KEN BOOTHE-INNA DE YARD.

Ken Boothe-Inna de Yard. 

Label: Chapter Two/Wagram.

On the ‘26th’ of October 1974, twenty-six year old reggae singer Ken Boothe was celebrating his first number one in Britain, with a cover of the David Gates’ composition Everything I Own, which two years earlier, gave Bread a worldwide hit in January 1972. Now it was Ken Boothe’s turn to celebrate after the title-track to his third album for Trojan Records gave him his biggest hit in Britain. The chart-topping single was being played on radio stations across Britain, and this he hoped would give his seventh album Everything I Own a boost. It was times like this that made the last eleven years worthwhile for the singer known as Mr Rocksteady, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1948.

Little did Ken Boothe realise in 1974, that forty-three years later, in 2017, his career would still be going strong, and that the sixty-nine year old singer would be preparing to release his first international album in twenty-five years. That new album is Inna de Yard, which is the latest instalment in Chapter Two’s unplugged reggae series and finds Mr. Rocksteady work his way through eleven of his best known songs from the sixties, seventies and eighties. Inna de Yard which will be released by Chapter Two/Wagram on the ‘24th’ November 2017, marks the welcome return of Ken Boothe, whose career began as a fifteen year old in 1963.

That was when Stranger Cole, a singer and neighbour of Ken Boothe heard the young man sing and arranged an audition at Duke Reid’s studio, in 1963. This was a dream come true for Ken Boothe, who had developed an interested in music while he was a pupil at Denham Primary Elementary School. Before long, Ken Boothe was spending much of his free time listening to music, and was inspired and influenced by vocalist Owen Gray. By then, Ken Boothe had started singing, and was encouraged by his eldest sister Hyacinth Clover, who was already an established vocalist. Soon, there would be two singers in the Boothe family,

Stranger Cole took Ken Boothe to his audition at Duke Reid’s in Kingston, and when the time came, the pair sang Unos Dos Tres for the producer.  After hearing, the pair sing Duke Reid offered the duo a recording contract. They decided to form a duo, and by 1965 had released several singles. However, after two years, the partnership ran its course and Stranger Cole and Ken Boothe moved on.

The following year, 1966, Ken Boothe and Roy Shirley formed the duo Roy and Ken, and released a single Paradise. Ken Boothe’s second partnership was short-lived, as later in 1966, he embarked upon a solo career when he signed to Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label.

Within the first year of his career, Ken Boothe had already recorded for three different producers, Duke Reid, Phil Pratt and Sonia Pottinger. Ken Boothe had also enjoyed his first hit single with The Train Is Coming, where he was backed by The Wailers. This he followed with the first ska version of You’re No Good which featured The Soulettes, and then a cover of Lonely Teardrops. By the end of 1966, eighteen year old Ken Boothe had already come a long way.

By 1967, producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd started promoting Ken Boothe as Mr. Rocksteady. This moniker stuck, and fifty years later, Ken Boothe is still known as Mr. Rocksteady. Later, in 1967,  Ken Booth released his debut album Mr. Rock Steady on Studio One. When Ken Boothe returned with his sophomore album More Of Ken Boothe in 1969, he had already released the much sampled rocksteady classic Moving Away. It would become one of Ken Boothe’s most popular singles.

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, Ken Boothe signed to Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s Records. However, due to the producer’s death, his time at Beverley’s Records’ was short-lived. Still, Ken Boothe managed to release his third album Freedom Street in 1970 and enjoyed hits with Freedom Street and Why Baby Why?

After the death of Leslie Kong, Ken Boothe released Boothe Unlimited on Federal Records in 1972. However, Ken Booth was just passing through, and in 1973, signed Trojan Records.

Having signed to Trojan Records, Ken Boothe released a trio of albums, including his fourth album Black Gold and Green in 1973.  It featured seven tracks from Boothe Unlimited and some tracks taken from The Great Ken Boothe Meets B.B. Seaton and The Gaylads. Ken Boothe followed Black Gold and Green up with Let’s Get It On in 1974, which featured a much lighter reggae sound. 

So did Everything I Own, which was released later in 1974. The title-track, Everything I Own topped the charts on the ‘26th’ of October 1974, and spent three weeks at number one single in Britain. Crying Over You was released as a followup, and reached number eleven in Britain. Ken Boothe’s new sound had reached a much wider audience and it looked as if he was about to enjoy a successful career in Britain.

Despite the success of Everything I Own, Ken Boothe left Trojan Records, and two years later, returned in 1976 with Blood Brothers, which was released on LTD. After this, Ken Boothe released albums on various labels, including 1978s Showcase on Sonic Sounds; 1979s I’m Just A Man on B. Lee and Reggae For Lovers on Tuff Gong. The third album Ken Boothe released in 1979 was Who Gets Your Love? which was released on Trojan Records. This triumvirate of albums were the last albums Ken Boothe would release for seven years.

When Ken Boothe returned in 1986 with his new album Imagine, he was thirty-eight and well into his third decade as a recording artist. This he followed up with Don’t You Know in 1987 and Call Me in 1989. It was only Ken Boothe’s only third album of the eighties.

Little did anyone know that Ken Boothe would only release four albums during the nineties. The first was Talk To Me in 1990, with Power of Love following in 1992. After that, releases became more sporadic, and the albums that followed weren’t released internationally. 

For Ken Boothe’s fan’s this was hugely disappointing, as Mr. Rocksteady continued to release albums. This included Natural Feeling 1995 and Acclaimed in 1996. However, after that albums were released much more sporadically.

Over the past twenty-one years, several Ken Boothe compilations have been released, and Live In Paris in 2010. The same year,Ken Boothe released his gospel album Door 2 Door in 2010. However, since then, very little has been heard of Mr. Rocksteady’s fans and what his legion of fans have been waiting for is a new album. Soon, the wait will be over

Inna de Yard which is the latest instalment in Chapter Two’s unplugged reggae series, is Ken Boothe’s first international release in twenty-five long years. It finds Mr. Rocksteady reinterpret eleven of his best known songs from the sixties, seventies and eighties. This includes Let the Water Run Dry, which featured on the The Soul of Jamaica compilation earlier in 2017. Just like the rest of songs on Inna de Yard, they’re a reminder of one of Jamaica’s great singer and songwriters, whose enjoyed a fifty-one year solo career, and in 2018, celebrates his seventieth birthday. 

After participating in the Soul of Jamaica compilation, a newly reinvigorated Ken Boothe decided that the time had come to record a new album, and teamed up with producer Romain Germa to record what become Inna De Yard, the second instalment in Chapter Two’s unplugged reggae series. 

Ken Boothe had never recorded an unplugged album during his six decade career, and was excited about the prospect which would allow him reinterpret eleven of his favourite songs that he had released during the sixties, seventies and eighties. 

Choosing just eleven tracks from what had been the most successful and prolific period of Ken Boothe’s career wasn’t going to be easy. Eventually, after some consideration he had decided upon Speak Softly Love, I Am A Fool, Black, Gold and Green, Artibella, I Don’t Want To See You Cry, African Lady, Let The Water Run Dry, When I’ll Fall In Love, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Just Another Girl and Rastaman Chant. These tracks would be recorded far from the busy streets of Kingston, in a unique recording studio,

To get to producer Kiddus I’s makeshift studio, Ken Boothe had to head high into the hills above Kingston. His eventual destination was Kiddus I’s studio, which sits high above the vast forests that decorate the hills on the outskirts of Kingston. It’s an unlikely site for a recording studio.

Eventually, Ken Boothe arrived at the studio, and was greeted by some of the great and good Jamaican music. They all wanted to accompany Mr. Rocksteady, and had made their way Kiddus I’s studio.

In the studio, copies of the records recorded in the studio hang on the wall. So do photos of the artists who have recorded at Kiddus I’s studio. Soon, Ken Boothe’s photo will join this roll of honour. As they enter the main studio, Rastafarian paintings hang proudly on the wall. Among the familiar faces and old friends that greeted Ken Boothe were bassist Delroy Nevin, guitarist Winston ‘Bo-Pee’ Bowen, organist Robbie Lynn, French accordionist François “Fixi” Bossard, saxophonists Guillaume Briard and Nicolas Laroque. There’s also a myriad of percussionists, including those who will play the Nyabinghi drums, the sacred percussion played at Rastafarian ceremonies. With Ken Booth  in the studio, this vast cast of musicians prepare to accompany him.

Many of the musicians had spent the early part of their career at the Inna De Yard studio. However, Ken Boothe was a relative newcomer to the studio and producer Romain Germa remembers:“when we brought Ken to this house in the mountains to record he said: “Where is the studio?”. We replied: “This is the studio–the musicians play outside on the terrace, everyone together”. When he started to record he had a kind of shock – it is very different to what he has done before, mostly recording on his own over rhythm tracks.”  

Ken Boothe recalls the time spent recording at Inna De Yard: “when I was there it was like I could touch the mountain and it made me express myself in another way. Inna de yard was where I started, where we all started, everyone recording at the same time and this album is like a fulfilment of this”.

To help Ken Boothe do this, producer Romain Germa looked to reggae’s past and an instrument that had been lost to reggae for three decades.  “Nyabinghi drums virtually disappeared in reggae’s digital era (1980s onwards). Here it provides a spiritual and cultural element for the musicians…it’s like a family playing together…whilst creating more space and air for the music.”

This was important given reggae’s history and tradition. Romain Germa explains how: “we wanted to reignite a musical tradition that we feel has been lost in contemporary Jamaican music” They also had “to try and bring a different perspective to Ken’s music and really bring out the emotion in his voice.” 

This they have succeeded in doing on what’s a very personal album where once again, Ken Boothe connects to his Rastafarian roots on album that contains some of his favourite songs. “Slavery has done so much wickedness to people. My grandmother was American-she came to Jamaica because of slavery. My voice comes from my mother and when I sing I feel my ancestors-it’s like memory. When a person truly expresses themselves that’s what I call soul.”

Although a rocksteady and reggae singer, Ken Boothe voice is imbued with a soulfulness that he puts to good use throughout Inna De Yard. It finds the veteran singer flit between reggae and rocksteady, on an album that features ballads and uptempo songs. They’re a mixture of familiar songs and old favourites, which Ken Boothe’s old and new fans will embrace and enjoy.

The best way to describe Inna De Yard is a polished and enchanting album of unplugged reggae. Especially with tracks of the quality of the confessional roots reggae ballad Speak Softly Love, which was written by Larry Kusik and Nino Rotta for The Godfather soundtrack. In Ken Boothe’s hand it becomes a beautiful, heartfelt ballad that opens the album, and sets the bar high the remainder of the album. It gives way to I’m A Fool, which combines elements of jazz with reggae, as Ken Boothe delivers a soul-baring, hurt-filled vocal. 

Very different is the righteous roots reggae of Black, Gold and Green where emotion and pride oozes out of Ken Boothe’s vocal during what sounds a very personal song. 

Artibella was a song that Ken Boothe originally recorded with Stranger Cole when the pair were a duo between 1963 and 1965. Over fifty years later, he reinterprets the song, which becomes a rolling reggae ballad, where Ken Boothe delivers a hopeful vocal, and at one point almost pleads as asks the errant Artibella: “who took all my money…to please come with me.” In doing so, he breathes new meaning into this familiar song.

I Don’t Want To See You Cry is another relationship song, with Ken Boothe having to leave his partner behind: “just for a time though.” He promises: “I will return…I will be back I’m in love with you baby” as Mr. Rocksteady delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of emotion, sincerity and soulfulness. 

Bob Marley’s African Lady is a familiar song which Ken Boothe totally transforms. It takes on a bluesy hue as elements of gospel and R&B are combined, while Ken Boothe delivers an impassioned vocal with backing vocals accompanying every step of the way. 

Let The Water Run Dry finds Ken Boothe telling the story of a former lover wanting him back. He’s been hurt by her before, and be hurt again and almost defiantly sings: “now you’re on your own and have no-one to call, picking up your telephone wanting me to come home.”  The defiance returns as Ken Boothe sings: “let the teardrops fall from your eyes,” as his partner experiences the hurt he once felt.

Many artist have covered When I fall In Love, including everyone from Nat King Cole to Ken Boothe. When he revisits the song, the tempo increases as he delivers a heartfelt and hopeful vocal against a mid-tempo reggae arrangement. It gives way to You Keep Me Hangin’ On where the tempo drops, and Ken Boothe reinvents the song. What could’ve been delivered as a hurt-filled ballad becomes where he almost demands: “set me free why don’t you babe?” 

 Just Another Girl finds Ken Boothe climb on the roller coaster of love. At first, it sounds like he’s found true love as he tenderly sings: “this love is really true,” until later he adds “but there’s one thing you should know you’re Just Another Girl.” This gives way to the spiritual sounding Rastaman Chant, where Ken Boothe testifies as he delivers an impassioned vocal against one of the best arrangements. It ensures Ken Boothe’s comeback album ends on a high.

 Twenty-five years after Ken Boothe released his last international album, the veteran singer returns with Inna de Yard, which is the latest instalment in Chapter Two’s unplugged reggae series and finds Mr. Rocksteady working his way through eleven of his best known songs from the sixties, seventies and eighties. Inna de Yard which will be released by Chapter Two/Wagram on the ‘24th’ November 2017, marks the welcome return of sixty-nine year old Ken Boothe, who like a fine wine, seems to mature with age.

Inna de Yard is an album that’s sure to appeal to Ken Boothe’s old fans, and will introduce the veteran reggae and rocksteady singer to a new audience. It’s an album that oozes quality, and often finds Ken Boothe’s voice full of emotion, passion, hope and hurt as he switches between ballads and uptempo tracks. Sometimes, uptempo tracks are reinvented as ballads, while ballads become uptempo tracks as Mr. Rocksteady works his musical magic. In doing so, Inna De Yard becomes Ken Boothe’s best album in twenty-five years, which is fitting, as that was the last time one his albums was released internationally. 

Ken Boothe will release Inna De Yard internationally, which marks the welcome return of Mr. Rocksteady, with his first ever unplugged album, where he reinvents eleven familiar songs, and in doing so, breathes new life, meaning and emotion into them, to create his best album in three decades.

Ken Boothe-Inna de Yard. 

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