Vivian, you were born in Trelawney in Jamaica, but at the age of ten joined your parents who had relocated to the UK. How was it for a young kid, used to a Caribbean lifestyle, to suddenly arrive in a metropolis like London?
Vivian Jones: "Very strange! Everything looked different to what I was used to. It took me quite a while to get adjusted to that."
As so many Jamaicans you got your first taste of music singing in church. At which stage did you seriously start contemplating a career in the music business?
Vivian Jones: "That was quite a long process. My grandmother used to run the church we attended, so it was a given that we were present for service every Sunday. It was only when I arrived in the UK that, on a musical level, things started to evolve towards the professional side of things. At first my parents told me to concentrate on my school work, but funnily enough it was also at school that my love for music really started to bud. I started out deejaying for some local soundsystems like Java Sound and Lord Coo's Sound. Some elder youths from my school who had formed a band called The Spartans, heard my voice and asked me to join them. I still remember quite vividly that the first song we rehearsed together was a Bob Marley tune. The Spartans counted a few members that are now quite well-known, people like Anthony Henry aka. Tsungi, who plays with Misty In Roots, Clifton 'Bigga' Morrison who went on to play with The Arabs and Creation Rebel and 'Crucial' Tony Phillips who went on to play with Ruff Cut Band. One of the first tunes we recorded was called 'Whop A Doody Whop'. When The Spartans broke up, I started focusing on playing football for a while and even reached a professional level. Unfortunately, I got injured and had to quit the game. Luckily, I was then approached by the members of a band called Mighty Vibes who were looking for a good vocalist. It was with them that I scored my first number one hit, a song called 'Good Morning'. Unfortunately, the song was only released by Count Shelly in 1979 after the band had already broken up. I then formed my own band called Pieces, but back then I didn't know all that much about the business side of things, so we got swindled by quite a few producers who put their name on our records and cashed in on the proceeds! The whole situation left me somewhat disillusioned with the music business, so I decided to take a break and went back to Jamaica. When I returned to the UK - I think that was back in 1982 - I teamed up with Jah Shaka and recorded an album for him called 'Jah Works' (Jah Shaka Music, 1987, red.). Then in 1988 I recorded a song called 'Sugar Love', which was a love song, and then my career took a whole new direction as suddenly I found myself part of the whole lovers rock scene."
Did going from roots to lovers rock feel like a natural transgression or did it take some getting used to?
Vivian Jones: "It was a natural thing, because, even though I was known as a roots artist, I'd always sung the odd lovers tune now and again. Of course that increased once I got caught up in the lovers rock scene. It's always been more of a UK thing though; my fans in the rest of the world still regard me as a roots artist most of the time."
After you returned from Jamaica you also established your own Imperial House record label.
Vivian Jones: "Well, the experience I'd had with various producers hadn't been a positive one. It was pure exploitation at times! At the time I had a song out called 'Red Eyes' and I went to Jah Shaka to ask if he could release it for me, but he gave me a stern talking to instead, telling me people were coming up to him all the time asking him to put out their stuff. I told myself I wasn't going to put up with people talking to me like that anymore and that's when I decided to set up my own label. Doing that changed my career profoundly as I now finally felt in control of my own destiny."
In 1991 you were voted Best Male Vocalist at the British Reggae Industry Awards. Did receiving that award give your career an extra boost?
Vivian Jones: "The first thing receiving an award like that does is make you realize where you're at in the music industry and how you're perceived by your fans and peers. In those days the whole chart thing was still more or less fair, when these days you can pay a certain amount of money to have your tune listed and played (the so-called payola system, red.), I've always categorically refused to do. Being voted Best Male Artist was a nice bit of recognition for the work I'd done."
More recently you started working on a documentary project charting the history of reggae in the UK. Is that project still on the charts?
Vivian Jones: "That project is still ongoing, yes, but the thing is that the last few years my personal life was thrown upside down a bit. I've always been a real family man and when I lost my mother two years ago, that really left a mark on me. I just had to put some things on hold for a while and I've only picked up where I left things very recently. Apart from this documentary, I still have three albums ready to be released. I'm rereleasing the Reggae Max collection that was previously released by Jet Star on my own Imperial House label and then there's a new lovers rock album called 'Lovers Rocking' that should also see the light pretty soon. The third one is an album I recorded together with Russ Disciple, which will be a strong roots release."
You started this interview telling us you were a loyal church goer. How did you go from that to listening to the calling of Rastafari?
Vivian Jones: "In life, you start out as a baby, you grow into a child, then a youth and finally you become a man. It's when you become a man that you have to start making your own decisions on how you want to live your life. For me that choice has been Rastafari and I've never looked back or had doubts since. I'm confident in the power of the creator and the path he's laid out for me and as they say: "If it ain't broken, don't fix it!" (laughs) Rastafari!"