Poet of The Reggae Beat

Roy Gunter’s latest musical offering. Buy it here

I briefly mentioned in my last post that I had the pleasure of finally meeting up with reggae poet Roy Gunter last Friday. Roy will be performing at the Roots of Reggae launch event. Ahead of Roy’s performance this Saturday, I would like to tell you a little more about Roy and the role reggae and poetry has played in his life.

First Impressions

I first met Roy around the corner from Brixton Town Hall. Roy had just driven in from his home in Camberwell after a day at work. At first glance, Roy did not initially match my expectations of a what a poet, or indeed a reggae poet should look like.

I’m not entirely sure what I had expected Roy to look like but in my limited experience of poetry (which extends to being made to read them at school and attending a few hipster poetry readings hosted by Pen Pusher) I suppose I had expected one or few poetic affectations. Clearly, Roy didn’t seem to favour the cravat look sported by my old English teacher. Nor was he was working the rasta-inspired style I had seen Blacker Dread in. Instead, Roy looked like much like any other early middle-aged person I would have worked alongside during my days at Lambeth Council.

The contrast between all the amazing things I had heard about Roy and the regular person I first saw on Friday on Friday intrigued me. I wanted to know more about Roy and how he had become a reggae poet.

A life in Reggae

As I chatted to Roy as he gave me a lift back to Forest Hill, I was struck by how significant a role reggae has played in his life. As a teenager, Roy explained, he had been involved with sound systems. This led to working with many of the pioneers of the London reggae scene, including sound system leader and Roots of Reggae guest star Lloydie Coxsone. Back in the day Roy would even be called upon to tune-up the trucks that transported Lloydie Coxsone’s sound system all around the country. Roy proudly recalled the nickname he earned, ‘i-chanic’ (a rasta-inspired take on mechanic), and the excitement of receiving ultra-exclusive dub plates of the latest tracks in return for his services.

From a young age Roy has enjoyed writing poetry. Gradually Roy began to combine his love of poetry with his passion for reggae, recognising putting his words to a beat enabled him to connect with a much broader audience than would otherwise read his poetry. This realisation has led Roy to produce an album of his poetry set to music, as well as two printed anthologies.

Connecting through Poetry

Whilst reggae is central to Roy’s outlook, from speaking to Roy I discovered his true calling in life is working with disadvantaged young people. Over the course of our journey Roy told me that he is a Youth Worker for Lambeth Council. His work regularly takes him into Young Offenders Institutions such as Feltham. Roy described to me the important role poetry can play in this work, encouraging angry and frustrated young men to reflect on their situation and channel their energy in positive ways. Roy beamed with pride as he told me how by writing poetry that is authentic to his life he has been able to connect with even the most disaffected young person and get them to imagine a brighter future is possible.

Roy’s Work

With just one day to go until Roy performs at the Roots of Reggae FREE launch event I don’t want to give too much away about Roy’s work. What I can do, however, is whet your appetite.

From spending some time this week reading and listening to Roy’s work, two things struck me. The first thing that struck me was the positive and universal message Roy delivers through his poetry. One of Roy’s anthologies is called Poetry of the World and in it he speaks with a sense of hopefulness on everything from slavery to a subject close to my own heart, The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Roy Gunter – Brixton Riots

The other thing that struck me is how Roy’s poetry is enhanced by the addition of musical backing. And this is not just because his heavyweight reggae connections have resulted in collaborations with reggae legends such as The Congos and the late Sugar Minott. Listening to Roy’s album, the musical backings he has selected enhance the emotional resonance of his message. Highlights for me are the chilling and hypnotic dancehall track about the Brixton Riots and the spiritual ‘Agony & Shame’, a lament about the social problems black youth experience over a mellow roots tracks.

 Roy Gunter – Agony & Shame (Performed by Leroy Jones)

If you’re planning to make it along to tomorrow’s Roots of Reggae launch event make sure to listen out for Roy Gunter, a true local legend!