By Kieran Webber
The Arsenal rudeboy turned Rastafarian is arguably one of the most interesting artists that CLUNK has had the opportunity to speak to, the reggae artist has been dazzling audiences with his powerful vocals and magnetic stage presence for the past 30 years.
After listening to his latest LP ‘Every Man For Every Man’ we were eager to ask Ghetto Priest some questions about his life, his music and everything else inbetween.
CLUNK: Explain a typical day in the life of Ghetto Priest?
GP: The Sun rises, eyes open, gravities, I have a telepathic reasoning with my Ancestors, via the original source of being, of existence, of life, pure consciousness! I rise from the bed, give thanks for life, health, and strength, have a cup of coffee, a spliff, face the East, connect with Jah and my Ancestors, seeking their guidance and protection and to bless my doings. I like to be productive on any given day and bless my going out and coming in.
CLUNK: How did you go from Arsenal football hooligan to musician?
GP: Where I grew up in Stoke Newington, mostly everyone was Gooner or a Spurs fan and all my circle of mates were Gooners – football rudeboys. But at the same time, I’d met my wife to be and life soul mate, Jen. I had a Grundig radiogram in my bedroom and I invited her back to play her my music as I trusted her opinion. She loved what she heard and it was through her encouragement that I went forward. Jen was the one who said that I was really good and I ended up singing at family parties and weddings – that was my introduction to performing and trust me, family are the hardest to please. If Jen hadn’t pointed me in the right direction, who knows which path in life I would’ve ended up taking. She was and is my salvation. Around 1980/1, I joined Sir George’s Sound System as a DJ/MC – Sir George was Anthony Brightly, one of the members of UK Reggae band, Black Slate. He must’ve seen something in me as he said “we’re going to take you for vocal coaching” and I ended up with the Lover’s Rock singer Sandra Reid. The first thing she said is “the same amount of breath you use for a sentence, you use in singing” – vocally, I’ve never looked back. As a coach, she was hardcore – a mentor. I was still in the rudeboy lifestyle but this was the time that I can truly say that I was beginning to think about who I was about and what I had to offer and it was then that music became my main focus. Brixton Academy ‘Razzle Dazzle Woman’ ‘What’s happening in Stokey’ – as DJs, we used to imitate soap opera songs. Sir George put out my first record – all praises due.
“I ended up singing at family parties and weddings – that was my introduction to performing and trust me, family are the hardest to please”
CLUNK: How and why did you become a Rastafarian?
GP: As a youth, I used to go and buy my £5 draw of herb at a house behind Stoke Newington college. It was a Rasta house – it was only the Rasta that sold ganja them times – I used to always go to this house on my own. And one day in the late 70’s, this Rasta said to to his bredren, in a Prince Far I voice ‘This yout’ ya – ah rasta’– I suppose the Ras washed his mouth on me. I was always mesmerized by Rastas, and the message and the seed was planted around ‘78/’79. So, for me personally, I am just a vessel that was chosen and still becoming! It is said you never stop learning once you have the gift of life!
CLUNK: What does it truly mean to be a Rastafarian?
GP: I’m asked this question many times, the only reply I can give, starting from a point of “self” … know yourself then be yourself! In its essence, Rastafari is love.
“I was always mesmerized by Rastas, and the message and the seed was planted around ‘78/’79”
CLUNK: Has music always played a part in your life? If so was there any particular people or artists that helped shape the musician you are today?
GP: Many artists have inspired me – Nat King Cole, he was my dad’s favourite, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holliday – all these old school musicians. As a youth, I loved pop music – I listened to everything – Mud, Showaddywaddy, Bay City Rollers, David Essex Marc Bolan, T-Rex, I used to go to the local Boys Club – I used to do the dance to ‘Tiger Feet’. In regards to shaping me as a musician/artist, full credit goes to the hours I put in, and my experience of over 30 years in the music.
CLUNK: Through your music there is a theme of unity and hope are these ideals you have always had or was it something that came to you later in life?
GP: Absolutely – it’s always been there. The more we are together, the happier we will be! As for the current climate we live in, if we don’t have hope, and to apply ourselves, to working for a better planet for all of us to live on, in harmony with Mama Nature, regardless of class, race, or creed, then we are doomed as far as I’m concerned.
Listen to ‘Every Man For Every Man’ here:
CLUNK: What was the influence for your latest LP ‘Everyman for Everyman’?
GP: In a nutshell … Life! Or as we say in the Rasta camp “Earth Runnings”.
CLUNK: Would it be fair to say the album has some politically charged elements?
GP: The world that we live in is political, so you can’t get away from it. The thing about Reggae – it’s the historian, the story tellers. Almost every track has political content – I’m a bit of an African Anarchist.
CLUNK: What is your opinion on the current political climate in Britain and the world?
CLUNK: After having a listen to the LP myself I felt that it has a very roots/traditional Jamaican Reggae sound ( I hope that is fair to say) it really reminded me of Early Marley and Peter Tosh, did you aim to create a more of a throwback sound?
GP: From the very beginning, myself and Adrian wanted to keep all the musicians and instruments live and keeping away from the digital element. The selection of tracks was a joint effort but there’s a saying in Jamaica – ‘eyebrows come before moustache’ – so Adrian is the eyebrows and I’m the moustache. He had more musical experience before I came along – he threw a couple of tracks at me that initially I didn’t want to do. One of them was ‘Prophecy’, first done by Fabian back in ’77 – what a great song. Adrian would always ask my opinion throughout the process of putting the LP together but the Robbie Burn’s track, ‘I Murder Hate’ was Adrian’s choice. With regards to Peter Tosh, if you check the back of the album sleeve, I give praises to him!
CLUNK: What is your opinion on modern music such as grime, rap and hip-hip and modern reggae?
GP: My son is a grime MC – Kford. I love the flows but I do think they need to open their minds lyrically. I like Stormzy – from what I’ve observed, he’s got a good persona. He turned the media’s negative outlook on his mental illness into a positive and put out a very powerful message and gave love. I like some rap – in particular 2pac, DMX, Dead Prez, Dangerdoom and modern Reggae also has its moments but the synthetic element in all of this is something that I’m not keen on.
“I love the flows but I do think they need to open their minds lyrically”
CLUNK: Lastly, what can we expect post-release of the LP from Ghetto Priest?
GP: At the moment, I’m working on my version of Aaron Neville’s track ‘Hercules’ – it was started 20 years ago and I’d forgotten that Adrian Sherwood had the original so I’m taking it forward. I’ve hooked up on the track with another Ramrock artist, Greg Blackman who done the backing vocals. It will be coming out as a 7” later this year. I’m also working on an EP called ‘Songs For My Father’ inspired by Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ – one of the tracks my father used to play. He’s passed and this will be my tribute to him – I’ll be working with Jeb Loy Nichols – I’ve worked with him via the Underwolves, Greg Blackman and the amazing Pauline Taylor – there’s four tracks. There will be Nyabinga drummers….it will be an installation….there will be guest speakers, a radiogram….music and speech – you have been warned!! Watch this space for more Ghetto Priest in the forthcoming year!