Big Youth is one of the great Jamaican vocalists and lyricists and returns with his legendary toasting style of delivery, on an album honed in the 1970s and polished by French producer Brain Damage – picking up from the great Samuel Clayton, who died whilst recording the record. These are Big Youth’s first full recordings in many years – you can hear him boss his distinctive half-sung and whooping style, like U Roy and Dennis Alcapone – across new songs and over new tunes.
Despite having to deal with the death of the pioneering reggae producer and long-standing friend and collaborator, Samuel Clayton (Toots and the Maytals), who passed whilst recording the album, French producer Martin Nathan (Brain Damage) finished the record, and in testament to the late producer he has immortalised him on the record, using various vocal samples of Sam chatting in the studio.
It was during the world lockdown, which saw the two producers from France – Samuel Clayton Jr (son of Samuel Clayton Senior, Mystic Revelation of Rastafari) and Brain Damage – fly to Kingston Jamaica from France, in March 2020, to meet Big Youth and record all the vocal passes together. Both producers contracted Covid 19. Brain Damage was lucky enough to be able to get back to France having only met Big Youth briefly. Samuel Clayton Jr, however, initially chose not to come back and instead finish the record. He recorded the vocals with Big Youth and then spent two weeks in hospital and sadly passed.
Brain Damage, supported by his label Jarring Effects and the Jamaican producer Stephen Stewart (Grammy, Toots & Maytals 2020) – who was a key part of the team – were boosted by the final dedicated plea from Sam (from his hospital bed), to Martin, to complete the album and make this final recording an incredible achievement. Beyond The Blue is out on Jarring Effects today.
Big Youth was named by his colleagues, while working as a mechanic at the Hotel Sheraton Kingston, as a teenager in the 1960s. He gained international fame through his part in reggae’s infamous Rockers film in 1981. That followed a prolific decade of releases including the 1973 smash and classic album Screaming Target where he truly shone as a pioneer of the ‘toasting’ style. Big Youth influenced artists like Bob Marley.
The spirit of Sam Clayton shines throughout the record, through samples and direct references from Big Youth. In Wareika Hill we hear a song about Sam’s father, Samuel Clayton Snr. who was a founding member of the spiritual and Rastafari collective, Mystic Revelation of Rastafari – which includes a touching tribute to his parents from Sam. Elsewhere, the opening jazz refrain of 2020 I Pray Thee perfectly captures the sense of emotion that umbrellas the album, a song originally written by Big Youth in 1974.
Brain Damage is Martin Nathan, a prolific producer who has made more than 15 albums and is a stalwart in the French dub and reggae scenes. Based in Saint Etienne, where the album was completed. To both lose a friend of 20 years and to deliver such an uncompromised work is remarkable.
On Sam Clayton, he says: “Our work together over the years went so well that we decided to work on a 5 part Jamaican Brain Damage album series. This challenging project with Big Youth was supposed to be the third. Unfortunately, it will be the last one for Sam.”
Looking back to his experience and brief meeting with Big Youth, he added: “Working with Jamaican elders is a privilege. I have the deepest respect for what has been accomplished by Big Youth in particular…I wish the things could have been different, we only met briefly because of the pandemic but Big Youth, he still got it!”