Norris Regal interview – part III : a matter of principle, and an electric finale

Manicus & RegalManicus & Steppa : warrior stance ! Photo courtesy Norris Regal.

I meant to ask you… You mentioned during one of our conversations a combination DJ cut that might be laying around on the master tape, by Manicus & Steppa. Who are these guys?
Norris Regal: Oh, them? I know them well. It’s actually me and a friend messing around. We were no Michigan and Smiley, so I ended up never releasing that cut.

This should be fixed soon, ha! Back to the non-released stuff you were talking about, on the cassette tapes you had. Was it strictly dubplates for sounds, or?
Yeah -specials for sounds, really. But then I did some work with Computer Paul and then one day when I was in the studio with him, he introduced me to someone who was a song writer but couldn’t write lyrics (laughs). It was pretty odd. He was pretty creative, but he never completed anything. I’m trying to word this diplomatically, ’cause I don’t wanna be publishing things that…

Anyway. This guy played me a few tracks and some of the tracks I quite liked. He started telling me the idea of what he wanted on one of the tracks, a love song. I told him I could write a song for him, and I did. We recorded it with Paul and we thought it sounded quite solid. Paul loved it. The song was called “The One I Adore.” We recorded it, but we didn’t go no further. We didn’t mix it down, we left it at that. And then a few months passed, and next thing I suddenly heard this guy dealing with Cecil Morris, who obviously I had the last links with.

But now Cecil liked the song, but decided they should have someone else to record it, and they had someone else lined up to record the song. So, unbeknown to me, they end up deciding they’re going to have this other guy from the area who made a name for himself later but was then just beginning, sing it. But no one said nothing to me.

When the record came out, I think I was studying at the time so I sort of eased up off the music scene for a while, one of my friends heard the song and told me about it. So now Norris comes back on the scene, creates a bit of mayhem (laughs), and puts the original singer in the position, because obviously he agreed to all of this, and first singer’s turning around, asking, “how much do you want for the song?” I said, “I don’t want nothing for the song, how can you do something like that?” Well, the principle, you know?

Cut a long story short, I went onto my contacts in London, to say, look man, this is what happened. That song I believed could have gone further, but once my contacts in London had heard about it -and some of them had heard of my version, remember I said I used to keep in touch with Winston and all them guys, they said, “this can’t work.” It didn’t grow the way it could have grown. None of the key people would play it or do anything to really push it. Which is a shame in a way —it could have been better for everybody. But you’re young, you’re upset, and principle is principle, you know what I mean?

To be honest, that sort of really restarted wiping my hands clean for a good while. There’s always a good side and a bad side to music, isn’t it? But when you are experiencing something like that, it’s quite hurting. Remember, if I was established, it wouldn’t have happened for a start. Suddenly now, something like that happening, it spoils everything for you. I stepped away completely after that.

What year was that, roughly?
That was about 1984-85.

What were you studying at the time?
Electricity. I’m an electrical engineer now. But you’re trying to get with your life, really. Back in the days, you’re going into the studio, work with them, work with Computer Paul and Pato Banton and all these guys, all of us, we used to be together and work on ideas together, letting each other hear what we are working on. I don’t think it’s gonna be for me now, they’re going to bring a bad vibe in you, that you don’t wanna develop. Every other project was just on the shelf.

So you didn’t pursue a music career from there?
No. no.

But then you found a new hobby… how did the dominoes happen?
Oh, the dominoes? (laughs) I know traditionally it comes from China, but it’s very popular in the Caribbean, in the West Indies. You probably heard Usian Bolt said he likes to play dominoes. That used to be one of my pastimes, which obviously developed to play in the Anglo-Caribbean League.

What it is, this league covers the whole of England, but it tends to change its shape -some teams join one year, then they fall out for certain reasons. I’ve been with them now for twelve-thirteen years as a player, then I got invited on the board I think because I do quite a lot of things in the community.

Yeah, I found this article saying you participate in homework groups for kids in the area, right?
That’s right! You know a lot about me, man !

Didn’t the City stop the funding for it?
Yeah! I always believe in giving back something to the community, and I always feel that if you come from humble beginnings, if you show certain youths a way out, or how not to take the easy route that’s going to lead to misery…

I also believe education is a strong key to it. Key thing. Like this mentoring thing, it’s nothing new to me because some people do need mentors, and I don’t mean the ones they see on the television all the time. They need real life people who they see, and can associate with. That’s the way forward, I think.

It’s from seeing all you do that the Domino Federation put you on the board, you think?
That’s right. On the board, they’re all business people and by doing that you’re hoping to encourage the younger element. And also, to get them focus. Something to do. They may make a success out of something that you may start as well, I found out that with the homework group, it was growing year by year and was very successful, the key thing for me, I tried to make it on a budget, so I wasn’t charging the children I’d just use the funding money and that was it. I deliberately did that so, you know, people didn’t think it was a money exercise, it was something to build up the children’s self-esteem, cause once children get confident they surprise themselves, that’s my experience. We had some success in that.

I had one child who came from Africa, he was in the country for less than a year, I managed to train him up, we have a grammar school system here, where you can take a test to gain entry, and he gained the entry within a year. It was hard work, but his mother was so, so proud, she couldn’t believe. He got into one of the top schools in the country.

And so ends the Norris Regal story… Thanks for all the love and the following! The reissue of “Struggle” is still available in most tasteful reggae shops worldwide. If you have a hard time scoring a copy, feel free to email : sebcarayol@hotmail.com.

noris_nowNorris Regal sorting through some decades-old cassettes at the Rugby
West Indian Center – November 2012 © Seb Carayol

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