Memories of a Musical Youth
Kelvin Grant ready to get back into reggaeSunday, November 25, 2018
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
“Dis Generation rule the nation with version”.
This opening line from the 1982 international reggae hit Pass the Dutchie, by British band Musical Youth has become a classic.
It was recorded by the Kelvin Grant, the youngest member of the band who was 10 years old when he recorded that line, which has gone on the become the most sampled line in reggae music history. Only recently the American hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest drew on the famous seven words.
Today, Grant is a 47 -year-old man who has nothing but fond memories of the heady days when the band shot to stardom on both sides of the Atlantic.
He is currently in Kingston, laying the groundwork to record an album with the likes of Sly & Robbie and horns man Dean Fraser. The Jamaica Observer caught up with him and he spoke of life at the height of popularity and now.
“What bring me back here to sweet Jamaica is the same ole ting reggae music,” his native British accent heavily influenced by his Jamaican accent.
“I have just finished an album called Defend Dem. I released it about six weeks ago in New York by a company called Bentley Records. But now I am doing some real recordings for another project and I want the Jamaican man dem on it. There are certain Jamaican musicians like Sly, Robbie, Dean Fraser. When I'm ready to do my work I normally come here to work with them. Just like it was in the past with Musical Youth where Jamaican kick-start we, same way I'm coming back home to do the thing,” Grant explained.
He added that the album released in New York was really recorded to test the market and see if he could get back into the music game, having stepped away for a number of years.
“I had to get to know myself a bit more. I'm more spiritual now. Music a nuh just something yuh get up and just pick up guitar and mic and talk bout yuh gonna do some things, because if you sing the wrong song it will damage you. So you have to know what you're singing. Ten years' time that song can turn back on you. I had to study my craft and songwriting is very important to me. Just get some word together and jump 'pon a riddim is not the way I work; I have to feel it in my spirit and heart and then I go from there.”
Grant was born in Birmingham, the son of “Windrushers” who were originally from St Thomas, Jamaica. He grew up in a musical family and was encouraged by his father to play instruments from and early age. He recalled that as children on many a Sunday afternoon when friends would visit, his parents would have the children, Grant, and his brother Michael entertain.
Musical Youth would come about when a friend of their father made a link with the Grant brothers and the sons of Freddie Waite, a member of the pioneering Jamaican group The Techniques and another friend Dennis Seaton.
“Everybody quickly gelled. We did think our family and our father was strict, but we realised that it was Fred who was strict. You could not make a mistake with him. We would practise every day and the gigs started to come in. We were in London at a club and some record executives were there and heard us singing Pass the Kutchie (The track recorded by The Mighty Diamonds). Dem hear the tune, love it but didn't understand what it was about. When it was explained to them, they said as children it have to change. Our manager Tony Owens came up with the word Dutchie and we started to change everything around from herb into food.”
The track was recorded and released and unbeknownst to the members of the group it shot to number one on the charts. Grant admits that it was only after the band broke up and he had a chance to reflect that he understood how huge and phenomenal Musical Youth was.
“We had a meeting with the record company MCA, and we bought the newspaper early that morning and saw that we were number five in The Sun newspaper and number seven in The Mirror. By the time we got back to the house there was a white limousine outside to take us to a meeting with the record company. Then it was wild, screaming fans everywhere. Sometimes we would sign as many as 5,000 autographs at a time. But I didn't realise how big this thing was.... First black band to appear on MTV; the song went to number one in 29 countries, and the fastest-selling single in the UK. I normally just put myself into music, so it was only when i was out of it that I realise how it really was,” he recalled.
However, there were moments that stuck out for Grant in the height of this heady period. These including recording Unconditional Love with Disco Queen Donna Summer and meeting the “King of Pop” Michael Jackson
“For Unconditional Love we were in Kenny Rogers' studio and just outside I saw Dennis Brown and his management. Marvin Gaye was in Studio One. I can remember who was in Studio Two and we were in Studio Three with Donna Summer. Dennis Brown just come in an sit down a listen to we. Next minute we were recording the harmonies and Dennis just worked with us. A lot of people don't know that.”
By 1985, came the time when that youthful reggae sound out of the UK stopped. Being the youngest, Grant was not privy to everything that went on on the business side of things. But from his understanding, there was some issues with the record company.
Grant withdrew, fellow band member Patrick Waite died of a heart attack while awaiting trial on drug charges; and Junior Waite had a series of mental breakdowns and has never recovered. However, Michael Grant and Dennis Seaton subsequently revived Musical Youth and will perform to this day.
“Today I am brining reality and spirituality to the music. I want to ensure that uptown can hear, downtown can hear and nobody don't feel offended. I am ready to bring my vibes to the music,” he stated.