“I grew up listing to U Roy and wanting to be like U Roy, so it was just a natural progression for me”
Original UK dancehall mc Tippa Irie’s place in reggae history is assured. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from releasing ‘Stick To My Roots‘, a late contender for the best album of his career. A collaboration with Germany’s Far East Band, ‘Stick To My Roots’ sees Tippa chat over everything from the latest dancehall rhythms and pop-lovers ditties to unusual forays into cultural music with his celebration of live instruments Hornsman Blow. Angus Taylor spoke to him at Reggae Jam in Germany about his resurgence, his new record and how he won’t let nagging injuries keep him down…
You told me ‘Stick To My Roots’ was your best work a year ago. Now it’s out and it certainly is a great album. How has the response been for you?
The response has been great. We can’t complain at all. The album came out on 11th June and we’ve had good reviews from all the journalists, the distributor’s happy, the record shops are saying they’re getting a good response from the people that are buying the music. So right now we’re really happy and really excited about the album and we’re trying our best now to get shows so we can tour the album as much as possible. We have to give thanks for Reggae Jam for giving us the opportunity to present some of the tracks to an audience like this. I’m very happy, I’m very excited and I look forward to promoting the album some more and we hope is does the best it can.
You showed us what a great roots chanter you are. Have you always had that in you?
Yeah, for me it’s music. I love music and I grew up from a young age with my father having a sound system so I’ve always been involved in music in one shape or form or another. When I was at school I played in the Paddington Youth Steel Band. When I was at home my dad has his sound system so he used to play U Roy, Big Youth, Dillinger, Trinity, Tappa Zukie, I Roy and all these people – the list goes on. So I grew up listening to U Roy and wanting to be like U Roy and wanting to be a performer, so it was just a natural progression for me. I started to go around on as many sound systems as possible to try to promote myself and get myself a record deal – and it worked!
What inspired you to do Hornsman Blow?
A lot of people me included feel very strongly about horns. But generally people see lack of horns as normal. Often the demand for horns comes from foreign enthusiasts and lacks impact.
Why was the time right to say it from within the reggae community?
For me, with music, you hear a track and the fact that there were horns on the track and they were the lead point in the tune made me think about horns. Then I thought about a popular saying artists use with regard to horns, which was Blow Mr Hornsman Blow. So that came into my head, I just wrote the lyric to the track and the two married together and I sent it to Marco from Far East Band and he loved it. So that’s how it came about.
Do you think the way the music business treats people means artists and producers use fewer live instruments to stay in control and on budget?
Yeah. There’s good music and there’s bad music in my opinion. But sometimes there’s bad music that’s got money behind it and got the media behind it so that’s what the people get access to and the people get into what they are fed. If they’re fed electro music that’s what they’re going to get into a lot of the time. But then there’s also people out there that love real music, hardcore music, authentic live music. So that’s why we used a lot of live samples on the album because we appreciate live music and live instruments. It’s good that you can gather musicians together and put a good piece of work together, so that’s what I did.
“I have the talent and the capability to be in the mainstream because I know how to perform and I know how to deliver good music”
You also have some strong words for promoters and critics on two of the tracks. Why did all this need to be said at this point in your career?
Well sometimes you just have to say how you’re feeling and write what you feel. I know that music is about a feeling and if you make good music you feel it and other people feel it. But sometimes you’re not getting the love you deserve or a fair crack of the whip. I’ve had five number one tunes in the reggae charts, I’ve done pop tunes for Arsenal football team, I’ve done tunes with the Black Eyed Peas, and I’ve done tunes in my own right like Hello Darlin’ that have crossed over into the mainstream. I have the talent and the capability to be in the mainstream because I know how to perform and I know how to deliver good music.
So all you ask for is a fair crack of the whip from the media, for them to accept and give our music the opportunity to be heard in places like Stoke On Trent or in Blackpool or Brighton or Newcastle – all these places around the UK where they might not get reggae music or get access to an entertainer. Because that’s what I am – I’m an entertainer. I know how to involve the people whether they be a rock crowd, a hip-hop crowd or a reggae crowd. I know how to embrace people. I’ve worked with rock groups like Sublime which is like a punk rock group who are influenced by reggae musicians. Their singer died and they formed a group called Long Beach Dub All Stars which featured Tippa Irie, Barrington Levy, Half Pint and people like that. I went on tour with these guys and most of the audience were a rock audience but I still know how to embrace them and get them involved in what I’m doing on stage. That’s all I ask for from the radio and in the mainstream: for them not to be prejudiced against our music – because it’s good music.
“I’m an entertainer. I know how to involve the people whether they be a rock crowd, a hip-hop crowd or a reggae crowd. That’s all I ask for from the radio and in the mainstream: for them not to be prejudiced against our music – because it’s good music”
What’s up with your foot? Is it the same injury from last year? How come it’s taken so long to heal? Have you been working when you should be resting?
Nah! Well I have been working! Because I’ve just come from Brittany and then I went to Italy to play the Vesuvio Festival at a mountain in Naples before moving on to Spain to do a show in Zaragoza with Nyabinghi Crew and a lot of Spanish artists. Now I’m doing Reggae Jam and then it’s back to London for the One Love Festival. But yeah it’s the same. It’s just mistakes – you make mistakes sometimes! I was running down the stairs to answer my phone and I missed my step and went over on my ankle. The first time I was in Sardinia performing and I twisted my ankle and hit my knee on stage and I was out for six weeks. This time I was out for four weeks and I kind of still out because it’s still not healed – but the show must go on.
Will you continue to work with Marco and the Far East band? Will there be another album?
Well you never know! It’s a project we did, we think it was successful and we think it’s going to be successful so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If we do something that’s good and people appreciate it then why shouldn’t we do another one?