Once in a while a young artist or band emerges seemingly from nowhere, makes an album themselves with no outside help, and their debut climbs to the summit of the treacherous music business in which we operate. So unstoppably talented are they that it all appears effortless (Arctic Monkeys and Lana Del Rey spring to mind here). I of course, like thousands of others, am not in this category. I have benefited from years of mentoring and guidance from some old experienced hands and would not be where I am now without good old school management.
One of the most important characters in my career is Tracy Bennett. A bit like my music business Godfather, Tracy started London Records and throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s scored hit after hit with bands like Faith No More, Bananarama, Fine Young Cannibals, Ace of Base, The All Saints,Sugababes etc. His label London Records was sold to Warner Bros and in 2005 signed my former band Mattafix to his subsequent independent label Buddhist Punk.
We were cocky and naive and together with my now manager Alfe, Tracy helped us sculpt records that we could make a living from. After a couple of albums with Mattafix, he decided to shut the label down which meant dropping us. I know he found this difficult and in true Tracy style he flew me out to my gorgeous home St Vincent and the Grenadines to break the news and talk about my future. He has remained a loyal friend and advisor throughout my new solo venture and I was deeply honoured this week to fly back out to the Caribbean to play steel pan at his wedding. Congrats Big T!
I flew to St. Vincent (a five minute flight!) for a night. I managed to catch up with my mum and also visit her students at the Community College A Level Art department. What those kids are achieving with so few facilities is amazing. As young West Indians they are exposed to a unique perspective of the world and it shows in their work. They routinely score A grades and a few go on to secure scholarships to Cuba and Barbados to further their studies. Some have now returned with their degrees and are assisting younger students to achieve the same. What really stands out for me are the colours; the deep purples of a Caribbean sunset, the greens of the rain forest, hypnotic turquoise of the sea or the pastels of a fruit still life. Why do I live in England?!
From there I flew into the Port of Spain, then Trinidad & Tobago for the famous Trini Carnival. My family and I lived there for a year when I was nine and it left a very deep impression on me.
I remember seeing my first Steel Band (Phase 2) on the Queen's Park Savannah and I vowed to learn the tenor pan as soon I could. I managed to get a ticket for the National Steel Orchestra Competition, Panorama, and rocked the night away as band after band hit the stage, some with as many as 120 players! I was amazed to see the rock band Arcade Fire in the crowd enjoying themselves. The ethnic and cultural diversity in T&T is astounding, After slavery ended the British sourced cheap indentured labour from wherever they could including East India. This means that a massive percentage of the population is Indian and when blended culturally with the Afro-Caribbean vibe the results are wonderful. Its evident first of all in the incredible food (the local speciality is called Roti), in the 'Soca' music and of course in the varying shades of skin colour from West African black to European white. You would certainly struggle to find a more beautiful nation of people.