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Interview: Beres Hammond (2012)

Interview: Beres Hammond (2012)

Interview: Beres Hammond (2012)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - Comment

"All I want is love from people, genuine love"


Anyone who thinks there is a time limit on success in popular music should take note and inspiration from the example of Anotto Bay, Jamaica's Beresford Hammond. Hammond had a respectable career during the 1970s as an adolescent frontman to soulful reggae group Zap Pow but blossomed into a megastar in the 80s and 90s, working with producers including Willie Lindo, Fatis Burrell and Donovan Germain, as well as his for his own Harmony House label. Renowned as a singer and writer of witty observant love songs (a skill he puts down to being one of the only boys in a family mainly composed of girls), Hammond is also an underrated chronicler of reality themes. Both sides are given voice on his new double album, 'One Love One Life', his 19th, released this week. Angus Taylor spoke to reggae's 57 year old fine wine as he was celebrating a triumphant show at London's Wembley arena about his loves, his life and, most importantly, his laughs, of which there are more than a few...

Beres Hammond

Your new album is as double album - did you feel you had more to share this time?

Every day that passes, one has new experiences. Some experiences are unique. But you don't need to keep them to yourself, you need to share them with people. And so I always do it within a song. Share my experiences. If people like it then it might make a difference within their lives. Every single day I get a chance to sing a song about what I had learned today - it's a wonderful thing for me to do.

Every single day I get a chance to sing a song about what I learned today

Your songs can be full of big observations about the world - ecology, culture, love - but also small observations on the minutiae of human behaviour, what goes on in a party or a dance.

Yes, because, if you're not careful little things become big. Some little things might be negative ones that you might not pay attention to but because you pay no attention to them they just get big. So one has to address all these issues.

This album has been released in the year Jamaica celebrated its 50 years of independence. I notice some of the songs - Don't You Feel Like Dancing and Can't Waste No Time - have ska rhythms which is new for you. Coincidence?

It wasn't planned to release it now and that wasn't planned either! These songs were done about two years ago and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them. I just know I never sang on a ska rhythm before. The musicians were there and I said "Play some ska!" and they just got some chords and off we go. Then the folks who are selecting my songs heard them and said "We like these" and we put them on so.

You were a boy of 6 when independence was declared. Any memories of that time?

Yes! I remember they gave me a little cup made out of light enamel material with "Out of many, we are one" on it. They gave every child in the school one of those cups with a coat of arms and, I think, the national anthem written on the back of it, which everybody had to learn. So I have those memories and memories of when people gathered in a square, thousands of people from every community in Jamaica. Just fun, right through until morning! The next morning people just stopped to cook and you go to anybody's house and have a meal - they didn't have to know you! But everyone spared their money to provide for that one particular moment - that day and the day after - to say "Hey! I'm independent!" Beautiful time it was. And it was a time when I never thought I was poor. I thought I was a rich person and everybody in my community was rich - but that's because I never had responsibilities! (laughs)

Independence was a time when I never thought I was poor

The title track of the album is very honest in confronting the negativity you feel you face in the business but in a positive way. Why was the time right to share that?

(pauses for thought) In everybody's life you have adversaries. You have people who wish you well and people who wish you not so well. And it's hard when people closest to you give you an impression that they are all about you and they love you and things but at the same time you feel a different vibe. So I'm just humbly saying "Hey man, I still love you - just cut me some slack. It's just one love and life". And I do hope people will listen to those things because I am serious about it.

The album starts with the song No Candle Light, which is co-produced by Donovan Germain who you have been working with since 1990 and Tempted To Touch. What keeps your partnership so strong?

Beres HammondThat's because he is not just a producer. It started out that way but then we have built up a nice little friendship through the years where we share more than just songs in the studio. We think about life and we go and party! If he's going to a certain party he calls me and so it is a bit more than just the songs. If him or me have problems we can sit down and talk about them so that keeps that combination alive.

Donovan works with Romain Virgo who joined you on stage here in London to sing on the Feel Good rhythm. It felt like you were giving him your seal of approval.

I wanted to do that because of the state of reggae music presently. I know that people are still making very good songs reggaewise but they are not being played! A lot of youths out there want to do some reggae but they think to themselves "They are not playing reggae now. Let me go and do this other kind of music" that is not doing good for them. So I think it is my duty to stand up and say "Yow, kid! What you are doing is right. Give yourself some time, don't worry, it's going to take some time, and keep representing". That's the reason I brought him and Tarrus onstage - to say "Keep doing what you're doing".

People are still making very good songs reggaewise but they are not being played!

During Tempted To Touch you actually jumped into the crowd and met the fans.

Sometimes I wish I could reach out and shake everybody's hand but it's not possible. So what I do is touch everyone I can touch and hope that they pass it on. Because it makes me feel special, that's number one, and it also makes me feel like the work I have been doing through the years never fell on deaf ears. They came out to give me some love and the most I can do is touch them and say "Hey, pass it on!"

A lot of your lady fans really have strong feelings for you - do you worry you won't make it back in one piece?

No! (laughs) Sometimes they do crazy things still, though. Sometimes they pull your arm a little bit hard but I understand that somebody behind this person wants to touch you as well. But I don't worry about these things because when the music hit you, you feel no pain! (laughs)

Before you sang Rockaway you talked about how there were days gone by when you could go to dance and people treated each other with more respect. Could you elaborate?

That's what the business is lacking. We need a kind of music that makes people want to respect each other. We need that kind. I say that because I experienced a time when lovers rock and culture used to rule for years and we never had this kind of vibe. Men used to respectfully ask a lady for a dance. It doesn't happen anymore. People line up - the guys over there and the girls over here - and everybody's fashion. Hey, there's nothing wrong with fashion but can't we just enjoy fashion AND dance? It's not happening. So I've tried to create some songs to invite them to dance. Like my song In My Arms, all these songs are invitations - I just wish they would understand!

Men used to respectfully ask a lady for a dance. It doesn't happen anymore

One of the artists you mentioned on stage when talking about the old days was Peter Tosh who was honoured with the Order of Merit the day after the concert. Did you feel good about that?

Well deserved. He was my buddy. My brethren. He should have gotten all these accolades long before. Because, if you ask me, the Wailers were made up of three different kinds of people. They were all individuals. But for me Peter Tosh was THE revolutionary. He was never afraid to speak his mind, irrespective of the occasion or situation. He was the one who spoke out. Some of us would hide behind some lyrics and we never said it out straight "But this is what you should understand, this is what I mean". Peter was never like that. Peter would say "Unnu set of vampire!" (laughs) So I'm happy now that they are showing recognition to his works. Get Up Stand Up - that's Peter's song.

Would you like to be honoured by your country in the same way?

Honour me with some love. Give I love. People and organizations give me things in the form of plaques - and that's wonderful. All those accolades - keep them coming if that's the way you feel about Beres! But for me, all I want is love from people, genuine love.

BB Seaton of the Gaylads said there are four B's in reggae songwriting - himself, Bob Marley, Bob Andy and yourself. Is that a compliment you accept?

I'm one of the B's? That's a hell of a compliment. But guess what - we have lots of new writers and just for BB Seaton's sake, I hope their names don't just begin with B! (laughs) Because there are lots of folks that I really do think are fantastic writers. Like Mikey Bennett - there's a B! It's not his first name like others, but it is a B! (laughs)

Your daughter the Wizard is also making history as one of the few female producers in Jamaica.

You know about her? Oh, she is fine. I try not to get in her way. She's in the home and [mimes tapping keyboard] that's all she does! She makes some fantastic rhythms and some songs. She's quite a writer. She has some lyrics which I don't know where she gets them from. She just makes some crazy sounds man - sounds of the future! I really do appreciate her, for at least one of them has taken up this heavy burden I have been carrying for years. I'm happy that she's trying to make it lighter for me. But she's never by herself here, I'm telling you. My last album, Moment In Time, she did the title track. And since that time I've said "She no easy, she no normal" for real. They call her "Wizard" - I don't know why them call my daughter "Wizard"? I'm not sure if I like the wizard name! (laughs) But whatever people think, that's how it goes, I'm proud of her.

I don't know why them call my daughter "Wizard"? I'm not sure if I like the wizard name!

American soul music and reggae music, particularly your music, have a close relationship. Who are your favourite soul singers?

I can tell you who I started off with and tell you about the folks who made me want to sing. It's about three voices. Marvin Gaye was one. Then Otis Redding and Sam Cooke - who was my favourite. When I heard them back in the day I just wished that was Beres singing so I tried to imitate all of them. Then in Jamaica we had Alton Ellis and I wanted to sing like Alton so much! People used to say "But Beres you can sing! You don't have to sing like nobody!" Leave me alone! I want to sing like him today! (laughs) I had good mentors so I am happy that I took some lessons from all of them and made myself into what I am. I realised that I too have a voice.

How important is it to have a sense of humour in the business?

Too important. Because it is telling you that you are a regular guy. People tend to think  when you have a hit song or your name is called too much that you are out of this world. I never wanted anybody to conceive me as that! I am a normal person. If this weren't an interview, we would be talking a lot more shit, me and you! (laughs) I try to live every day in the life and love of the common people. That's how I get my inspiration. The good thing with me is that, when I got my first song, I am happy now that I was a little stupid, didn't know what recognition was about, only heard people calling my name and thought "Why people call my name so much? The song is so nice? It is so good?" So I kept away from the crowd for a minute because I couldn't believe it was me that they were laying all these things on. So it's very important to have a sense of humour every time. I live my life like that every day. Ask him! [asks his minder] At nights, when we sit down and I reason, it's pure laughter, right or wrong?

You can't remain stuck up because people don't want to be around you

MINDER: Correct, sir.

See? As soon as you finish, it starts! Till all hours of the morning. You can't remain stuck up because people don't want to be around you if they see you are not a welcoming person. I can only speak for me, but when I go to a stage show, when I get off whatever transportation I came on, I have noticed a lot of folks running towards me. My changing room is always jammed! People have to see something about you that makes them want to come. Because I have noticed other artists where they stay away from them. Like a mile! "I want to hear him because I like him but ...." So I am happy that I am one of those people that has a lot of light moments around me. My most serious moment is just before I get on stage. Where I want that little three minutes of reverence around me. And if even my friends are around me I take that moment for myself. I'm walking with them but I'm locked off from everybody. I always try to say a prayer because I think I'm going to fail if I go onstage without saying a prayer. And all I ask for is just to give me my voice to make me sing and make the people enjoy. That's all. I have done that for the past twenty odd years, for every show.

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