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Interview: Carlton Manning in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Carlton Manning in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Carlton Manning in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 2 comments

"A good love song will never die"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview here.

In part 2 of our exclusive interview with Carlton Manning, he explains how the Abyssinians got the idea for Satta Amassagana, shares his memories of Dennis Brown in England, and looks forward to visiting again after 40 years…

Carlton Manning

How did your song Happy Land inspire the Abyssinians?

Love Me Forever started making waves and my brother Donald Manning, he was a groom at Caymanas Park race track. He used to look after racehorses. He kept a dance down Gregory Park, where Caymanas Park is. I took my guitar and another guy I was singing with at the time. I plugged the guitar into the sound system and we started playing a couple of songs and the people didn’t want the sound system to play again! They wanted us to sing all night. Then my brother said “Man, I have to get into this” and I must lend him my guitar.

I lent him my guitar and then he left Caymanas Park and stopped looking after horses and came up to where I live, it was my daddy’s place. I showed him a few chords on the guitar and there came Satta Amassagana. But then Satta Amassagana was made from Happy Land. It was made from Happy Land. Because if you know the song then you know the first [lines] – every word, the whole concept is Happy Land. Happy Land says “There is a land… far, far away… where there is no night… and only day”. That is the same thing Satta Amassagana said. The same very words. They just changed the melody. But then if you analyse the thing, at the end of every verse it comes back to “The land far, far away”. That’s how Happy Land was slated and that’s how Satta Amassagana was done – it comes right back at the end of every verse to the land far away.

Satta Amassagana was made from Happy Land

So then my publishers Westbury learned of what took place and they took it to court. So now I get 25% of every Satta. Rhythm or no rhythm – I get 25% of it. My brother doesn’t like that. I could have claimed the song but because at the time I had membership with the PRS and my brothers were just coming up with a song and they didn’t know anything about PRS or PPL or whatever. And because I wanted them to get membership in the PRS that’s why I didn’t claim the song. I told my brother “Look, you’re infringing on my copyright, but you’re my brother and that’s how I’m going to make it go along”.

And he said that in an interview to Anya [McCoy, Beat Magazine, 1997]. He told her what happened. She said to him “Look, how did you make Satta Amassagana?” and he said to her “Well, my brother Carlton made a song and it was saying whatever and we took the song and we made Satta from it and we didn’t know we were infringing on his copyright”. But he said to me “Well, you’re my brother and I’m going to make it go because I want you to get recognition from the PRS”. He told Anya that in an interview and Westbury got the interview so they took it to court. Everything is in the interview and he said that with his own mouth. So I don’t see why he’s mad at me because of that.

You haven’t put that behind you?

Yeah, he’s mad at me. He doesn’t talk to me at all. He comes to Jamaica and not even a phone call. And you know the part that I don’t like? He called me when he fell out of grace with the lead singer Bernard Collins and said they weren’t singing with him anymore. He called me and said “Carlton could you come and sing some lead with us? We have work to do and no lead singer”. I said “What happen to Bernard?” he said “We’re not singing together no more” and I said “Alright, I’ll help you for a while”. I thought I would have been with the Abyssinians for maybe a month or two. I ended up singing lead with the Abyssinians for eight and a half years.

I ended up singing lead with the Abyssinians for eight and a half years

Then, when I got to thinking that Carlton and his Shoes were on the shelf and I was making progress with the Abyssinians for eight and a half years and no one was hearing about me. We went to France five times. I think ‘98 or ‘99 was the last year. We did Maritime Hall in the US in 1999. But then what really got to me is that I’m singing like 18-19 Abyssinians songs every night – some from my brother, some for Bernard – then one song on the programme for me, Love Me Forever.

Every time they started playing the introduction for Love Me Forever people would get up and start taking their partners to dance. I said “Man, look at that, they’re getting up to dance” and my brother said to me “You think you gonna hear that again? You not going to hear that again” and took Love Me Forever off the programme. I thought that was an asset to his programme. I said “Man”. Every song you do, they write it down and you get 10 or 15 cents for each song that is performed every night. And the one where I could get ten cents or a dollar from it – he took it off the programme.

So you left?

So I said “When this tour is finished I’m going to finish my LP and go to London with it”. And when I left at the end of that 6 week tour I came home, I finished my album and I booked my ticket to London. On the very night before I was going to London my brother calls me up and says “Carlton, we have a show fi do. You have to come tomorrow”. I said “Uh-uh, I’m going to England tomorrow”. He said “No, you have to change the flight”. I said “I can’t change the flight” and he said “Yeah man, you come tomorrow” and put down the phone. The next morning I went to London and I haven’t been back with the Abyssinians since.

That was about 1999 or somewhere about. He’s furious. He didn’t want that. He thinks I should have been singing with the Abyssinians until now but that didn’t work. It didn’t work for me. It worked for him. I started this thing, in my family. I’ve got three posters from Japan. I’ve been to Japan three times. Being in the Abyssinians doesn’t afford me the pleasure of touring all over the world and doing my thing. If I’m doing their thing my thing is squashed. I said “No more of that”. He’s not comfortable with that. If he wants to get vexed then I prefer he’s vexed than I have to do his thing and I’m vexed. Doing that I’m uncomfortable and when I don’t do it he’s uncomfortable. Well, I prefer to be comfortable. He can do his thing. I’m doing mine. That’s where I’m at.

I started this thing in my family

How did you first link with Dennis Brown?

Dennis Brown came to Studio 1 when I was there. I was there maybe six or nine months before Dennis Brown came there. He was just about 13 years old. He was my friend. Everybody loved Dennis Brown. EVERYBODY loved Dennis Brown! A very good artist.

I gave him two songs. He went back to London and started his own record shop DEB Music. Him and his wife and Castro Brown. When he came back to Jamaica in 1980 I gave him two songs I had produced for myself. I did two songs for him and he produced two songs for me and took them back up and released them in London and I gave him two songs that I had produced for him to release up there. When he came back he gave me a couple of dollars for the sales he had down there and then he took me to London.

I went to the British Embassy to get a visa to enter London and I was turned down. They turned me down and they put a circle in my passport with an X in it. So I couldn’t get my ticket. I went back for the money and when Dennis came I said “Bwoy, Dennis, I paid for the ticket and they turned me down”. He said “Well, you shouldn’t go up there”. At that time artists didn’t need a visa to go to London. You’d just buy a ticket and you’d fly in. I didn’t know that. So he said “OK, bring the money, I’ll take you to London”. I said “But them mark my passport” and he said “You bring it, come”. Me and him went down to the travel office and said to the lady “I want one one way ticket and a two way ticket” and she said “He doesn’t have no visa” and Dennis said “He’s travelling with me”. The lady said again “He doesn’t have a visa” and Dennis said “Do you hear what I said? He is travelling with me”. So she gave us the two tickets and I went to London.

Did you have any problems entering the UK?

When I got to London well, that’s where the trouble began because my passport was marked clearly that I was turned down in Jamaica. But seeing that I was there, I was in the immigration place and Dennis was there until about 5.30 in the evening and I was there from about 10 in the morning. He was there with me all day and then he said “I’m tired. I’m going home to rest but anything – you call me”. I was sitting there until about 7 o’clock and then I heard on the intercom a woman’s voice saying “Do you have a Mr Carlton Manning there? Why is he down there? He is my guest you know and he’s new to this country! You want to kill him? He will die of cold! He’s not used to this weather! Are you going to send him to me or should I come and get him?” Then they turned it off. They found out that we could hear what was being said and they turned it off.

Then a couple of minutes after this man from Immigration came to me and said “We are going to allow you to go and stay with your friends”. This was Monday and they said “You’ve got to come back here on Wednesday and bring all your things”. So Wednesday morning I came back to the airport with all my things. I was there all day and then in the evening at about 7 o’clock there comes an Immigration officer and he says to me “We are going to allow you to go back and stay with your friends. Do you think you can do that?” I said “Yes, I am always welcome” and they said “OK, well you come back here on Saturday and you bring all your things”.

I didn’t know I was being watched but that was what they were doing. They were watching me because I was turned down so they thought I might run off. I came back and when I came back the second time I was there all day again on Saturday and then they said to me “Look here, we’re going to allow you to go and come back with your friends. You come back here on Monday morning and bring all your things”. So in all, I got about eight or ten days in London. And when I got back there on Monday I came on back. Before I left London, Dennis Brown came in and he said “When I come back, we come back together”.

Was it any easier the second time?

Carlton ManningI was there for six months and Dennis didn’t come. He went to California with his wife, having a holiday. I just went back up to the British Embassy. Because Dennis had gone to Count Shelly who had this big recording thing in London and had these big offices. I was in negotiation with him for an album I took to London. So Shelly had sent a letter to Immigration telling them that we are in negotiation for an album and it would take whatever amount of time for us to complete that. The letter that was given to Immigration was given to me when I was going to the plane. I took that up to the British Embassy so they stamped me six months from here and I went back to London and everything was smooth running there.

But me and Dennis were good friends. I knew all his family and his children. I was staying in his house when I was there in Finsbury Park. His mother-in-law had a house in Finsbury Park and that’s where he was. Yvonne has his children. So that was me and Dennis Brown.

Let me tell you something. I will never forget Dennis Brown. I loved that man as I loved my brother. So much that I got this shirt. Dennis took me to the store and said “Tek what you want” and I took three shirts. That was 1981 and I’ve still got one of them. I’ll never do away with that shirt. Dennis paid for those things and he said “Them only give you a couple of days” and he took me to another store and said “Get a suitcase” and I took up a little suitcase and he carried it back and took a bigger one. He carried me to the Clarks store and said “I know you’re a Clarks man, tek what you want”. He carried me to another store and said “Tek what you want”. I was getting things in my suitcase to come home with because I was just going to be there a couple of days and wouldn’t have achieved anything, so Dennis was seeing that I came home with something.

I will never forget Dennis Brown

I’ll show you that shirt! I still have it! From 1981 I have that shirt and I will never part with it! Dennis gave me three shirts. Somebody stole one of them and I gave away one. Dennis Brown. I’ll never forget that guy. (shows picture) I took this album to London [This Heart Of Mine] and this was the shirt I was wearing.

How does it feel to be performing at the London International Ska Festival on a boat with U Roy?

It feels great. I haven’t been in London for quite a while and I have family there. I’m going to need two or three days to get to my family who are there. It is too near to get there and come back out in three days.

I have my niece there and she left Jamaica when she was nine years old and now she’s over 50. I haven’t seen her since. But we talk on the phone and I love her as much as I love my daughter. My brother’s child. He is dead now so she’s saying I am daddy now. Man I love her to death as much as I love her mother. That’s my very first niece. I need to spend one day with her and her mother as well. I haven’t seen them in 40 years.

But I think it’s going to be a good experience on that boat and I’m going to do what I do best. Sing some songs. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to give it my all when I get there. I just hope my throat is in good condition because that weather! I can never get used to the weather in London. I’m going to try to keep as clear as I can to do the best that I can when I get there.

I can never get used to the weather in London

Now the harmonies that I do… I have a problem getting background singers. Because most of my songs… you have to be on a minor scale… so whoever is doing the background you have to know your scales. If you are in a seven scale you have to stay in that scale. If you leave from seven to nine then you have to stay where you are at and keep in the scale you are supposed to be in – otherwise it won’t sound good.

Sometimes I have problems in getting background singers and because of that, when I do recording most of the time I do most of the harmonies myself. I know what to do so I just do it. Instead of having a person where you have to be spending hours in the studio for them to perfect one song, I can do what I have to do in two or three minutes. Only when it comes to concert business or what I have to do now I need harmony singers. I can’t do it myself. Most of the songs that I played it did it myself. But to be honest that song I just played you [Promise Me] I didn’t do the harmonies myself. I paid two women to do it. I guided them along and they did it quite nicely.

Why do you think ska and rocksteady are still so popular today?

I had some ska songs when I went to Studio 1 but they didn’t record them because ska was being scaled down when I got there – they were into rocksteady. Rocksteady is a slowing down of ska. Ska is a faster music. You slow it down. Let me tell you something. Rocksteady is the greatest music that ever came out of Jamaica. Rocksteady will never die.

Now they are saying France is the home of reggae music. France is playing ska and rocksteady. Germany has a lot of ska bands right now. Japan has ska bands. I was up there last year and I was backed up by two Japanese bands and those people are playing ska like – whoa – you wouldn’t believe that was not the Skatalites playing! They are real good at it. Jamaica doesn’t have many ska bands right now.

Rocksteady is the greatest music that ever came out of Jamaica

What these guys are doing now, I don’t even call it music. What the now people that say they are singers are doing? I don’t even know what to call it because I don’t know if they are talking or they’re singing or they’re chanting or whatever. Sometimes there is no music behind it. They don’t have musicians. They use a computer and do some stupid things. Now, some of those rhythms are very attractive but it’s what you are doing on the rhythm. And sometimes they are really saying something but it’s the way they put it. It is not attractive. Younger people, they go after the beat, and sometimes what the person is saying really does make sense but it isn’t attractive to people that really know about music.

So the young people may grasp at it because these guys talk the raw Jamaican patois and that’s what most of the people talk so the younger people can understand what they are saying but if you heard it you wouldn’t understand what they are really saying. Maybe you would get some of the words but what they are doing now is a Caribbean music. It’s not Jamaican. It’s mixed up with soca and calypso and the poco thing. It’s mixed up with all different genres and things.

It’s not like the ska and the rocksteady where you have a direct path where you can feel the music and see what’s being done and you can adapt to it. All over the place people were coming from outside and wanting to be in collaboration with Jamaican artists because the Jamaicans were getting on the Billboard charts in America. You had a lot of good singers in America that were not getting on the Billboard charts. Jamaican music was being plastered all over the Billboard charts. So the Americans came here to be in collaboration with us so they could get on the Billboard charts. Now, they start getting on the Billboard charts. Now, what these guys do now is they start adapting what the Americans used to do, so they aren’t getting on the Billboard charts anymore. They Americans are doing their thing and they are adapting the Jamaican thing. It doesn’t make sense to me really. I am not getting off of my thing. I’m going to stay on my thing because I love it. That’s where I’m at.

What these guys are doing now, I don’t even call it music

You’re still busy with your music…

I’m always making new music. That’s what I have to do. I think I’m gifted for writing love songs. I do some positive stuff as well but love songs are my thing. Love songs never die. A good love song will never die. When my bones and my grandchildren’s bones are rotten Love Me Forever will be right up there. 200 years from now that song will never stop playing. I’m always making dubplates off that song. Dubplates for sound systems of Love Me Forever. I make dubplates of other songs but Love Me Forever is outstanding. iTunes has my songs selling but I mostly get paid from Love Me Forever. Now I started to get some fees from Sweet Feeling but Love Me Forever is the song that accumulates cash the most from iTunes.

Just a couple of months ago, some Japanese communicated with iTunes and told them that I don’t have the rights to be selling Sweet Feeling. iTunes emailed me and told me that if I don’t clarify that statement they are going to take Sweet Feeling off the selling list. That’s the first song where I used my own cash to record. The Japanese did that. I don’t know why.

So then I just emailed iTunes and let them know that “about 40 years ago I wrote Sweet Feeling. I produced a recording of it and I released it in London. And in fact, my songs are recorded with PRS and Westbury Music in London so therefore I don’t know why somebody would want to do this now. Furthermore, I think that is a fraudulent action and should be regarded as such.” I signed my name to that. So iTunes must have contacted PRS to find out if what I said was true because now I am getting royalties from Sweet Feeling, so they are still selling it. But then I don’t see why some Japanese would want to do that?

They must have got a bootleg and wanted to put it out themselves?

They wanted to claim the song. But they didn’t know the roots of it. They didn’t know that I had it and that it is recorded with PRS and Westbury from 1970 or something like that. I recorded that song in Randy’s studios, downtown Kingston in about 1970 or ’71. Pepe Judah, this guy who had studios in London, his brother and him, they had an outlet where they used to sell. He came to Jamaica and he bought 150 copies of that song from me at wholesale price and they went back to London and bootlegged the song and sold about 9 million copies of it. In fact they got two girls to sing it over.

When I went there to London in 1981 Dennis took me right up to the office where those guys had bootlegged the thing and he gave me £250 pounds. I said “Well, I don’t want that” and Dennis took me to one side and said “Take what you can get in your hand right now”. So I took it and signed that I took it. And when I went back six months after I went back in that office because he said “When you come back I’ll give you something” he said “Well, I paid you already”. But they had sold tons of it.

How are you surviving in the business today? Dubplates, iTunes and shows?

I am not complaining. I don’t have a lot of money but I am not hungry. I’m semi comfortable with what I’ve got. There are a lot of folks that haven’t achieved what I have achieved. I have health. Proper health, says the doctor. No sugar, no pressure, nothing at all. I am alive and well. I’m not feeling any pain at all and I can find my dinner. I don’t need anything else.

I’ve just got to give God thanks every day that I wake up and say “Thank you that I’m alive. I woke up this morning. If you didn’t want me to wake up then I wouldn’t wake up”. I go straight to sleep and he wakes me up when he feels like. And that’s all right with me. All I’ve got to do is do all the good I can to all the people I can when I can. I don’t care about anything else. I’m here. Thank God for that. I can find what I want and God is always with me so I give thanks. 

PLEASE NOTE: THE VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE ARE THOSE OF CARLTON MANNING AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THOSE OF ANGUS TAYLOR OR UNITED REGGAE.

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Read comments (2)


Posted by tftka dawidalle on 03.14.2016
Thanks Carlton and Angus for this insightful and inspirational innerview.

Posted by Wailinmacs on 04.01.2016
Great interview ! The Heart throbs album is a masterpiece.

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