The search for Norris Regal – pt. III

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A couple days went by. No answer. Must have been too random of  a request. Still, I had this feeling… Which was my only hint anyway. I called the Domino Federation.

A very nice lady by the name of Anita picked the phone. Yes, they counted a Norris McKenzie in their ranks, but when asked about the music part, she really didn’t know what to make of my question. “Norris? Music? I can ask, but he never told us anything. I doubt, but I’ll ask him.” She emailed me back shortly after, saying she passed my info to their ace Chairman.

Three days later, on Aug 16th, 2012 (yes, I keep this kind of correspondence), an email from “a” Norris McKenzie, promisingly titled “Struggle,” read exactly what you hope for when you launch into any reissue adventure:

Hi Seb,
thanks for complimenting my song ‘Struggle’ which i wrote/performed over 30 years ago.
I understand you would like to talk to me about the song, which was not too successful but i understand someone has loaded it on ‘u-tube’.

Were we going to be able to reissue it? How? Did he still have tapes? All these questions you wonder about for weeks suddenly don’t matter anymore. You are just happy that half of the journey is over -at least, at “worst,” you will know the story of a record you love.

In the meantime, I had collected info about “this” Norris McKenzie. Off simple web search, the man sounded like a Saint: I knew he ran after school classes for kids in difficult situations and that he was very involved in his community, in the Rugby, UK area. So on top of the million musical questions,  I now had an extra million of life ones. Great. “I hope he likes talking,” I thought, feeling almost bad for how much grilling and brain-racking I was about to impose to this unsuspecting fellow.

A week later, we had completed a two-hour Skype interview thanks to Norris’ daughter Latisha, and, even though some extra-nerdy details had been lost in the 29 years it had been since the song came out, the truth manifested itself. As a bonus satisfaction, Norris was definitely ready to ride again and go ahead with a reissue project. And he did have the master tapes, intact, with him in Rugby -only a low-cost flight away from Marseille.

And so that’s how you end up in an hour-or-so train ride from the Euston station in London, trodding though the UK countryside towards the city that invented the sport that my South of France village so much reveres. Rugby. If I had ever guessed…

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Norris had given me an appointment at the Rugby West Indian Association. A 15-minutes walk later, through typical working class neigborhoods, there I was.

Contrasting with the overly grey skies, the red brick building  stood like a castle. Inside, an older gentleman was cooking jerk chicken, and an empty ballroom bore a two-stack sound system. “This is the place where I’m retiring, ” I promised myself.

While I was day-dreaming about skanking arthritis away trough my ’80s, a jovial, familiar voice asked, in my back, “are you Seb?”

That was him.

With an amused smile on his face, revealing that even he barely could believe what he was about to reminisce about, Norris Regal was standing in front of me. Finally.

In a bi-colored beanie and a dark blue jacket, nonchalantly holding a folder and a master tape box, he invited me to an empty community room, where he had installed a tape cassette player.

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If the audio tapes, with multiple different cuts of Struggle, ended up not really working anymore, we examined the Ampex master tape. It was in perfect condition, and still wrapped in the original aluminium protective sheet that the studio cased it in, back in 1983.

It felt like opening a sacred sarcophagus.

By the look in his eyes, I could tell that Norris hadn’t flipped the cardboard top open since the days he had put all his money into producing his one and only record. His dream. The emotion was palpable. But the reissuing stuff talk would be for later. For now, I had an interview to finish, and a lot of catching up to do.

DSC_8061When Norris’ wife Valerie drove me back to the train station, following a few magical hours in Rugby, I was just happy to have found this friend I had never met before. Plus, now I knew everything about this record I was carrying a brand new copy of -given by Mr.Regal in person.

So, you may ask, what was Struggle‘s story, actually? Well, old friends, this will be the object of our next installment. Norris Regal’s full interview coming in the next post(s)! Hold tight…

(And thanks for the support!)

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4 Responses to “The search for Norris Regal – pt. III”

  1. soundy Says:

    Le chemin de croix pour retrouver toutes ces infos est au moins aussi intéressant que la réedition elle même!

    • sebcarayol Says:

      D’autant qu’on est plus proche de la chasse au trésor que du chemin de croix à proprement parler ! Un genre de plaisir, quoi ! (surtout quand ça marche!)

  2. Melva McKenzie Says:

    I would never believe that 30 years on, ‘Struggle’ would be born again. I verbally heard about your search from my brother, but found your 3 part article very interesting reading and fascinating to think that 30 years on a Frenchman would inject life back into a song that was made 3 decades ago. I loved Struggle back then in 1984, likewise this new edition. But I would be bias, because its my brother’s song.

    • sebcarayol Says:

      Hi Melva ! I’m gonna get to know the whole family soon! Thanks for your nice comment ! A good tune NEVER dies!

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