Meet Gil Cang, the British reggae scout

Observer senior writer

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

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Gil Cang, the British producer who announced last week that he found a lost demo of a song he did with a teenaged Amy Winehouse in 2001, has worked with a number of Jamaican and British reggae acts.

Cang, founder of London-based Tuff Scout Records, has been in the news since going public with his discovery of My Own Way, a try-out song by 17-year-old Winehouse in 2001. But he is known in British music circles for producing songs by roots-reggae acts Michael Prophet, Eccleston Jarrett, Al Campbell, Big Youth, and Papa Levi.

He also co-wrote Whatever Happens for Michael Jackson's 2001 album, Invincible.

In fact, Cang told the trendy Jezebel website last week that her love for reggae was what drew him to Winehouse, who shot to international stardom in 2008 after winning multiple Grammys for the album, Back to Black. She died in 2011.

“When we first spoke, she liked the same sort of thing as us. We chatted about reggae, ska, '60s female groups,” he recalled. “When you record with someone for a day or two you have to get the right sound very quickly, and Amy knew what we wanted. I always think how I would have loved to produce more of her music. She was properly amazing to work with.”

The 50-year-old Cang co-wrote My Own Way with fellow Briton James McMillan. It has the '60s soul feel Winehouse loved and is flavoured by a distinctive reggae snare drum.

Like Winehouse, Cang is from Camden in north-west London. In a 2013 interview with Start Dreading The News, a television programme about British reggae, he said he discovered reggae at age 12.

“Then I had a pivotal moment when I saw Aswad at the Lyceum (Theatre) and that was a big moment for me, of thinking, 'That's what I want to be.'”

A drummer, Cang moved to New York at age 18 and joined a band called Rebel Souls, which he said recorded an album for producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd's Studio One label. Returning to the United Kingdom four years later, he gradually established himself as a songwriter before starting Tuff Scout Records.

Winehouse never hid her love for reggae and Jamaican culture. Two years after meeting Cang, her debut album, Frank, was released on it she worked with guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and drummer Squiddly Cole musicians, formerly of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.

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