Chuck Foster & Ray Hurford
(C) Muzik Tree 1991 All Rights Reserved
© Small Axe 2005 All Rights Reserved
Photo: John Skomdahl
Admiral Tibbet is a roots singer who came up in the dancehall era and helped bridge the gap between the Rasta music of the ‘70’s and the revitalization now being enjoyed in reggae with such artists of the heart as the late Garnett Silk, Luciano and the return of conscious themes to the dancehall. At times in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it seemed Tibbett’s was one the only voices of reason in a music that was losing its own. With the renewed focus on uplifting the youth in reggae the time has come for this uncompromising artist to get his due.
Born Kennel Allen in the Parish of St Mary’s in Jamaica, Tibbett came from a large family - five brothers and two sisters - and now has a large family of his own (seven children, the oldest of which is eleven years old). His unusual name came from a cousin to whom he pointed out the country (Tibet) on an atlas in grade school, where things that might not normally seem funny can provoke unbridled hilarity. From that day forward, he was known as ‘Tibbett’ among his friends and he picked up his Admiralty from friend Glen Douglas who also produced his first single ‘Too Much Violence’ at King Tubby’ studio in 1982.
"It’s like, we press about 100 copies as I can remember," says Tibbett. "It was on the Melody Rocks label. But that song didn’t break me to the public. I was just getting experience in the studio from that song." It wasn’t until 1985 when Tibbett returned to the studio and recorded ‘Babylon War’ (released as 7" on the Arabic and Kings international label) that Tibbett gained recognition in Jamaica.
Like a lot of young singers Tibbett eagerness to record sent him to a variety of producers and studios in Jamaica recording a lot for little or no financial return. Over the years, Tibbett singles were issued on Power House, Redman, Kings And Courage International, Time 1 and a host of other labels. His first two albums ‘War In A Babylon’ (RAS) produced and arranged by Ivor Broderick, and ‘Time Is Going To Come’ (Rhino - UK) for producers Winston & Melvin Dakin and Dona Johnson were recorded around the same time and ‘Come Into The Light’ (Live And Love) produced by King Jammys was issued in 1987. "I was doing a lot of work." Says Tibbett in something of an understatement, though as usual in the dog eat dog record world the rewards were not forthcoming.
Tibbett also recorded albums for Winston Riley ‘Leave People Business’ (Techniques) and Bobby Digital ‘Reality Time’ (VP) and ‘Separate Class’ (VP), and half of a combination album with Thriller U called ‘Two Good To Be True’ (Blue Mountain) for Bobby Digital and singles on a variety of new labels like Kingston 11., African Star, Supply de Beat, and Cannon Music in the early nineties. His most recent CD ‘Excitement’ (VP) was produced by Bunny Gemini. As a writer, he says, "I concentrate on the riddim and I concentrate on the lyrics-to get them to blend together."
As you might imagine from the lyrics of tunes like ‘Call On Jah Name’ ‘Burn In Flames’ ‘Seek Jah First’, ‘Rich Man Pressure’ and ‘Serious Time’, Tibbett sees a guiding hand in his own work. "I find it easy still to create my style. When saying so I’ve always been telling people that the Almighty Father is with me doing my work so that is why it can come easy. Because if it was me alone, nothing. So I have to ask the Father to guide me."
In explaining his style he says, "It’s not that anyone tell me to sing conscious songs, it come like it was just born in me-I couldn’t do nothing else but conscious songs. Because there is many things I need to sing about - even in the ghettos around Jamaica is many youths come to me and say "nuff respect" - because I am the one who may prevent them from getting involved in certain things. They say when they listen to some of my songs even if they were thinking of picking up a gun they’re not gonna do it. So these are the main things I’m focusing on right now. That’s why I sing conscious songs. It doesn’t make sense I sing songs without meaning. I have to sing to protect my brother and my sister."
Though music with a message is on the rise in Jamaica again, Tibbett recalls when "It was just like me, Edi Fitzroy and a few others maintaining the consciousness and music. It was pure slackness and gun lyrics around us by other entertainers dem." Encouraged to do some cover tunes or sing over an American song, Tibbett says "Right now it’s a message that me a deal with." "Even people, because the slackness have a hold on them; it’s like them become accustom to it, like they wanted the slackness. Now that was in those times but not right now because right now I can see the vibes change."
Tibbett’s brush with international fame came in 1990 when he penned the title tune for the movie ‘The Lunatic’. The soundtrack was released on Island Records. That the movie - and thus the song - were not successful fazed him not in the least. "I just enjoy writing my songs and the message going out there to the people. Going to Germany, England, America, Japan- that’s the greatest thing to me." He sees himself as a man with a message and adds "I still feel like time to come. Then you have more people want to hear consciousness. The more rougher the time getting, the more them will want to hear consciousness."
A sign of this growth he sees in the changes happening in Jamaica right now. "Violence is going on but it’s not like in the ‘70s or the ‘80s. Political violence was very big, but ya see, is like, even the youths dem and the people dem is getting wiser now to know that politicians are just using them. So them getting wiser."
Admiral Tebbitt headlined a Thanksgiving Bash at Prince Hall Auditorium in Los Angeles featuring deejays Terry Ganzie, Major Mackeral and others, Friday, November 29, 1996. This positive artist who has contributed so much to keeping reggae on the right track continues to help set the standard for reggae performers at home and abroad.
By Chuck Foster - Based on an interview by
John Skomdahl. Many thanks to Reggae Nucleas Magazine for kindly giving permission to reprint this interview.
Every era in reggae music produces its own set songwriters. Yet because of promotional distribution problems it usually takes a time before a wider audience gets to hear of them, the music itself is usually somewhere else.
People new to the music then begin to look something that no longer exists. Even current music they hear, if they step into a shop, is so radically different to the last era that more often than not it is usually dismissed as rubbish.
This process now has been going on for about 15 years - and the result is a fractionalization of the music. The artists of the Ska/Rock Steady era - Bob Marley, Bob Andy, Bunny Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Joe Higgs, The Heptones and many more took about 10 years before they were accepted into a wider audience. The Roots era - Augustus Pablo, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Leroy Smart, The Abyssianians and the Mighty Diamonds broke through even quicker and, overall, probably had the most success.
The late seventies, producing artists like Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Freddie McGregor, Junior Delgado and groups like Culture, The Congos, and The Wailing Souls were given a cooler reception. With the arrival of the ragga era in 1985 - yet another set of singer/songwriters emerged - Frankie Paul, Coco Tea, Scion Sashey Success, Horace Martin, Carl Meeks and Admiral Tibbett. So far this singers have been more or less ignored. Reasons for this come back to the way the music promoted and distributed. They are also made worse certain magazines or by listening radio or T. V. shows — where the only conclusion that is reached is that there are no reggae songwriters today or any merit. And that the art of songwriting died when Bob Marley died.
Its nonsense of course, and its also very disrespectful to the many other find singer/songwriters of Bob’s generation who are still working. Never mind to the artists or some of them who have been mentioned above.
Which bring us to Admiral Tibbet who started out with the St.Mary based sound system - Torpedo. The owner of the sound - Glen, was the first person to record him way back in 1978. Released on the Melody Rock label. 'Too Much Violence' was not a great success.
Several years later in 1985 he was encouraged to check out someone called Sharman at Arabic Records. With Arabic, he recorded 'Babylon War' it was a small hit but big enough to bring him to the attention of Winston Riley, owner of the Techniques label. And it was with Winston Riley, that he was to get his first big reggae hit, 'Leave People Business', re the end of 1985.
After this, it didn't take long before confirmed that Winston Riley was working on an album with him. It was something that was looked forward throughout the whole of 1986, but not nothing came forward. People into the music started to Admiral Tebbit was a one hit wonder or just didn’t have an album in him. It's happened many times before.
Photo: Beth Kingston
And then to everyone's surprise, King Jammys released an Admiral Tebbit LP. It shouldn't have been a surprise due to the great amount of success Jammy's was having then, but it was. Jammy was recording with a wide number of artists then all of whom had been more successful with him than the Admiral. And yet for whatever reason his debut album "Come Into The Light' came out on the Live and Love label in the UK in 1987.
Although a very strong album in many repects - there wasn't a track on it with the power of the Winston Riley produced tune, 'Leave People Business' although Serious Times' comes very very close. A lot of it, is to do with impact - 'Leave People Business’ was a high impact tune - which gave Admiral Tebbit a roots artist profile. On 'Come Into The Light' this changed somewhat to include love songs like the the title even though this had a reality edge though. Admiral takes it out of the usual ' I Love You’ themes into more 'I Love You But' songs which include social problems that are much more true to life.
Apart from 'Serious Time' the next best reality tune is 'Old Nigga' where Tibbett describes the term in graphic detail. It always seemed strange to me such a degrading term came back into use in the place, but its new description, explained by the Admiral is quiet disturbing.
‘Advantage’ is an anti Babylon song, with the Admiral explaining straight away that he is referring to all wicked people. Having said that, it does sometimes sound like he is protesting more against the so called forces of law and order than the more criminal elements who make the system what it is today.
After about another year we finally got the LP - produced by Winston Riley, called - as it really and truly could only be called -'Leave Business People'. Containing thankfully the title track in it's glory. Cut over a Steely and Cleavie ' the 'Things And Time' rhythm track, the rhythm never been put to better use, nearly three years after it's original release it still sounded as ever, and so did the Admiral's warning to inquisitive people.
Photo: John Skomdahl
Of the nine other tracks - all of them are standard of the King Jammys LP, and most of compare very well to 'Leave People Busin first of these is ‘Who Feels It Knows It’ The rhythm on this is built around the very solid sound of Sly and Robbie. Sly's kettle drum sound was very popular with quite a few producers, but this and Half Pint’s ‘Greetings' captures the sound at it's best. The song from the Admiral puts one question after another outlining the life of a sufferer in Jamaica and a lot of other countries. Given the state of typical response from the people who cause these problems would be "So What" but at 1 can’t say they wasn't told or warned.
A reality song with a strong black conciousness theme is "What Kind Of World’. With social divisions stronger everywhere, it seems that there are people out there today who cannot accept what they are. This sort of business should something from the past, but it's not and it's good to see someone pointing it out for examination or re- examination.
Another strand to this, is that some people are quick to change. Everyone wants a better life very few people are content with the way things some people want that better life and are not too worried how they get it. In 'I Know' the Admiral makes it clear that he essentially knows himself -he's prepared to do, and what he's not. Its an interesting song with a very strong sense of awareness. With ' Freedom We Want’ we get a broad swipe at the system and all it's works. It’s a powerful song built around a chorus of " Every me get up and me chant, Freedom Is What Want '
Being aware of your enemies is also important dread times - and that is the theme of 'See Deh'. The three love songs on the album, ‘You Should Have Known’ ‘Love Me’ ‘Mi Lover’ are also up to a very good standard. And give the album a nice balance. Love songs don’t have to be just about love, and the Admiral’s usually have a little moral story running through them. On Them Think Me Gone’, he pulls together a few parables for some dancehall business over a another great rhythm. Overall a fantastic set.
If the Jammys set was a surprise, his next release 'The Time Is Going To Come" was a total shock. For this album was released on Greedy Puppy, belonging to Prince Huntley aka Winston Darkin and his brothers Charles and Nigel. The Greedy Puppy label has been going for years on and off, with just success to keep them going. Although like a lot of the smaller producers, he doesn't depend on the record business for his income, his main business is the Modernize Printery.
This album could be the first on the label. Recorded at Creative and Channel One, it finds the Admiral once very good form. Some of the tracks are fully digital others feature real instruments. Overall the sound is crisp. Lyrically it's the same again, reality mixed in with a few love songs - plus a couple of dance hall tunes. The title track is as good and is as memorable as 'Leave People Business' and, in way, 'Serious Time'. This time he's making a statement - that things will get better - while going through all the things that are wrong. It's a very positive song, which does leave one feeling a litt;e about the way things are.
In a more personal style is 'A Don't Know' which has a very strong 'Old Time' flavour and is something but what? Whatever it is, it's done, with the Admiral having a good moan about his imitative girlfriend - finally an exasperated reaches a climax with "Their is nothing I won't do, she won’t do."
A traditional cut of '54-46' takes us into 'Talk Them Just A Talk' which has echoes of 'Leave People’s Business' only it's not as intense, in fact its quite relaxed - almost a matter of fact. With this and other songs- you do get the feeling that Admiral Tibbet is in his element when he's having a go at something. Nearly all the great songwriters in the music have this gift - perhaps it's what motivates them.
Almost in the same style is 'Too Quick'. This it's an assumptive policeman who gets corrected mistakening the Admiral for a criminal – just because he looks "Slick". It wasn't so long ago that Rasta in Jamaica would mean you would get treated such a way, so attitudes have certainly changed Jamaica, although not for the better it seems
The album concludes with another love song – ‘Promise Me Your Love’ which is more like a little story that would do ‘True Romance’ proud. "Imagine I call you on the telephone, and you tell me that I must come home. And when I come knocking at your door – something happened to me, that’s never happened before – I could hear the sound of kisses which leaves my heart in pain…" You can guess the rest!
Admiral Tebbit's next move album wise to Ivor Broderick - which in turn placed him on the RAS label and gave him his first album release in the United States. With this set we are forces through a lack of information to make an asssumption Borderick the producer on the album is none other than ( Sharman who has an interest in Arabic Records whom the Admiral cut "Babylon War' which appears on this RAS LP a six track showcase called ‘War In ABabylon'. It's also possible that this tune is a recut of the Arabic Records release. Either way it's a great tune - as is the whole of the album. It would seem that the album was cut around 1985 - before any of the other albums - because all the rhythms feature instruments, (plus a drum machine) which of course would make this his first album. And like the three other albums it shows his great in life, and its harsh realities.
Right from the first track, 'Badness', which is all about lifestyles and in particular the lifestyles of gunman. The Admiral's message on this song is not new that - "If you live by the gun, you will di Yet it's one that will be repeated time and I until something is done about the situation that forces people to start using such weapons —either for protection or to enable themselves to stand up their rights. Tibbett's message seems to be more at the criminal. And once again he weaves more than just one message into the song.
‘Promoter Call' on the other hand is a insight into the world of the 'Dance Hall' and the runnings associated with it. Once again the Admiral goes into one of his elaborate and wonderful stories.which really and truly have to be listen carefully to be fully appreciated. Needless to say this one is about a anxious promoter who needs a ‘Ram Dance Master" because he has more people outside the dance than inside. As soon as the Admiral arrives the dance is rammed. Simplified to this extent it don't sound too much, however listening to to Admiral tell it, should convince you otherwise.
On 'Babylon War' we get the famous set of of lyrics over the 'Full Up' bass line - "The War betwe the Babylon just can't over. Then coulda put down them tool and a cool but me still gwan remember." So much for peace and love - or forgiving and forgetting -both ideas or concepts don't hold much Tibbett's life. The reality of being poor and living being poor and living in the ghetto has taught the Admiral differently. And it’s the sort of lesson that once learned is impossible to forget. – no matter how hard you try. The following song ‘Mr Richman’ is Tibbet’s answer to anyone who might accuse him of bitterness. Perhaps when such songs are no longer valid, will the Admiral come to a different conclusion.
It was now 1989 and Admiral Tebbit's popularity was not only growing - he had reach the stage where he had a good following. This is important, popularity and loyalty are very hard for an artist to achieve. Popularity can last for one tune, equally having 500 people loyally buying your releases each and is not going to get you very far in the business.
The last four years since 'Leave People Business’ had gone very quickly — but with four solid albums behind him Admiral Tebbit had moved from being a up and coming talent - to potentially a star. What now was more hits along the lines of 'Leave Business', just to gain that extra creditability.
That year 1989, had all the signs pointing major breakthrough for the Admiral. No one was really ruling. Gussie was the strongest, Jammy was still well in the picture. This meant there should have been more attention on his artists and there was - the DJ's. And one in particular Shabba Ranks. He had just started a run .
So instead of a breakthrough, the Admiral eased up. The singles kept coming for a wide range of producers All of them of very high quality, but you got feeling that he was holding back. This increased as the months went on.
Eventually Admiral Tebbitt did get an album r 1989, but it was only a half an album with Thriller U. Produced by Digital Bobby and titled 'Two Good To Be True' it was released on Blue Mountain in the UK. Although it was welcomed as something (an something is better than nothing. ) It didn have any impact because people had more or less got fed up with the two artist album. If the two artists had something in common it could work but more often than not, they didn't. And it just became an excuse for putting out an album.
This sadly looked like the latter. A Thriller U/Sanchez LP makes a lot of sense or a Admiral Tebbit/Coco Tea. Having said that both artists on this both give a good selection of songs. In respect of the Admiral, he's in very good form.
Perhaps the best track is 'Wrong Place' it starts off like a love song — but it then goes into a great reality song, that has got a warning in it – against mixing with bad company, plus some very typical statements of intents from the man. Including " I Don’t want the people to give me the blame, for going around and playing those unfair games, I want to live a decent life so put away the gun and put away the knife."
During 1989 and 1990 the Admiral started to work with Gussie Clarke's Music Works. One track 'Mad Man can be found on a Music Works various artist album released by Island called 'Ram Dancehall. Another track "It's The Blues’ appears on a Greensleeves compilation 'Music Works Showcase 90'. Both tracks are superb examples of the talent of the man. With Gussie's high regard for singer/songwriters like a natural progression for them to work together. Now the the stage had been reached and with such fine results - it was only natural to expect and get more of the same. Sadly to date nothing else has come although more is promised.
Meanwhile - Bobby Digital or Digital Bobby – whichever you prefer had broke away from King Jammys to set up his own studio. It seems one of the first albums to recorded at the new set up is this one Admiral entitled "Reality Time'. A full ten tracks this time as well. In many respects it would better if only 8 had been included.
The reason for this comes in the form of "Execute A Sound' and 'My Sound Is Champion' these sort should really stay on dub plates - or at best available on 'One Rhythm' albums or Dance Hall v/a artists albums. They certainly don't belong on solo albums- especially one from an artist like Tibbett - who can and does write great songs and seems to enjoy songwriting. Everything has its place in the music. Under the right conditions these dub plates could be enjoyed and appreciated. On this album they stick out like a sore thumb. They also detract a great deal from the rest of the album.
The best track on the album without question is ‘Problems'. It could be the best song the Admiral so far ever written. It's like he's written a song about everything that has ever made him feel even suicidal. It's a fairly common list, which most people could relate too, but then he starts to add one or two problems that show not only understanding of the problems of modern society but also that this is a person who not only understands he also cares.
'Trying Man' comes as the next best track.another personal song, but is a reworking on a theme that he's covered before. It's still relevant and will remain so until those refrain from their malicious ways.
The title track itself ‘Reality Time is more or less just a call for more reality music, and less slackness. Really and truly it would make morse sense to have another reality tune on the album, rather than have a song calling for more of them, but there you go. It seems that Admiral Tebbit is now recording for Two Friends. Hopefully they can improve on this album, which isn’t really Tibbet at his best.
SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY ADMIRAL TEBBIT ALBUMS
Come Into The Light – Live & Love – King Jammys – 1987
Leave People Business – Techniques – Winston Riley – 1988
The Time Is Going To Come – Greedy Puppy – Prince Huntley - 1988
War In A Babylon – RAS – Ivor Broderick – 1988
Two Good To Be True (w/Thriller U) – Blue Mountain – Bobby Digital – 1989
Reality Time – Digital B – Bobby Digital – 1991
A Trouble To A Man – Techniques 7" – Winston Riley - 1985
Feel The Vibes – Jammys 7" King Jammys – 1985
Too Quick – Modernize Music 7" – Prince Huntley – 1985
Leave People Business – Techniques 7" Winston Riley – 1985
Fancy Girl – Techniques 7" Winston Riley – 1986
Bad Minded People – Techniques – Winston Riley – 1986
Better You Gwan – Techniques – Winston Riley 1986
Dis Girls Hot – Techniques 7" Winston Riley – 1987
I Am Strong – Juney Star 7" – Juney Star – 1987
Don’t Run, Don’t Hide – Reggae Rock 7" – 1987
Serious Time – Jammys 7" – King Jammys – 1987
Babylon – Vena 7" Fatis –1988
New Tactics – Redman 7" – Hugh James – 1988
Too Much Jealousy – Digital B 7" – Bobby Digital – 1988
Some People Life Not Comfortable – Small Axe 7" – 1988
Keep On Telling Me – Digital B – Bobby Digital – 1988
Power Of The Music – Bun Gem 7" – Bunny Gemini – 1988
Plague – Digital B 7" – Bobby Digital – 1988
Why Should I – Jammys 7" – King Jammys – 1989
Hang Them – Jammys 7" – King Jammys – 1989
Tell Me Which One (With Shabba) – Music Works 7" – Gussie Clarke – 1989
Freedom – Brown Sugar 7" – 1990
Executor Sound – Digital B 7" – Bobby Digital – 1990
Watch Your Step – D& S Unfailing Records – 1990
Victim Of Babylon – Jammys 7" – King Jammys – 1990
No One Knows – Serious Time – Abbyssinia House 7" – 1991
Serious Time – Digital B 7" – Bobby Digital – 1991
The Lunatic – The Lunatic 7" – 1991