Singers come and singers go, this is part of the nature of the business but it is a great shame that so many got out of the business with only a tiny bit of their potential fulfilled behind the microphone. The sixties and seventies was shock-full of talents down in Jamaica. Ever heard the name Barrington Spence? Yet another one who never got his 'fair' share of the pie. Some dismissed him as a cheap Ken Boothe soundalike when he rose to prominence in the mid seventies with a string of hit singles for producers Prince Tony and Bunny Lee - 'Jah Jah Train' (which became Big Youth's 'Train To Rhodesia'), 'Darling Dry Your Eyes' and 'Let Locks Grow' among them, but it is far too harsh to dismiss the man as only 'doing a good Boothe', he was so much more than that. First of all there's that voice, plus the cocky, clear and distinct style and delivery behind the mic which is just irresistable upon hearing it. But he has fondly been kept alive among collectors over the years ever since vanishing off the scene sometime in the early eighties after a less than successful project with the Inner Circle crew, saleswise, and since he faded off in obscurity. Mr Spence resided between New York and Texas and this is where he now have his base, Houston to be more exact. I found out there is new music made locally and it sounds just as great as it did then, the voice certainly hasn't dropped in quality. My thanks to Barry for talking in August, '04. Also thanks to Gale, Janna Hurd, Tony Noons, DJ-RJ and the Texas Posse (sorry if I missed out on someone), Sis Irie and her (then) Reggae Reasonings board, Bridgette (for trying), Tim P, Bob Shoenfeld (in honour), Donovan Phillips, Mike de Koningh, Clive Chin, Carlton Hines and Steve Barrow.

Barrington Spence
Q: Tell me a bit about your early years.

A: Well I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, at Rose Lane, 22 Rose Lane. And I was raised in St. Mary, in Moneague (?), St. Mary. I go back to the city when I was about twelve, thirteen. I attended school, Ebenezer High School in Denham Town. It was just our parents, a brother, the last of five children, y'know.

Q: And your father was a carpenter?

A: Yeah, and was a carpenter. Unfortunately he passed away. He was a terrific carpenter, cabin-maker, shoe-maker, barber. And I choose those trades too. I'm a professional barber. I love carpentry, but I was self-taught of all these things. They never held my hand and say: "Barrington, this is the way you cut somebody's hair back", or "this is the way you put a nail or a screw" or just strings, y'know. But I found that I had something else in me, 'cause when I was a teenager like fourteen years old, I started with Vere John - you've heard about Vere John?

Q: 'Opportunity Hour'.

A: 'Opportunity Hour', yeah. Majestic Theatre, Kings and Palace (theatres). I met Jimmy Cliff an' dem bwoy just stood on, y'know, shared the same stage.

Q: What I've learned about the early years, your father taught you to play guitar at around fifteen or so?

A: No, this is self... just inside me. That gift of musical ability attributes to singin' and whatever - it's just 'self', y'know. I just found that I got a talent, and then I started to go at Vere John's.

Q: And that was back in '62.

A: Yeah. Vere John's contest, I win some, I lose some, y'know. I tell you, I went to as far as the quarter finals one time and there was two names, he was sittin' with two names. Because Vere John's was like this: he's blind, he's got one eye, right. So it's like this now: if he knew you by your voice, sometimes you wanna go there a week and let you have a pound or two pound - it was pound time, yunno, and you left school and you want a lickle hustle, you go there for rehearsal. And if you pass the rehearsal you go and sing Friday night, you win a pound. Two pounds first prize, one pound second prize. So the point I make of this: Vere John's, if he knew you by your voice, he tell you no, you were there last week. Because through people go on the blind side of him, usually you have a portion on the blind side (chuckles), because he cannot recognise you. Frankie Bonito, the pianist, he's the one who can bust you if he wanna bust you. So eventually I got through two different names. Lloyd Coke - this was the guy named 'Bobeye' from Tivoli Gardens, he comes notorius...

Q: A rudie?

A: Yeah... oh, I forget the name. Well anyway, he's right there with Lloyd Coke, and I was singin' as Barrington Spence. So we reach as far as the quarter finals, then we get two postcards in the mail - it's so Jimmy Cliff got his first shot, and I got one card that says Lloyd Coke and one that says Barrington Spence. So when I went the Thursday evening for rehearsal I couldn't go with the two names, so I saw the young man sittin' there and I asked him: "You can sing, man?" He said: "Yeah!" I said: "Weh yu call this name, Lloyd Coke, you go up and present yourself as Lloyd Coke" - and that was Jimmy Cliff. And when I went and rehearsed, I did a song name 'Donna' (sings): 'Donna, oh Donna, da na na na...' - that old song they call 'Donna': 'Donna, I looove you...'.

Q: That's Paul Anka?

A: Yes, Paul Anka! Phoh! You've got a good memory (chuckles). Paul Anka, right. And that night, he won that night, I got second prize and he got first prize. And then he continued. The rest was history for Jimmy Cliff, that he got involved with Beverley's Records on Orange Street and did his first song with 'Hurricane Hattie'. You remember that song?

Q: Yes.

A: Alright. And then we separate for a while, we haven't seen each other, because I went away to Montego Bay now with some of my family members. I came back to the city about seventeen - eighteen. You know, I have a little kids here and there, a few kids, probably about nineteen, this was nineteen. And I've been singin' now when I joined Coxson's, Sir Coxsone Downbeat.

Q: Right, you did 'Contemplating Mind' for Studio One.

A: 'Contemplating Mind', you got that song, man (chuckles)? It's a bad tune. Yeah, Heptones was the background vocal for me on that song, and I wish I could find a copy of that song again. So, I had a group called Soul Boys when I was starting with Coxson's, and...

Naggo Morris
(Photo: Dave Hendley)
Q: What was the line-up in that group?

A: Oh, it was Naggo Morris - who took the stage for Leroy Sibbles in the Heptones, and myself and one named Junior, but the name is Sylvan, Sylvan Clarke. Naggo Morris, Barrington Spence and Sylvan Clarke, we were the Soul Boys for Coxson, Sir Coxsone Downbeat. And after our group broke up, we go our different ways, the Heptones got apart and Naggo Morris took the lead, the space for Leroy Sibbles. Well, I moved on, I went on. In those days you were getting fifteen pounds for a song, and I remember one time (chuckles)...

Q: Wasn't it shilling and pence as well? Anyway, all the same... forget it.

A: Yeah, pounds, shilling and pence. I remember one time I got a cheque, for cash, for fifteen pounds. We would ride our bicycles on the east, the eastern part of Kingston, and a lady just got robbed, man. A white lady just got robbed. And we went in to the bank, cashed our cheque, coming back gleefully happy with our pounds in the pocket, and a policeman stop us, man, and found us with all this brand new pound now, and he thought we were robbers. He took us to the station, right. He took us back to the station, and isolate and identify us and the lady say "noo". I was praying in my heart, they took from us the other money, flaunted it in the lady's face so that she could've said: "OK, they took the money". I was praying in my heart, and she said, "No it's not, him, no it's not him". They released us and that stayed in my mind for a long time. I was even scared to go back to that bank to get my cheque again. So eventually we were released and we go back to our part of town, we shared the story with everybody an' t'ing like that and, well, eventually we leave Coxson. We left Coxson, 'cause Coxson is real cheap. I went to do a song called...

Q: But you did a song called 'Teardrops Burn', this was before the Soul Boys?

A: Yeah, 'Teardrops Burn' (sings): 'Don't you know that teardrop burns, don't you know teardrops burn...'. You got a copy of that too?

Q: No, never heard it.

A: Yeah, I did that. That's one of my first, first recordings I think I did.

Q: For Duke Reid. Even the first?

A: Yeah, 'Teardrops...', one of my first recording. In those days...

Q: That was the good ol' rock steady.

A: Yeah. We had a band playing the same time, and it's like a one cut: one person make a mistake you have to make everything over, because it was a live thing, y'know. It's not like you make the riddim track first, like modern time whe you go put the voice on it, everybody one, two, three - bam! You know, so that's where it was back in the days. I went on, and went on, life goes on. I was telling you I had a tune named 'Auterine Reign', at this time when I did that song then he stole from me and give it the Heptones to sing. I was working at the bank up there in Constant Spring Road, first National City Bank.

Q: You were a custom broker?

A: Yes, I was a custom broker. How you know everything? Yeah... no! I was a custom clerk, a custom clerk for the custom broker. And there's a lady in that bank expressed interest to do festivals, I was in the festival one time and she sponsored all my clothing and everything for me. I liked her a lot. I was a young fellow, she was about almost twice my age, y'know. Her name was Auterine Harris. So I was so much... had a crush on her so much as a young fellow, I wrote a song about her named 'Auterine'. I went to Coxson with the song and I record the song, but he didn't release my version. Heptones had it on an album, they called it 'Auteline', which is really 'Auterine'. And that song was a good song, and when I realised he did that to me I didn't go back to him any more. I did many songs for him and I didn't hear them released, only 'Contemplating Mind'. He released 'Contemplating Mind'.

Q: This was a solo recording, not the Soul Boys?

A: Yeah, it was just a solo cut, a solo cut by myself with Heptones doing background vocals.

Q: But with the Soul Boys you also cut 'Blood Pressure' and 'Rudie Get Wise'.

A: 'Rudie Get Wise', yeah. Yeah (laughs)! You got it, man. Oh Jesus, you know so much about me, I forgot about those songs, man. Anyway, when I left him now, I went to Duke Reid. They used to form a long line out there every Sunday morning, and the selector - the person who select the artists, the talent scout was a man called Cuttings. He lined up a long line and then he come and this guy called Gladdy - Gladstone Anderson...

Q: You were pretty close to Gladstone Anderson from what I understand?

A: Yeah, because my brother was married to his sister, Evonne Anderson. Rita Marley - Rita Anderson's sister, my brother was married to her, y'know, Evonne Anderson. Yeah, 'cause we live close by too. So he was the one that you sing a few notes to and he played the piano, and if he think you're good enough he keep it to "OK, you can go ahead". So I did a few songs for Duke Reid too but I never heard them at all, never heard them again. Never heard one release on Treasure Isle label, not one. What I think he did, he took the song and then released them in foreign countries, because many producers used to do that. Because we wasn't travelling at the time, they were travelling. They take the song and release it in a foreign country, they sell out your rights. And then you don't know nutten about it, they pay you one basic fee back home in Jamaica, that's it. He was kind of a ragamuffin man too, Duke Reid. If you're in the studio and something went wrong, he pulls his gun and fire 'boom, boom!' You should've seen it, man. He was an old policeman, he was a bad man. He walk with his gun in his hip like a cowboy. One mistake from anybody, he pulls it out and fire in the ceiling 'boom, boom!' But it's one good thing about him: every Sunday morning you would have to be lined up for rice, flour, cornmeal, cheese, bread, peas. He give out this to poor people, every Sunday.

Q: He was giving something back to his community at least.

A: Yes. If it was one good trait he had about him, he would have people lined up every Sunday mornin', give them a sack of flour, a sack of sugar, groceries for the children, y'know. Anyway, my life moved on again. I saw him before he died too, I saw him about two months before he died. Also, his treatment, he used to treat his artists bad, and Slim Smith was there at the time and I was there at the time. Delano Stewart was there another time when I was there too, John Holt was around at the time too. Techniques - who it was again...? Techniques was with Slim Smith, right.

John Holt

The Uniques

Q: And the Uniques.

A: Uniques, right, they were there too. So one day I was going down King Street and I saw this man, small. 'Cause Duke Reid was a BIG, fat man. Big like a globe! And one morning I was going down King Street, man, and hear the man say: "Barrington?" And when I looked, man, I saw this slim man, this man was smaller than me, I didn't recognise him. His face was there but the body was gone. So I look at him for about a good five-ten seconds, I said: "Mr Reid?" He said: "It's me, but I am so sick". He's by himself, walking by himself, no gun in his waist. Just slim, like about one twenty pounds. I said: "What happened to you?" He said: "I'm so sick, Barrington, I've got cancer. I'm very, very sick". I think I said a prayer, I said a word to him, and I said: "Mr Reid, yu going to be alright, God bless yu, man". I forget about his bad ways, 'cause I felt so bad for him that a tear fell, yunno. I say a word to him, and I was going on my way, so I left him. And about three months after he died. So I saw him a lickle before he died, Duke Reid.

Q: Which was the mid seventies, '74-75.

A: Yes, yes. No, before '75, this was about '72 -73, something around there. Because after that, it's how I went to Prince Tony in Slipe Road now. T/R Records, Tony Robinson - you heard about him, right?

Q: Definitely.

A: Prince Tony. Now, here's how I start with Prince Tony after going to... I mean, I do songs for the little man, people you do a one-one song, they pay me like one... Cunningham, hear the man Cunningham? I cannot forget that man.

Q: Prince Cunningham?

A: Yeah, I do a few songs for him. Bunny Lee, I do a few songs for him too. He's the one who put out that 'Tears On My Pillow' CD, the compilation that go round again, one record here, one record there, and reproduce that CD (Barry's second LP during the seventies) called 'Tears On My Pillow'. I was with him for a while, me, Cornell Campbell, Horace Andy, Slim Smith. Yeah, Slim Smith! That's when Slim Smith died right there, because of his bad treatment. Had this young man waiting to bring him some money to buy his lady a dress, I cannot forget that Saturday. I was down Greenwich Town the day Slim Smith died, man. They had promised to give him some money that was due him, took to buy the lady a dress - this is a true story, everybody know about it. And he was there waiting for him and his wife, they had a problem. His girlfriend say she wants him to make up with her to take her out, and he didn't come. And that guy punched the window, the glass out with his hand, and cut his wrist and bled to death. That's how he died.

Q: What a tragedy. And because of this treatment then.

A: Because of frustration, he need money. His producers won't pay him. He's got problems at his home, y'know. And he just took it out like that, took suicide. Killed himself.
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