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Reliving their youth

TALENT: Musical Youth members Michael Grant (left) and Dennis Seaton

TALKING TO Michael ‘Mikki’ Grant is an opportunity to unearth a wonderful slice of British music history.

It’s unlikely you won’t have heard of Musical Youth, the ‘80s band in which Grant shot to fame as a child. And unless you have a strong aversion to reggae, you’re bound to be familiar with the five-piece group’s 1982 smash hit Pass The Dutchie.

But it’s quite possible you won’t know the ins and outs of the Birmingham band’s humble beginnings, much of which makes for pretty comedic listening.

Long before The X Factor sought to find music hopefuls, a group of young musicians, hungry for success, held their own auditions to find a vocalist for their band.

But despite spreading the word of the audition throughout their school, Musical Youth’s quest for a singer didn’t turn out quite as they’d imagined. Grant recalls how the group came to be.

“The band started in 1979, but that was before Dennis joined,” says the keyboardist, who shot to fame as a child, alongside fellow young members Dennis Seaton, brothers Junior and Patrick Waite and his own brother Kelvin Grant.

“Dennis joined the band in 1982 as the lead singer and he joined because the original lead singer was a guy called Fred Waite Snr, who was Patrick and Junior’s father,” Grant continues.

“The record company was like: ‘We can’t have a 35-year-old man singing with a bunch of 10 and 11-year-old kids!’ They decided to get rid of Fred and find a younger lead singer, so we held our own version of The X Factor and hosted an audition.”

The youngsters expected a barrage of wannabe singers to turn up to their audition – but that wasn’t the case.

“On the day, Dennis came through the door first and he sang. We were like, ‘Ok, that was good, thank you.’ Then we said, ‘next’ and awaited the next person to audition…and would you believe, no-one else was there – not a living soul! So by default, we had to accept Dennis as our lead singer!

“In Birmingham at that time, everyone was in their own band, so nobody was interested in turning up to our audition. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was on a Saturday and my mum had made sandwiches and everything!”

Still, it wasn’t long before many of the youngsters who opted not to turn up to the audition regretted that decision.

“Dennis joined in January [1982] and then the band signed the record deal [with MCA Records] in June.


THE WAY THEY WERE: The band performing live as young ones

"Between that time, nobody was interested in the band. But by September when Pass The Dutchie went big, that all changed.

"I remember parents turning up at my house and pleading with my dad to let their child join the band! They’d tell him all sorts of stories like, ‘My son was going to come to the audition you know, but he was sick on the day!’ Or they’d plead with him saying, ‘Dennis can’t sing, my son is a better singer! Let him join instead.’

“My poor dad was like, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it now, you should have sent your son to the audition!’”

But despite the success of Pass The Dutchie, which reached the top of the charts and made superstars of the young band; the release of further singles including Youth of Today and Unconditional Love (a collaboration with the late US disco star Donna Summer); and a Grammy nomination for Pass The Dutchie, Musical Youth would eventually disband in 1985, following a series of personal problems.

Sadly, bass player Patrick died in 1993 at the age of 24, after collapsing due to a heart condition, and his brother Junior, the band’s drummer, went on to experience mental health problems, which Grant explains “made it really difficult to communicate with him.”

Grant and his brother Kelvin, the band’s guitarist, went their separate ways after the group’s split, needing time apart after spending so much of their lives together.

“As children, we shared a bedroom, we went to the same school, we were in the same band – we were always together,” Grant recalls.

“So when Musical Youth ended, it was an opportunity to have some breathing space. He was able to do his thing and I did mine. It’s been a bit like that ever since.”

Grant and Seaton also stopped talking, though Grant admits he can’t even recall why he and his bandmate fell out.

“It’s embarrassing to admit, but I don’t even remember what our argument was about. And what was worse was there wasn’t a soul around us to guide us at the time.

“Musical Youth was such a phenomenon and we were surrounded by ‘yes men’. We were so young and we needed that guidance, but the record company was only interested in milking the band.”

Still, despite their differences – and frustrations at being “ripped off” by the industry – Grant and Seaton would reunite in the late ‘90s after Seaton called his bandmate to seek a reconciliation and a musical reunion. The pair put their differences behind them, and have been performing together ever since.

Now, the duo – who perform with a new bass player, guitarist and drummer, as well as a full brass band – are gearing up for a show at London’s Jazz Café in January. And for anyone wondering, yes, they do still perform Pass The Dutchie.

“You can’t get sick of Pass The Dutchie,” Grant laughs. “It brought us such phenomenal success. Yes, we were ripped off but so have so many artists; it’s part and parcel of the music industry. And even in being ripped off financially, what couldn’t be taken away from us was the experience.

“We got to see the world and there’s no chance that would have happened had it not been for that single. And even now, when we play that song, people still sing along to it. So I’ll be forever grateful to that song for all it allowed us to achieve.”

Musical Youth will perform with a full live band at Jazz Café, London NW1 on January 26. For more information visit
mamacolive.com/thejazzcafe or facebook.com/musicalyouthofficial

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