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Beres Hammond: Real reggae royalty

REGGAE ROYALTY: Beres Hammond

YOU WAIT for over an hour to interview Beres Hammond and then get told it’s not going to happen because the reggae star has to leave promptly to catch the Eurostar train.

You have two choices: Leave the London hotel, vex and disappointed that the meeting didn’t happen. Or jump in the car with Hammond, tag along to the station and get the interview done on the move. Guess what I did?

A consummate professional, Hammond chatted away in the car, even singing radio jingles for another journalist, before turning his attention to my good self. We walked and talked upon arrival at Kings Cross station (I even assisted with luggage, wheeling along one of Hammond’s suitcases), and the 59-year-old laughed when asked if he felt a sense of pressure to always live up to his reputation as one of Jamaica’s most revered vocalists.

“Now you’ve said it like that, I do feel a little pressure,” Hammond chuckled. “But with all the accolades, I still remain Beres. It’s as if my career just started. The amount of love people give me, it’s as if everything is still fresh. I give thanks for that because there’s no amount of money that can compare to that.”

Influenced by US soul and jazz music that he grew up listening to, Hammond began participating in local talent contests as a teen. He began his professional career in the ‘70s, as the lead singer of reggae band Zap Pow, but the talented singer would soon step out as a solo artist, releasing his debut album Soul Reggae in 1976.

With his distinctive husky vocals, the singer went on to lace a plethora of tracks including 80s singles Groovy Little Thing and What One Dance Can Do. By the time he released the 90s hits Tempted to Touch and Respect To You Baby, Hammond had cemented himself as a reggae force to be reckoned with.

But despite boasting an impressive four decades in the business, Hammond says he wishes his career had begun earlier.

“I was about 14 when I started getting involved with music, but Michael Jackson started out at five. I’ve enjoyed my career so much that I wish I had started earlier so I could have enjoyed it even longer.

“Even though I hope to have a long time ahead of me, it can never be enough. The amount of love I get from people really keeps me going.”

It’s not just fans that love Hammond. Many of his fellow reggae stars salute the singer for his contribution to the genre and his personal influence on their own careers.

In an interview with Life & Style earlier this year, veteran sing-jay Lady Saw said Hammond had encouraged her to step out of her dancehall comfort zone.

“I remember speaking to Beres Hammond, who’s a real friend to me,” Lady Saw said. “He’s always told me how talented I am; more talented than just the dancehall stuff that people know me for.”

Similarly, young singer Romain Virgo praised the I Feel Good hitmaker when he spoke to Life & Style in April.

“I have a lot of respect for Beres Hammond and he always gives me good advice,” Virgo said. “It’s always a pleasure to be around him. If he sees you’re about positive music and good vibes, he’s always very encouraging.”

Why is it important to Hammond to assist and encourage other artists?

“Maybe because I’m a nice person,” he laughs. “I’ve always tried to enhance each new yout’ that I see. Whatever they’re trying to do, if I can add to it, I’ll gladly do that every time.

“I think it’s about how you grow. They say ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and in the community I grew up in, that was the case. You had respect for your elders and you learned from them, and in turn, you’d impart your knowledge to others. I think that’s the core reason why I like to help others where I can.”

With a long and illustrious career in reggae, the singer considers how he feels about the genre’s development throughout the years.

“It’s always evolving and it’s come a long way. There was a time when artists would get run off stage in foreign [abroad] when they performed reggae music. It happened to artists before my generation. But since then, things have changed. Now, reggae is at the top of the bill at many events. So we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

UK fans won’t have far to go to see Hammond in action, with the star embarking on a tour later this month. And there will be double the reggae vibes when the singer is joined by fellow star Bunny Wailer for four of the five dates.

“I started and saw Bunny in the business,” Hammond recalls. “He was one of the people trying to make a way for people who were up and coming in the business and I have a lot of respect for that.

“I have a lot of respect for him and his music. He’s a good guy in my book.”

So what can UK audiences expect from the singer’s set?

“I usually tell people, ‘If I tell you what to expect, you won’t need to come to the show!’ But you can expect a nice vibe. I give it all I have as far as performing is concerned.”

Forever humbled by the love he receives from fans, it’s perhaps no surprise that his final message was one of affection.

“Love one another; embrace each other,” he urged. “Sometimes there is no second chance to tell someone that you love them, so say it now.”

Beres Hammond will perform at the O2 Academy in Leeds on July 11. He will be joined by Bunny Wailer for joint headline shows at the O2 Academy in Bristol (July 12); O2 Academy Liverpool (July 16); O2 Academy Brixton (July 17); and O2 Academy Birmingham (July 18).

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