Why His Last Trip Down Under Set Off Controversial Rumours

29 January 2016 | 4:03 pm | Mumma Trees

"That's really not my style."

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Being related to Jacob Miller (Inner Circle) , and Heavy D, it would seem that music was in Maxi Priest's blood. With roots from St Elizabeth Jamaica, he was born and grew up “in the wonderful melting pot of London.”

One of nine children, Priest's family was always singing and creating their own  entertainment at home. He went on to work with some of the legendary and groundbreaking sound systems in London, including Jah Shaka and Negus Nesgast.  His real break came performing with  Saxon International Sound System, which was almost a school of reggae talent in '80s London, with “people like Smiley Culture, Tippa Irie, Pato Banton, Papa Levi and the list goes on… a lot of guys have built themselves a lot of success from that foundation.”

So was Saxon like a reggae university?

“I guess we can look back on that now and say yes," Priest says. "Apart from the fact that life itself is a university, I guess at the time we didn't realise some of the things we were doing just for love of it, but we were trying to find an identity, and make something.”

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The UK reggae sound was born from bands such as UB40, Steel Pulse and Aswad, but also the artists who were coming through Saxon International. Together these foundation UK artists  forged a new sound in the reggae genre that had its own distinct flavour whilst remaining true to its Caribbean roots.

The transition from sound system to recording artist came through Barry Boom from The One Blood Reggae Band “he took me in to the studio and  kinda taught me the ropes of creating recorded music, rather than just being round a sound system and singing to a backing track. From there we created the album, Your Safe, that was the first album we did for Virgin Records.” 

With a string of reggae hits in the early '80s, Priest gained mainstream attention for the single, Strolling On, in 1986. “As you move along and start taking your steps, everything you do is part of building that career,” Priest offers.

Priest had a massive hit in 1988 with a cover of Cat Stevens' Wild World which cemented him as the UK’s top reggae singer.  “Big, big success for me," he says. "A song that I really wasn't sure about... but now there's no way I could do a show without playing that song.”

Throughout his career, Priest has recorded with some amazing artists, Beenie Man, Apache Indian, Shaggy, Shabba Ranks, Dennis Brown and more recently Stylo G and Beniton. He clearly enjoys the collaboration process. “I think that’s the way forward.  To me it's just a natural progression, you pay respect to other guys in the business you have admired over the years, and also those who were coming up at the same time that myself and others were coming up. To me it's just a whole natural progression, and something I always want to do."

The last time Priest played live in Perth was at Raggamuffin festival in 2008.  At that time he performed a solo set and also with UB40, with rumours that he was replacing Ali Campbell as lead singer. “First of all let's concentrate on the word rumours," he responds.

"It was at the time we were touring together in Australia and we had collaborated and done a song together, and the press just ran off with the idea that I was taking  Ali’s place in the band. But that's really not my style to do that and, you know, I spent so many years building my thing. I love collaborating with people, but obviously I do me as well.”

2014’s Easy To Love was Priest's first album in seven years.  The titlular single was a hit on reggae charts worldwide, and the whole album is sweet, smooth lovers rock, featuring Sly & Robbie, Beres Hammond, Earl 'Chinna’ Smith and Steven 'Lenky’ Marsdon.

“It’s been fantastic, and I just really wanna thank everybody for their support, This is the first time, really officially that we have collaborated with VP Records, which I call the home of reggae music, to do an official album.  It was a wonderful experience and it was a great journey, and again I wanna thank everyone for their support.

"Here we are kicking off the new year with a smash and a tour -  back to Japan, back to Australia, Hawaii, and a few other places. We are just so glad for this whole vibe and really looking forward to this tour. When we hit the stage we just have a ball.”

Originally published in X-Press Magazine