Henry 'Matic' Tenyue Interview (Part II) - 90s to Today
12/23/2021 by Angus Taylor
In Part 2 [read Part 1 here] of this interview with Henry Matic Tenyue, he talks about his solo works including his new Renditions EP. He also recalls how he went from UB40 to working with Soul II Soul and James Brown, and helped bring live horns to the revived UK dub scene... (This interview was recorded before the sad passing of Robbie Shakespeare but includes some memories of Sly & Robbie)
What were your memories of touring with Astro and Brian - two UB40 members who sadly passed away this year?
Brian was always enthusiastic to play with us. He was always happy to be working with us. Because I think it kind of brought them more into the mainstream reggae - you understand? And at the time Astro could play the trumpet but he was learning so of course he got a bit more learning from following Patrick. And then there was Norman as well who was playing trombone. They were kind of at the early stages of playing. That’s why we were kind of brought in because they needed a more professional kind of touch. Some tunes on stage they would play and it would be like a five-man horn section. But most of the time it was me, Patrick and Brian. We had great times on the road. And we had family gatherings. Sometimes when we had breaks we’d gather all the family together and go somewhere like Jamaica. It was always fun.
How long were you in UB40 for?
10 years. But even during working with them, I wasn't only working with them. I was still doing shows with Aswad, with Linton, with whoever. I'd come off tour and I'd be with Rough Cutt or whoever. So I never stopped with local business.
So you had so much other work going on that you decided it was time to move on?
Yeah, it was time to move on, you know? This was in ’94. But after that Ali was saying to me “I’m doing an album, you can come and work with me on the album”, which I did. After the tour finished I went to Jamaica and recorded an album Big Love.
And you sang some vocals on that album, didn't you?
Yeah, I sang vocals. Backing vocals and that. Did some shows in Jamaica as well. Some radio shows and things like that. At Tuff Gong.
Do you find it easy to pick things up again with people you’ve worked with in the past?
Yeah. Because really and truly I don't hold anything in my heart. I'm not one of those people who holds grievances.
It's not easy because music is a business but it's also an emotional thing.
But I have a knack of being able to move on quite easily.
It helps if lots of people want to work with you!
It helps me but it doesn't help the people who think I shouldn't have forgotten them! They get angry because they say “Why why why?” I just love music and I love doing what I'm doing. I just like things calm and the best way to keep calm it's not to hold things in. Because sometimes if you let it go, people see you have let it go and may come back and want to be better friends with you. I've got a few people like that. They've done things and just because they see I have forgotten and I'm not holding any malice about my business, they kind of feel no way and want to be my best friend.
It's a good lesson that everyone can learn from.
Maybe that's why I get on in the reggae music business. But usually what I would say, with the English music, it's usually a togetherness. It's only a little bit lately that things start, some people are... I don't know if they are getting too old or whatever but usually there's always a togetherness thing. Doesn't matter which part of London you come from, the reggae man them, we get together.
So how did you go from working with UB40 to working with Soul II Soul?
Well, after I left UB40, and I can tell you even a little bit before that, I was doing all these sessions for all different kinds of people... like I played on recordings with Robert Palmer and Chrissie Hynde. When I was on tour I used to spar with all the people. I used to find all the people that loved drink, you know? They used to like sparring with me. Like when we were on tour with Robert Palmer it was me and him used to end up at the bar. But when I'm drinking the little doubles, these guys are drinking like quadruples! But Robert Palmer was a really nice guy, a really nice person. Even Chrissie Hynde in her little wayward self I would say that she is a really nice person. She was the one that really got UB40 their break because she brought them on a Pretenders tour. When they had their first Signing Off album.
And you did some stuff with Alpha Blondy as well?
Yeah that's with Dennis. This was all in the meantime. In between, you know? But the Soul II Soul thing, even before that before I did that, I was doing recordings with people like Adrian Sherwood. I played on his mix of Night Nurse with Mick Hucknall.
And Sly and Robbie played on that?
Yes, Sly and Robbie played on that. But I wasn't there when Sly and Robbie played on that. And in between that as well, when Sly and Robbie came to England and they were doing sessions up at places like Metropolis studio and they wanted trombone, they would call me in. To come and do the session for people like Suggs and whoever. I've played on quite a few things with Sly and Robbie.
But yeah of course through that, we got the link with... well I knew Jazzie B from before. He knew me as a musician. But then he did this tune with Richie Stephens - Joy. And he called us in to do the horns for him. That was me, Patrick and Bammy. So we did that tune for him and we did a couple of tunes for him still at a recording session. And then Joy came out and then after that we did another session with him where he was producing James Brown. The very last album that James Brown made. [Universal James, 1993] He had Matic on it, you know? (laughs)
And did you interact with James Brown?
No, James Brown wasn't there. We recorded in England. But talking of James Brown, I have interacted with James Brown. Because when we did some shows in England with UB40 and James Brown. Wembley arena and all that. That's when I got to meet James Brown. And his daughter and the band. But James Brown was big and smiley “Hi, hi how are you doing?” and then rush off, you know? He didn't really interact with his band.
And you also met Fela Kuti on tour?
Yeah. Because, one of the tours that I did with Linton, we did a French tour and we did it with Fela Kuti. With all of his 26 wives at the time, all on one coach when we’d do the tour. Fela was a nice guy as well. He’d smoke this cigarette and take his cigarette and he had this barrel of mixture and he’d dip his cigarette in it, like hash oil or something like that. It wasn't hash oil. It was this thing that he made up and he would dip his cigarette in it and smoke it. It was ganja based but I think it was so he could take it around with him when they didn't know what it was. Fela was a nice man. We used to sit down and he used to tell us about how at that time his mother had got beaten up...
In a raid on his compound.
And things like that and then he had to go back for that. He was a nice brother to tour with. When you meet him he's nice. In those times his son Femi was a little boy and he would bring him in and he would give him time to play his little saxophone and come off.
In 1997 you produced a successful album Free Your Mind for Levi Roots.
Yes. Sparkside studios. I got all my friends into play on it like Mafia and Fluxy, Bubblers, all my top guns. I even got Shaka to do a mix on it. Levi brought the songs to me and I put music to it and produced it. And then out of the blue it got nominated for a MOBO. So they came and said “Oh, you've been nominated for a MOBO”. We didn't put it forward or nothing, you know? Of course we didn't get it because that year Finley Quaye got it. Everybody was going “Finley who?” They didn't know him. Best reggae man? But we know that was a record company… but it was just good that it got nominated. It wasn't my first produced tune but it was my first produced album.
What was the first tune you produced?
I used to do some little tunes for myself and Ruff Cutt. I sang a tune named Sweet Sensi. And then I did one for Ruff Cutt called Dirty Raggamuffin. Not many, just one and two. My more producing days came further down. The early ones were that. But I did a lot of the horn arrangements on tunes. If I was working with Dennis or Aswad they told us what to play. But for other people it was just “Play”. And I would arrange the horns for the man.
Let's talk a little bit about working with your old school friend, Gussie P.
At the beginning of the 2000s I started to do more work with Gussie. I'd worked with Gussie already because when Gussie was at A Class studio he was the engineer down there. So I played on some of their stuff, plus I recorded there as well. I recorded an artist who got his first ever recording down there - Chukki Starr, he did a tune for me. You see I'm coming with things that I didn't say way back in the day. When we were doing Matic 16 and we recorded up at Easy Street we recorded an artist named Jack Radics. We did a tune called Walk On By which was kind of a hit in America. They loved it in America. To the point where when I was touring with UB40 and the American supporting bands... I was listening and they were playing the tune! And we produced it! We produced him and we also did a brother named Mikey General. We had a tune named Baby Mother with him that was his first tune. So we worked with a few people, you know?
So getting back to Gussie now. In those times Gussie decided he was going to start up his own Gussie P label and it was more going to be roots and dub. Because for a long time Gussie had been moving with Jah Shaka. He was more on the dub circuit. We liked the dub because I come from roots music too, you know? So he decided to record some roots and dub music. Instrumentals. In those times when you heard dub music it was either singer or dub. There were no instrumentals. So we recorded some instrumentals and he pressed them up and tried to sell them in some record shops. The record shops refused to take them because they said that “roots and dub music is dead”. This was 2000-2001. They wanted just the dancehall thing.
But they didn't realise that in other parts of the world people wanted to hear the roots...
Yeah, the roots. So I did some instrumentals with Gussie. And Gussie recorded some roots artists. One of the first tunes that he put out was named Jah Father with Twinkle Brothers. And people just loved it. And then I started to play live on sound systems. Like Channel One and whoever. I started to play and because all of a sudden it started to get popular then all of a sudden you started to see horn players on sound systems.
Then all these people at record shops who were saying “All that music is dead” and they don't want to supply it, all of a sudden they were running back for it. Because it was selling and the dancehall market was kind of going down. From the height it was in the 90s. So then I was doing soundsystem things around Europe. And it just grew bigger and bigger to what it is now. That's because a few of us stuck to doing the roots and believed in it and it just came back around, you know?
So tell me a bit more about your works Mafia and Fluxy then.
I was working with Mafia and Fluxy on shows and we were doing little bits here and there and we’d buck up on sessions. Mafia and Fluxy built a studio in Tottenham, in their house and started recording prolifically. So of course they called me in to come and play horn and I brought in a saxophone player Brian Edwards. Me and him used to do a lot of the Mafia and Fluxy tunes, like the tunes we did with Gregory and everybody. And then you have people like Gussie who would mix for them, and a brother named Calvin. Calvin “So So” Francis, a good engineer.
That's where the Mafia and Fluxy label grew from. We'd been working with them and then when they had shows, we did shows together and I'm kind of in the Mafia and Fluxy band. Over the years we've just been going more and more until we were doing shows with Eek-a-Mouse, Max Romeo, Jah Youth - Big Youth, everybody. But of course I'd worked with those artists differently still, in other bands.
And Mafia and Fluxy have a Spanish Town connection?
Yeah, yeah. I think their family is more connected with Spanish Town. My connection is my family moved there. They've got deeper roots.
Another big roots rhythm that you hear played in dances a lot is the Thanks & Praise rhythm by Twilight Circus that you played on in 2006...
That's right. Twilight Circus. And a few other people as well. Quite a few out there on the roots tip. Instrumentals as Matic horns. And then I've done the shows and the dub festivals. Which was nice for me because I do my show at the same time. And as I say, I toured with Max Romeo, I worked with French bands playing with Lee Scratch Perry, even Jah9, Brigadier Jerry and all those kinds of people. Of course I've done things with people who have passed like Yabby You, Pablo, Trinity, John Holt. Working on some of those things with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, some of those shows with John Holt. It had Freddie McGregor on it as well as Ken Boothe. Lots of different artists.
Did you have a good working relationship with Gregory?
Yes, I did. One time I went to Jamaica and I bucked up Gregory in Kingston. Gregory just saw me and said “Come on, you're coming with me now”. And we travelled all round Kingston to every corner, to every one of his aunts. And he's introducing me as his brethren to everybody. So of course they want to give me the free drinks and the free this and the free that. Because it's Gregory.
And then they're all telling me about Gregory you know? Because some people see Gregory as a standoffish guy but Gregory, he's a really funny person who tells a lot of jokes. But in the background he was a very kind person as well. He used to help people out and do things for people. And then they would also tell me that. Gregory called me “two phones”. Because in those times I used to have two phones, one for work and one for private. He called me “two phones”. Because I used to get special work for him.
What about Peter Tosh?
Peter, he's another one. As soon as he stepped off the tour bus he was a different person. Just to keep people away from him. On the tour bus, really nice person. Funny, everything. Really nice person. I was glad to meet him. Them man there. His persona was totally different from what people imagined him as. Of course Dennis Brown was just brethren.
Always the same to everyone.
Dennis was brethren. Gregory was brethren. Junior Delgado. Haven't even mentioned him yet, you know what I mean? Good good brethren, Incredible music. Just before he died we were doing an album for Virgin. To go on a big tour and then he died. But to me they were really nice people. All of those people. Cornell Campbell is a nice brother, all of them.
Tell me about how you came to be in Horace Andy’s touring band.
I'd worked with Horace Andy with other bands before. I started working with Dub Asante but that wasn't with Horace. That was with Johnny Clarke. Horace had another manager. He was working with Massive Attack and Massive Attack’s manager was running his affairs. That's when I got to do some shows with him. The drummer was a guy called Richie Stevens and he used to play in the Dub Band with me years back. I think Diane was playing bass and Caroline was on keyboards. And I did some shows with that band. Then after a while I was doing a lot more work with Dub Asante and then Horace came on board with Dub Asante. And we've been touring for years. It was mainly Horace Andy and Johnny Clarke that we did with Dub Asante. I’ve appeared more than once at the Montreux Jazz Festival, backing artists including Horace, and Johnny Clarke, and I’ve given talks on the festival’s seminar programme.
But I also did things with Michael Prophet, all different kinds of people. At the same time I started to come back doing some work with Aswad. And of course I was doing some things with Brinsley Forde as well. Doing his solo stuff.
So Dub Asante we were going round Europe but session working now I started to to link with other people. I've linked with men like Winta James. But even before Winta James I would go to Jamaica and I'd be at Mixing Lab doing work with Clive Hunt. Doing session work with Dean Fraser. I've worked with Lloyd Parks and We The People band. I've done Rototom with Horace Andy with Lloyd Parks. I did things like the John Holt memorial in Jamaica with Lloyd Parks and Dean Fraser. And then of course I've worked with Freddie’s band, the Big Ship band. Mostly for radio recordings and I've done some shows with them, with Dalton [Browne] and everybody. I toured with Jah9, two tours in her early days. I did one with a French band and one with a Jamaican band. And then I linked up with Winta James. With Winta, I did Chronixx, I did Protoje, I did that big tune with Mortimer. Lila Iké...
Keeping it going with the modern thing...
I'm in the current thing, you know? And some of the other latest things I've done... I just played a Jo Mersa Marley tune. With a brother called Black Am I. Jazzwad produced that. So I'm in the current crop of things. Not the dancehall thing because the dancehall thing... I’m not sure where that's gone.
I didn't even mention my brethren Dave Hill and Tuff Scout. Because I'm on the Rootical album with Johnny Osbourne which is great for me. I've done a few tunes with Tuff Scout in Dub. Things will start leaking out of me as soon as I put the phone down! (laughs)
Have you been touring with Sly and Robbie as well?
Yeah, so I forgot all that! (laughs) Two years ago I started touring with the Taxi Gang. When Nambo dropped out, I took over. So I'm in the Taxi Gang working with Bitty McLean, Yellowman and quite a few people.
When you play with Horace Andy, Taxi Gang, a lot of people, usually you do something at the beginning like one or two classic trombone tunes. Not every musician gets to do that in a band. They usually just do a rhythm medley of the artist’s hits.
That's true. Some bands they do a little instrumental. I think all that is really is that sometimes when a band hasn't got an opening act or something like that, I've said “I'll do something”. To the point now where if you see a Horace Andy show they say featuring me as well.
Once I saw you with Max Romeo and you walked out late and everyone started cheering...
I think a lot of them knew me, that's why! (laughs) I had a few fans there, you know? Surprises me sometimes as well.
We need to talk about your solo albums. Tell me about your 2006 Increase The Peace album.
The Increase The Peace album came about with Mike Brooks and his Coptic Lion label. He said he wanted to do an instrumental album so I said “Ok”. I listened to the tunes and the tunes are all like classic tunes that Bunny Lee produced, Keith Hudson, with an array of musicians. So I said to him that the only way I would do this album is if I can get the names of every musician that played on each track. And he went away and he came back and for every track he had every musician. He told me he was getting them off the back of tapes and things like that. And I'm saying “Can you really do that?” Because I thought it was going to be an impossible task. So on my Increase The Peace album on every track in the sleeve it's got the name of every musician that played on it. From Sly to Flabba to everybody, even Aston and Carlie from The Wailers. Everybody's on it.
So I did this album and I said I wanted it to sound like it was done then. I didn't want it polished up like it was done yesterday. I wanted to sound like it was recorded at the same time. So I had to make the horns sound a little dirtier and that. But I've had to re-press that album about four times now. And it's worldwide and I'm getting emails from the Jamaican Ambassador in America and things like… just complimenting “This brings back memories” and lots of people love it. Which surprised me, you know what I mean? And even now Mikey, he’s not surprised but it's on his label and he has to keep pressing it up. So that was an album I kind of produced and I had Wayne Marshall master it for me. G Spot. He's a good engineer.
So that is going good. Of course I've got my Gussie P albums and EPs out there. Sip A Cup labels and things which he is still selling. And I've also got an album that I did with Mafia and Fluxy up at Stingray studios. Called Spanish Town Rock. I call it Spanish Town Rock because of our links with Spanish Town. That was done with Mafia and Fluxy, Tony Ruff Cut on it and a few other people. I produced it. And even that is still going, selling well. Which kind of surprises me. But I travel to different places and they tell me about it. People like certain tunes on it, you know? I go to places like Argentina and they're telling me about it and I'm going “Wow”. Because they hear me from Gussie P recordings or they see me on live shows or they know me from Aswad recordings, UB40 recordings. So I've got a little fanbase, even some people that don't listen to reggae. But they hear me and go through and listen to my music and they love it. I always get messages and emails and things from everywhere in the world, Japan, Réunion Island, everywhere.
You've been doing more singing recently...
I have been doing more singing in the last couple of years but I've been singing all the time still because I do a lot of backing vocals on many shows. So I've had enough practice and then I sang a couple of tunes and I played them to people like Freddie McGregor and Ken Boothe for their opinion. “Is it worth it?” (laughs) But they liked it. So I've done a couple of tunes and put them out. I did a couple of lovers tracks for Bubblers, and people seemed to like them. And recently I did a cover of How Could I Live. On the Dennis Brown record I think somebody just wrote it down wrong. But it's actually How Could I Live.
Because it's by the Sharks originally...
Yeah, the Sharks, a guitarist guy...
Yeah, Dwight Pinkney. He did that tune, yeah. That's going down well so I'm just about to release a singing EP, and I've got my first show this year as Henry Matic in Bedford. Levi Roots is on that show as well. But the promoter has said he has always wanted to promote me because he likes what I do. He gave me a full show.
When you add up all the things you've done, there's no reason why you shouldn't be considered in the same way as the Jamaican musicians. Why shouldn't you be the same?
Yeah, that's right. But a lot of them if you put it together they haven't even done half of what I've done. The only man I can say has done as much as me is Dean Fraser. Or who's done more than me is Sly and Robbie. Lloyd Parks has done this thing but he's got his OD. He's got recognised. The only person I know who's done more than me in England is maybe Dennis. My teacher. I call him my teacher and he deserves an award. All those awards and I don't get one yet. But I don't look on that still because my reward is my music.
These days you and your brother Patrick work separately - do you still keep in touch?
Laughs yeah! We're cool, we talk. I went and saw his gig the other day. He's got a little jazz gig he does in Elephant and Castle. All I've done is just stayed out of the way for a little, that's all. I've had to give him his space to do what he's got to do. And he's giving me my space to do what I've got to do. He does his production. He still speaks to me and texts me and I was down at his gig the other day. It's cool we got our own branches to do.
Can you say something about your gardening?
I've been growing my own vegetables for over 20 years now. I've had my allotment. In the early part nobody really knew I had that because I used it as my time to relax within myself. And I don't listen to music when I do it or anything. My music is the wind and the birds. And because I live near the sea, sometimes when it gets a bit rough you can hear it. But it's just like a downtime from everything, you know? When I come back it's like I'm refreshed. Eager to do things after thinking about gardening - especially if I get a nice crop which I am right now. (laughs)
How has the pandemic affected you?
Well, I'm ok with the aspect where I've spent more time with my family. I love that and I've been blessed that I haven't really fallen into any hardships or anything like that. So I have to give thanks for all that. I'm just hoping that when things open up it's all good again. The only thing I've regretted is that as a traveller, I've always travelled. It's hard not travelling. I've wanted to go and see my mum in Jamaica and people are telling me to come down there and do work in Jamaica and I can't do it because of the lockdown. So hopefully when everything opens up we can start the ball rolling again.