Cecil Reuben

is the promoter of reggae events at London’s Brixton Hootananny, a venue that has almost single-handedly revitalised live Jamaican music in the capital. Since his arrival there the Hootananny has seen visits from artists such as Yellowman, Bushman and Don Carlos, as well as running regular nights for home-grown singing and sound system talent. Angus Taylor took a behind the scenes look at the life of the promoter as he was preparing for a busy 2011 of big name shows..

He was born in Clarendon, Jamaica. I’m an original Clarendonian. I was born in April. My era was the 60s, after the ska period. When it started to turn to rockteady was when I really got into music. Around ’67-’68 time my brother used to buy a lot of records by Heptones, Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, Gaylads – that was my growing up music. I just listened to what my brother used to play. What got me was the harmonies, so Heptones was my favourite group at the time. Then you had Roy Shirley – he had a big hit in ’67 with Hold Them that went “Feel Good” – and a lot of Ethiopians tunes. I never really grew up on the ska – I was a bit young for that – but from the rocksteady time I started to understand the music a bit more.

I had two loves in life – football and music. So it was always going to be between football and music where my life would go. I used to play football with Bob Marley and Skill Cole who used to play for Jamaica but at the same time music started to creep in slowly. Sneaking out to dances and parties started to influence me a bit more so I started to buy records. I used to buy them down at Randy’s – now VP Records – record mart on North Parade. Miss Chin the proprietor there used to always give me a good deal so I started to build my collection. We’re talking early 70s – ’71-’73 – and that enticed me to rival my bigger brother’s collection. He had a big collection from the rocksteady era but he stopped buying when I started and reggae – as we know it – started. You used to have labels like Impact!, Joe Gibbs, GG, Observer but in 1972 one of my biggest influences – who changed my perspective – was Big Youth coming on the scene. His LP Reggae Phenomenon influenced me to look further into Rastafari. His tune I Pray Thee was Psalm 2 – my favourite psalm in the bible.

After I became Rasta within myself there were some brethrens I knew who were 12 Tribes. We used to sit down and reason about Rasta and they told me about a little man called Gadman and how he started the 12 Tribes Of Israel in 1968 down Davis Lane in Trenchtown. They convinced me it was the right doctrine for me and from there I became a member in about 1974-74. I’ve been a member ever since.

I’m a soundman originally. My sound used to play in all the 12 Tribes dances and stage shows. From 1981 I gave up playing anywhere else for 14 years and kept my sound within the organisation. I used to help with the stage shows for 12 Tribes bringing artists same way – but again it was within the organisation. Then as you get older you leave it to the younger ones coming and get involved in your own thing. After ’94 I went back on the road for myself.

Many clubs in Brixton don’t last but the Hootananny will last because I’m doing it in the right way. I have good relations with the community and the police – and we’re trying to get good relations with the licensing people. I don’t put on too many bashment acts or young acts. I’m not fighting that music or young people but I don’t want to bring the baggage that comes with them. I bring the foundation acts. They might be old men but they’re legends. Newer acts like Everton Blender and Bushman I wouldn’t call legends – they only came out the other day! – but they bring a more conscious crowd and that’s what I want. Too much hype, too much excitement and anything can kick off at any time. I’m not working with a budget like the Brixton Academy but now people have seen what we’re doing acts who have turned me down are phoning me asking to play!

I’d love to bring Toots here. I’m not saying he’s my favourite artist but the Hootananny feeling is Toots and the Maytals. We do Ska on a Friday and I know Toots would go down well. Maybe I’d do more than one night!