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Interview: Roy Ellis

Interview: Roy Ellis

Interview: Roy Ellis

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"Everybody from all over the world call me The Boss Skinhead"


We met Jamaican singer Roy Ellis (aka Mr. Symarip) on November 10th, while he was playing in Toulouse, France with TSF at La Semaine du Ska.

He talked about his successful album Skinhead Moonstomp in 1969 with the band Symarip, how skinhead reggae movement started, how he started his solo gospel career when the band broke up in 1988 and how he went back to reggae in 2006 after meeting Laurel Aitkel that named him Mr. Symarip.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Roy Ellis, coming from Kingston, Jamaica, where all started. At now I have the name Roy Ellis aka Mr Symarip. That’s what everybody knows me from all over the world. That’s why they call me "The Boss Skinhead" [Laugh]. I didn’t gave myself that name. People just call me "The Boss" because of the Skinhead Moonstomp album. Nobody never say Roy to me. They just say "Hello Boss". So I’m the Boss.

What is Skinhead Reggae?

Skinhead reggae is the name that our songs got. We took the ska music, the rocksteady, the reggae and we combined these 3 rhythms together with a different talk. Because the normal reggae from Jamaica, a lot of the young white people, they couldn't dance to it. But they could dance to our reggae. Because we made it a little more faster. So automatically they branded my music and called it skinhead reggae. All those kids could dance to it and do the ska. So I didnt called it skinhead reggae. The skinheads called it skinhead reggae. And that’s why they gave me the name "The Boss from the Skinhead Reggae".

Can you tell us about your album Skinhead Moonstomp with Symarip in 1969 that was a big success?

We know that we had a lot of skinhead followers in England those days. We went to the studio and before we used to record with Eddy Grant under the name of The Pyramids.

We went to the studio and it was a jam thing. The album Skinhead Moonstomp was a jam thing. We were just there because we had the studio free. We were just jamming in the 4-tracks studio as we had nothing else to do.

Then we tried to put the record out but couldn't because we were still under contract with Eddy Grant. We couldn't use the name to put out our record or they would put us to court. They told us we could never use the name Pyramids to promote the record so we spelled the name back way without the D, pronouced Symarip.

Derrick Morgan came at that time with the new record called Moon Hop. The producer and the record company told us "You have some of the skinhead followers. Why don't you do something for the skinheads?" So we started with Derrick Morgan rhythm and used the "Yeah yeah yeah" and I created the lyrics without writing them. Just talking what came out of my head. And it came to be a big success. It was a coincidence. It wasn't planned. The album went number 5 in the Hit parade. This album Skinhead Moonstop made history because it was released 8 times in 47 years.

Did this album play a role to introduce Jamaican music to England and Europe?

This music was already in Jamaica many years before. But Symarip was the first reggae band to have a record in the Hit parade.

And when we made the Skinhead Moonstomp album, because we had so many skinhead followers, they just branded us a skinhead band.

So Symarip was the first ever skinhead band in England. 12 years later came Specials, Bad Manners, Selectors... They said it was a new wave and it was called skinhead reggae. But all come from me.

What happened with the band Symarip?

The band was broken up in 1988 in Finland. We were touring there and we got conflict. We've been together from the school days in England. When you live with a woman all these years, sometimes the marriage break up.

Everybody got their own opinions. One says this, one says that. It's a democratic band. Everybody have something to say. I don't agree with you, you don't agree with me. Confusion. We couldn't take it anymore so we just broke up.

After the end of the band in 1988, I went to do solo, I went to the gospel music and soul. I made a very big career in Switzerland with gospel. Then I met Laurel Aitken in 2006 and he is the one that told me I should go back on the road because Symarip would never tour anymore, under the name Symarip.

You came back in music at that time ?

I only started to tour again in 2005, 2006 with this music.

I myself was the writer for the song Skinhead Moonstomp and the singer of the song and everyone know my face. So Laurel said "You are the man, go there and do the song but you can’t go as Roy Ellis." Nobody knows me as Roy Ellis, they know me as Symarip. Laurel said "Go out as Roy Ellis, Mr Symarip." Laurel gave me the name Mr Symarip.

What about reggae music today?

As Bob Marley said when he was asked "How far do you think reggae in going to reach ?", reggae will keep going and going and going until it reach the right people. And it did. Because reggae is in every part of the planet. India, Columbia, Argentina, Brasil, all over the place, in America most places, Las Vegas, they went crazy.

So we always have the reggae around. Now the young people who use to play raggamuffin and dancehall music, they are going back now to reggae. Because they found out that it is the Jamaican culture.

That's all folk music we should keep alive. And we are so happy. I want to thank everybody who buy the records from all the Jamaican artists and have a great with Jamaican folk music.

So thank you very much and keep buying and listening to Jamaican music. And make it more popular than ever. Sayonara. [Laugh]

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