Original Jazz Warrior and multi award-winning, genre-hopping vocalist Cleveland Watkiss returns to his roots for The Great Jamaican Songbook in the Howard Assembly Room on Friday 29 October.
Making a rocksteady case for the island’s musical legacy, he’ll be taking us on a journey from 40s and 50s mento to ska, reggae, dub and lovers rock: the sounds of Studio One, Coxsone Dodd, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffith, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, and more.
Ahead of his visit, Cleveland filled us in on how this passion project came about, and selected three crucial songs from the set that he’ll be performing on the night, from classic reggae to conscious roots, to smooth lovers rock.
“I was born in Hackney, London, in 1959. My parents are from Jamaica, and it was Jamaican music that inspired me during my teens, growing up listening to it at home, as my father was an amateur DJ. But it was going to be the sound clashes during the early 70s in East London – Shaka, Sufferer, Count Joshua Hi (where I first took hold of a mic) and my all-time favourite sound Fatman Hi (where I won two vocal talent competitions) that became the real spark for me to pursue music as a career.
“During the early 80s, I was not only able to see many of these great artists live in concert around the UK, I also met them on studio sessions at a very popular recording studio in East London Bethnal Green called Easy St London. It was here where I recorded with JA legends like Jackie Mittoo, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Vin Gordon, Sugar Minott (whose band I did my very first UK tour with as a background singer), and UK Legends Bammie Rose, Carroll Thompson [pictured above, on a session with Cleveland and band], Caron Wheeler, Alan Weekes, Kenrick Rowe, Drummie Zeb of Aswad, and many more…
“Around 2016, I spoke with music maestro, producer and multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson about my long-held desire to do a reggae project that would go back to the golden era of roots music, singing the songs of my vocal idols: Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Delroy Wilson, etc. Then he said the magic words: ‘Cleveland, you should sing The Great Jamaican Songbook’. The rest is history – and of course, the future.”