Lover’s Rock Monologues brings to life the story of reggae’s cult sister movement

Janet Kay Lover's Rock Monologues

Janet Kay Lover's Rock Monologues - Credit: Archant

Janet Kay, a star of the 70s musical movement Lover’s Rock, tells Alex Bellotti why she’s bringing its story to the stage at the Tricycle.

Back in 1979, the public face of Britain was going under the knife. Following the economic crisis of Jim Callaghan’s faltering Labour government – which culminated in 1978’s infamous Winter of Discontent – Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister as the Tories locked horns with the unions.

The bins were overflowing, unemployment was higher than ever and yet, from the sound systems of South London, tales of wistful romance were pumping through the streets. This was the year of Lover’s Rock – a genre of music best described as a western sister to reggae.

Now, its story is coming to the stage of the Tricycle Theatre.

“People have their different ideas as to where Lover’s Rock started – I’m going to tell you,” says Janet Kay, arguably the genre’s biggest star. “The majority of the acts actually came from North London; we had a whole movement. South London was full of the sound systems which used to play Lover’s Rock, but the actual artists were North and West London.”

When Kay made her debut appearance on Top of the Pops that year, it was to sing her piercingly falsetto smash hit, Silly Games, which had risen to number two in the charts. Like many of its type, it built on the West Indian musical base of her parents to incorporate further influences of pop, Motown and R&B – sounding softer, younger, more feminine and romantic than the political, male-orientated exports of reggae music until that point.

The idea behind her show, Lover’s Rock Monologues, is clear. Created alongside two other stars of the age, Victor Romero Evans (the singer behind At The Club and I Need A Girl Tonight) and Carroll Thompson (Hopelessly in Love, I’m So Sorry), it tells the stories of the families, the fashions and the themes behind the music, as well as celebrating the hits with live performances by each of the trio.

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For Kay, who was born in Willesden and attended Brondesbury and Kilburn High School, the success of Lover’s Rock came from the way it celebrated “our mutual personal stories”.

“I was bought up in a very strict home so I wasn’t one of those people who was clubbing all the time,” she says, “so whatever came out of me was just what came out of me and that’s just how it was, it was very organic.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but the year that Silly Games got to the top of the charts was a very big year for Top of the Pops. That was the year that so many different genres came into their own. My track wasn’t the only one – we had artists such as Dennis Brown and Matumbi in the charts at the time. It was a big thing.”

Her performance that year marked the first time a black British female artist had a reggae song at the top of the singles charts and cemented the idea that Lover’s Rock was not just black, but British music.

The musician continues: “We were singing about familiar things that were happening to us on a day to day basis and people related to that. What happens now is that people’s brain cells go back to that time and you start to remember the smells, what was happening with that time and they fall in love with the music all over again.”

“UB40, The Police, Boy George – they all pulled from reggae and Lover’s Rock.

“We all influence each other at the end of the day. Lily Allen came out with a track that was very Lover’s rock a few years ago, Smile. Amy Winehouse – she was another one. Each one teaches one, as they say, and what goes around comes around.”

Lover’s Rock Monologues runs at the Tricycle Theatre from February 2-7. Visit tricycle.co.uk

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