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Quick chat with... Toots Hibbert

STILL GOING STRONG: Toots Hibbert

CURRENTLY travelling up and down the UK as part of a 12-date tour, Toots Hibbert is a very busy man.

Still, the 65-year-old, famed for fronting reggae group Toots and the Maytals, was pleasant and cheery, even joking as he introduced me to the ‘wireless handshake’.

“If ever someone goes to shake your hand after coming out of the bathroom and you’re not sure if they washed their hands, you give them the wireless handshake,” said Hibbert, as he put out his fisted hand and encouraged me to do the same. As we put our fists close to each other, but not touching, he said, “There you go!”

Thankfully, the Pressure Drop hitmaker was happy to shake my hand the traditional way, before sitting down to discuss his career, which has spanned a phenomenal 50 years. It was also a relief that I didn’t annoy him – he would have let me know if I had:

“If ever journalists ask me something I don’t like, I just tell them, straight,” Toots said. “It happens a lot. But I just tell them and then keep it moving.”

Widely credited as being the first artist to coin the word ‘reggae’, Toots began singing in church, but actually had aspirations to pursue another career in his earlier years.

“As a child, I used to box. I was quite good at it and I thought I was going to be a boxer. But people told me I could sing, so I went with that instead.”

Beginning his professional career along with singers Raleigh Gordon and Jerry McCarthy, the trio went by the name of Toots and the Maytals and spawned hits including the massive 54-46 Was My Number and Do The Reggay (which is considered to be the first song to mention the word ‘reggae.’)

Over the years, the group’s line-up went through several changes. But with Toots continuing to front the band with his strong and soulful lyrics, Toots and the Maytals maintained a prominent place in the landscape of reggae music, and Toots continues to perform throughout the world.

“I perform in so many places and everywhere I go, audiences seem to know my songs word for word. Sometimes they even remind me of the lyrics if I forget them!”

Considering whether he’d ever retire from music, he says:“There’s still so much I want to do. People always call me great, but I think there’s greater to come.”

Toots and the Maytals’ tour continues throughout the month at venues including O2 Academy Leeds (September 2), O2 Academy Brixton (September 9) and O2 Academy Bristol (September 11). For full tour dates, call 0844 477 2000 or visit www.ticketweb.co.uk

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