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Cleveland Watkiss and The Great Jamaican Songbook

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Vintage photo of Cleveland Watkiss wearing a jacket with large collars, sunglasses and a leather hat.

Critically acclaimed musician Cleveland Watkiss is “one of the most unfailingly creative, daringly protean artists on the UK jazz scene” (Arts Desk).

Co-founder of the ground-breaking Jazz Warriors, across his career Cleveland has performed at the legendary Metalheadz nights at Blue Note, starred in Julian Joseph’s jazz operas and collaborated with the likes of Carroll Thompson and Sugar Minott.

Cleveland’s latest project ‘The Great Jamaican Songbook’ sees him delve deep into the golden era of roots music, tracing Jamaican musical legacy from 40s and 50s mento through ska, reggae, dub and lovers rock.

“I grew up listening to great Jamaican music at home. Artists like Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, The Wailers, Burning Spear, Delroy Wilson and Gregory Isaacs were a big influence on me as a vocalist. For this tour I wanted to go back to the music I grew up with, have some fun and pay homage to the rich musical heritage of Jamaica and the long line of artists to come out of Jamaican music.”

Cleveland has worked with a wide range of artists over the decades from Stevie Wonder, Wynton Marsalis, Bob Dylan, Art Blakey, Abdullah Ibrahim, Goldie, George Martin and The Who to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy, Cassandra Wilson, The Kenny Wheeler Big Band and Bjork.

He received an MBE in 2018, was nominated for Best Jazz Act at the MOBO Awards 2017, won Vocalist of the Year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2017 and was awarded the Guardian Jazz Awards Best Vocalist and Best Vocalist at the London Jazz Awards 2010.

The full band joining Cleveland Watkiss at Bristol Beacon is:

Orphy Robinson – Keys

Byron Wallen – Trumpet

Ray Carless – Tenor Sax

Delroy Murray – Bass

Phil Ramocon – Keys

Alan Weekes – Guitars

Carl Robinson – Drums

Presented by Bristol Beacon

Standing event

Age: 14+ (Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult)

Tickets for Under 26s are £10.90 incl. booking fee

Doors: 19.30
Start Time: 20.00
Finish: 22.00

“Around 2016, I spoke with music maestro, producer and multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson about my long-held desire to do a reggae project that would go back to the golden era of roots music, singing the songs of my vocal idols: Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Delroy Wilson, etc. Then he said the magic words: ‘Cleveland, you should sing The Great Jamaican Songbook’. The rest is history – and of course, the future.”

Cleveland Watkiss

Three chapters from The Great Jamaican Songbook

Delroy Wilson: What Is Man (1973)
You could plot the evolution of reggae from its beginnings in ska and rocksteady by following Delroy Wilson’s brilliant career. He made his first record at 13, and went on to work with many of Jamaica’s great producers: Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and Keith Hudson. “I first heard What Is Man as a dub in Phebes night club, Stoke Newington in the 70s, during a Fatman Hifi late session”, remembers Cleveland.

Burning Spear: Red, Gold and Green (1975)
Beginning in the late 1960s, roots reggae had Rastafarian spirituality, Black Power and the history of the African Diaspora firmly embedded in its lyrics, its production and its instrumentation. Named after the Pan-Africanist Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, the third album by Burning Spear, aka Winston Rodney, was a high water mark of the movement. “Red, Gold and Green is Winston Rodney’s deep cry and expression of oppression and hope”, says Cleveland. “I recall purchasing this album at my local record shop in Hackney; Regal Records on Lower Clapton Road”.

Gregory Isaacs: If I Don’t Have You (1981)
Gregory Isaacs recorded a number of roots tracks early in his career, including the magnificent Black A Kill Black, but he is best known as one of the greatest artists of the lovers rock genre. Hugely popular in the UK, this style stepped away from the politics and struggle of roots reggae, fired instead by the slick sounds and romantic themes of Chicago and Philadelphia soul. “I first heard If I Don’t Have You at one of the Notting Hill Carnivals”, recalls Cleveland, “and I still have my original vinyl copy of More Gregory, the album that this beautiful love song is taken from”.

The venue

Bristol Beacon

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