Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview with Sean Flowerdew of Pama International

So you guys have been quite busy lately. Touring extensively, releasing new music left and right, where is all the inspiration
coming from?

Sean: Yeah, busy, busy, busy. 2007 hasn't been as hetic as 2006 but still managed to fit in a lot of shows/festivals, recording and so far released two pieces of vinyl. Another to come before the end of the year. Oh, and launched the new label.

Inspiration for writing, thankfully, just keeps coming. We're
living in beautiful and horrendous times. It's hard not to observe
and comment, you know? Things change daily, hourly, all the time.
You've just got to be open to it and embrace it.

Inspiration for keeping on playing out....I don't like touring too
much. I love being around my family, but playing my songs to people is a good buzz. That instant feedback is cool and a good reason to be inspired. And the people I've
got involved with Pama Intl make it happening.

Your last album Trojan Sessions was the first of it's kind for Trojan in some 30 years.
How did this project come about?

Sean: Trojan approached us. I think they liked the fact we were taking the music to new generations and new crowds and the fact that we've built a huge grass roots following here.The old boss there,
John Reed had been aware of us from our first album and liked the way we worked. They were searching for new outlets for the music and Pama Intl they saw as a good vehicle.

What was it like working with not only a legendary record label,
but with legends such as Derrick Morgan, Dawn Penn, Rico
Rodriguez, Dennis Alcapone, Dave Barker and Ansel Collins?

Sean: Double-edged sword this one. It was an honour to have something issued on be associated with that label and the music it's released over the years is amazing. The business side stinks. Unfortunately that seems a legacy that's been passed down through the years to whoever owns the label. Not towards us but there was a massive lack of respect to the older artists.
The way I see it though is the name/logo is bigger then whoever owns it.
Shame that doesn't relate to food on the table though, but no one remembers who's running it, they just remember the fantastic music. It happened to be Sanctuary running things when we were on the label, but Universal has now bought them out. No one will look back and think..."wow...Sanctuary were a great label....they ran Trojan brilliantly and put out some fantastic music". No one.

It was great working with the artists. Apart from Derrick and Ansel I recorded them all in London. Those two did their parts in Jamaica and sent them over. Sadly, I didn't get to go out there!
It was a wonderful challenge writing songs for these fantastic performers. Working out what suited their voices, studying the classic tracks they'd made and trying to match them. A very tall order, but I'm proud of the record. It stands up. I wanted to prove these artists could release new music that was relevant and vibrant as yesteryears was. Prove they've still got so much to offer. It's a pity that most of them aren't releasing or given the opportunity to keep on releasing new music.

In the studio, they were all very good. Very professional. Came in did the job and left. Dennis and Dave came in together and were like a double act. Dennis did a live show with us and a Radio One session. Rico was a joy. He did his trombone part and then stayed in the live room listening to the track. Then started singing
along. I was like..."what's that, it sounds great, put it down". Wasn't expecting to get a Rico vocal track but I love it.

I'm very grateful we got the chance to do make it. It's a wonderful record to have made and in thirty years time, whether we've gone onto super stardom or faded into obscurity someone will pick it up simply because it's got the Trojan logo on it.

How was it working with Mannaseh on the dub EP and tour that

Sean: Nick's cool. He mixed/co-produced Trojan Sessions with me and ran the dubs off as we went. We picked the best four for the 10". Pick of the bunch for me is 'It's All About The Dub', he really nailed that one.

What do you have in store for us on this new album coming soon?

Sean: "Soul-fueled, dub-induced Roots, Rockers & Reggae". There's some Stax vibes on there, but it's mainly in an early 70's reggae vibe. That's not to say I've set out to make a retro record, just drawn
from the classic and tried to make it relevant today. Tubby-esque/Black Ark inspired.

I've recorded it all myself this time round (apart from the drums, which our drummer did).It's been a lot of fun. I've really taken my time. I've binned a few tunes along the way. Been quite merciless about it. The stance I was taking was I think Pama Intl have made 4 good albums, but I wanted to make a great one.

I've produced it along with John Collins, who produced Ghost Town.
It took me awhile to find someone to co-produce it with me who understood what I wanted. I'm in the process of building my own studio, but it was going to take awhile to get it together to a
standard where I'll be happy mixing in. So I tried three people
before I found John. It was hard to stay focused and not stray from the vision I had for this album. Not to be swayed by others
and stick to my gut instincts. I'm grateful I was given the
strength to make it work. John's great. Listens, but also brings a lot to the party.

It's a much more organic affair this time round. When recording it, it was done mostly at my house. We'd just sit in my kitchen, eat, drink and make music. Nice vibes all round.

We've got a couple of guests on there....I wanted to keep that side to a minimum after so many on Trojan Sessions and let Finny sing through. Rico's done a track...always a wonderful pleasure to work with him. And we've got MICHIE of the best female talents in the UK.....straight up, she is FANTASTIC. We co-wrote a track called Highrise together, using the Cherry Oh Baby rhythm and
tackling the horrible subject of kids killing kids on UK streets.
Powerful piece of music.

Lynval's written a track called 'Wonder Wonder'...absolutely love it. Best thing he's done in decades. He's come on board full time with Pama Intl now. Quite a show of commitment seeing he lives in USA. Sir Horace Gentleman plays bass on a track. Have you read his book? Well worth tracking down.

There's no love songs this time round really, which was not intentional, but went that way for some reason. A lot more social commentary...a couple of party songs and a lot of rockers grooves, deep down and dub dirty. 10 tracks and 2 versions on there. We're very happy. It's definitely the start of new beginning.

Oh, and we've got my 2 year old daughter making her recording debut on there. She's a star. Some great musicians on there. Steve 'marli' Wright on lead guitar (plays with Lee Perry and many greats) is a phenomenal guitarist.
Paul Heskett plays sax on one track (he played on Ghost Town and was part of The Swinging Cats also on 2 Tone).

And when will it be released?

Sean: February 2008 in UK/rest of Europe. It'll be available on import to USA through Jump Up, Ernie B's and Universal. We've been speaking to a few labels in USA, but nothings set yet. We're looking at coming over to USA in 2008. We've had a few offers but never been able to get them to work, but there's Lynval living in
Seattle now, and Wayne Lothian (played in Special Beat and now with Dave Wakeling) out in LA. Aitch (Selecter's original drummer) is living in New Mexico, so all of a sudden there's three Pama Intl friends/collaborators already there. It's becoming more feasible. Anyone who wants us to play stateside can just drop me a line.
We'll be there!

Recently you also established your own label, Rocker Revolt, can you tell us a little about it?

Sean: It really wasn't my intention to start a label again! But then after the Trojan album, I really didn't want to do another album for them, so started looking round for another label. Guess what? They all stink! Maybe that's a tad unfair. Let's just say I didn't find a label
that shares the same ethics as me, not who believed in what I was doing anyhow.

So, I thought why not just test the water again with some vinyl and
did the Pama Intl meets Manasseh 10", which sold-out the first 1000
pressed before I got it back from the manufacturers.

I looked around for a distributor and Universal jumped at it, so I'm up and running again. Rockers Revolt was going to be a strictly Pama Intl affair, but The Slackers album came along. I was booking their UK tour, so it all seemed to fit. We've built a great network with Pama Intl and now have a great team in place to sell records (very good sales/distributor and very good press officer). It's now taking on a life of it's on. Hopefully we can do something a bit revolutionary with Rockers Revolt and the music we put out on it. I look at what labels like Stax, Motown, Sun, Stiff and even 2 Tone (although Chyrsalis ran the business) stood for and how they ran things and just feel very inspired by it all.

I read a great thing about Factory Records the other day. When they put out New Order-Blue Monday 12" the sleeve was a bit complex, and they actually lost money on every copy they sold. It
was the biggest selling 12" in the UK! But they didn't do it for the financial reward, but for the art. A very rare quality in this industry.

Hopefully we create some wonderful art with Rockers Revolt releases
and help create a bit of a movement. I think with Pama Intl and The Slackers we're off to a good start.

Pama International is made up of long time all star musicians. How would you compare the music you are making now to some of your earlier bands like The Loafers, The Special Beat, or Madness?

Sean: I was never in Madness, so can't comment on that. Lee (Thompson) had a spell with us. Kind of holiday for him away from the
hugeness that surrounds the Maddies.

The Loafers, was just a band I started back when I was 13 with some school friends. Always amazed me how big it got. We were just having fun and didn't really realize what was going on. Great times though.
Finny (Pama Intl's singer) joined The Loafers for our second album in 1988 and then also did Special Beat with me. SB was brilliant. I was 19 and not doing anything. Sitting in a pub with Brad (Specials drummer) and we came up with an idea of doing a band together and getting other Specials involved. I'd done two writing
sessions with Ranking Roger and suggested him as well.
3 weeks later we were in rehearsals, 3 weeks after that (Halloween 1990) we landed in Atlanta, Georgia for the first 7 week tour. I toured with them for 3 years and had some great shows. Supported Sting and Steel Pulse...played Redrocks and Madison Square Gardens, went to Japan twice.

I always thought Special Beat was an awful name though. It was Ian Copeland's idea and I guess helped sell tickets. In my naivety I thought we'd write a new album and be huge, not just go round like a glorified cabaret show. I think we were a great live band, just a shame there were no real songwriters in the band (including
myself). We did a few new things, but not very good. One ok tune 'Rainy Days' which Roger released with a reformed General Public.
The potential was incredible though. We were really taking the 2 Tone sound to the masses. Bigger shows then The Specials or The Beat ever did in USA. Introduced a lot of new people to the music. Shame we didn't have anything to back it up.

The biggest difference between my earlier bands and Pama Intl is that I now write...pretty much everything. Pama Intl is my baby. I manage everything, write, record, book the shows. I love it. It's my outlet. I'm very lucky to have Finny alongside. Great singer and fantastic to work with. He understands where I'm going
with things, when other people wouldn't. Lynval too. We're very close. And are building the music and movement all the time. This new album coming is definitely a new beginning. It's raising things to another level. Exciting times.

I'd like to think the standard and writing is improving all the time.

How would you describe the current UK Ska and Reggae scene?

Sean: It's the healthiest it's been in years. The last two years have been very good.The whole early reggae thing/dub/ska has got very popular with club and radio DJs. It's kind of hip again, but that comes and goes. Has done for decades. You've just got to ride with it. Hopefully we're building something that'll out last any
fads though.

The one down side to the scene's at the moment is there's no focal point. There's lots of people doing lots of good things, but no unified scene. Hopefully that's something we can help to build.

Any bands you would suggest to keep an eye on?

Sean: East Park Reggae Collective from Leeds are pretty good. They've a couple of female singers who could definitely do some good things with the right material. Rebelation are maturing into a really good band. Their latest album on my bro's label Do The Dog is pretty good. I can see them progressing.
I had The Aggrolites on at our club night, but I guess you know them. Great live band, one of the best I've seen! If they could capture that energy on record
they'd be onto something. Two old friends from The Loafers did a pretty cool thing called "Prince Fatty". Great old vibe, but some two-faced producer has stolen it as his own and rewritten his story. Gotta love this industry.

I'll get back to you on this!!! The next Rockers Revolt artist....I'm going to scour the UK in a Pop Idol style. "Rockers Revolt Search for a Superstar".

Besides Pama Intl, do have any other projects currently or coming up?

Sean: We're running a monthly club night in the west called Rockers Revolt. Started that in August with Easy Star All-stars, then The Aggrolites, next up Dreadzone and Pama Intl.

I run Jamdown Artist Booking (UK agency) home to Easy Star All-stars, Pama Intl, The Slackers, Don Letts and more. That's been taking up a lot of time.

The new label is keeping me busy. I'm going to release The Slackers-The Boss Harmony Session throughout Europe. It's a funny old life. I remember hanging out with Q Maxx....aka Marc Lyn when I was doing Special Beat in the early 90s. He used to come down to the shows whenever we were in NYC. I remember him telling me he was in this new band called The Slackers and gave me their first demo tape. Still got it somewhere. 15+ years on and I'm finally releasing a record by them!

I'd love spend all my time just writing and playing but I gotta pay them bills, so the label and agency, although taking up precious time, bring home the money and help to facilitate the music. I've got a whole heap of ideas for Pama Intl albums....always thinking of what's next, already started planning/writing the next album.
There's also talk of doing a Pama Intl meets Laurel Aitken album, which i'd love to do. Laurel was a friend and we meant to work together but never found the time, then he got ill. By the time I was doing the Trojan Sessions it was to late. But there's some interesting ideas on that front I'm working on.

Also, an album with all female guest vocalists on (got some fantastic names for
that). I'd love to write some more with Michie One. There's talk
of doing an album in JA with Ansel and Boris Gardener and one in Memphis. There'll be a dub version album out next year featuring Pama Intl versions by Manasseh, Mad Professor, John Collins, Groove Corporation, myself and others. So much to do....I'd like to make 100 albums....and then 100 more.

For more info on Pama International please visit:
Pama International Forum

A few months ago we did a Pama Intl Special podcast on Pressure Drop
You can listen here


  1. Man, tons of history between all these guys. I was just a kid when I first started listening to all these different bands. Cool interview!



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