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Reggae production pioneer Frenchie talks to Seani B

PIONEER: Frenchie, left, pictured with Mr Vegas, started his own record label after moving to the UK from Paris in search of ‘irie vibes’

IT IS the strangest thing for me to formally interview people I speak to regularly and have a strong relationship with. Writer, arranger, producer and industry stalwart Frenchie is one of these people.

If I see his name come up on my phone, I know I can kiss the next hour goodbye!

He has a passion and love for this music that comes through every time we speak. This is very much evident if something happens in the industry that touches a raw nerve and that French passion becomes very evident.

However, this conversation was different to our daily chit-chats. I had never known the story of how this French kid could become such a strong link in the UK reggae and dancehall scene.

Peppermint tea in hand and with an hour to spare, we reflected on the journey so far.

A few weeks ago I read a post online that asked which five nicknames would you be guaranteed to hear in a Jamaican community? Some of the examples included the standard ‘short man’, ‘red man’, ‘blacks’ and ‘bigger’; Basically names that describe your outstanding characteristics usually mirrors your nickname.

So it’s not a mystery how Frenchie got his name.

“I was born in France. When I was around 13 a guy in my class was listening to Ska – artists like The Specials – and my brother and I found out that a lot of that music came from the UK,” he tells me.

“We loved it and used to come to England on the ferry to shop for records,” he tells me. I was intrigued to know how he was received by the reggae community in the late 80s. I have to admit, I have never felt anything other than love from everyone within reggae, particularly at that time.

"It’s not like these days where there are a considerable amount of European sounds and figures in the business – back then I was an immigrant like the rest of the reggae world! Being in the UK but not from the UK meant I was different from other figures."

He adds: “I built a relationship with John MacGillivray from Dub Vendor and we used to travel to Jet Star in Harlesden – it was like
the Mecca for us.

“All the record shops were there, and it was a big difference to where I was from. In Paris there was one store that used to sell the things we wanted.

“London had a real scene in those days, and for us it was special to go somewhere like Jet Star and you could see your idols in there. As well as that there was a strong UK scene with people like Tippa Irie and John McClean (who had a big hit in 1987 with If I Gave My Heart To You).”

The way that the UK try seemed to be interlinked intrigued Frenchie, and soon it began to pay dividends.

“When I was 19 John offered me the chance to move to England and do an apprenticeship with Dub Vendor and Fashion Records. I have to big up Gussie P, too, who taught me how to deal with artists properly.

“All the projects at Fashion were a team effort, and I was fortunate to work on some big projects in my early days including Limb by Limb by Cutty Ranks and Request The Style by Top Cat.”

He began his label, Maximum Sound, in 1993, and it celebrates it’s 25th anniversary this year, which is an amazing milestone.

“The guy who gave me my first tune on the label was Poison Chang, who was Stylo G’s dad.

“He recorded two tracks for me and didn’t even want any money for them. He was a really great guy,” Frenchie reminisces.

“The business was different then, but because we had a strong working team it made our jobs a bit easier because we just focused on making the music.

“John used to do all the paperwork, and we had someone pressing the vinyls – it was all done as a team. It’s just as well because when I began the label I didn’t even have a bank account!

“I then worked with a band from France called Raggasonic who sold more than half a million units. That allowed me to invest into my label even more, and I visited Jamaica regularly to work with artists.”

His work ethic is unquestionable. Frenchie is a music lover, and just being around the scene is obviously something that comes naturally for him now,and it is now a global market for him.

“I’ve managed to do well in different areas. Some of my riddims have had big success in Europe, and other projects such as Fantan Mojah’s Stronger and Mr Vegas with Sweet Jamaica were both number one for weeks over there,” he explains.

So 25 years in, and the passion has not diminished. He admits to being old school, but has had to adapt to the changing nature of the business including promoting records both physically and online.

“The producers have taken a backseat because of how the business is. It’s a completely different ball park.

“We don’t have labels as such anymore – it’s all online with social media outlets. They are really for the artists, so the producers can get lost in the bigger scheme,” he concludes.

It’s to his credit that Frenchie has managed to stay active and flourish for such a sustained period – and long may it continue.

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