Mention the name Musical Youth to anyone and they'll immediately jump back with their Number 1 smash single "Pass The Dutchie". Their musical grounding was in the pubs and clubs of Birmingham, they were the first Black Artists in the MTV Studios, Stevie Wonder wrote a song especially for them and Michael Jackson invited them into his family home. Then they just seemingly disappeared amidst money problems and legal wrangles. 21 Years after the band released their debut single Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant are back with a "Best Of" Album and are currently recording a new album for release later in the year. Designer Magazine caught up with them to find out about how the pop dream turned sour and how they came out the other side.
Q: "Pass The Dutchie" was the first single I ever owned
so as you can imagine this is a bit mad for me. Can you remember the buzz
you got when you released your first ever single?
A: Yes, I do actually. We kind of went quiet on it and we wasn't expecting too much if you can understand what I'm saying because the record company didn't expect it to do as well as it did. They expected it to in at 55 and it went in at 26 and then when it went from 26 to Number 1 they were caught a bit on the hop because they weren't expecting the level of sales it generated.
Q: Wasn't "Pass The Dutchie" produced by Pete Waterman
of all people?
A: Well...no, if you want the honest answer. Pete Waterman was the manager of producer at the time - that's all he was. He wasn't in the production, he probably passed by for the recordings but he wasn't there as the producer like he try's to purvey that he was. He says it all the time, but he never actually did produce it because Peter Collins did and I'm sure he's not very happy about it. The thing about Pete Waterman is he takes a lot of credit for things he hasn't done.
I don't see Pete Waterman as a great songwriter myself.
If you actually said go on the piano and construct one of your songs for
me he'd be stumped. What key is it in Pete? You know what I mean. Real
songwriters know the creation of a song. He could probably tell you the
idea he had for the song, but he couldn't tell you about the creation of
the song. When you write a song if somebody comes up to you and asks where
were you when you wrote that song / what was you thinking - you'd know
exactly what you were doing and you know exactly how it came about. That's
what true songwriters know.
Q: Musical Youth were the first black artists on MTV.
Did that mean anything to you at the time?
A: It's didn't mean nothing to us at all. I mean a lot of black artists were played, but we were the first black artists in the studio because it was mainly rock artists they allowed in the studio. When you see people going into the studio now to do interviews - that's where we were definitely the first black artists.
When we went out to the States we only really did New
York and Los Angeles. We broke on both the East Coast and West Coast which
if you know your music most people only break on one side, but we broke
on both sides. We were very conscious of it, but we just wanted to play
live because whilst we understood the reasons behind miming once we got
on Saturday Night Live and played live we had a great time.
Q: When you look at pop acts today and the fact that
they launch themselves on school tours. In the early days you were touring
pubs and clubs. What was that like?
A: We were a proper band and a lot of people seem to forget that our schooling in music was travelling around in the back of a mini-bus. It wasn't one of these 7 seaters or plush vehicles, it literally was a minibus or a van with the equipment. We knew how to hump, load out the gear and pack up the equipment and I think it got a bit better when we got roadies.
The grounding for us was fantastic because when I go out now and people say "you're going out and playing in the pubs. How can you play in a pub?" - that's where I started and there's nothing better than playing in a pub because it's more intimate and a lot more fun. That's why a lot of the rock artists and the Robert Plants of the world, they still do play pubs and that because that's where they got the grounding with no airs and graces.
Musicians always took us seriously and when were there at the Reggae Sunsplash it was absolutely fantastic. We were there at the home of reggae with all our childhood heroes apart from Bob of course. It was nothing but adulation and back slapping from them to us because as far as they were concerned reggae came from Jamaica, but the way we played it they loved it. Fellow musicians never ever saw us as a novelty, they had nothing but respect for us.
Q: You just went through this period where Stevie Wonder
wrote songs for you and you met Michael Jackson and various other international
superstars. How was that?
A: Steve was one childhood heroes so to actually meet your childhood heroes it's like all your Christmas's rolled into one so to speak. If you play music and you meet a living legend it's an honour in itself, but for him to turn round and say I wrote this song and had you guys in mind is just unbelievable and Steve and myself are still good friends now.
Michael Jackson was a bit more surreal but it was cool because we'd met Jermaine in Newcastle on a TV Show. So obviously Jermaine's gone back and and said to Michael, because every time you see interviews now it's always Jermaine that sticks up for Michael, and said those guys are really cool. When we were in Los Angeles doing the second album he invited us over to his house, it wasn't Neverland at the time cos he was still at his mum and dads where they all grew up. When we got to the house we were as quiet as mice and he was just really cool and said how he enjoyed our work. After he'd showed us round the house he just let us go off to enjoy ourselves. All the brothers came over, Janet was there, Latoya, Randy, Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, their kids came round, Jane Fonda came and it was nothing but fun.
As a musician you don't hear musicians coming out and
slagging off Michael Jackson. To us we look at him and go wow, nobody's
perfect and if you can't find a fault with any of us you've got a problem.
Like I heard Noel Gallagher say the other day "If a child comes to you
and says Is this all yours? Yes and behind that mountain I'm going to build
a waterpark...that is totally amazing if a child comes up to you and says
that" and when Noel said that I was like wow because Noel usually slags
anybody off. And what Noel was saying there is that if a guy can
build waterparks in his back garden then he's got something.
Q: How much control did you have over your own destiny?
A: We didn't really have any because we were too young. We had control over the live gigs and how we played and performed, but other than that we left the business side we left to the management. What didn't help was the fact we could only work for 42 days of the year so that's where we suffered the most. If we wanted to do a TV show we had to apply 3 weeks before to do the one TV show and most bands would tour, TV shows and then back on tour again but for us it was always going to a bit more difficult.
Also certain wranglings between families and stuff didn't
help, but that was born out of more frustration when you look back at it.
When me and Michael look back we understand that we were just a product,
but that's all to do with the naivety of youth I suppose.
Q: Next month you were due to head out on the Here
& Now 3 tour until it got cancelled. What's happening in the world
of Musical Youth at the moment?
A: We've got the 21st Anniversary album out and Michael and myself are going to be doing a couple of shows in Jersey next month and the Mansfield Festival in August. We haven't played together for 15 years so it is kind of nice to be performing together and the rehearsals are going really well. There's also talk of us doing a theatre tour with Five Star which were just waiting for confirmation of.
I've started recording the new album which should be ready by September. The first studio album from Musical Youth for 20 years. We be the Youth till we die.
"The Best Of Musical Youth" is out now on Universal
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