TALENT: Priest live on stage and inset left, his new album
WITH A career that spans over two decades, Maxi Priest is gracious in being referred to as a veteran. Having recently released the best of album, Maximum Collection, the much-loved British reggae star hopes the offering acts as a “point of reference” for the younger generation, who may not be familiar with his multitude of hits.
“For the younger generation, this album is a bit like a catch up on where I’m coming from musically,” says the singer born Max Elliott. “It’s mostly old material, with a few new tracks on there, including a song called Nothing But Trouble, which is taken from a new album I’ll be releasing soon. It took quite a while to decide what to put on this album, but I’m proud of the result.”
Indeed, with Maximum Collection boasting hits including Wild World, Housecall (featuring Shabba Ranks) and his US Billboard number one Close To You, it serves as a reminder of the hits that enabled the singer to rise to prominence. Famed for his fusion of soulful vocals over classic reggae beats, Priest garnered attention in the 1908s as part of famed sound system Saxon International.
“Saxon gave me the opportunity to do live performances,” recalls Priest, who was born in south London to Jamaican parents. “Myself, Smiley Culture – God rest his soul – Tippa Irie, Pato Banton... there were so many of us that came from that sound system and we got a lot of support back then. We were signing autographs before we got record deals.
“Then, Paul Robinson, [AKA British reggae singer] Barry Boom, who was in a group called One Blood; my mother actually spoke to him and it was through him that I was able to go from the sound system and into the studio to record. Being able to actually record music and sell my own records was a real turning point in my career.”
Still, the singer remembers when a career in music was little more than a dream. Working with his brother on a building site before his musical ambitions were realised, Priest recalls his older sibling having reservations that he would make it in the entertainment world.
“There were a few people who weren’t sure I was gonna make it in music, and one of them was my older brother,” he laughs. “Me and my brother worked together on the building site and sometimes when I’d be there singing, he’s be like, ‘get on wid di work, bout you ah sing!’ I guess that was his way of trying to look out for me, because trying to get into the music business back then... it was a long shot.
STILL GOING STRONG: Maxi Priest is one of the UK’s best-known reggae singers
“God bless the few of us who were able to make it and who are still in the business because it wasn’t an easy business to get into.”
Despite all the odds, the Should I hitmaker broke through and became one of the best known British reggae exports of his generation.
Not just well-loved on UK shores, the singer found favour internationally and has worked with an array of Jamaican reggae stars including Shaggy, Beres Hammond and the late Dennis Brown.
“In the early days, I received a lot of support from older artists like Freddie McGregor, Bob Andy, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown. Dennis would always be in my ears saying, ‘My yout’, you fi sing fi di girls!’ He was always giving me tips. And my first real tour was with Freddie McGregor, who I was also really inspired by.”
But clearly not an artist to be pigeon-holed, Priest’s music has spanned genres and seen him working with artists including soca star Shurwayne Winchester; US jazz/soul songstress Roberta Flack; and UK soul pioneer Jazzie B. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the singer has no issue with reggae/dancehall acts who have switched lane musically, perhaps in a bid to gain more commercial exposure.
“People get caught up with things like that when it comes to music artists, but others don’t seem to get judged that way. Look at Usain Bolt; he’s achieved so much and nobody’s there saying, ‘How come him ah mek commercial fi Virgin? How come him nah do commercial fi [Caribbean food company] Grace?’ This is a business – it’s not a joke.
“When my dad used to go out to work, I didn’t ask him him, ‘yo, was it only reggae people you were working for?’ With nine of us in the house, my dad had to pay that rent.
“But when it comes to the entertainment world, people tend to get a bit lost and forget that it’s still a business. On top of that, it’s also been important to me be versatile in order to elevate my people to realise that they don’t only have to do one thing. Why should we be pigeon-holed?”
Also gearing up for his performance as part of the hugely anticipated Jamaica 50 event at London’s IndigO2, Priest says he’s “blessed to be able to do what I’m doing” and is grateful for his fans’ continued support.
“I wanna thank everybody for their support over the years – not just for me but for reggae music as a whole. Long may that support continue.”
Maximum Collection is out now on EMI. For more information visit www.maxipriest.com Maxi Priest will perform as part of Jamaica 50 at IndigO2, London on August 1. For more information visit www.respectjamaica50.co.uk