Everal 'Bobo' Cranston… from RAF airman to top black British DJ, emcee

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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THE name Everal Cranston might not be as widely recognised in Jamaica, but fly across the Atlantic to England and mention “Bobo El Numero Uno” and it would be a different game entirely.

Cranston, originally from Jones Town, South St Andrew is highly regarded as the top black DJ, music selector and show emcee in London, the English capital city, and its environs, and is also held in high esteem in other major British destinations, Europe, Africa and the United States, since he left the Royal Air Force after spending six years there.

“Bobo”, 56, departed for England right after he graduated from Kingston College in 1978. A stint in the Royal Air Force as a personnel administrative clerk beckoned after he had spent two years in college — stationed, initially, at RAF Brize Norton, then on to RAF Gibraltar off the Spanish coast, which was to mark the start of the building of an unbroken 31-year association with the music industry in the United Kingdom and beyond.

“I was stationed in Gibraltar for three years and used to do a radio programme on GBC (Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation) because they love reggae music so much in Gibraltar,” he told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week — a part of his two-week trip to the land of his birth. “I had a Saturday programme where I largely played music, and a Thursday programme where we would review artistes from Jamaica in alphabetic order.”

Since the days of Gibraltar, his main focus has been on music, working on several radio stations, including Euro Jam Radio, and hosts two annual promotions — one in recognition of his birthday on August 31, and the other on Christmas Day.

As for his emcee duties, it would be easier for him, after reeling off a list of popular names, to say which artistes he has not introduced on stage. He has worked with Mavado, Beenie Man, Bounty Killa, Sanchez, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, Gyptian, I-Octane, Beres Hammond, the late Alton Ellis and John Holt, as well as new men on the corner like Dexta Daps, and Version, and is the voice of the One Love Festival that happens every year at the end of summer, which has already had shows in Gloucester, Essex, Kent, and is scheduled for Somerset this year with many of the top artistes from all over the world booked to perform.

Bobo, who hosts the Supreme Reggae Show every Saturday from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Supreme Radio FM 99.8 in London, and Sunday Souvenir, featuring vintage selections every Sunday between 6:00 and 8:00 pm, has emceed shows and played music all over the world, including African nations and European countries such as Austria, Italy, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Sweden. The United States has also seen his talent.

“Reggae music is appreciated most by the African countries. Africa is the biggest audience I have seen. I played in front of 40,000 people standing at the Independence Park in Gambia, with artiste Luciano on that programme,” Cranston said. “The audience in Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Senegal too would surprise you, and someone like Luciano would tell you how they treat him in a place like Gambia.

“Second to Africa in terms of those who love reggae music is Europe…anywhere in Europe, but in particular Spain, Germany and Holland — they have the biggest summer festivals with all the reggae artistes, especially in Spain. In Holland, the Rotterdam Festival runs runs for a whole week, with top artistes like Junior Gong, Chronixx, Luciano heading that festival,” he said.

As for where the reggae music is now in England, compared to 20 years ago, the top DJ suggested that standards were higher and the music better 20 years ago.

“It was better then. Since vinyl music has gone, things have changed. Twenty years ago we had a better crop of artistes. There were people like Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Big Youth, Delroy Wilson… those are the backbone of Jamaican musical culture. You don't really get that calibre of music coming out of Jamaica. To me, the most vibrant time in Jamaica's popular musical culture was in the 1970s and 1980s. I don't think we will ever see back those days. England at the time was the gateway of Jamaican music. But it is still vibrant. It's now modern technology, nobody is buying records, CDs. Everything is downloaded now, everything is iTunes, so that has changed, not for the better though.

“To me the best artiste that I have seen in the last 10 years in Jamaica is Chronixx. He is a superb artiste. People say Damion Marley is good because his name is Marley, but no, Damion Marley is a top artiste. I know the Grammy is not true to form, but when you listen to Junior Gong's music, you can tell that this boy has something about him. He is a great artiste and I think he will be around for a long time.

“Writing quality is what makes you as an artiste, and I think that Chronixx has that. I have been listening to Chronixx for a long time. All the singles that he has done have all been good. He has never done a bad song for me, just like Tarrus Riley, like Luciano… they have never done bad songs for me.

“Reggae is still very much vibrant and there are some new artistes coming up now, one of whom is a woman called Sevanna. She is Jamaican. I think that girl will be an exceptional star,” said the man who has also played many times in his native land since he left here, including Waterhouse and Rae Town in the Corporate Area, Trelawny and St Elizabeth in the rural section.

He bemoaned the shift in projecting real music with instruments. The music, he said, is so fast now and many of the tunes are made up in people's houses from studios set up there, but “everything sounds the same because everything is built on the computer. Nobody licking drum machine, nobody plucking bass, nobody laying keyboard — it's not there as it was with the Tyrone Downies of the day, the Horse Mouths, Family Man Barrett, Sly and Robbie, Dean Fraser… we seem to be moving away more and more. It's more quantity now than quality,” Cranston said.

And how has he been accepted as a DJ in England?

“I have been accepted, because when you put in the work, as Chronixx would say 'do it for the love, me no do it for the likes', sometimes you reach a certain stage in a game where the people accept you. I think I have been quite fortunate because I have been doing it at a consistent level and in a positive way. I have put a lot of sweat in this work. Once you hire me for whatever occasion you know what you are getting,” said Cranston, who spends a half of the week mentoring boys and girls in homes in East London.

“I started mentoring in a girls' home, and now I'm at a boys' home between Tuesday and Thursday. These are children that come from homes in which their parents neglect them, sexually abuse them, family members physically abuse them; and children with disorders, like mental and behavioural disorders, between the ages of 10 and 18.

“They (authorities) send you on a lot of courses to equip you, so you are well-trained. After that, it's preparing for the radio on Fridays, play out on a Friday night, on the radio Saturday and Sunday, hosting a stage show on Sunday, so the next four days in the music thing,” he said of his schedule which he has managed to maintain for five years and has turned down management appointments in the area of social services because of his music and radio schedule.

After he returns to England soon, he will work with veteran artiste Tony Rebel for the first time when he emcees a show at which music producer King Jammy will be given a lifetime achievement award. The line-up of artistes also includes Admiral Bailey, Queen Ifrika, Lecturer, and Shinehead on June 2.

“On the radio scene, I prefer to deal with a more mature audience. I'm very comfortable on radio. I like quotations from Marcus Garvey … defining Marcus Garvey's work. I will look at the Jamaica Observer online and dissect a story, talk about current affairs on the Saturday show from 5 to 5.30, like the State of Emergency etc, cause of the problems, etc. choose a story or two and talk about it, and my audience love it.

Apart from playing music and doing his emcee duties, Cranston, whose all-time favourite artiste is Bob Marley — whom he calls a genius — also hosts a two-month-long talent stage show, Reggae Star Factor, which has a similar format to the Digicel Rising Stars programme on local television.

When in Jamaica he also mentors and offers gifts to pupils of Jones Town Primary School, which he attended before he left for Kingston College.

On this particular trip though, apart from Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships or Champs, he is here primarily for the 40th reunion of Kingston College's graduating class of 1978 — 40 years ago. Apart from participating in the week-long activities starting today, he will be spinning the tunes of yesteryear at the show Nostalgia on Saturday, March 24 at Jolly's, Port Henderson, St Catherine, which also features Richard “Bello” Bailey, and popular sound system selector, Señor Daley.

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