Jamaican all-stars hit town

A strong line-up for the Reggae in the Park festival bridges the generations
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The Independent Culture

"Everyone from The Clash to The Sex Pistols has ponced off reggae music," says Glen Yearwood, the man behind Reggae in the Park, a roots extravaganza taking place in Victoria Park in London on 5 September. "What we are doing with Reggae in the Park is taking it to the people. We want to make it a global event.

"Everyone from The Clash to The Sex Pistols has ponced off reggae music," says Glen Yearwood, the man behind Reggae in the Park, a roots extravaganza taking place in Victoria Park in London on 5 September. "What we are doing with Reggae in the Park is taking it to the people. We want to make it a global event.

"I love reggae music. It was what I listened to as a youth, and when Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd died this year, I felt we had to pay tribute to the founder of reggae," says Yearwood. Dodd was the brains behind the Studio One sound created in Kingston during the Fifties, which gave birth to the likes of The Wailers, who were then three eager teenagers. Freddie McGregor was even younger when he lived with Coxsone, after moving to Kingston in search of fame and fortune at the age of just seven.

"Mr Dodd was my father, my friend... He was everything to me," McGregor recalls. "I lived with him and his wife, daughters and sons. He sent me to school during the day and in the evening I was in the studio, where I remember people like Bob [Marley] and Bunny [Wailer]."

The line-up for Reggae in the Park harks back to Coxsone's heyday, when luminaries such as Marcia Griffiths, Gregory Isaacs, McGregor, The Mighty Diamonds and Barrington Levy were huge stars in Jamaica. Forty years on, they are still playing to sell-out audiences around the world - although, strangely, not in the UK.

"I am looking forward to the event," McGregor says. "I don't come to England much any more, and when I do I carefully select the events. Reggae in the Park will be the biggest thing since Reggae Sunsplash in 1987, when I performed in front of 300,000 people on Clapham Common. This event, too, should be very special."

Yearwood is convinced that the appetite for roots reggae has never gone away. "If you look at the English calendar of music events, it is full of guitar-led events, techno events... but no reggae. Why?" The answer, Yearwood believes, has everything to do with the reputation of reggae's unruly offspring, dancehall, linked in the media with homophobia and violence.

But he maintains that reggae's omission from the round of muddy summer festival indulgences is just wrong, adding that the term dancehall is not "entirely understood" and is certainly not representative of Jamaican music. "Reggae music informs the youth," he says, pointing to its influence on Asian music, drum'n'bass and much of what is being listened to on iPods. The younger lions appearing include the likes of Sizzla, Vybes Kartel and "a British contingent" that Yearwood won't yet identify.

But what about the "in the park" name, which surely belongs to Capital Radio and its Party in the Park summer music festivals? "Capital foolishly forgot to trademark the name," Yearwood laughs.

Reggae in the Park, Victoria Park, London E3 (0870 6000 888; www.reggaeinthepark.co.uk)

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