Review: Johnson Waxes Lyrical with Dub; Martin Longley Talks to Jamaican Legend Linton Kwesi Johnson about Poetry and Reggae

By Longley, Martin | The Birmingham Post (England), January 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Review: Johnson Waxes Lyrical with Dub; Martin Longley Talks to Jamaican Legend Linton Kwesi Johnson about Poetry and Reggae


Longley, Martin, The Birmingham Post (England)


As part of the ongoing Writers At Warwick season, Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson will be giving a reading early on Tuesday evening.

He's has been an associate fellow of the university since1985: "I haven't done an awful lot of things for them, so this is a golden opportunity," he says.

Johnson will be reading a mixture of old poems and new material taken from last year's More Time album. It's a benefit performance, with proceeds being collected for Caribbean hurricane victims.

The album includes a track called Hurricane Blues, but its subject matter is more abstract than the title implies, dealing with "love and loss" in a general sense. The title track itself is a call for rebellion against society's current workaholic frenzy . "It's a bit more introspective," says Johnson. "It's a sign that I'm getting older! It's not a conscious change of direction, it's just where I'm at now."

While some of More Time's poems inhabit a similarly abstract plane, others adopt a more familiar, specific approach. Listening to Liesense Fi Kill or New World Hawdah, we can confirm that Johnson certainly hasn't mellowed with age.

The first tackles the black death tendencies of the police holding cell, the second opens up to large-scale ethnic cleansing. Other tracks are dedicated to recently departed poets May Ayim and Martin Carter, while another questions the shady circumstance s of Linton's nephew Bernard Burnett's recent death.

Johnson always refers to his poems as poems, whether they're printed as a collection or appear on an album, backed by Dennis Bovell's Dub Band. Musically the new album is as rich as ever, with texture-changing contributions from violinist Johnny Taylor a nd guitarist John Kpiaye, who also plays a vintage pedal steel on several numbers. Taylor used to front the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, while Kpiaye does session work and builds his own guitars.

LKJ's last appearance in Birmingham with a full band was at the Que Club, a few years back. Johnson's relationship with Bovel stretches back over two decades, to the heyday of his recording career, beginning with Dread Beat & Blood, which came out on the Virgin label in 1978.

Bovell, previously with Matumbi, engineered and mixed the album. By the time of the next release, Johnson was being backed by the bass player's new outfit. The Dub Band's special quality is largely down to its ongoing stability, with guitarist John Kpiay e, saxophonist Steve Gregory and keyboardist Nick Straker stretching back to the earliest version of the band.

Johnson came to England in 1963, settling in Brixton, taking his school satchel to Black Panther meetings (British division), soon seeing his early poems printed in Race Today. He'd already had two collections published before entering the world of music . Some of his earliest experiments grew out of music and poetry workshops, fusing dub poetry to the rhythms of Nyabingi rasta drumming.

Johnson's association with the Island label led to his most prolific outpouring, releasing virtually an album each year at the turning of 70s into the early 80s. Forces Of Victory, Bass Culture and Making History still stand their ground as classics, whi le LKJ In Dub would fit in neatly with the current wave of deep reggae nostalgia. …

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