MAXI PRIEST '2 THE MAX' PRESS RELEASE
Maxi is not a man who fears baring his soul. But he wasn’t entirely ready to be stripped bare
in the dramatic fashion that he was one day last year. We’re not talking about his no-holds-
barred, give-it-all-you-got singing – what one song from his new album calls “Full 100”.
This time, it was a life-changing event – and not one he’d necessarily like to repeat.
“An amazing experience,” Maxi confirms. “I thought I had a chest cold, which I can be prone
to because as a vocalist your lungs are always open to all kinds of infections. I went to
hospital to be tested and everyone was suddenly rushing about. One of the doctors told me,
‘I think you’ve had a heart attack’. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then 10 people came
charging into the room and started stripping me of everything I had.”
Maxi was lying in hospital having suffered what he calls “somewhat of a heart attack”. He also
had a blood clot on his lung. His life hung by a thread. It may not have been a pleasant experience,
but it was certainly an eye opener. Denuded of everything but his dignity and sense of humour,
Maxi found himself purely in the hands of his own body’s powers of recovery and the skill of the
medical team around him. It’s a state of total powerlessness, and being stripped to the bare
essentials like that gives you pause for thought.
As per usual, Maxi had been in the middle of a whole heap of business when his medical disaster
came calling. Although his profile in Britain had not been anywhere near his early-90s peak, his
workload remained massive, and he was always in demand to sing this, play here and support
this or that cause, particularly in both North and South America. But during his illness, his
fearsome schedule went out of the window, forcing Maxi to rest up in his hospital bed.
“All kinda things run through your head,” he admits quietly. “Things you hadn’t finished,
things you need to do. You ask yourself what you have accomplished. Most of all you realise
there’s so much more work to be done.”
Some might have seen such a profound shock as a reason to put their feet up. Others might
have decided to carry on as normal and ignore the potential consequences. But being faced
with his own mortality stimulated Maxi’s creative juices in a way he had never experienced
before. Despite all he had achieved (he’s scored 14 Top 50 hits in the UK alone, making him
even more successful than Bob Marley was in his lifetime), Maxi felt there was more to his
talent than he had previously been able to expose. By the time he had returned to the studio
in May of this year he was ready to work, and the results have proved revelatory.
On songs like “Hero To Zero” and “Like I Do” there’s a new maturity and depth. His heartfelt
reading of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” peels emotional layers from the lyric, resonating back
generations to when his foreparents were slaves working the land in the Caribbean.
Not that Maxi has gone all po-faced on us. Always among the most readily physical and sexy
of reggae stars, he doesn’t see his new work as a rebirth – he’s just reaffirming his joy in life.
“I’ve always been out there working,” he confirms. “In fact it was overwork that got me in
the situation with the illness. We all have setbacks in life but it’s not the setbacks that are the
point. It’s what you do afterwards.”
If Maxi had wanted to rest on his laurels, there would have been no shame in it. The man is a
pioneer and it’s easy to forget how important he was. Rewind to his time as an early-80s
youth learning his trade by singing on Saxon, the South London sound system that would
eventually help bring dancehall to a huge audience, and you realise that he really was in at
the genesis of a reggae revolution that has long since proved its mettle worldwide. And he
remains addicted to the vibe of the dancehall to the extent that if he was to walk into your
session, he might still be tempted to pick up your set’s battered mic.
“Yes, I still do that,” he says, his voice filling with warmth. “The experience of being on the
sound systems, through all the ups and downs, is what put me here today. I keep my ear to
the ground and I’m very much aware of what’s going on in dancehall and bashment. I like to
think I’m somewhat of a foundation for that, just as I looked at John Holt, Beres Hammond
and Dennis Brown as the foundation for what I do.”
In fact it was Maxi’s admiration for the likes of Dennis Brown and John Holt that persuaded
him to stick to singing while all those around him in South-East London took the fast track to
a level of respect by becoming MCs. You can hear his idols’ influence emerge on his glorious
new lick of Brown and Holt’s 1983 duet “Wildfire”.
His time as a worldwide reggae/R&B crossover icon in the 90s is something he remains proud of.
He proved that reggae did have a place on the modern dancefloor – and his impact spread a lot
further than that. It was Maxi’s uncredited voice that was sampled calling the name “Shabba”
on a string of hits, and he laughs at the way it was impersonated by a frustrated DJ in Peter Kay’s
wickedly funny Phoenix Nights. “What can I say – I think it’s great! It’s a compliment that
you’ve got through to that level!”
Back at grassroots, there’s no doubt that the current generation of Jamaican talent such as
Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Beenie Man are aware that Maxi’s hits like “Housecall” and
“Close To You” opened the doors to America for them back in the day, and they offer him due
props whenever their paths cross. In fact Maxi retains huge respect throughout the reggae
market, as anyone who has seen his appearances for a pure Yard audience alongside veteran
vocalist Beres Hammond could testify. A Jamaican crowd loves a singer who is a success yet
stays true to the reggae music they love, and Maxi, never one to short-change his fans, has
patently never been a “rich and switch” merchant.
“I love the vibe in Jamaica,” he says, musing on why he’s recorded some of his new material
at Bobby Digital’s studio in Kingston. “The sun is on you all day and it sure beats being in a
rainy London trying to create some sunshine through your music. Everybody in Jamaica is
musical, they really feel it, so everybody’s got some input, something to say about what you do.
It’s the staff of life there. Even if you haven’t got penny in your pocket, you’ve still got reggae music.”
Maxi’s life-or-death encounter may have stripped him of everything for a while, but
somewhere within him, Maxi knew he still carrying that reggae vibe. Now he’s let more of it
out than he ever has before . . . we’re hearing the “Full Hundred” for sure.
Maxi’s new album titled ‘2The Max’ is out on 2nd May. A series of live dates are to be announced.
1985 You’re Safe
1987 Maxi Priest
1991 Best Of Me
1992 Fe Real
1996 Man with The Fun
Debut album “You’re Safe” released in 1985
First reggae chart No 1, “Should I”, 1985
Debut UK hit single “Strollin’ On”, March 1986
Cover of Derrick Harriott’s “Some Guys Have All The Luck” is featured in the movie Slaves Of New York and hits No 12 in 1987
Debut US hit, “How Can We Ease The Pain”, proves that reggae and modern R&B can mingle, February 1988
First UK Top 5 single, “Wild World”, in June 1988
US No 1, “Close To You”, June 1990
Duet with Shabba Ranks, “Housecall”, spends two terms in the UK chart in 1991 and 1993, and is a huge US hit.
Maxi’s voice calling Shabba into the tune then becomes Shabba’s much-sampled trademark
“That Girl”, which teamed him with Shaggy, is a smash on both sides of the Atlantic, June 1996
The diverse range of artists he’s worked with includes Soul II Soul, (“Peace Throughout The World”, 1990),
Beres Hammond (“How Can We Ease The Pain”, 1988), Roberta Flack (US hit “Set The Night To Music”, 1991),
and jazz star Lee Ritenour (“Waiting In Vain”, 1993)
For further information contact:
Clare O’Bree or Paul Franklyn at Relentless (firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 8964 6720)