Tommy Rash had an extended chat with dub reggae producer extraordinaire and all round ledgebag The Mad Professor. It starts off with calypso but takes in punk, ebola and even the Hot House fecking Flowers along the way. Jump to the end for details on how to nab tickets to his World Music Embassy gigs.
Do you remember the last time you were over in Ireland?
Laughs.. No I don’t! I think it might have been in Dublin, I think I did a show with a lady..an American soul singer and I did a mix for her, that was probably the last time that I came.
Yeah maybe 4 years ago?
Yeah, Marlena Shaw and I did a mix for her in Dublin, yes, about 4 or 5 years ago.
So it wasn’t a gig? No I didn’t do a gig.
So have you played in Ireland before? Oh yeah! Loads of times, I played Cork, I played Dublin, I played Galway. I did many places.
Oh right cool cool, so you’re no stranger to the place.
No no no, It’s been a little while since I did some of those places.
You’re originally from Guyana.
Well I was born in Guyana yes.
Can you tell us much about growing up there and what you remember about moving to England at a young age as well?
Well, Not really.. I mean… you’re talking fifty odd years ago now, yeah, just the normal things, kids playing in a yard and things like that.
I was gonna ask you about what kind of music was around you as a kid in Guyana?
Same as here, with probably a bit more calypso, a bit more reggae, early reggae, rocksteady, stuff like that.
I saw in one interview you said you were picking up a lot of reggae on stations from the Virgin Islands.
Yes, Radio Antilles.
And Calypso was very popular there as well was it?
Yeah man, that was the main diet of the sixties.
I kinda wish Calypso was still as popular as it was.
Hehe I know it’s a nice music isn’t it?
You’ve probably been to Trinidad and places like that, It’s still alive, but not half as strong as it was?
No, It’s got weaker, to be honest it’s got eclipsed by reggae and people don’t take it that serious anymore.
Did you hear about the UKIP Calypso song?
Yes! With Mike Read.
Yes, But I haven’t heard the song, Have you heard the song?
I have heard it eh…
Is it a good song?
Well you know what it is, it’s just a rip off a tune that you’d probably know, like one of the calypso hits, I couldn’t tell you which one now, something like Shame and Scandal, it’s just a rip off, he’s just changed the lyrics and he puts on a cod Jamaican accent to top it all off
A Calypso song against immigration from a white guy with a Jamaican accent, I don’t know.. that kinda says it all.
Yeah that’s funny, that is funny, it’s funny, you know it hasn’t been played here at all you know.
I can’t imagine many people playing it, I think they’ve withdrawn it now anyway.
Ok ok, maybe they weren’t proud of it, they were ashamed.
Another embarassing episode for them which is good.
Ahahaha that is funny.
Can you tell us about the festival you organised in Gambia last year?
Yes yes, well it was something we wanted to do for years, as a back to Africa thing, because we kinda grew up with Africa in mind. It’s something we all wanted to do as kids, so I’ve been going to Gambia for a little while and I thought yeah.. Yeah I thought I’d do it.
How did it go?
It was OK, hard work but fun you know, a nice meeting between African and West Indies and black British, white British, all different sorts of people.
Will you be organizing another one or are you gonna relax for a while?
Well.. Not as yet, not as yet, obviously with this Ebola thing.
It’s a lot of hard work organising a festival
And with this Ebola thing together, yeah it’s not the right time is it?
You were saying as well somewhere, that for all the talk of back to Africa, a lot of people were actually scared to even think of setting foot there when it came to it?
Sure, for sure.
I think a lot of people are kinda scared to go to Africa because of all the shit they hear.
Well especially now with all this thing flaring up you know?
You recorded a lot of Lovers Rock tunes back in the day..
A lot! Quite a lot.
What are the vital ingredients to a Lovers Rock tune
Love! Love and Sex, you must have love in your heart.. haha
What are some of the best reggae scenes around Europe and around the world?
Well Reggae’s now everywhere, Reggae’s in France, France is quite active, Reggae’s in Holland, Reggae’s in Germany, South America, Columbia, Australia.
What are the scenes like in South America and Africa?
Yeah, well it’s good, you know, a lot of places they more know dancehall reggae rather than roots reggae, Africa in general- dancehall reggae, like Colombians, but you know it’s everywhere, in Europe it’s more roots reggae.
It seems like there’s a bit of a scene kicking off in India as well, did you hear about that?
Yes yes yes we came across some people, yeah man it’s everywhere.
What do you think is the best reggae music coming out of the Uk at the moment?
I don’t know I don’t think there’s as much reggae coming out as there was.
There’s some anyway, Prince Fatty and that kind of stuff
I don’t hear it haha
It’s impossible to keep up with everything
Well to be honest, I’m within it. I don’t really listen to other stuff coming out, I just listen to what I do.
Would you be able to give us any fond memories of the London scene over the years?
Yeah man, well you know it was a vibrant scene wherein you could make a record and that record could go on and sell thousands and you know it was a very healthy scene.
Do you think those days are gone where you could just bring out a record?
Yes it’s gone for sure you know. Now it’s just dribs and drabs, not at all happening, it’s very quiet.
What were some of the great soundsystems around London?
Mombasa, Safano B, Danny King, Neville King, Coxsone, Shaka.. that was it really.
What was it like going to those dances?
I didn’t go to many you know, I hardly go to any dances haha
Cos I was just more into the studio, I didn’t have money to go to dances haha
Did you ever hang out with Alton Ellis?
Yes yes yes, I worked with him, I recorded with him I did shows with him.
He was an amazing singer.
Yes a great singer for sure yeah.
What about Laurel Aitken?
Yes I worked with him in the studio in the early days you know. Most of the old guys I worked with, used my studio.
I heard you’re a great lover of Prince Buster and Ken Boothe.
Yes yes yes.
It’s hard to imagine people making music like that again.
Well yeah, it takes time and it takes money and it takes effort, you have to take you time you know.
Can you tell us anything about an album you did with the Anti Social Workers?
Yes it’s some young white guys that were around South London in the early eighties, they really loved what we were doing so I gave them some riddims and yeah this album came about and it was pretty well received, they were punks but they really loved reggae, that was around 1984 I think.
The Punk and the Reggae scenes were a lot more intertwined at the time were they?
Well… not really, but they were occupying the same places.
One great, formerly punk band that you’ve worked with a few times is the Ruts.
Yes Yes, Dave Ruffy and the Ruts. Yeah man I did some nice things with them, very very nice.
You worked on their new album didn’t you?
Yes yes on the new one and the old one.
I’m not familiar with the old abum, I have to catch up, but that new album is amazing.
Yes yes yes, well you’ll have to get familiar, play the old stuff and see.
That album was recorded by you and mixed by Prince Fatty
Ok… No I didn’t know what happened.
A lot of reggae music is very black power, do you think sometimes the black power thing can go to far the other way and actually be racist too?
Well the thing about being racist, to be racist you gotta have power and I think most black people have no power. So you know, the act of racism itself is the uneven wielding uneven power according to race. Most black people have no power, yeah that’s the problem. So I can’t see how that could be, but you know, reggae originally needed,.. Without the supression and racism there would be no reggae, because that is what drives the whole thing along.
Yeah the music came from oppression and racism as well.
Yes of course.
Well my take on it basically is…. I don’t know.. I listen to a lot of black music and hip hop as well and my sort of personal take on it is… that in reality, black people don’t walk around thinking about being black all the time any more than white people do.
No no no no no.
And I just think it gets played out a bit … the whole thing.
Yes yes yes yes yes, no you’re right there ya know.
You definitely like mixing music with politics.
Oh yeah man! Well you know we’re a politically aware label.
Well it’s a natural mix anyway ya know, especially like growing up with Calypso and stuff like that, there’s no seperation, people are singing about everyday issues and politics all the time.
Yes yes good.
Do you think the music was more political in the eighties and do you think people were happier to get their politics from the dancefloor and from the radio?
Umm… I think people were more verbal about things they had on their mind then, they would more put it in a song you know?
Do you think people are a bit more scared to have strong opinions now?
Very likely, very likely, yes yes, for sure.
That’s the great thing about music, like you can say a lot of stuff in a song that you couldn’t really just, maybe you couldn’t just say it to people and people will pay attention.
Yeah man, it’s so.. It’s really changed.
You’re obviously very open minded musically, with the stuff that you produce, but is there a kind of music that you hate, that you really hate?
No I love music, music is such a great thing I can’t hate it.
There’s some bad music around though, you know?
I’m sure, I’m sure, but then I don’t listen, but I can’t hate it.
Do you enjoy listening to your own music or do you like to just do it and shelve em for a while?
Yeah man, no no no I like listening to my own music.
What would be some of your own favourite albums that you like to revisit?
Of my own?
I like Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton, I like U Roy- True Born African, I like Country Living, I like nearly every first album I did with different artists.
I like the first albums, I love em.
That’s a great album with Pato Banton.
I like a lot of first albums, I think usually second albums aren’t really as good as first albums, that’s what I think.
I was gonna ask you about working with Benjamin Zephaniah.
Yeah man, nice guy, very intelligent guy, very politically aware.
You actually did his first recordings or his first recordings.
Yes I did his first record and I did one afterwards as well.
Ah yeah, he’s an absolute legend that fella.
yes yes yes yes yes yes.. yes Benjamin Zephaniah. (laughs)
So you’re obviously kind of obsessed about sound and stuff like that.
Well that’s my career man, that’s how I eat food.
And you’re always on the look out for new sounds and recordings and stuff and I heard you carry round a little recorder with you everywhere?
Yeah man, yes
What kinda things would you be recording with that?
Birds singing and all that.
Reggae music and dub music, ska, all that stuff, it’s massively popular music, you could put in other kinds of music in with what I’m talking about here, like punk and other stuff like that, they’re massively popular, but they’re kind of confined to the underground, they don’t really get radio play or mainstream exposure.. What do you think about that or do you think the music is fine on it’s own and it doesn’t need…
Well.. The powers that be got a lot. They got the radio stations, they got the power in their hands and what do they do. They play a lot of shit, they’re happy with what they play, but you know, it’s a lot of shit.
But then again if people are happy to listen to it that’s the problem maybe.
Well that’s it, right now the radio stations are in trouble. They don’t have so much listeners as before you know, because of that you know.
Is there still a strong pirate radio scene in London?
Well there is.. To be honest… maybe I can’t comment, because I travel so much I feel like a stranger in London. Hahaha. I feel so much like a stranger, I don’t know what’s going on here half the time man hahahaha
You must have seen London change a lot over the years.
Yeah I’ve seen it change a whole lot man.
You’re kind of around Peckham and places like that aren’t ya?
No, not now, I’m back in Croydon, We’ve been in Croydon over 26 years. I spent 4 years in Peckham though
They’re saying Peckham is getting very posh now and places like that.
Yeah well, like it used to be a ruffhouse, it used to be very rough.
Can you tell us about working with Lee Scratch Perry?
Yeah man, well he’s like my dad, you know he’s a genius you know, he’s full of inspiration.
He’s full of energy is he?
Yeah, oh yeah man. I’m gonna hook up with him on Saturday, we’re working together Saturday
You doing a gig or a recording?
A gig, in the South of France.
How do your collaborations usually work?
Not all the same, everyone’s different man. Every collaboration is different, different stories, sometimes I go to them, sometimes they come to me.
But with Scratch?
With Lee.. Depends on the project, like when we did A Techno Party I went to Switzerland and we recorded in Switzerland in his house and then, when I did Dubfire he came here and we recorded at Ariwa, Every one’s different.
So would you generally be bringing the music and he’ll be doing the vocals.
Not really, sometimes he got musical ideas as you can hear on Black Ark ExPerryments, he’s coming up with the basslines and things like that, oh yeah.
I was talking about him with a friend earlier, Lee Scratch Perry, he’s such a madman, but underneath that he must be a hard worker.
Yeah man, he’s not lazy, he’s not lazy, energetic guy, energetic guy.
I went to see him in Dublin one time.. and eh.. he spent a lot of time talking about his cock.
I was wondering does he spend a lot of time talking about that stuff? haha.
Well Lee’s a guy he behaves different with different people you know, he appears differently with different people.
I’d say he kinda likes to shock people?
Yeah it depends, when he’s in front of newspaper people he talks different.
Yeah, I’d say it could be a case of put on a bit of an act and then he can actually keep his private self private, but I don’t know haha.
Yeah he’s funny, he’s a funny guy.
Did you ever work with John Holt?
Only on a mix, I did a mix for him on a couple of tracks when he was doing the tracks with Denis Brown (live?)on the Wildfire project, that was around ’88/89, yeah man we did a few things.
I saw you had John Holt and Denis Brown on backing vocals.
Yeah man, that was good yeah, some of that stuff was mixed at my studio, I didn’t record it but I mixed it.
You must have done some work with Rico Rodriguez.
A lot, a lot with Rico.
Rico is a absolute legend.
Yeah man, Rico is, we toured together, we worked live together, nice guy.
And Macka B of course.
Oh yeah, Yeah! Just was on the phone to him.
Literally came off the phone.
What’s it like working with people like Big Youth and U Roy, like the real originators?
Well.. It’s good, because you understand how it used to be you know, you understand just how the scene used to be, I did many things with U Roy, many things with Big Youth, I work a lot with those boys, a lot, nice vibes, U Roy’s like the teacher you know.
They must have a lot of mad stories.
Ahahaha A lot a lot a lot hahaha Yeah man.
You did remixes for the KLF.. When you do remixes for people do you meet up with them usually or it depends?
Sometimes.. Most of those guys I knew, I knew like Jimmy and.. em.. what’s his name..KLF guy.. Yeah I knew them guys from even before they were KLF, so you know.
Bill, Bill, Yeah I know Bill from he was an A&R man at Warner Brothers.
I wanted to ask you about the Cumbia music and this band Frente Cumbiero.
Yes! Frente Cumbiero, you know them?
Well.. I only know them now from looking up your stuff in the last few days, but it sounds amazing music.
Ok! You like it?
This whole Cumbia thing has kinda passed me by you know? so I have to catch up with, cos there’s a bit of a craze for it now isn’t there?
Right, yes yes yes yes yes.
You’re in the middle of that.
So you were over there in Columbia working with them?
Yes yes yes yes yes.
I wanted to ask you about the Silent Poets?
Yes, From Japan.
Yes, because I had that album years ago and I didn’t realise you were on one of the mixes as well?
You didn’t until afterwards?
Well, you could hear a lot of stuff and then you don’t know who recorded it or whatever, I love their music.
Then you know, yeah man, nice guys.
So you’ve been over to Japan doing some stuff with them as well?
I’ve been over to Japan many times not necessarily dealing with them ya know.
What are the gigs like in Japan?
It depends on where you play and who you play with, but yeah we did some big ones, we did some small ones. We did Fiji festival, big..It’s like a hundred thousand people.. Big.. And then I did small gigs like a small place in like Sapowra, a little small club that is just like a hundred people (giggles) you know, you have big gigs and small gigs, nice people, nice country, polite people, they don’t create much fuss you know.
So they wouldn’t be screaming and shouting and stuff when you’re playing?
Some of them, the first time we went they were quite quiet and then over the years they got more looser, you know?
Do you know anything about the reggae scene in Ireland?
Hahaha I know…What’s her name, Sinead O Connor, I don’t know if she’s part of the reggae scene, but she was recording with some friends of mine, Sly and Robbie.
Oh yeah yeah, I’d say she pops up at the odd reggae event anyway you know, just as a punter.
Is she in Dublin?
Yeah she lives in Dublin yeah yeah…
The reggae scene in Ireland is coming on good now the last few years.
You got some sound systems and some artists?
Ok and he’s living there now?
Yeah he lives in Ireland and you’ve got to meet him, because he’s a killer on the microphone.
Can you sing?
Very badly.. very badly.
NASA have just released their entire library of sound for people to use, would you be interested in that?
I’ll have to listen, I always listen to new sounds, I’ll have to hear and see what they got, you never know.
What artists would you love to get their master tracks to experiment with and you said Michael Jackson and Elton John, so can you enlighten me more on your love of Elton John’s music?
Great music, great songwriter.
And that’s basically it?
Yeah man, that’s it.
Is there anyone else?
That kinda goes without saying.
Billy Paul, The O Jays.. All that stuff I like.
Did you ever get your hands on any old Studio One or Treasure Isle recordings to remix?
No, not really, not to remix, I mean I’ve re-recorded a lot of songs, but I never got my hands on those tapes.
I think you could do a good remix of Thin Lizzy.
Any of them really, I just think they’ve got a great sound and there could be a lot done with it, great songs, great recordings.
You could be right, I can’t remember what they sound like.
Oh you can, you know The Boys are Back in Town, etc.
Yes! I remember that.. (Sings Boys are Back in Town).
Laughs.. Phil Lynott was actually very good friends with some of The Ruts.
Ok! He knew them guys.. Nice.
Yeah, They actually recorded some of their earlier punk hits with Phillo’s bass.
Right, good good good nice.
I’ve got another silly kind of a question for you, if you could put together a studio band tomorrow with dream musicians, alive or dead, who’d be in the band.
It’d be the same guys that I work with from The Robotics, Steel, Horseman, Pepper on keyboards and all that, yeah man.
Horseman is brilliant.
Yeah well that’s it.
He’s a brilliant toaster.
Oh yeah yeah yeah! I’ve released a load of records with him, we had a number one with him about 25 years ago, a record called Horsemove.
Oh yeah, well I heard an updated version of that alright.
Yeah I know, we recorded it again for him on Prince Fatty about three months ago, it’ll be on his new album, yeah I did the recordings for that.
He’s a brilliant toaster, but he’s obviously a great drummer as well?
He was drumming on hits from us, from 1979, 1980 yeah.
Well I only know him, really through Hollie Cook.
Ok, no he was going a long time before that.
Did you hear the new Hollie Cook album?
No I haven’t actually, she gave me the first one, but I haven’t seen her recently so I haven’t heard the second one.
Ok well it’s really good, but it’s totally different you know.
Is it better than the first one?
Ehhhhh.. In my opinion I don’t like it as much as the first one, because Horseman’s not toasting on it anymore.
Oh he’s not toasting on the second one?
No he’s taking a back seat, he’s just playing the drums, but I do like it ‘cos she’s doing something different with it, basically, she’s trying something different.
I met her one night just by chance when she was in The Slits.
You met her?
Yeah and she’s a lovely person, just so down to earth.
Yes Yes young girl.
(Mad Professor takes a phone call from Hong Kong)
Sorry about that
No Worries man.
Everybody wants to talk the same time.
No worries, where was that guy calling from?
He was in China or Hong Kong.
You must get a lot of phonecalls from around the world.
I get a lot of phonecalls from everywhere, especially at a time when you …yeah.
When you’re already talking to someone.
You had a good song title which was- At Least American Indian People know Exactly How they’ve been Fucked Around.
Yes I know that track, we done it years ago in the eighties, I did it with Chuck D.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been offered any of these things, but what would you do if you were offered an OBE or an MBE or any of those things?
Well, I’d look at the fine print and consider it, yeah.. no problem.
Who are your favourite other producers in reggae or in music in general.
In general I love Tom Bell, I love Gamble and Huff, In reggae I love Joe Gibbs, Gussie Clarke, Denis Bovell.
What do you think of Niney?
Good, great guy.
I think he’s kinda under rated in one way, because a lot of people have never heard of him.
No.. Well I’ve heard of him and I know him personally, good guy.
Apparently Joe Gibbs came over to Ireland in the nineties and recorded an album collaborating with Irish traditional musicians.
But it’s never been released
Ok, who’s got the tapes?
Eh.. People from a band called the Hothouse Flowers.
And it’s called Black and Green.
Cos’ I think no one has ever done a proper collaboration between Irish music and reggae.
I think it’s well open to be done, the timing and everything like that.
So if you track it down we could be…
So I’d love to hear that album.
Yes yes yes it’s a good idea.
But it’s hidden away.. (laughs) I’ll have to badger them.
Laughs.. You’re so funny man.. we’ll have to track it down.
The music business is well known as a sort of dirty business, so you must have seen some shady dealings in your time, you must have been ripped off?
Loads of shit.. Loads of shit.. Seen a lot of shit in the business, too much to talk about.
Who does the artwork for your albums?
A guy named Ohororo, he’s from Slovenia and he’s a genius, he’s a genius, brilliant guy, real genius, yeah man.
Who’s Joe Ariwa?
He’s one of my sons.
He’s kinda taking over the trade.
Well he’s doing his own thing a lot, he’s busy.
What equipment would you typically bring to do your live shows?
I bring a multi track, a mixing desk and some sound effects
Do you have anything special planned for the Dublin gigs or do you play it by ear?
I play it by ear.
Well look, I’ll let you go.
Well it was nice talking to you, you know what’s going on, you’re in tune to the sound of music and Ariwa sounds
Ah yeah man well some of the tunes I’d listen to all the time anyway, especially the Macka B tunes, they’re classics.
Yes, they were fun songs to record, really fun, we had a lot of fun recording those songs.
The Mad Professor will be playing Friday November 28th in the Button Factory with a 4 piece band and performing his renowned live dub show. Support comes from Mama Kasbah. To be in with a chance to win a ticket just fill out our reader survey and we’ll pull a name from the hat.