Prince Buster

By Jeremy Miles

When ska and rocksteady pioneer Prince Buster plays a gig you tend to know about it. For the founding father of reggae is not only a seriously hot performer but he doesn't tour that much.

So when, just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday, Buster walks on stage at Bournemouth's Opera House on Saturday, April 26, fans from all over Europe are likely to be present.

The gig, which also features support from ska band Django and a DJ set from Mark Lamarr, is the second big-name reggae night to be staged at the venue in 10 days.

Earlier this month Jimmy Cliff played a blinding set and perhaps helped set the scene for the man who many believe started it all.

If anyone can be credited with "inventing" reggae then Buster has as good if not better credentials than most.

Born Cecil Bustamente Campbell in 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica (the middle name was a tribute to Jamaican Labour Party leader Alexandra Bustamente), he was in at the very beginning.

A keen boxer, he was recruited as a security man by Clement "Coxone" Dodd, owner of the famed Downbeat sound system. A canny ear and being in the right place at the right time meant that Buster's transition to recording artist and producer was fairly seamless.

His successes were legion as he pioneered the development of ska, bluebeat and rock-steady. Numbers like Judge Dread, Al Capone, Oh Carolina and Too Hot are regarded as classics that continue to be 24-carat dance-floor fillers.

Prince Buster more or less stopped recording way back in 1973 but was feted by British Two-Tone bands like the Beat, The Selecter and The Specials. Madness even dedicated their first record, The Prince, to him.

Even though he rarely plays and is based these days in Miami, Florida, he has agreed to play Bournemouth tonight as part of a business trip to the UK.

When I caught up with him for an interview on Thursday night, Prince Buster told me he was particularly looking forward to the gig as he loves performing in England.

He has fond memories of being here back in the 1960s when he suddenly found himself part of the emerging pop scene, guesting on the TV show Ready Steady Go.

"All that Carnaby Street thing It was where it was all happening," he told me.

"That spirit is still with me, there's something about England that inspires me."

More than 40 years on he's having a good time too.

"It's more fun now, at this age. I'm really enjoying it," he told me.

Though he likes nothing more than seeing new generations of young fans enjoying his music, Buster remains steadfastly unfazed by changing fashions.

"I just do what I love to do," he laughs.

He recalls the days of his youth, back in Jamaica before the development of the sound system.

The kind of music he was listening to in the bars and on the streets back then was from a different era.

"Songs like Some Enchanted Evening, that's the kind of thing we were hearing back then. What I did was a big development.

"What I want to do now is make music that makes people happy, music that puts them in an enjoyable mood.

"There are so many things in the world to worry about, I want my performances to be a moment of enjoyment."

He admits that he's not planning to deliver a suitably "developed" version of Some Enchanted Evening, though he concedes: "I might ask the band if they know it."

© Jeremy Miles 2022