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Interview: Peter Hunnigale

Interview: Peter Hunnigale

Interview: Peter Hunnigale

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"Steve Jobs' name is ironic. People LOST jobs because of what he thought was an innovative idea"


Usually when United Reggae talks to an artist they have something to announce or promote: an album release, a tour, even a book or a film in the pipeline. Not so, the butter-wouldn't-melt voiced lovers rock veteran Peter Hunnigale, who started as a guitarist and bassist in the late 70s and went to on to record for labels including Fashion Records, Ariwa, and his own Street Vibes imprint, picking up multiple awards and chart successes (such as 1989's Raggamuffin Girl with Tippa Irie) along the way. Since his last album, 2009's self produced 'Reggae Ville', the singer has been taking things easy, doing a little production, and a variety of community based projects. But this period of downtime made him perfectly placed to give some heartfelt and fascinating views on the music industry to Angus Taylor when they met in Brixton at the end of February - a few of which may surprise...

Peter Hunnigale

What are you working on right now?

I'm just freewheeling. It sounds a bit absurd but I'm just doing what I want. I've just produced a song with Wendy Walker, a cover version of Mary J Blige, called Hurt Again where she's getting a lot of attention from radio stations. Then there's also a duet I've done with Michael Lloyd Pinq. I'm also doing a bit of international work with the Japanese doing bits of lovers stuff and a lot of dub work for sounds like Iration Steppas where I've been rebuilding a lot of their tracks and refashioning some of the 70s steppers stuff which is a lot of fun! A totally different fit! But I'm a musician so I enjoy making music and production so that's my love at the moment. It's really one of the best places I could be - it's still keeping my hands and mind working and keeping the joints greased!

But you have still been making a big impact on reggae in the live arena in your now established role as compère of Don Chandler's Reggae In Da City monthly event at Cottons in Exmouth Market. It's a free night where people can see big names, join in themselves and network, whatever they want. Talent shows have always been a part of reggae and it's taken the best bits of the talent show format and put them back into a new format at a time when live music is the one thing that seems to be staying vital.

Don is my bass man in a band we put together just before last year called True Vibes. His concept was telling people come and do your reggae thing, sing if you want to sing and a few of my colleagues will play some music behind you. It's a totally different role for me and it's come at a really good time because my mind's sort of everywhere at the moment. Sometime last year that it actually started to sprout legs and start moving on its own and then we thought "We've really got something here!" It's threatening that we need a bigger venue! Because this thing could really blow up!

Where do you see it going next?

I'm interested in getting the record companies in now to get some of their acts in. We don't care what you're up to - pop whatever - if you've got a new signing get them to come down and use Reggae In Da City as a platform as part of a portfolio for the artist. Have you done a bit of reggae? Have you done live open mic stuff in a venue? Come and test your bones out and get your record company in here at the same time. I really want to make it a platform where major acts who have probably just come out for a drink for the night can say "Yeah I'll have a go at that! Give us the mic! I might be from the rock world but I'll do a blues ballad on a reggae track".

The emphasis of Reggae In Da City is weird and wonderful - it has to be

It's somewhere you can see a Michael Prophet or a Christopher Ellis but you can also see something really unusual like the violinist Namhee playing a tribute to Dennis Brown. What's been your favourite Reggae In Da City moment?

I've had several. On one of the first nights there was a lady who was slightly inebriated and wanted to sing Hurts So Good by Susan Cadogan. So I said "Ok, in for a penny, in for a pound"! Now this woman was el blotto - she was close to caving in! - but she got up there and even though she could barely stand up she got through the whole song! Another one was Linda Duru - a black woman who came from Scotland who came up and sung Summertime. So when I asked to introduce herself and she said "Hi my name's Linda" in a Scottish accent I knew the London audience would be so messed up by that! I mean, we've seen Indian people speaking Scottish but a black chick was so weird! Then there's Lexi Eccles! She's got a great voice. I think the emphasis of Reggae In Da City is weird and wonderful  - it has got to be.

Your job is to work very closely with the band. How does being a musician help you as a singer compared to singers who've never picked up an instrument.

It's put me years ahead of most artists who cannot play an instrument. And that's the majority of artists in the music industry. Maxi doesn't play, Tippa doesn't play, Michael Gordon, Paul Dawkins, a lot of my colleagues just sing. In that area of the game I hold well and it's given me no end of advantage of what I need to do and what I understand about music. It also means I won't be broke! (laughs) I'll always have a bit of dosh! It's a valuable language and skill.

As a Brixtonian you will be aware the cancellation or possible postponement of Lambeth Country Show 2012 due to the Olympics. But on a wider level free local festivals have been being eroded for years. As someone who has seen the ups and downs of the industry - does reggae music do better or worse in hard times when the government has less money?

Peter HunnigaleReggae music has never been funded so in times of good or bad we just move at the same speed all the time. When we have a recession it doesn't affect reggae music because we've never been funded anyway. It's perhaps not a good way of seeing things but reggae will survive because of it. Yes the industry has been going down. My greatest cry is seeing record shops disappear. I hate it so. Record shops to me are a great place to be and a point where you can get reference to what's happening with music. It's got to the point where you can't buy a decent a decent cd anywhere (I won't buy one that's been burned). But we still continue to make reggae music and if we really have to make it available we've got iTunes which I'm not happy with but it's there as an outlet.

The problem with iTunes is the files.

Everything is a compression ratio. ITunes have got m4p files. They're all lossy files, they all have a compression ratio to them where they knock off the top and the bottom frequencies and tell you you only listen to certain frequencies between 100hz and 10k and to some degree they might have a point. But analogue was going from 20hz right up to 20,000 (although at our age we won't be able to hear more then 12-15K!) (laughs) But if you listen to some of the old well recorded analogue you've got so much bottom end there and top end that we can hear and it's so fabulous. I'm not a fan of mp3s and m4ps and joe public doesn't understand that it's just the same as listening to a cassette tape which is a second generation recording. People have substituted quality recording for second generation recording and saying it's quality. How can that be quality? This is what they're spending a whole quid for - a second generation recording. They don't understand. So I am not a fan of iTunes.

My greatest cry is seeing record shops disappear. I hate it so

You're not a fan of Apple in general are you?

Steve Jobs' name is ironic. People LOST jobs because of what he thought was an innovative idea for his company Apple who didn't give a toss about the music industry or any industry. It's like "I make computers, and I'm going to show that I can put teacups on my computers, I can put tables on, I can put anything on" and that's what he did. It was nothing to do with the benefit of mankind or making life better. When they came up with downloading your music through iTunes a lot of the artists were told "You're never going to make any money off of it". What do you get for iTunes downloads now? 20 pence? 30 pence? We can never run an industry off of it. Record companies let me down. They should have fought back for their industry and said "You can make your iPad but you ain't putting not one of our records on there. You're not going to use our industry to sell your product. You're a computer company. If you're going to do that make sure you two thirds or at least a third back to the industries you are taking from" and I'm sure Apple would have said "That's too much".

These days kids play music on their phones and rip files from YouTube which may explain the lack of bass in a lot of music these days...

I think a lot of this could have been stopped. I know the internet's territorial and what you can accept in the UK is different from what you can accept in China but in terms of the laws here we could have protected the industry here a long time ago. They could have upheld our intellectual property rights and said to people in the UK that "You cannot put people's music on the internet without a contractual agreement." People have got used to downloading our music free on the internet and once you get used to music being free on the internet they want to get it free on their phones and it's easy for a company to sell their phones on the back of that. That's how that culture grew and it's what people expect now but that doesn't make it right. That's not right at all. People say it's the way forward. It's not the way forward. They need to stop doing that with our music - which was an electronics based industry. We were electronics not computers.

I asked Tippa this a few years ago, but what's the difference between the way people collected sound tapes back in the day and sharing music on the internet?

Soundtapes were a specialist thing. You couldn't go into a shop and get a soundtape. People weren't standing at the tube station selling soundtapes! You'd have to get it from someone who was in the session like the soundman himself, Saxon, because it's got to come from his machine and then he decides to sell a couple of these tapes at two, three quid a go. Yes, people could have sold them on our whatever but it wasn't an industry, it was more of a specialist thing. I think what we have today is an expected thing where the government's given way to people being able to download songs for free without prosecution and it's a standard, widespread thing now. That's the difference. The creative art is not seen as as important as Wembley football, the Olympics, or Wimbledon. "Oh you sing, dance, and prance around on stage? Oh you write books? You make films? Get a real job". But if it's the football? "If we see you selling a counterfeit ticket we'll lock you up mate". The creative arts are not respected in this country.

The creative arts are not respected in this country

This is quite an old one but what did you think of the BBC's Reggae Britannia the concert and TV series - now that dust has settled?

As much as people don't like and don't want to hear it - I get it. The reason I get it is because it was Britain's view of what reggae music was. It wasn't a black man's point of view. It wasn't Brixton's point of view. It wasn't a Jamaican's point of view. It was from Britain's point of view and this is why you had songs from The Specials. And they did do well to bring in some of the classic acts like Dennis Alcapone and Big Youth. It's what Britain recognizes as reggae music so I can't go along with some of the problems or issues that some people have about it. People say "Peter Hunnigale - you should have been on there" and I say "Bless you and thank you for that love" but that is not what Britain recognizes as reggae music. From the late 60s today black people didn't just listen to reggae music alone. You had an English white community who loved reggae music and those that can remember Top Of The Pops will know it had a healthy attendance of reggae music going through the charts - Dave and Ansell, Tito Simon, Desmond Dekker, I loved that about coming up through the sixties. It's Britain's perspective on reggae music so I didn't have any complaints.

You were in the Story Of Lovers Rock film, which very well received, but of course some people also criticized it for not telling the whole story. With a title like that then people may take it literally - even if they accept no one was going to call it "A bit of Lovers Rock".

(laughs) That's never going to happen. The essence of the story was never a documentary of lovers rock. That's why it didn't feature a lot of people who should have been in there. Basically it was the filming of a show that we put together at the Academy for UK lovers rock music and then through a bit of politics this film culminated from it. That show was nothing to do with the history of lovers rock but the only way that the filmmakers and producers and people that filmed it could make some benefit from what they had done on the night - and that's putting it in a nice way - was to make a film of it. Cut it up into bits and pieces with the traditional lovers rock artists and then get someone to narrate in between the bits and pieces, make a story out of it, then call it The Story Of Lovers Rock. This is why we have all the holes in there but as you say even if it didn't you'd still have people saying "why wasn't I in there?" because everyone's got their memories of what lovers rock was and even if someone only did two songs that could be what was their memory of what was iconic from the time.

From the late 60s to today black people didn't just listen to reggae music alone

Tippa Irie told me a few years back that you are his favourite singer. Is he your favourite deejay?

There is a bias that I have but if you ask me? Yes he is the best deejay in the world. I could be hated for that statement! (laughs) But I'm going to say yes because the camaraderie is going to be solid. I do have lots of great deejays that I love. Chukki Starr is a great British deejay, Starkey Banton, even Horseman who plays drums and is a deejay. You've got Macka B up in the midlands who is quite respected and I think he's fabulous as well. But as a working deejay right now Tippa Irie is really flying the flag for UK artists. There are different flavours of deejay and everyone is going to have their favourites but Tip is iconic of what's going on.

I set you up for my final question, which again I asked Tippa, and made sure it was the last question in case it went sour - but you're from South London so why do you support Arsenal?

(laughs) That's probably why! Because we're from South London. You had a couple of teams closer to home like Crystal Palace - who actually aren't doing too badly now. I'm a bit older than Tippa but not by much - I've always liked Arsenal. I'm not as avid a football nut as Tippa because he's got his season passes and everything. But for a London club when I was at school and what we represented Arsenal was always the team for as long as we remember from George Graham coming right through to Arsene Wenger which I'm not too happy about at the moment. I think he's doing some really wrong things. If Harry Redknapp was manager of Arsenal we'd be alright mate.

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Read comments (2)

Posted by Christiane Nicely on 05.19.2012
Very nicely done, Angus - as usual! :-)

Posted by Suzi on 08.20.2012
When is the new song out by Wendy Walker Hurt Again, I been searching everywhere for it. Thanks

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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