot of brilliant artists are like that, really open on stage, really big on stage and in private they're really quiet, really reflective. He was a very nice guy.

You also have a new singer in Patrick Johnson. Patrick, tell me how you came to join the group and what your experience has been like.

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: Patrick Donegan called me up and he said to me that he'd like me to listen to some stuff from his band Reggae Regular. He explained this stuff to me, it's not straight-forward reggae, do you know what I mean? He said to listen to the stuff and to tell him what I think. I listened to the album and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the style of music, everything was just so different. When I said yes, I would like to be involved in the project and with what you're doing, it was really just to do some live shows and then it moved on to recording. I've just been blown away with the music, the song writing, everything about it, the whole vibe of it. I feel like I was there from the beginning not just joined it at the end, you know what I mean? (ALL laugh and clap) It's just been a wonderful experience. These guys are a bit older than me.

George "Flee" Clarke: Not by much! (laughs)

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: Me and Flee were even born on the same day! Many years apart! (laughs) No, these guys, I've learnt a lot from these guys, it's been an absolute pleasure working with them. It's been a fantastic journey so far and it's only been a couple of years I've been working with these guys and I'm just looking for the next 30 years, is it? (laughs) It's been wonderful, absolutely fantastic.

Desmond Dekker was very quiet, completely different to how he is on stage

What were you doing before this?

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: Before this I was in a reggae band. I was working with Patrick Donegan, he was producing our reggae band at the time. We were called Private Collection. We did an album, a few singles, the band got quite popular back in the early 90s.

George "Flee" Clarke: Very popular, number one in the charts!

Did you win at the British Reggae Awards? Would you like to win another one now it's been revived?

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: Yes, we won two actually. Best single and best vocal. We got number one hits in the charts, number two, we got voted the best vocal band, we got a couple of awards as well. It was fantastic, we had a brilliant time! It was all learning and just enjoying ourselves at the time. At the time when Patrick asked me to join his band my band was just coming towards the end of a 20 year thing, we were just winding down a bit, then it was like "This is a new start for me". Maybe another 20 or 30 years! (laughs) To be honest I didn't go into this to look for any kind of awards. The reward for me is people buying the music, people coming to me and saying "Oh, I love that track", that kind of thing you know.

Patrick Donegan: I'd still like the award!

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: If these things come along they're just pluses. I've still got my award on the wall, sometimes I walk past it and don't even notice it's there. It's all about the rewards of the people, how people receive your songs. That's my greatest reward.

The album, as you've mentioned already, has got some re-cuts of some previously recorded tunes but also new things? Were you trying to improve on what you'd done before?

Reggae Regular - If OnlyGeorge "Flee" Clarke: We wanted to improve. We thought we could improve on what we'd done before. Then new stuff, Bryan mainly said we should listen to some new stuff, I think Patrick was involved in it as well.

Patrick Donegan: I think that some of the old stuff wasn't recorded or done very well

George "Flee" Clarke: Tempo-wise.

Patrick Donegan: Or the tempos weren't quite right.

George "Flee" Clarke: They were too fast.

Patrick Donegan: So we just wanted to play the songs like they were supposed to sound.

Bryan Campbell: I think also frankly, we seem to blend better than the first band vocally.

Tell me a bit about the recording of the album. Where it was done, who had production duties, who mixed it and so on.

Bryan Campbell: Well, Patrick has a studio and I have a studio, so between the two studios we constructed the tracks, between the two studios we mixed the tracks. It was a year long process.

Patrick Donegan: More like two years! (laughs)

George "Flee" Clarke: But me and Patrick, we decided which tracks were good mixes (laughs).

Your long-standing relationship with Greensleeves, was that how you got the link with VP to distribute the album?

Bryan Campbell: Pretty much

Patrick Donegan: We have a very long-standing relationship with Greensleeves, as you know. I think Where Is Jah was the first track that they released, so we were there from the beginning.

George "Flee" Clarke: It was good enough as well. Regardless of how long-standing, if it's not good enough they're not going to touch it.

You also of course have a long-standing relationship with Tippa Irie. How did he come onboard to re-cut Black Star Liner?

Patrick Donegan: On Tippa's hit tune Hello Darling, that he had a national charts hit with, we played on it and I did the production for that, so that's how far we go back. I just took the song to him and I said "Tippa, I want you to chat on this for me". He's a good friend of mine, he only lives down the road. He lives in Thornton Heath. So it was very easy.

George "Flee" Clarke: He can't hide, can he?

Patrick Donegan: He comes to my studio to do stuff as well, so if I ask him to do something he'll do it and if he asks me to do something for him in the studio I'll  do it.

He's been going in kind of a roots direction himself with his last album with the Far East Band. It almost seems like a kind of continuation in terms of a new direction for him, still versatile but a bit more of a roots artist as he's been recently.

Patrick Donegan: The roots stuff that he's doing now, he's always been very sort of rootsy in his ideas and stuff like that, so doing the roots is just a natural progression.

Tippa's always been very sort of rootsy in his ideas, so doing the roots is just a natural progression

George "Flee" Clarke: From experience I think he's got older and it's something that he's always wanted to do, so maybe he's got the chance now.

Patrick Donegan: And he's never been a kind of slack deejay.

It's very interesting what you were saying earlier about listening at home to certain music like Bob Marley back in the day. Do you think that today, or pretty much since the digital era came in, there's been a lot more focus on how things sound in a dance and less focus on things being produced to be heard in the home?

Bryan Campbell: I would think so. I don't go to many dances these days but certainly there's a lot of detail lacking in the production of reggae these days, which is why we're trying to do things differently and actually putting more detail in there.

Patrick 'Dego' Johnson: I would say technology took over in a different way, so you didn't need the skills like you had back in the old days. It was like: just press a button, repeat, and that was it. So anyone could make rhythm tracks, you know?

Patrick Donegan: Anybody could make music then and it didn't have to sound good because the people who then controlled the dances and stuff like that weren't musicians but they wanted to become musicians, so the real musicians had to sit down.

So you didn't take the tunes from the new album and go and test them in the dance?

Patrick Donegan: No.

George "Flee" Clarke: But we have no doubt that they would play anywhere in any dance, believe me!

You mentioned Bob Geldof earlier. What did you think about the controversy back in about 2005 with his Live 8 concert where several artists, including reggae artists, spoke up about the fact that there were no reggae artists and no African artists in the concert?

George "Flee" Clarke: At that point I was angry. I wasn't angry at Bob, I was angry at us for breaking up (laughs). We would have been there! That's the God's truth. We would have definitely been there.

The people who then controlled the dances wanted to become musicians, so the real musicians had to sit down

Final question, what's the next step?

Bryan Campbell: Well, promote this album and do some live shows.

Patrick Donegan: Do some live gigs.

Bryan Campbell: We've got a few lined up. Just hopefully do that and hope this album does really well, and then certainly start working on the second album. George has got loads of songs.

Will it be mostly new compositions or unheard compositions?

George "Flee" Clarke: Well, yes really just talking to you what has come over strong, there's a split as to whether you want to go down, let's call it roots, or you want to go down a fusion. It's so difficult to separate the two. I'm really excited about the fusion side of things, especially the way Bryan and Patrick work and some of the stuff that went down that road. I'm really looking forward to that, so when you think about writing, you're writing with that in mind, that these two are really going to take it to another level.

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