Lovers rocking with Carroll Thompson

Observer senior writer

Sunday, November 11, 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 seventh 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.

Carroll Thompson may have been born and raised in Hertfordshire, England, but the culture of Jamaica, her parents' homeland, was never far away.

“My upbringing was very different from my English friends. I was raised in my grandmother's home. She used to say, 'This may be England but when you walk through my front door this is JAMAICA!'” Thompson recalled.

Known in the United Kingdom as queen of lovers' rock, Thompson is one of the genre's pioneers. She scored a number of hit songs in a 35-year career, including I'm So Sorry and Simply in Love, which helped take the genre out of West Indian clubs and onto the UK national stage.

Her parents are from Kinloss and Ulster Spring in Trelawny. When they migrated to the UK in the late 1950s, they settled in a town called Letchworth in Hertfordshire on the outskirts of London

Thompson's grandparents also lived there. Her grandfather operated the area's first West Indian store, while her grandmother was an ordained minister of religion.

Though she was “spiritually grounded”, she was attracted to secular music from early, listening to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.

Being part of a Jamaican family ensured music from the 'old country' was part of her playlist.

“Growing up in the UK, Jamaican music was always played in our homes, at weddings, Christenings, and family gatherings. My grandparents used to rent rooms to young engineering students over on work experience in the UK from Jamaica, so fortunately I grew up listening to a lot of past and current Jamaican music — bluebeat, ska and reggae from Duke Reid, Treasure Isle, Coxson Dodd. I was fortunate to have a rich musical palette,” she said.

Thompson's own career started in the late 1970s with Hansa, a German record company that produced pop songs. But she wanted to do reggae and changed course after meeting Jamaican producer/engineer Hilbert “Berty” Grant who introduced her to Leonard “Santic” Chin, another Jamaican producer based in the UK.

That period marked the dawn of lovers' rock, a mellow type of reggae reminiscent of rocksteady. Chin produced the Thompson-penned I'm So Sorry and Simply in Love, which soared up the UK reggae and national charts in 1981.

Grant next introduced her to Anthony “Chips” Richards, the former Trojan Records marketing man who helped push Ken Boothe's Everything I Own to number one in the UK in 1974.

Richards produced Thompson's first album, Hopelessly in Love, also released in 1981.

Lovers' rock has produced artistes like Maxi Priest and Bitty McLean, both of whom are first-generation Britons. The sound has endured through Thompson and other stalwarts like Janet Kay and Vivian Jones who remain active on the live show scene.

Thompson commented on its endurance.

“I believe it's that's special blend of reggae — drums, bass and rhythm, then sweet musical arrangements, soulful vocals with melodic songs, and romantic lyrics,” she said.

Her first trip to Jamaica was when she was seven. She visits the country regularly, spending Christmas with her parents in Manchester.

Thompson recently recorded and co-produced a tribute album to rocksteady singer Phyllis Dillon. It will be released in 2019.

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