A Kilburn girl at heart

Children of The Windrush

Observer senior writer

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

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This is the 70th year since the Empire Windrush docked in the United Kingdom, carrying hundreds of West Indians seeking work to bolster that country's war-torn economy. Most of them were Jamaicans who settled in communities in London, the Midlands, Nottingham, and Bristol. The Jamaica Observer presents the sixth in a 10-part series featuring Jamaican entertainment personalities who were either born in the UK or grew up there, and how living in that country impacted their lives.

When Marcia Simpson and her father arrived in the United Kingdom, it was the dawn of the Swinging Sixties. Bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who shaped the British Invasion, and Jamaican music was taking root in an increasingly multiracial country.

Simpson, who is well-known as an artiste manager, saw that transformation up close. She was part of the West Indian social explosion that took place throughout the UK during the 1970s, when reggae became the soundtrack for frustrated black youth.

Born in Kingston, Simpson was the only child for her father Stanley Williams. They settled in Kilburn, a town in the borough of Brent, home to hundreds of Jamaicans.

Even as a child, she remembers the UK being totally different from Jamaica.

“It was always cold and we didn't have central heating in those days. There was a lot of fog, black fog, and sometimes all you heard on the road were footsteps because you could see no one,” Simpson recalled.

This was the UK circa Sidney Poitier's To Sir With Love. The country was reluctantly coming to grips with immigration from its former colonies and, like other Jamaicans, Stanley Williams was determined that his daughter soak up as much of her culture as possible.

“He loved to buy records. He listened to Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, The Melodians, The Tennors and The Gaylads. Jamaicans kept a lot of basement parties or what they called shub-ins,” she said.

In the late-1960s, the UK education system reflected the country's growing diversity. Simpson, however, said it was not until she attended Wembley Junior High School that she saw non-white students.

“They didn't have a lot of black children when I started infant school, because some of my best friends were white kids. Then in the early 1970s I started to see children from Israel, Pakistan, Trinidad and Barbados,” she related.

While her father's generation of Jamaicans were ska and rocksteady, lovers Simpson's peers embraced the rebel tones of roots-reggae in the 1970s. Militant reggae bands like Aswad, Misty In Roots, Matumbi and Steel Pulse emerged mid-decade, influenced by Jamaican heroes such as Bob Marley, Burning Spear and UK-based dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Simpson was reading law at West London College when she found her calling while an intern at Alexander and Partners, a legal firm in Harlesden.

“I found myself in a very central place in the office where I could guide artistes in how to get their songs registered. That was a turning point for me so I stopped doing law and went into music,” Simpson explained.

Some of the acts she worked with had strong followings in the UK reggae scene. They included singers Sugar Minott and Linval Thompson, and producer/deejay Michael “Mikey Dread” Campbell. Simpson also established ties with influential figures like sound system operator Lloyd “Lloydie Coxsone” Blackford and producer Castro Brown.

British reggae took off in the late 1970s, largely through backing from Island Records. It was a time when black Britons were protesting what they considered racist government policies and acts like Aswad and Steel Pulse led the musical charge.

“People just thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. I used to drive from London to Birmingham to attend shows…they were always packed,” Simpson recalled.

After nearly 20 years living in the UK, Simpson made the decision to return to Jamaica. She had that yearning since she was 15 years old and made a two-month visit to Kingston and Westmoreland, her father's home parish.

Simpson returned permanently in 1981, and has managed acts such as Black Uhuru, Mikey Spice, Live Wyya, Onesty and Prophecy.

She returns to the UK periodically to visit family, which includes two children and eight grandchildren. Despite the chilly weather and racial animus, her time in the UK was well-spent.

“I loved school, loved going out and listening to music. Yeah, I have to say those were pretty good times,” she said.

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