Johnny Clarke at Wilkswood Reggae 2024
Johnny Clarke at Wilkswood Reggae 2024

Johnny Clarke to Headline Wilkswood Reggae 2024

Legendary Jamaican reggae singer makes festival debut

Legendary reggae singer Johnny Clarke
Legendary reggae singer Johnny Clarke

Johnny Clarke has long been a quiet force of Jamaican music, working on fiery roots tracks with Bunny Lee in the 70s, exploring dancehall in the 80s, and still remaining active live and in the studio. Though not too well-known outside of Jamaica, Clarke was one of the island’s most popular reggae artists during the 1970s, ranking among peers like Horace Andy and providing an influence that would show up in later stars like Sugar Minott. Lee-produced albums like 1974’s None Shall Escape and 1975’s Enter Into His Gates with Praise were recorded at King Tubby’s studio with backing from the Aggrovators, with strong performances and songwriting putting them in a category with other classic roots reggae material from the same era. Clarke continued recording for decades to come, releasing more dancehall-leaning albums like 1988’s Think About It and 1995’s Rock with Me.

Born in Bull Bay, Jamaica in 1955, Clarke was a naturally gifted singer who started out in his late teens after winning a local talent contest. In 1972 he recorded his debut single, ‘God Made the Sea and Sun’ for producer Clancy Eccles. The next year he recorded ‘Everyday Wondering’ for Rupie Edwards. Unfortunately, Edwards didn’t bother to put Clarke’s name on the single’s labels but the song was still a hit.

Shortly afterwards, Clarke began working with producer Bunny Lee on what would become some of his most successful output. Between 1974 and 1976, Clarke and Lee created a series of powerful roots reggae albums with help from vaunted dub masters King Tubby and Prince Jammy and backing from Lee’s group of session musicians the Aggrovators. The first of these, 1974’s None Shall Escape, was an instant success in Jamaica, including the semi-titular hit ‘None Shall Escape the Judgement.’ Other popular albums followed nearly non-stop, with multiple albums a year including highlights like 1975’s I’m Gonna Put It On, 1976’s No Woman No Cry, (a huge hit with his cover of Bob Marley’s tune of the same name) and the 1976 roots reggae classic Rockers Time Now. Released on Virgin Records, Rockers Time Now epitomised Lee’s ‘Flying Cymbals’ production approach, and King Tubby mixed some of his best-loved dubs from the vocal versions presented on this album.

A rift between Clarke and Lee in the late ’70s led to Clarke leaving Lee to work with different producers, including Mad Professor in the early 80s. The duo produced 1983’s Yard Style LP, a rootsy collection that spawned several hits including the eerie and apocalyptic ‘Nuclear Weapon.’ Clarke had been moving toward more of a dancehall style at this time and subsequent work like 1988’s Think About It and 1995’s Rock with Me went deeper into digital dancehall rhythms and production. Clarke’s music continued to reach new listeners as the years went on, and he continues recording and performing well into his sixties.

Wilkswood Reggae Festival 2024

Thursday 18 to Sunday 21 July

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