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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Percydread

23 March 15 interview: Jared Wilson
photos: Raluca Moraru

Thirty years ago, Percydread was part of Nottingham reggae legends, The Naturalites. Fast forward a few decades and he’s still mixing it up with Nottingham’s finest as a singer for Highness Sound System, Origin One and The Invisible Orchestra…

What first brought you to Nottingham?
My parents came to England in the fifties and met in London. I was born down there, but I came to Nottingham as a baby. One of my earliest memories was coming face to face with a Doberman in our house on Cooper Street in St Anns. I must have been about four years old and it was a really scary moment. We were separated by the front room window. He could have ripped my face off otherwise.

Your first job in music was as a roadie with a band called The Cool Notes, right?
Yes, I had a cousin who played guitar for them. At that time, they were touring around England backing Desmond Dekker. My job was really just to move stuff around and plug things in, but I was always curious and eager to learn more. I was always writing lyrics but couldn't put any chords to them until one of the band members showed me some chord progressions and rhythm patterns. Later on I ended up playing in a new band with some of the old members called The Blazing Sons. I did my first performance in a venue off Streatham High Street. People clapped and I thought to myself – “I could get used to this.” Unfortunately at some point all the electrics broke and the sound went off, so everyone had to go home. An interesting first gig…

The Naturalites did a couple of sessions with John Peel back in the day. What was that like?
Those sessions were great to do, but we didn’t actually meet the main man himself as he was away when we did them. Recording in the BBC studios was interesting because you have to perform in the moment and be totally on point. I had a phone conversation with John Peel some years later, but it’s unfortunate that we never met. He did a lot for musicians.

Picture On The Wall is still regarded as a classic of modern reggae. How much success did that bring you?
That song broke bigger than any of us expected. None of us realised people would still be watching that performance on YouTube over thirty years later. It meant we got to play a load of other big gigs at places like Ronnie Scott’s. Sometimes music is all fame and no gain.

What was Nottingham like back then for musicians?
I think there were a lot of parallels to how it is now. People started showing an interest in new music, and the city started to be considered as a valid stop on the musical map. A few people I know even moved here because the scene was so good.

Your music has taken you all over the world for gigs...
I've played places like Paris, Germany and Holland, but I think the music travelled further than we did, although I did a bit of promotional stuff in Africa once. My favourite places to tour were Italy and Bulgaria, where I played as a solo artist. You always like the places where you get the most love. I never wanted to go to America.

Got any fun stories from your musical escapades?
What happens on the road stays on the road. Some of my stories are too gruesome to reveal to your readers.

Who are your musical inspirations?
If pushed then I’d have to mention Marvin Gaye – I loved it when he sang with Tammy Tyrell. Nat King Cole was a legend for his timing, diction and the fact he sang in several different languages. Nina Simone and Billie Holiday were amazing, there’s nothing more real than hearing the pain in Billie's voice. Dennis Brown created an original roots sound alongside Linval Thompson that the rest of us followed. The Isley Brothers were just class for me on all levels. Then there’s Joni Mitchell and, last but not least, Bob Marley. It's really all about sound, soul and timing for me. All those people combined all three really well.

Dash De Gun is obviously an anti-gun statement. Did it annoy you when Nottingham became known as 'Shottingham'?
It was an anti-gun thing but it was really about the self-genocide of the youth. The Shottingham thing was propaganda. Let’s face it – the media and authorities are somewhat selective about what news they promote. It could easily have been Birmingham or Leeds or London on another news day.

You were a resident of Nottingham's Highness reggae nights for many years. You still doing that?
I’ve not for a while, but I've got a lot of time for Ben and his crew. Those guys love roots reggae, especially from the early days. I remember back in the days when they used to shake down Blueprint in Bobbers Mill.

You're often seen these days singing with Origin One. Do you still buzz off working with other musicians?
Music is like a therapy to me. I like working with other musicians because it gives us a chance to tune into each other. Origin One is a collective of talented individuals, but the source is Kevin (aka Neon) who creates the beats. This is a more urban project, musically nearer to my roots. I like what they do and they’re easy to work with. Only ill health has kept me from working with them as much as I'd like to recently.

And you also play with The Invisible Orchestra, how did you hook up with them?
They came along out of the blue through a chance meeting with James Waring, who I’d worked with briefly before. It’s a really talented band of individuals and it’s nice to be a part of that. The standards are very high and James has his work cut out keeping thirty-odd musicians on song. Everyone works well together, although it can get a bit crazy at times.

Tell us a bit about the song, War, that you’ve done with them...
People can say that all’s fair in love and war, but there isn’t any justice or fairness in war at all. There’s just people in high-up positions who are empowered to manipulate, and then a load of good people go away to fight for another man’s cause and wave their families goodbye. War can never really bring peace afterwards.

What do you do when you’re not making music?
In recent years I've been plagued with health issues, so I try to get a lot of rest and recuperation. I spend a lot of time studying futures and technologies. I'd like to see the banking system change and for everyone to have access to low cost money transfer without the knife of the middle man. Take Bitcoin and Dogecoin – given time, these technologies will change the world in ways we can’t yet even begin to understand.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
It was when I watched my partner's baby grandson Theo grinning at the same time as pooing his nappy. Family is so important. I’m blessed to have mine around me.

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