Johnny Clarke – Count Down to Outlook

One of Jamaica’s finest singing talents
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One of Jamaica’s finest singing talents, Johnny Clarke, has arguably not received the same global recognition as some of his reggae contemporaries. Still, his ventures throughout the mid-70s didn’t go unnoticed in his homeland of Jamaica where a truckload of his hits including, ‘Move Out Of Babylon Rastaman’ and ‘None Shall Escape the Judgment’ led to cult icon status: “It was really exciting, because it was so much more different to now because in those days all eyes were focused in your direction, there was no privacy. Wherever I’d go people would always be pointing or looking in my direction which was kind of getting to me after a while. So when the time came to take a break I did welcome it.”

Add to that five separate nominations for Best Vocalist in Jamaica and claims as one of the best artists of the period begin to become realistic rather than an egotistical shot-in-the-dark. In a space where peers comprised of Bob Marley, it’s easy to embrace Johnny nostalgia: “It was really great because in my heyday there was so much creativity musically, there was lots of original music being made. There was lots of great music coming from the ghetto. Getting an award because of so many hits, where the media recognized my contribution, was fantastic. I got the award because of all the hits that I had. We found a new sound that people hung onto.” Fancy being good friends with fellow legend like Marley too: “we used to play football in the evenings. He loved his football; he always had a football with him.”

Clarke has released a slew of releases over the decades and as he later concedes, festivals are also an important part of his schedule: “I like the way all the people respond and they’re well fed musically. It’s great to think that they really appreciate what I’m giving them. I find it really encouraging. You get people coming together from all four corners of the world.“

On the upcoming Outlook Festival in early September he casually announces his excitement: “It’s the first time I’ve been there. I’m really excited to be playing there.” It’s not surprising either. The bass fest, which celebrates the whole field of lower level frequencies from Mala all the way back to Horace Andy, is the perfect place for Johnny to be. Just think about it; all the badman samples that dubstep artists have salivated over for years are there in the flesh. To say Johnny Clarke’s cherry-sweet voice has been used would be a given.

He’s still keeping up with his own productions too. A new album is supposedly on the horizon: “I did a song a couple of weeks ago and it’ll be available here on 10” vinyl only in the next two weeks. It’s called ‘Going to a Ball’. Later on it’ll come out on CD. At the moment I’m putting an album together, a 14/15 track album. Hopefully it will be either late this year or early next year. I’m putting the 10” singles out as promotion for the album. They’re coming out on my label, ‘Hit Machine’.”

In a time where traditional reggae has been on a backburner, in a musical sense, Johnny displayed his frustration: “I’ll tell you there are so many ups and downs, so many people are complaining. Some people are complaining that they’re not getting enough of the dancehall type of music. That’s why with these new songs I’ve tried to include most of the instruments that I used back in the 70s, so we’ve got guitar and keyboard for the melodies.”

Nevertheless, with a timeless vocal ability, reggae fans can exhale a large amount of massive relief whilst the likes of Johnny Clarke are still about and making music.

Interview by Simon Carle. Feature by Errol Anderson

Johnny Clarke plays Outlook on September 4th. For more info go to www.outlookfestival.com

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Stay tuned for more Outlook Festival coverage, before, during and after, on ClashMusic.com hub page HERE.

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