|click on photo to launch interview|
|The Suffolk town of Ipswich is not where you would expect to find the next big thing in UK reggae, but this is the reality of the youth called Mark Hull aka YT. Taking the head-on approach to dealing with his colour – hence the name, and having a background in reggae music and Jamaican culture since he was a little kid –“I grew up with Digital (drum and bass producer) and his dad ran a sound system and so I knew all the tunes from there”, this is someone who lives and breathes reggae music and is bringing a fresh perspective that will help spread the reggae message far and wide.
Growing up on a diet of Saxon sound tapes and practising the lyrics of 80’s UK veteran deejays such as Tippa Irie, Papa Levi, Asher Senator and Smiley Culture, as well as Jamaican artists like Papa San and Yellowman it gave the young Mark an education in reggae lyrics and how to flow over a beat. Listening to all those veteran artists and sneaking into local dances and soundclashes, YT saw for himself how the reggae scene worked and appreciated the standard that you needed to have to take the microphone and not get booed off at a dance.
“That is really where I studied the lyrics and learnt how to tackle subjects and them times if you could chat lyrics from a Papa San or an Asher Senator song then that was real skills as they were some complicated lyrics! What they were talking about at that time really inspired me, the message of what they were saying – the whole life experience thing was deep and I had a lot to say on that level from my own life”
As a youth YT used to practise on the mic at a local sound man’s house, and so people in the area started to talk about this white kid who had some skills, then one night in 1988 the local Ipswich sound Ashanti was playing a London sound called Field Marshall and one of the Ashanti crew called him up to take the mic, and despite being totally nervous and rigid with fear, YT performed in front of a crowd for the first time – did his lyrics and the place went “proper mad”. From that night, YT was part of the sound and served a proper apprenticeship – lifting speaker boxes at dances and chatting whenever the sound was playing out.
At the local dances everyone was starting to recognise the white deejay, but he still had to prove himself to a new crowd every time they went to London or Luton or the next venue, but despite the obvious “who is the white guy hanging round the sound?” comments, he never got any real bad vibes and anyone who was off-key with him was always cool once he had come off the stage. “No one ever really dissed me properly – apart from in a clash but you can’t take that seriously as that is what clashing is all about.”
In 1992 YT went into the studio for the first time with Dennis Rootical in Brixton and the session resulted in his first record called ‘Cris Biscuit Gal’ which came out on a white label. In 1993/94 he linked Patrick Donnegan at Progressive Sounds in Battersea and this partnership produced two 7”s on the Shock Out label ‘Pedestal’ and ‘Identification’. All the while YT was travelling on the road performing at dances and all the carnivals around the UK and refining his talent. In 1995 on his travels he met up with Jack Reuben and The Riddler, and a young Seanie T and they worked together for the next little while. The next stop for some studio time was with Stingray, which is one of the big London labels and it worked out that the link from here would eventually take YT to Jamaican studios a couple of years later, as Stingray’s cousin is Bobby Digital, and they were linked to Freddy McGregor as well.
By 1998 YT had decided that the best way to get his music out there was to produce it himself and he hooked up with another local Ipswich producer Nathaniel – known as NJC and a good working relationship was established – they went on to set up Sativa Records in 2003 with Digital and Innerheart. This label was to be a forum for all styles of music they were into – not just reggae and so far it has released more than 5 singles – an impressive catalogue for a young independent label.
In 1999, the opportunity to visit Jamaica arose and YT went to check out how things worked out there and to see if he could make any progress through his Stingray links.
While he was at a studio on his first trip, a big artist and producer Goofy heard YT chatting and invited him to Main Street studio the next day – the result was a cut called ‘It nah bruk’ which was a message to women who wanted plastic surgery – watch out in case it goes wrong! This tune did well in Jamaica and was played regularly on Irie FM, YT remembers that when he was at Shocking Vibes studio his song came on the radio and he was telling everyone in there “that’s my tune!” At a show called ‘Links on the Beach’ Goofy called him up to the stage as did ARP and so a Jamaican crowd got to experience the YT vibe, “I could hardly even get my lyrics out as I was getting bare forwards, and from that I could go to the next show and beg a few minutes in the early segment. To be honest I was locking nuff of them early segments, but because it’s early all the big name artist and producers haven’t arrived yet – I did a spot at Beenie Man’s birthday bash and the crowd called me back on stage five times but Beenie wasn’t even there yet!”
On another of his several visits to Jamaica, YT went to the legendary King Jammy’s studio with ARP who were voicing there and for him that was a real honour. “I’ve been listening to Jammy’s tunes since so I was so young, it was a real buzz to be in the same studio where all those wicked tunes had been recorded. It was really good experience to work with John John, who is Jammy’s son.” After another productive visit guesting at shows and linking artists all over the island, the familiar problem happened once more - . just as he was making some headway and getting a bit of recognition, the money would run out and he’d have to come home to Ipswich and back to the day job – as a plasterer, in order to save up to head out there again “It’s hard because you aren’t really earning anything, as an upcoming artist you don’t get any money if you voice a tune, you’re lucky if they even mix it, let alone press it and release it. I voiced a lot of tunes out there at different studios and they’re all just collecting dust at the bottom of the pile of tapes.”
Back in the UK and eager to make a real impression in the scene, YT linked with Tubby Redz and got a guest spot on the Red Square ‘Pon the Endz’ tour with Spragga, Assassin and Tanya Stephens, and on another tour he was the support artist for Babycham. Having seen him work and knowing that he could deliver the goods on stage Tubby put in the call to Sting to get YT on the bill for the big 2004 concert. Sting is the biggest dancehall show in the world and so to get a spot here a big opportunity, but when he arrived it was the ‘early segment’ curse all over again. “They wanted me to go on third at 8pm when the place was empty, I refused because that’s not what I travelled 3000 miles for. They crossed me off the list and I was vexed, all my mates were cussing me for missing my chance, so at about 10pm I went back round and they let me go straight on, but because they crossed out my information I got some intro about me being too scared to go on! So I just went out and smashed it – three songs -three forwards and an encore! And there was bare heads as far back as I could see – thousands of people.” Despite only being on stage for a few minutes, YT had made a big impact on the notoriously hard to please Sting crowd – where even big artists get bottled off if they come with a weak performance. Now the stage is set for him to go back and capitalise on that impact while he is still fresh in people’s minds.