Sarah Parker Remond Centre


Transcript: In conversation with Dennis Bovell

Paul Gilroy: Hello everybody, I'm Paul Gilroy, director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the study of Racism and Racialisation at UCL. My guest today is Dennis 'Matumbi' Bovell, the artist formerly known as Blackbeard, now recognised as the Reggae Maestro. Dennis is a producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, innovator and bass man, lord of the lowest frequencies, king of that dark continent located below 35 hertz. He's known and appreciated for his film soundtracks, most notably Franco Rosso's landmark picture Babylon, which dramatized elements of Dennis's own biography; and of course, for his many decades of work as the musical director for Linton Kwesi Johnson's touring band. Dennis has worked with really the who's who of reggae music: Michael Prophet, Max Romeo, Steel Pulse, Lee Perry - and many, many, many, many others - with Viola Wills, Fela Kuti, Sharon Shannon, Jean "Binta" Breeze, Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra; and in the world of pop- with Orange Juice, The Slits, Madness and Bananarama. For five decades the man who wrote the national anthem of Black Britons, Silly Games, has been astonishing us with his creative accomplishments inside reggae music and beyond it, in this country as well as in the wider world; across Europe, in Africa with Alpha Blondy, and many others, in Japan where Lovers Rock has another life, and of course in Latin America where Dennis's work is known and appreciated especially in Brazil and Argentina. A list of Dennis's many musical accomplishments really would use up all the time that we have available for us today, so I went go into that any more deeply, but thank you Dennis for making the time and space to have this conversation with me and welcome, we're3 delighted to have you here. I don’t know where to begin, Dennis, because obviously to sum up your career is not the point of this. When I think of you as a master of music, I think of it across all fields of music. Maybe the place to start is what boundaries; do you have any musical boundaries at all?
Dennis Bovell: Not at all, no. I think you can go wherever you like in music; and stemming from the days as a young boy accompanying my grandfather to choir practice, and hearing the choir being put through its paces and seeing how the different harmonic bits came together, and then attempting to create pieces of my own where I was linking a, b and c sections, return to the a, only go to the b once. For instance, today I was meditating on Silly Games, and there is one part that goes, ‘daa, daa, daa, daa’, only one time in the song, and it’s like at the end of the first verse, and at the end of the second verse I go somewhere else. That’s the joy for me, kind of trying to remember my grandfather putting the Hallelujah Chorus together with lay people really. They were just church members who he delighted in enlightening them about music. And of course, my mum, being his eldest daughter, she was in the choir. So, I accompanied them, every Wednesday night to choir practice and then ended up actually looking forward to it.
Paul: Well, I know that you’ve been obviously working with Steve McQueen on his Small Axe thing. One of the things that’s striking about the music in that, in the ones I’ve seen so far anyway, is the presence of country music in the West Indian, as it was, in the West Indian home.
Dennis: That’s nothing new.
Paul: Well, no, it isn’t anything new but it’s also something that – and you know from your life as a producer and musician in West Africa too – that the high lonesome sound, that sort of singing melancholy sound, is very, very appealing among Caribbean people and African people too. But it seems to break the rules of how so many people think about culture and music these days because you’re going somewhere you’re not supposed to go but it finds you anyway. How do you feel about that? Because I know you’ve worked with Irish musicians in the past, you’ve worked in all forms really.
Dennis: Yes, in fact I’ve just turned in a rhythm track to Sharon Shannon. She sent me a piece of recording and said, ‘Look, this is a piece called Muirsheen Durkin and it was a hit in the '60s in Ireland as a great protest song about going to America to dig for pots of gold instead of digging potatoes in Ireland, and it was quite a hit'. I’d never heard it before until she pointed it out to me and sent me her accordion version, whereupon I set the band up and she was quite intrigued that I’ve got the same amount of musicians around me and the same people around me as I did when we did her album in 2004, or something. That album was called Out the Gap. Then she said, ‘And I wonder if you could ask Linton to do a voiceover.’ And you know that’s the most difficult thing to do, get Linton to do a voiceover of your poem- but I’ll put it to him anyway so that he doesn’t hear, ‘Oh we asked Dennis and he…’ So, I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Sharon, send him an email.’ And I was in the studio with him in days, because we’ve been doing this project for about 20 years, what he calls his labour of love. I said, ‘Linton, Sharon sent through a request for you to do something’ and he went, ‘Yeah, yeah, she did and I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll do a like-for-like.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, come on then, Linton.’ He said, ‘I will do a poem on her piece of music if she then plays accordion on this album that we’ve been making for the last however long.' And he pointed out what song it would be to have her do an accordion on, and I agreed with him, I said, ‘Alright.’ And so, I said, ‘There you go, Linton did the voice and then she did the accordion.’
Paul: That’s extremely interesting actually and the reason I wanted to talk about that a little bit – I don’t know if you’re a Jim Reeves fan, I’m not really actually.
Dennis: No.
Paul: I love country music but Jim Reeves…
Dennis: My granddad was.
Paul: I’ve come across in my own life in the last sort of year ago a lot of young black people in this country who have got no boundaries with regard to the music that they love and the music they want to make. They’re as comfortable with grime, they’re as comfortable with a computer, as they are thinking about English folk music and traditions of musicking that people don’t assign to a black history. And I always thought that was a terrible mistake, because there are figures in this country, people like Davey Graham – you must have come across him – or Nadia Cattouse, or even Doris Henderson, who were making folk music in the '60s and '70s, and not just making English folk music but making music from every quarter of the world and folding it back into a much more- I guess I don’t want to call it folky, but it would be… I mean, isn’t it Louis Armstrong who says 'it’s all folk music, have you ever seen a horse making music?' No, it’s all folk that make the music.
Dennis: That’s right.
Paul: He uses that category to encompass everything.
Dennis: Yeah, I’m a great Louis Armstrong fan. I’ve done an acapella version of Wonderful World that people keep saying to me, put it out, put it out. I maybe will soon, with my rendition of Ave Marie melody, where I’ve changed the words and it’s now called, Mamma Maria, and it goes ‘Mamma Maria with reverence we call thy name, oh hear us we beseech thee in our quest for peace, love and unity, grant us the power to stand firm in our hopes and beliefs, thy son proclaimed as a saviour gave his life for humanity, oh hear us we beseech thee.’ You know like that and it’s like a prayer to Mary to heal the world and in English, because nobody knows what the Latin of that says.
Paul: I always felt that Rico’s incredible version of Danny Boy was something that could be positioned in remarkable hits of alternative history of life in this country during the '50s and '60s. It sort of stands out in my mind as a marker of all of that.
Dennis: I once did a version with him of the Kinks’ You got me going, ‘da, da, da, da, da, da-da’ and he sang. When I go through my collection I’m going to find that, because we did a piece called Children of Sanchez.
Paul: Yeah, I remember that. Chuck Mangione.
Dennis: That’s right, yeah. Rico was so in love with that piece of music that we had to do it; he had to do it. And then for the B-side, I said, ‘What about doing this Kinks’ record?’ And he really liked the tune and got right into it and did a vocal and a trombone version of it.
Paul: I know you worked very closely with him in lots of different contexts over the years. I feel that he’s not sufficiently honoured as an ancestor, as a creative person who opens up incredible perspectives, particularly in the interfacing of Caribbean music with R&B actually. If you listen to those old records that he made with Dandy Livingstone in the beginning- nobody even knows Dandy Livingstone’s name. What was your first encounter with him?
Dennis: With Dandy Livingstone?
Paul: Yeah.
Dennis: Well, I was given the opportunity to have my own record label at EMI in the '80s, or was it the '70s? End of the '70s-80s, and the first artist I released on my label was Dandy Livingstone, a tune called Instant Hit, and I found copies of it the other day and we also did a version of Fever. Dandy, the funny thing that links us together is John Kpiaye, because John played guitar in a band called the In Brackets, and that was Dandy’s backing band back in the day, Suzanne Beware of the Devil and all that, John Kpiaye was the guitar player.
Paul: I see, that’s remarkable. For my sins, I lost my copy of the original Ijahman Levi version of Jah Heavy Load. I’ve lost my copy of that and I’ve been searching for it. I looked online, as you do, to see where I could get another copy of it, and the cost of a 7 inch of that record was £200.
Dennis: What?
Paul: You didn’t produce that one, did you?
Dennis: No, that was all John Kpiaye’s work.
Paul: Yes, I thought it was his guitar sound.
Dennis: Oh, yeah, definitely. That was John right through, because the thing was that we worked for Dennis Harris, who was affectionately known as 'Dip', but you know how people, our people, can bastardise things - it was actually Dlp, because his name was Dennis Lascelles Harris, right, and he has DL Productions, so it was Dlp when he used to do bus excursions. When Matumbi met him, we were booked to play on a bus excursion that went to North Wales, and we thought, ah it’s Wales, good, we’ll go down Bristol and we’ll get there. So, we drove down to Bristol only to find that we had to drive the length of Wales, up and down hills, mountains and valleys, and of course the van, not being a very new one, gave way. Luckily, we had a mechanic with us who sort of botched it up and we got to the gig a bit late and embarrassed. We did the gig and left without collecting our money and about a week or two later, he phones me up and said, ‘Don’t you want your money? Although I shouldn’t pay it to you because you turned up late, but you played alright.’ And then I made a friend of him. Then when he had some success with Susan Cadogan, Hurts so Good, because he was involved with that. Scratch Perry and he were very good friends. In fact, Lee Scratch Perry told me that it was him who gave him the equipment to build his first recording studio. He relayed that to me in front of his son from Ladbroke Grove, Peter Harris, who had never had much contact with his dad, and then when Lee Perry said to him, ‘Oh, how’s your dad?’, then we had to say, ‘Oh, he’s passed away.’ And then Lee Perry started to tell him about his dad and how he was a man of his word. So, that man said to me once, he said, ‘Dennis, you’re a good bass player but your guitar playing’s not up to much.’ I went, ‘What do you mean? I’m a guitarist, I just double on bass.’ He went, ‘No, no, I’m going to bring you a guitar player who’s going to ‘wipe the floor with you’.’ And I was like, ‘Challenge, bring him.’ And he brought this young man and the man plugged in the guitar and started to play, and it was John Kpiaye and I was like, oh my god, I’m never going to be this good, so I said, ‘John, I’ll tell you what, let’s make a pact, right, you play guitar, I’ll play bass.’ And we’ve done that ever since 1975. And after Linton’s first album when I’d been guitar, keyboards, bass, sometimes his sound engineer, I said, ‘Linton, I can’t do it all, we need a guitar player, and I’m going to bring a guitar player to the scene.’ And he went, ‘Is he better than you?’, and I went, ‘You’ll see’ and when he plugged in, Linton looked at me and he went, ‘He is better than you.’ And ever since that, he’s been a member of the camp.
Paul: So, were you aware of The Cats when The Cats had that hit with Swan Lake in ’68?
Dennis: Oh, certainly.
Paul: Because that John. That was the first thing I knew of him. That must have been the first record to get in the charts that was produced here.
Dennis: Well, no because My Boy Lollipop had pipped it to the post.
Paul: Oh, of course, yeah. I suppose I don’t… I don’t know why I don’t count that. I know it’s not true that Rod Stewart played the harmonica on there…
Dennis: No.
Paul: But there’s something about that in my mind that means I put it in a slightly different category but yeah.
Dennis: It was produced by Ernest Ranglin, and probably most of the players from Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, certainly that horn section. That was, if you want to say, the first piece of Caribbean music recorded in England that made it to the top of the charts. Swan Lake and all that made it to the bottom ring, but it made it in there anyway, so that was something to celebrate that it actually got in there. John says that he played the guitar and the organ, because he was playing the guitar and then playing a few bits on the organ and it was amazing. But John’s a multi-instrumentalist, of course. And when he was brought on to the production team at DIP, DIP was involved with trying to find new vehicles for letting the music out and he thought that to flood the market was the answer. So, you get yourself about ten different labels, as they did in Jamaica, and you just put stuff out. Nobody knows if it’s your label or if it’s another label. And that kind of discounts the prejudice of whether or not you’ve subscribed to that person’s record company because you didn’t like their ethics, or whatever, and then to suddenly find, hang on I just bought a record, and, it was him that did it again and it’s on a new label, I didn’t expect it to be on that label. We kind of took that attitude with making records in England, because we were always being ridiculed, 'ah that was made in London, don’t want to hear it.'
Paul: I remember as a consumer, if I can call myself that, going into a record shop and seeing the records that you were putting out on white labels, or with the centre punched out, to make them look as though they were pre-release records come into the country from Jamaica. And actually, I have to say, although a lot of people were fooled by that - I didn’t know it was you doing it - but I did wonder who was doing it, because it was obvious that they weren’t… it wasn’t obvious but it was, if you listen you hear it...
Dennis: It weren’t Kingston…
Paul: ...it wasn't produced like a Jamaican record. So that was very interesting to me that you had to do that actually, because there’s a bit of a romantic story that gets told about the music, that all the local people love the music in the same way that the Jamaicans do, and blah, blah, blah, and actually a lot of artists, a lot of musicians, here couldn’t really support themselves from their own creativity. I know that I’ve talked to you before about the fact that Matumbi served as a backing group for touring Jamaican artists and, therefore, in a way, perfected the ability to sound like a Jamaican band.
Dennis: Yeah, we had to learn it lick for lick. I remember Dennis Brown once coming over and saying, ‘Oh right we’ve got a gig’ and he didn’t turn up to the rehearsal until about ten minutes before the end and I was like, ‘D Brown, what happened?’ And he’d go, ‘Ah, don’t worry, listen, play me, one, two, play Money in the Pocket’ and we’d go, start over, and he’d go, ‘Yeah, play Wolves and Leopards. Play…’ and then he’d go, ‘Ah, you’re alright. I’ll see you at the gig tomorrow.’ He didn’t sing a note at the rehearsal and we took that to mean, well, we’ve passed the test. But it was very flamboyant. He was like, ' you lot are alright, you can play.' It boosted our confidence a lot that Dennis Brown didn’t even bother to turn up because he was confident that we were going to supply the goods.
Paul: There’s also that spontaneity that’s so precious. It’s such a precious and special part of the way that the music works, that you’re really improvising something.
Dennis: Yeah, it was the same with Leroy Smart. Leroy Smart turned up at the tail-end of a recording session one evening in Gooseberry and said, ‘Hey, Bovell, I want do an album with you.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, when? We can sort it out.’ And he goes, ‘How about now?’ And I’m like, uh-uh. So I say to the musicians, ‘Leroy wants to do some recording, are you lot up for it?’ And this is Jaboni, John Kpiaye, myself, and Noel Salmon, keyboard player; we used to call him Fish. They went, ‘Yeah.’ And he pulled out a big wad of notes and went, ‘I got money’ and so the musicians were like, 'okay, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning but we can do something.' We said, ‘What shall we play?’ and he said, ‘You lot are musicians, you play what you like. I’m a singer, I’m going to sing. You play.’ And it was the strangest thing, because it felt as though we could play anything and he would sing along to it. So I took that as a sign to create some nice two-chord rhythms and then a little bridge part there and it was quite easy. And by the time we’d made nine backing tracks I thought, hang on a minute, your name is Leroy Smart, you’re very smart, you’ve got us to write music for you and you’re going to claim that it’s you, right. So, I said, ‘No, it stops right here now.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t do nine songs for an album. You’ve got to do ten and it’s five a side.’ So, in a moment of quick thinking, I rewound one of the tracks and said, ‘You see this track, sing two different songs on it.’ And he went, ‘Yeah, great idea.’ And I think that’s probably the beginning of people singing songs that didn’t relate to the chord structures. And we did that album and it was called Propaganda, and as soon as we finished a rhythm track, he would have the lyrics, and if I said to him, ‘Leroy, you’re a bit out of tune there’, he’d go, ‘Ah, no-one’s going to know, next track.’ And we did the whole album in an evening from conception to mix, to the next morning being mastered at John Hassell’s studio and being released by Burning Sounds, where he’s put John Kpiaye’s name as Matumbi because he couldn’t spell Kpiaye.
Paul: That’s extraordinary. So how did you get from Brockley- from DIP and Even, Lucky and Dennis Harris, how did you get to Gooseberry?
Dennis: Well, the thing was that Nick Straker and myself had written a song one afternoon and wanted to record it immediately. That song was called Come with Me. We looked through the Yellow Pages for a studio and found one called Gooseberry in Gerrard Street in the West End, that was able to accommodate us right there and then. So, we got on the number 19 bus and went down there and the guy said, ‘Where’s the band?’ and I said, ‘Well, we are the band.’ And I played the drums and Nick played the keyboard and then I put the bass and he played another keyboard, and then I put the guitars on and then did the vocals. And the guy, whose studio it was, was amazed that a black kid and a white kid came and did this reggae tune. And he was liking reggae himself. So at the end of the session, when I took the tape home and put it on my own tape recorder, it was distorted, the mix was distorted, and so I went boldly back to him and said, ‘Look this mix is distorted, I need to get a clean mix of this and you need to give me some more time at your expense, because it’s your studio and it’s your distortion.’ And he went ‘Mmm, okay, come in.’ And I went in and we remixed the song and after remixing it and being satisfied that it wasn’t distorted, he said, ‘I’ve been dabbling in poetry and I would quite like to do some reggae with my poetry, are you up for it?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ And then one day some weeks later, he turned up at my house to say, ‘Look, there’s some downtime in the studio, will you come with now?’ And I was living at Battersea Bridge at the time and we drove in to the West End and went into the studio and then I started to make some tracks for him, and then I said, ‘You know what, it might be better if I involved the drummer of my band, so that whilst he’s playing drums, I can play the bass.' Otherwise I’d have to play the drums first and then lay the stuff on and it’s a bit more difficult than if I had a drummer. So, he said, ‘Okay, we’ll bring a drummer down.’ And I brought Euton Jones, who was the drummer of Matumbi at the time, down with me and Bevin Fagan, the singer, because we were the Three Musketeers; we hung out together everywhere. And we went down there and we started to lay down some tracks to help Peter with his poetry. He was going to be called Peter Poet, and this was the first time that he’d let anyone of our kind into his studio and so, as time went on and I became friends with him from doing that, then Lloyd Coxsone wanted to record Louisa Mark. So, instead of recording at DIP, where we had an eight track but it wasn’t as professional sounding as Gooseberry, so I said, ‘Well, let’s do it at Gooseberry.’ We went down and did it Gooseberry and the success of that song was so phenomenal that Peter said to me, ‘How would you like to do some engineering here?’ Because there was a guy, Mike Day, who was the chief engineer, he was leaving because he’d been involved with Gerry Rafferty and that song Baker Street, and he was the one who recorded After Tonight and Caught you in the Light, Mike Day. He was a huge 7ft tall man and he was leaving because Rafferty had made some headway with Baker Street so there was a gap at the studio for an engineer. And because I was always with Mike and interested to know how what was done there, I could actually do a session on my own. And I think the first session I did on my own was Labi Siffre. Labi Siffre had a session and I was the engineer. That’s how I met Janet Kay as well because D-Roy had a session and it was with Lloyd Parks and Sly Dunbar. They were in town with their group, We The People band, to do a tour with Dennis Brown; and Delroy Witter, the guy who had a sound system called Success, and he also had the label D-Roy, he had started to record Janet. He got her to sing, That’s What Friends are For, ‘that’s what friends are for’ and I thought, hmm, this is a really interesting voice. And then I worked with her again, we went into the studio to do a recording of I Do Love You, ‘I do love you...’

Paul: Billy Stewart, yeah.

Dennis: Yeah, and when it was like ‘wohoo, yes I do’, I thought, hey this young lady can sing. So when she said to me, ‘Look, if there’s any backing vocals or anything for me to do, here’s my number’ and I went, ‘Backing vocals, I want you to sing the lead on this tune.’ And I leapt on the piano and I played it to her and then I taught her the song piece by piece by piece, and then by the time it was ready, what had happened was that I’d gone into the studio with Drummie Zeb and told him that I wanted this particular drum pattern. Because I had that drum pattern running around in my brain and I was thinking, this is going to be the pattern that’s going to knock Sly Dunbar off of the top reggae drummer. Because I realised that whenever reggae went into a new gear, it was because of something in the rhythm pattern. So I thought, if I change the drum pattern and do some fantastic drum pattern that not many drummers are going to know how to play it, and it looks as though it’s fake when it’s actually an act of juggling between the high hat and the snare and the kick, and then on the kick drum I’m doing disco, 'bo, bo, bo, bo, bo, bo, bo' and then on the high hat I’m doing calypso, 'tsck, tsck, tsck,' but with a difference where I’m rolling the high hat in the bell, and the off-beat on the snare is strictly afrobeat. That’s me kind of paying respect to fellow Fela Kuti, who I’d not long been working with too. And so I came out with this pattern and I tried to find a drummer who could play it for three minutes and steady. I tried Jaboni but he was bashing the high hat rather harshly, he was hitting it, 'tsch, tsch, tsch,' and not like Soca players, he was doing a Jamaican number on it. And Drummie Zeb, being kind of Grenadian, understood Soca because he was the drummer of the Metronome All-Stars before he was a member of Aswad, and at that time, my sound system was the resident sound in the Metro, so I saw them every week, and they became followers of my sound. So, when I said to him, ‘Come here, Drummie, I want you to play…’ because I was noticing him coming up through the ranks and being a formidable drummer. And I thought, I can give him this secret and he will unfold it for me and he did, admirably, especially towards the end where it goes, ‘to play your silly’, he rolled like Phil Collins or someone, it wasn’t reggae, it wasn’t that; it was definitely kind of a rock feeling there or a big altogether now Beatles- that kind of feeling.
Paul: It's London. It’s the sound of London.
Dennis: Yes.
Paul: I mean I remember him actually when he was in Delroy Washington’s band, The Mighty Diamonds with Bunny McKenzie on bass, because I was very close friends with Bunny’s cousin, so went down to hear them. But sticking with Silly Games for a second, how do you feel about the life of that song in the world, because it’s close to something like the national anthem of Black Britain, you know that, don’t you?
Dennis: Yeah, and, in fact, a young lady came out of the audience in a gig I did in Birmingham once and said to me, ‘You know we sing that at Birmingham City Football Club.’ I think it’s the female leg of that club that sings that, because their female team is quite strong, and they sing Silly Games and I was like, wow, if your song has reached the terraces, you can say you’ve made it.
Paul: Well, I could talk to you all day, Dennis, as you know, but I think that’s a really nice place to end. Maybe in the future we can do a bit more of this, because I think we can’t blame the young people for not knowing the history if we don’t actually tell them.
Dennis: If we don’t tell them. That’s true. I mean, when Steve said to me the other day, ‘What’s your connection with afrobeat?’, and I said, ‘Well, when I went to Amsterdam…’ I was entrusted with recording Fela Kuti Movement of the People live in Amsterdam and whilst I was setting the equipment up and recording, the lighting engineer was being a pain because there were some of his lights that were not sufficiently earthed that were making the PA system go off. And then when we took the tapes back to London to my Studio 80 studio, when we got there, Fela said, ‘Is this your studio?’ and I went, ‘Yeah.’, and he went, ‘Is it your own studio?’ and I’m going, ‘Yeah’ and he went, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Because he had never worked in a studio owned by a black person or controlled by someone black. Anyway, when we got back to the studio after recording in Amsterdam, I couldn’t filter the bass channel, the noise. I used noise gates and everything and everything shut down, and he was so furious, and I took the bass up and I said, ‘Look, I’ll replay that bass.’ And he went, ‘You play the bass?’ and I go, ‘Well, I’ve done it before,’ and I plugged the bass in and replayed the whole bassline from top to bottom. And Fela was laughing, he was like, ‘Yeah, great, fantastic, thank you, thank you, thank you... You know this means you’re going to have to come to Nigeria with me now.’ And I thought, oh, my god, here we go. And he brought me a passport, a Nigerian passport with my photo, and I was going, ‘I’m not going anywhere on that. You’re joking.’ So, when the record came out, it had ‘live in Amsterdam, sound engineer Dennis Bovell’, and then at the bottom, it had, ‘bass, Dennis Bovell’, and people were going, hang on, did you play bass from the console, this is a live recording- and I had to explain, no, the bass is actually an overdub because the band had already gone back to Nigeria and if I hadn’t of done that, that recording would have been wasted. And he knew that and so from there on, he was like, ‘I’m going to the studio. Dennis, let’s go.’ We made quite a lot of recordings, including Army Arrangement, which is the one that Bill Laswell and Sly Dunbar changed from afrobeat to disco. And when they did that, they wanted me to come with them and I was going, ‘No, I’m not.’ And I went away with Linton doing something else. I said, ‘Trust me, Fela is not going to like that.’ And then Pascal Imbert sneaks a tape recorder into the prison where they went and presented that to Fela and after three notes he’s going, ‘Mother, who that? What? I don’t want to hear it!’ And Bernie Worrell had played some kind of Booker T organ solo and erased the solo that Fela had played. Fela’s solo made the hair on your hand stand, it was Army Arrangement - ‘mathematician, put am together… army arrangement... one answer you go get… army arrangement…’ - the rawness of it and Fela just was like, ‘No, I don’t want to hear that. Take it away.’ And then, when he came out of jail, he released the one that him and I did in Studio 80 and one of my favourite songs was, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.
Paul: I remember that one.
Dennis: Oh, man, and of course Dele, the keyboard player, Sosimi, he was only a young boy of about 15 or 16 and he was the pianist, because him and Femi are like real tight; Fela’s his godfather. And you can see with his afrobeat compositions now how inside the- what’s Fela’s camp called? Shrine- oh, how enshrined he was.
Paul: Incredible. Thank you for that one. Dennis, thank you very, very much for giving me your time this morning.
Dennis: My pleasure.
Paul: I mean, this idea of wanting to make the music that you’ve created have a global life, a planetary life, that is an amazing thing. Thank you.
Dennis: Pleasure.
Paul: Bless you for that.
Love to the family.
Paul: And to yours.
Dennis: Alright, man. Take care.