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Interview: Alpheus (Part 1)

Interview: Alpheus (Part 1)

Interview: Alpheus (Part 1)

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"Working with Coxsone Dodd was like working with my Dad"


Alpheus (Born Neil Martin, London, England) recorded his first album under the watchful eye of Coxsone Dodd. Since then he has recorded with Bim and Bost for French label Special Delivery and Spanish producer Roberto Sanchez for A-Lone. Angus Taylor talks to him in London about fate, Studio 1, and the hotspots for reggae in the world.

Alpheus was a Greek river god. Was this the inspiration behind your name?

My name comes from my father – Alpheus was his name. And when I decided I was going to be a singer I decided I have to give him nuff honour love and respect, and so my artist name was his name because we had such a great relationship – he was my best friend. He was a big inspiration for everyday life in general.

Tell us a bit more about your background.

I was born and bred in London England. My parents were from Jamaica – my Dad from Portland and my Mum from Manchester, and my Dad came over here in 1945 decided to stay and made us – I have a few brothers and sisters. And that’s really the foundation of me right there.

You first came to attention when you worked at Studio 1 for a while – what was that like?

Could you imagine!!! I left England in 1992 to pursue some new roads, try and see what was out there for me in life. And I just stumbled across this new path, this musical journey, you know? I was fortunate enough to meet Mr (Clement “Coxsone”) Dodd through Tony Brevett of the Melodians, and it was just like working with my Dad really, I’d just lost my Dad, and this was one hell of a substitute! It was great, because I had no intension of being a singer at all, and there I was in this… university.

A university of reggae?

Yeah man. That’s exactly what it is. You go there every day, they show you how to structure your songs, to harmonise, find your best range, talk you through your writing. Working with him was so cool.

And what were you planning to be before you became a singer?

I was a home design specialist, installing carpets and making sure things all looked nice. When went over to the US and met Mr Dodd I was originally over there for home furnishing business. But I was so glad that music came into my life, because basically by that time I’d had enough of that!

That ties in nicely to my next question. Your album’s called Everything For A Reason. Do you believe in fate?

Yes. I really do. I’ll tell you something – as you get older and more mature and you experience things you see some things happen and you think “Why? Why is it like this?” And good makes bad and bad makes good you know what I mean? And I’ve seen and experienced enough to definitely believe in fate. I believe if you walk out the door in five minutes time that will determine if you live an extra day, who you marry and so on.

So it’s best to stay in then?

(LAUGHS) Yeah man. Stay indoors! But yeah I’m a fate guy, I definitely believe in that. Things make things happen.

You’re a “proper” reggae singer in the mold of classic studio 1 – no frills, no gimmicks – who influenced you as a singer?

Thanks man. At the beginning it was Sam Cooke. He’s a singer’s singer. I had a friend who used to always play Sam Cooke in his van, and I used to watch Sam Cooke on the TV and that was a major influence. Then you had Don Carlos, Dennis Brown, and Michael Gordon who was an excellent Lovers Rock singer – a really compilation of talent that made me the complete package. Lots of other influences but too many to mention.

You’ve just come back from Portugal. How was that?

Yeah I was just over there doing a bit of promotion, making some links with It’s a really nice place, and, reggaewise, it just seems to be starting to range up, a lot of things are happening right now.

Where are you based these days?

Hmmm… that’s a good question! I’m not sure myself. I came back to Europe about four or five years ago, met up with my label Special Delivery, Pierre and JP, excellent guys, and because they’re based in France I found my self spending 80% of my time there. And in between spending time in London, Spain, because reggae is a great force right now in Europe I feel I’m in the right spot. But to be honest I couldn’t tell you where is home – I’m not really settled yet.

Which do you prefer – UK France Spain or US?

Tough one. For cost of living the continent is best, certainly not London. I find Spain to be really good – I’m recording in the North of Spain a lot for a label called A Lone who specialize in a lot of good rocksteady, roots and culture.

What did you think of Max Romeo’s recent statement that France is now the centre of reggae in the world?

I didn’t hear that, but I can understand where Max is coming from. As a traveling artist I find Europe is really coming along with reggae because the younger Europeans are really getting into it – the majority of the crowds are under 22. That shows how much it’s growing and how it’s it gonna continue to grow. You see a lot of that in France, but you see a lot of that in many countries. I couldn’t target one but I can see why Max feels that way. France is a good place for reggae.

Is that because in countries with more of a history of reggae, people think about reggae as what their parents listen to, whereas in these countries it’s all for the young to discover?

I think that’s exactly it, but there’s this other thing – the sound system. The sound is the one of the cores of reggae as we know from the days of Duke Reid and Dodd having those nice clashes at Forrestors Hall. This is instilled in reggae and makes it an interactive music. You don’t have to just buy reggae and enjoy it at home, you can be a dj, you can have your radio, internet radio, you can have your sound and play out. And that’s why it’s so stimulating for people who want to be more involved than just sitting and listening, and that’s why it’s growing so well in Europe.

Read part 2 of this interview.

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