Led by one of Jamaica’s finest singers and most charismatic frontmen – the legendary Toots Hibbert will be taking Toots and The Maytals on an extensive UK tour throughout October.
Mick Burgess caught up with the great man himself ahead of the Jamaican Reggae and Ska pioneers return to the North East of England to discuss their appearance at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle, the roots of Reggae music as well as their new single “A Song Called Marley”.
You`re over in the UK on tour in a couple of weeks. Are you looking forward to coming back over here to play?
Yeah man, I`m looking forward to it. I can`t wait to go. I love the UK. I enjoy the people and I love the hospitality that I get over there. The weather is good too.
Can you remember your first tour? How did you feel when you came over to play on that first tour?
I remember that it was cold, even in the summertime it was cold. I loved it though, it was so different to Jamaica and I`d heard so much about it so it was great to finally make it and play for everyone over here. They made me feel so welcome and I`ve never forgotten that.
You have over 50 years of recording behind you. What sort of show will you be bringing over to the UK?
We have a really good setlist for everyone on this tour. It`s full of Number One records that we will play for you every night. We`ll also be playing some we haven`t done in a long time so there`s something for everyone.
You`re up in Newcastle on 12th October. How do you find the fans up here in the North?
They always turn out when they know I`m coming and they come out to celebrate with us. It`s a great place to come and play and so friendly.
Do you get much time on tour to take a look around the City when you`re here?
Not really. We pretty much spend all of our time in the hotel or on the bus if we aren`t at the venue. There`s not much time on tour getting the chance to take a look around but we enjoy seeing what we can.
The Maytals also features Paul Douglas on drums and Jackie Jackson on bass. They`ve been with you for years. What is it about them that makes you work so well together?
We have Paul Douglas with us who is an incredible drummer. Jackie hasn`t been feeling well recently but we are hoping he`ll make the tour. We all work really well on a musical level and a personal level. It`s worked well for years and is still working well now.
You have influenced so many artists over the years. Amy Winehouse and The Specials have recorded your songs and you have collaborated with the likes of Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Keith Richards. What do you think it is about you and your music that people connect with so much?
I think my music is real. It tells a story and also tells about history. People seem to like that and I think the music means something to people.
You helped create what became known as Reggae. Who were the artists that inspired you in the early days?
I was listening to a lot of great music from James Brown, Little Richard and Wilson Pickett and also the music in Jamaica which featured some great musicians. It was a combination of all of those influences that came into my music. I didn`t actually create Reggae music, I just created the name. The music was already there but no one knew what to call it. They tried calling it Blue Beat or Boogie Beat so I did a song called Do The Reggae and that name came to symbolise the music and it stuck so what we now know as Reggae came from that song title.
When you write, what do you feel is the most important element of your music? Is it the rhythm, the melody or the message in your lyrics?
I always do the message first then I do the melody and then work the rhythm into that.
Your song 54-46 Was My Number was an early hit for you in 1966, inspired by a short prison stay. What happened there?
I was framed over weed but I never smoked weed but I ended up in prison for eight months for no good reason so when I got out I wrote a song about it. 54-46 was the number they gave me in prison. I took a bad experience and made it into a song so something good came out of it. It was a big hit for me. I knew it would be when I wrote it and people still love to hear in today. I never thought at the time that I`d still be singing it 50 years later.
Monkey Man was an even bigger hit for you internationally and is probably the song that you are most associated with. What inspired you to write that?
I like to write songs that tell a story and Monkey Man is about a guy who tried to take my girl from me. He didn`t succeed though, fortunately.
You have an incredible 31 Number One hits in Jamaica. That`s an impressive record. Did the 31st feel as good as the first?
They were all good songs and every one felt good when they went to Number One. We do a lot of those songs every night and people still love them today.
In 2004 your album True Love won a Grammy. That must rank as one of your proudest moments?
It does. It was such a good thing for me when I received that. A wonderful moment.
Looking forward, you have a new single out called A Song Called Marley. Can you tell me about this?
It`s a tribute to Bob Marley. We were very close friends and I miss him very much. He and I used to talk a lot and he said he wanted to be a Dreadlocked Rasta and I said to him that I wanted to be a Comblocked Rasta like Selassie I, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It`s about our history and I called it Marley as a tribute to my old friend.
Is this a one-off celebration or is it part of a writing session for a new album?
I`m in the process of writing three or four albums and I hope one will be out by next year.
Toots and The Maytals perform at The Boiler Shop in Newcastle on 12th October.